Article by: Leanne Ridgeway
The Gear Assembly interview series is especially for the music gear addicts, or simply the curious like myself.
Each article in the Gear Assembly series features a different musician answering the same questions, highlighting both their varying preference in music gear, as well as their own music that results from using that gear. Hopefully it brings some awareness to both the artists and their gear makers. You’re reading, so we’ve got at least one more. Find new music, learn about who’s making it and what they use to create it…
GEAR ASSEMBLY Series #13:
SUN BELOW’s Jason Craig
Toronto’s SUN BELOW has been around a few years now. The Canadian trio harvests a “sativa rock” version of heavy, stoner/ doom rock, and has a few recording notches under their collective belts. Starting with simple and consistent titling of releases: ‘Black Volume‘ (November 2018), then ‘Black Volume II‘ (March 2019), and their most recent release ‘Black Volume III‘ (October 2019), I’d wager they’ll have more coming in the future.
SUN BELOW guitarist and vocalist Jason Craig is here to share about his musical stylings and interests, but we’ll find out what else Jason is up to in 2020, as he’s here to be our thirteenth piece in the Gear Assembly! Rock on…
Riff Relevant /Leanne: What instrument(s) do you play?
Riff Relevant /Leanne: Give us a rundown of your current live gear set-up.
I use two main guitars at the moment, my primary one being a Schecter C-7 Hellraiser tuned to A, and a 2014 Gibson Les Paul Studio tuned to C Standard, which I have been starting to incorporate more recently for some songs.
As far as amps, I use an Orange OR50, which I was lucky to find as it is no longer in production, with Orange 2×12 and Hughes and Kettner 1×12 speaker cabs.
My pedal board is always in flux, but right now it consists of an EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold as my main fuzz-stortion, a Mythos Pedals Golden Fleece fuzz/overdrive, MXR Phase 90 and Dunlop Hendrix Wah. I also use a Big Muff Green Russian reissue from time to time, but it is not on my board at the moment.
The OR50 can provide some very stoner friendly tones on its own, and I have been experimenting with different fuzz pedal combinations in conjunction with the amp’s gain since I picked up the head in September.
Riff Relevant: When was the exact moment you realized you wanted to play your instrument(s)? Who was your primary influence at that moment?
I think right around the age of 12-13 I really started to get into hard rock metal and of course, when you’re first getting into this style of music you can’t help but want to get more involved. My older cousin is a guitarist and when I expressed some interest in guitar to him at that age, he gave me a quick lesson and gifted me a Yamaha Acoustic and I took off from there.
My main influences at the time were probably Angus Young, Jimmy Page, and Tony Iommi and, of course, Iommi is still a huge influence on me to this day, as I’m sure every player in the genre would agree. No matter how many years pass I never seem to get burnout with Sabbath.
Riff Relevant: Which one of your songs best exemplifies you as a musician? Why?
I would say probably “Holy Drifter” or “Solar Burnout“. They are our two longest songs (each is around 12 minutes) and have kind of set the mold for what we want to be going forward.
Each track features sections / riffs that really flow and blend well together; even though there are tempo and atmosphere changes, the main concepts, groove and feel stay relatively consistent.
Riff Relevant: Is there specific gear you prefer to use in the studio that would be different from your live set-up?
Generally, my studio setup is nearly identical to what I use live, other than maybe having a few different cabs to use (VOX 2×12, Ampeg 4×12) and also running two heads at once (I also own an Orange Dual Terror and have borrowed a Marshall Origin 50 for one of our EPs).
Pedal wise, I have used a few additional dirt pedals (Big Muff Pi, Minotaur Sonic Terrors Fuzz and Burn) on some of our recordings.
Riff Relevant: Any type of pre-show/practice warm-up rituals?
If I can the day of the show, I like to run through our full set at least once or twice by playing along with our EPs or recorded band practices.
As far a pre-show ritual, we have a shot of tequila (usually on my dime!) before hitting the stage.
Riff Relevant: How do you keep things interesting when able to be out on tour & playing the same set each night?
Our set list is usually pretty fluid and we go through a lot of different set list scenarios depending on the amount of time we have.
As mentioned earlier, we have a couple of pretty long songs and it makes it tough to play “Holy Drifter” and “Solar Burnout” in the same set (not to mention “Abyss Trip” which comes in at about 8 minutes plus) so we have to get creative sometimes, such as playing a “Short Shiva” version of our instrumental track “Shiva Sativa” which we like to open our shows with.
Riff Relevant: What do you think gives your playing its signature sound?
I think for anyone to develop their own sound it takes time and some trial and error – that has certainly been the case for me. I used to play in a death/thrash type band and after that band folded I took a long period off of playing entirely. When I got back into it, I was listening to a lot of bands in the stoner / doom genre and that style really resonated with me and inspired me to get back into playing.
