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MR. Black Pedals x Soft Kill ambience echo verb
Resurrecting the discontinued Mr. Black circuit, with help from Portland’s own Soft Kill!
When our effects guru Alex LeVeque approached post-rock outfit, Soft Kill, with the offer to create a signature pedal, they only had one name in mind. Jack Deville and his “small team of wild and crazy dudes” hand-make effects in Portland, OR under the name Mr. Black. Deville’s carefully designed circuitry may not be widely known, but it’s the stuff of legend. One such design is the now-discontinued Ambience, a dual-echo modulator with reverb that’s come to affect the Soft Kill sound, and frontman Tobias Grave’s songwriting, in a way that’s anything ambient.
Can you tell us about your new collaboration with Mr. Black?
Essentially this is a reboot of a discontinued effect they used to make called the “Ambience.” My personal experience with that pedal is a budget fairy tale of sorts. I picked it up on a whim while on my way to a show and when I clicked it on that night I felt like my entire guitar sound blasted off into space. It’s capable of everything from a really unique chorus sound, to the most expansive and rich reverb with echo repeats imaginable. A very musical pedal for sure.
How did you get hooked up with the Portland pedal builder?
LeVeque from Chicago Music Exchange actually brought it together. He had the initial idea and asked if there was any company in particular we wanted to work with. Mr. Black immediately came to mind and after a short deliberation, bringing back the “Ambience” seemed like the perfect move.
What was the process like?
Because the circuit was already complete, we reached out to Ryan Flowers to put together some art concepts based off stuff we had seen of his. The concept was Portland being the city of roses, and with our new record, “Dead Kids, R.I.P. City,” really focusing on the darker aspects and stories of these streets, the barbed wire representation of it made a lot of sense. Honestly the process was quick. Within days it started coming together and I feel like I saw a photo of the prototype almost immediately! It’s cool that it feels like everyone is passionate about its existence.
How did you find out about this particular pedal?
Portland has A LOT of pedal builders. I think Conrad (guitar) has purchased a Super Moon which got my attention aimed at the stuff Jack (Mr. Black Pedals) was building. I’ve owned a lot of his creations but the Ambience, Double Chorus and Blood Moon really stand out and are mainstays of my sound.
What about the Ambience inspires you?
I’m not a great guitar player. My songwriting really revolves around texture and a lot of my riffs really come to life through effects. I like the Ambience because I can get lost in it. Ghost notes and layers that kinda peel back through the reverberations are my favorite. It’s also small and simple in a world of in-depth and complex stuff being pumped out left and right. It feels accessible and easy to play with whilst still being full of options.
The Ambience features heavily on your new album, Dead Kids. R.I.P. City, set for release sometime this year. Can you tell us how the Ambience influenced the writing and recording of that record?
One of our favorites bands is The Chameleons, and their formula was two guitars, with one more often than not being incredibly lush, and the other having a more direct and aggressive attack. That’s shaped a lot of how Conrad and I play together, and searching out ways to make simple riffs and ideas bloom into something out of this world is a constant mission for both of us. Due to the subject matter on “Dead Kids...” the stories within those songs are both a dream and a nightmare. The “Ambience” does an incredible job of creating a huge, expansive void for the hooks to fall into that feels so fitting.
How do you use the Ambience, and other pedals, to define your sound?
The core of my sound is chorus, reverb, a little bit of delay and fuzz/overdrive. I’ll use the Ambience on its own quite a bit, but love stacking it with distortion to create a wall of sound. We definitely pull from shoegaze bands of the past from time to time, but I think the Ambience and different dirt pedals gives you the ability to do something unique with that instead of just phoning it in.