Even with the world in lockdown, Ego Kill Talent have made 2020 their year. Of course, it’s not the year they had originally planned, but with the release of several EPs, huge singles including The Call – currently approaching a combined million plays on YouTube alone – and a litany of live streams including the Bob Burnquist Spotlab Sessions in native São Paulo, Ego Kill Talent have been knocking it out of the park.
Hard to believe then that the band was formed only five years ago, but they’ve packed a lifetime of hard work into the intervening years. From touring with Foo Fighters and Queens Of The Stone Age, to recording new album The Dance Between Extremes at Dave Grohl’s home studio – on the famous Sound Studios Neve console that was part of dozens of classic albums, not least Nevermind and Rumours – the band have reached heights most bands dreamed of, and all without playing a single show in the US.
We caught up with bassist and occasional drummer Ego Kill Talent to get an idea of the gear they use, and their plans for when the world restarts.
You guys had a pretty full 2020 planned between festivals across the world and dates with bands like Metallica and System Of A Down – how have you been filling the gap this year? I see you have done a number of live streams, has the band been active outside of that?
Yeah, we had a great 2020 planned…tours with Metallica, Greta Van Fleet, System of A down, Foo Fighters…not mentioning the Danny Wimmer festivals in the US and the European Summer Festivals. Man, just to read everything I just wrote I go like “Damn…” haha.
But, it is what it is. The whole world is going through such a crazy moment and we can only cope and hope for the best.
Regarding what we’ve been doing during this time, for the first 3 months of lock down we were all at home and didn’t see each other for around 100 days. Then we decided to test the five of us for Covid and get together in the studio to do some live streams and to shoot some live performances. We thought that since we couldn’t tour we should try to get as close as possible, and that was how we came up with this idea of doing a virtual tour.
In the last weeks we also started to write some new songs!
Your band are known for swapping instruments during your shows – how does that come about at the writing and recording stage? How does that affect the choice of gear that the band has at their disposal? Do certain members only play certain guitars or are they all shared?
The instrument swapping happened very naturally.
The story behind it is that when we started the first jams, that later became the band, we were a 3 piece. Two guitarists and a drummer with no bassist When we had like 4 demos recorded we showed it to Rapha whom I knew for many many years since we used to have a band together where he plays drums. Rapha was already kind of known in the local scene for being a great drummer.
After listening to the demo he turned to me and said “I want to join the band”. I was like “Man, I’d love to have you in the band but we already have Jean in the drums…” Rapha replied “I don’t care, let me play the bass.”
So originally Rapha joined the band to play bass!
But after just a few weeks one day Jean came to the studio with a guitar riff idea and asked Rapha to play drums just a bit so we could develop the idea, so I picked the bass so we could see how the song would sound with the whole band. After a few hours playing with that lineup we were like “hey, this is sounding really good! We should just go ahead and do this live too!” And that was how it started.
So basically what we do is: when we start to write a song we see how it flows better, with who playing what and once we figure that out we just go ahead and record it like that. Regarding the gear we kind of decide it together.
And yes, we do share instruments!
Tell me about your new album The Dance Between Extremes – where and how was it recorded? Any interesting stories from the recording?
Those were really fun times….
We recorded the album at 606 Studios, which is owned by Dave Grohl, of the Foo Fighters. We toured with them and Queens of the Stone Age in Brazil in 2018 and the invitation to record at 606 came from that. We got some pretty cool special guests on the album like Roy Mayorga, drummer of Stone Sour, who programmed a drum machine in a song, John Dolmayan, drummer of System of a Down, who wrote and recorded a song with us – and lent us the very same snare drum he used on Toxicity – and world skateboard champion Bob Burnquist, who recorded some percussion in a song.
As we did on the first album, the drums were recorded on tape and then dumped into the Protools to record all the rest, that’s how Steve Evetts, producer of both of our albums, usually does.
That place is very inspiring and and the ideas were flowing, there was a very creative atmosphere around, the overall vibe at the studio is amazing and it was really cool to see all those Nirvana and Foo Fighters records on the wall, so much history in there. We were very well treated and the Foos were very nice and kind to let us use their gear, so we used some of their guitars and amps, a bunch of different drums, we used a snare drum that was a gift to Taylor Hawkins given by Roger Taylor of Queen, a guitar cabinet that belonged to Cheap Trick….
And, of course, the Neve board. It was truly amazing to record on the same board in which so many classic albums were made, such an incredible piece of music history. We put up on Youtube some videos of the recordings where you can check out how cool it was.
Did you have any albums in mind as examples of what you wanted the new record to sound like? How do you feel the sound of the record is different to your previous albums?
