So, what's new in the world of Keith Merrow?
I'm just trying to keep busy, get through college, take care of my wife and kid, have fun with music... the usual for me. All that keeps me plenty busy, but aside from it, I have songwriting gig I'm doing for Century Media Records, and I'm participating in a few side projects/guest spots on other people's albums. Lots of music-related fun!
What can we expect from your new album compared to your first two?
Well, I think it's a bit darker than the last one. But, it also has some more melodic sections as well. I don't think it's as 'riffy'. I tried to use a little artistic restraint with this one so it's more listenable, and tried to make the songs flow a bit more. It came out more "metal" than 'djent', and that was intentional. I tried to diversify it enough to where there would be something on there for pretty much any metal fan to enjoy, but not to the point that it sounds to scattered across the 7,000 different metal sub-genres. Did I pull it off? Probably not... haha! There's more solo stuff on this one (not a ton).
How did you come to work with Jeff Loomis? Can we expect any other collaborations in the future?
We were talking on the phone about gear one day, and he invited me over to his house to play around at his home studio. I drove up to his place about a week later, we hung out, played guitar, and did some recording. It was a blast. Jeff is not only an insane player, but he's also just a great guy. Being a huge fan of his playing, it was a pretty serious honour to have him play on one of my songs. As for future collaborations? It's hard to say! Jeff is definitely a busy guy.
What gear was used in the making of the new album?
I use a pretty basic setup.
For guitars, I used my BRJ custom 7-strings (equipped with Bare Knuckle Painkiller pickups). The guitar tones all came from the Axe-Fx. I used my Peavey 5 string bass, running through Ampeg SVX. The drum samples were Steven Slate and some custom samples that I've had forever. I use Presonus Studio One Pro for a DAW, which I love. I use inexpensive M-Audio monitors and interface, and a KRK sub monitor. I record with a self-built custom PC.
How did you come to hook up with BRJ guitars? Do you and Bernie have anything interesting in the works?
A good friend of Bernie's, named Wes, told him to check out what I do. Bernie got in touch with me and offered me an endorsement deal. I was, and still am, completely excited about it. Bernie builds the most amazing guitars I've ever played, and he's become a great friend to me. I currently have three more guitars in production—a custom 6, a really awesome 7, and a REALLY cool acoustic guitar.
Are you still using your BbFBbEbAbCF tuning? Have you been tempted to try any others?
All the songs from the new album are in that tuning. People ask me all the time why I choose that tuning. Basically, I just like it. It's probably because my ears are jacked up, but it just sounds right to me. I also like the added tension on the strings. I've used just about any tuning you can think of, but I always tend to stray back to what I like.
Is there any eight-string stuff on the new album?
No. I gave eight-string guitars a shot, but they're just not for me. I don't enjoy the sound or feel of them. There are a lot of people doing some really cool stuff with them now, and there are times when I'll pick one up and mess around, but I couldn't see it being my main instrument.
Given that, like an increasing number of artists, you're rocking the Axe-Fx, do you feel that modelling technology is reaching the point where it's offering serious competition to 'real' amplification?
Modeling has come a long way. It's now possible for DIY/Home guys to get really great tone from even the inexpensive modelers. However, I think a lot of people have just gotten used to hearing them, and have a hard time telling the subtle differences between a real amp, and a modeled tone. The Axe-Fx is about as close as you can get to an authentic amp tone with the current technology. Even so, if I had my way, I'd use something that actually has some valves in it. For what I do (home recording), the Axe-Fx is the only way for me to get a variety of good tones without having a million different amps that I could never afford. I don't expect modelers to replace tube amps anytime soon, but they are definitely a great solution in a home studio.
Given that most people who hear your music for the first time immediately comment on the quality of the production, do you have any tips for those who're new to home recording?
I'm surprised by that, actually! I don't think mixing and production has ever been my strong point. My ears are severely damaged, and I'm partially deaf. I heavily rely on spectral analysis when I mix, because I just can't hear certain frequencies. It sucks!
So here's a great tip—TAKE CARE OF YOUR EARS. Don't play extremely loud, wear earplugs on stage, at shows turn your headphones down, give yourself a break behind the mixing desk on a regular basis. Your mixes will be better as a result.
Your idea for your first two albums of making them free for download, but giving people the option of donating money is interesting. Do you reckon this could be the way forward for other independent artists?
I think that offering your music for 'free' is a good way to get your name out there. Taking donations seems like a good idea, because if people like what you do, they will donate to show their appreciation. It's nice to let people decide for themselves what it's worth to them. To be honest, the only real reason the newest album is a paid download is because I had a lot of requests from people to put it up on iTunes. I didn't want to sell it in one place, and give it away in another.
The 'djent' movement; the future of progressive music or a passing fad?
It's hard to say. I personally think it will pass or evolve into something else.
Any big plans for the future?
Well, I'm in the lineup to start working on a side project with Chris and Willie Adler from Lamb of God sometime this year. That will be fun! Other than that, I'm just gonna keep having fun and enjoying life.
Thanks very much indeed to Keith for his time. Now everyone do the sensible thing and check out the new album!