Gone are the days of the record label slush funds to take a random kid off the street, place behind him in a world class band and sending him on tour opening for Elton John. Instead now you have labels and managers breathing down your neck saying “Hmmmm do you really NEED a bass player? My financial projections suggest it might be a bad idea. Now lets talk about your guitar. Lots of overheads from baggage, amps and strings costs alone. How do you feel about the flute…?” If keeping costs low is the disease then surely the technological boom of the last 15 years is the cure.
Gear nerds have been rejoicing as more products keep coming out to allow musicians to build their sounds like never before. Who really needs that per diem hogging untalented hack with his four strings (or in the case of Royal Blood, six) trying to steal all the girls when you’ve got pedals that emulate their sound, don’t fart in the van and never drink your rider? This article is a homage to those bands that cut the dead weight and embrace minimalism without sacrificing tone. I’ve omitted the obvious (Black Keys, Royal Blood, The White Stripes (vomits candy-stripes) and left you with some examples from both home and away (you know we belong together) of killer two pieces with the power of many.
For thrashing guitar bangers all you need is two, and sometimes they sound bigger than their sum. Here are 5 killer two piece bands with the power of many.
Death From Above 1979
Originally I had DFA1979 in my “too obvious to write about” list but if I had a dollar for every person that said “Oh you should write about Royal Blood, those guys are genius. YOU KNOW HE JUST PLAYS A BASS? REVOLUTIONARY” I’d have enough money to be able to fill a bathtub with soft serve cones from Maccas and drown myself in sweetened pig fat. DFA1979 are the original bass wielding punk AF two piece combining crunchy bass tones, hectic and hi-hat heavy dance drumming and some harsh, but also pleasantly melodic, vocals. These guys know when to be brutal and when to be groovy.
Their latest record is a bit less savage, more song driven and it really shows off their ability to craft some catchy yet aggressive three minute punk music. It even has some evil as shit flattened fifth bass trills which for the non musos is the sonic equivalent of the devil wiggling his genitals in your ear. Back in the medieval days playing that interval was an offence punishable by death. So let’s just take stock and see exactly what DFA1979 have achieved in their career to date. Broken up once, got back together once, caused a riot at SXSW, smashed out the devil’s note repeatedly without having to wear corpse paint and have decapitated goats heads on their rider (I’m lookin’ at you Norway!) and done the impossible and made bass guitar cool yet they still haven’t enticed the wrath of some latent medieval priest wanting to give them a bit of the ol’ Joan of Arc treatment. Someone up there must like you Canadian ragamuffins. I know I do.
If you listen to Las Cruces Jail by Two Gallants I’m pretty certain that counting band members isn’t going to be high on your to do list. I’m sure number one will be trying to find out why you all of a sudden have a Red Neck screaming at you. “Well I spent last night in Las Cruces jail!” I’m sure you did mate and judging by how batshit crazy you sound I’m pretty sure it was for good reason! Two Gallants are a loud aggressive folk/punk band that back in ’06 had to be taken off stage by local police in Texas with tasers after their live shows got too loud and out of control. How bout that for southern hospitality? They are a two piece but don’t hide behind loops, effects or gizmos; their secret is in the guitar playing of Adam Stephens.
His right hand is busier than a hooker on $3 handjob night. His guitar finger picking is so precisely chaotic that he is able to duplicate the sound and feel of a lead, rhythm and bass guitar. Despite What You’ve Been Told is a perfect example how they’re able to create a close to full band sound with just one guitar picking overtime. Technicalities aside it’s also just an incredibly articulate and catchy song and that’s what I love about these guys. Their songs are both thematically and technically chaotic while still being as catchy as chlamydia.
King of the North
Fuelled by whiskey and good old fashion rock n’roll King of the North are a two piece powerhouse of balls to the wall rock. What makes the band so heavy and gives the guitar a unique tone is the fact that Andrew Higgs, guitarist and singer, plays his guitar through both a guitar and a bass amp on stage and in the studio. It gives an amazing effect live as the lower notes are given a huge push by the bass amp and create this bizarre tonal variation. I say this now sitting at a computer trying to write about their sound in a quasi-academic (HA!) context but when you’re actually faced with them as a live entity it’s not the kind of environment that harbours chin-stroking and intellectual sonic musings.
You’re most likely using both legs to dance, one arm to fist pump, the other to try and keep your drink steady while also banging your head. The more seasoned King of the North fans have been known to connect drink hand to banging head. This normally results in a 50/50 chance of drink spillage or successful intoxication. It’s basic science people. I’d draw a diagram for you but I sadly can’t draw. And for those who’re wondering no this isn’t a Game of Thrones themed novelty band, that being said their music is so good it might make you consider banging your sister….I wonder if they’ll actually print that?*
Oh DZ. How you nearly didn’t make it onto my list. I’ve seen you out there gallivanting around on stages with this third guy. What’s his story? We had a perfect little relationship just you and me, why did you have to bring in this third wheel into it? Started getting successful enough for you to employ another guy on stage did you? Well there goes my 240 words I wrote on how by using a selection of killer dialled in crunch tones, pedal wizardry and raucous drumming you were able to create brutal songs with amazing sounds. I was going to write about that but no. This other guy come along and fucked it up for all Happy readers. It’s not that I’m hurt, it’s just that I’m disappointed. That’s a fucking lie. I AM HURT!
I expected Dune Rats to get a third guy, those guys are so blazed all the time they needed someone to read them the setlist each night, but you guys? I expected more! Those times we shared, just us three (and a couple of hundred more) at shows. You would play the songs. I would dance. We connected. It was beautiful. How young and naïve I must have been though because NOW YOU BRING THIS HUSSY INTO OUR LIVES. No more DZ. We’re done. We’re through. I hope you find what you’re looking for in this third member because I will take no part in your sinful multi-guitarist explorations. Last time I ever fall in love with a band from Brisbane.
PS I Love You
Drench anything in reverb and you’ll find someone somewhere that’ll get into it. People gravitate to the openness of the reverb sound, the empty expanse it implies and the overwhelming sense of insignificance it bestows. Maybe it appeals to the spiritual side in all of us; churches are most often large cavernous spaces for that reason. A reminder of how small we are, how irrelevant. Chorus pedals on the other hand remind us of Come As You Are, The Cure, heroin, eye make-up and a shotgun to the face. Whack these two in a pot, boil them up with slacker guitar work, some cymbal heavy drum work and a singer who sounds like his vocal tracks were taken from panicked calls to 000 and you’ve got PS I Love You.
If you could imagine Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse but with the “weirdo” dial turned up even higher you’ve got Paul Saulnier’s vocal stylings and it works so well under his sometimes heavy, sometimes thin but always expansive guitar tones. PS I Love You are a band you can lose yourself in which is rare to say about two pieces. All of the above bands are big, bold and mostly brutal (Two Gallants being the exception), but none of them are large in the way that PS I Love You are large. PS I Love You are large like Disintegration is large, like a cathedral is large and like Paul Saulnier is large.