INTERVIEW: Eric Stuart Builds Awesome Boutique Pedals, Gets Kicked Out of Church for Metal, and Ducks Out on his Ham Bill with Mark McGrath!

Pictured Above: The Portrait of the Artist with Like Other Artists and Shit.

For whatever reason the administration at our podunk school elected to put in a jukebox, which I had filled with Hedge, Elliott, and, I think, Metroschifter. The jukebox was in the lunchroom -the single place that the majority of students had to be- and a lot of our classmates (read: almost the entire football team) were actively angry that us “grungers” got to play our music. So Fred, my nickname for Eric Stuart at the time, would play those songs on a loop over and over, working in some Elvis for good measure, in turn pissing off all the rednecks at the same time. I knew we would be friends. In the interim, Stuart has played with me in The Seaside Panel and Cityofghosts to name a few, before moving away. Now Stuart lives in Louisiana, is a student of history, a runner, a father, and a boutique pedal maker. Named for his son, Stuart started Full Nelson about a year ago, and his pedals have been gaining some popularity both in town, and around the country. I caught up with Stuart recently to ask him about his work with pedals, fatherhood, and where he would like to see himself as a musician.

Never Nervous: For those who don’t know you,
introduce yourself. Tell us about yourself as a musician, historian,
boutique pedal maker, etc.

Eric Stuart: I’m Eric, sometimes known as Fred, and
I’m a native Louisvillian who has wandered off for long periods of time,
indefinitely, if not permanently.

Musically, I have mostly been a
guitar player trapped in a bass player’s body, trying to make sense out
of the 4 string set-up and make it work when filtered through my guitar
player brain. Mostly I feel like it was unsuccessful, but, eh. Some
people would probably remember me as the wiry, skinny, often shirtless
Seaside Panel bassist. Those people might not even recognize me now that
time and fried food has taken over and added a few years… and a lot of
pounds. I have also screamed in metal bands and made a go in the
singer/songwriter folk world. Today I play music mostly to amuse myself
in the confines of my living room, but I’m not against making a little
bit of noise in public from time to time.

I’m also a serious
student of history, primarily focusing on the 19th century, and
currently pursuing a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning and Historic Preservation at the University of New Orleans.
If that wasn’t
enough, I also do graphic design work, sell/collect antiquarian and rare
books, and build boutique pedals. I’ve taken on a lot of odd interests
and jobs, but it allows me to stay at home with my wife and son and to
spend more time focusing on school.

I’m all over the place… really.

NN: What makes for an interesting effect pedal, and why?

ES: Though
there are a few interesting mass produced pedals, the most interesting
effects can’t really be bought at a Guitar Center. I’ve found that what
most of your major brands do is engineer all the quirkiness out of their
circuits, so that each and every pedal performs exactly the same as the
last one that came off the line. Similar to how each and every
hamburger from McDonald’s is meant to taste exactly like the last one
you had, no matter where in the world you eat it. That gets boring.
Sure, if you want to sound like The Edge or something, you can find out
what gear he uses and copy it exactly, but, it’s not really conducive to
creating anything new.

Pictured above: Sweet, sweet bleep blops.

Sometimes the quirkiness is just a matter
of using a pedal in a way it wasn’t meant to be used. For example,
adding a voltage starve to a fuzz circuit. What that allows you to do is
reduce the amount of voltage actually getting to the circuit and thus
making it act in a different way. Sometimes a pedal will freak out if
the volts are cut. I once had a cheap delay pedal that would start
oscillating and shrieking when the battery began to die. Unfortunately,
it was too difficult to keep half dead batteries in the pedal. Had I
know what I know now, that pedal would probably still be around. That is
how new ideas are formed, I guess.

