Art always had a huge place in my life. As a kid and teenager, I was an anxious and introverted person and my social life was quite inexistent. I will always remember this feeling of peace I would experience when I was closing the door of my room to go to my little desk and start drawing. I could spend hours creating stories and my own comic books. Everything was possible and this idea always triggered something special in me! When I discovered music, especially metal, with Metallica, Iron Maiden and Testament being the bands I was the most into, it has been a pure revelation for me! I was incredibly empowered while listening to what felt like a type of music crafted for people like me. It was the first time for me to feel so alive! Music had a way to put everything else into another perspective. Suddenly, all the school bullying and anxiety that came with it was gone, only the uplifting spirit of the music mattered for whatever brief of a moment it was.
The next step was for me to embody that empowering spirit by learning to play an instrument myself. In a way, my introduction to guitar probably had the same roots as so many others, but for me, it became the only reason I had to live. School didn’t change, bullies kept on bullying, my broken home kept on getting crazier, but music truly changed everything for me. To the eyes of others, I was still the nerdy guy looking like everybody’s bad joke (When your father says you look great with those glasses, one of those old accountant shirts and a pair of jeans which doesn’t even have a brand, well you’re not going in the good direction, trust me on that one!). Picture that “kid” holding a huge acoustic guitar plugged into a BOSS Metal Zone and a transistor Fender amp… Now you would say that I look trendy and cool… Well, there was a much more darker world before Mumford & Sons, Vampire Weekend, Mac DeMarco and Weezer! So let’s say I didn’t receive much invitations to join bands in high school. Nobody wanted to have Kenny Rogers (RIP) in a Metallica cover band.
I didn’t care that much, because I was suddenly free in a way.
You’re currently playing with Alex Henry Foster, how did that come about?
Sef: Before Alex Henry Foster started his solo project, I was involved with him in a rock band called ‘Your Favorite Enemies’ for about 10 years! YFE has been an incredible creative outlet for me. We toured all over the world, had radio top 10 hits and won all sorts of awards but Alex, who was the band’s driving force, wasn’t really happy… and when his father passed away, he left for Tangier, Morocco to take some time to meditate and write, for 2 years. After a while, he invited us to North Africa for us to spend some time together. That reconnection opened the door for the other members of YFE and myself to be part of his new personal music ventures. It was great news for everyone, but we all had to unlearn the way we used to play our instruments and to let go of all our deeply rooted conceptions of how to write, perform and especially improvise.
Alex’s only rule was this: “Forget everything you ever learned with YFE; from the way you played your instruments to what you ever decided music was about. If you can do that, you’re in. If you can’t, it’s better to not even try to.” So it was really simple, right? Well, if you’re ready to unlearn and redefine yourself, it’s easy. To Alex’s credit, his vision of art has always been freedom. No wonder why he is the one who introduced me, many years ago, to Sonic Youth, Branca, Nick Cave and so many other artists I felt so remote from as a metalhead. Post-rock, what? Shoegaze, noise rock, avant-garde, experimental… it was all nonsense for me. No guitar solos, no sweep picking… what??? For me, Sonic Youth was a total aberration, especially after all the years I had spent emulating Yngwie Malmsteen’s style! But once Alex’s idea started to sink in, I became obsessed with guitar effects and noise experimentations. It was pretty much the same sensation as when I started to play guitar… freedom and emancipation… a new creative language in a way. And that new realm of possibilities had no boundaries! Sorry Thurston and Lee… I may have been a little judgmental at times. Are we still friends?!?
Have you got any other ongoing musical projects?
I have my own instrumental thing going on as well. I released an album called Deconstruction a little more than a year ago. I got into Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ music a while back and wanted to sonically explore away from a collaborative environment… and since Your Favorite Enemies have an absolutely amazing recording studio, I started to experiment with synth, loops and odd guitar tunings in order to create a different way to craft sounds and landscapes. It was the personal extension of the musical exploration Alex had invited me to dwell into. That experience generated a new emancipating dimension.
As a guitarist, who would you say are your biggest influences?
