We caught up with Casey Hooper, one of the guitarists in Katy Perry's band as he was heading out to New York to prepare for this weekend's gig on Saturday Night Live. Casey's toured the world for 3-1/2 years in Katy's band, "It's a great gig - I love it. There are some differences in the role of a guitarist in a pop-star's band compared to a traditional rock band, and we have some very specific needs during the show. We recently transitioned from our traditional rigs to the Axe-Fx II, and the Axe-Fx is making our show so much better."
When did you make the switch?
We just started up with the Axe-Fx II in August. Both myself and our other guitarist Nathan Spicer are using the Axe-Fx II now. We did a lot of research online and auditioned a few of the options out there. The Axe-Fx was the best one for what we want to do - it met the needs of our show and sounded the best. It didn't take long to get rolling. We worked with our front-of-house engineer to dial in the EQ for the sounds. We go direct to the board - it's just a more pure way of delivering the guitar sound.
And you were able to select the gear you wanted to bring on-stage?
Absolutely - we can pick whatever gear we want to use. Katy knows what she wants for every aspect of the show, even down to who's playing which parts. We can pick our tools, but we have to be able to achieve the sounds she and the musical director are looking for.
When you're doing a pop gig, you want to be the 'yes' person. You can't say: "I don't really have that pedal to get that sound" or "that pedal's set a different way". With the Axe-Fx, I don't ever have to say 'no'. Plus I can tailor-make every patch for every part, and the Axe-Fx works perfectly for that. It's a big toolbox.
What's it like playing a big show in Katy's band?
A pop gig is such a team effort between the band, techs, and the musical director. The crew is such a huge part of the show: the band are really just one aspect of the entire production. There are so many technical aspects to the show with the lights and effects, dancers, and stage gags. We don't have any gear on-stage (no pedalboards) due to all the people and activity going on. Our patch changes are done automatically via computer.
What's your patch strategy for Katy's shows?
Each sound can be a completely different amp and set of effects. The first verse is different from the chorus, which is different from the second verse, etc. We approach it like we're making sounds in the studio: each sound is specific. That's only possible for us with the Axe-Fx right now. We're trying to make the studio recordings have life in the live setting. Sometimes we're trying to get the exact sound from the recording, and it's really easy to get there with Axe-Edit when we need to.
What was your prior rig like?
I was using a rack of pedals and an amp in an iso-box. Dialing in sounds was a problem because once you'd get your the sound going in front of the amp, it would ultimately sound totally different coming out of the iso-box and out to the front-of-house. With the Axe-Fx, I make the sound, check it with a speaker and through the PA, and it's solidly consistent everywhere.
Being able to deliver a consistent signal to the board is key for this gig. Sometimes there are a variety of mixes. For the iTunes festival for instance, we had feeds going to the front-of-house as well as the Internet stream, plus our in-ear mix, each mixed by different people. You need something that's clean and workable everywhere.
What are your favorite amp simulations in the Axe-Fx II?
The Wrecker sounds great. I use USA Clean a lot, and the Plexis. But really, I don't even look at what the names are. I go through the options until I find the sounds I'm looking for. It's a different approach, but it works for what we're doing.
Each patch is different than the next. For instance, Katy has a song called "E.T." that has a really gated reverb sound which we could never nail with our previous rigs. But we have it covered now. We started with one of the gated reverb presets on the Axe-Fx II and dialed it in with Axe-Edit. There's a pitch block going up 1 and 2 octaves, then into an overdrive and then split up to a reverb and to a gate to create this hugely gated reverb sound.
How have the logistics of the show changed with the addition of the Axe-Fx?
It's great now as you can fly the Axe-Fx anywhere. Before we'd have situations where you had to track down the only AC30 in Kuala Lumpur - who knows what's going to show up? It's rarely something good. We now have 2 Axe-Fx rigs in different parts of the world and we move our patches from one rig to the other as we update things. Our sound is consistent everywhere around the world now.
Check out Casey with Katy Perry on Saturday Night Live on October 12th and follow Casey on Twitter here.