A Chat with Brett Sova of Axis: Sova

Axis: Sova is a Chicago-based band that focuses on the fried guitar sounds of frontman Brett Sova. The band started as a solo expression for Sova but quickly became a full band with multiple inputs. The band’s sound is hard to fit into a genre, it’s best described as psyche-grunge rock with walls of sound and a steady beat but their twitter describes it as “muggy haze; nomadic guitar tones.”

Brett Sova, photo by Christen Carter

Brett Sova, photo by Christen Carter

Sova started as just a guitar player then added a drum machine and recorded albums alone. Once he formed a band to tour the album they decided to collectively record the album Motor Earth which came out on Oct. 14 on Ty Segall’s God? Records. Motor Earth was recorded in a studio instead of directly onto a four track recorder, creating a much fuller sound. Still using a drum machine but adding a bass player and another guitar player Axis: Sova continues to build.

The 35-year-old guitar player grew up in Columbus, Ohio and has been performing as Axis: Sova since 2009. Axis: Sova is playing State Street Pub on Nov. 17, with Psychic Feel and Sitar Outreach Ministry.

The Campus Citizen caught up with Brett Sova with a phone interview before his Indianapolis show.

You recorded Motor Earth differently than your last album, which you recorded alone right?

The last record, Early Surf, was 99 percent just me in terms of tracking, playing all the instruments, doing all the writing, and all the recording. Basically what happened is after I made Early Surf I realized that to play any of these songs live as I recorded them I needed to enlist some guys to make a band. I did that and then we started touring and after a few tours we just started talking about how it’d be great to record as a band. This was always sort of a solo thing, well the recording, and suddenly I had a band and someone who wanted to help record it for me. A lot of the responsibility was taken out of my hands, which was an interesting experience.

How has that changed the way you record as an artist?

Previously with recording, since I was doing it all of four track or eight track cassettes, you know an affordable little studio thing and on my own, I could just edit and revise and edit and revise constantly until the song or idea presented itself and became a thing. I could start recording and it wasn’t even a song yet, I’d turn it into a song in the editing process. I could spend endless hours on it. In this situation we had about five songs written in advance of the recording session, I had worked out the riffs and song structures with the band in our practices. Then we had our bass player come up with his own bass parts, and Tim Kaiser, who has been my solid guitar mate/buddy for the last two years write his own guitar parts. We went into a studio and recorded the tape, Cooper was there engineering everything, it was very hands off. The approach on my end was less about editing and less about layering and coming up with ideas over a longer period of time, we had to be prepared to go into the studio because we only had a few hours to work. You had to be really, really sharp and knowing what you were going to do, so things had to be pre-written before you record them so that was definitely new to me.

Did you find that you preferred that?

Axis: Sova's Motor Earth out on God? Records

Axis: Sova's Motor Earth out on God? Records

In some ways, it took some getting used to. I love tweaking out on a mix and mixing on headphones on a four-track and getting lost in that and going down the rabbit hole and doing that for hours. It’s easy to get stuck focusing on one thing that doesn’t need to be fixed and trying to tweak it endlessly. What I didn’t like was giving up some control. I consciously had to go into the situation saying, “I’m going to do the parts that I’m responsible for, and the other parts I’m going to let these dudes who are really good and what they are doing, do their part.”

What made you pick up a guitar?

My hands weren’t big enough to playing an octave on a piano so I got a guitar instead.

How do you think guitar as an instrument is doing?

That seems to just come and go, popular music has phases. Certain instruments come in and out of fashion. I heard someone on NPR say that rock music was dead, right after another person had played a Major Stars songs and they’re a band with three guitars. I thought that was kind of hilarious, “guitar music is dead,” no it’s not that stuff never really goes away. It just might not be in this season’s fashion. It’s constant for me, I don’t really fall out of love with guitar music.

Where does the “Axis” in Axis: Sova come from, is that a reference to Axis: Bold as Love?

Somewhat, I mean only in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. I love Hendrix and I love that record. I started this thing, the first solo show I did, was just an improvised guitar freak-out with no one else, a friend of mine asked me to play, so I just kind of came up with it on the spot. I thought it sounded kind of hilarious. I like the allusion to evil with axis powers. Ultimately it has a lot to do with this being a solo thing and so the idea that Axis: Sova this all is revolving around me and I wasn’t dealing with anyone else in a band’s bullshit. The Hendrix thing is legit but it’s not like I wanted his name to be a reference point for people, I’m not trying to emulate him, or anyone else for that matter.

What sound are you going for? I’ve seen surf rock, lo-fi, garage, how would you describe it?

This record we were kind of going for a roboticized boogie sound. This new record is actually hi-fidelity it’s not a lo-fi sound the fidelity of the recording is high-quality. The guitar sound is super gnarled but that’s the aesthetic that we like. I like gritty, destructive, distorted, and feed-backing guitar tones, those things excite me. I think signifiers like garage don’t really mean anything anymore to anyone, I think that’s basically been the tag that’s been attached to every rock band that has put out a record in the last five years and maybe the last decade. Since it’s become the cliche description for a band with a guitar and a little bit of reverb on them.

From their last album Early Surf

What kind of guitar do you play to get your tone?

I have an old Fender Telecaster Custom, black on black ‘73. Same model that Keith Richards used to play back in the ‘70s.

What’s your favorite guitar tone on any record?

I do love the tone on Randy Holden’s album Population II, that’s the tone of playing through a big wall of Sunn amps, it sounds super different from a Marshall stack or anything else. I do love the tone on (The Rolling Stone’s) Exile on Main Street. It’s really difficult there are so many guitar tones that are just perfect depending on the situation.

Favorite guitar player?

Shit man. I think I’d be happy with an island record with The Stooge’s Fun House. I’ve always thought that and I think that will hold up forever.

Is there anything special about Indianapolis for you?

I’m looking forward to getting some Yats when I get to Indy. Were psyched to come back and play Indy again after playing there only like a year ago. I’m excited to have it as a consistent place to hit these days when we are touring.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Show starts at 10 p.m. Thursday Nov. 17, more information here