Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher’s Dad Hated Distortion, So He Had to Improvise as a Kid


Growing up, there’s a high probability you wanted something really bad but no matter how much you asked, begged, or whined, your parents just refused to get you that thing. As a result, you were denied that thing until you became an adult with enough disposable income to waste on meaningless plastic garbage, so you remind them that THEY’RE NOT TOYS, MOM THEY’RE COLLECTIBLES.

While speaking with Guitar World, Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher revealed that he went through a similar thing with his folks as a young teenager. Though rather than get upset and whiny about their denial, he got inventive. And it’s all because his father, a hi-fi business owner, “didn’t believe in distortion.”

“I was like, ‘Dad, I need distortion. And my dad being in the hi-fi business told me, ‘Well, Billy, us in the hi-fi business are trying to rid the world of distortion. We want a crisp, clear sound coming out of our speakers and our hi-fi gear.’ He didn’t believe in distortion.”

For the uninitiated, if you play a guitar without any distortion through an amplifier, all you get is the natural twangy sounds a guitar makes. If you want to get a crunchy, aggressive tone, you need some distortion added to the signal, usually through the use of one of the myriad effect pedals available.

Unfortunately for Kelliher, all of his favorite artists at the time used some form of distortion, so he realized he’d have to get creative if he wanted to emulate them. And with a little bit of youthful ingenuity, he said he was able to get something akin to what he was looking for.

“I figured out how to plug my guitar into the EQ, into my tape deck, hold down the Record and Play button – so it was in Record mode, so it would pass the signal, but there wasn’t even a tape in there – press the Pause button and run signal through that.

“I got this crazy distorted sound that wasn’t unlike Greg Ginn of Black Flag, and that was my dude that I was looking up to at the time.

“I don’t know how I figured out these things but when you’re a kid and you want something, and you have ambition to get it, you make it happen.”

Smart kid.

You can watch the entirety of the Guitar World interview below.

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