This week on Pedals with the Pros, we had the chance to interview Eventide Artist Rachel Brandsness, formerly lead guitarist of Nashville band Fools for Rowan. Now, she is one-half of Flarelight with Tyler Warren. She has been plenty busy between now and then — tune in with us as we catch up!
You’ve played live with artists from a variety of backgrounds, from playing guitar for Maggie Rose to opening for Evanescence and Halestorm. During the quarantine, what have you missed most about performing live?
There’s just such an amazing energy that comes along with performing live and a human connection that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. It’s so amazing to watch music bring people together to have fun, let off some steam, or just escape a stressful day. I can’t wait for the day we can all return to that safely. I hope we never take it for granted again. I know I won’t.
What have some of your favorite shows been?
Fools For Rowan was invited to open for Evanescence for their first come-back show in 2011 in Nashville; that was one for the books. My sister had the first Evanescence CD when we were growing up, so it was such a cool, full circle moment to have them want us on the bill. The very next day we were feeling on top of the world and headed off to South Carolina to perform at a university, only to have the show be outdoors on a very small wooden patio with a hornet’s nest underneath. Talk about life keeping you humble just when you started to think you might be cool!
Another one that was pretty cool for me was getting to see Tyler, my musical partner in Flarelight, perform with Queen + Adam Lambert in August 2019 while on their Rhapsody Tour. That was one of those magical moments where you just go, “Man, you freaking did it!” I was like a proud parent the whole time.
How do you manage playing for so many different live acts, in such different styles?
I’m usually only playing for 1 or 2 different acts at a time, thankfully. I’ve just been really fortunate to make some great friends and connections and have been asked to join in on a lot of really killer projects. I think as a fan of music myself, I appreciate great musicians more than any specific genre. So when someone asks me to collaborate or perform with them and they’re great at what they do, it’s hard for me to turn them down. I’m a rock person first and foremost, but I really do love all kinds of things. I’m predictably into bands like Heart, Radiohead, Florence + The Machine, and Wintersleep, but I’m also totally obsessed with artists as different as Dolly Parton and ABBA or Celine Dion.
(Fun fact, the last two live shows I went to before COVID struck were Cher with Nile Rogers and Chic as the opener in December 2019, and Celine Dion in January 2020. I’m still not over it. Both were masterclasses in performance and stage presence. Also, as good as you assume Celine’s voice is from recordings, it’s even better live, which I’m pretty sure defies at least several laws of physics. It’s wild.)
What’s on your pedalboard?
Currently I’m trying to keep my pedalboard relatively small, because I got tired of lugging around a heavy one. The H9 actually really helped me downsize since it’s so versatile. I run my guitar into an Ernie Ball Volume Pedal Jr., then straight into the H9, and then I have a Caroline Guitar Company Kilobyte Delay and Mr. Black Supermoon Chrome Reverb. Last, I have a simple A/B splitter pedal so I can send the signal to different amps or a DI box easily, depending on what I’m playing. I also have a footswitch that goes with my amp (20th Anniversary Bogner Shiva) on my board that does channel switching and has a reverb and boost control, though more often than not I don’t use the built-in reverb and opt for the H9 or Supermoon for that.
Does your pedalboard or guitar choice ever shift depending on who you’re performing with?
Somewhat. I have some staples that I use with just about everything. The pedalboard generally stays the same. If I’m trying to match an artist’s specific sound I’ll often use the H9 as a multitool to replicate the effects in their recordings; and then with artists where it’s appropriate, and with Flarelight, I like to play with delay feedback and long modulated reverbs. So that’s where the combo of the H9, Kilobyte, and Supermoon can be fun.
My guitars stay mostly the same. I have a Duesenberg Starplayer TV that works great in just about any scenario, but if I’m really having fun and wanting to rock out, I’ll break out an old 60’s Gibson SG that has been my love forever. Right now I’m using the same bass for everything, which is a P-Bass in the style of the 1959 Fender Journeyman Precision Basses, custom made for me by Lance Acreman of Acreman Guitars in Nashville.
What do you use the H9 for live versus in the studio?
Live, I use the H9 as an incredibly compact multitool. I can use it for super vibey reverbs or massive octaves, or if someone needs me to replicate a very specific “Barracuda” jet flange sound or an 80’s style chorus I can start with the H9 presets and tweak them until I’ve got that sound, save it, and I’m ready to go.
In the studio, I use the H9 for recordings, but I also use it a lot as a brainstorming and writing tool. When writing and recording with projects like Flarelight where I get a lot of creative input, I really fall in love with sounds and they are often my starting place for a song or a part. I have genuinely been in the process of recording a demo and sat and flipped through 100+ effects randomly in the H9 app while playing different riffs and progressions to just see what sticks. I love it because I always have an idea of how I want something to sound in my head at the start, but then it’s those sounds and parts you sort of stumble upon in the process that are really where so much of the unexpected magic is.
