By Greg Rule & Chris Brouelette
Some musicians are famous for their chops — respected and revered by their peers, they play their instrument at a level that most mere mortals can only dream of. Some musicians, on the other hand, are known for their persona. With an onstage/onscreen presence that steals the spotlight, they command attention wherever they go. Occasionally there are musicians who are equally famous for both — a “player’s player” who also brings a double dose of that “rock star X-factor.” Dave Navarro, for example....
During his reign as lead guitarist with Jane’s Addiction and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave achieved guitar-superstar status with his unbridled psychedelic-meets-metal approach to the instrument. Guitar players loved him, and so too did the mainstream media. Dave graced countless magazine covers, he allowed his private life with wife Carmen Electra to be fodder for the MTV reality series ’Til Death Do Us Part, and, in 2005 he became co-host of RockStar INXS — a primetime CBS/VH-1 weekly that chronicled the search for the new lead singer of INXS.
Most recently Dave stepped into the unofficial role of “BOSS artist icon,” appearing in ads, interviews, and events on behalf of Roland and BOSS. It’s a match made in rock heaven, as Dave has a well-documented history of using BOSS gear.
BOSS met up with Dave at the conclusion of the RockStar season, and got the lowdown on his love for the stompbox, as well as other interesting facts and tidbits about his life in the limelight.
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It seems like you had a blast hosting RockStar INXS. Was the gig tougher than it appeared on TV?
Navarro: The truth is, all I really had to do was kick back and listen to rock songs all night, so it wasn’t that hard.
How did you get the gig?
They called me up and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I’m a huge fan of Mark Burnett [the show’s creator] and I’m a huge fan of rock music, so it seemed like a perfect combination for me. I met with the guys from INXS, listened to some of the songs they were going to do, heard some of the contestants, and I was onboard pretty much immediately.
You’ve been a BOSS user for years. Care to reminisce a bit about your use of stompboxes over the years?
I’ve been playing BOSS pedals since I was a kid. My first BOSS pedal was the T-Wah [TW-1]. God, I must have been 12 or 13 at the time. Then I got myself a little flanger, got myself one of those orange distortion pedals [DS-1], some delays [DD-series], and pretty much haven’t been using anything else since.
There was a time during the ’80s when all the guitarists were using these rackmount rigs, and I swapped over for about a minute. I tried to dial up different tones and effects with all the rackmount stuff, but I realized that it took away the ability to turn knobs on the floor the way I liked, so I scrapped it and went back to the BOSS stuff.
Are you the type of guitarist who buys a pedal with a specific purpose in mind, or do you just like to get gear and tweak with it?
It’s different for live and studio. My live setup is more purpose oriented. I use a wah, a BOSS Octave [OC-3], chorus [CH-1], distortion pedal [DS-1], and two [DD-3] delay pedals that are set for different speeds. What I like to do is step on different combinations of pedals, and emulate different sounds that I may have gotten in the studio. A favorite of mine is the Octave pedal with the slap delay, or the chorus and delay together. I put the pedals close enough together so I can step on two at one time. I’ll wear boots that are wide enough for me to fit my foot across. So, if I’m gonna hit a clean sound, for example, I’ll generally step on the chorus and the delay at the same time.
You’re famous for your delay sound. Can you tell us more about your approach to using your BOSS delay pedals onstage?
I like to use one delay pedal for a long delay and the other for a slap. The long delay is the one that I use to manipulate the speed on. If I’m holding notes, and I want to tweak the regeneration, I’ll play around with the long-delay pedal. In fact, I had a stand built in 1997 for my delay that put it about three feet off the pedalboard so I could manipulate the speed without having to bend down to do it.
Do you concern yourself with syncing the delay time as perfectly as possible to a song’s tempo?
The truth of the matter is that I’ve been known to attempt to match speeds and tempo, but it never comes across as sounding live to me. So I pretty much dial it in by ear, and go with what feels best with the parts or solos that I’m playing. Sometimes I really like having the “spill” being at different places than where the song is, and that kind of creates an ethereal quality that makes the guitar sound like it’s coming from its own place. I’m not a purist. I don’t necessarily need you to hear the pick against the string, or the bridge of my hand rubbing across the strings, you know? I want it to be slick and smooth, and sound like it’s coming from outer space.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you’ve never taken a solo without a BOSS delay in the chain. Is that still the case?
That was certainly the case in Jane’s Addiction. Being the only guitar player in the band, when I went for a solo, I felt that some sonic range would drop out in a live situation, so I would always step on my delay to help fill that space. Right now in my band [Panic Channel] my lead singer plays guitar, so I’ve now become the type of player who adjusts my delay to fit the song. So it really depends on the lineup of the band. If there’s another guitar player, I’m less likely to insist upon it, but if it’s just a power trio, then yeah, I pretty much always want to step on the delay.
