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Cole Rolland: “EDM allows me so much more freedom to be creative and make weird guitar noises I hope people haven't heard before”

Cole Rolland
(Image credit: Chris Hau)

With one-million-plus subscribers and over 170 millions views, Cole Rolland is easily one of the biggest names in the YouTube guitar sphere. Launching his channel back in 2008, the Toronto solo artist has built his brand posting dazzlingly accurate guitar covers and phenomenal six-string reinventions of classical pieces.

But like many YouTubers, the 27-year-old has ventured well beyond the confines of the platform during his career. He's shared the stage with EDM heavyweights ILLENIUM, Krewella and Adventure Club, and has put his compositional skills to record, most recently with his 2020 EP, Passenger.

Rolland's talents go far beyond his musicianship, too; his skills in videography, graphic design, production and branding – skills that are evident in any of his videos – solidify him as one of today's most well-rounded guitar artists.

We caught up with the multi-talented six-stringer to discuss his approach to YouTube, the gear he uses to achieve his sound and the guitar's place in the future of electronic music.

You recently reached the extraordinary milestone of one-million subscribers on YouTube. How did that feel?

“The word that I keep gravitating to is 'surreal'. I'm a big advocate for celebrating milestones and using them as a point to reflect on how far you've come. The one-million subscriber milestone is one of my proudest achievements but it was far from a solo endeavor. A big shoutout goes out to my friends and family who have supported my ambitious ideas over the past several years.”

The production value of your guitar covers is second-to-none. How would you describe the importance of creating visually appealing and well-produced video content when it comes to building an audience?

“Firstly, thank you! It definitely did not start off that way and it's an ever-changing process. I've always been captivated by high production value. With more and more people consuming YouTube content than traditional television on a consistent basis, the quality of the content has increased proportionally. 

What drew me to Kiesel were two aspects: its beautiful design options and my knowledge of their interpersonal artist relationships

“It's important to think about how you're going to make yourself stand out in an infinite-scroll social media feed. What is going to make the viewer stop on your post and steal their attention? Always push yourself to learn new skills that bring you closer to where you want to be. We have endless resources at our fingertips!”

You’re a strong proponent of Kiesel guitars, it seems. What draws you to Kiesel as a brand?

“I am! This March will mark my third year as a Kiesel-exclusive artist and that has absolutely flown by. What initially drew me to the brand were two aspects: Kiesel's beautiful design options and my knowledge of their interpersonal artist relationships. 

“Having the capability to design my 'dream guitars' hooked me early on. Being able to grow as an artist alongside the brand and feel welcome as a member of the family kept me for the long game.”

Cole Rolland

(Image credit: Lucan Coutts)

What amps, pedals, and plugins are you currently using?

“I've been a Fractal Audio artist since early 2015, using the Axe-Fx II to this day. STL Tones has made some absolutely incredible tone bundles that I utilize with the Axe-Fx hardware. 

“With the amount of time I spend in the studio creating content, I find them to be an invaluable time-saver and consistent source of inspiration. Plugins-wise, I'm able to find almost anything effects-wise that I need within the Waves: Mercury bundle or the SoundToys: Effect Rack (special shoutout to EchoBoy, my favorite delay plugin). 

“When it comes to hardware pedals, I keep it very simple with a Jim Dunlop Wah (Slash signature, of course), a DigiTech Whammy for my EDM covers, and a PolyTune tuner.”

You’ve performed with a number of high-profile electronic artists including ILLENIUM, Krewella, and Adventure Club. Do you think the guitar will find its place in more of an EDM setting in the future?

“Absolutely. Incorporating live instruments in this genre opens limitless possibilities in both studios and live performance settings. The opportunities for collaboration also grow immensely. 

The fact that the musical climate is so vastly different gives me so much more freedom to be creative and experiment

“Each time that I've had the privilege to perform with these artists, I've seen so much enthusiasm from them towards the live instrument elements. 

“ILLENIUM's entire Ascend Tour in late 2019 featured a live band, The Chainsmokers have made a graceful transition into a band-based format. I love where the genre is going and I'm excited to be a part of it.”

Obviously, the set of instruments that accompanies the guitar in an EDM setting is vastly different than that of a rock setting. How do you approach crafting your guitar tone for electronic music?

“My favorite rule is that there are no rules. The fact that the musical climate is so vastly different gives me so much more freedom to be creative, experiment, and just... make weird noises that I hope you've never heard on a guitar before. 

“My cover of Feeling Something by ILLENIUM, Excision, & I Prevail is a recent example of implementing a new technique on the guitar with zero post-production effects. 

“In order to replicate the drop that Excision contributed to that collaboration, I utilized an onboard killswitch, crossover hand technique, and downward pick slides in conjunction with each other. This allowed me to emulate and embellish the preexisting synth patches in that section of the song with a delivery method that can be easily adapted to a live show setting.”

YouTube has become one of the most viable ways for musicians to gain a following. What advice would you give aspiring guitarists starting out on the platform?

“My best advice comes into play once you've overcome the hurdle of uploading your first few videos. Your quality and consistency will improve as a byproduct of your hard work and enthusiasm to grow. You will start to hone in on your niche and what makes you unique. 

“When that one video starts to gains traction and brings in the viewers, they are much more likely to stick around hit that 'subscribe' button when they see the great catalog of content that you've already created. 

“Don't let perfectionism hold you back from getting started. You will always be growing and improving. We all look back on our first few projects and remember why we started!”

Your latest original release was your 2019 EP, Passengers. Can we expect to hear any more original music from you soon?

“This is my favorite question because I'm so excited about what I'll unveiling next month. March 2021, baby! A new CR original song will be available featuring a special guest. That's all I can say. I hope this was adequately cryptic…”

For more from Rolland, head on over to his YouTube channel.

I'm a Staff Writer at Guitar World. I've played guitar for 15+ years and have a degree in Music Technology (Mixing & Mastering). I suppose that makes me qualified to talk to you about this stuff? I'm into all genres of music, but first and foremost I love all things rock and metal.