Some of the other interesting
effects are those that do things that most people wouldn’t want. I have a
circuit that I build that has a “chaos” mode. What I mean by this is
that when you flip the switch everything basically sounds broken. The
fuzz becomes so trebly that it is little more than white noise. A hard
strum of the strings it hiss and pop like a broken speaker, and if you
start playing with the guitar controls you can get some oscillation,
hum, and the occasional radio station. Those pedals that have both
general uses and “out there” uses are usually the most interesting.
Well, at least to me.
I don’t know if I even answered that question…

NN: Are fuzz pedals especially easy to make? Every company seems to make at least a few. How do you differentiate with yours?

ES: It
depends. I build a fuzz that is essentially just 5 components. But, it
also has a pretty limited amount of control. It’s easy to build, yes,
but it is what it is. I also build some fuzzes that are much, much more
complicated. Those that are more complicated have a more defined sound
and usually have a little more control over what they can do.

I
like to take the classic fuzz ideas and add to them. For example I’m
working on a new take of the Coloursound One Knob Fuzz from the 60s.
With a one knob fuzz, there is a resistor in the circuit that basically
keeps it set on full fuzz. If you pull that resistor and put a
potentiometer in there, it allows you to control the amount of fuzz. If
you also change that value, you can sometimes get a little more fuzz out
of it, or change the dynamics of the fuzz and create a more defined, or
even more un-refined, sound. Sometimes it is a matter of just playing
around with the values of the components until you find something that
works and sounds good. Sometimes in that journey you mess things up and
find new ways to an end. That’s where all the new ideas come from. But,
again, it’s all re-exploration of simple ideas that have already been
put down.

One of my favorite fuzzes is my Blackbird Fuzz Box. It
started out as a 60s style one knob fuzz, akin to what you hear on the
Stooges Funhouse record. It’s a rad sounding, simple fuzz, but I added a
voltage starve to it, and made it infinitely more usable. You can get
everything from trebly 60s garage tones, to saturated, almost synthy
dying battery tones.

Classic tones with new uses.

NN: What is the most challenging pedal you’ve made so far?

ES: Oh,
I’m sure the most challenging has yet to even be tackled. especially
since I am just now getting into building some more complex ideas. This
week I will actually be taking on a delay project that simulates the old
Maestro EP-3 Tape Echo. It’s a beautiful sounding pedal, but it also a
lot of parts, which increases the chance that something could go wrong
and I could get bogged down trying to find the issue. But, if I had to
pick something, I would say that I have had some of the worst luck
working with tremolo circuits. There is nothing especially difficult or
weird about them, but out of everything I’ve built, I’ve spent the most
time trouble-shooting those. I actually got to a point where I decided I
wasn’t even going to build them anymore. But… I could probably be
coaxed into it.
Outside of that, I have actually been pretty
lucky. There have been very few circuits that have given me a lot of
trouble. There have been no accidents… other than the time I wired
something backwards and had a small fire.

NN: What has public
response been to Full Nelson? I know you’ve had some good luck recently
getting some local attention. What got that started and where do you
hope to see it go?

ES: The response has been great so far. I mean, I
started by building a one knob fuzz for myself. It went so well that I
decided I’d do a small run of 5 to sell just for fun. Those sold so
quickly that it boosted my confidence and it turned into one pedal after
another. I haven’t really kept up with the exact number, but I’m
looking at about 40 pedals sold in just 8 months. Now I’ve got a couple
of guitar shops here in Louisiana interested in carrying my pedals, and
having me come in and do demos for the public. I’m also about to do a
big guitar show down here, so I’m actually getting a lot of exposure
which is super exciting. Everything has moved so fast, but it’s a good
feeling.

I don’t foresee Full Nelson Effects Pedals being huge,
but I would like to get to the point where I can keep from having a real
job while I’m busy getting educated. And if the pedal deal could pay
for my school… well… But, as long as people are interested in what I’m
doing, I will continue doing it. I’d realistically like to be building 5
to 10 pedals a week. that would afford me a comfortable enough living
with enough time for school and family.

NN: Other than the two bands we played in together (the Seaside Panel and City Of Ghosts), who else did you play with?