Another great thing about the H9 when sound searching is how good it sounds paired with all kinds of instruments. I’ve used it on guitar and bass primarily, but just recently have started to experiment using it paired up with a Moog Grandmother and that has been a lot of fun as well.
When you’re playing live, do you use any common algorithms in all your acts?
The thing I said about the “Barracuda” jet flange effect is a real life example. Haha! I’ve played in two different Heart tribute bands over the years and the Long Flyby Flanger algorithm makes for a mean, in your face “Barracuda” tone.
I also love the 70’s Guitar Chorus preset as just a nice, tasteful chorus, and the Blackhole reverb presets are probably some of my all-time favorites for creating ethereal soundscapes.
I have a couple custom algorithms I’ve been playing with recently for fun: one is a more dystopian/futuristic take on the Touched By an H9 preset for Shimmer, aptly called “Touched by a Dystopian H9”, and the other is sort of a pulsing tremolo mixed in under the chords/notes you play using Undulator that I call “Tremdulator Underlying Pulse” because I clearly have a penchant for creative naming conventions.
You can find these two presets at the end of the blog!
You are currently working with Tyler Warren in the band Flarelight. Could you talk about how you two linked up and what inspired the collaboration?
I met Tyler when he subbed a show for our drummer back in maybe 2012 with Fools For Rowan. After Fools For Rowan disbanded I asked him to play drums and record/co-produce some solo stuff with me, and during that time we really hit it off.
Around that time he started playing Drums for the Queen Extravaganza Official Queen Tribute Act and then a handful of years after that became the percussion player for Queen + Adam Lambert. Then back in 2016 he asked me to play guitar on a few of his solo tracks and at that point we kind of said, “We work so well together, why are we moonlighting on each others’ solo projects when we should be joining forces and making a band together?” So that’s what we did and it has probably been my most rewarding musical endeavor to date.
You used to play lead guitar in Fools for Rowan, but the group disbanded in 2013. What feels different with Flarelight and what feels the same?
The biggest difference is that with Flarelight, Tyler and I are equal partners and both act as writers, musicians, and producers so we have full creative input. Fools For Rowan was an amazing experience and a literal dream come true for me who, at the time, had just moved to Nashville trying to “make it” as a guitarist, but I was mainly just the lead guitarist in that band and only did a very small amount of writing. I’m still a guitarist with Flarelight, but I also sing lead vocals on certain tracks and will even play bass or throw down some synth tracks if that’s what we’re feeling in the moment. Fools For Rowan was a blast and I learned a lot from my time on the road with them; now it feels really exciting to step into this new group and really flex everything I’ve learned since then.
As well as touring and writing music, you are a software developer. Where do you find the overlap between these two worlds?
Interestingly, I think being a software developer made me a better producer and more creative writer, particularly because the better I got at understanding computers and software, the less intimidated I became with my DAW and the less I limited my thinking on the ways sound can be manipulated and transformed. When I was younger and learning to play guitar I almost never used any effects and didn’t even know all that much about them. I was obsessed with 70’s rock and mainly just wanted my guitar to sound as Zeppelin-ish as possible, but over the years I love to take those classic roots and push them into new territories with different effect combinations. After working with Tyler, where our mantra is “There are no rules”, and getting more comfortable with some of the amazing digital tools out there for music creation, I’ve grown to love the way digital and analog can come together to create something neither could be on its own. Sometimes it pays off to be a big old nerd.
How much does the computer play into writing music?
I still pretty much always start writing using a guitar to make up a riff or play along to a melodic idea or lyric that gets stuck in my head. But now, more than before I worked in software, I use the computer to shape sounds and bring songs to life from a production standpoint. Much like with the H9, sometimes I’ll just experiment with random plugins or an arpeggiator on a track; or, thanks to picking up tricks from Tyler while working on the last Flarelight album, I might try reversing audio or use the computer to manipulate the audio in other ways that you can’t quite do with the instruments on their own. The instruments and melodies will always be the heart and soul of music for me, but the sonic textures and landscapes that can be created when you allow a computer to be another tool in your creative flow is pretty amazing.
One day, after we beat this COVID pandemic, Flarelight will do an album release show for our debut album, Glimmer, which is available now on vinyl, CD, and digital. We had one on the books for Spring 2020, but as you can imagine, had to postpone. In the meantime, Tyler and I are working on writing the next album and hope to start recording this winter. It’s been hard to be on sort of this strange indefinite pause with live performances, which I know so much of the music industry is struggling with, so we’re trying to take this time to get a jump start on new music so that we can keep things moving forward for the day we can all get together and rock again.
Find Rachel Brandsness and Flarelight on Social!
Links to Rachel’s custom H9 presets here:
To download any of these presets, follow these instructions:
- Download the preset to your computer.
- Connect your H9 to your computer via Bluetooth or USB.
- Go to Presets, and in the top right corner, select the More dropdown menu.
- Select Import Preset, and from your Downloads folder, select the preset you would like to import.
- The preset will load onto your H9, and you are ready to go!