Grayscale’s third record Umbra is very nearly out (due out August 27th on Fearless Records), and the band is as ready as anyone to see it hit the stores.
For the next few weeks, the band will be on the Sad Summer touring festival with All Time Low, The Story So Far, The Maine and more.
We caught up with guitarist Dallas Molster to talk about the new record, his love for vintage guitars, and recording entirely in a Kemper.
Your new album Umbra is due out August 27th, and is something of a step forward from 2019’s Nella Vita – can you tell me more about the process from one to the other?
‘Nella Vita’ was definitely a step forward for us as a band and the reception to it was amazing. When it came time to start working on ‘Umbra’, our mindset to keep evolving musically didn’t change. We pushed ourselves and the boundaries of our sound until we got it right.
On ‘Nella Vita’ we started implementing new musical elements to our band such as choir vocals, auxiliary instruments, etc. When writing ‘Umbra’, we expanded further and brought in additional horn players, a pianist, and more heavily involved choir vocals across the record. The writing process didn’t necessarily change, we just doubled down a lot more sonically while shifting general production in certain ways.
How did the band deal with the lockdowns in 2020? Did you guys end up spending more time on the record than you might otherwise have?
When the lockdowns started, I packed all of my equipment up from our practice space and took it to where I would be quarantined for those first few weeks. In turn the guys and I did the work that we could over the internet.
Once we felt comfortable to see one another we got right back to work at the practice / studio space.
I like to look at it as a blessing in disguise. Although we weren’t on that road which was a bummer, it allowed for us to spend a lot more time on this record.
We had so much more time to write and refine that we just wouldn’t have had if we were on the road. In many ways, it allowed us to reach a new level of our sound.
How was working with Courtney Ballard? How did that come about, and what do you feel he brought to the process of recording the album?
Courtney is incredible.
Collin and I had a writing trip out to LA to work with some friends, and we had worked out a meeting with Courtney just to hang out and see if we could write anything together.
We instantly hit it off.
Collin and I couldn’t get over how quickly we clicked with Courtney. It’s hard to explain but it’s as if he was a part of the band. We share similar tastes in music which are all over the place genre wise. He’s not afraid to push boundaries and neither are we.
He pushed us, and myself especially, to really lean into the collective idea and vibe that became the songs included on “Umbra”.
So guitars! What did you guys use on the new record in terms of guitars/amps/pedals?
I’m glad you asked. The record was primarily tracked with Fender guitars. I did a lot of recording with a Telecaster that had some of their noiseless pick ups in it. I also used a Squier J Mascis for some alternate tuning stuff. I’ve really been loving Jazzmasters recently. I just picked up an American Pro II Jazzmaster and a 75th anniversary Telecaster, actually.
As far as amps, we actually did everything with a Kemper. Profiling amplifiers are an amazing tool in the studio in my personal opinion. We did run some pedals on the front of the amp when we saw fit. I think the one that got the most use was the Walrus Audio Julia which is one of their chorus pedals. It’s a very lush chorus that just sounded great through any amp.
Did you have any reference records going into the studio in terms of how you wanted the finished product to feel or sound?
As a band we all have very different tastes in music. I think that’s what makes our band so special to us and why our songs turn out the way that they do. We’re inspired by everything from classic rock to modern R&B and hip-hop.
Honestly, I don’t think there were any specific records sonically that we referenced. Each song was kind of its own animal and I think that’s what makes Courtney such an amazing producer.
‘Umbra’ has rock songs, pop songs, hip-hop leaning songs, ballads, etc. Courtney glued all of that together with our collective vision and made something very special and unique that we couldn’t be more proud of.
Are you a gear head at all? Any pieces of gear you’ve played recently that were a pleasant surprise? Anything you got to play that was disappointing?
I am definitely a gear head. I’ve been buying and selling gear since I was a teenager.
The two guitars I just picked up that I mentioned earlier, are fantastic. I’ve been an advocate for the Headrush pedalboards since they first came out. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 6 years old and ever since I can remember, I’ve always had the urge to try literally anything I’ve never seen before.
My most recent gear “obsession” you could say is vintage synthesizers. I’m not much of a piano player but I could 100% sit for hours and mess around with sounds.
Is there any one piece of gear that you couldn’t do without? Anything that’s integral to your sound?
I’d like to think I’m loyal to my gear in that sense. But there’s only so much space in our studio and I feel like I’m always chasing gear. So there’s definitely a lot of buying and selling going on for me.
But that’s the beauty of gear, nothing is the same so there’s always that part of the brain that’s like “I need to get my hands on that”.
A lot of guitarists are embracing modelling and profiling amps these days, especially due to making fly in gigs much easier. What’s your take on digital amps and effects?
I am a big advocate for modelling and profiling amps. I’m sure the “purists” hate to hear that.
But in reality, technology has come so immensely far that even the top producers and mix engineers can’t tell a difference.
You’re absolutely right about fly in gigs and just gigs in general. I run MIDI program changes for all of our modelling amps on stage. So some of our songs I’m actually using anywhere from 1 to 6 different amp models throughout the duration of just one song.
Is that excessive? Probably. But it allows me to shape my sound live without needing to bring 6 different heads and cabinets on the road.
For someone who’s just discovering your band and wants to hear more music that sounds like you, what bands would you suggest they start with?
Like I said we’re all inspired by all sorts of different music. If I had to pin it down to a few I’d say bands like The Night Game, The 1975, Third Eye Blind are all in this world sonically. Kind of coming back to the concept of having rock songs, pop songs and ballads.
If someone maybe wasn’t familiar with you guys but wanted to learn to play one of your songs, where would you suggest they start? Any riffs/licks/passages in particular that are fun to play, or maybe challenging but rewarding for more advanced players?
On “Umbra” there are definitely some really fun guitar parts. The first single we released called “Dirty Bombs”, has a solo that our guitarist Andrew plays. In my opinion there’s just enough movement in there that an advanced player may have some difficulty but ultimately feel rewarded given its melodic movement and call backs to the vocal.
You guys are about to head out on the Sad Summer Fest tour – what should people expect from you on that tour? Who else are you looking forward to seeing on the tour?
To put it simply, rock and roll should be expected. We’re playing songs straight through with no breaks. There are six bands on the bill, so with set times being a little shorter we decided to shape a setlist that has absolutely no stops – just nonstop music from start to finish.
The whole tour package is great in my opinion. I plan to watch everyone on the tour at some point. I encourage anyone coming to Sad Summer to get there early, drink a lot of water, and watch every band as there’s a lot of great music happening on this one.
Anything else coming up after Sad Summer that you can tell us about?
Yes! We’ve just recently announced our fall headliner, “The Umbra Tour”. We’re hitting the road from 11/03 – 12/05. This is the one and only headlining tour for this record so if you’re reading this, grab some tickets. This one will be very special.