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Geared Up: Starbenders’ Kimi Shelter Discusses her Les Paul Set-Up, Influential Guitarists and New Album ‘Love Potion’

We spoke to Kimi Shelter, guitarist and vocalist with American hard-rock quartet Starbenders about the Les Paul set-up she used on new album album, Love Potion.



Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, American hard rock quartet, Starbenders have just issued their new album, Love Potions, through Sumerian Records. Following the release of the album, we spoke to vocalist/guitarist, Kimi Shelter, about the gear she used recording the album, who first inspired her to pick up a guitar and, most importantly, her most memorable gear gone wrong story. Read on…

Thanks for your time. Can you tell us a little bit about the set-up you are currently using?

Kimi: “Hi and thank you for having me! I use a pretty simple set up. I play a Gibson double-cut Les Paul Jr with a single P90. The pickup gets some 60 cycle noise, so I use the ILITCH hum canceling system. Works like a dream, so I get all that nasty P90 sound without the nasty hum. For stompboxes, I use the Boss DD-2 and CE-2 from the early eighties for delay and chorus. When I go for a lead, I hit the JAM Rattler which is voiced like a killer vintage RAT pedal. My head is a Friedman Dirty Shirley going into a MOJOTONE 2X12 cabinet loaded with Celestion 75 watt Creamback speakers.”

Why have you chosen that set-up and what do you like about it?

“I believe in keeping things simple and pure so that I think less and draw from my heart and spirit more. The less points of failure, the better! I don’t want to spend even one second thinking about my gear when I am on stage. The single-pickup going through a few pedals that feed into a tube amp is more than enough to take me where I want to go.”

When you were looking for a guitar what criteria did you have and was your current set-up your first choice?

“I did not have a premeditated image in my head or criteria that needed to be fulfilled. Guess seeing Johnny Thunders in photos and videos playing a Les Paul Junior did make an impression on me. Of all the guitars I’ve tried or owned, I felt the most at home on the Jr. It’s light, simple and you can summon a lot of attitude from it.”

In terms of influences, which guitarists made you want to pick up a guitar in the first place?

“My first true love was Jimmy Page. I fell for Led Zeppelin really hard when I began getting into vinyl as a kid. The organic nature of my soul beckoned to the heavies of the past and Mr. Page was one of the first to emerge from the invocation. He had it all: unique chord progressions, riffs, soaring leads and a heaping spoonful of mysticism.”

How often do you practice and is there any advice to budding guitarists out there?

“In the early days, I had a guitar in my hands most hours of the day. Being completely addicted to the wire, I convinced my Mom to let me take two lessons a week at our local music store. This was age 15. When building a foundation there are many different approaches. In my case, I wanted to be the best. My physical reality was in harmony with my goal, so the work that went into it was a source of untouchable power.

The advice? Match your actions to your desires. If you want to be the best, don’t rest until you are. If all you want to do is play “Brown Eyed Girl” for your friends, then practice the shit out of that. I can’t promise that you’ll still have friends to play to if that’s all you practice, but you’ve got to know yourself.”

Artwork for ‘Love Potion’ by Starbenders

Did you use that set-up on your new album Love Potions?

“I used my Les Paul Junior going through an assortment of tube heads and combo amps. I absolutely love the sound of the 1965 Fender Deluxe or a late 70s Marshall JMP, so those along with my Friedman made it all over the record.”

You released your Heavy Petting album in 2016, how do you feel you’ve changed as a guitarist in that time?

“I honestly haven’t changed a terrible amount in my lead style since then. If you listen to the solo on “Downtown”, and compare it to “Coming up Roses”, you won’t find it to be a great divergence. Kriss and I play double duty with solos. It’s nice because if anything, I’ve become a much better rhythm player which lifts up my leads. The vamps that we do are really bass-driven and poly’d out. Wild accents… when I’m singing I don’t really get the opportunity to jam with the rhythm section, so that’s been really fun.”

Who are the current guitarists out there who are really exciting you?

“I love the band Temples. Their parts and styles are so enlightened, very powerful. The guitarist from Starcrawler is really cool and has an undeniable presence. Kriss Tokaji inspires me and belongs on the short list of the greats as well.”

If you could pick any guitarist you think epitomises the sound Starbenders are trying to capture who would it be?

“Kriss has the DNA of Gary Moore, Vivian Campbell and Slash. My ancestors are Johnny Thunders, Ace Frehley and Jake E. Lee. It works well because our styles don’t step on one another. Kriss is ecstasy cut with cocaine, I’m black tar heroin. All in all, you’re getting fucking wrecked.”

Guitarists always have plenty of memorable “gears gone wrong” stories, care you tell us yours?

“Oh yeah, I’ve got one for you. The last time we toured Japan we had to rent all of our gear including pedals because we couldn’t come in with anything. Gibson Japan hooked us up with some nice guitars and all of the live house amps were killer… things like Marshall Silver Jubilee’s, they don’t fuck around over there.

Anyways, the first few shows go by and our producer/manager/sensei kept saying that the guitars wouldn’t stay in tune. He was like “what the fuck is wrong with you guys can’t you hear that you were out of tune the whole show?!”. So he started tinkering with the guitars etc. and nothing was wrong with them, which left us to blame. The jet lag really helped with getting him nice and pissed.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and I was like dude we aren’t idiots it’s got to be something simple. I thought to myself… “Has anyone checked the setting on the tuners?”. Low and behold, my rented Boss tuner was set to Eb while Kriss and Aaron were in standard, which left us with a pure brown smear. Moral of the story, if you have faith that you’re not daft, check the minutia.”

Which guitarist (living or dead) would you love to have dueted with?

“I’d say Johnny Thunders, but he’d probably ghost me. However, that’s even more rock n’ roll than playing with him. I really like the reckless and unhinged players like James Hall out of New Orleans. I love the looseness and try to pull that into my playing as much as possible. When I realized the good form, a super clean shred style wasn’t happening for me, I had to look at what was. And that was being a spaz.”

Thanks for your time and good luck with the album. Finally, any message to fans who have picked it up already?

“We are not your enemy. We are the same frequency. Life keeps getting harder, dragging us to the ground. Don’t be a martyr, turn it around.”

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.