ES: Well,
you’re immediately forgetting that we were also in the “metal band
together for a short while. At least long enough for us to be
permanently banned from the Little Flock Baptist Church for spreading
our Satanic message… or whatever it was they claimed. I always thought
that was funny because all those songs were about girls. Heh. I also
played bass with punk/metal band Never Say Die, members of which are now
spread about all sorts of awesome Louisville bands (see: Cousins,
Season at Sea, and Frontier(s)).

As I also mentioned above, I also
tried the singer/songwriter thing for while in Little Rock, Arkansas.
That was a tough life. I wrote some stuff that I am really proud of, but
I just couldn’t break through and get anyone to really take me
seriously. I gave music up for a few years after that. I just didn’t
have the heart for it anymore. I put a lot of heart and soul into what I
was doing and never had any sort of artistic pay-off. I needed a break,
so I focused on school and family, and I’m just now getting around to
wanting to play again.

NN: How did fatherhood change your relationship to music?

Pictured above: The muscle behind Full Nelson.

ES: I
quit music right before my son was born. I was burned out, and figured
it was time to get out of the bars, and get out of my head and try to
spend more time at home. I was so burned out that even stopped listening
to music for awhile. But, there came a day when I decided that I was
depriving my son of so much cool shit by not even listening to music
anymore that I slowly started to get back into everything again. It was
cool though, because it allowed my son to discover stuff for the first
time and me to re-discover stuff I had forgotten about. I know I
wouldn’t be who I am had I not been inundated with classic rock as a
child and I didn’t want my son to grow up without music.

If
anything, you could say fatherhood brought me back to music and actually
probably strengthened my relationship with it. Now, my son and I jam…
and it is awesome. He mostly likes really slow but heavy stuff, though.
Some of his favorites are Bongzilla, Weedeater, Sleep, Electric Wizard,
etc. Keep in mind he is only 4, but his tastes are really defined. He
knows what he likes.

NN: I understand you live in Louisiana now.
What’s the music culture there like? What was it like where you lived
before in Arkansas? How are these places culturally distinct from
Louisville?

ES: The music culture is New Orleans is incredible. I’ve
never seen/heard anything like it. People here are ridiculously proud of
their musical heritage and they show up to support it. Everything New
Orleans bred is heartily supported. There are music halls and bars
filled every night, not just with tourists, but with locals. What has
really struck me is that every band is GOOD down here. With so much
music you have to be good. I mean, even the bar cover bands are on
point. There are so many styles of music being played down here, and the
influences from one to the next carry over. It’s a whole different
world. It’s nothing like the scene I grew up in. There is just so much
going on.

Arkansas was a joke. While there were some great
musicians and songwriters in Little Rock (see: Kevin Kerby), it’s hard
to break into that scene. It’s almost inbred, but I’ll just use the term
cliquey. Not that Louisville wasn’t/isn’t, but even when I knew all the
right people and hung out at all the right places, I just couldn’t get
my foot in the door. I went to shows there for almost 2 years and the
same three people would open literally every show. I never could
understand why people paid to see the same band every weekend.

As far as Southwest Arkansas where I most recently lived… there is no music scene. Well… unless you’re in the church band.

NN: If given the chance now, what type of music would you play and why?

ES: I’m
older now, and while I still like to get loud from time to time, I’m a
lot more laid back and I really want to explore other areas. I’ve been
doing a lot of writing lately focusing on really quiet ambient guitar
kind of stuff. Almost like soundtrack music, I guess. I’d like to
further explore that and maybe add a drummer… and possibly even a
saxophone or trumpet.

If I was a better guitarist, I’d play jazz.

If I found the right band, I’d play stoner metal… if only so my 4 year old son would think I was cool.

NN:
How many vampires have you had to slay living in Louisiana? I
understand they’re all over the place there based on all the documentary
footage I’ve seen (True Blood, Interview with a Vampire).

