Spotlight: Callum Robinson of Semantics

Semantics. Credit: Harley Jones
(Image credit: Harley Jones)

CALLUM ROBINSON

HAILS FROM: Meanjin/Brisbane, QLD
PLAYS IN: Semantics
SOUNDS LIKE: Soaring ocker-rock soaked in good vibes
LATEST DROP: Paint Me Blue (LP out now via SideOneDummy / Cooking Vinyl)

What’s your current go-to guitar?
I’ve been playing an American Jazzmaster for over a year now! There’s something about the neck, the size of the body suits my tall frame, and the pickups are hot and loud, but have great top-end definition. I can get my mid‑range overdrives just as easily as sparkling cleans, and the middle switch is such a distinct Jazzmaster sound. I absolutely adore it! I just picked up a Gibson SG to mix it up a bit onstage and in the studio, so that should be fun too! 

How did you initially fall in love with the instrument?
When I was eight, my dad got an acoustic guitar with a VHS course and a book. I remember it being the first instrument in my home, and my dad never got the hang of it, but I asked for a lesson and have been playing ever since. My first guitar was a secondhand Epiphone Les Paul that I got when I turned ten. I played my first-ever gigs with it when I was 15, and still have it in my studio now. She doesn’t get played much, but the sentiment is too much to let go of.

What inspires you as a player?
To rattle off the top names, it’s easily Costello, Billie Joe, J Mascis, Steve Earle, Albert Hammond Jr and Dylan Baldi. I could list hundreds of players that I love, but what these guys all have in common is an incredible punk edge to their respective genres. Each of these guys play hard and loud, and they match aggression with detail and nuance. They all tap into country guitar and old‑time ballad songwriting, but they all transform the styles into their own thing. I hope to do the same with my guitar playing.

Are you much of a gear nerd?
I’m a huge gear nerd. Right now I’m absolutely loving my Valvetone stack, and my studio partner owns a 100-watt Supersonic head which is just magical. Pedals are an endless pursuit, but the mainstays on my ‘board are my HX Stomp, Carbon Copy, Slo Reverb and the Benson Fuzz. Overdrives are always changing, too, but I’m really digging the Limelight Overdrive by Electronic Audio Experiments – they developed it with the guitarist of Touché Amoré and its got the independent boost and drive switches that work really well with the Jazzmaster!

Do you have any ‘white whales’?
I’ve always wanted a white Gretsch Falcon, but specifically Chris Cheney’s one, signed. Chris, if you ever read this, give me a call. An old Greenback four-by-12 would be my dream speaker box. Big ticket items would have to be a proper pedal steel guitar, a Rickenbacker 330 and an original Firebird with those original pickups, in the non-reverse shape. What a riff stick.

What would your signature model look like?
I’m actually designing a custom guitar with a friend of mine who is a luthier. We’re working on an offset body shape and a C-shape neck with rosewood frets and a cool headstock. It’s very much inspired by the Jazzmaster. For hardware I’m thinking a hardtail bridge, maybe hipshot. I love Reverend’s locking tuners so I’ll see if Grover or Gotoh make something similar. The bridge pickup will be a Filtertron or TV Jones, lipstick in the neck, and if it’s not too ugly I’ll throw a mini humbucker in the middle. For the finish I’d go for a translucent, super thin nitro. Satin on the neck. Brownie points if I can throw a B bender on there. 

If you could jam with any guitarist, dead or alive...
Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings for sure, that dude knows how to jam. I feel like half of their discography is this meticulously crafted and carefully written pop‑rock, and the other half is this chaotic mess of shoegaze-y punk madness. I’d love to play bass or drums and just let him rip. For those reading, if you didn’t know, Cloud Nothings are the greatest band in the world.

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Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Their bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (on which they also serve as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Their go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, they only picked up after they’d joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped them see the light…

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