Cane Hill is a four-piece metal band from New Orleans, LA who believes in nothing else but putting on a good show. James Barnett, guitar player, is a laid back, shredder who strives to bring new experiences to his fans in every riff, or beat he makes. Recently I sat down with James to talk about his love for pink Strats, “vibe dancing”, his beat-making side project, gear, and more:
So, how’s everything been on the road? Heard you guys were having some van trouble.
Yeah, we couldn’t make the show yesterday and are a mile away from this venue so not too bad. The tour has been fantastic, turn out has been good, and all the bands are really talented and sound amazing. Everyone was either acquaintances or full on friends before this tour ever happened. So, everyone seems to like each other already and everybody is just really comfortable if that makes any sense?
It totally makes sense! I actually spoke to Miguel from Sylar (band on the same tour) and he told me there was some pranking going on was wondering if you knew anything about that?
Pppprrraannnnkkkkiiiinnnngggggggggggg!?!? If there is, I’m OBLIVIOUS to it. But it really wouldn’t surprise me.
So, then it wasn’t you guys who made @codyashsknees then?
NO! They followed me yesterday and I was just confused about it! I was like “I’ve seen some pretty weird fan accounts but d**n”. So, no it wasn’t us but I think I do know who it potentially could be.
What’s the best gig you’ve ever played?
Sh*t, best gig I’ve ever played? That varies. We’ve done so many kinds of gigs. Festivals are always unique because those are always going to be really big where we play in front of a lot of people. Then, there’s personal stuff like our first headliner; we were really proud of that and everyone there had an amazing time. I also have a horrible memory so telling you the place and time is not very possible [laughter]. I can tell you that one of my favorite venues would probably be The Orange Peel [in Asheville, NC]: that place is amazing! There are lots of places to go and see over there, amazing food, and all the people there love us.
What was the worst venue you ever played?
(Asks Band Member) “What was the place with that guy with the pig tails?” (Band Member) *Mumbles*
AHHHHH. We played this place in Philadelphia and we get there we noticed the stage was 3 inches off the ground, which is fine. But, it’s also trapezoid shaped and there is one monitor facing the exit and another monitor, I don’t know [Laughter], facing the f****ng sound guy. But we get there, we suck it up, we are like “Okay this sucks, we’re gonna make the best of it”. Also, the staff was really f****n’ rude to us and really rude to all our under-aged fans; they actually made us setup our merch in the 21 up area so none of our fans, which are mostly younger people, could access it. Witt (vocalist) said something about it and then the f****n’ bartender-slash-I don’t f****n’ even know, had an attitude. He was upset that Witt said something about it and he was screaming, “You guys are lucky to be playing your s****y music here,” or something like that. It was completely unprofessional and whack. However, none of our fans cared. The people that were there, were there for us and having a good time but it was like, holy sh*t man. This is your venue and this is your standard of like, how you want it to all flow. Oh my goodness gracious!
Going back to your views on festivals and regular gigs, how do you feel they differ?
Well there are pros and cons to both. Festivals have a 20-25 ft gap between you and the barricade so there is definitely a huge separation; you can hardly throw a pick at the audience. A lot of the time, when shows go really well, we’ll go out and shake hands and all that but you can’t do that at a festival gig. You literally have to get off so the next band (who’s more than likely bigger than you) can get on and do their thing. It’s really sick cause there are thousands of people but then you go over to the club gigs and then all of it’s kinda reversed. You’re super close to people and it’s more personal and a little less stressful. With more people at those bigger gigs comes more stress and with more potential for awful things to happen but they are both sick for different reasons.
Which do you prefer?
I really like doing clubs. Festivals are amazing. They feed you way too much food and they have all this crew who helps you get everything from A to B. When I say that I mean there’s like 20 f****n’ people and we don’t even have that much stuff! You get a little spoiled there and that’s really nice but I think playing clubs all the time is more my style and where I really excel as far as putting on a show, considering the level that we are at. We’re built to do really well in clubs and I’m not saying that we don’t do fine at festivals or anything but we don’t have the production like the big crazy light show that sort of fills up the rest of that enormous stage that you’re on.
Speaking of rigs, what does your guitar rig consist of?
I play ESP guitars and EVH amps. I use a Fractal Audio pedal board, an FX8 FX Processor, and it goes to a massive cab and that’s pretty much my rig. I have a few other little things in the rack like an Ebtech Hum Eliminator that keeps ground buzz from getting through and then I just have a noise gate to keep it tight but that’s pretty much it.
Does this differ from your studio rig?
For the studio I’ve had several different experiences. When we did our latest EP, Kill the Sun, I used real amps as opposed to digital for the first few records. We did all Kemper and we would re-amp through my EVH or something. But this time around or when we did Kill the Sun rather, we went into that with a much different approach. It was like real amps from the absolute beginning and I used an AC130 going through and an old Fender 212 that had Jensen in it and I used several different guitars. I easily used over 15 different guitars on that record; acoustic and electric. Even if it was only for one part. I used a PRS for 5 seconds of one of the songs, just because it sounded the best for what we were trying to do in that moment. I would go to Chris’ (engineer) old 60’s gold top Les Paul that he had or I have several different guitars that I brought and used and he had a bunch of Strats that he used that I really, really liked and then brought my own classical acoustic that’s what we did “Empty” with.
