Sprowt Studios interview with Mike from Therevox

Mark from Sprowt Studios came by the new Therevox Shop to shoot some video and have a chat. The video will be up soon, but in the meantime here is a transcript of the interview:

Mark: Ok, tell us your name, company and how long you’ve been working for.

Mike: My name is Mike Beauchamp from Therevox Custom Musical Instruments. Right now my main instrument is the Therevox ET-4 which there is 3 different models with different levels of features. I describe it as a vintage analog Minimoog meets and Ondes Martenot.

What did you change on this instrument compared to the Ondes Martenot?

I wanted to make this instrument so it never breaks down. In addition to the ring, later versions of the Ondes Martenot also had a keyboard but it was pretty fragile so I left that out and stayed true to Maurice Martenot’s earlier versions of the instrument. Most Therevox customers own keyboards and synths that are a lot more powerful than the Ondes Martenot’s single oscillator sound anyways. The beauty of the Ondes Martenot I believe is in the ring (au ruban) and intensity key (touche d’intensité), they are very expressive and unique. The Ondes Martenot used a fishing string on the ring so I re-engineered this to use a steel-core cable that we have custom manufactured so it will never slip, stretch or break. The Ondes Martenot’s intensity key used a leather bag filled with a powder that had a very limited lifespan, so I redesigned this to eliminate that part and use something that will never wear out. I tried to keep the feeling of the instrument the same but use modern materials and engineering.

Creative people want to use tools that were crafted creatively.

What did you add to the instrument?

Part of the design I did when I was in New Zealand, there’s a bird there called a Tui that has two independent voice boxes. When I was designing this I always wanted it to have two independent voices that you can blend between as a two oscillator synth. I also thought it should have a filter and because your hands connected to the instrument, I brought the filter control out to an expression pedal so you can be controlling that at the same time to. Properly playing a Therevox has your entire body wrapped up; your right hand is controlling pitch, your left hand is controlling the amplitude of two different oscillators and your foot is opening and closing the filter at the same time. It’s very involved, it’s very full-body but you have control of every parameter while you’re playing it. As a synth guy, I also added control voltage (CV) outputs for the ring and intensity keys to hook up to other synths.

What about those big resonator speakers from the Ondes Martenot?

Maurice Martenot was doing a lot of things to create reverberation, hanging large springs in front of big speaker cabinets or hooking speaker motors up to metal gongs and acoustic strings. I wanted to build a reverberation right into the instrument. I’m a big fan of old Fender tube guitar amplifiers and love the spring-reverb units that they use, so I incorporated one of those into all models of the Therevox ET-4.

You obviously put a lot of work into the design and construction of this instrument, can you talk a bit about that?

I’m just trying to make something as well as I can make it. I think people pick up on that. The design was really personal for us and it took a lot of time to get right. When an artist is in their very creative space, it’s a space you have to put yourself into and it’s hard and when you’re there, you’re vulnerable. The tools that you’re given, I think they should have come from a similar space. Do you know what I mean? Creative people want to use tools that were crafted creatively.

What are some of your favourite artists using the Therevox?

I don’t even know where to start, the instrument has been used on a lot of genres and customers are kindly mailing me CD’s to listen to in the shop. “Images Du Future” by Montreal band Suuns is always a favourite of mine, there’s some great deep Therevox bass slides on that album. Most recently, I’ve been listening to Joan Shelley’s new album that has some Therevox played by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

Therevox T-Shirt Giveaway

For the months of July and August, we are giving away free Therevox t-shirts to everyone that makes a good youtube video that features one of our instruments. Chosen videos will be featured on our website and facebook page.

What makes a good video?

To be a chosen video, your uploads should have well recorded audio and the Therevox playing must show creativity and confidence. Your video could include studio footage, live footage, with other instruments or solo. Chosen videos will also be edited together by us into a separate highlights video, so make it look good and show us what you got.

Entering the giveaway

Drop us a line through our website or facebook page to let us know about your video.

New Shop

After quite a few months of renovating, we finally moved into the new shop. This building was once a welding shop and a pinball repair shop before it sat empty for several years. Here are some before and after photos.

Making of the Reclaimed Wood Therevox

I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a pack-rat, especially when it comes to nice pieces of wood. When I’m milling the rough Walnut to make a Therevox ET-4, I’m often left with an assortment of small pieces and I keep every single one of them. After four years of saving these pieces, I thought it was fitting to build a new Therevox ET-4 out of the wood left from construction of all the previous instruments.

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Hundreds of small strips were rounded up, measured, graded and then milled to proper dimensions. The order of the strips and grain direction were decided on and then the strips were laminated together.

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Each side of the instrument is made with a six-layer lamination. It wasn’t intentional, but I like the coincidence that this instrument is also the first of our sixth production run.

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Wiping on the first coat of Tung Oil is always the most anticipated part of building these instruments, and I was especially pleased with how this special instrument turned out. I was honoured when the guys at reverb.com showed off the final product at MoogFest in Durham, North Carolina.

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To be honest, this was an instrument I wanted to keep for myself but I already own one of the first ET-4’s (serial number 1 – 12). It was listed on reverb.com for only several hours before it found a good home at The Loft Recording Studio in Chicago.

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Therevox Artist Profile: Derry deBorja (Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit)

Derry deBorja has played in bands like Canyon and Son Volt, and now plays keyboard and a Therevox ET-4.3 with Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit.

