Interview mit Barney Ribeiro von Nervecell

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Interviews are usually done during the promotional stage of an album or a tour – and then they centre around these topics. However, albums and shows wouldn’t exist if the interview partners weren’t such enthusiastic instrumentalists. In our series „Saitengespräche“ (pun: „string talks“/“side conversations“) we want to take this into account – with interviews that focus entirely on instruments, amplifiers, effects, and other tech stuff. From gear nerds for gear nerds – and for those who aspire to be.

In this part of the series we talk to Barney Ribeiro, the guitarist of NERVECELL.

When did you start playing guitar?
It would have to be the summer of 1994, school was out for the summer holidays and my mum suggested to me that I pick up an instrument to learn during the holiday. So yeah, being a fan of music and coming from a house where my family always had music playing in the background, I decided to learn the guitar, and ever since then I have never looked back.

What made you want to learn guitar back then?
So I choose the guitar specificaly because I used to watch a lot of MTV back in the early 90’s as a 12 year old. I remember very specifically watching the Nirvana Unplugged in New York episode on tv and got really into it. So that kind of influcenced me to choose the guitar for an instrument. However it was that same summer where I then came acorss an episode of MTV’s Headbangers Ball too, and remember discovering bands such as Sepultura, Slayer, Testament and Pantera etc. and just being mind blown. This was all very new for me, as I never ever heard such a musical style before. So not only did it make me want to learn the guitar but it made me want to grow my hair out too (laughs). It was more like a calling for me and that’s really when and how my musical journey began!

Have you already learned (had to learn) another instrument before?
I was pretty much self thought as a guitarist growing up here in Dubai. In the schools we went to here, there was not even a thing such as a music class like you’ll have out there in Europe or the US. So it was more like a hobby and passion that you would have to figure out yourself and do so in your own personal space. At that time there were no music schools or instutitues in place, like we have available now in the UAE.

Do you remember which model was your first guitar?
Yes I do remember, maybe not the model name exactly… but it was definitely a classical guitar that my Dad bought me at first. Obviously I had no idea or preference cause I was new to it all. I just knew that it was a guitar and I had to learn on this thing (laughs). So at the beginning it worked out pretty well, especially because I was only a beginner and with classical guitars the frets are comparitively a lot wider, also the strings are nylon. So from the very start I was learning and stretching my finger playing comfortably on a classical guitar. Obviously things started to get a bit ridiculous when I discovered bands like Metallica and Slayer later and you can imagine me attempting to play those songs on a classical guitar! That’s when I knew, ok… perhaps it’s time to get a new guitar (laughs).

How many guitars do you own?
I currently own five guitars, a Fender acoustic guitar (that I’ve owned for 20+ years), an Ibanez RG series electric guitar that I’ve also had for many many years and finally my three ESP LTD guitars. Of course it would be important to mention here that I am now endorsed by ESP guitar for the last two years.

Do the instruments have different uses for you, so do you have different ones for different bands or occasions, like studio, live gigs and holidays?
That’s a really cool question. So I use my acoustic guitar mainly for teaching guitar lessons when I have mostly beginner students. Of course also when friends come around and when we have gathering or a Barbeque party for example. You know just the fun jams that you can play on a nice sunny day outdoors. I used to have a Jackson flying V along with the Ibanez guitar I mentioned, that I used to play on when playing with other friends and jam nights covering songs. For the studio, what I use is really the same guitars you see my play live with. With NERVECELL we like to capture the sound we produce live on stage in the studio to a large extent, so with that in mind we’ve always kept the instruments we use very practical in the studio as well.

What do you attach particular importance to from a technical point of view, what criteria must an instrument meet for you to be satisfied with it?
Well for me there are a lot of factors, right from the weight of the guitar to the look. The specs that matter the most form me is the fretboard, the smoothness, the thickness, the feel. The body of the guitar should be comfortable and not too big, almost like it fits perfectly onto my body if you know what I mean… so size does matter. Of course the pick-ups makes a huge difference too, I am proud to be endorsed by EMG pick-ups and I use them religiously! Lastly, neck through guitars is something I’ve also been a huge fan of. Apart from all that, the look man… it can look old school or classy or all pointy like most metal guitarists use… for me look is very important, but I will not compromise feel over look for sure!

