February 10, 2013 by tonetribune
The recent years of boutique effect pedal production could be thought of as an industrial revolution.
It takes a real heavyweight to raise up the pecking order and a fearless, pioneering spirit to offer products that stray from the norm, while maintaining musicality, inspiration and indestructibility.
Enter Malekko Heavy Industry.
Since 2007, founders Paul Barker and Josh Holley have been administering analog destruction with bomb-proof stompers that look as unique as they sound. Starting with the inimitable fuzz of the B:Assmaster and redefining the analog delay with the Ekko 600 series, Malekko went on to introduce the smallest, huge sounding pedals available with the omicron series.
Most of these superlative circuits contain scarce BBD chips and utilitarian attributes, such as, switchable buffers and expression pedal inputs not found in lesser pedals. In keeping with the cavalier aural attitude these pedals exude, the look has to be as cool as the sound. Malekko doesn’t skimp on the visuals, offering a boutique bouquet of glowing robot eyes, 70’s muscle-cars, pink triangles and spring chickens.
Being spearheaded by two musicians who are not primarily guitar players (a rarity in the boutique pedal community), Malekko’s products tend to be more flexible in the studio and on stage, responding to full frequency ranges and integrating into signal chains from pedal-boards and racks, to synth-modules and mixing desks.
Anyone who has applied the gated chop of the B:Assmaster to a drum machine or synthesizer can attest to the fact that there is no better fuzz for bringing the ruckus on non-stringed instruments.
For those of you who do not want a $300 Tubescreamer variant and have the need to pursue real sonic adventures, get in touch with these sonic sorcerers and add some Heavy Industry to your pedal board or rack.
To kick off 2013 with Tone Tribune’s first company profile, we speak with one of the godfathers of heavy industrial sounds himself….Paul Barker…..
TT: One of the many things that makes Malekko so unique in this currently saturated boutique pedal boom is that it was conceived by two musicians that are not primarily guitar players. Do you think this is why Malekko products seem to be useful on such a wide range of instruments?
PB: Yes, exactly. The pedals we love are really pretty complex, therefore difficult to pull off. The main difference is that we are not primarily focused on what music these sounds have been used on in the past and then try to emulate that. And we throw a lot of our mediocre designs away.
TT: Do you think your background as a performer and studio musician has an impact on the development of a circuit? Maybe to achieve a sound in you head that you struggled to achieve with what you had on hand?
PB: Well I suppose it does, but Josh does the development and I help with the fine tuning when I can. We don’t always hear the same things and/or have the same criteria for all designs. As for the second question, I always struggle to achieve a sound with the tools I have! That’s the nature of creativity!
TT: It must be richly satisfying to apply effects you helped create to music you are creating. Sort of like music from scratch. Is there a push-pull type of creative inspiration that comes from using your own effects?
PB: Haha- thanks. Well, the real satisfaction comes from an A/B situation, when you put your sound up against another. But we know that these sounds are completely subjective and so, of course, we feel great when someone prefers ours vs. the other.
Yes, there is also a huge satisfaction when you realize the effect has everything to do with the sounds you are making and also why you can’t stop playing the instrument!
That being said, there are some really great pedals/modules made by others which inspire me, too!
TT: You have been squeezing new sounds out of the Brass/Assmaster pedal for decades now. Do you find a new way to harm people’s sensitivity every time you switch it on?
PB: You know, I love the Assmaster and it still surprises me but I don’t use it all the time! Sensitive people do not listen to the music I make…
TT: When developing a pedal or rack unit, do you start with a clear idea of what type of sound you are going for, or is there an element of improvisation? Have you ever had a happy accident that yielded sonic glory?
PB:Yes, we have a pretty solid idea about why we are working on a pedal. But once we have a prototype there is a ton of room to massage the sound. And, at that time, there can be some happy accidents… The Spring Chicken’s dwell circuit was plucked out of thin air…
TT: In only six years Malekko Heavy Industry has pioneered tiny pedals with huge sound (the omicron series), set the benchmark for modern analog delay (ekko616), improved and made available scarce, sonic weapons (Barker Assmaster) and collaborated with legendary sonic designers Todd Wolfgram (Woltone Chaos and Helium) and Grant Richter on the Wiard synth modules. Are there any new surprises on the horizon you can elude to or is it confidential?
PB: Well thanks, and by now the three new Wolftone pedals have been announced: SLOIKA, FETISH, UNITY. We do have some Richter designs waiting in the wings as well as some other module and pedals…
TT: Speaking of collaborations, you have worked with a vast array of unique musicians throughout your career. Any upcoming projects?
PB: As if my output could be any slower, I’m focusing on Malekko right now, and I moved to Portland, OR so my studio isn’t really set up for full use, blah blah. But yes, I’ve got my fingers in a few things…