Gear Talks: Fuming Mouth

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Gear Talks: Fuming Mouth

Fuming Mouth
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Fuming Mouth are sitting in a restaurant in Chicago before a show, the four members are huddled around a screen to chat with Mixdown about the writing, demoing and recording of their new album.

The new Fuming Mouth record, Last Day of Sun, is out now, touring to support it has begun. I begin by asking when writing for the album began, Last Day of Sun being their second full length after 2019’s The Grand Descent.

“It started right after recording The Grand Descent, our first album.” frontman Mark Whelan begins. “The first riff and parts of the last song were written right away.”

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We dive in, and I begin by asking about Fuming Mouth’s writing process. They’re a four-piece, made up of Mark Whelan as singer and guitarist, Andrew Budwey on guitars, James Davis on drums and Patrick Merson on bass. I ask how they write, if they’re building full songs and demos or if they take riffs to the jam room.

“We definitely do full songs at home. When Fuming Mouth started, [we would write] in the jam room, with simple ideas like that. But now, it really works. Everyone has their own preferred DAW.” he begins. “I do the bulk of the writing and from there we all bring it into one laptop, one DAW, [and] figure it out.”

“For Last Day of Sun specifically, we figured out scratch tracks, demos if you will. All on our own, then we bought those in, and imported them into Kurt Ballou’s Pro Tools session at God City.”

I’m interested, for such a unique sounding band, what are they using to demo?

“For me, it’s plugins,” states Mark. “I use Neural DSP Omega [Ampworks] Granophyre. That’s my number one, I use that every time. I put that on its cleanest setting, and I put a Japanese HM-2 and a [Boss] GE-10. I’ll use either a guitar with passive pickups or a guitar with active pickups, that’s where we get the variation.”

I pivot here a little bit, HM-2’s unique circuit traditionally hasn’t interfaced that well with plugins and digital modellers as it toes the line between fuzz and distortion, digital emulations falling apart when receiving signal. Andrew chimes in here on his experience.

“I agree. I’ve had good luck with getting [tones]. I have a couple different kinds of plugins; Marshalls. I can get it to work well with those, I’ve had good luck with those kinds of plugins. Otherwise it’s really not been… ” he pauses to laugh. “It’s been tough.”

Andrew continues, “I have friends who do demo with HM-2 digitally in the DAW with plugins, and they’ll come to me and ask me how to make it work. And I’m like ‘it really depends!’”

We’ve established the writing process, the band working together to write and arrange songs, but I’m interested: are the songs reasonably complete once they arrive at the recording stage?

“Not this time around, no.” says Mark. “This time Kurt Ballou [Converge, God City Recording] really got his hands on it and I think we were just having a lot of fun. That’s when he was like ‘Let’s move things around, let’s move riffs around, let’s move where drums land around’ and all that. He really navigated the ship.”

I ask, was this a new experience for them or are they used to it?

“[A] new experience. In the past, I’d say it was really concrete. Y’know? The material wasn’t malleable. It was not like this, where there was room for new ideas and for any of those things.”

We shift to the recording process itself. They’re a very accomplished band, ferocious live performances really showing Fuming Mouth’s mettle as a unit, but did they record that way?

Drummer James takes this one. “We basically did all the drums first on this record. Recorded all the drums, then right to rhythm guitars, bass, leads last.”

Mark adds to this, saying “Rhythms, bass, leads… solos. That’s how it went.”

With a producer on board, a beautiful studio, opportunity to add layers and production, and their songs being pulled apart and rebuilt, I’m curious: is there thought about the live version of the songs while in the studio?

“Yeah, there definitely is. It’s crazy ‘cause, the last song “Postfigurement”, in an original demo of that, I’m not kidding, I think there were four guitars going on.” he starts. “Legitimitely three guitar leads and a riff, so I started looking at that demo thinking ‘We can’t do this live, this is impossible.”

