In a world where military-grade hype seems to fuel much of the music industry, it’s refreshing to witness a record springing up almost out of nowhere, because it’s a slice of rock ‘n’ roll. so strong and wild that you have to be careful.
was We fly for free, the debut album by East Anglian husband and wife duo Aaron and Grace Bond. Despite being released in 2020, the record lit up lockdown airwaves like stray fireworks and saw the duo scoop four British Blues Awards in the same year, the first album to do so in the annals of music. ‘event.
Like a vintage motorcycle, the band’s viscerally emotive sound doesn’t have many moving parts: Aaron’s riffs are the engine that keeps them roaring down the road, while Grace’s vocals are the volatile spirit that fuels the ‘excitation.
With a new album titled saving gracejust released, When Rivers Meet were on the road promoting their new record, but they stopped to join us for coffee at Guitaristand explain why the shift from American acoustic to bold rock ‘n’ roll ended 10 years of soul-searching and transformed their musical fortunes almost overnight.
They also opened up a few flight cases to show us the tools of their trade, from custom Keef-inspired one-off cups to raw, rooted cigar box electrics. Don’t talk about Elvis in front of them, you hear…
How did you start making music together?
Aaron Bond: “We met 17 years ago, at the pub…”
Thanks link: “Yes, because of our friends…”
Aaron: “And we had a chat right away.”
Grace: “Our first conversation was actually about Elvis.”
Aaron: “Yes, because it was on the jukebox at the time.”
Grace: “Someone was making fun of Elvis and we were like, ‘Wait a minute, no.’ So we united on it [laughs].”
Aaron: “Then we just talked about music and gradually got together. We were in different projects ourselves: I was in a few rock bands and Grace was in all kinds of different bands.
Grace: “Everything, yeah, Meatloaf tribute bands…”
Aaron: “Country groups and all kinds. Then it took a long time before we decided to do anything together.
Grace: “It didn’t seem so obvious and, also, when we started playing together, Aaron was playing acoustic guitar and I was playing [unplugged] mandolin, so it sounded a lot more like Americana. It took us a while to get into the rhythm, especially to write together.
“We could always see the potential there, but it took us almost 10 years to find it. We were playing Americana stuff and I remember being like, ‘You know what? I don’t really like doing this anymore, something is wrong. We had done other projects, we were doing session work and cover stuff, and we were actually getting our enjoyment out of doing that and not our own stuff.
What triggered the change to the roots-rock music you perform now?
Grace: “Actually, I remember when we decided to go in a different direction. We were at a Guns N’ Roses concert. Back then, we would go to rock concerts and then come home and play something completely different. So, anyway, we were at this gig and I had had a few beers, and then I got up and said, “That’s what we have to do: we should play rock and blues.” So the next day, Aaron went to get his Les Paul…”
Aaron: “We loved Civil Wars. They were amazing, and because of the vocal harmonies and things like that…oh, wow, they were something else. So we thought at the time, because I was playing acoustic and Grace had an acoustic fiddle and mandolin, ‘Well, that must be the route we have to go because we can’t do blues- duet rock.’
“People kept telling us, ‘You need a band, you can’t do it as a duo.’ We believed in it to a point, didn’t we? Then, like I said, when we went to see Guns N’ Roses, everything changed and we said, ‘No, we’re going do it”.
How did you know you made the right decision?
Grace: “We were at the Dereham Blues Festival in Norfolk. We had done what we thought was good quality stuff [from the band’s earlier Americana phase], but we never had a real reaction. So we did some new stuff that we had written, thinking, ‘Let’s go see how it goes,’ and it was like, ‘Oh my God…’”
Aaron: “When we started playing, there was no one there. And within two songs, the whole place was completely packed. We thought, ‘Wow,’ you know. That was crazy.”
Grace: “Since then, we tell ourselves that every time we write a song, we have to like it because people know it. If you don’t [love it yourself]the public knows…”
Aaron: “We are quite ruthless when we write. When we write a song, if we just think, ‘Well, it’s okay…’ then we drop it and move on because we have to like it from the start.
Grace: “We have to be like, ‘This is the only song I want to play right now – this is the one.'”
What guitars and other gear have you used to shape your current sound?
