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Illuminati Hotties’ Sarah Tudzin: “I always feel like I’m playing in the sandbox when I’m making music with a guitar”

Sarah Tudzin
(Image credit: Kayla Fernandez)

Sarah Tudzin's résumé as a recording engineer is stacked with artists like Macklemore, Weyes Blood and even the original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton. But she saves her most creative sonic experiments for her own band, the L.A-based Illuminati Hotties.

On Let Me Do One More [Hopeless], the former Sunset Sound staffer crafted a collection of bouncy, scrappy indie-rock songs while eschewing stompboxes, instead plugging her Fender Telecaster straight into a Fender Princeton amplifier for guitar sounds.

“It just sounds exactly how a guitar is supposed to sound in my mind,” she says. “It’s not blasting extreme and it’s also not a tiny little microwave of an amp. It really just gets what you need and is bare bones in the best way.”

Many of Tudzin’s guitar riffs, like the off-kilter riff at the center of opener Pool Hopping, come in bursts of inspiration while the songs themselves come later – sometimes after showing them to touring guitarist Sapphire Jewell, who usually has more traditional, streamlined ways of playing them.

“I feel like that’s sort of the story with a lot of the guitar riffs and the more flashy-sounding stuff on the record,” she says. “I figured out how to train myself into doing it the right way, and then oftentimes I’ll bring it to the band and they’ll have a much more measured and obvious way of playing the stuff that I thought of in a live context.”

On the delicate The Sway, a song she’s attempted to capture in the past, Tudzin recorded layers of herself and Jacob Blizard [of Lucy Dacus’ band] playing acoustic guitars around an omnidirectional microphone. The wall-of-guitars effect, which she labeled “guitarchestra” in her Pro Tools session, finally captured the dreamy sound she sought.

“In my brain [it always] sounded like Dave Matthews Band, and that’s definitely not how I wanted it to sound,” she laughs. “You hear a lot of room, you hear a lot of life in that acoustic guitar sound, and all of a sudden it felt like what I wanted the song to feel like, which was much more intimate and sentimental.”

Although she is trained on piano and other instruments, Tudzin uses her lack of formal guitar knowledge to her benefit in Illuminati Hotties.

“I always feel like I’m playing in the sandbox when I’m making music with a guitar, because I feel like there’s so much for me to learn still.”

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Jim Beaugez has written about music for Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Guitar World, Guitar Player and many other publications. He created My Life in Five Riffs, a multimedia documentary series for Guitar Player that traces contemporary artists back to their sources of inspiration, and previously spent a decade in the musical instruments industry.