Ashley Smart - Guitars
What are your main musical influences?
This is tricky, this is where I could name check a load of really obscure bands to sound cool but to be honest, although my influences are quite varied, it’s people like Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division, The Beatles, early Velvet Underground, Slowdive, Blur, David Bowie, and Suede’s first two records that really form the core; they’re the bands/artists that I always find myself coming back to; they’re the ones that really drive and inspire me.
Who are your guitar heroes and why?
Well I’m not a fan of guitarists who are virtuosos just for the hell of it. You can be technically the best but if you’ve got no soul or passion it doesn’t mean anything; I think that can be applied to any instrument. This was very much Kurt Cobian’s philosophy and he was absolutely right. Some guitarists bemoan Kurt saying he wasn’t that good, just stuck to power chords etc but they miss the point, it wasn’t about the skill level or technique it was about communicating the passion, the emotion of the song to the listener. I actually think he was one of the great guitarists of the twentieth century and he was a master of feedback manipulation. A lot of guitarists nowadays seem very careful about what they’re doing instead of just getting up there and delivering something raw and immediate.
Another favourite and influential guitarist is Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. The sounds that he is able to create, as well as volume, is astonishing and he like Kurt is one of those where the power or the emotion of the song is more important than massive technical wizardry; I think they’re one of the most sonically inspiring bands of all time.
So they’re two of my favourite guitarists but I have others: Graham Coxon, Mick Ronson, Jimi Hendrix, Jack White, Robert Fripp, Jad Fair and Bernard Sumner. Jad Fair of Half Japanese is quite a character and I’ve always been taken with his ethos that you don’t need to know how to play an instrument in order to make music with it. I think he once said: ‘you do need cords to plug the guitar in but that's pretty much it’. That’s a great approach to have; it unshackles you from normal musical convention and allows you to be truly creative.
Bernard Sumner is another inspiration. His guitar work when he was in Joy Division is and I think will forever remain inspiring to countless future musicians; his approach was minimalistic yet devastating and at times darkly euphoric. It’s very hard to describe how effecting his guitar lines are but I always think of him when writing music and ask myself ‘do we need the guitar all the way through this bit or will it have more impact if it stays quiet or just whines in the background?’
How do you make/define your guitar sound?
James describes it as ‘swirling’ which isn’t far off from what I end up getting out the amp. Feedback plays a part, it’s very primal. The MBV and Slowdive sound is also a big inspiration but at the same time I like the guitar to have some drive and ferocity to it. I guess it’s a sort of shoegazing-post punk hybrid. The key effects are a couple of fuzz pedals going into a shimmer reverb (a Neunaber Seraphim). At one point I was getting a bit carried away with effects pedals, thinking I needed all these different sounds but eventually I realised I only needed a few key effects to achieve what we needed as a band. But of course the temptation is always there to add more…!
What current bands would you compare Magic Mountain to?
Ahh, this is tricky. I remember in the early days I thought we were similar to The Big Pink, particularly their live sound. On stage they have this heavier, slightly shoegazing sound to them that never seems to come across on record. Nowadays, I think we share a connection with bands such as Eagulls or Schonwald but you could easily compare us to half a dozen other post-punk/dark or cold wave bands out there. The thing is we never set out with any intention of having a particular sound; we didn’t wake up one morning and say ‘hey we’re gonna have a sound like THIS’. We’ve just let things evolve over time.
What is next for Magic Mountain?
More recording hopefully and a bit of gigging if we can fit it in around child related commitments! I’d definitely like us to get some more material recorded; we’ve quite a few songs hanging around. I like the whole creative process anyway, tinkering away, adding layers, bring a track to its full potential. It’s sonic art really.