Sef, lead guitarist in the band Your Favorite Enemies.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
As you can see in some of the pictures, we have the crazy privilege of living in a former catholic church that we turned into our own professional studio a couple of years ago. It’s pretty much the band’s headquarters, as we also have our own record label offices, a video production department and full merch facilities in the church. Most of us live there as well… let’s just say it’s noisy for all sorts of reasons! But it’s an incredible kind of trippy experience in all possible ways.
How long have you been a musician? How did you get into it in the first place?
I started playing music in the early ‘90s, almost by accident. I was the typical loner who wasn’t really into sports and didn’t quite fit with the cool kids – portray the ultimate hipster look in a world where hipsters didn’t exist! Music was pretty much my thing. I was an avid listener of everything that music channels could feed me with. I never really envisioned playing any instrument, even if I was coming from a highly musical family. Since home wasn’t a very empowering environment, it was like I was another furniture… until one of my brothers lent me a cheap tape of what was a Metallica mix of live bootleg songs and what is now considered their old school stuff. That moment has been a game changer for me. It just hit me, really.
The sounds… the intensity… it was like a hurricane screaming to my face “GET YOUR SHIT OUT… BE!” So, not only was I amazed to realize that music can give you such a profound way to express yourself, but that it could be done without any filters, without having to be nice and clean. With music, I found a place where I could exist without the limitation of the reality I felt being a total stranger to. And for the very first time, the introverted kid teachers used to say would become an honorary member of a loser town found something to live for.
I asked for an electric guitar but ended up with my father’s old acoustic Gretsch. I had lessons from a guy who was into Kenny Rogers, Toto, and some other irrelevant crap compared to the heavy stuff I was into. It didn’t take long that I started begging again for an electric guitar, an amp, and the holy grail: a distortion pedal… the BOSS Metal Zone MT-2! This was the first pedal I’ve ever had.
Who have been some of your major musical influences, past or present?
I grew up with heavy bands, but at one point, I needed that force to have some nuances as well. I found The Edge having a huge influence on me. It wasn’t his band as much as him, the guitar player… The way he created landscapes and the melodies out of nothing, the way he was expressing himself in a very simple way sometimes sounded heavier than most of the bands I was devoted to. He’s a really soulful and heartfelt musician and artist!
Alex, singer in Your Favorite Enemies and a good friend of mine, later introduced me to post-punk, noise rock, experimental rock and shoegaze music. I hated it all at first! To me, it felt like they couldn’t play their instruments! And then he challenged me to give it a try! The heavy metal mullet that still secretly lived deep inside my soul was totally blown away! Well, after being completely humiliated by the fact that I was not only incapable to play what first sounded like shit, but I wasn’t able to freaking understand any of it! It became a little obsession of my own to discover even more about it (but I didn’t tell Alex about it at first!)
Now, I can say that Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), Nels Cline (Wilco), Warren Ellis (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) are the guys I’m really into. I’m not denying my roots, and I’m not one to say that one guy or genre is better than another. But all those guys inspired me to think “outside the box” in a very liberating way, pretty much like John Frusciante had an impact on me in the “just feel it” type of way music should be played. At least, that’s how I see it now!
What drew you to using pedals initially? Have you been using them throughout your playing career? How have pedals helped to shape your sound, or influence the style that you’ve created?
Before going completely crazy (and I mean getting all my friends and bandmates go nuts with me constantly talking about pedals), I was more “minimalist”. It wasn’t about being a purist or playing a game. For me, a statement ain’t about what you see, it’s about the guts you have to express yourself as you feel it. I didn’t have the courage to say much at the time… it was more about being loud! I still am today, but with more gear!
My brother Ben (the band’s bass player) and Jeff (the band’s other guitar player) are always into sounds. They’re at the service of the vibe and feel. They came back one day with a few pedals they found at a very cool store called Moog Audio in Montreal. They had a few pedals from companies I had never heard of. I couldn’t understand why those would be needed, what could be made out of them. Until I plugged them. What I heard was like a lightning strike made of nuclear protons and a zombie apocalypse. The morning after, in secret, I was in front of the Moog Audio store with a coffee in hand. I came back almost 2 days later with Catalinbread, Carl Martin, Bad Cat, Mad Professor, Homebrew Electronics, Mid-Fi Electronics, ZVEX. I wanted to try everything. And once I tried everything, I wanted everything! It was excessive and totally immature, but it was like walking in Disneyland holding Mickey’s hand!
What I discovered was way beyond pedal companies and wasting serious cash on all those little wonderful boxes of wonders! It was all the possibilities I had in front of me to craft the sounds I could hear in my head, the tools I needed to express the emotions I had inside and never could before. It was a personal experience, something as defining as when I first played an electric guitar and almost blew my amps once I hit the Metal Zone pedal! It was WOW.
If you were to ask my friends and bandmates, I admit it, I’m still overly obsessed with pedals! And I’m probably responsible for a lot of the prescriptions they take and ear plugs they use, especially when they’re stuck in a van or a bus right beside me! But hey, blame Alex, Ben and Jeff! It’s their fault if I’m always looking to find different ways of expressing myself now!
