If you’ve been a loyal Vault Hunter for any amount of time at all, then you know how much love we have for Louisville’s Stonecutters. In fact, calling it love might be understating things slightly – they are easily one of the three or four best live bands I have ever seen, with an onstage energy that’s so infectious I’d be doing a disservice by trying to describe it. A large part of it, though, stems from the sheer joy that guitarists Brian Omer and Nick Burks clearly experience playing with each other on stage every night. I used to compare watching the two of them to seeing Pete Adams and Jon Baizley play together, but now that Pete’s no longer in Baroness, Brian and Nick are really in a category all their own. Seriously – if you ever have a chance to see them live, do it.
The band is currently preparing to enter the studio to record the highly anticipated follow-up to 2015’s Blood Moon, but Brian and Nick were cool enough to take some time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions for our ongoing gear column, It Goes to Eleven.
Indy Metal Vault: Hey, guys – thanks so much for agreeing to do an interview for our new gear column. Before we get into the nerdy shit, though, I wanted to ask about how everything’s going with the new record. The demo tracks are fucking rippers – much heavier and more pissed off sounding than anything on Blood Moon. Are those tracks a pretty good indication of where you’re heading with the new album?
Brian Omer: I’m personally still very proud of Blood Moon and albums prior, but yes the new album (tentatively titled Carved in Time) will be another good progression for us. The recording is super thick (Engl heads cutting through massively) and the songs are gonna be strong. It will be great evolution for the band.
Nick Burks: Absolutely. It’s way heavier and more dark sounding. We’ve grown as people and musicians. The new album will be a reflection of what we have gone through during the Blood Moon tour cycle. We faced some crazy obstacles. Enough to where you feel like you have lost everything. I’ve learned to take the bullshit and use our music as an outlet to release my negativity.
IMV: Okay, so let’s get nerdy about gear. How old were you when you started getting interested in playing a musical instrument? And what do you consider to be the first “real” instrument that you had (i.e. not the recorder you were probably forced to play in third grade)?
NB: My interest in music started out young. I went to church every weekend when I was a kid and I’d sing during worship service with my mom and dad and sister. It was fun to sing really loud. My first real instrument was a Yamaha acoustic guitar. My mom rented it for me from The Doo Wop Shop. They are a local music store that I teach at currently.
BO: My older brother started playing before me and we had a couple of guitars lying around the house. At age 11 I started taking lessons and getting serious about it.
IMV: At what point did you decide that you wanted to get serious about music? Was there one thing in particular that you can point to that made you say to yourself this is what I want to do for the rest of my life?
BO: I caught a bunch of awesome shows at Bogart’s in Cincinnati growing up – Death, Obituary, Deicide, Pantera, Wrathchild America, GWAR…during that time I decided I really wanted to do this and started practicing a lot more and taking it seriously.
NB: I was in high school when I got serious about music. I can’t really pinpoint the very moment where I committed my life to music. It just snowballed. First gigs, watching the SNL Band or the CBS Orchestra on Letterman, relationships you form through music, all those things really made me want to live in that world.
IMV: They say that everyone remembers their first time: when did you first play before an audience? How much do you remember about your rig for that first gig?
NB: My first audience was my mom. She was always stoked no matter how bad I sucked. I think I played Bread’s “Guitar Man” and tried to sing it.
My first gig was at an art fair at a Catholic Church in Louisville, KY. It was outside on a Saturday in August. We played under a tent. It was me on guitar and a bassist and a drummer from the same high school I went to. We covered Rush’s “Limelight” and Golden Earing’s “Radar Love” and some other classic rock tunes. Definitely super into the power trio thing. I used a Dean Les Paul ripoff and played through a little Line 6 amp. My friend’s mom filmed it and my friends would always rewatch the footage and roast me. It was really bad. I wish I still had that tape.
BO: I played the “Hotel California” guitar solo in my high school talent show and that went well. But my first real gig was with Human Remains at The Wrocklage in Lexington. I had a nice Ibanez guitar but my Peavey rig was junk and kept feedbacking at high volume so it was a bit of a train wreck. Live and learn.
IMV: What was the first piece of gear you can remember actually buying for yourself? Do you still have it?
BO: First guitar I bought for myself was a white Kramer Striker Flying V. It was a decent guitar, really. Before that I had a junky Encore. I don’t have either anymore, sadly.
NB: I bought a Jackson Dinky. I got it cuz it had a whammy bar. I still own it.
IMV: I know both of you now play Gibson guitars and Engl heads. What made you decide on those as your go-to guitars and heads?
NB: I found a white 92 Gibson Studio at my first job in high school. It was really beat up like almost unplayable. The pickups still worked in it though, and I bought it from my boss for $250 cash. I kept it for a long time and never played it. One of my guitar students fixes guitars with his father. I gave him my beat up Gibson and he rebuilt it for me. It’s my favorite guitar. I use old Gibsons for Stonecutters because they sound so heavy and still maintain clarity. The new Gibsons sucked and have sucked since the early 2000s.
BO: I’ve had a thing for Gibson SGs and Les Pauls since my teenage years. Started out playing an SG (I think Angus Young & Tony Iommi had something to do with that) then moved on to Les Pauls as well. I feel they both sound great in their own right. Best guitars out there in my opinion, for the style of music we play. But I agree with Nick, Gibson doesn’t make them like they use to. I own two SGs and one Les Paul, all pre-2000’s. I also own two Flying Vs. As far as the Engl heads, that is all Nick’s doing. I was always a Marshall guy, and still love Marshall heads, but when Nick joined he bought an Engl head and I soon followed. Great, powerful heads. Perfect for us, a great heavy metal head.
IMV: Do you play your Gibson guitars stock, or do you modify the pickups? What are your go-to strings/gauges? Do you have a preference in terms of picks?
BO: Always stock pickups. Don’t change much on my guitars except they all have Grover tuners now. D’Addario 11’s for strings. Gator Grip 2.0 picks.
NB: The white 92 Gibson Studio I found had Tim Shaw pickups in it. I kept them cuz they sounded killer. I got a killswitch on the neck pickup volume knob and “sludge hammer” switch on my bridge pickup volume knob. It makes the guitar sound really sludgy but still retains clarity. All those upgrades were made by one of my guitar students and his father. They rule! I use D’addario Pro-Steels 11-50s and Jim Dunlop Eric Johnson Jazz III picks
IMV: What’s currently on your pedal board? And of those pedals, what’s the one you absolutely could not live without?
NB: My pedal board is a Polytune floor tuner and my foot switch to go from clean to dirty. Engl’s distortion is so killer I don’t need anything else.
BO: Same as Nick. Just a pedal tuner. Engl has great distortion. Just clean, dirty & lead boost. All through the Engl.
IMV: Is there any piece of gear you got rid of that you wish you hadn’t?
BO: I miss my Marshall JCM 800, it had a great tone. Other than that I’m pretty happy with what I have now.
NB: I wish I still had my first electric guitar. Just for nostalgia.
IMV: What’s your Holy Grail of gear? If money were no object, what’s the first guitar/amp/pedal you’d buy?
NB: I’d get a double-neck Flying V like Dave Mustaine played or a double-neck SG.
BO: I need some new cabinets. Wouldn’t mind another Engl and Marshall head also. My dream guitar is a Les Paul Custom – black with white trim, like Randy Rhoads use to play.