I don’t think there was a specific sound reference for things, we just wanted it to sound as more organic as possible, that’s something we have talked about with Steve Evetts for both albums.
A lot of today’s Rock bands use a more processed digital sound on the guitars, triggers on drums, etc, and I’m not criticizing it, it’s just an aesthetic choice that we think doesn’t fit what we do. We all grew up listening to 70’s, 80’s and 90’s music, when musicians had to really nail it, the imperfections were all there and things sounded more natural.
So what we were looking for was the real sound of the guitars coming out of those cabinets, the huge sound of the drums in that room (which is AMAZING), etc.
In comparison with our previous album, I think this one sounds a lot different mostly because it was a different studio, with different equipment, different instruments and so on. Also, Steve knew us a lot better on this second album and knew the dynamics better and how things work in the band. There was a lot more room for experimentation on this one.
And then as far as guitar gear – what’s on the record? Do you use the same rigs in the studio that you use live? Any interesting gear you use on records that doesn’t get used live?
The studio is a huge laboratory and it’s really hard to keep track of everything we used, but one thing in common between the studio and the live shows is Orange. We’ve been with them for a while and they work perfectly in both situations.
As for guitars and basses, we used mostly Fenders and Gibsons – Stratocasters, Telecasters, SGs and Explorers… We even used a baritone Gibson Explorer of Pat Smear, great sounding guitar with a long neck. We also used Steve’s early 90’s Spector bass with active pickups, a monster sounding bass, and a few Fender Precision basses.
Do you approach the songs differently live at all? Some bands like to make studio recordings that stand on their own, but can’t necessarily be recreated live (eg loads of different guitar tracks, backing vocals, synths etc) – where does EKT fall on that scale?
There’s some very few arrangement changes we do live and that’s something we will definitely do more as time goes by. Especially on the drums me and Jean always try different stuff on the rehearsals that end up on the live performances and I think that brings some freshness to the shows.
On the first album we were more concerned with recording something we would be able to faithfully represent live, so we were more restrained. On this one we let it looser and tried more guitar overdubs here and there, a drum machine on a song, etc., and that’s something we’ve been talking about for future albums, not being afraid to put layers of things if we think it makes sense for the song.
There wouldn’t be a problem to play some songs live with backing tracks if that’s what it takes to fully represent those songs.
The backing vocals are all done live as well and for me in particular that’s more delicate to back track, because the voice is something very particular that exposes more deeply the mood of who’s singing. I think it’s a lot cooler and more human when you see where those voices are coming from.
The singles you released this year have gotten a ton of attention, with a combined 1.3 million views on YouTube for the singles The Call, Now and Lifeporn – do you feel you’ve been able to keep that momentum going without playing shows? What are your plans once the world reopens?
Keeping that momentum without playing shows has been a big challenge and I think that we’ve been able to do it because we absolutely love to play live and we can’t wait for shows to come back, we’re absolutely hungry! Hahahaha!
Another thing that’s been keeping us very pumped is the fact that “The Call” is being played in radio stations all over Europe and is on the Top 50 Rock radio charts in the US for over 12 weeks, although we’ve never played a single show there, so that makes us think there’s some great stuff waiting for us in the near future.
When things get back to normal (or as close to normal as possible) we really wish to do everything we were supposed to do this year. There was a bunch of awesome things planned… During the pandemic we’ve been writing tons of music and I really believe we’ll get out of it with enough material for 2 albums, so that’s also in the plan, to record another album as soon as the tour for The Dance Between Extremes is over.
You’ve played and toured with a ton of huge bands from Foo Fighters to Shinedown, are there any bands where you feel seeing them live or touring with them had an effect on how you write, play, or approach your own music?
Any artist doing it for real is always a huge source of inspiration. Watching Metallica live, for example, is something out this world to me, so inspiring! They’ve been out there for 40 years still making great music and kicking ass, selling out stadiums all over the world.
That kind of thing makes me want to do it even more, makes me want to be a better musician. I’ve always seen some guitar players say they wanted to quit after watching Eddie Van Halen, or Stevie Ray Vaughan, or this or that guy. For me it’s totally the opposite feeling.
If someone wanted to learn to play an Ego Kill Talent song, what would you suggest they start with? Any particular riffs or licks that you think are fun to play, or might present a fun challenge to more advanced players?
To start with I’d pick “Last Ride“, from our first album. The main riff is basically some pull-offs and it’s really fun to play. It’s also fun for drummers as the groove over the main riff is very pumping and the hi-hat following the riff is very cool.
The second one would be “The Call“, from our second album. It has a really cool main riff and a heavy breakdown with some cool bends.
For the more advanced players I’d suggest “Now!“, because of the main riff and the instrumental part, although none of us is a guitar virtuoso, but it’s really fun to play.