Chris Buck: “We were shooting for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon meets Ray LaMontagne”

Chris Buck
(Image credit: Ross Madden)

Debut albums can sometimes be a shot in the dark. But in Cardinal Black’s case, a comprehensive campaign on social media, including a Kickstarter fundraiser to finance the recording, means that January Came Close has become one of this season’s most highly anticipated releases. 

We check in with guitarist Chris Buck to hear how the album came together.

Which studios did you use for the recording?

“The last track on the album is taken from a live session at Abbey Road so it was recorded entirely live in one take. And at the other end of the scale is a place that was a carpet warehouse until very recently, a studio called Snake Mountain in South Wales, which a couple of mates opened up very quickly into an amazing little place. 

“There was another track called I’m Ready, which was recorded live at Rockfield. As good as Snake Mountain Studio is, they don’t have the capacity to record the entirety of the band. It’s kind of your drums and bass together and then layer it up from there. 

I’m Ready is very much a live vibe so we thought that, of all the tracks, it would be great just to go in and do it entirely live. We did a Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of the album for the most part. And we had a lot of Kickstarters come down to the studio and actually watch that process live, which I think aided the recording.” 

How were the sessions, in general?

“It was pretty intensive in terms of long days. We’re not one of these bands that likes to roll in the studio for midday and work through to the early hours or whatever. We’ve all got families and wives and children, which kind of preclude us from doing that for the most part. 

“So we were there early in the morning and would work through usually till about 11 o’clock or until one of us physically couldn’t do any more. So it was done over the space of about a month.”

It’s a guitar-heavy album in the sense that we are a guitar band, so it was just picking the guitars that felt like they best serve the song

What gear did you take into the studio?

“My main guitar on the album was my custom Yamaha Revstar. There were a couple of other little bits and bobs used here and there: the Gibson 355, which inadvertently ended up featuring the Varitone on a track for no other reason other than we got halfway through recording before I noticed I had turned it on at some point. But that weirdly kind of defined the sound of that track, which is quite a cool little fortuitous moment in time, I guess. 

“We’d just come off tour, playing most of the songs live, so it was a case of, ‘I know the kind of sounds I’m aiming for and I know what gear I’m using to try and achieve those sounds.’ It’s a guitar-heavy album in the sense that we are a guitar band, so it was just picking the guitars that felt like they best serve the song and, for me, that was the guitars that either those tracks were written on or the guitars that those tracks had been honed on over the past however long touring.”

What about guitar amps?

“The amps were, for the most part, my touring rig: the Fender Pro Reverb and the Victory Copper Deluxe. There were a couple of tracks on the album that were a 1958 Fender Deluxe, which belongs to a friend of mine Ed Oleszko. I was shooting for a certain type of sound and I sent over a couple of reference points to Ed and he was kind enough to listen and try to figure out what that might have been. 

“This amp seemed like the closest to be able to achieve it and so we took that in the studio. Again, it was a case of not necessarily shooting to use the best gear so much as just shooting to use the gear that I’m more familiar with.” 

I’ve become so used to the sound of how the two amps fit together like a little jigsaw puzzle. You find yourself EQ-ing each amp to complement the other

How did you end up with a two-amp rig?

“I think the two-amp thing is something I’ve come to relatively recently. The Fender is pretty mid-scooped and there’s quite a lot of low-end in it. And there’s quite a lot of crystalline sparkly top-end, but not a lot of midrange. Conversely, the Victory Copper is all aggressive, shouty Vox-y midrange. 

“I’d struggle to do a gig with just one of them because I’ve become so used to the sound of how the two of them fit together like a little jigsaw puzzle. You find yourself EQ-ing each amp to complement the other. 

“You know, there’s not as much low-end or top-end in the Victory because that’s covered by the Fender. But conversely, you don’t find yourself trying to compensate for the lack of mids in the Fender because that’s taken care of really nicely by the Victory.”

You’ve accumulated quite an extensive pedalboard, too.

“It is fairly extensive. And I guess, for the most part, it’s stuff that has grown and evolved over the course of a few years, and the course of a few different rigs and figuring out what works with each amp, what doesn’t work with each guitar, and honing it in. 

“I mean, the actual literal process of putting that ’board together was fairly quick because it was all migrated over from a previous pedalboard and just trying to condense it down into a smaller ’board. The [Line 6] HX Stomp takes care of a lot of the more outlandish effects. 

“The reverbs and delays and stuff are very specific to specific tracks. And then it’s just different flavours of overdrive to taste. We’re trying to cover a lot of ground. With Cardinal Black in particular, there’s a lot of more ambient stuff, which is happening in the verse or in between tracks – even as kind of interludes in the songs. So it’s not just the typical kind of ‘overdrive, delay and away you go’ kind of thing. There’s a bit more to it than that, at least hopefully so.”

Can you itemise one track on the album, which is particularly effects-heavy?

“This track called Terra Firma, which is the Jazzmaster track live. The album version of that is very delay-drenched, and would sound hopelessly bare without it, I think. We’re shooting for a kind of Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon meets Ray LaMontagne, which is very spacey, I guess. There are certain tracks that are very stripped. Tell Me How It Feels is a fuzz and an overdrive at most, and then just one or two overdrives throughout the rest of the track.”

What lies immediately in the future for Cardinal Black?

“We’ve just finished a headline tour and then we’re straight back out on tour [in November] with Peter Frampton. Doing the Royal Albert Hall is obviously a landmark gig of that tour. 

“We’ve got a couple of things in Europe, then plan to do a live vinyl recording at a studio in Switzerland, at which tickets are sold and a crowd comes in and watches live as it is cut entirely live to vinyl. And then we’re going to be touring pretty heavily throughout the early part of next year.” 

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David Mead

With over 30 years’ experience writing for guitar magazines, including at one time occupying the role of editor for Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, David is also the best-selling author of a number of guitar books for Sanctuary Publishing, Music Sales, Mel Bay and Hal Leonard. As a player he has performed with blues sax legend Dick Heckstall-Smith, played rock ’n’ roll in Marty Wilde’s band, duetted with Martin Taylor and taken part in charity gigs backing Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden and Robbie McIntosh, among others. An avid composer of acoustic guitar instrumentals, he has released two acclaimed albums, Nocturnal and Arboretum.