We had the honor of chatting with Ben in person when the Polyrythmics played here in Boise during Treefort Music Fest last month – here’s our conversation:
[Pedal of the Day] Where are you guys from?
[Ben Bloom] Seattle. I grew up in New York, but we all met and live in Seattle. I’ve been there since 2001.
[POTD] What got you into music in the first place?
[BB] My parents made me take piano lessons, and I was always really into improvising on the piano, which led me to jazz when I got to high school. I started playing in jazz bands, taking music theory classes, and was kind of, you know, all in, mostly through the spirit of improvisation, and disciplining through the years under that guise. So, started playing jazz in high school, a little bit in college, but then started to crossover into rock music, funk music and stuff, in college.
[POTD] Was this all on piano?
[BB] At this point, it was guitar – I switched to guitar when I was about 13, in the early ’90s. I played trumpet a little bit in the high school band, wasn’t really my thing, and I wasn’t very good. I had a good guitar instructor, who was open to the fact that I was kind of all over the place – he could tell that I really liked to improvise, and helped to foster that, and gave me some education based around that. Kinda leaded me toward blues and jazz music at an early age – before I learned anything about guitar, I was playing songs that I could sort of improvise over. Obviously, through high school it got a little bit more formalized, we had a great jazz band instructor in New York at the school that I went to. At that point, I knew music was my thing – I moved to Boston, went to school in Boston, played in a number of bands there, but didn’t really start my own, sort of, career, as you would say, fully until I moved to Seattle in 2001.
[POTD] So Polyrhythmics have been around since then?
[BB] Let’s see…2009. I had a rock/jazz, Frank Zappa-influenced trio in Seattle for a while called War Pigeon, which sort of let me do all the things I like to do, and I quickly realized that different bands are for different things. That band was…everything was all in one. I have always been into rhythm guitar, at least in my adult age, and I really embraced world music and funk music and all of James Brown’s guitar players, and found myself really falling into loving rhythm guitar. Then, somewhere around 2005/2006, I kinda started playing more funk music in a rhythm role, exclusively, and really just loved it, and then myself and Grant had the idea to start this band, Polyrhythmics, right at the end of 2008, beginning of 2009.
[POTD] What about influences? Not just guitar, but music in general?
[BB] John Coltrane, Frank Zappa, Pat Martino, Joshua Redman, Charlie Hunter, Grant Green, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, all of James Brown’s guitar players. Pretty much all of James Brown’s rhythm sections. Clyde Stubblefield, Mike Clark, Herbie Hancock…you know, the list goes on and on. Zappa’s kind up there as the biggest guitar influence.
[POTD] How about gear? Is this your main pedalboard?
[BB] Yeah. The reality of the situation is that for the last, probably 7 or 8 years, I’ve pretty much had this pedalboard in some kind of variation. Some things are new, the Timeline is new. I was rocking a series of analog delays – I had the Analog Man, the ARDX20, the big one, the dual banger, which I still use in the studio, and this kinda replaced that. Initially, Polyrhythmics’ music was not delay-laden, just a little slap back would get me through most stuff, but we’ve started writing stuff that has a little more rhythmic delay.
[POTD] I heard a little delay on the sax, right (during soundcheck)? I love that.
[BB] Yeah – the Echoplex has always been sort of the sound, our studio sound, but at least on guitar, most of the gigs that I play around town, outside of Polyrhythmics, are more like jazz fusion gigs, so a simple delay usually gets me through it. This (Timeline) I’m learning my way through, there’s a lot in it…
[POTD] It’s a beast!
[BB] It’s a beast, but I like the sounds, the quality of the sounds are cool and it’s been pretty reliable. I kinda swap out between the Fulltone Wah and the (Teese RMC) Picture Wah, which I also really like, the gray box one. It has some kind of fuzz-friendly buffer circuit in it. I don’t use it on this board because this is a buffered output and I like the way it’s working right now. But basically, this is kind of it – I’ve always loved the Lovepedal Eternity, I’ve had that for a lot of years. I had another one before this one that got stolen – I had my whole pedalboard stolen at one point, so…I ended up getting most of it back. The King of Tone, I use the yellow side sort of like I use a Klon, where it’s set up for a little bit of a dirty boost, you know? Then this is just a Script Phase 90 that was modded by Analog Man, and that’s pretty much it.
[POTD] And guitar and amp?
[BB] I mostly play Gibsons, either an ES-335 or an SG, and with this band I’m playing this maple top Les Paul Standard. The amp was custom built for me in Seattle this year…
[POTD] I was looking at it on stage and couldn’t figure out what it was!
[BB] Yeah, it’s a really cool piece – Sunnyside Amps, my friend Paul builds these in Seattle and basically…I was always looking for a Pro Reverb. I love Deluxe Reverbs, that’s probably my favorite amp, but we started playing stages where it was a little hard to hear and was getting a little too mushy for the outdoor stages A lot of times I’ll backline a Super Reverb, which I really dig, but again, Supers are way too big for stages like this, you know? So, I was kinda looking for a Pro Reverb, and then I met Paul, and he was like, “Try my amps” – he basically builds a Pro Reverb-type circuit, similar but with a couple of tweaks that are a little different. It’s in a 1×12 cabiinet, which is kind of the best of both worlds – this one has a Master volume, and the way he runs his Master volume circuit is pretty unique. On 8, it’s like a Fender all the way up; on 10, it’s like, a little more. And it’s not like it’s louder, there’s this saturation thing that happens in the transformer that’s, like, really gooey, and gives you this sort of saggy feel, even though it’s a solid state rectified amp.
