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Geared Up: Mt.Onsra Guitarist Russell Cleave on His Favourite Guitars and Dream Set-Up

In this new Geared-Up interview, Russell Cleave, guitarist for Mt.Onsra discusses his dream set-up and current gear…

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Mt.Onsra
Mt.Onsra, photo by Pip Murphy

Simon Allen and Russell Cleave, aka Mt.Onsra, started their musical journey and friendship in 1995; however, it took a global pandemic before the pair would sit down and write a song together. That song became ten songs, which resulted in their debut album, Written In Silence.

Building on that debut and their wealth of talent, the pair of multi-instrumentalists took a similarly organic approach to writing the follow-up, Sacred Time, a raw, soul-searching album which saw release late last month through their own South of Devon Records.

Following the album’s release, V13 sat down with the guitarist for the latest Geared Up to discuss the set-up he used to record Sacred Time and the gear he used to nerd out about as a kid.

First things first: what’s your current setup?

Russell Cleave: “I play pretty much everything instrumentally on the recordings for Mt. Onsra. Guitars / Bass / Drums, but I play guitar live so we’ll go with Guitar stuff.

Guitar: Fender Telecaster Sunburst (Road worn), Gibson Les Paul Custom Silverburst

Amps: Peavey Classic 30 Combo for cleans. Peavey VTM160 Head for dirty.

Pedals: Marshall Echo Head (Delay), TC Electronics Juno (Chorus), Behringer Reverb Machine, Tomsline Plexion (Overdrive).”

Mt.Onsra Geared Up

Mt.Onsra Geared Up

What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?

“The road-worn Telecaster with the Peavey Classic 30 instantly makes that Mt. Onsra tone. The Tele is not like any other I’ve owned or played. That thing is almost like a piano, It seems a lot thicker and denser than most other Tele’s. In previous bands that were a lot heavier than the music I’m currently writing and playing with Mt.Onsra, I would get a lot of comments from bands we were touring with: ‘Dude, what are the pickups in your Tele?’ They are just the stock ones it arrived with, ‘I guess the stars aligned with this one!’”

How did you come to possess this piece of equipment? Vintage shop, regular shop, borrowed money, gifted? Give us the details.

“In the previous band (Brotherhood of the Lake), we were lucky enough to get an artist deal with Fender, so I got it for cost price. I could never have afforded it any other way, especially playing niche music with an underground following (that doesn’t really pay the bills). I remember I had saved up a bit of cash to get something, I knew I wanted Fender.”

Mt.Onsra Geared Up

Mt.Onsra Geared Up, photo provided by artist

What made you choose this particular piece of gear, and were there any close seconds or alternatives?

“There are two reasons:

The first is that at the time (2011-ish) I was getting really bored with our peers having very similar setups and very similar tones (Orange Rockerverbs and ESP Eclipses etc.) and we were trying to do something different at the time. I wanted to get a bit of clang into the heavier sounds, really cut through and sound more vicious rather than being hit in the face with a big pillow of chugs. I’ve always been drawn to harsher noisier heavy music (Big Black, Sonic Youth, Bark Market, Converge).

Reason two is my love for chimey depthy clean sounds. Since the early 90s and throughout I’ve been listening to Slint, Pavement, Sunnyday Real Estate, Mogwai, Aerial M, Arab Strap, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Shipping News and I’m always writing and noodling in that style. The Tele completely covers all of these angles and it’s why there is a lot of that on our albums.”

Mt.Onsra ‘Sacred Time’ Album Artwork

Mt.Onsra ‘Sacred Time’ Album Artwork

Did you use this gear during the recording of your latest song or album? If so, please elaborate on how and for what parts.

“Every clean guitar part on Written in Silence and Sacred Time is the Tele and the Peavey Classic 30, A lot of the overdriven sounds are too but for some of the more tighter chuggy parts like the middle section of our recent single “Emergent” is the Les Paul. Because there are only two of us in Mt.Onsra we are super lucky to have some amazing friends who are willing to learn the parts so we can perform the songs live, I remember the first time I got together with guitarist Aden to run through some parts, as I turned the amp on and started playing the Tele he said: “There it is… That sound”. It was really cool because I’ve never really thought about it… a signature sound.”

How does the piece of gear hold up with regular touring and gigging?

“The Tele is super robust, It holds its tuning really well, Stupidly when I was touring with Brotherhood of the Lake it was thrown across the stage on several occasions but it still holds up to this day! I did have to change the input jack while touring just because those Tele circular jack inputs that are held in with a couple of wings of metal inside have never been reliable for me. It’s always going to be my go-to for reliability.”

What piece of gear gave the longest service? Are you still using it?

“My parents bought me an Epiphone SG from the Kays catalogue when I was 15 (1989) and it’s still in action although it does need rewiring. It was originally cherry red but I sprayed it gold/stained mahogany a few years back for a revamp. It has the open book original Gibson headstock, unlike the new Epiphones. I love the super thin neck and it’s basically what I learned my craft on so it feels very familiar and very sentimental.”

What brand do you usually lean towards when looking up new options?

“Fender every time, I’d love a Fender Jazzmaster and an original 70s Fender twin Reverb (Silverface) amp or a Bassman head of the same era. I’m also a huge Hendrix and Clapton head so I’d love to own a nice Strat one day, too.”

What’s your dream setup?

“(Besides my Tele) A 60s Jazzmaster with a 70’s Fender Twin Amp for clean sound with an A-B amp switcher to an 80’s Marshall JCM800 lead series head with a Marshall 4×12. A tube screamer for the Marshall and a nice modulating Reverb and delay on the pedal board.”

Mt.Onsra Geared Up

Mt.Onsra Geared Up

What setup did you spend the most time idolizing as a kid growing up?

“It went through phases, I was a weird 11/12-year-old who was obsessed with electric blues so Clapton, Hendrix, Buddy Guy, BB King. So I just wanted a Marshall and a Strat because I didn’t know what I was looking at, it was purely an aesthetic thing.

Then I was exposed to Metal and I went in deep with Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax then more extreme with Napalm Death/Carcass/Godflesh/Sepultura so then I wanted the Marshall JCM800 and the tube screamer.

I’m a huge Soundgarden fan, which is why I now have the Peavey VTM 160 head, which is the model they used for BadMotorfinger and a good chunk of Superunknown.”

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.

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