Most bands took the downtime that came with a worldwide shutdown to ease off the gas and regroup – but then most bands aren’t Northlane.
Hot off the release of 2019’s Alien, the band released documentary Negative Energy, chronicling the writing and recording of the record, in March of 2020, just as the pandemic rolled in. Barely slowing down, a deluxe edition of the record was released in July of 2020, followed by a live album, Live at the Roundhouse, in August.
So how do they top that in 2021? By recording and releasing Clockwork, the official theme song for Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege at 2021’s Oceanic Nationals eSports League – who else but Northlane could fit that bill, am I right?
We caught up with guitarists Jon Deiley and Josh Smith to talk about the release, being early to the digital amp party, and pushing what you’re doing as far as you can.
Congrats on the reaction to Clockwork! Can you tell me about how the song/project came about?
Josh Smith: We had begun writing for our next record and were sitting on a catalogue of songs in development. Towards the end of last year, Ubisoft reached out and asked us if we would be interested in having one of our songs be the soundtrack to the 2021 Rainbow six oceanic nationals league. We thought this was a dope proposition and something we really wanted to be a part of.
Was this a song you already had in the back pocket, or was it created specifically for the league? Did the song’s intended usage play a factor in the writing process at all?
Josh Smith: We had the track about 90% finished. Along with a handful of other tracks we ran the Ubisoft people through a bunch of demos and they thought that this song had the vibe they wanted. So we went into overdrive to get it finished as soon as we could. The intended use did indeed play a part in it, there’s a nod to the game in the lyrics and it put a rocket under our asses to complete it in fast turnaround.
The song had something of an unusual recording process in that everyone recorded their parts remotely. Was it your first time doing something like this? How do you feel that affected the creative process as a band?
Jon Deiley: It was the first time recording our parts remotely but I don’t think it changed the creative process at all.
So guitars! What did you guys use on the new track in terms of guitars/amps/pedals?’
Jon Deiley: We used joshs new super extended scale Jackson guitar for all the rhythms and leads. In terms of amps I think we ended up with a combination of amp and vst to get the blend.
Josh Smith: Yeah the guitar is 29.5” scale which is amazing for tuning this low. It has an evertune bridge and my signature bareknuckle impulse pickups. The amp was a Diezel Herbert boosted with a J-rockett Archer and then blended with a custom amp VST that Chris Blancato had built.
Did you have any reference records going into the process in terms of how you wanted the finished product to sound?
Jon Deiley: Not really. The area in which Northlane operates these days feels pretty uncharted but having Nolly on the mix job means we can push the sound as far as we want knowing its going to have that slick modern metal sound he does so well.
Does recording a league theme song have any considerations as far as production at all? Curious if it needs to be mixed differently to be used on TV etc as opposed to stereos and headphones.
Josh Smith: While it might for some other artists, it didn’t for us. We still had it mixed how we saw fit and it was mastered in all the usual formats.
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?
Jon Deiley: I have been building a eurorack synth over the last two years which consists of modules that all perform different tasks. The initial idea for Clockwork actually came from a sequencer called the “Metropolis” by Intellijel and the main synth voice is a tiny digital super saw called “Chainsaw” by Acid Rain Tech.
Josh Smith: I recently took delivery of these two custom shop Jacksons, one of which we used on this recording. They are just absolutely insane. I’ve not really tried much else over the last 18 months, I feel like at this point we know what works for us in terms of guitars and have it very well dialled in.
Is there any one piece of gear that you couldn’t do without? Anything that’s integral to your sound?
Jon Deiley: Guitars that can stay in tune at low tunings, and Ableton which is the software I use to write in. I think many of the results I arrive at are because manipulating samples and stretching time are so easy to do, even warping a whole song into slower and faster speeds to fine tune the perfect tempo for the piece.
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?
Jon Deiley: We were early adopters of the Axe-Fx over 10 years ago, and one of the first bands to use the Kemper as well. It’s been an integral part of our live touring setup for the entire duration of this band. While there’s something special about tube amps that we absolutely love, for reasons of practicality and consistency there are better ways for us to tour.
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?
Jon Deiley: If it’s a guitarist, they would probably find any of the riffs in ‘Freefall’ from album ‘Alien’ fun and challenging or the main riff from ‘Citizen’ from album “Mesmer” but you have to play it all down picking 🙂
I understand you’re currently working on your sixth album – what can you tell me about how that’s shaping up?
Josh Smith: It’s shaping up great. We are about ¼ of the way through our time up in the Dandenong ranges just outside of Melbourne working on it. We have hired this really amazing house to work out of that has an indoor cinema which was perfectly acoustically treated and became the ideal room to track out of. My favorite part however is the jacuzzi on the deck overlooking Melbourne. It’s super remote, lush and naturally beautiful up here. An awesome place to focus and deliver.