“I’d feel naked without a pedal board,” admits Troy Van Leeuwen. Of course,Van Leeuwen is famed for playing that reflects his status as a true stompbox obsessive – in particular, his six-string explosions in Queens of the Stone Age since the dawn of the 2000s, as well as his earlier innovative, atmospheric work in A Perfect Circle and Failure that posited him as the missing link between Jimmy Page and Kevin Shields.
Not only does Van Leeuwen love his stomps for their textures and tonal spectrum, but they’re his tool box – essentially putting the paint on his palette that he needs for his job as “the ambient color guy in Queens. I always have to have something to shoot in the gaps, from super woofy to more wiry sounds. I’m just a geek when it comes to gear.”
Therefore, when Stompbox’s Eilon Paz came to shoot Van Leeuwen in QOTSA’s Pink Duck headquarters – QOTSA major domo Josh Homme’s recording studio in Burbank, California – he was more than happy to geek out and show us his and the band’s secret weapons of sonic abstraction and destruction.
“If it sounds like a broken speaker, hell yeah, I wanna try it!”
Among Pink Duck’s selection of amps, Van Leeuwen’s pedal platform of choice is the Vox AC30: “I’ve found it really handles pedals well, and gives me my own tonal area among the three guitarists in Queens. I use two amps actually: flat on my hard left and depth/reverb on the hard right. I have to flank Josh’s tone in the middle, which has more of a ‘cocked wah’ tone on all the time.” It’s clear, too, from what’s on his pedal boards that Van Leeuwen is a big fan of the Way Huge pedals. “I love to experience how Jeorge [Tripps, innovative founder of Way Huge] hears things, and then tries to express it in his pedals,” Van Leeuwen says. “The Way Huge shop is in the same complex where Queens rehearses, and we’ll have a couple sips of whisky and talk about stuff he’s made. If he says ‘This is kind of fucked up,’ I’m always like, ‘I’ll take that, then, please!’ If it sounds like a broken speaker, hell yeah, I wanna try it! So Jeorge is always giving me stuff to try out, and often it makes it to my rig.”
Also present is a selection of rare pedals from the ‘70s-’80s Chatsworth, California-based Foxx company. Often stylized as fOXX, they have become cult favorites among stompbox freaks: their attitudinal creations can be heard on recordings spanning Peter Frampton to P-Funk. Taking pride of place, however, is a selection of rare Dr. No stomps. The Holland-based Dr. No company makes eccentric, hand-built pedals with incredible graphic and sculptural details – all inspired by the maker’s favorite bands and players, but especially the QOTSA crew.
“Dr. No always creates really unique, interesting, arty stuff,” Van Leeuwen says. “He designs the artwork and hand wires everything old-school style, but in new, unexpected boxes. He actually got the name from going backstage and seeing one of [original QOTSA member Nick Oliveri’s pedals] with ‘Dr. No’ on it. We used a labeler back then for our volume pedals, and would put weird things on them, like ‘Dr. Dick’s Asshole Puncher.’ The one he saw thankfully said ‘Dr. No’ instead! Dr. No did a signature pedal with me called the Raven, which is a filter sweep, and then another called the Octavia, which is fuzz. That Octavia sound is all over the last Queens record, as well on songs like ‘Head like a Haunted House’ – where it’s almost a gnarly treble boost – and the Chelsea Wolfe record I played on, too.”
Also on hand is a bevy of modulation options. “I used chorus all over the place with Failure and A Perfect Circle,” Van Leeuwen admits. “I went away from it in Queens, but it’s come back there, and on some Sweethead stuff. He’s also sure to never be far away from an epic delay. “I always have a tape echo – or at the very least an analog delay – on my board,” Van Leeuwen notes. “Delay is a thing I can always find a use for, whether it’s a super-tight slap or a ping-pong long delay. I have a Hi-Watt tape echo that warbles in the best way, but it’s so fragile I can only use it in the studio. But the Fulltone Tube Tape Echo is tough enough, you can take it on the road. [QOTSA guitarist Dean Fertita] uses it live, and our sound guy Hutch even put it on the drum mix when he was working for Dead Weather.”
Scarily, what’s collected at Pink Duck is only the tip of the iceberg for Van Leeuwen when it comes to acquiring stomps. “I have too many pedals, but I’m always like, ‘I really can’t live without this one!’” he laughs. “‘I can’t ever get rid of them, and I always get more. I’m always searching for tones, though, so that’s going to continue.”
Stay tuned for a detailed rundown of Troy’s pedal boards in our upcoming blog series “Pedal Boards”
Full interview and photo of Troy’s chosen pedal will be featured in the upcoming Stompbox Book, coming summer 2020.
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