Jane’s Addiction has such a unique, signature sound — thanks in no small part to your use of delay, as well as vocalist Perry Farrell’s. Was that part of the blueprint of the band when you started out?
You know, the funny thing about that is, Perry and I are from different musical backgrounds. Back then he was coming from more of a goth-band situation, and he was playing with vocal delays in that band, called Psicom. I was coming from a band called Disaster with [drummer] Stephen Perkins, which was more of a speed-metal band. I was heavily influenced by David Murray of Iron Maiden at the time. That song “The Ides of March” off the Killers album has a musical intro with lots of delay on the guitar. As soon as I heard that... I loved that sound. So Perry and I were both experimenting with delays at different points in our creative pasts, and when we met, the only thing we had in common musically was our love of delay. Which was interesting, in terms of making the Jane’s sound happen, ’cause it was a combination of him coming from where he was coming from and me coming from where I was coming from, being totally different musical places. Yet effect wise, we were pretty much on the same page.
What’s your approach to using effects in the studio?
I prefer to track with my effects. I don’t like to use a lot of outboard stuff. I don’t like to delay my tracks after the fact. I don’t like to re-amp things unless it’s absolutely necessary. Basically whatever’s coming out of my amp is what’s going into the recorder. I pretty much want it to be the way I play it right there in the room, and I feel that if I turn it over to an engineer, it’s not gonna be that way.
What do you consider to be the key ingredients for getting the “Dave Navarro sound” these days?
There are two different ways of thinking. Live, my setup has pretty much been the same throughout my career, which is fairly simple. I don’t like to have too much going on live. I feel that if I can’t emulate what’s on the record, I’ll rewrite it and go with something else. So my live rig tends to consist of a board with a number of different BOSS pedals and a wah. I pretty much go from my signature-model PRS guitar directly into my pedalboard directly into what was the JCM-800 and is now the JCM-900. On bigger tours I’ll have a Mode-4 [Marshall] head that I’ll use primarily for the clean tones, and I’ll switch heads from the floor from dirty to clean.
In the studio, it’s “whatever I can get my hands on the better.” There’s usually an arsenal of guitars, from old-school classics to brand-new BC Richs and everything in between: Strats. Les Pauls, SGs, and, of course, the Paul Reed Smiths. I use a multitude of different BOSS pedals, and I’ll also go so far as to use some of the old-school stompboxes — from the crappiest sounds I can find to the most modern and complex. In the studio, I like to have an experimental day, where I can play with every effect imaginable at my disposal, and I just kinda pick and choose. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to lay down, and then I’ll spend several hours just playing around. I’ll sit back, listen to the tracks, and see what else I can tuck in there. I’m really into textures. And when it comes to amplification, frankly, I’ll do the same thing.
Speaking of, did ever you experiment with Roland’s famous JC-120 Jazz Chorus amp?
Oh absolutely. In fact, in the early Jane’s Addiction days, Perry used to use a Jazz Chorus on “Three Days” — one of our songs. He’d play rhythm guitar on it through the JC-120, and it always had that classic tone. I’ll tell you, that thing was louder than any other instrument in the rest of the band combined [laughs]. It just cuts through anything.
What’s on your schedule now that the RockStar INXS season has concluded?
I’m in the process of recording the Panic Channel record — me, Chris Chaney, Stephen Perkins, and Steve Isaacs on vocals. We’re working with Josh Abraham, and we’re zeroing in on finishing it and putting it out in early 2006. I’d love to take it out [on tour] as soon as possible.
Have you had your fill of television, or will you look for other opportunities in the future?
I really love this show. I mean, the other night I got to watch “Bohemian Rhapsody” being performed by a choir and an orchestra, and it was spectacular. So, if I could do this again, I absolutely would.
Who knows? I’m the kinda guy who likes to get his hands in different kinds of media. I have a radio show here in Los Angeles on 103.1 FM. I’m very active with my website [www.6767.com] with podcasting and broadcasting, and I have streaming television on there. I love the TV show, I love my music thing — they’re all different walks of entertainment. Some of them can be called pure entertainment, some of them can be called artforms. The release of the book [Don’t Try This at Home] was certainly more artistic, and the TV show is a little more entertainment, but I love it all. Frankly, doing this show, and watching these songs get played every night, and getting to hang out with such talented musicians has been inspiring me to get back into the studio.
Hopefully the RockStar series will continue with another band in need of a singer. RockStar Van Halen perhaps?
You’re not the first to have said that [laughs].
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Be sure to check out Dave’s Podcast on BOSS Tone Radio