Lead guitarist Sebastien Betley and bassist Matt Cohen sit down with Guitarsforidiots.com to talk gear and new music
One of the best parts of my job is getting to sit down with musicians who actually put all this gear to work. Whether they are in the studio, touring the world, or a ghost writer, they often understand the most important feature of gear. Does it inspire you to create music?
Fortunately, LA-based New Language sat down with me to discuss the gear, influences, and thoughts behind their newest work “EP1_2020”, a 3 song EP that packs plenty of diverse tones and sounds with a bit of a hardcore edge.
“EP1_2020” starts off with the radio ready “No Time” before moving on to my favorite track “PARANOID”. It ends with another hit single in waiting “Can’t Explain”, showcasing the bands mix of heavy music influences with more modern, pop songwriting.
Interview with Sebastien (guitar) and Matt (bass) below!
The tone on all the songs and the approach seems very different, they’ll be layers of clean textural guitar than a lead guitar. Next comes a big crushing riff. So did you approach this with multiple instruments and amps and pedals? Or do you just have one go-to for guitar and bass?
Sebastien: From a guitar perspective, it’s kind of one thing. Tyler, Matt and I, through recording the album, we kind of honed in our thing and made it fairly simple. Marshall amp, really fucking loud, with a Jazzmaster or offset-style guitar with single coils. Make sure to smack the shit out of it.
Sometimes, the guitar tones are pretty, and when you compare it to other heavy music overall, it’s usually not as saturated. It’s honestly because a lot of the record kind of came from us thinking about a funk approach. We’re all really into old school Earth Wind and Fire, James Brown, Prince… Those were the records we were kind of listening to when we started the process of unfurling what this next phase was gonna be.
Those early recordings, a lot of the sessions and the writing was all with the intention of “let’s just figure it out and get it out and not overthink it”.
Matt: The approach to writing this record, we sat down about a year and a half ago, we were all inspired by the funk vibe. So, we’re like, how do we take what New Language is and does, and blend it with these other influences that we have so much fun experiencing ourselves. Our singer Tyler, he produced this effort and he’s our rhythm guy. Sebastien’s the lead guitar guy. Tyler’s a drummer and rhythm guitar player himself so a lot of the foundation tends to be rhythm-focused and then Sebastien sprinkles all of his pretty stuff on top.
The tone on “House of Cards”, I think I recall as a happy accident (could have been intentional by Ty), where we blended these boxy DI-sounds with that low end bass to create such a unique sound. To me it sounds boxy, it was this unique blend of this crank that [Sebastian] was talking about with this unique sound as a layer underneath it.
For my gear, for the most part I used my Music Man Stingray on most and then on “PARANOID” I used a Fender P-bass.
That’s interesting that you bring up that “boxy” approach or sound because with the song “PARANOID”, I feel like it did that sort of Vampire Weekend “Harmony Hall” thing where you mix these really clear sounds with really dirty, muffled layers underneath. When you’re talking about that layering, is that something that came out naturally from jamming together?
Sebastien: I think for us the songwriting went in a couple different stages. What was really important to us was keeping the spirit of what New Language “is” central to our sound. We would try to, usually in the room with Tyler on drums, write a song soup to nuts in that format. And that would almost always be the intention of early sessions, let’s bang out a song. Here’s a riff, here’s another part, here’s a third part, that’s like a loose thing.
And then I think a lot of the interesting production elements kinda came from us taking some time to revisit those songs in a few different ways. We fully demoed everything out, did the drums in our rehearsal space, and did one layer of guitars. Then we did a lot of replacing along the way. So, if something magic happened (we kept a lot of that stuff too!) we’d be able to pick and choose along the way. I mean you know as a guitar player, we’re all really ADD about stuff. One riff will be happening and you’re like “oh what if I do this, what if I do that…”.
Matt: Some of the dynamics you hear in that song (PARANOID), on our first album you’ll hear there are some deep cuts where we have some more of those super mellow vibes. They’re probably our lowest listened to on Spotify but I’m super proud of them because we’ll always have them there to like, reference back to. There are some more spacey, ethereal type of moments, we were doing it like 4 years ago. We’ve all been playing together for so long and through that comes different influences through the last decade that we’ve all known each other.
