Steve talks influences & guitars

Steve told us about how Planes work, his background, and the encouragement he has had from Placebo. Check out the extra video below too.

"Well I grew up on music, really. We grew up on a small farm in the middle of nowhere in California, and we didn’t have much to entertain ourselves with. With an older brother, an older sister, you had loads of different adventures but the best was, my mum’s side of the family and my father’s both, they would come over and everybody played musical instruments and every now and then everyone would get together and have these jams, and that’s where the fascination with it began, it was just sort of what my family did.

And I started getting really into drums when I was, about eight or nine years old and then from that sprouted interest in other instruments, such as bass guitar and standard guitar and tried dabbling at the piano, and tried trumpet for a couple of years, and harmonica and basically just anything I could get my hands on and make a song out of, I tried to do."

"My father was really musical and he had lots of records. He would always play me lots of old country music and bluegrass and lots of classic rock. He didn’t care too much for the Stones or Led Zeppelin, funny enough, but he loved The Eagles and Chicago.

I love everything in the 60s and 70s, I love The Mamas And The Papas and Airplane and Pink Floyd and Bowie and loads, I do DJing as well and I have this radio show where I’m the sort of oldies guy and it was the music that had a bit of class to it. I’m a bit of an old soul in a young body I guess.

For me it was so great because it was music that was made so long ago but you listen to it now and it’s still fresh, and I want to do that with music, you know, anything that I wrote or put out, I want to try to make the same, because that’s, I think being successful in music is being able to have a song that 20 years from now still sounds fresh."

"With Planes I think one of the biggest things is they’re all my age, and you know we think along the same sort of levels, but not only that but it’s a band that I started from scratch and I’m seeing grow and become something really successful and I think that’s a great feeling, and I think the most exciting time for any young band is that moment.

With Placebo I jumped straight - you know six years ago, I joined a band that was already pretty well established, so with Planes, we have the opportunity to start something fresh. Placebo, they’re my brothers and we’re bandmates and they love me but there is a 14 year age gap."

How does Steve juggle his very different roles with two very different bands?

"I have to pay respects to Placebo, I book everything with Planes in the inbetweens, so it’s busy, it makes me a very busy guy, but I like being busy. When I’m not working I get really sort of pent up and wierd. So you just make it work. How do you make it work? You just make it work, you know, you get your priorities straight and as long as whatever band you’re with at the time, you just give your whole heart and everything to it and just make sure to be all about that band in that moment, then you’ll be fine and no one gets upset."

We wanted to know what it’s like being a front man instead of on drums. It’s not always an easy transition to make.

"Making the transition from drummer to frontman came quite naturally to me. I’ve been playing guitar and singing since I was about 13 and I think I never really had the confidence for it until I was about maybe 20, 21, and it was when I got kicked out of my old band.

My friend Eric and I started this band and he said, I can’t sing, you have to sing, and he kind of forced me into it and I just did it, you know. It was nerve racking but it was like, well I’m up here, I’m going to do it, so just go do it to the best of your ability, go balls to the walls with it."

Placebo have been really supportive and also nudged him into the limelight.

"We were on tour in various bits of the world and they had me open up for us, half-an-hour sets in front of you know five to sixty thousand people at one point, and it was just myself with an acoustic guitar, and that was what really kind of broke me in. And Brian was really good with that, he really kind of pushed me to do that. And from there, came the confidence to do Planes."

Steve plays guitar in Planes and changes between a few models - much of the time he plays a Gibson SG.

"My SG I use for a lot of our stuff, I use quite fat gauge strings as well, I use 12-56 (Ernie Ball), sound great on the SG. It’s a really hot guitar, really ballsy and I like that. When I throw my drive and my Coloursound on, it really just knocks the door down, it’s a massive sound, it just bites your head off.

And at other times the sound I get from the SG is always this nice thick warm sound, regardless of what I’m doing, it’s not really too thin."

"For the majority of the stuff that I play I really need that full sound and with the SG I get that full sound, and it’s one of the most comfortable guitars to play, and that’s why loads of guitarists swear by it."

"A really hot guitar, really ballsy"

Made by Gibson
The SG is one of Gibson’s most famous guitars after the Les Paul. As seen in the hands of Angus Young or Tony Iommi, its rock horns mark it out as an iconic instrument. The neck is thin and fast, and the double cutaway allows easy access to even the highest frets, whilst the thru-body design means that the body is unbelievably thin. The SG comes in a range of models - the Standard comes with ’57 Classic humbucking pickups and there’s a version with P-90 pickups. New in is a Frank Zappa Roxy model. The guitar is also available with the new Min-ETune tuning system.