What is your process when making guitar tones?
There is always a “home base” tone going whether it’s clean or dirty. I roll the volume back when it comes to effects and stuff and I spend a lot of time dialing those in to be precisely what I’m hearing in my head. It was interesting working with Chris because he did real amps with everything. Often he would loop the part for me and I would play it a million times and while I’m playing it he would be turning knobs on all the pedals like different reverbs, choruses, and phasers trying to figure out which one sounded the best and what were the best settings. We would spend a lot of time collaborating on tone because when doing real amps you’ll know if something sounds like sh*t and if you record it, it’ll be hard to make it sound better later. It needs to be a good source. We definitely spent a lot of time voicing each part and focusing a lot of time on it. It was a really great experience.
What is one piece of gear that you wish you had in your collection?
Fender makes this Strat that’s like, I don’t know, I think its American. It’s like this glitter pink and it weights a f***ing ton and it’s got this really dark, it’s not ebony, it’s like another kind of wood like a really dark brown, the whole neck is just this dark brown with this glitter pink finish and a white pick guard and I played it at a friend’s house and I was like “holy sh*t” and then found out it’s like a 3 or 4,000 dollar guitar and I was like “Oh Mah Gawd” *sigh* but I really love Strats. **After the interview, we did some sleuthing and found it to be the Fender Custom Shop 2018 NAMM Limited Edition Super Custom Deluxe Telecaster Electric Guitar in Shell Pink Sparkle** I own several different brands of guitars and I always go for Fender Strats just because that’s always been my thing. I know it’s pretty generic; when you think of a guitar, like a cartoon picture of a guitar, your gonna think Strat but it’s the staple for a reason. I’ve always just been really fond of those. I’m pretty content with all the amps and pedals I own. At this point, I want to collect more guitars that are awesome and different from what I have. But that one’s definitely at the top of the list. Something like that cause I really like pink and I really like glitter pink and I think that would be sick!
I could totally picture you shredding on stage with a pink guitar!
Oh, I would totally put it in C and do all the heavy stuff with that for sure!
Like your gear, does your practice regimen differ from studio to touring?
It’s not a set in stone, “this is what I do”, thing. What I try and do is when I’m in writing mode, I’m not really pushing myself how I would like, although in a perfect world I should. When I’m touring, it’s even harder, honestly. I really don’t like off days because even when I don’t play for about 24 hours I already feel as if I lost something, you know? I really like to rock everyday but when I have a lot of off time at home and it’s time to just enjoy guitar and work on guitar I just try to play all the scales I know by heart as fast as I can to a metronome. That’s the best thing you can do really is play to a metronome and try different shapes and patterns because it’s all one big puzzle and all so relative to one another. You learn one scale and then you learn this other scale that could be in a completely different mode but you can totally put them together even if they are different frets. The shapes still work even if it just has to move over one or move down one. It’s all super relative and so I’ll play, I guess you could call it “jazz” if you want, and literally just play mumbo-jumbo. Sometimes I’ll just chisel away at things that I like and realize “Oh, this is a fret that sounds really good when I push it up a step and a half! Holy sh*t so does this one!” You find new stuff like that all the time if you’re playing in E Standard. You know that you can always go to the 17th fret and push up and it’ll sound really good there and there are other spots like that which comes from experimenting and playing around. I found the other day that I like doing that on the 19th fret too but you have to push it even higher. It’s all this weird experimenting and I basically just try something new every time I’m home even if it’s something small like that. It also helps to keep the muscles fresh.
There are a lot of songs I know how to play that I’m sick of playing but I’ll just play them anyway. Probably the best advice I could give to anybody who wants to be a shredder is to learn Mr. Crowley [by Ozzy Osbourne]. That song teaches you how to play up and down the neck and how to play fast. That song is definitely a staple for me as a guitar player.
Why would you say that Kill the Sun is your biggest experiment to date?
That was a really weird one cause a lot of it started out really, really bare bones. If you listen to the album and imagine it without all the electronic stuff, that’s how it started out. The electronics where sort of an accident, if that makes any sense. On “Acid Rain”, specifically, the course of that song is all the instruments fade out and it’s a sub, an 808, and a trap snare and it was a total accident. In the original version of that song, it was all band all the way through with acoustic guitar, drum, bass, vocals, and at the end, that part happened. Then we were just f****n’ around and I took that part at the end and I slid it over to the chorus for sh*ts and giggles to see what it would be like and we thought we were really onto something. So, we took that and just started slappin’ electronics on everything because we wanted to do an acoustic EP but we didn’t want it to drop into the bucket of acoustic EPs. We wanted it to be sort of modern, acoustic, chill, and laid back but it’s a little fresher. All the electronic stuff that came into that was so much fun.
