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My Gear: Lehmann B Smith

Whether they are a gear nerd or a gear noob, the type of gear an artist uses has a huge impact on their signature sound. In this regular series called My Gear, Noisegate picks the brains of exciting and diverse artists for a behind-the-scenes scoop on their musical setup…

 Lehmann B Smith is one of Melbourne’s most industrious songwriters, having just released his seventh album in 9 years, Poplar Music. As a key member of groups such as Kes Band and Totally Mild, Smith is an astonishing instrumentalist, however it is his intricate song-writing and nostalgic performance style that has led him to be described as ‘a musician’s musician, an undiscovered talent’. Experimental, prolific and unbound by genre, Smith sat down with Noisegate to expand on his unique take on gear, arrangement and Dame Nelly Melba’s favourite piano.

 Can you describe your current live set-up? What instruments do you have in your band/what equipment do you use?
At the moment we’re playing as a pretty straight-up power trio – guitar, bass, drums – but with flute as a little cherry on top. The flute sort of acts as another guitar, but it adds this timbre that fills out that traditional rock n’ roll sound in this orchestral way. In terms of gear, I use a Japanese Fender Telecaster, I think from the 90s, and an old 70s Music Man 112 Sixty-Five amp. I keep my pedal set up pretty simple, just a Boss Overdrive pedal and an Akai E2 Headrush pedal from my old looping days, which I use now just as a delay pedal. Isobel Knowles plays a Danelectro longhorn bass with an Ampeg Micro-CL Stack. They’re cute little amps, sort of like an architectural model of an amp. Jonny Mendolovits plays a beautiful black Pearl drum kit, Session Custom I think. Details of that I am in no position to provide. Evan Meagher plays the flute, but I don’t know flutes that well. Let’s just say it’s a shiny one.

How does your live set up differ to your recorded music?
Our live set up is a pretty ultra-sparse version of the recordings. I record my albums at home and have a room stuffed with instruments and no restraint at all when it comes to overdubs, and so recreating the recordings and playing instruments like autoharp or wine glasses at the pub hardly seems worth it. I think it’s usually more interesting to have a separation between the recorded object and the performance, making the live thing a bit more raw and chaotic, as a sort of antidote to the fastidiousness of making an album.

Is your gear integral to your sound?
I like to think we could pull it off with whatever gear was at hand. I would hate to lose any piece of my set up but I’ve always tried to prize the songs and performance above the more technical aspects of making music. I’ve just sort of stumbled across bits and pieces that I like and mixed it in the gumbo, rather than put together a really “considered” sound.

What was the first piece of musical equipment that you ever bought (or came into contact with)?
My first instrument was a Buescher clarinet that I got from an antique shop for $300 when I was 10. I still toot on it now and again. Then when I was 13 I was in an Uncle Toby’s TV ad and I used the money to buy a maroon Danelectro 59DC. I guess it’s weird now that I think of it, but that’s the guitar that I write songs with when I’m watching TV. Spooky?

What is a dream piece of gear that you would love to own?
I’ve just bought an old 1920s Wertheim piano. They used to make them in Melbourne and apparently they were a bit of a big deal in those days. Dame Nelly Melba was a big fan. I read they were specifically designed for a South-Eastern Australian climate, which almost nothing is. So I’m pretty at peace at the moment. I don’t know if I can fit any more gear in my room anyway. Of course, there’s a lot of instruments I’d still love to own, mainly things that they don’t really make any more. I’d love a celeste, or a set of tuned sleigh bells. Maybe this interview will be the first tip of the domino to get tuned sleigh bells back in production.

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