"My other guitar I use a lot is my Fender Thinline 72 reissue and that is great because on a few of our songs I play lots of rhythm, Ted really takes a lot of the solo stuff. So we need a jangly sound for some of the stuff we do and I capo a lot of our songs, and with the Thinline and the SG you’ve pretty much got your bases covered.

The Thinline is lightweight, it’s fun to play, it’s easy to play, it’s your best all around guitar I think, it’s not too much this, it’s not too much that. I mean it’s a hot guitar so it will cut your head off as well when you want it to, but you can get some really nice cleans out of it, some really soft tones, so it’s not as aggressive as the SG. It’s good to have them both next to each other for different sounds and songs."

"Fun to play, easy to play, hot guitar, will cut your head off when you want it to"

Made by Fender
The Thinline is a Telecaster with an f-hole and body cavities, designed to make the guitar lighter. It was introduced in 1969 and there are two key styles based on the first version with Fender Standard pickups and a mahogany body, and the 1972 version with Fender Wide Range humbucker pickups and an ash body. It has been reissued and there are several different models available including Super Deluxe and new Fender Select. You can get everything from a clean sound to a beefy growl out of the guitar and users include Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal of Placebo, Lissie, Taylor York of Paramore, Bob Dylan, Emma Anderson of Lush, and Jonny Buckland of Coldplay.

"My third guitar that I use is my Gretsch Duo Jet and that is fantastic. The pick up selector on it is great because you have three different guitars, it really varies. I love busting that out for some songs we have on the new record, a more surf, rocky vibe.

It is the most comfortable guitar I have to play by far, even more than the SG. But its sound’s not quite there yet I think. The original Gretsches, the old 50s ones, 55 and 58, those sounded great so I need to change the pick ups in that to get closer to that sound."

"The pickup selector is great, you have three different guitars"

Made by Gretsch
First made in the mid 50s, this hugely popular semi-hollow chambered guitar was played by George Harrison in the early days of The Beatles, and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. It came with different switching models and single coil or humbucker pickups. New versions include a George Harrison signature guitar with Dynasonic single coils and three-position pickup switching, and a G6128T model with High Sensitive Filter’Tron pickups and a Bigsby B3C vibrato tailpiece, plus thumbnail neck inlays. The series includes double-cutaway and left-handed models, all with vintage style and tone that ranges from bright treble through to rich and warm.

"There’s a couple of guys that I know that work with Duo Jets a lot so I just need to sit down with them and say, what’s my best option for these? I like the open top Humbuckers, they are really great so maybe throw a couple of them in there and see what that does."

Steve’s got his eye on another guitar too, that has a classic 70s sound.

"I’m looking at getting me a Blackback, an Epiphone Les Paul Blackback, like a guitar of the 70s, very Americana but great. Lindsey Buckingham, the guitarist from Fleetwood Mac, he used to own it."

Steve has an interesting mix of pedals, both boutique and more standard ones, and says that for his sound he doesn’t need a massive chain of effects.

"My pedal set up, I like using just what you need, not going too excessive with it and so what I ended up using was, obviously you’ve got to have your (Boss) chromatic tuner but I have a Fulltone Fulldrive 2 which has two different settings, main overdrive and you have your boost as well, which really kicks it up."

"Really kicks it up"

Made by Fulltone
A hugely popular and acclaimed boutique overdrive pedal that includes a mini-toggle that lets you choose between a “Vintage” FD2 sound with mid-heavy tones that cut through the mix and “FM (flat-mids)” for a more natural, transparent sound. The pedal features super-bright LEDs and true bypass switches along with a switchable “Boost” Channel. The FullDrive 2 is now made as the FullDrive Mosfet with extra Mosfet features.

"Then I have a Coloursound Overdriver. The Coloursound pedals were made in the 60s and 70s, by one family, and they still make them, handmade. So I got one of those for my overdrive and it’s a really really big pedal. I don’t use it that often for chords and stuff, mainly when I’m doing lead riffs, it really cuts through and it’s great. But you don’t really want to use it for any power chords or anything because it can sound quite metal and with our band it doesn’t work."