That’s a very difficult question to answer because I might hurt some of my friends’ feelings if I don’t mention their names or if they ever believed they were an inspiration for me. But, I think that if there was only one name to mention it would be Nels Cline, and for so many different reasons. First, he’s singular and unique, he doesn’t brag, he doesn’t try to be someone else… he is who he is… and I’ve learned to know how incredible of a thing it is. Secondly, his free musical approach towards creation. He’s playing jazz, experimental noise, punk rock, alternative, shoegaze, psychedelic and whatever moves him! I discovered him when I went to see Wilco with Alex during the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot period thinking: “Ah, yes, Alternative Americana… boring.” But how wrong was I again as I not only discovered a brilliant creative universe but couldn’t believe how into it Nels was… intense, always on the edge… and just how insane and intriguing it was to see him giving life to all sorts of sounds with his pedals. And most importantly, all of that was to serve the emotions of the songs. Brilliant and real.
What are you currently listening to?
Sef: The album Ummagumma by Pink Floyd, which is odd because I don’t consider myself a fan of Pink Floyd in the first place. It’s Jeff (Alex Henry Foster’s bassist and former YFE guitar player) who introduced me to that album. I was a bit skeptical at first. I’ve never been a fan of the song “MONNNNNEYYYYYYY” that kept on playing 25 times every night when I was working in a factory. So when I first listened to it, it was again the perfect and pure expression of what artistic freedom is about, with many bewitching musical landscapes in which you easily lose yourself!
What’s your history and experience with Orange, and what’s your current set up?
Sef: It started back in 2012 during the writing process of Your Favorite Enemies’ album “Between Illness and Migration”. I was looking for a richer tone, something with personality but that wouldn’t take over the different guitar singularity I had. It took me a while to find it actually. I tried every possible brands available, from the usual ones up to the underground boutique ones. I bought some of them but still wasn’t totally satisfied. I tried different alternatives… pedals, amps modelling and other kinds of things, until a friend working at my favorite music store in Montreal told me, kept on telling me and bugging me “You want an Orange amp” up to, “Dude, you NEED an Orange amp!”
So one afternoon, I finally decided to give it a try, but with my rig. You should have seen me going in the store with all my stuff, it was laughable. Some people are probably still talking about it! It was indeed insane, but I did try different Orange amps. And when I heard the sound of it, nothing else existed around me. When I cranked the preamp, the overdriven sound was tight, rich, powerful, focused and reproducing faithfully the different harmonics of my guitar. I stayed there 3 hours passed the store’s closing hours. No joke.
My choice, beside the fact that I wanted them all, stopped at the Thunderverb 200 with the cab PPC412HP8 (with four 100 watts Celestion G12K-100 speakers). It immediately became my faithful “partner” in the studio and was the corner stone of my live gear set up with Your Favorite Enemies, especially since the Channel B was a perfect place for me to plug all my different pedals. I was also using the 4 method cables to connect some of my effects, like delays and reverbs, after the preamp section of the amp (Yes, even if there are no laws regarding that, a reverb before distortion can sound a bit messy!). So I was able to get the best of my time-based effects with the big distortion from my Thunderverb 200! A game changer in every possible way for me! As for now, since Alex asked us to change our whole rig for his project, I’m using the same cab (don’t tell him!) but I mostly use the Custom Shop 50! The clean sound is outstanding and it’s the perfect template for my big spaceship (the name my bandmates gave to my pedalboard). Oh, funny enough, it’s Alex who’s now using the Thunderverb 200 for all his guitar noises and textural sounds. But since he doesn’t use guitars the way they were created for, it’s clearly far from YFE’s sound, trust me! And since Jeff is now playing bass in Alex’s project, he is using the AD200B MK3 Orange bass head. We do have a crazy lot more of different brands and all sorts of equipments available at the YFE studio, but we always end up going back to Orange to express ourselves.
Best quarantine activity?
Sef: I got back from a tour across Europe on March 12 with the rest of the band and was ordered to stay in quarantine until further notice. Even Alex, who now lives in the US, wasn’t able to go back home. So now that we’re all living together, in our studio (which is a massive Catholic church we converted into a recording and rehearsal space), we are doing live stream performances to introduce Alex’s new album “Windows in the Sky” to be released on May 1, 2020.
Here’s our latest performance of a 30-minute version of the song “The Hunter (By the Seaside Window)” off Alex Henry Foster’s solo project, live from our church-studio. The performance starts at 43:30.