Multi-instrumentalist/producer Shawn Lee cherishes his 1967 Vox Grand Prix guitar as a 'serious beast' and a crucial tool in his sonic arsenal. Barrie Cadogan, the guitar maestro from Nottingham Freakbeaters Little Barrie, known for the 'Better Call Saul' theme, was drawn to the Vox Ultrasonic from the same era. United by their passion for these vintage gems, they birthed INSTAFUZZ, a suave, velvety project blending psychedelic gold. The flame of INSTAFUZZ flickered to life in 2010 during mixing sessions for Little Barrie’s 'King of the Waves,' and the collaboration took flight.
In this kaleidoscopic journey through 60 years of counter-culture, the voice of midwestern Baptist preacher The Prophet Five serves as INSTAFUZZ's punctuator and delineator. Shawn Lee, a longtime fan, sampled the Prophet's quotes from a cassette tape recorded in the early '80s. Each snippet is a lyrical gem, adding a playful yet deeply spirited nostalgia. The resulting music is a weird, startling, and insatiably groovy blend, dipping into the garage of '60s psych and vibrating with the mind-expanding fractals of British Acid House. INSTAFUZZ merges blues, rock, soul, and jazz with programmed drums and unhinged synthesizers, creating a nostalgically futuristic sonic experience."
Here is the link to their latest track, which we spoke to them about and much more:
1. Your passion for vintage Vox guitars played a significant role in the birth of INSTAFUZZ. Can you share more about what drew you to these instruments and how they influence your sound?
Barrie - I first got interested in Vox gear because of Spacemen 3, and then the late 60’s James Brown’s band who endorsed Vox for a while. Vox guitars aren’t that easy to find here so I didn’t get to play one until I met Shawn and worked with Anton Newcombe. I then realised all the built in effects on the guitars were a key part of the Spacemen 3 sound. The Repeater, Fuzz and Treble Boost etc. All really cool sounds. Without the effects they’re good too, they have a distinctive clang to them which I really liked in Anton’s playing. It was a different sound to any guitar I’d been playing before.
Shawn - I first saw a Vox Grand Prix in Ape Sounds studio in Tokyo in the early 2000’s. I was immediately like -‘Oh shit! Now I need one of these!’ On my return to London I started trawling the internet for one. Funnily enough, they were all in Japan! I eventually found one at Norms in Las Vegas and got it shipped over. The fuzz, repeater & the hand Wah Wah are all killer but the actual tones these guitars possess are everything from a thin twangy timbre to a warm and jazzy sound. Everything you could ever need in an axe.
The Grand Prix is a beast!
2. The Prophet Five, a midwestern Baptist preacher, has a unique and captivating presence on INSTAFUZZ. How did you come across his recordings, and what inspired you to incorporate his voice into the project?
Barrie - Over to Shawn for this one . . .
Shawn - I used to listen to the Prophet’s radio show on local college radio station KMUW in Wichita back in the 80’s. Me & my friends used to quote his sayings and use them as catch phrases. I was clearing out my loft during the pandemic and found an old cassette that had some old Prophet 5 radio shows on it. I felt like they would fit perfectly with the album me and Barrie were making at the time.
And boy they certainly did!
3. INSTAFUZZ's music is described as having one foot in 60s psych and the other in the British Acid House boom. How do these seemingly contrasting influences come together to create the distinct sound of the band?
Barrie - We wanted to build the tracks around drum machines to change it up, especially from my own recorded output which has all featured live drums. USGP is just a mixture of sounds we like and the desire to do something different with the gear to hand in Shawn’s studio. My knowledge of electronic music pretty non existent, but I grew up in a drum machine heavy era. The 808 sound was everywhere and I loved it. At that time some of my mates in Nottingham at were into analog synths and gear whilst I was into old guitars and 60’s production. They were making good sounds that stuck with me. There was also the influence of the 2012 Personal Space/Electronic Soul compilation album and people like Spacemen 3, Sly Stone and JJ Cale who were using Psych,R&B and Country guitars and drum machines together.
Shawn - What Barrie said!!!!
4. Could you tell us more about the collaborative process between the two of you in crafting INSTAFUZZ's music? How do your musical backgrounds and individual tastes blend to create the final product?
Barrie - We started working on songs during lockdown so a lot of it was done remotely. Me at home at Shawn in his studio. Shawn sent me the first drum machine groove, I added a guitar or two and sent it back. He returned it with maybe a bassline or keys and percussion. Then we would keep ping ponging overdubs to each other until we felt like we had the track. Shawn would mix it and we’d move on to the next idea. Most tracks were done this way although we did get together once or twice at Shawn’s studio for some overdubs. I only play guitar, bass and some ropey drums whereas Shawn can switch up instruments with more ease. Shawn played all the keys and percussion as well as some bits of guitar and bass. He also has the understanding of electronic music styles that I liked and what makes them tick musically in terms of groove and sound. And along with the feel for Blues, Psych, Soul, Country and Funk that went into the melting pot. Between us we had it covered.
Shawn - I am a real fan of Barrie. He has real guitar mojo and is a really a cool guy. There has been a mutual desire to collaborate together for many years. The Pandemic/lockdown provided the perfect time and space for us to finally make a record.
I started off by taking some of Barrie’s guitar jams off of Instagram and building up basic backing tracks around them. I’d then send those back to Barrie who would re-record his guitars over that. I would then add more overdubs to that. As restrictions lifted a bit, Barrie started coming to my studio and we sit around my studio wearing masks knocking out USGP jams. The album is a combination of that process. Musically it covers a lot of ground.
5. The record is characterized as "weird, startling, and insatiably groovy." What emotions or experiences do you hope listeners will take away from the music, and how do these qualities contribute to that?
Barrie - I think everyone has their own individual experience and perception of the feel of an album. People find stuff in your music that you don't always expect, but I hope people like it as much as we did making it. The album was built on instant creative energy, inspiring each other to the next drum pattern or overdub. It was a lot of fun to do, very spontaneous. To me that comes across.
Shawn - The album is pretty freewheeling and really exceeded my initial expectations for what we were going to do together. We were having a lot of fun doing this music and I think it really shines through. The album has musical weight but there is also a lot of cheeky quirk and lightness of touch at the same time.
Something for everyone.
6. The project has its roots dating back to 2010 when you met during mixing sessions for Little Barrie's LP. What inspired you to revisit and finally bring INSTAFUZZ to life in more recent times, and what was the catalyst for doing so?
Barrie - We always wanted to work together since Shawn mixed half of a Little Barrie Album in 2010, but we were always busy with other musical things of our own that pulled us in different directions. I’m just grateful that Shawn saw the forced downtime of lockdown as the opportunity and called me up saying "The time is now".
Shawn - It’s all about timing in this game!
Both me and Barrie keep ourselves busy so that was always working against us. The back drop of Covid ground us to a haltand there was nothing we could other than write and record music. It was the real silver lining in the whole crazy thing for us musicians.