Red Sun Rising Guitarist Ryan Williams: UG Was My Go-To Site for Years
UG exclusive: "It was something I used for years and years."
ed Sun Rising recently put out their second record, entitled Thread. The album has been getting great reviews, largely thanks to their latest single, "Deathwish." This interview took place the day after the band played the Northern Invasion Festival in Somerset, WI which saw a record attendance of around 50,000 fans. They shared the stage with Tool, Alice in Chains, Avenged Sevenfold, A Perfect Circle, and Stone Temple Pilots.
Hey guys! Haven't seen you guys in a few hours.
Ryan: Hey Justin, how was the rest of your night?
Good, how was yours?
Ryan: Awesome, Tool was epic. I hadn't seen them in years. That was one of the best shows I've ever seen.
We have a betting pool going as to when the new album is going to drop. Care to place your wager?
Ryan: Yeah, I think it's all a hoax. I don't even think they're working on it. Maynard Keenan wore riot gear last night and he made a comment that he wore it in case the crowd got frustrated and threw fruit at him because the other guys hadn't finished their parts on the new record yet. He went member by member and asked them to please finish their parts while they were jamming.
I'm glad I wasn't the only one who heard that. I couldn't believe he said that.
Ryan: Well that's why I'm starting to think it might be a hoax because we know him and Adam Jones have had friction but I think if he said it live [in front of 55,000 people] he must be in on the joke.
It was cryptic as always with Tool. Anywho... we don't have to talk about Tool all day.
Ryan: We could though.
What a great lineup, it was great to hang out and watch some great bands with you there. Seeing Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, and Tool all in the same day was pretty cool. We talked a bit yesterday and I know you guys are music fans – what's it like to share the stage with a lineup like that [RSR played the main stage earlier in that day]?
Dave: It's pretty surreal. You have all these influences when you're younger and then to be able to stand in the same spots on the same stage is crazy. Seeing all the racks backstage with their names on it and running into them at catering and green rooms – the whole experience is cool. All that stuff doesn't feel real sometimes.
Ryan: It's weird to think of them as peers sometimes. I know some of those guys watched our show yesterday and that means more to us that I can even say. Last week, we played with Alice in Chains and Jerry Cantrell was stage left and it was just really inspiring and it reminds you why you do it. It's easy to get lax on your instrument and focus on everything else that's going on when you're on the road. Then you watch the guys that inspired you from the beginning and it just makes you want to go home and work.
You've done some good work recently. The new album just came out a little while ago. Did you find that the writing process on this album was a little more cohesive than the first record?
Ryan: Absolutely. The first record was just Mike and I. This album was definitely more of a group effort. We had Dave and Pat and Ricky's experience and influence coming into the album. We had to learn to do that too and it wasn't easy right off the bat. We locked ourselves in a cabin in Illinois for two weeks.
Dave: yeah we were just bouncing ideas off each member and listening to everything – some things worked, some didn't. So we had to learn how to get along.
Ryan: When you listen to each individual's song ideas, I remember thinking I heard more of an Audioslave-esqe vibe from Dave. Then Ricky was more of a folk guy. So it was weird learning how to make this marriage work. After a couple weeks, we started to get a feel for it. That's when it really came together.
Having three guitar playing in a band can get messy sometimes. What are some of the pros and cons of that three guitar dynamic?
Ryan: Actually we have four [Ricky plays guitar as well as bass]. The pros are that if we can put the egos aside and focus on what's best for the band, there's always great ideas and great concepts flying around. But when four guys naturally want to reach for that instrument first, there gets to be too many cooks in the kitchen. That was one of the things we had to learn while making the record. Sometimes Ricky would go straight for a guitar, we'd have him go for the bass or piano. If Mike would want to reach for the guitar, maybe we'd have him sing the idea out and that would keep it to where everyone could stick to what they do best.
Dave: I like to sit back and throw my ideas on after everything else is done. That's where I shine, I guess. But we figured it out.
I've spoken with a number of bands who have the 3-guitar attack and one of the biggest things that always comes up is the concept of staying in your own lane, particularly in a live setting.
Ryan: Yes, absolutely. Songs can get confused and jumbled if bands don't figure that out. Were always trying to get a point across every moment of every song. Sometimes three guitar players can muddle that line. So if we're not absolutely trying to give you a wall of sound with all three of us are playing the same thing and it symmetrical, the idea then becomes how to make each individual guitar part speak and sometimes that means pulling a guitar out of the equation.
Is there a moment on the album, musically – be it a riff or a solo or a melody that you're most proud of?