We all had a lot of fun making the beats and stuff, I learned a lot from Drew Fulk. As far as that goes, he helped us write the title track, Kill the Sun. When you’re working with a producer, you can either let them do their thing and you hang out and the record gets done or you can really use that opportunity to soak up knowledge from someone who’s a lot more experienced than you are. When you’re a songwriter you’re gonna know a thing or two more than the guy who’s touring and isn’t able to write all the time; so I always use that opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as I can. Drew showed me all these aspects about production and how to go about it. For instance, he showed me how to fill it up with the sub bass like the hat and the snare because I had never made a beat before like ever [laughter].
Is making beats something you would want to pursue further from this experience? Do you feel like making beats has helped you become a better songwriter?
After this I went on to start a little side project. I make beats all the time now! It’s really fun and it’s way easier than writing a rock song. I can pump out these three-and-a-half minute jams off just an 808, a snare, and a pad and it sounds f****n’ sick so I make stuff like that all the time and just sit on it for fun. Sometimes if something really, really cool comes out, I’ll use it for the band. It definitely made me a better songwriter. Working on Kill The Sun and just making music definitely made me better. It made us all better.
What equipment do you use to make your beats?
I use a couple of different things. I use Splice for a lot of my samples and what I use for pads and sub bass is this program called Massive by Native Instruments; those are pretty much my two tools. That and Akai Mini Pro MIDI board and that’s how I’ve always made the synths. We started really taking that on when we wrote Too Far Gone. That album was when we made the jump to making our own production. Before that, the production would be done by a producer because we were too scared to take that on. It was actually really amazing because we started writing songs that way and that song is pretty much production driven. It’s been really satisfying to see, because it used to be scary. It used to be “AHHH I’ll never be able to do that”, and then it was like you have to do that. We just had to figure it out.
What’s your songwriting process?
If I’m by myself I’ll maybe just start with a riff or maybe a drum beat but when we write as a group, which is pretty often, it’s a little more methodical. We talk about it first and figure out what direction we wanna go in and what we wanna dive into to get a vibe going on. Next, we try to find that tempo. Hands down the most important part of the song is having the right tempo because it’s all feel. If it doesn’t feel right, nobody is going to give a sh*t and no one is going to dance to it. I know it sounds silly, but I have this dance I do and if I do that dance and it feels right then the tempo is sick [laughter]. That’s at least one way that I figure that out. Most of the time, I’ll write a riff, Devin will hookup some drums, Ryan will put some bass on it, and then I’ll throw a synth on it or some other weird sh*t. Sometimes we do vocals when it’s like half way done but usually we try to get it to where it’s 3 minutes long before we start working on vocals.
Could you please describe this dance that you do?
Well it’s like you know you bob your head like ba, ba, ba, ba, ba on the 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and I point on the 1, 2 with my hands [laughing]. It’s like a pointing dance. It’s really hype but if it feels right, I know it’s going to be there.
From your first release to your most current release how do you feel you’ve progressed as a musician?
I think we have all come a long way. If I could go back now to 17-year-old James, I would have so much to tell him. I’m sure the guys would say the same thing about themselves. I knew [Elijah] Witt when he was a horrible f***ing singer and now he is hands down one of the best singers that I’ve ever known and the best singer I’ve ever been in a band with and that’s the same thing for Devin [Clark] and Ryan [Henriquez]. Devin is the best drummer I’ve ever been in a band with and Ryan is certainly the best bassist I’ve ever been in a band with. Like I said, I knew them when they were worse and for them to be as amazing as they are now is just, well, amazing! It’s honestly everything I dreamed of as a kid. I’ve always wanted to be in a band with dudes who aren’t f***ing around, you know? And that’s what those guys are. They all take it very seriously. Not too seriously like “flip out” serious but Witt really cares about taking care of his voice, Devin is always learning some old guy drummer stuff and you know that’s the same thing with Ryan and playing bass; he’s like a “for real” bassist. He knows sh*t about bass that I don’t even understand. There are a lot of dudes that play bass because they can play guitar and they just wanna do it. NO. He’s for real, like, he f**ks with bass. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I feel we’ve all come a long way since day one.
What was your band dynamic like when you first started compared to now?
I think these days it’s a lot less scary to write and create and hope people are going to like it. We are just a lot more confident and our process is still the same. It’s still the four of us in my room bashing our heads against the wall trying to figure out what to do next for the next part or the next riff or whatever. As far as the pace of things, it used to be like when I wrote “Screw Tape”: it was a minute long for months. It took me so long to get it to three minutes. Now it’s easy for me to get it that long. Will it be perfect and will I love it? Maybe, maybe not but I can do it now. It’s just gotten to the point where it’s very second nature to put a song together and form ideas.
Do you have any stories, anecdotes or memories from shopping with Sam Ash?
I remember being blown away from walking in there and walking like a million miles from Gramercy Theatre to go to the Sam Ash in NYC; it was really bada**! I didn’t pick anything up there but I did play a lot of Strats. There is a lot of nice stuff in there and a lot of nice pedals that I wish I could have taken home but yeah, its f***ing awesome!
You can find Cane Hill online and watch their latest video for “Kill The Sun” (NSFW) at the links below!
Main Site: https://www.wearecanehill.com/