Inside Black Country, New Road's freewheeling DIY guitar approach

Black Country, New Road
(Image credit: Maxwell Grainger)

Two singles. That’s how much music Black Country, New Road had released before an over-excited music journalist called them the Best Band in the World. The band haven’t let it go to their heads, though. 

“I think people are used to this kind of sensationalism in journalism,” laughs singer/guitarist Isaac Wood. “I don’t think anyone’s really expecting us to be anything like the best band in the world. If they are, then it’s their fault for believing it!”

Hype aside, the entire music press agrees that this band is a bit special. Combining post-rock, jazz, and post-punk sounds they’ve drawn comparisons to other achingly cool experimental acts such as Fat White Family, Squid, and Black Midi, with whom they regularly collaborate.

Sounding so different from the mainstream requires unusual gear, and boy do they have it. “We mostly just buy cheap Fenders and aftermarket parts and put together our own guitars,” explains Isaac.

Guitarist Luke Mark regularly wields a greatest-hits-of-Fender hybrid, with a Jazzmaster body, Tele pickups, and a Strat neck. He also plays a guitar Isaac built from the remains of a Mexican Strat. “It has a Mojo Pickups Gold Foil. It’s kind of cool because Isaac’s put it between neck and middle position.”

Isaac’s main guitar is a homemade Tele that is now a double cutaway. “I was a bit inebriated and I cut the top horn off it,” he explains. “I came home and the flat was covered in wood shavings, and Isaac wasn’t there,” laughs Luke. “But now it plays better than ever!” insists Isaac. “There was some sort of mid frequency kept in there that I really didn’t like. Now it’s gone.”

They have an equally DIY approach to pedals, with Luke’s favoured boost being one that Isaac built. Second single Sunglasses opens with a blast of fuzz courtesy of an Op Amp Big Muff, but it doesn’t make either of their minimalist gigging boards.

Isaac uses a Z.Vex Box of Rock and Distortion with an Ibanez Tone-Lok delay. Luke has a Maxon Distortion Master, a Boss EQ modded by Adrian Thorpe of Thorpy FX, and an Electro-Harmonix Canyon delay. These go into Orange amps, currently TH30s, but they have plans to go to stacks when bigger gigs are possible again.

On their debut album, For The First Time, guitars are prominent but rarely the centre of attention, sharing space with keys, violin, and saxophone. Isaac explains the writing process.

“You build a small skeleton of a song and everyone pulls together. We edit it down and try and make it sound complete, so it’s not really guitar at the front nor at the back. It’s a level playing field.”

They both cite Low’s Alan Sparhawk as an inspiration for their guitar approach, while Isaac gives a nod to recent Bob Dylan collaborator Blake Mills.

Luke explains their role: “It’s more textural. There’s not too much crazy riffing going on. It’s more about the dynamics and filling out another melodic space.”

  • Black Country, New Road's For The First Time is out now via Ninja Tune.

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