[POTD] Oh, wow.
[BB] That’s another modification that he did, because he hated blowing rectifier tubes. For me, it was kind new, but he worked with me. We changed a couple things in the tone stack, it’s basically like a Fender tone stack, and the reverb is very much like a Fender. It has bias test points on the back so I can fix it on the road, and I’m having him put in a mix knob expression pedal out, so I can control the mix of the reverb with a foot pedal, ‘cause we use a lot of different reverb settings. It’s a pretty sweet amp, has a Warehouse speaker in the back…
[POTD] I like that tolex, too…
[BB] Yeah, it was kind of an experiment – he was like, “what do you want for your telex?” and I said, “I don’t know, I’ve always wanted a paisley cabinet…” But I went through a few speakers, I had a Cannabis Rex speaker which I loved, and I ended up blowing that right on the first gig! Then went with a Weber F150 for a little bit, and that one didn’t hold up either, and then finally settled on the Warehouser, which is kinda like a Celestial Creamback, a 65-watt Creamback, but it’s a 90-watt version, so it won’t blow up when you’re hitting it with delays and stuff at full volume. It holds together, but still has that sort of cool, Marshall-y, rock and roll sound, in a Fender, which I’ve always kinda dug.
[POTD] The best of both worlds.
[BB] It is a little bit – it lacks a little of the sparkle for jazzy stuff, but for this band, it’s sitting pretty well right now.
[POTD] Let’s get back to the Klon question: are you into the hype?
[BB] I’m all in, man. I gotta say that I’ve never played a pedal that acts quite like that, in front of a Fender type of amp – it kinda gives the amp another level, or dimension, which a lot of boots push it past. There’s something about it where there’s a little bit of compression, a little bit of sparkle – it’s really hard to explain. I can see why a lot of people don’t really find that sweet spot, but I think if you run an amp on the edge of breakup, and then add in something like that, it a pretty glorious, huge sound.
[POTD] People that love ‘em love ‘em.
[BB] I got turned onto them because of Warren Haynes, actually, back in the day. I saw him rocking it and was like ‘Whoa, I wanna sound like that,” you know what I mean? Of course, I didn’t quite get to that, but it was definitely a nice journey. I sold mine because I needed the money, and couldn’t justify playing a $1500 pedal, but I’ve been thinking about trying to get another one. Stuart, our sound engineer, has built a couple klones that sound good and so… They all sound kinda different, that was the other thing I realized. I played a few of them, and they didn’t all sound exactly the same, which I’ve found with the klones, too. For me, I’m usually pretty simple when it comes to pedals, I plug it in and play – within 30 seconds, if I’m not jiving with it, it’s usually not the pedal for me. That was my first reaction with the Timeline, just ‘cause it’s so complicated, but the sounds are so good that I’ve read the manuals and watched YouTube videos. I’m mostly just trying to figure out how to use it most effectively on stage, because there’s so much it can do. It’s like “How do I have the sounds I want close by and get through them, and not try to make too many changes while playing?”
[POTD] So, you’re stranded on a desert island – what 3 guitars, amps and pedals do you want?
[BB] I get three of each?
[POTD] Three of each.
[BB] Well, I would like a Trainwreck amp, a Ken Fischer Trainwreck, I’d like a Super Reverb and I’d like a VOX AC30. An ES-335, like an early ’60s, before ’65. I’d also like a similar-yeared ES-330 with P-90s, and then I would have to take, probably, a Telecaster. Pedals: Lovepedal Eternity, probably an Echoplex, an original, like an EP-1, and some kind of vintage wah, like a VOX, one of the old, early ’70s/late ’60s VOX wahs.
[POTD] What’s up next for the band? Are you in the middle of a tour?
[BB] We’re kinda just moving into summer festival season right now. We’re not really doing much extensive touring ‘cause we just recorded a new record a couple weeks ago, that’ll be coming out in the fall. We’ll pretty much do the festival thing from here until then, and then go out in support of that record when it comes out, probably touring the East and West coasts. During the summer, we’re gonna be in the Southeast, in North Carolina, in May. We’re doing a bunch of west coast festivals, like High Sierra Music Festival, the Eclipse Festival, Summer Meltdown Festival, things like that. Seattle’s new Upstream Festival, which is Paul Allen’s big event that he’s putting on this year. So a lot of things like that, and then, like I said, once the new record comes out…we’re pretty stoked on it, we’re gonna play a lot of music from the new record tonight, kind of just starting to air it out. We’ve sort of been on tour for the last two years, so we’re in that period where we don’t want to go too far (away).
[POTD] Anything else you’ve got for us?
[BB] Shout out to Sunnyside Amps and Paul Spitalny. Thanks!
Thanks so much to Ben for taking the time to answer some questions! Make sure to go check out www.polyrhythmics.com to see when the Polyrhythmics are headed to your town – Cheers!