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 #20:
LIGHTNING BORN / CRYSTAL SPIDERS / THE HELL NO’s Brenna Leath
Brenna Leath is a multi-faceted vocalist and musician from Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a rather busy woman, being in three currently active bands – Lightning Born, Crystal Spiders, and The Hell No. Each is a bit different and showcases Brenna‘s powerhouse vocals in a stylistic range, as well as her bass playing with one band in particular.
CRYSTAL SPIDERS is where Ms. Leath has dual duty as both singer and bassist. The band has just released their debut full-length, ‘Molt,‘ today (September 25th) via Ripple Music and we have a full album stream below. Order the brand new debut album here or here… or HERE!
You can check out all three of her bands, as well as find out all else that she has going on right now. It’s exciting to have Brenna Leath here today, as she is our first female participant in this interview series and paving the way to a new height as the twentieth 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.
In Lightning Born and The Hell No, I am solely vocals, so I keep it simple and straightforward. Just a Shure SM58 and whatever the house wants to throw on it, which is usually a little reverb and that’s about it.
In Crystal Spiders, I use a TC Helicon Duplicator, which is the only vocal pedal I have found thus far that doesn’t give me too much trouble with feedback in a live setting. I don’t use the correction, but I keep a loose double and club reverb on it.
As far as instruments / amps go, I like old stuff and am a Marketplace / Craigslist scavenger. My live staples thus far have been a 1972 Gibson SB-350 (the odd alder body, cheap-o version of the nice EB-0s), a 1973 Ampeg SVT, and a matching 8×10 cab. My favorite pedal for that combo is an EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Hybrid Fuzz, but I sometimes throw a Heavy Electronics El Oso Bass Distortion on there.
Right before quarantine, I acquired an early 80s Kramer Vanguard bass (V body with an aluminum neck) that I am currently obsessed with. I have been going direct into a 1970s Acoustic 450, which sounds so dirty! I love it! But, I haven’t gotten to play it live yet.
At home, I have a Sunn Beta Bass, a Fender Roger Waters P-bass, a Reverend Wattplower, and a 1980s Hondo All-Star H-800, which is a short scale P-bass copy. I like short scale basses better and am a lot more comfortable with a 30.5″ neck, but I try to challenge myself with the 34″ scale P-bass when I’m practicing at home.
I also have a couple of other crazy things – a semi-hollow body 1968 Kustom K200D bass, which is kind of like a cross between a Mosrite and a Rickenbacker, a Dillion Rickenbacker copy, and my most recent acquisition – a 1973 lucite Conrad, which is a copy of the Ampeg Dan Armstrong plexi guitars. I don’t usually play guitar, but I have been recording at home a lot more lately and needed something cool to lay down some parts. That was definitely the ticket!
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 have always liked to sing. As a kid, I was always getting in trouble for being too loud… I probably thought “inside voice” was my name at some point, since everyone was always yelling it at me.
I got my first guitar at 16, a Mexican Fender Strat. My favorite band at that point was the Buzzcocks, so I think the first songs I ever learned were off of ‘Love Bites.’ I started my first band at 19 and have been playing music ever since, with the exception of a 3-4 year break in my mid-20s.
Somewhere around there, I think I realized that I really didn’t like playing guitar. It stressed me out trying to sing lead and play guitar live. I put it down for awhile and went back to just vocals, then decided to pick up bass about 5 years later.
Much to my delight, bass was a totally different experience than guitar for me. It felt very natural and I was able to pick up singing / playing fairly quickly. So, I’m actually a relatively new bass player and have only been playing for about 2.5 years. I had only been playing for about 6 months when we started Crystal Spiders.
Riff Relevant: Which one of your songs best exemplifies you as a musician? Why?
Jeez. This is a hard question. All three of my bands are very different. Lightning Born is 70s style Sabbath worship, The Hell No is bluesy power metal, and Crystal Spiders is fuzzed out rock n’ roll that has some doom moments, but also some psychier punk veins. The variety between them all keeps it interesting, because I love all of those genres.
For Lightning Born, “Out for Blood” probably exemplifies me the most; our debut record was collaboratively written, but that one is one of the tunes I wrote and brings out some bluesiness that ends up characterizing a lot of my songwriting.
“C-U-N Hell” is probably my favorite Crystal Spiders jam right now that will be on the new album. The title is a tongue-in-cheek homage to Grim Reaper and I tried to incorporate some fun Diamond Head-ish vocal hooks in there, too.
I’m hoping The Hell No will get to record in 2021; we did just record a special exclusive track called “Nuclear Holocaust” for the Maywood Mayhem benefit compilation [link], but we haven’t put out a record since 2016, and we have a whole crop of bops ready to track. In that band, I get to try to bust out some Rob Halford style trills and screams. Judas Priest is probably my favorite band of all time, so I try to take any opportunity I get to sneak in a Halfordism.
Riff Relevant: Is there specific gear you prefer to use in the studio that would be different from your live set-up?
I came into possession of a 1960s Ampeg B-15N Portaflex a couple of years ago, from a friend of my uncle who passed away. I had Mad Science Works here in Raleigh refurbish it with new tubes and clean it up a bit.
It’s definitely not loud enough to play live in a metal band, but it sounds like a more buttery version of an SVT when it hits tape. It is one of those holy grail recording pieces. It lives in Mike Dean’s studio now, but I have visitation rights.
Riff Relevant: Any type of pre-show/practice warm up rituals?
