Interview: Elliot Easton of The Cars
Like a pop-in visit from a gang of friends you met that crazy, hazy summer a long time ago, The Cars recently – and happily – reappeared in our lives.
Although singer/bassist Benjamin Orr died of pancreatic cancer in 2000, the remainder of the band – Ric Ocasek (vocals, rhythm guitar), Elliot Easton (lead guitar), Greg Hawkes (keyboards) and David Robinson (drums) – regrouped, released a new album and reconnected with fans on a quick, 11-city U.S. tour.
The new album, Move Like This, the band's first since 1987's Door To Door, is the perfect Cars calling card. Its 10 tracks recall the band's vintage sound, complete with catchy choruses, feisty beats and old-school synth effects.
Guitar World chatted with lefty guitarist Elliot Easton on the morning of the band's first tour stop in Seattle.
GUITAR WORLD: The music on Move Like This sounds classic and new at the same time, with a lot of the touchstones that make it identifiable as Cars music. In fact, Devo took a similar approach with their 2010 album, Something for Everybody. Were you shooting for the classic Cars sound?
I don't think we really have a choice in the matter. That's how we play together. It's just the sound of the band. But I'd say that from a song and production standpoint, it doesn't really sound like an ’80s record.
What were your main guitars on the sessions?
I mostly played my signature model SG. I also played a Fender Custom Shop Nocaster, a Mosrite and a Phantom 12-string from Phantom Guitarworks. And there was a Martin HD-28V and a Custom Shop '66-style Strat with a big headstock, a white one. Also a Gretsch, a prototype, a variation of my Gretsch called the White Tiki. It’s like a White Penguin, only it has “Tiki” on it.
Was that just a one-time deal?
Yes, I have the only one on the planet.
Did you use a lot of the same effects that you used in the ’70s and ’80s?
Not necessarily. We used what was available today, which is what we always did. In that time, we used whatever technology was available, so we do the same now.
What about amps?
We used a lot of smaller amps this time, interestingly. I used a Deluxe Reverb, a Princeton and a hand-wired Vox AC15, a white one with the TV front and the Pentode/Triode switch. It's a great-sounding amp. [Producer] Jackknife Lee also had a Vox AC30 and a Selmer.
We did half the album in upstate New York at Paul Orofino’s studio [Millbrook Sound Studios]. He had everything – a collection of just about every small Fender, Ampeg or Vox amp you could ever want to play through, plus heads and cabinets. So we had a choice of everything for that half of the record. We did half of it in upstate New York and self-produced, and then half in Los Angeles at Village Studios with Jackknife Lee.
How does your touring setup differ from the gear you used on the album?
It's just 11 dates of major cities, so I didn’t want to get too elaborate. I’ve got two of my signature SGs: a Pelham Blue one and a white one, and a Custom Shop Telecaster with a Jazzmaster neck pickup. It’s a really pretty guitar. I’m also using a '56 Strat. Depending on what songs we were gonna do, I brought a 12-string and some other things, but it doesn't look like I'm going to be using those, so that's basically the heart of it. Again, for 11 shows, I didn’t see taking 10 guitars out and going too nuts.
I couldn’t help but notice there aren’t too many guitar solos on Move Like This. Why's that?
I don't know that it was necessarily my decision that the record doesn't have a lot of solos. The songs were written before we decided we were going to make a Cars record out of them. I think a lot of the music Ric had been listening to, and stuff he was being inspired by, didn’t have a lot of solos. The stuff he wrote was just more streamlined.
At first I thought it was a little weird, because the old Cars records all have lots of guitar solos. It's a very enjoyable part of being in the band for me – just those little eight or 12 or 16 bars where I can kind of create something for myself. Not for myself, but that comes from myself. You know, it was very important to me. So it was a little odd, but eventually I just accepted the fact that this was a different kind of record and that we were trying to do something a little different.
And you know, it's not like the most important thing in the world. The songs are what matter. There's one solo on it. I was laughing; I was talking to a friend, saying, “You know, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band has two guitar solos on it, and they're both by Paul McCartney.”
So I eventually understood the kind of record Ric was envisioning, and I enjoyed making it; it was a very enjoyable process. Maybe the next one will have some more guitar solos. Who knows?
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Gibson Elliot Easton Signature SG (white)
Gretsch Elliot Easton Jet (green)
Gretsch Elliot Easton Jet (red)