I picked up some techniques from some new influences and incorporated that into my style as I relearned the instrument. I think the attitude and mentality is a big part of it, too – we want to play loud, fuzzy heavy rock with infectious grooves and long sprawling song structures. When you have that in mind and when you play a style of music that can be very jammy, that organically lends itself to discovering things and developing a style as you go along.
Riff Relevant: Any brand loyalty? Are you partial to one company over another? Any current sponsorships or your own signature gear?
I would definitely say I am pretty partial to Orange Amps as you can probably tell from my gear rundown. They have that big, warm tone on which this genre was founded. And although I play a Schecter on most of our songs, lately I have been gravitating towards Gibson guitars, hence me starting to incorporate the Les Paul more.
Dunable is a boutique company that makes some very cool guitars that I got to try out at NAMM this year and I am interested in getting something from them down the road, maybe a custom model. But I have no signature gear yet.
Riff Relevant: What is the most important piece of equipment currently in your live set-up? Why? What is it about that one?
As much as I love my Orange OR50 head, I would probably have to say my Schecter C-7 Hellraiser. The guitar is tuned to A standard but I play it as if it was in C, using the third fret on the 7th string as my root.
So many of our songs were written with that guitar in that tuning that I am basically married to it now! Not that I’m complaining – it is not a guitar typically associated with stoner doom, but I love how it plays and with a seventh string I feel I am able to jump into different keys / tunings easily.
Riff Relevant: What do you enjoy doing outside of music, that you feel ultimately contributes to your musicality? (For example, a hobby that you turn to in order to stimulate your creativity.)
I am a pretty big sports fan – NFL, NHL mostly but I enjoy baseball and basketball, too. I’m not sure that sports really inspires me musically, but often times if I get pissed off with the result of a game, I usually turn to music to forget about whatever happened in the game, haha.
I do usually try to exercise regularly and go to the gym (when not in quarantine!). If I exercise after work, then I find it gets the blood going and I feel more motivated to practice / play than I would be if I slumped home after work, haha.
Riff Relevant: Are there any newly emerging artists or bands who are currently influencing you (or you just enjoy)? If yes, how so?
One band I just discovered that I really dig is Holy Grove – I stumbled on them on Spotify and really dig their sound and the vocals!
Another is Goblinsmoker – they are a doom/black metal band and they have this whole story about a Toad King who rules over a horde of goblins and sacrifices them by smoking them – heavy stuff!
There is also some great local talent here in the Toronto area that we definitely keep an eye on – Pale Mare, Black Absinthe, Hounskull, Rough Spells, Cross Dog, the list goes on.
Riff Relevant: If you could give one piece of advice to an up and coming musician, what would it be?
Don’t over think or over complicate things – just start out simple and make something that sounds good and is true to what you want to do.
Don’t worry about what other bands or other players are doing, if maybe you cant shred as fast or aren’t as technically precise. Create something that has meaning to you and the rest will take care of itself.
Riff Relevant: How has the virus pandemic impacted your music life or career? What are some ways you’ve been doing things differently?
It has certainly made rehearsing difficult – our usual jam space has closed down amidst the outbreak.
We also have some shows that are likely to be cancelled and some other things in the pipeline that will of course have to wait. I am trying to think of ways to stay busy, like writing material at home, sending video clips/recordings to the other band members.
We had some big shows that we played at the end of February just before things really slowed down which I am grateful we were able to do. I look around at our peers and friends that have had big touring plans or big release shows cancelled or postponed and I really feel for them (Pink Cocoon, Pale Mare and Haxan, to name a few).
Riff Relevant: If you could have any music gear you wanted, what would be your ideal setup?
The first thing I would add would be a Green Matamp GT120MV – Sleep and Matt Pike are big influences on me and those Green amps are like the holy grail for Stoner Doom. I was very close to ordering one before I stumbled upon my Orange OR50 at Steve’s Music in Toronto.
I would of course also love a Sunn Model T head – the Acapulco Gold pedal I use is supposed to recreate the sound of a cranked Model T and it roars. I would love to upgrade my cabs and get some 4×12 cabinets – Orange (with black tolex!) Matamp, Emperor cabs – just build a wall.
As far as pedals I could go on all day but Fuzz Lord Effects makes some great stuff, I would love to own their FU-2 (based on Boss FZ-2 used by Electric Wizard), FET120 (based on the Dopesmoker tone) and Doom Screamer (boost/OD) pedals, but they sell out very quickly. Dunwich / Magic Pedals also make some very cool dirt pedals. I would probably add in some other effects like a decent delay, octave, maybe a flanger.
As far as guitars, these are on my dream wishlist: a First Act DC Custom, which Matt Pike played for many years in the late 2000’s; a Yamaha SG 2000, which is fairly similar to the First Act Custom and apparently was the basis for that guitar; a white Gibson SG with the black tear drop pick guard; a custom Dunable Guitar (Yeti or Cyclops). I could go on all day!
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