Therevox: How long have you been playing with Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, and how did you get started playing with those guys?

Derry deBorja: I’ve been playing with Jason for almost nine years now. We met back in 2006 during a co-headlining tour featuring our former bands, The Drive-by Truckers and Son Volt. I remember the first night of the tour, walking circles around the block of the music venue making phone calls. Jason was doing the same, but walking the opposite direction. Every time we’d pass, we’d nod at each other and continue on our way. We did that three or four times before finally putting our phones down and introducing ourselves. We became good friends during that tour. When Jason was ready to leave The Truckers and go solo, he gave me a call.

The 400 Unit’s had a few lineup changes over the years. The current lineup features Jimbo Hart on bass, Chad Gamble on drums, Sadler Vaden on guitar, and yours truly handling keys. We’re headquartered in Nashville, although half the band resides in Northern Alabama.

You guys recently did a four-night stand at The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, how did that go?

Completing a four-night, sold out stand at The Ryman Auditorium meant a lot to us. Nashville’s served as our home base for a few years now, so it’s really inspiring to see that level of “hometown” support. I count myself very lucky knowing I’m part of something that resonates with so many people. It’s really a good feeling.

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How would you describe the music scene in Nashville?

I’ve never been part of a scene that is so active and vital as Nashville’s. There are so many people involved in making music here—so much being produced or being performed at any given time. I never feel like my job is done when I come home from a run of shows. The air around Nashville is constantly reminding me that there’s always more to experience and more to accomplish right here.

Last year you guys recorded a cover of Beck’s “Now That Your Dollar Bills Have Sprouted Wings” from his Song Reader album, which was released as sheet music only. Can you explain the process of turning sheet music into a song?

Turning sheet music into song is much like taking a studio recording and bringing it to life for a live audience. It’s all about expression and impact. You can play the notes on the page, but they don’t necessarily mean anything if the performance isn’t grabbing hold of the listener.

From chord progressions to arrangement choices, the Song Reader material is laid out very traditionally. Going in to the studio, we knew we wanted our cover to break out of that mold. That took a lot of experimentation. We threw a lot of ideas up against the wall to see what would stick. Then we’d tear down that wall, build a new one, and throw even stickier ideas against that one. The process was a lot of fun and the end result was something no one in the band or even our producer expected.

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What made you choose to use the Therevox on that song?

There is something inherently “rootsy” about the Song Reader material and we wanted our cover to break away from those leanings. Sonically, the Therevox fit the bill with that in mind. I mean, it’s not an instrument you typically see at Americana festivals.

What other songs do you use Therevox on, and what sort of parts do you use it for?

I never intended to use the Therevox live on stage. I used to set it up before soundchecks just to have something to fool around with as the stage was being set. But after a week or two, we started leaving it set up during our performances. Parts for songs would develop from there—from short melodic lines that hint at lap steel to gigantic, otherworldly atmospheres. The Therevox is such a versatile instrument in that regard.

There are Therevox parts scattered throughout our live set. “Never Gonna Change” (a song Jason wrote during his tenure with The Drive-by Truckers) features an atmospheric line that takes advantage of the Therevox’s beautiful built-in spring reverb. The intro to “Super 8” (from 2013’s Southeastern) features a low-end rumble that can shake a music venue down to its foundation. Perhaps my favorite use of the Therevox is in “Songs She Sang In The Shower” (also from Southeastern). The hold knobs on my ET-4.3 allow me to create a drone during the second verse while my hands are busy playing other keyboard parts.

What other instruments do you play with this band?

I’ve always got a bunch of keyboards in front of me during Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit shows. My current setup features the Therevox ET-4.3, a Nord Electro 5D, a Mellotron M4000D, a Mellotron M4000D Mini, a Hohner Anacleto accordion, and an Electron Octatrak.

Do you use any effects with the Therevox?

I do. I’m running a Moog Minifooger Boost and an Earthquaker Devices Disaster Transport delay through my ET-4.3’s effects loop. They sound great through the Therevox’s built-in spring reverb. The Moog Boost pedal has a ladder filter built into it that gives me extra tonal control when used in conjunction with the Therevox’s own LP filter.

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You play on Jason’s fifth studio album, “Something More Than Free”, where did you guys record and what was the process like?

We recorded the majority of “Something More Than Free” at The Sound Emporium here in Nashville under the watchful eyes and ears of Dave Cobb, our producer. Additional recording, overdubs, and mix were handled at Cobb’s own studio, Low Country Sound.

The entire process was short, quick, and easy. We’d averaged about 1 1/2 songs a day over a couple weeks. I barely remember, it happened so fast! I believe it stands as a testament to the talents of Jason as a songwriter, the talents of our producer, and the talents of a band that has played so many shows together over the past nine+ years. We’re really a family at this point. We have a novel’s worth of in-jokes no one outside could possibly understand.

What do you do when you aren’t playing music?

I fell down the modular synthesizer rabbit hole a little over a year ago. A lot of my free time has been devoted to building one and studying it’s potential and uses. It’s a very deep rabbit hole.

The rest of my free time I spend avoiding butterflies and cold weather.

Previous Therevox Artist Profiles

Simen Skari of Norway’s “Team Me”
Video and Interview with Therevox player Mark Calcott
Producer/Dub Musician Mario Siperman Interview
Martin Schiller – Sampling/Looping Video and Interview