I have a set of vocal exercises I do before every show and every practice. It takes about 15 minutes from start to finish.
If we’re on the road, I sit in the van with my AirPods in and do them off my phone. It’s probably hilarious to everyone standing around in the parking lot who can hear / see me. I sound ridiculous – BUT – it helps keep everything working smoothly and ensures that I won’t lose my voice during or after the set.
Riff Relevant: How do you keep things interesting when able to be out on tour & playing the same set each night?
Every day is different. Seriously. It doesn’t ever feel like the same set twice.
There’s always something I noticed the night before that I want to try to improve on, or some weird idiosyncrasy onstage that night to navigate.
Riff Relevant: What do you think gives your playing its signature sound?
Um… It’s hard to describe yourself. I guess I hear from a lot of people that I have a lot of blues / soul in my vocal style.
I get the usual “women in rock bands” likenings to Janis Joplin, Ann Wilson, Grace Slick (none of whom sound anything alike, honestly, so those comparisons always confuse me). Although one review called me “Danzig’s little sister” and I kinda got a kick out of that.
For my bass style, I guess I’d say what I lack in technique and theory, I think I make up for in enthusiasm. 🙂 On bass, I play fingerstyle in D standard tuning and mainly stick to beefy riffs and driving basslines. The bass rule I try to follow is K-I-S-S— Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Riff Relevant: Any brand loyalty? Are you partial to one company over another? Any current sponsorships or your own signature gear?
No sponsorships or signature gear for me at the moment. But that would be rad!
Riff Relevant: What is the most important piece of equipment currently in your live set-up? Why? What is it about that one?
Probably my voice. It’s tricky because it’s a piece of my body! If I’m not feeling my best, I’m not singing my best.
It can be fickle and it’s a horrible feeling to get onstage and not know if I’ll be able to hit every single note in the set. I have to be on my best behavior before and after gigs. One big rule is no loud talking after gigs (which is very hard to adhere to if I have to go straight to the merch table).
On the road, I bring an electric tea kettle, Throat Coat tea, clover honey, and some Vocal Eze for emergencies. Steam, tea, and some simple vocal exercises will usually help coax it back to life if I’ve been too rough with it.
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 do a lot of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, which I think helps with vocal stamina and power, as well as with lifting my absurdly heavy amp.
When the SVT is in the road case, it’s probably somewhere between 100-125 lbs, so getting that in and out of a van a couple times a day is pretty much a workout in itself, plus the 8×10 is not exactly light. And then, there are the stairs…. but, yeah. I like to lift. Last I tested, I can clean and jerk 175 lbs and squat 375.
Riff Relevant: Are there any newly emerging artists or bands who are currently influencing you (or you just enjoy)? If yes, how so?
Omen Stones are kind of Crystal Spiders‘ “brother band” from Richmond and are killing it right now. We have done a couple of weekenders with them and I could absolutely listen to them every night – Ed Fierro‘s basslines are so catchy and Erik Larson (besides being one of my favorite people of all time) is a monster on the kit.
Heavy Temple are the homies as well, and I’m looking forward to their next record. I really love checking out the Doom Charts every month to get the scoop on all the killer new music that’s coming out these days.
Riff Relevant: If you could give one piece of advice to an up and coming musician, what would it be?
Occasionally, I hear people say, “I wish I could do x, y, z…” and I always ask, what’s stopping you?? Limitations to playing music only exist in your mind. Just get up and do it.
I hear that a lot of people are afraid of criticism or judgment if they make and share their art. I will say that 9 times out of 10, the only people who have ever disparaged the music I make aren’t making ANYTHING themselves.
It’s easy to sit around and talk trash about what somebody else made. It’s not easy to create and cultivate ideas and put them out there in the world. So who cares what anyone else thinks? Life’s too short. Do what you want and chase some joy while you’re here.
Riff Relevant: How has the pandemic impacted your music life or career? What are some ways you’ve been doing things differently?
The debut Crystal Spiders record is coming out September 25 [*via Ripple Music – order the new album here], and it is a bummer that all of the shows and tours we had to promote it had to get cancelled. I tried to put the time off to good use. I wrote the Crystal Spiders sophomore album over the summer, and Tradd and I have been finishing that up. We have actually already started recording. Lightning Born has also started working on our sophomore in earnest, and we’ll be headed to the studio after Crystal Spiders finishes up.
Venues who have had to remain closed this entire time are suffering more than most of the bands right now. I hope everyone can pitch in to help them stay afloat so that we all have somewhere to play and see live music when all of this blows over.
To help out on a local level, I rallied the troops and put together the Maywood Mayhem compilation, which is a collection of 25 NC metal bands to benefit The Maywood metal club, so I hope people will check it out and consider picking up a copy for a good cause.
As far as doing things differently, I have been learning how to track and record myself at home so I can keep things moving on the songwriting front. I also recovered a project cab at home, an Ampeg 6×10. It had a couple of speakers blown that I needed to replace, so I decided it would be best to just deconstruct it altogether, replace some of the parts, and refinish it with black sparkle Tolex. It purty now!
Riff Relevant: If you could have any music gear you wanted, what would be your ideal set up?
Oh boy… I already have way too many basses… I have a few things I lurk for and ogle online from time to time. A really nice 1960s Gibson EB-3. A custom JML and/or Dunable bass. A 1970s Rickenbacker 3000 or 3001.
I feel like a kid writing a list to Santa. But something tells me Santa will not buy me any of these things…
THE HELL NO
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