Today we’re pleased to unveil another new column here at the Vault: It Goes to Eleven, where we chat in depth with musicians about their gear and setups. For our inaugural installment, we’re thrilled to be talking with Drew Smith (Archarus) and Jordan Smith (Drude/Potslammer). Known collectively as Tonesmith, they’re providing the backline for the Doomed and Stoned Festival once again this year. Jordan and Drew were good enough to answer a few questions for us via email about what backlines actually are and their experiences providing them for D&S Fest.
Indy Metal Vault: So first off, since a lot of readers might not be familiar with the term, can you explain what a backline is and why Doomed & Stoned Fest would need one?
Jordan Smith: A backline is a permanent installment of speaker cabinets and any other various gear meant to be shared by all or most performers. The function is to keep changeover times between bands to a minimum by not having the clear the stage after each band. Absolutely essential for a festival where you have 10+ bands per day on the same stage.
Drew Smith: In a normal show setting bands bring their own, but more bands means more gear. And like J said, on an event the size and magnitude of Doomed & Stoned Festival, backlining allows for cleaner set changes and an overall smoother show. Not to mention, it gives the sound engineer a more consistent platform to dial bands in since you don’t have to move mics around on new cabs or new drums.
IMV: How did you how did you guys end up being the ones to put together the backline for D&S Fest? You’re both in bands known for having killer tone – is that the main reason, or have either/both of you had experience doing something similar in the past?
DS: Appreciate the compliment! Jordan and I both spend hours messing with pedals and effects and such attempting to find that perfect tone. It’s kind of a neurosis; I’m sure most of our guitar friends will relate. We’re just like kids getting together to play with toys; we’ll just set up a buffet of amps, cabs, and effects and just start making noise until we find stuff we like. To answer the initial question, though, after Melissa announced the festival was happening at the size it was, I realized that this type of event is going to require a backline. I believe Jordan, having the same thought, messaged her around the same time I did, offering to help in that department. So we hooked up and started talking logistics. The main reason I offered is that I just really enjoy events and the idea of helping organize them. And the fact that he and I have the equipment and the skills to do so, it made all the more sense to lend my services.
JS: I had a little experience in back lining. I had sort of fallen into the job of providing Big Business with their amplifiers and drums for a fly-in show they did in Indianapolis for the Fountain Square Music Fest. I’ve always enjoyed playing with amps, so I like to do it any chance I get. We both ended up being the guys for Doomed and Stoned Fest simply because we had both offered at around the same time, so we decided to team up. Tonesmith, our backline company, was formed through this collaborative effort. We had both been around Indianapolis quelling tone woes and such, so it just made perfect sense.
IMV: For a festival where multiple players with different sounds and styles will be using the backline, what are your criteria for choosing the amps? Do you go with something versatile and count on the musicians to dial in their desired sound with their pedal boards? Or do you try to take into account the styles of the players and choose the gear that way? Did you talk directly with any of the bands about their preferences?
DS: Great question. In general, we really are specifically providing only the speaker cabs. We encourage players to bring their own amplifiers because other than the fingers, amps are where the tone is. So generally, the player must be fine using different cabs than they might be used to, but other than that, if you can bring your own amp, go for it! I know when I travel and play a fest, I prefer the option to use my own gear as much as possible. We do take into account that some folks might not be able to bring their own in a festival setting, so we have some respectable gear on hand in those cases, if need be arranged.
JS: Yes. Versatility is definitely the name of the game. For the guitar speakers we went with Orange 4×12 cabinets with Celestion V30 speakers. They are the long-time industry standard speaker for rock music and are pretty widely accepted to be some of the best. For bass speakers we went with Ampeg SVT series 8×10 speaker cabinets with Eminence speakers which are, again, as close to an industry standard as you can get. For drums, we again kept it as standard as possible with a 12”, 14”, 16”, 22” set. And yes, we speak to every single band beforehand to make sure that they know what to expect so they can plan accordingly. We also fulfill any special requests within reason.
IMV: From the musicians’ perspective, how do they feel about having to play on gear that’s not their own? I’m sure they appreciate not having to haul amps across country, but I know musicians are very particular about their setups.
JS: We ask every musician who is able to bring their own amplifiers, cymbals, guitars, effects pedals and kick pedals. We want every player to feel as comfortable as possible with their tone and these are the things that will make or break the sound to which someone is accustomed. Our headliners flew in for the show, so we provided them with amplifiers based on what they had requested.
DS: I’m personally very particular about my setup, so I totally understand when someone is less than enthused, but welcome to festivals. We generally don’t get any complaints since Jordan and I play in bands of the same cloth and are not just some backline company. The bands are going to get what they have at home already. We sent out mass communication months ago detailing the stage plot. So, if someone is concerned, there’s plenty of time to familiarize yourself or ask questions. We tell bands to let us know if they really really want something different. I’m here to please and I’ll do what I can. I’m not the star of the show, the bands are.
IMV: It’s my understanding (which could well be wrong) that most backlines are usually loaners, right? What incentive does a music store have to loan out expensive amps? Is there some kind sponsorship deal involved?
JS: Yes, back lines are usually rented. Rental gear of this caliber can be extremely expensive and unreliable. You never truly know the service history of this type of rental equipment and inventories are often times very limited. However, this festival is a special case. We are focused on a genre that largely consists of players who are proponents of top-of-the-line gear beyond what any local shop would generally have available for rent. The best way to do this type of festival is through an actual back line company such as ourselves. We simply could not have rented what we used. Everything is from our inventory. Some special requests were borrowed or rented from friends.
DS: Generally, the stores have some arrangement for rental and possibly a sponsorship mention on the flyer or something. And more times than not, you get the community gear. How well is it kept up? Did the last band spill beer on it? Probably a Line 6. It’ll do the trick, but we think the bigger the better, so why not build a big ‘ol rig of doom? The gear being used at the fest is almost all our own that we use in our own bands. So you know it’s going to be well maintained and kept up to date on all their shots.
IMV: This is your second year doing D&S Fest. Did you run into any issues or challenges last year that caused you to approaching things differently this time around?
DS: Totally. It was relatively new to all of us, so we learned a ton - things to do, things not to do. We had some unlucky malfunctions with an amp last year, but Jordan went Clark Kent and got the issue taken care of before I even knew we had a problem. Plus, we always have backups on standby. Friday went as clean as a whistle; Saturday hit some time snags, but the causes were easily identifiable and remedied. Communication is so important and we’ve been way ahead of the train on that one. We’ve been more clear with the bands as well as each other on the set times, stage arrangements, and procedures, and I think it will certainly show. Or better to say that you won’t notice. Apostle of Solitude recently got back from Maryland Doom Fest and playing a handful of fests in Europe, so any chance I have I try to pick their brains. In addition, since we are also providing drums, Dre Duarte agreed to enlist as our drum tech since I’m admittedly less nuanced in the drum department. Having his knowledge and skills around is going to free Jordan & I up more to facilitate the changeovers and make for a better show. We also hired Victor Jobe at Eleven Productions. Victor is going to beef up ICB’s sound gear and has extensive experience mixing loud as hell bands.
JS: We had very few hiccups over the weekend last year. Nothing avoidable, really. Had one amp go down on Friday night which I was able to repair (and still get 2 hours of sleep) before sound check on Saturday at noon. It’s not a terribly complex job. Organization and communication are the two key elements. Our system of keeping things running is pretty solid. I might just lay off the coffee this year.