Some of that more ethereal stuff we’re inspired by more modern bands like FOALS but throwing it back to like 2010-11 years, it was tons of Mutemath and Minus The Bear and Grizzly Bear, etc. The verse of PARANOID is probably one of my favorite parts. It’s simple. The guitar is shimmery smooth on top, and then it’s this driving rhythm section and then it explodes into New Language.
It seems like it’s kind of your style to mix these two ends of the modern rock spectrum where you’re not all the way towards the metal side. But also not the other way towards the lighter, indie side like flor or The 1975. Do you always hope to kind of transverse that width of the genre?
Sebastien: Totally, absolutely, it’s been a bit of struggle. There is always this discussion of are we this or are we this. From a branding perspective, usually you don’t want to be in-between things. But I think it is kind of inescapable because there is just something that makes us want to jump up and down in those more alternative-leaning tracks.
That type of sound has always been a part of what we do, but we also come from the perspective of wanting to have singles and live shows that are just 30 minutes of just balls to the wall. That’s something that’s really important to us too, having that live experience that is like “holy shit what did I just see”. That was part of the intention of putting PARANOID on this EP, part of what you miss if you only do EPs or singles is you miss those deep cuts where you say I’m gonna try something interesting here.
Matt: I think that placing it right between two more single-style songs was intentional. We love PARANOID. It’s a journey of a song, it’s a little longer, so we sandwiched it between the others. We wrote these songs with the intention of an album.
When we were doing the single releases, and just from like a band feeling, we wanted a project, a piece of work that all went together. We choose to do these EPs and I’ve been seeing more people do this, I know Haley Williams just did it, she released a couple of EPs and smooshed them together and called it an album. That wasn’t our intention, but people listen to music differently than they did 2 years ago or 1 year ago.
Switching back to gear for a minute, does your live set up change from this studio set up you described earlier?
Sebastien: There’s not a lot of differences, I grew up playing in heavy bands and was very much into like tune my guitar down and play into a Peavey 6505, crank it up, heavy tones. Then I went to music school and got really into pedals and shit and went down that rabbit hole. And for the past couple years I’ve been slowly retreating back from it.
As far as live gear, I have one pedal board that has like 8 different pedals on it. A Xotic RC Booster, an AnalogMan Prince of Tone, a Menatone Howie, an H9, a Digitech Whammy, then a Strymon Timeline. But between those things, the H9 does crazy studio tricks, but as far as set up wise, live and studio are it’s pretty much the same thing.
Matt: I have no idea why I have just as many pedals as Sebastien as a bass player (laughing). I essentially have 4 pedals that all do the same thing just a little differently. It’s the exact same. I track with my exact same pedal board that I play with live.
My handy pedal, my go-to, probably since I was like 14 years old is just the Boss Bass Overdrive, the ODB-3, the yellow one. We both played in metal bands and metal core bands growing up, I got that pedal probably in 8th grade. I have a bass distortion pedal, I recently got a chorus, I throw in an octave every once in a while, and then we all use this Digitech drop pedal that we use mostly for octaves but also for live.
Lastly, what are you guys tuning to and what are your ride or die guitars that you rely on?
Sebastien: For the record we tune down because I get all nerdy about like overtones and all that shit. It’s usually Drop D. This one is a J Mascis, it’s a Squier actually, I’ve always loved getting a bargain guitar that plays nice. My first guitar was like a $200 Strat copy. I just went in and put in Sperzel locking tuners on the top, Seymour Duncan Antiquities, did the full Mastery bridge and tremolo upgrade and now it’s this really cool kind of custom style guitar. It started from that $400 Squier thing.
Matt: The honest answer is all my stuff is from middle school and high school, it’s this old Music Man Sub, I have the Stingray too. But back in 2005 when I got it, it was the one right below the Stingray. I’ve had this since my high school band, it’s primarily this one then I do have a proper Music Man Stingray and then our friend Greg really opened my world to the whole pedal thing and said “here take my bass” so that’s where the P Bass came in.