John DeMena has arrived and wants to share with you all of his Dreams and Lies; the debut record from the Los Angeles artist that’s loaded with his own interpretation of modern and classic rock. With the assistance of drummer Glen Sobel, bassist and Grammy winner Pete Griffin (no, not that Peter Griffin), and keyboardist Matt Rhode, you’ll be enthralled with all the ferocious guitar riffs, anthemic choruses, and haunting vocals contained on this new release. It’s a grandiose yet intimate take on rock. Throw in DeMena’s atmospheric and honest to god lyrics and you got a well-compiled new recording.
Although he currently calls L.A. home, DeMena was born in Spain and spent his early years there. He started playing guitar young and in high school began playing local gigs with various bands. To improve his chances for exposure, and to be immersed in a more active scene, he relocated to L.A. in 2008 to fully branch out and begin his solo adventure. Much of what motivates his approach to music is his inner curiosity, an interest in dystopian literature, and a drive to push his own and established creative boundaries.
To offer you something different than the traditional artist chat, we recently spoke to DeMena about his favourite musical gear, including his modified Marshall amplifier which played a very significant role in the recording of Dreams and Lies.
What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?
John DeMena: “The recording sessions for this album were quite eclectic in terms of gear. I used a lot of different guitars, amps, pedals and fun toys that made the process quite enjoyable. However, the one piece of gear that remained constant almost all throughout the album was my modified Marshall amp. I just love that thing.”
How did you come to possess this Marshall amp? Vintage shop, regular shop, borrowed money, gifted. Give us the details.
“The funny thing is that I wasn’t even in the market for it. I was doing a session a few years ago at a studio that had a vintage Marshall modified by one of the amp gurus here in Los Angeles. I absolutely loved the tone of that amp and thought ‘I need to get me one of these.’ So, I ended up buying a stock one and having him modify it to the same specs.”
What made you chose this Marshall amp and were there any close seconds or alternates?
“I just like the simplicity of the circuit, and its tone worked perfectly for this album. This amp is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for me. The list of alternates is endless. There are many other amps that I own or have borrowed that I use constantly, plus I think we live in the golden age of guitar and amp building.”
What about the Marshall amp, in particular, makes it so important to you?
“Well, it can do almost everything from velvety cleans to gnarly rock riffs. It’s very well-built, and it’s not crazy expensive. I mean, it’s not one of those museum pieces that you can’t take on the road because you worry about it being damaged or stolen. And on top of that, this amp takes pedals well.”
Did you use your Marshall during the recording of your Dreams and Lies? If so, please elaborate on how and for what parts.
“Most rhythm guitars and solos were recorded with this amp. Of course, I used other amps for different textures, tones, layering, etc… but the core sound of the record is this Marshall.”
Do you have a special way that you recreate your album (guitar/vocal/bass) tones in a live setting, or is it more just plug-and-play?
“I try to stay true to the sound of the album and not to overcomplicate my live rig too much since I sing too. In addition, I like keeping my pedalboard quite simple. I already have too many things to do, and I don’t feel like adding pedal tap dancing to the show.”
If you could, or wanted to (maybe you don’t at all, and that’s cool), what would you tweak or mod on this amp?
“Those who play through this amp say that it could perhaps have a bit more gain, but I can always get to that territory using pedals. Also, this thing weighs a ton, so a smaller version for studio or other situations would be cool.”
How does the Marshall amp hold up with regular touring and gigging?
“The thing is built like a tank and has rarely let me down. It has acted funny a few times because it has its age and I have put it through a lot, but I try to get it serviced often.”
Do you have a backup for this gear, if so, what?
“I have a Plexi and JCM800 that are truly amazing too and have saved the gig a couple of times. Plus, I own a few other ones I really enjoy playing and recording with. You know, you can never have too many guitars, nor amps.”
Time for some fun. Give us your best “gear goes wrong” story.
“You’ve probably heard too many stories about gear breaking down already, so I’ll give you a different one. One about the stage going down. We were playing a festival in Spain, and they had a quite numerous and energetic band before us. They were jumping up and down all over the place, and the inevitable occurred. A big portion of the stage floor collapsed, but the structure remained intact. They finished their set, but we didn’t know if we were going to be able to perform. The organization said it’d take hours for the crew to fix the stage and that they couldn’t keep people waiting for that long, so they assembled a few improvised platforms, and I ended up playing a 60-minute show on top of an oil barrel (pedalboard included).”