Chatting to Zach Stephenson from Hockey Dad about working in Seattle with renowned producer John Goodmanson and the secret behind his blistering guitar tones.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Wollongong duo Hockey Dad. Since releasing their ridiculously charming debut EP Dreamin’ back in 2014, the band have gone from strength to strength, amassing a loyal fan base, touring the world, and releasing a world-class debut LP with 2016’s Boronia. Now they’re just weeks away from releasing the follow-up, Blend Inn – an album that gives every indication that things won’t be slowing down for the band anytime now.
Opting to take flight from their comfortable existence in the their hometown of Windang, NSW, Hockey Dad landed in Seattle to work on the album alongside John Goodmanson (Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Cloud Nothings, Death Cab for Cutie) at Robert Lang Studios (the studio where Nirvana recorded their last track, You Know You’re Right).
Veering from the salt-crusted, sun-drenched formula of their earlier releases, Blend Inn is cavernous, urgent, and a little less care-free. There’s more vulnerability there, but it by no means damages the songwriting: every track the album is expertly crafted, with so many hooks peppered throughout it’ll be hard to decide which song you like best.
Being a two-piece, the guitars drive the record in a big way, so we reached out to guitarist Zach Stephenson to chat working at Robert Lang with Goodmason, mixing up amps, and his secret weapon for wielding those fuzz-jangle guitar tones (which, sadly, he couldn’t divulge).
ENMORE AUDIO: Hey Zach, how’s it going? Just had a listened to Blend Inn – it’s bloody incredible. How are you feeling leading up to the release?
ZACH: Thanks very much! I’m feeling pretty good right now. Just excited to finally get the record out there so people can hear it and we can start touring again!
ENMORE AUDIO: The guitars are so strong throughout the record. Can you tell us a bit about some of the gear you used?
ZACH: Mostly for guitars I used a 1960’s SG that belonged to our producer John (Goodmanson). It just had the exact sound that I wanted for guitars on the record. I also used a couple of Jazzmasters, a 90’s Les Paul and a few other weirdos.
The main amp was a weird Marshall 4×10 combo. You can see it on John’s website actually. It had a good mix of a Super Reverb sound, which is what I usually use, and a driving Marshall sound.
ENMORE AUDIO: Did you have much of your own stuff in the States or were you purely relying on the studio’s gear?
ZACH: I had my live pedalboard and just one Jazzmaster with me. The rest was either John’s or studio gear.
ENMORE AUDIO: Nice. Tell us a bit about recording at Robert Lang Studios – a lot of history in that space.
ZACH: That place was insane! The whole studio had a crazy aura that was a little creepy to be honest. It’s such a big labyrinth you can get lost in. Robert was such a legend too and really looked after us. He showed us some really historic gear and told us some crazy stories.
ENMORE AUDIO: Did you buy anything rad while in the States?
ZACH: Yeah last trip I bought a Supro guitar with sparkles on it. It’s the coolest looking guitar I’ve ever seen and sounds so awesome. I’ll definitely be playing it on the next HD tour.
ENMORE AUDIO: Your use of distortion has always been really interesting. So many guitarists in two-piece bands just go for a Muff-style distortion to fill out their sound, but you opt for raspier, janglier tones. How do you approach driving your sound?
ZACH: I always wanted to be able to hear exactly what I was playing. So thick Muff sounds never really interested me when I looked for drive. The drive pedal I’ve used since the beginning of the band is still on my board and is still my main and only drive pedal. I can’t tell you what it is but I can tell you they don’t make them anymore (I’m such a tone snob hipster wanker). I also use a SansAmp pedal that goes through the bass amp which gives the bass signal a bit more drive and body as well. The only pedal you ever need for bass, period.
ENMORE AUDIO: I’ve seen you play a bunch of different guitars over the years, like you said – Jazzmasters, SGs and that T Guitars custom guy – what influences your choices?
ZACH: Seeing other people play cool guitars is definitely an influence on what I play. Price is also a major influence of course haha. I think Jazzmasters will probably always be my favourite guitars. I think everybody goes through phases of liking and hating particular guitars and I do that too. The T Guitars is probably the most solid road guitar I have, which is a real bonus. It just plays great every night and can survive everything, except maybe a disgruntled Virgin employee.
ENMORE AUDIO: And what do you favour amp wise?
ZACH: Most of the time if I have a choice I’ll use a Super or Twin Reverb. For bass amps I like SVT’s or even old Peaveys. I really like having bass fridges too cause it’s always better to feel the sound on your back rather than through monitors.
ENMORE AUDIO: Without a bassist, how do you fill out your low end?
ZACH: I run my guitar signal through a guitar and bass amp together. With a few octave tricks it seems to do the job well enough.
ENMORE AUDIO: How do you approach your signal chain/routing?
ZACH: My signal chain is pretty standard I think. Octave and compressor pedals first, then drives and delays after. I don’t really use many modulation effects live so it’s pretty straightforward. Sometimes I’ll put something weird in a random place for a show or two and just kick it on and see how it sounds. Especially when I’m buying pedals on the road. What better way to test them out than to throw them in the deep end and go for it.
ENMORE AUDIO: Tell us a bit about working with John Goodmanson – how did he influence the guitars on the record?
ZACH: John was such a pleasure and honour to work with. For the new record I wanted to incorporate more standalone guitar parts instead of just chords behind a melody. He helped me get the right sounds I was looking for and really helped me play what the song needed whether it be “play it a little more like this” or “don’t play anything at all there”.
ENMORE AUDIO: I noticed you made use of a couple of effects on the album that we haven’t really heard on any Hockey Dad records before. Do you feel like effects play a big part in the Hockey Dad sound?
ZACH: They definitely played a bigger part in this record more than the last because I wrote most of this record at home just demo’ing straight into the computer. So I probably wrote the songs with those ideas in mind. Other than that I’m pretty sure I could do a whole show without anything except the one drive pedal I have and an octave pedal.
ENMORE AUDIO: For sure. And lastly, is there anything you’re really hanging out to buy at the moment?
ZACH: Yeah, everything.
Hockey Dad’s new album Blend Inn is out February 9th on Farmer & The Owl via Inertia Music.
While you wait, check out Boronia on Spotify.