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 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 #22:
BACKWOODS PAYBACK’s Mike Cummings
Ask anyone who might know, or know of, him and they’d likely confirm that Mike Cummings is one of those semi-rare genuinely good humans. Plus there’s this thing he consistently does on stage with his band BACKWOODS PAYBACK where everyone’s face just gets rocked right off their skull; a lovely trait on its own. He appears to know an endless amount of people and has at least a decade & 1/2 of tour history, so both statements could be pretty easily verified by any doubters.
The discography of West Chester, Pennsylvania‘s BACKWOODS PAYBACK stretches far back — with ‘Book One‘ in 2005 to their ‘Whiskey & Arm Wrestling‘ touring demo, 2007 self-titled, ‘live 2009‘, 2010’s ‘Use Magic To Kill Death‘ single, 2011’s ‘Momantha‘, ‘live 2012‘, 2014’s ‘In The Ditch‘, 2016’s ‘Fire Not Reason‘, ‘Live At Roadburn 2017‘, surely some things I’m missing in there, but end the current list with their most recent album ‘Future Slum‘ in 2018 [review]. The band also contributed their cover for a track on the MER ‘Dirt (Redux)‘ compilation released this past September 2020.
In addition to B.P., Mike has also released several solo musical outings and recently announced a new project named BOOZEWA, which you can learn more about below, as he’s here to be our twenty-second 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’ve sort of settled into this rig over the past few years and I’m really happy with it.
The second rig is currently a Randall Commander 100 head through a late 70s Sound City 4/12 cab, with an EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold pedal for the fuzz. I love the blending of an overdriven tube amp and the bite of the solid-state. It’s like having Sabbath and Flag rolled into one!
My main guitar is a 2004 Dan Armstrong reissue with the humbucker pickup installed. Volume and tone opened all the way up.
My backup guitar is an Epiphone ET270 that I had a tech friend replace the floating bridge in it with a regular bridge and he moved everything back to keep it in tune for where we tune to.
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 started out playing bass guitar and loved it. For the most part, I taught myself or learned from other friends that knew a little.
When I started writing songs on my own I had a hard time conveying to others the sounds that were in my head, so I traded a bass I had found at the flea market for a guitar and started learning that. Neil Young, from that moment, became a huge influence.
Just getting sounds out of the thing, doesn’t matter if it’s “right” or “correct” yanno… if it sounds good to you, do it!
Riff Relevant: Which one of your songs best exemplifies you as a musician? Why?
I think “Whatever” from our last record Future Slum captures everything I love about playing. It’s melodic, it’s abrasive, it runs through a good sampling of what’s happening in my head most times.
Riff Relevant: Is there specific gear you prefer to use in the studio that would be different from your live set-up?
On the last record, I used a few pedals that I just couldn’t use on the road, whether it’s because they are finicky or just too hard to replace. But really for the most part what we play in the studio is exactly what we take on tour.
Riff Relevant: Any type of pre-show/practice warm-up rituals?
I stretch a bit and do some vocal warm-ups before the play but for me, it’s afterwards that the “ritual” comes into place.
From packing everything away to just getting away and finding a quiet place, even if just in my head. I need that time to come back down, for lack of a better term.
Riff Relevant: How do you keep things interesting when able to be out on tour & playing the same set each night?
We try to not play the same set every night. It’s something we really worked out on our last U.S. tour.
Every night has some songs that just flow into each other better than others, of course, but I love the idea that each show is its own event. It’s a living breathing thing of itself. Some nights are fast and angry, some nights feel slower and smoother…
Riff Relevant: What do you think gives your playing its signature sound?
I have no idea, man. I don’t really have much in the real lessons of music department, so as cliche as it may sound I guess it’s just me that gives it the sound… lol.
Riff Relevant: Any brand loyalty? Are you partial to one company over another? Any current sponsorships or your own signature gear?
We are sponsored by nobody (wink to Uncle Neil), but EarthQuaker Devices has always been good to me – from the earliest times of meeting them in Akron, OH at a little bar, to fixing things for me when I inevitably break them on tour.
They stand by their pedals and are honest people. I can’t say enough good things about them.
Riff Relevant: What is the most important piece of equipment currently in your live set-up? Why? What is it about that one?
It has to be the Marshall JCM800. I’ve played many of them over the years but there’s something special about this one. It has a “sound” that I haven’t found in anything else.
Whenever someone asked what pedals I have going to get the sound from it and I reply with “it’s just that head” they are always astounded. So am I!
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 got really into wood burning a few years ago and tend to head there when I’m not in a musical mood.
Riff Relevant: Are there any newly emerging artists or bands who are currently influencing you (or you just enjoy)? If yes, how so?
Code Orange continues to blow me away. They have taken hardcore /metal /industrial to a new place and I think they are truly in a genre of their own at this point.
Listening to their newest record is like finding a lost gem from my favorite bands, except it’s brand new. Absolutely inspiring.
Riff Relevant: If you could give one piece of advice to an up-and-coming musician, what would it be?
Play. Just play. Don’t worry about what you’re doing or what you can or can’t do. Just. Play.
Riff Relevant: How has the pandemic impacted your music life or career? What are some ways you’ve been doing things differently?
It’s fucked me pretty bad at this point. When I’m not touring on my own I work for other artists doing driving, guitar tech, stage managing and COVID-19 has so far cost me about 10 months of work with more cancellations to come.
Playing out with Backwoods Payback isn’t going to be happening for the foreseeable future as well, so my normal outlet for creativity / hardships is not available either.
That’s how BOOZEWA came about. The three of us all live together and it only made sense a few months into the first shutdown that the only music that was going to happen is what we could do ourselves. I’m playing drums in this band and it’s been challenging and fun.
Aside from that, I was working on the fields at home and in the greenhouse, just keeping busy and trying to keep healthy mentally and physically.
Riff Relevant: If you could have any music gear you wanted, what would be your ideal set up?
I’m pretty happy with everything I have really. My acoustic guitar acts up every now and again and I wouldn’t turn down a Martin D28 (lol) but really man, I’m set.
I’m here, I’m alive, I’m ready to get back out there… hope to see you when we do.
MICHAEL RUDOLPH CUMMINGS
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