(First appeared in Guitar Player
Magazine, October 1996)
By Mike Mettler
Jason Falkner loves "B" guitars and oddball gear. A tasteful, pop-savvy craftsman in the tradition of George Harrison, Andy Partridge, Neil Finn and Jon Brion, the former Jellyfish and Grays guitarist recallsa friend dropping into the studio unexpectedly during the sessions for his first solo album, Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown [Elektra]. "I had all of my guitars out, including my '36 Vega, an early-'60s Silvertone, an early-'60s Epiphone, a '63 Gibson short-scale acoustic, a '73 Mustang, a Harmony Airline, a Kustom and a '69 Guild 12-string acoustic. My friend looks them over and says to me, 'These aren't exactly the usual suspects!'"
Unusual perhaps, but a worthy lineup of rogues for the 28-year-old Falkner, who received critical accolades for his finely crafted supporting work on Eric Matthews' 1995 baroque-pop debut, It's Heavy in Here [Sub Pop]. On Presents, Falkner serves up a densely layered 12-track pop roller coaster. "I like to do stuff for the headphone cult," he laughs. "I love to put subconscious stuff int he mix, little tiny things that you don't pick up right away." A case in point is the heady "Nobody Knows," in which seven guitar tracks "hand off" each successive part of the song like a relay race for 6-strings.
Despite his pan-guitarism, Falkner harbors a deep aversion to Stratocasters. "The reason I hate them is the same reason I hate standard Les Pauls: I just don't like guitars that everybody else has. I've always liked guitars that are quirky and weird, because they make you play differently. That Strat tone is so identifiable. One of the guys in the Grays had a Strat, and I always gave him a hard time about it." Falkner's lead workhorse is the same '73 Mustang he's had since he was 12, and his lone Les Paul concession is a '58 TV Special. Falkner played all of the instruments on Presents, including an early '60s Mustang bass - "a yellow model with red racing stripes."
Falkner's favorite amp is a Supro 2x12 combo. "It has that honky midrange thing going - that's all it does, that total Jimmy Page/Zeppelin I sound." And though his effects include MXR Distortion + and Phase 90 pedals and an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress flanger, "a lot of what you hear on the album's just maxed-out guitar and amp. There's really no better sound in the world than an AC30 on about 9 or 10. My Epiphone goes so good with that - instant Kinks!"
Still, some of the album's cooler effects came from outboard tinkering, like the "She Goes to Bed" solo, which Falkner ran through a "really crappy" compression pedal called the Choker. "We put the Choker into my 4-track, went direct into the board and distorted the mike preamps on the 4-track. It ended up sounding really crackly, like it's taken from a different era." He brings that 4-track consciousness to all his studio endeavors. "I don't labor over demos, because then you end up with something most people can't reproduce in the studio," he explains. The studio makes you lose some of the innocence and urgency you had at the demo stage. My mission is to retain the spontaneity of that first demo."
Falkner composes with an eye on the big picture. "I'm trying to make the coolest landscapes for my songs, so I tend to look at all of the instruments as equals. They're all crucial." Falkner also figures thathis childhood classical piano training had an enormous impact on both his playing and sense of structure. He suggests "She Goes To Bed" as a prime example: "If you break it down, you could say that there aren't any verses on it, juts choruses with a bridge, a solo and an outro. The musical structure is anything but classic pop. A lot of my stuff is like that: I just won't give you the chorus where you expect it." Falkner's non-linear approach especially applies to writing verses. "Instead of finishing a verse on the 4th beat of the 4th bar and going straight into the one, I'll cut the verse a beat beforehand. Whenever I hear any big rock song on the radio that has that standard double chorus, I think, 'Why couldn't they just give you a chorus and a half?' That's how I keep interested in what I'm doing - by screwing around with what you expect."
"There's no better|
sound in the world
than an AC30 on
and Grays guy
Falkner now does
his own vox.