Bloc Party's Guitar Man Russell Lissak
Russell Lissack of Bloc Party is one of the best young guitarists in the country. He is innovative and very creative with his ever-growing effects board. You only need to hear the crazy drooping sounds on 'Like Eating Glass' (from first album 'Silent Alarm') or the intro to 'Hunting for Witches' or the solo to 'The Prayer' (both from their follow-up album 'A Weekend in the City') for Russell to instantly stand out a mile.
He can make his trusted telecaster sound like a plane taking off, a video game soundtrack or even an alien's holiday trip to a waterpark. No one else plays guitar quite like him.
Yet he can also be very melodic, and writes gorgeous soundscapes, heard on 'So Here We Are' and 'Tulips' for example. And equally visceral and garagey where required, like on 'Uniform' or 'She's Hearing Voices'. He is a very shy person initially, but when you get to know him he shows himself to be both serious and have a great sense of humour. All these personalities come out in his playing. He is quite a quiet person, preferring his music to do the talking. As such, he leaves a lot of space in his playing so that he's not always in-your-face, and on stage spends more time than most lead guitarists do actually not playing, waiting for his bit to come round.
Russell doesn't like face-to-face interviews, so I asked him if I could do one via email. As he is a friend of mine, it was quite difficult to think of objective questions that a regular interviewer would ask as we've spent so much time talking guitars over the years it's easy to forget what the sort of things people would like to know are. I plan to interview him again next year, so if anyone reading this would like to put questions to him, please get in touch. I purposefully didn't ask him about 'A Weekend in the City's follow-up, as they have barely started writing it having toured all year long. When the next record is being made, I'll ask all those questions then. So for now, here's my attempt at trying to ask some probing questions that he'd actually answer, as he's pretty cagey about certain topics, like his effects board. Fair enough really!
Why do you use Telecasters and when did you get your first one?
I've played a lot of different types of guitar, mostly when I didn't really know what I was doing, so I tended to pick guitars just based on what I liked the look of. Anyway, when I was a student my housemate had a party and my guitar got stolen. Fortunately I had insurance so I went to a shop with the money, and spied a white telecaster which I liked the look of. It was just after that I got into them, as I really liked the feel and the sound of that one, and have done ever since.
What other guitars have you used on record and why? Any favourites?
Of my personal guitars I've only ever used Teles, but sometimes I used producers' guitars for heavy things, mostly a variety of Gibsons. I've got a Strat and a Jaguar now so they might get used next time round.
What are your most-used effects pedals?
Overall I'd say my [Boss] DD5 Delay, which has served me well for nearly 10 years now.
I've seen you play a Fender Jaguar live once. Why only once?
I'd just got it and wanted to try it out really. But it doesn't feel as nice or sound as nice as my Tele, so there's no point really. I always think its really sad when people wanna keep changing guitars for songs, like "ooh, look at all my guitars". Obviously if the song is in different tuning or whatever then it can be necessary but otherwise
it's just really cheesy.
Now that the 'Silent Alarm' official secrets act has expired, can you tell me and everyone else what that cool sound is on the solo to 'Positive Tension'?
Ha ha.... ah, go on then. Its nothing out of the ordinary, it's just a fast delay and then a pitch shift down. With the pedal set up I had then I couldn't actually do the footwork and pedal adjusting at the same time as playing, so we added the shift on afterwards.
Do you think your guitar style has changed much in recent years or is it something you try not to think about?
I don't really think about. Its probably more an overall shift in the band's sound than just a change in guitar style.
Someone told me the secret to your clean-yet-with-bite chiming sound heard on 'So Here We Are', 'This Modern Love' and 'SRXT' is down to dirty, long cables. Can you confirm or deny such reports?
I'm not sure to be honest. I remember at one gig, our guitar tech wanted to change my lead because he thought it was far too long, so we did and then the guitar sounded awful so we had to change it back. That was a while ago now, and several techs later, so I'm not sure if I'm still on the same lead or not...
Do you have any modified guitars? Care to tell me about them?
I have one modified Tele, which a friend made for me by putting an effects switch inside the guitar.
How do you get such a crunchy sound from your Tele (like on 'Uniform' for example)? What distortion pedals do you use?
I just use the Boss overdrive distortion. I've recently picked up a few few distortion pedals which I'm sure I'll use for recording, but overall I attribute the sound more to the amp than anything else.
Did you enjoy the Electric Proms? Is it something you'd like to do again?
I loved it... it wasn't flawless due to lack of rehearsals and monitors for the choir, but I thought it sounded amazing. I still sing some of their parts to myself when we play live now. I think repeating it would probably spoil the moment though.
Will the next Bloc Party album have lots of guitars on it? 'Flux' is very synth heavy - might I suggest using a keytar for the next record?
Heh heh, suggestion duly noted!
Do you write many of your parts with just Kele, or with you all in a rehearsal room together?
A bit of both. Generally we're writing on stage in soundchecks, but sometimes if it's, say, a melodic part, it's easier to sit together in a quiet room and do it.
Who are your favourite guitarists?
Not including Jamie Ellis? [aw, shucks!] Still the same as when I was younger really, Bernard Butler, Johnny Marr, Rivers Cuomo.... there's really not anyone that's interested me in the last few years, though I do like watching Foals play, they've a lot of really nice [guitar] interplay.
Will we hear any more of your Kevin Shields side heard on Everytime is the Last Time (the hidden track on 'Silent Alarm')? I think we should!
Hmmm, maybe someday in another form, I don't know if that's a Bloc Party avenue.
I love the guitar playing on 'England' (b-side to 'The Prayer'). Why was it left off 'A Weekend In The City'?
Hey, you can't put every song on the album.
What are your favourite Bloc Party songs to play and/or listen to?
I always like playing 'She's Hearing Voices', it gives me a chance to fluff up big solos!
Do you think you'll ever give up touring and become a studio band who take years to make albums with a 42-piece orchestra? Or at least just become a studio band?
It's hard to say... certainly at the moment there's more emphasis on being a live band than being a studio band. But then after almost three years solid of being on tour, you do need a break.
Is there anything specific you still want to achieve guitar-wise? Have you ever thought about a Kaoss Pad guitar like Muse's Matt Bellamy?
I don't like the idea of just imitating someone else.... I'm sure it'd be fun to play, but then everything would just sound like Muse.
Any tips on hot new bands?
Why do you never play 'On'?
Err.... I don't know. I just don't think we ever came up with a satisfactory live rendition.
What was the most fun-to-shoot music video you've made?
The 'Flux' video, as I got to show off my dance moves.
Would you like to tell the kids what pedals are getting stomped on for 'The Prayer' solo or the intro to 'Hunting for Witches'?
I would not.