Mick Mars and Keith Nelson interview: Two For The Road
GW You’re both rock players who are very much rooted in the blues. Who were your influences growing up?
NELSON I’m from Pennsylvania, and I was very into Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen…because that’s what I was hearing coming out of the radio. But then when I started playing guitar it was Billy Gibbons, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. But I also went backward to the blues, to Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker and Hubert Sumlin. It’s funny, because Josh [Todd, Buckcherry singer] comes from a very punk rock background. Growing up, he never even owned a record longer than a
seven-inch. So we get up onstage together, and he’s screaming his punk stuff, while I wanna be an old black dude with a slide. We kinda meet somewhere in the middle. Though I will say that the music I make in Buckcherry is about the heaviest I’ve ever played.
GW Mick, you could probably say the same thing about your situation in Mötley.
MARS Totally. Nikki’s like the punk, and I’m the classic rock and blues guy: Jeff Beck, Clapton, Hendrix... Nikki doesn’t know a lot of my music, and then there’s a lot of stuff he’ll play for me and I’ll just go, “Yeah, um, that’s nice…” But I listen to it, because you can learn something from everything.
GW Is Mötley a band you would have ever been into had you not been a member?
MARS Well, it was hard for me to get into the whole thing at first. I was a blues guy, but I had played in cover bands that had done a lot of hard rock, so I was used to that, too. But on the first few Mötley albums I really felt restricted in terms of how I could play. I still do, somewhat, because I can play so much better than I do on our records.
GW What about the first time you had to put on the makeup…
MARS Hated it!
GW Did you look in the mirror and say, “What am I doing?”
MARS The way I always thought about it was, at least it wasn’t Kiss or Twisted Sister. I was never into that. I just wanted to be a raw rock and roll band. And I mean, I’m not a very pretty person; I’m ugly as fuck and I don’t give a shit. But again, it’s about the music. I just wanted to play my guitar, you know?
GW Let’s talk guitars a bit. Keith, I know you’re something of a gearoholic.
NELSON I am. On 15 I played mainly Gretsches; most of the rhythm tracks were done with a Gretsch 6120. And I stick to vintage
Marshalls: I have an old JTM 45, a ’68 small-box “Plexi” and a ’71 Super Lead. Those are the three workhorses. And then I have a couple others: a Vox AC30 and an old Fender Bandmaster.
GW Do you prefer vintage guitars as well?
NELSON I do. I have a couple great old [Gibson] PAF guitars I use in the studio, a ’62 SG and a ’62 355 that get a lot of work, some old Les Paul Juniors, a ’54 Gold Top that I love, a ’53 Fender Esquire... I also have some cool, newer stuff, like a Zemaitis. Like Mick, I have a lot of gear, but I stick to my favorites, because I don’t wanna drag 60 guitars down to the studio or out on the road.
GW Mick, what did you use on Saints of Los Angeles?
MARS I still use my Strats. I have my main one that Fender built for me custom in 1996. There’s no particular model to it. Like, it’s not a ’69 reissue or anything; it’s just a custom shop model. Fender actually copied it off a guitar I had bought back on the Dr. Feelgood tour in ’89. It never sounded good, so I hacked it up, and Fender based my custom Strat on that.
GW I know you’ve favored Soldano amps in recent years, in particular the Super Lead Overdrive.
MARS Actually, on Saints of Los Angeles I mostly used this new amp plug-in for Pro Tools called Eleven [manufactured by DigiDesign]. It’s a virtual amp thing, where you choose from all these different classic models and cabinets and mix-and-match them with different microphones. I played through that, and [producer] James [Michael] and I stacked a bunch of amp models together: some Marshalls, a Soldano Super Lead and this custom Eleven plug-in. And it actually sounds like true, off-the-floor amps in a studio. It’s a great application.
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