ES: If
you’ve ever seen Interview with the Vampire you’ll know that one of the
last places that the vampire LeStat was seen was near the the Lafayette
Cemetery off of Prytania Street. I live only a few blocks from this
cemetery and run by it every night. Weirdly enough, this is one of the
few blocks along my route that has no street lights, so I’m actually
always on edge over there. It smells like flowers and death… for real.

Other
than that, I see some “vampires” in the French Quarter on occasion, but
they look more like King Diamond fans than anything and I’m less scared
of them than the tourists.

NN: Would you rather eat potato salad with the singer from Smashmouth, or ham with Mark McGrath?

ES: Tough
question. I doubt either would have anything really intelligent to say.
So, I guess I’d have to eat my ham with Mark McGrath and split,
obviously leaving him the bill.

NN: Describe in detail your relationship to Subway.

ES: Another
place I run by every night. I’ve never seen anyone in there. I used to
love Subway, but after moving to New Orleans, I just don’t need it
anymore. I’m sorry, Subway, it’s not you, it’s me. There is just so much
good FOOD in town. Why would I want a meatball sub when I could walk a
few blocks more and get a Chuckie from the Blind Pelican which is a
po’boy containing fried chicken patties on a layer of gravy and roast
beef giblets. I mean, really.

Seriously though… the best food I have ever had in my life I have had in New Orleans. No doubt.

NN: What have you been reading, watching, eating, or drinking lately, and why should we?

ES: Reading:
Lots of Kafka, specifically his diaries. I thought this would give me
some insight into the brilliance of his other work, but not so much.
Lots of history on New Orleans, specifically, The Accidental City, which
covers a lot of the historical information about the years up until
statehood. It’s a brilliant history of the city and is a must read for
anyone serious about coming down here for anything other than getting
drunk and acting like a frat boy. And a little William S. Burroughs
for good measure.

Watching: Lots of binge watching… American Horror Story, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Treme. A few documentaries,
specifically one on the MC5 that I dug. We watch a lot of movies. Less
for the the art of it and mostly just for the entertainment value. We’ll
watch almost anything. It’s like an escape from the stresses of the
day.

But mostly I’ve been watching A LOT of Star Wars with my
son, which is really exciting for me. Passing down that love to another
generation, especially as he prepares to have his own trilogy starting
in 2015, whatever those will be worth. The best part is the brutal
lightsaber battles that inevitably ensue. I’m usually pretty lucky if
I’m allowed to use the blue Anakin Skywalker lightsaber.

Eating: I covered a little bit of that earlier,
but, seriously New Orleans is the town you want to live in if you want
to be fat. There is SO much food. Lots of really rich foods. Since we
moved here in May, we’ve eaten at several local restaurants and we
haven’t had one single bad, or even mediocre meal.

Drinking: When
I do drink, which is not very often these days, I like most of what
Abita does. Well, except the Jockamo IPA. As much as I love the whole
idea of Mardi Gras Indians, IPAs are just too much for me. Another local
favorite is the Tin Roof Blonde Ale; that one is a winner. If I don’t
feel like branching out and I just want to grab something quick, though,
it’s always Shiner Bock. It’s just so smooth and even tasting. Don’t
Judge.

NN: What music has gotten you riled up lately? Any top fives here?

ES: The
newest Nels Cline record, Macroscope, has been in pretty regular
rotation. I think it is actually the best work he has done thus far,
aside from some of the Nels Cline Trio stuff from the 90s.
Marc Ribot Trio Live at the Village Vanguard is bad-ass. There is some of the
best guitar playing I’ve heard in a long time represented on this
album. SO good. I’ve also been jamming (quietly) to his record Silent
Movies which is really laid back music he wrote for soundtracks.

John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space. If I could play guitar like he played saxophone… I’d be happy… even if no one ever heard me.

The Dave Rawlings Machine record, A Friend of a Friend, is in pretty
frequent rotation. He does one of the most incredible covers of Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer I’ve ever heard. It’s good, solid, folky
acoustic music.

Elvis Costello & The Roots Wise Up Ghost got me more excited about music than I had gotten in a long time.