“So that’s when we started to boil things down,” he pauses here, second guessing his use of the term. “I don’t wanna say ‘boiled them down’. [We] legitimately cut off and moved around some of the leads to other parts of the song. That way, certain guitar parts stood out more. That way you actually get the treatment for the proper effects.”

“Also these effects are all different for each lead, they’re not battling each other y’know? One moment gets to take the stage. Too many cooks in the kitchen with a lot of effects going on with a lot of different leads eventually just sounds crazy.”

I interject here, saying it’s great that they’re writing the songs with the four of them in mind, their arrangements fitting together rather than going full-steam ahead with production in the studio, only for the live performance to fall flat.

“We definitely wanna make it so these songs can be played live. That’s always the thing ticking in the back of our head, for sure.”

The next question, as a chainsaw aficionado myself, I have to ask: is it HM-2 on Last Day of Sun or a clone of the famed circuit?

Mark and Andrew grin.

“Japanese HM-2 is what we’ve used for a long-time. On The Grand Descent, we used …” Mark trails off, before Andrew finishes “A Dunwich [The] Nihilist.”

Mark continues “I believe it was Ulf from Entombed and Nihilist (Nihilist changing their name and becoming Entombed), his actual [Dunwich] Nihilist. His real one. He left it at God City. I think just the lore of that alone, we were like ‘He’s the guy who did it!’”

Andrew picks up here “It [The Nihilist pedal] was a custom one that was made for him, and it only had two footswitches, and there’s no knobs. There’s trim pots inside but there’s no knobs.”

I add here, saying the HM-2 sound is kinda dimed, all or nothing, right?

“I will say,” begins Mark “This record we used a HM-2 Waza Craft. And we did dial back the distortion knob a bit, it sounds good now. That’s another thing, we’re always thinking about how live it’s going to work.”

“The HM-2 can really create some wild, wild noise. I don’t even know what you would call it, so this time around we used the Waza Craft.”

“There was a debate between Andrew and I, and Kurt Ballou, or at least me. I wanted to use ‘Custom’ mode, and Kurt wanted to use ‘Standard’ mode. He specifically said: ‘the Waza Craft ‘Custom’ switch on it is a little more ‘Wug wug’, where ‘Standard’ is more ‘Chug chug chug’.”

We all laugh here, accepting that this sentence wouldn’t make much sense outside of our circles, but I acknowledge that I know exactly what Kurt meant. I explain that what I noticed on first listen to Last Day of Sun was how abrasive the guitar tone was, without being overkill. They’ve pushed it right to the edge without it being too much.

They’re thankful for that, that their niche interest in HM-2 is finally being understood, let alone praised. This feels like a comfortable place to end the interview, having covered the recording process, and I ask, as a closer, if there’s any anecdotes or funny stories they can share about the making of Last Day of Sun.

They huddle for a moment, murmuring to each other about it all, Andrew saying out loud “The Sparrow Sons meltdown?” the whole band begins to smile. Mark turning back to the camera and beginning “Okay.”

“So we recorded Last Day of Sun, I don’t know if you’d call it demos, but we recorded like eight songs with another drummer. During “Postfigurement”, when we recorded that demo, we were using Kurt Ballou’s Sparrow Sons, and the tubes got so hot that they melted.” Mark explains.

Andrew continues “Yeah, we were sitting there between takes. I think we were like,” Andrew pretends to sniff. “What’s that smell? And the tubes were just like redlining.”

Mark agrees, saying “They were totally redlining, it was scary. And the reason it sucked was because they were these rare, eastern Russian tubes, the amp is from Belarus, but the tubes were even further east.”

Andrew adds “… new old stock.” shaking his head, before Mark continues.

“So they’re incredibly rare, and we had just torched Kurt Ballou’s rare tubes in this rare amp on a demo for a song that wasn’t even coming out!”

Keep up with Fuming Mouth here. Order the new record here.