"It’s a really really big pedal, when I’m doing riffs it cuts through"

Made by Coloursound
Overdrivers are highly sought after over 40 years after they launched, and there is a waiting-list for the analogue pedals, which are hand-built in the UK - even the circuit board - and designed to last. The cases are stamped by hand in a 1960s car press. In 1968 Jeff Beck cranked up the Coloursound Powerboost pedal to give a huge overdriven sound and it became the Overdriver pedal, billed as the loudest pedal in the world and so ‘window-shattering’ that new versions have a knob so you can turn it down. It was also used by Dave Gilmour on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It is used by artists such as Joe Bonamassa and Steve Forrest of Planes.

"And then I have my MXR Micro Amp which is amazing, because it’s just really a signal booster which doesn’t change your tone too much, it doesn’t put too much grit on it, if you just want a nice clean tone that’s got a little bit of bite to it, it’s perfect. However you can also crank it and you’ve got a good big drive pedal if you really wanted it."

"Amazing, a signal booster which doesn’t really change you tone"

Made by MXR
Easy-to-use with one control, this pedal boosts your signal by adding a preset amount of gain. Good for extra power when you’re playing lead, or switching between two different guitars such as from one with humbucker pickups to one with single-coils. You can also use it to boost your signal the whole time - handy if you have a lot of effects and signal drop off is a problem.

"And for my reverb I use the Holy Grail Nano. I think for tour and transport the Nano is all you need because it saves space on your pedal board."

"Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail NanoIt saves space on your pedal board"

Made by Electro-Harmonix
An affordable, rugged digital reverb, the Holy Grail Nano gives you a choice of three different settings. The simple single knob allows you to control the blend in this compact design. ‘Spring’ reverb recreates the classic sounds found on amps, ‘Hall’ emulates large lush spaces and ‘Flerb’ will take you to new and beautiful places. The pedal is designed for the guitar, but works just as well on most instruments and voices.

"I got this analogue delay pedal from this shop that some guy had ordered from America. It’s a custom handmade job and I don’t really know where it came from. But I ended up with it and it was just the best call. It had the warmest, richest sound and I wish I could find out where I got it so I can get some back ups. That’s all I really need. Ted is a different matter altogether because he’s doing a lot more lead-based stuff, he needs a lot of the effects, but me I just keep it simple."

"The warmest, richest sound"

Made by Wampler
This boutique delay pedal has 4 controls - echo level, repeats, tone, and delay time. The tone knob allows you to switch from sparkle for digital crispness right through to analog sounding warmth. The pedal features true bypass and around 600ms of delay time, and is hand-built in the US.

"For my amp I use a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe and it’s perfect. My ultimate amp is the Fender Twin, the twin reverb. Those are amazing but they’re really expensive and they’re really heavy and with this I have the same sound, I have the same tonality. You know you can keep it on two and I can’t go above two otherwise it just screams at me, especially with some of the guitars that I’m using."

"It’s half the weight and you know, the same sound and everything, and a quarter of the price. So I went with the Hot Rod and I think any musician travelling around, especially if you’re doing it off your own back, you know, in a van, and you don’t have like techs, or a crew, get a Hot Rod, they’re the best."

"It’s perfect"

Made by Fender
Introduced in 1995 as part of the ‘Hot Rod’ series, this 40 watt, single 12 inch speaker combo amplifier, offers a mix of quality all-tube tone, reliability, volume and affordability. Based on the late 50s ‘tweed’ design, the Hot Rod Deluxe brings this right up to date. Loud enough for nearly any show, and yet just about compact enough to carry without serious back injury, it is a go-to amp for the working musician. The three switchable channels offer gain levels from ‘Clean’ through ‘Drive’ and ‘More Drive’. A Bass, Middle and Treble EQ, as well as Presence, Normal/Bright switch, Effects loop and spring reverb offer versatility for the discerning tone aficionado. External Footswitch and Speaker expansion jacks allow for more live solutions. The amp is also particularly good for players who want to craft their own sound with pedals and stompboxes, offering a really solid clean tone to build on.

"I’d love to have my Blackback guitar and the Hot Rod’s great but I wouldn’t mind getting an Orange set up, I always loved the Orange amps and heads, I think they’re fantastic, really good-sounding gear. Aside from that I’d love to get my hands on some really good vintage guitars but the good ones are so hard to come by, and good ones that play well are so hard to come by, and good ones that play well that are affordable are even harder to come by. So I think, once the money starts rolling in I’ll be looking at getting me a really nice old Gibson hollowbody or something like that, you know."