What’s your current setup look like? Take us through your pedal rig (feel free to include amps and instruments as well if you’d like):
Alright, the serious stuff now! The ES-8 from BOSS is really my management system for all my pedals. All my pedals are connected to it! I can change the pedal orders with it, do parallel routing, control my TimeLine and BigSky from Strymon and my DD-500 from BOSS via MIDI (Sending MIDI Clock, Program Change, #CC). I have an internal expression pedal in it and so much more! Working with this switcher pushed back my limits!
This is my setup:
Tuner BOSS TU-2
Ernie Ball Volume Pedal
Loop 1: Mad Pro Compressor
Loop 2: ZVEX Fuzz Factory and Catalinbread Ottava Magus
Loop 3: Mad Pro Sky Blue Overdrive
Loop 4: Homebrew Electronics Big D and Mid-Fi Clari(not)
Loop 5: Homebrew Wah, Whammy, Tech 21 Roto Choir
Loop 6: Homebrew Frost Bite, ZVEX Ring Tone, Mid-Fi Pitch Pirate
Loop 7: Boss DD-500 and Boss Slicer
Loop 8: TimeLine and BigSky from Strymon
Vol. Loop: Durham Electronics Sex Drive
I also have the Thunderverb 200 and Custom Shop 50 from Orange, Fender Silverface Twin Reverb 1969, Savage Glas 30 and Schatten 19 head, Vox AC30CC2X and AC15HW head, Skyraider from Mack Amps. We usually run the different heads in the Orange PPC412HP8. I like running two amps at the same time, one stack head/cabinet 4×12″ and one combo 2×12″.
We have a ridiculous number of guitars… This is Alex’s obsession (what’s the problem with singers always wanting to be guitar players?!) We have more Fender guitars than I can truly remember, quite a few Duesenberg models, one of which is a signature for Your Favorite Enemies, several Gibson, a couple of Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Scott Walker, and probably a few more! Alex will be disappointed that I didn’t remember them all! My drug of choice is Fender. I’m a Jazzmaster and Jaguar devotee! And in all the completely ridiculous choices I have, my main guitars are the Fender Jazzmaster Thurston Moore Signature and a Jaguar ’62 re-issue. That’s what I play with every day.
Favorite type of pedal (drive, delay, fuzz, etc. – more than one answer is always acceptable!):
I can’t name them all? You should know that pedals are like kids; you have to tell them that you love them all the same, that you don’t have any favorite. But I’ll try and respect the rules this time!
Every effect pedal has its own sonic personality and its own special textures or features, and since you can mix them together, it is often the combination of pedals that gives something special and creates a totally new realm of possibilities… But because I have to choose, I’m a huge fan of delay and reverb! Those effects have the ability to create dreamy landscapes, to add some insane noises, special rhythmic and to turn a simple note into something so unique that it’s on a full scale of emotions in itself.
You’re stranded on a desert island – which three (3) of the following do you want to have?
Instruments: Fender Jazzmaster Thurston Moore
Amps: You allow me to bring only one pedal, so I would bring the Thunderverb 200 to be able to have overdrive and distortion!
Pedals: BigSky from Strymon
*Note: I hate those one-item-only-each type of cruel desert island questions!*
What’s up next for you/your band(s)?
I’m flying with Alex and Jeff to the NAMM show! We have been invited by Roland and BOSS to be part of the event! I will be doing a clinic at the BOSS booth. We’ll be back in studio to work on Your Favorite Enemies’ upcoming album after that, and I’m overly excited about it!
The Klon hype: Love it or Hate it?
Some friends asked me about it, so I was curious to try it. But whatever the debate, the trend or the buzz about it, at the end of the day, it’s not about being interested in investing $1,500 or more for an overdrive pedal. No offense to anyone, but we’re in an era where there are so many amazing pedals coming from really ingenious, smart and passionate people. And if a $5 pedal allows me to express myself, than that’s the pedal I need. I guess it’s not the best way to get myself a free Klon… so let’s see if receiving one might change my mind!
Any last comments, promos or anything you’d like to talk about?
First of all, I want to thank you for offering me the opportunity to share my passion for music and gear. That pure kind of passion is really what matters to me. It’s not about the brands or the logos, it’s what makes you want to take the chance to share emotions or whatever might be important to you. It’s not about streaming and download, it’s about life in its simplest expressions… so thanks for that!
Please feel free to drop me a line on my personal Facebook, Your Favorite Enemies’ band page or whatever platform you are into. I love discovering other people’s rig and knowing the reasons that make them do it. It’s always a real pleasure to share this passion with you guys.
If you want to see my stuff, I also did a tutorial video series concerning the ES-8 Switching System and DD-500 from BOSS. You can see my whole footboard set up in the series on YouTube.
Thanks so much to Sef for taking the time to answer some questions! Make sure to go check out www.yourfavoriteenemies.com, and check their tour page to see when they’re headed to a town near you! Cheers!