Originally published in Guitar World, November 2010
Anchorage metallers put the focus on the songs with Collisions and Castaways.
On their fourth album, 2008’s The Tide and Its Takers, Anchorage, Alaska–based quartet 36 Crazyfists pummeled listeners with staccato rhythms and rapid-fire fret runs that interlocked at surprising angles. As challenging and effective as it was, the approach frequently overshadowed the melodies that lurked under the jumbled riffs. So when they started working on their new album, Collisions and Castaways, 36 Crazyfists focused less on jarring musicianship and more on solid songwriting.
“We wanted to add more of a rock vibe and not get too technical,” says guitarist and producer Steve Holt. “Having memorable riffs and catchy choruses is way more important than having crunching, heavy parts spinning off everywhere.”
In theory, simple songs should be easier to write than complex ones, but Holt discovered that’s not necessarily the case. “In the genre we’re in, everything is based on intensity. It’s really difficult to create the kinds of riffs that make people identify a song even before the vocals kick in.”
In the end, Holt toned down everything, from his riffs to his amp. For the latter, he set the gain on his Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier to three and boosted the midrange. “I kept the sound clean, then layered it in there with a stereo pair of rhythms,” he says. “It made everything sound crisp and heavier, but more listenable.”
36 Crazyfists started writing Collisions and Castaways last November in Anchorage, where half the members live. In early 2010, they relocated to Smith’s studio in Portland, Oregon, where Holt also produces local bands. “There’s more production work in Portland than Alaska,” he says. “But I like the isolated feeling in Alaska. Plus, you only get four hours of light a day, so when you leave the studio it’s always dark and cold. Maybe that’s why we don’t mind being in there eight hours a day.”