Aaron: “Well most of the new album is ‘Scotchy’, my Telecaster[-inspired solidbody] and also a 335 guitar, plus my Gibson Les Paul. Of course, there is also my cigar box guitar. That’s basically what I use, but we kind of used an old Vox amp from the 70s on most songs, plus a couple with the Marshall. Beyond that it was just really old reverb, some delay pedals and things like that.
Grace: “We used proper spring reverb boxes. Our producer Adam [Bowers] goes into a lot of detail with the sounds…”
Aaron: “He is very frustrated with me! He was like, ‘What? Do you still have that rotten old Blues Driver? I’m like, ‘I know…I just like the sound.’ »
Grace: “We just bought another Marshall amp; when we record, I also run my instruments through a tube amp. But it’s funny, Aaron revolves around a very high pitched sound. It’s still pretty cool.
Tell us about your T-style electric, Aaron.
Aaron: “It was custom made for me by Gulfcaster Guitars in Florida. Izzy [Buholzer] went through everything with me via Zoom and said, ‘What do you want?’ I was like, “Well, I like this and I like that,” and he walked me through the build – he’s very technical.
“He was like, ‘I think you need this, this, that and the other to get your sounds,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, great!’ I love the Keith Richards [Micawber] guitar, you see, so it sounds a lot like his. Not quite the same but close enough.
Tell us about your mandolins, Grace. Was it easy to find a suitable model for hip rock ‘n’ roll?
Grace: “Before I had these two, I was playing resonator mandolin, which was just a complete nightmare with commentary, just terrible. I loved it, but it was a nightmare. So I found Belmuse Mandolins and we went there and it had the “Iceman” style, and it’s fantastic because I play a lot of slide mandolin. So the eight string is ideal for this because you get just the right twang – I have a bit of overdrive and a bit of delay.
“I also have the four-string. I never thought I would want a four string mandolin because it sounds more like a ukulele or something, you know? But as soon as I started playing it, it’s so nice to be able to bend the notes and you can really play lead on it… just being able to bend the strings makes all the difference.
“So this one was custom made for me – it just has a humbucker on it. It works particularly well with a bit of overdrive, so it competes more with electric guitar because otherwise it feels too thin.
“When we’re doing duet shows, it’s nice to have full frequency coverage, in a way. So you have the high tones of the mandolin, while Aaron plays a lot more of the mandolin stuff. bass, and then there’s his kick [percussion] as well as. So we have a fairly full sound, even when there are only two of us, thanks to the mandolin.
You mentioned that Aaron provides the rhythmic pulse of the music with his feet. Do you use a piezo “effect box” to amplify this?
Aaron: “No. I’ve tried some of these things and just couldn’t get along with them, so I literally have a bass drum behind me with a physical pedal. We like the organic look and sound and everything the rest. Everything we do is, like…real, you know?”
Grace: “We tried blocks, though…”
Aaron: “Yes, but it gave me shin splints [laughs].”
Grace: “We kind of see our music as [being built from] a few simple elements and that’s it. There’s not a lot of complexity because we just like two or three good elements, like a strong riff, a strong vocal line…”
Aaron: “A good rhythm…”
Grace: “There are no guitar solos because Aaron’s pure rhythm, which kind of gave us a different sound, almost by accident.”
Aaron: “Yes, our biggest influences are Led Zeppelin, Free, Bad Company and people like that. When you listen to their music, there’s a lot of space. We like that. It’s the same with the old artists of blues like John Lee Hooker. I mean, for me, John Lee Hooker is my all-time favorite: just riff, riff, riff. That’s what draws me…”
Grace: “Yes, lock up and you’re happy. That’s why the cigar box works so well.
Who built the electric cigar box?
Aaron: “A company called Dust N Bones in Cumbria. He made it for me and sent it. Just started playing it – love it. The action is so high on it, it’s awesome. It’s not fretted and it’s just great for playing slide. The sound you can get from it is simply phenomenal.
What tunings do you use for the slide?
Aaron: “I play lots of different tunings. I play in standard, but also in drop D and DADGAD. I play in [open] G, E, C. So I have a lot of guitars because it’s just quicker to change them – I get another guitar, rather than trying to retune them…”
Grace: “That’s what he says, but it’s just because he wants more guitars!”
Aaron: “No… but I like a lot of guitars [laughs].”