Textural Ecstasy: Tricks of the Trade with Live's Chad Taylor
by Jon Wiederhorn
Being the lead guitarist in Live isn't like being the lead guitarist in Guns N' Roses. Aside from the lack of stage theatrics and the abundance of hair, there's a distinctly different musical approach. For Live's Chad Taylor, texture, atmosphere and balance are far more important that flash and firepower. While frontman Ed Kowalczyk plays many of the straightforward rhythms, Taylor provides the musical accents, commas and exclamation points, fleshing out the songs with an innovative array of chord structures, feedback techniques and guitar harmonies. We recently sat down with Taylor and chatted about tone, technique and gear.
Guitar.com: Chad, can you describe how your approach to guitar today differs to that of a few years ago?
Chad Taylor: Recently I've been focusing hard on being able to play counter melodies to Ed's melodies. In the early years, Ed virtually never touched a guitar, so I was primarily a chordal player, but as we grew and developed, and I started teaching Ed guitar, it just flourished into this thing where Live songs became made of two very distinct guitar parts.
Guitar.com: There seems to be a yin/yang relationship between your playing styles.
Taylor: Absolutely. To describe Ed and I as songwriters would be to describe the earth and the sky. I'm the earth and Ed's the sky. I'm the heavy, weighty guy. Ed's lofty and full of thought. I'm all legs and he's all brain and somewhere we meet in the middle. I think on the new record there are instrumental passages where you can really feel the two songwriting forces.
Guitar.com: Despite the interplay, don't you strive to keep the music fairly simple?
Taylor: No, it's not like a simple "Louie, Louie" chord structure thing. It always sounds relatively simple, but it's really not. I grew up in the school of thought of guys like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty. These guys could have a guitar and a melody, and it always seemed simple and easy to get across. But if you sat down to learn their music, quite often you would find chords or things you didn't think these artists would actually have the skill to pull off.
Guitar.com: How come your guitar parts don't ever become tangled with Ed's?
Taylor: I'm definitely a less is more kind of guy. If it doesn't need to be played, then I don't play. I would much rather sit out than just make noise. So for his songs, I just pick my spots. And on my songs, the past has proven that the best way of Ed and I to work together is for me to put together as much as I possibly can. So I often record my whole song with the band and then giving him the music, and then we make arrangement changes and move on from there.
Guitar.com: How would you describe your personal playing technique?
Taylor: I play guitar as a textural instrument. I'd go as far to say I don't think I'm a guitar player, I'm an amplifier player. I find tone is the necessary ingredient for everything I do. The tone creates the texture. I love Hendrix less for his playing and more for his tone. There was always a clarity in the texture that helped evoke the lyric. A great example is the "Star Spangled Banner." Listen to how catastrophic it sounds. It describes exactly what he was feeling. There was a war going on, Vietnam, protest, and he just bastardizes the guitar sound. The melody is pretty much the same, but he added a different texture. That's a great example of how he used the guitar to play something completely unique. Neil Young is one of my heroes. His use of reverb is particularly brilliant. I never wanted to be known as a virtuoso player.
Guitar.com: Your performance frequently feels urgent and aggressive.
Taylor: Well, my playing is very physical. It's very raw, and I think that developed over the last 10 years of playing with the band. I am not a practiced performer. I have never sat down and tried to learn a scale or brush up on my chops. I always felt those energies were better used writing. And when we got onstage, I had to figure out a way to be more exciting and more and more bold. For me, it just became more and more natural to beat the guitar. That's what I have most in common with Neil Young. Neil can't play a lick. And I can't either, but I watch his playing and he's one of the best guys I've ever seen because he can express so much by doing so little. I have truly strived to do that. I might play a solo in the studio, and realize that I sound too much like Jimmy Page. Too many notes, too many things going on. So, I might just go back in and play one note. I just can't stand to hear articulated masturbation.
Guitar.com: What are some of your favorite guitars?
Taylor: I've mostly been playing a Jazzmaster called Ruby Lou [which was recently stolen -- ed.]. My daughters name is Ruby Lou, and I named it after her. It's sort of unique because it was the first vintage guitar I bought, and it was the first guitar I had spent any money on after Throwing Copper started to sell. It was also the first guitar I bought completely on my own without trying to beg or borrow from friends or relatives. I bought this guitar and it was pretty heavily modified. The pickups were flipped upside-down. Jazzmasters are a really tricky guitar compared to a Stratocaster. It has a much stronger pickup pull. Jimi Hendrix tried to play one but he had such a hart time with it. It kept feeding back so much that he couldn't control it. So the pullpiece is in back of it. We reversed the pickups and the pullpieces were pushed out more. And there was an additional bridge piece put on the guitar, so it plays much more like as Stratocaster, but with a more Dick Dale-esque sound. That's my main money. I think it's become very much a part of my tone. In fact, I've been pushing the people at Fender to try and produce the guitar. My wife and I have started a children's charity called the Ruby Lou Foundation for Children, and we're trying to get Fender to manufacture and sell the guitar, so we can donate all the money to the children's charity.
Guitar.com: Do you use many effects?
Taylor: I have an old Fuzz Face. I was fortunate enough to receive it as a gift from a friend who had done some work for Stevie Ray Vaughan, and it was one of his early pedals. I also have a Vox wah-wah. Again, I think less is more. A lot of young players don't even use the knobs on their guitar. There's a reason why they're there. It's amazing how many tones you can get from just moving the knobs and buttons. So much of the mentality these days is just turn it up all the way and hit a stomp box for effect. A lot of my playing is glassy and clean with the volume rolled back. It's a very distinct tone. Most of my playing still comes from a good old fashioned 100 watt amp and a fuzz face and a wah-wah. I try to stress that guitar playing comes from your hands and what's in your heart, and not all the doo-dads in front of you. The greatest thing anyone ever told me was learn to play first, then add the effects.