This week on Pedals with the Pros, we catch up with guitarist Maddie Rice. You’ve probably heard her shredding in Saturday Night Live’s current house band, or in the house band for Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show.
You’re currently playing with the Saturday Night Live house band every Saturday night, live! What are some of your favorite things about the job?
The best thing is definitely the other folks in the band. They’re really awesome people and I count myself so lucky to get to learn from their collective decades of life and musicianship. My 7th episode was Lenny Pickett’s seven-hundredth, and I think Leon Pendarvis and Steve Turre have been there even longer! They’re all so generous in sharing their wisdom. I get to hear some great stories as well.
You’ve played in two major house bands for TV now – the house band for The Late Show, and SNL’s Live Band. What brought you to house bands and away from touring?
TV band stuff wasn’t something I actively pursued; I’ve really never been successful at planning my career that way. I had done some touring after college, was living in Korea sort of questioning whether I wanted to keep doing music as a career, and then I just kind of…got a call one day. It was an extremely fortuitous, word-of-mouth sort of thing. So I moved back and gave it a shot at Colbert. Very glad I did– I made some life-long friends and learned a ton.
You’re known for being able to play exceptionally well in any style, with any band, in any context. What’s your secret?
Thanks! But I’m not so sure – I think of myself as competent in a lot of styles and not particularly brilliant at any. It’s worked for my career though. There’s no secret really, I just get easily bored of studying one kind of thing and end up hopping around to stay interested.
Also, I think I’ve always been more interested in songs than in guitar, as an object of study and as a mode of expression. Guitar has just been my main way of participating in songs, if that makes sense. So following songs I love has led me to all sorts of styles and roles for the guitar.
What role do effects play in your musical style?
Performing can still make me feel incredibly self-conscious, so my priority with sounds is just to make myself feel comfortable and confident. Once I have some settings that make me feel good, I like to be as set-it-and-forget-it with my pedalboard as possible.
I generally get all but the clean base of my sound from pedals. From an amp (or modeling software) I just want a beautiful, full, clean sound, and then I add preamps and overdrives in front of that and modulation and space-creating effects after. Some people might regard it as a crutch, but throwing a delay pedal on really boosts my confidence when I’m feeling especially exposed. So much of performance is just a confidence game after all, why not take the help?
What job does the H9 Max Harmonizer® do on your board?
At SNL, I have a stack of most-used sounds saved on my H9 that I limit to about 10 presets so I can scroll through them quickly during the show. I can whip up other sounds on my tablet as needed.
The Hotswitch function is super useful (also on the Rose). I use it for all sorts of stuff: with Pitchflex, to essentially create a Whammy pedal with less of a real-estate footprint; to tweak some parameters for certain sections of a song; or ramp up delay feedback during a transition, for example.
Do you have any favorite or custom H9 algorithms?
If you hear me taking a solo, there’s about a 97% chance it’s the Sculpt algorithm. It’s so creamy and clear. My main preset started from the one that’s just called Sculpt, but I’ve tweaked it a bit over the years and made the Hotswitch take out the Low Boost and add to the High Drive. It’s a subtle difference but can help if I feel like I’m not cutting through.
I also use Pitch Fuzz a ton. I love that delay is built into that algorithm. I made this preset for one of Big Wild’s tunes when I was touring with him. It’s an octave down fuzz that makes for really heavy drop-tuning type rhythm sounds, and the Hotswitch flips it to an octave up and adds delay for some soaring lead lines.
Drew ofthe Drew and I have also been using the Blackhole plug-in a lot in productions we’re working on together, especially on vocals and pads/textural stuff.
Your mastery at playing in a group is obvious; have you tried your hand at writing your own music?
I’m working on that now! I always wanted to write and sing songs, but I ended up with a guitar career instead! And that’s very cool – I love my life – but I’ve also started work on a solo project that has yet to be named. I’m going to be obnoxiously vague about describing it since it’s still coming together. There’s quite a bit of guitar of course, but it’s not a guitar project; it’s more centered around songwriting and voice. I think the songwriting – in terms of lyrical style and structure – is very folk-informed, but the production involves a lot of electronic sounds and some pop elements, in addition to some weird and dark and heavy stuff. I hope it’ll end up resonating with some folks!
What are some major differences for you between playing lead guitar in a band and playing lead composer in your own work?
The major difference and challenge for me has been assuming the role of decision-maker. That’s a mixed bag: it’s great to be in control and to be working according to no one’s vision but my own, but I can get bogged down and obsess over the smallest decisions. I’m sure it comes down to perfectionism again. As a side-(hu)man, I get direct feedback from whoever’s hired me as to whether my ideas/execution are serving their vision. Now I have to decide whether I’m serving my own vision…and sometimes I don’t know!
It helps to bring in collaborators; to share ownership and responsibility for the project and to bring in another mind with a more distant perspective of the material. I tend towards a hermit work style, but I’m learning that the best stuff is a group effort and that’s a very good thing.
As a well-trained keyboardist, Bach wrote easily playable music for his keyboard pieces. How would you say you write music for bands as a well-traveled band member?
With the music I’m working on now, I’m often working with MIDI, and even the real instruments are being overdubbed rather than recorded in a big studio with a band. But my experience in bands has taught me to think very effectively in “parts,” and that carries over to what I’m doing. It’s less overwhelming if I can think of each track as a band member: what part(s) are they playing and how does it change throughout the song? If I need an extra something somewhere, can I do it with an instrument I’ve already used, rather than adding another track? Obviously I deviate from this thinking as a production progresses, but I’ve found it’s a good place to start to prevent option overload and make a well structured track.
Parallel to the upcoming SNL season, I’m just going to be finishing up the production for the tunes I’ve been working on, so I can finally get them out in the world! I also have an extremely goofy D.I.Y. punk project with my friends Aaron Liao and Tim Merle, and we’re going to be releasing an album this winter under the name Yo!Komodo.
Download Maddie Rice’s custom H9 presets here!
Find Maddie Rice on socials!