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4 On 6's - Stephen Fellows

Comsat Angels


My main guitar is an ordinary Strat, there's nothing unique about it. I tend to break them, and Strats are fairly tough — they're easy to repair, too. I've had this one about a year. I don't make a habit of busting them up, but I mean an SG, say, you break the neck off and that's it. I guess the first person I took notice of playing the guitar was Jimi Hendrix, and he had a Strat so I thought I'd have one of those. I've since found it very versatile.

I really like its trebley, twangy sort of sound. Guitar isn't a particularly important part of our sound — as the singer as well I like not to have to do too much. It forces you to be more concise — and on, say "Total War" from the first LP, there's no guitar at all, because I couldn't sing it and play guitar at the same time. It can be limiting to play guitar on stage.

Guitar synth is something I'd like to try because it gets away from the guitar sound. But they're very expensive and we're skint at the moment. It would force you to think of new ways of incorporating textures — as far as I can make out you could play a chord and it would last forever.

Ultimately, though, I don't think instruments themselves are important. The thing about instruments like that is that they force you to play in different ways, and that is useful, to avoid falling into old habits.

As far as guitars go, I think the problem lies not so much with the manufacturers as with the people who are playing them. Guitars have so many connotations historically and musically, and I can never work out whether it's a good idea to have them.

Having a guitar built for me doesn't really appeal, because I think the guitar is only a tool and it's the way that you use it that's more important, or the idea that you have to use it. When I write I tend not to play the guitar, but I just "visualise" the tune and fit the guitar in afterwards. If it needs it, put it in.

I use a straight AC30 amp, but it bust during the last tour we did in Europe. We had a spare, which is an AC50, separate top and bottom, and I found that sounded much better for some reason. So I'm going to start using that: the AC30's very soft unless you have it at a certain volume — which would be too much for everyone else. But the AC50's very peculiar in that it seemed particularly full of those valve-type harmonics.

I don't really know the difference between valves and transistors, but there's this sort of ringing sound, and that was more evident at lower volumes. In the studio it varies a lot: I've used the AC30 mostly, but often, just to get a different sound, I use a keyboard amp, a Roland JC, or a Music Man, even a bass amp in some cases, or DI. We always mess about.

The best effect I've ever found is an MXR Dynacomp compressor, it's a wonderful thing. If you turn the sensitivity up and the output down you get a pedal-steel kind of sound, it really sings, and if you do the knobs the other way round you get this incredible feedback racket sound which is also pretty useful.

The other thing I use is a flanger — I don't really like flangers because for a start everyone uses them — but at a relatively low volume the sound of a guitar is pretty boring, so I tend to use it, not on much. It's a Boss.

I've got a fuzz box, I use one of Kevin's bass fuzz boxes as he's got about three fuzz boxes on the bass. Actually, his equipment is much more interesting than mine, he's got all these delays and things.

We've only really worked in the studio with Pete Wilson, in the old Polydor studio in Stratford Place. It's a fascinating place, but it's not like any other studio. I enjoy recording when it's quick — I don't know whose fault it is when it's slow. It could be ours, if we haven't worked things out properly.

The hardest part of all is explaining what you want, the language: "cleaner", "warmer", what do they mean? We've worked with Pete, our experience of other people is very limited. But we've mutually agreed that we've probably taken it as far as we can go. Ideally I'd like to do it ourselves with an engineer who is active rather than passive.

We did remix the last single, "After The Rain", with Rafe McKenna who is particularly good, he has an appreciation of overall sound, a "perspective". Pete was really pushed into being a producer — for a start, he hates pop music. I'm not saying he wasn't enthusiastic, he just... he likes classical music and jazz, which is fine, but the recording aspect of those kinds of music is less important.

I'm not happy with any of our records, to be honest. They all sound a bit funny to me. I think the best sounding is probably "After The Rain", but it wasn't properly recorded — there's talking in the background of the main vocal track, Mick talking about a Chinese takeaway. And we've had dogs barking and phones ringing — they're all kind of fascinating, but they shouldn't really be there!

I figure that everything you like influences you to some degree, and I've never been particularly aware of "guitarists", except Jimi Hendrix. This seems a terrible thing to say, but nobody else seems to have... he sort of re-wrote the whole thing. We don't seem to have got very far since then. It's a terrible historic thing to say, but it really does seem that way.

Adrian Belew is kind of similar — he does that double-stopping thing which is a very exciting sound until you see how it's done, and then it's quite easy. You hammer on with your right-hand after you've fretted a note with the left, setting up a rhythmic pattern. Nile Rodgers is effective with his textural kind of kinetic patterns.

I really like Richard Thompson, too, and Pere Ubu are a strong influence on the group. Everybody's instrument is, I think, the way into the "big picture", if you like. You get to the point where you realise it's purely incidental that you happen to play a particular instrument.



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4 On 6's

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4 On 6's - Dave Gregory


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One Two Testing - Dec 1982

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Comsat Angels


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Feature by Tony Bacon

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> 4 On 6's

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> 4 On 6's - Dave Gregory


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