Dave: Good question. I guess for me now that I'm thinking about it, playing it live, there's a little part in 'Veins' - it almost sounds like a little tapping part right when the song goes into a breakdown. I remember throwing that on there at the last minute. I just felt like it really needed something more in that little part. It was really cool and really simple but it just filled in that top end. I'm really proud of that.
Ryan: For me it would probably be the 'Deathwish' riff. It seems to be really translating with everybody and I hope it becomes as anthemic as we tried to make that song. I'm really proud of that. I'm also proud of the break in 'Clarity' - that seems to really catch people off guard and get them excited about what happens at the end of the song. That was another cool way for the band to gel, by doing something we had never done before. It was sort of our tip of the hat to Tool.
For 'Deathwish,' how did that song start out, was the riff the foundation for that song or was it the drums or melody? It all fits together really well.
Ryan: I had been working on that riff in my basement for a long time actually. I just kept telling the guys “I have this really cool riff. You guys are going to love it” and then I would just never show it to them for some reason. I don't remember why. But I came in with the riff and the general concept and then that outro with the group vocal and then we all came together on it.
Dave: I remember when you brought that riff out. It was one of those that just stuck in your head and we knew we had to make a song out of it.
Ryan: I think initially, no one was impressed as I was with my own riff. But I think its kind of like this whole album - it grows on you.
I want to talk a bit about gear – Ryan, you're a Gibson guy. You're sticking with them through their recent trials and tribulations.
Ryan: Yeah they filed for bankruptcy. That's not the first trouble they've been in but I still have my strat. I started out with a Fender. Gibson, to me, is the best of both worlds. It's thick and expressive and big sounding, which is great for rock and roll. They're very tonal. Like when I hit a chord, I want to hear every string in there when its my intention to do so. Some guitars don't allow for that - the pickups especially - either they're too muddy or they're too high output. Gibson to me is that perfect balance of musicality and versatility. You can go very modern with it or you can get those vintage tones.
Are your Gibson's stock as you'd buy them off the shelves or do you have some work done to get them where you want them?
Ryan: None of them are stock. The Gibson's, for example, I always switch out their wiring from copper to nickel. Anything that these guitar companies did in the '50s and '60s, I try to go back and do it that way. Like I put the oil in foil capacitors in it. I'll put Grover tuners on it. It's just a preference thing. Not everyone likes that. I just like a big heavy vintage sounding instrument. So that's what I do to it.
Ryan, what do you have for an amp?
Ryan: I'm a JCM 900 guy. I basically run the same rig as Mike McCready – that was not intentional, by the way. I tried to work through Mesa but just because of the type of band we are, I just needed more midrange. I need that stuff to cut without being overwealimng in the mix and the Marshall was the backup amp I had to use one night and it's the same amp from that era [I use now]. Its funny because a lot of the producers that we work with and stuff have a hard on for the [JCM] 800s and the JMPs, for great reason, but they seems to skip right over the 900 and go to the JVMs. I think the 900 is the best option for me. Again, just like the Gibson, it's the musicality, it's the mid-range for the guitar, it's the definition, but it can also be modernized. If you want to pull the gain up a little bit, I can get happy with it if I need to.
What have you got on your pedalboard?
Ryan: Earthquaker, BOSS, EHX, and Dunlop. I would say if I had a go-to pedal right now it would be my Avalanche Run which is a tap tempo by Earthquaker.
Dave: That thing is gnarly.
Ryan: I used it on every single song on Thread. I just really like it. I really enjoy playing with delays, especially in this band if I have the top part, like a skinnier lead, I like to fatten that up and give it some character and ambience and make it sound a little more sinister by giving it some delay and decay. I think putting personality on your tone is just as important as getting your tone in the first place.
Dave, what are you running?
Dave: I'm actually running a Fractal AX8 at the moment through a Mesa Stiletto Deuce. I'm pretty much just using that to power the cab. I was using an analog setup and just using the head for the distortion for a while but I kind of got sick of tip-toeing around and hitting three things at once and having to hit the channel selector. So I switched to digital just to try it out and it seems to be working. But eventually when I get enough money around to get another rig going, I'd like to figure out a way to use the amp distortion again because I kind of miss that tube distortion. There's something to be said for that. A lot of people say they can't hear a difference.
Ryan: I'm fighting that digital world as much as possible because I do love the vintage gear. However that AX8 has been really convincing a lot of nights.
Dave: It hasn't let me down yet unless I hit the wrong thing and it gets a little squirrelly. But its been pretty consistent so far.
Then, Dave, you had a Tele on stage when I saw you.
Dave: Yeah I just got that Tele. We used a bunch of them on the record. I figured Ryan had the Strat and Mike actually just got a Jazzmaster. So were changing up a couple tones. It sounds really good on 'Deathwish' and 'Veins' - it just adds a nice little element that balances out the Gibsons.
