“Our songs are pretty pop/melody driven,” says Trent Holton, leader of the Jacksonville-based lo-fi garage act Ducats. “But we like to make noise and sound ugly sometimes in practice. We just drone and wail. The essence of music-making, for me, is represented in those loose moments: creation, destruction, spontaneity, grit, grime, happy, sad, pure energy.”
That playful, throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach shines through on the band’s latest vibey single, “Painless,” a song exploring the painful self-awareness of social anxiety and insecurity. The simple chord structures and meaty chorus-pedal tones pay tribute to a classic grunge sound, lovingly riding the loud-quiet-loud structure.
Holton cites Sonic Youth and Guided By Voices as major influences, and for this particular single, he turned to the Philadelphia shoegaze act Bleary Eyed for writing inspiration. “They have this glitchy, grungy gaze thing going on,” he says, “that bled into the brain.”
I asked Holton about the gear Ducats used on Painless. In Holton’s own words, here are the band’s essentials for writing and recording their latest single.
Ducats Gear Essentials
‘67 Vox Hurricane. This was a Craigslist find back when I was living in Chicago. It’s a Strat-style guitar with a single-coil pickup setup and a trem arm. I’m a drummer first, so when I bought it, I didn’t know much about it. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate its buzzy twirl.
Late 70s Fender Silverface Twin reverb amp. I love vintage sh**. Might sound trite, but I like stuff that you can’t just go buy anywhere, stuff that isn’t necessarily a focal point of the masses. Anything vintage has a story, passing through many hands to get wherever it ends up. Anyway, the Twin is loud as f***. I crank the tank and wash out the feed with loads of reverb. Compliments the Vox nicely to deliver that laid-back slacker-garage ooze.
60s Slingerland four-piece drum kit. The Slings weren’t on either of our new recordings, but they’re crucial to the songwriting process. If I want to quickly flesh out a groove, I can jump on the kit and work it out. It plugs in nicely with our vibe—the seasoned shells provide an even, mellow tone. As a drummer, my focus has always been on dynamics, and our drummer, Brian Kim, is really into dynamics as well. I think that’s why we see eye-to-eye on so much with the songwriting.
Teenage Engineering OP-1. This is the device I use to demo my ideas. It’s a very impressive little machine. It’s a synth, drum machine, midi controller, 4-track, sampler, and more—all in one. It allows you to mix, master, and “press” two six-minute tracks onto an A and B side of a record. When writing music, workflow is crucial. You have to be able to capture what’s in your head quickly, and this is super helpful. I’ll typically demo an idea and then take it to the crew, and we’ll do a second full band demo on our guitarist Ryan L’Heureux’s Tascam analog 4-track. That’s how we recorded Painless.
Supro Delta 10 amp. When Ryan picked up this little banger of an amp six months ago, his tone got royal. He plays an American Strat with some OD and delay, but the amp provides the firepower. His tone is so rich. It makes me jealous, the range of feedback he’s able to produce when he puts the Supro in insane-o mode.
Other Ducats Recording Essentials
Oblique Strategies cards. Brian Eno is a genius, so of course he would invent a system that helps creatives create. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired by my playing, or if I can’t decide where I want a song to go, I’ll bust out the deck. The idea is to draw a card and use what the card says to sort out your dilemma or creative block. The words on the card can be interpreted numerous ways, so it’s really you who’s solving the problem (with just a bit of help from Eno).
Examples from the Oblique Strategies deck:
- Repetition is a form of change
- Decorate, decorate
- Only the part, not the whole
- Be less critical more often
A Way With Color by Mark Adams. Mark Adams was this super-talented, multi-disciplinary visual artist who painted with a lot of bright colors, oftentimes depicting the most ordinary things with extraordinary detail of light and shading. His work brings such calmness, and it never ceases to amaze me how much emotion can be conveyed from simple still-life depictions amplified by hues. I like to think Ducats songwriting employs a similar technique. Simple song structures colored with tone, dynamics, and emotion.
Korra, the Australian Shepherd. She’s our emotional support. We rehearse at our bassist Rachel Pendergrass’s house weekly, and her Red Merle Australian Shepherd is always in the mix. Korra does this thing where she buries her head between your legs and just stands there. It’s really sweet. She’s got that super dope one-eye-is-a-different-color-from-the-other thing, too. Her collar shaking can be heard on the recording of “Painless.” She snuck into the room during recording, but we decided to keep it in.