AN INTERVIEW WITH SO TOTALLY
Philadelphia has certainly become a musical hot spot. Among the surge of rising bands from the area, So Totally has begun to make a name for themselves with two fantastic releases: In The Shape Of and A Cheap Close-Up of Heaven EP. Roya Weidman, Matt Arbiz, Joe McLaughlin, and Ryan Wildsmith chatted with us about their city, their releases, and the gear behind So Totally.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM AND WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BANDS FROM THE AREA YOU RESIDE?
ROYA: We’re from Philadelphia! Definitely one of the most influential cities for music right now, so there's always something new to be heard or made. Some of our favorite local bands are Spirit of the Beehive, Mannequin Pussy, Soul Glo, Loose Tooth, Empath, Dark Mtns, Loadcard, Cherry...the list goes on. It’s nice when so many of your favorite bands live in the same city as you.
FAVORITE PLACE TO PLAY IN PHILLY?
JOE: Kung Fu Necktie has really good sound so it’s fun to play.
RYAN: You always know what to expect with Kung Fu and it feels really homey for a bar venue, more like a mic’d up basement in a way
ROYA: I like PHILAMOCA’s vibe and the visual aspects of the venue (projector behind the stage), and Everybody Hits!
MATT: Definitely Everybody Hits. It’s a huge room and you can be as loud as you want, but all three are great.
I REALLY DIG YOUR ALBUM ART. WHO IS THE PERSON ON THE COVER FOR A CHEAP CLOSE-UP OF HEAVEN? WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE IN THE SHAPE OF ARTWORK?
ROYA: Thank you! The album art for A Cheap Close-Up is just an old picture of my dad, John. We all really dug the composition and overall “chill vibe” he’s giving off, although he stressed to us he was not under the influence in the photo haha. But keeping with that theme, In the Shape of also uses an old family photo. My dad took the original picture in the early 80s on a hunting trip with my grandfather. He was a war general for the Iranian army (where my mom’s family is from). Not going into a history lesson but my dad expressed how he would not have been able to experience something like that without the safety from my grandfather and his men, as 1980s Iran was not a safe place for an American. They had set up camp and a passerby was travelling in the distance on his donkey so they all stopped to wave hello, which is when he snapped the photo. Interestingly enough we didn’t even know the backstory until after it was chosen which just made it feel even more significant. It’s this alluring poetic photograph with a rainbow protecting a man like a shield... but it has such a specific and heavy origin we all just found really beautiful.
WHAT ARE SOME SIMILARITIES/DIFFERENCES ABOUT THE RECORDING PROCESS BETWEEN YOUR TWO RELEASES?
RYAN: I played on this one...haha.
JOE: Ryan joined the band right after we finished tracking the EP, so that’s one thing. We both recorded drums and bass in a studio this time too. Matt and Roya have a home studio which is where we’ve recorded everything in the past. Guitar and vocals were recorded there for this record.
MATT: It’s mostly a comfort thing. Sometimes when you’re recording with someone else, there’s too many cooks in the kitchen if you know what I mean. I’d rather have the tools to do it ourselves because we’re definitely stubborn when it comes to tracking guitars/vocals.
ROYA: I think for me mainly this past record was much more collaborative from the beginning. Matt or I would have a skeleton for these songs and take them to Joe and Ryan and everyone sort of wrote in the moment and we would build songs up from there. I think that’s really important in our sound because it’s a bunch of different styles coming together in whatever way it can make sense and it just works. We did spend much longer on this record so it’s not necessarily a faster process for us to work that way, it just feels more satisfying and like we all truly created this thing together.
YOU PUT OUT IN THE SHAPE OF DIGITALLY, BUT ARE THERE ANY PLANS FOR A PHYSICAL RELEASE?
MATT: We have a run of tapes planned with Citrus City for this record. Manny has helped us out a ton since co-releasing our ep with Forged Artifacts and is honestly one of the realest people we’ve met through music.
ROYA: We are really lucky to have people like him helping us out! I think maybe one day we’d like to have vinyl...a girl can dream.
WHAT ARE YOUR MOST FREQUENTLY USED EFFECTS PEDALS/FAVORITE GEAR + HOW DO THESE HELP SHAPE THE SOUND OF SO TOTALLY?
JOE: The only thing that is really essential to my sound is my Paiste 2002 24” ride. It pings and cuts through.
RYAN: I guess it would be my Epiphone Thunderbird bass. It’s punchy!
MATT: And it’s blessed.
RYAN: Yeah., it has a story. Bought, stolen, and recovered all in 24 hours.
MATT: We’re definitely an effect-heavy band. I probably use everything on my pedal board once a song, so it would be hard to pick just one but I’m always looking to fill the room with sound. Big reverbs and fat fuzzes. My pedal chain at the moment is tuner -> 90s Fuzz Face -> Earthquaker Speaker Cranker clone -> Earthquaker Zap Machine -> Walrus Julia -> Roland Phase II -> Eventide Space -> Strymon Flint.
ROYA: This question is hard because I’ve used pretty much the same four pedals since we started the band. I love making weird sounds but I also love a good pedal that does one thing that it’s supposed to so when I find the combinations that sound really good together I like to keep it until I feel like switching it up. I think it’s mainly the combo of my EHX Cathedral reverb pedal, Crowther Hot Cake overdrive, and Frantone Cream Puff fuzz. The Cathedral has a lot of options for reverb and just creates big sweeping noise when I have my fuzz/overdrive on. This is sort of the base for a lot of our songs that open up louder, helps keep a steady sweep of noise that fills the whole part without mudding it out. I also got Curtis Novak gold foil pickups installed in my guitar (J Mascis Squier) which make even muddy parts sound clearer so I love them.
ANY UPCOMING TOUR PLANS? I WOULD LOVE TO SEE YOU ON THE WEST COAST SOME DAY!
ROYA: We’d definitely love to tour this year! I think we are slow on that front because we always have job or scheduling problems. I don’t think any of us are strangers to tour we just haven’t been able to make it work with this band yet. We have so many music friends out west so there’s definitely plans to get out there soon!
MATT: Until then, we’re accepting van donations.
Photo collage by Jeff Weller