Ryan: Yeah, layering has become a big part of what were trying to do live because we did it on the record. We don't always need humbuckers on humbuckers smashing eachother out. That Tele is cutting through really nicely.
Were there any studio goodies you got to use with Matt Hyde [Producer on 'Thread']?
Ryan: Yeah Matt Hyde is a big gear nerd too and we had the luxury of going to Sonic Ranch as well, which was insane. For example, on the latest single 'Fascination' - all the plain guitars on that were tracked through a '54 Esquire that belonged to Stevie Ray Vaughn. It just had this huge character. It was super clean, super defined. But the guy who owns Sonic Ranch purchased it from Stevie himself which was cool enough but then the sound of it – I've never heard an Esquire quite like it.
Dave: What was that baritone we used on that track too?
Ryan: I that was an old Danelectro baritone. We had the Jeff Beck Oxblood was a big one. The Marshall Artist Series Head was probably our secret weapon on this record. We used that on everything. We were blending all kinds of stuff. That was the cool thing about working with Matt Hyde - he was a gear nerd. We had four rooms of cabs with heads stacked three high. We didn't have to do that but it was worth it in the long run because the sound we got was incredible. I think what Matt brought to the table was a lot of the pedals. He had some Leslie simulators into the mix, some Cathedral pedals from Electro Harmonix that I hadn't had any experience with. The solo on 'Stealing Life' for example is this Leslie simulator pedal that I've actually tried to recreate several times and I think I'm just going to need to go to the source and get it.
Dave: We made some magic there, that's for sure.
I can't imagine how much fun that would have been. But then the real work is trying to re-create those sounds live after the fact.
Ryan: Right! We had so much gear at our disposal and we were running around like little kids trying everything out. We're working on trying to match up to the sounds we found there.
So I remember someone telling me yesterday that you guys were transcribing 'Deathwish' into tablature.
Ryan: Yeah it's really the first time that we've offered it on a large scale. We're doing it professionally and it will look nice. It'll have the music with it as well. Dave and I took on the task of doing it ourselves, which I don't regret. But is it time consuming
Dave: It is time consuming but I always remember when I was little I would see these music magazines and they would have a few songs tabbed out in the center that you could check out. Then a lot of bands started putting out books. So maybe that would be something to consider down the road with this band, I would love to do that.
We love tabs that are correct, henceforth we love getting our tabs from the source. So thank you very much!
Ryan: I'm like Dave - I used to love finding those tabs in magazines. When I was a younger guitar player, we didn't have YouTube and to find those magazines that had 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' in it was awesome.
Do you remember what the first song you tried to learn was?
Ryan: I can tell you the first song I learned beginning to end was 'Fade to Black' - it took a while. I spent so much time in my room with my little amp and when I finally got it I was screaming, 'Mom! Come look! I did it!' and then I probably played her some horrible rendition.
Dave: Mine was 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.'
What was your first guitar?
Ryan: I'm still playing it. It's that Stratocaster I was telling you about. It's Frankenstratted out - it's got Joe Barden pickups in it, before they sold to Duncan - so they're hand wired. It's pretty modded out. It's a machine and we use it in the studio.
Dave: Mine is hilarious. It was a Harmony acoustic guitar that was bought out of a JCPenny's catalogue. I was around 10 years old. I got the drum set too – in fact maybe the drum set included the guitar. It was one of those deals.
Did you take lessons or learn on your own via tablature?
Ryan: I had some lessons at the music store I ended up working at.
Dave: My uncle taught me some power chords and from then on it was all me.
Do you visit UG often?
Ryan: I used to a lot more when I was playing more covers.
You guys did a cover of 'Uninvited' which is super cool. What made you land on that one?
Ryan: Thank you. That was a song that we loved. A long time ago, Mike and I were considering it. But when we were getting ready to do Octane, we kind of had to do a cover and we were going to do 'Sound of Silence.' But then Disturbed released it and I remember going back onto the bus to Dave and going, 'Can you believe this!?!' So we worked on the Alanis Moresette song and the challenge there was figuring out how to take this orchestral song by a female artist and make it a rock band thing. So we had fun turning those string parts into guitar parts and rewriting it ourselves. It did so well on Octane that they insisted we record it. We certainly took liberties with it - the solo I play on there is nothing like what's on the original. We did want to match up some stuff - like stay within the realm of the movements and then work around that. We did want to pay homage to it.
Thanks so much for your time.
Ryan: Thank you. We're excited to be interviewed by Ultimate Guitar. It was something I used for years and years. It might not be something I visit all the time now but for years that was my go-to.