You often hear about musicians who seem to have a special connection to their instrument. Do you feel the same way? Do you have a favourite instrument?
You know that is very true, although I don’t know if there is one guitar I would stick to my entire life but I sure do have a sentimental value to each of the guitars I’ve used and still own, no doubt. I mean, you must understand these guitars are your medium through which you project yourself, and communicate musically to people with all over the world. It’s like people hear your voice through that instrument, so of course there is a very pure and close bond between the player and the instrument in that aspect. I have always treated my guitars over the years with respect, I mean you take care of those things on the road, they are pretty much the most important piece of luggage with you that you carry on tour. That special connection with my guitar is probably more of a personal value for me that I’ve been raised with, which is to treat everything with respect that you have been given in your life. If I’m writing music that means everything to me and creating memories and emotions for myself with this instrument, then obviously this is of exceptional value to me, and you automatically learn to respect the instrument that much. One thing for sure, I wouldn’t go as far a  to compare my guitars to being a woman like how some guys do, maybe cause I probably know the difference between the two (laughs). Also I never was a fan of bands breaking their instruments on stage…. I mean sure it’s punk rock and all and probably get’s them more attention… but really!? I think as musicians we could always donate the instruments for a good cause and raise awareness at least, especially in these troubled times.

Did you make special modifications to it, or is it a custom model anyway? Can you tell us the technical details here?
At the moment the ESP models I play with are all factory settings, but in terms of modifications if I have to have a custom guitar, the specifications I would go with would include: A fixed bridge, mohogony body, rosewood fretboard, jumbo frets, neck through and probably a custom string gauge of thin/thick strings cause of the drop tunings we use in NERVECELL. Ou and of course a nice EMG pick-ups combo to get that cut through attack sound of my playing.

Is there a model, such as the instrument of a great role model, that you would like to play one day?
I mean there have been many classic models from different brands. Right from the Rhandy Rhoads Jackson Flying V, to Dimebag’s Dean Razorback and Gary Holts ESP. But for me as a guitar enthusiast, I’ve learnt from different makes and models. Every player has their own preference and specs, so I am still yet to find the perfect custom built guitar. Also I’ve not spent enough time I believe on all the guitars I’d like to try out too to be honest. But yea, from a fan perspective I’ve had the honor to try out on Trey’s Ibanez guitar when we toured with Morbid Angel and wow… I can tell you, when a guitarist plays a guitar soo much for years after years and you get to simply hold that instrument, you almost do feel like you’re in their skin when you hold their instrument. That’s a better feeling than anything else! Cause let’s admit it, most custom guitars are always built to certain factory settings too. So getting to hold the actual masterpiece is a whole new world. Having said that I wish I had the opportunity to try out one of Dimebag’s Washburn guitars or his Dean guitars too, that guy was a serious influence to my playing.

Could you tell us which guitar-picks you youse and why?
I am endorsed with In-Tune Guitar Picks, been using them for years and are simple a great company that supports their artists a lot.

Amps are often leased for tours – is that okay with you or do you have your own amp with you? Which model do you play?
Amps are crucial man, especially when you play tube amps. With NERVECELL we are endorsed by ENGL amps and ENGL as a company have been very good to us. We used to carry out our own amps on tour back in the day, but as you can imagine with limited kgs doing international flights it can get very expensive and risky too. So yes I am ok with leasing amps, what’s important is you lease the amps from trusted companies to avoid any stress… so whenever we start our tours in Europe for example, we usually have our amps delivered to us by a company called Captured Live, who are a very reliable name in the industry. As for the amp model I use, and as an ENGL endorsed artist, my choice of amp is the ENGL Powerball.

Besides the instrument and the amplifier, sound effects play an important role in the sound. Do you rely on single pedal mines, a multi-effect board or a combination?
I’m actually a very straight up guitar player man, just give me a guitar and I’ll shred to my maximum cability on it (laughs). I’m a firm believer that the less I can use the better. As long as I am content with the sound I create and it sounds audioable then my job is done. I remember starting out in the early 2000’s, I used to use a zoom effects pedal board, it was super fun especially when you are still learning. But after years of playing and touring you start to learn more about your sound and what you want to do with it. As soon as I switched onto tube amps, my life changed when it came to sound completely. So for the last decade I’ve managed to put together a pedaltrain with the most basic effects to capture the ambience and atmosphere I create with music, even if it is with clean signals or distored channels. So my pedaltrain I’m using at the moment consists mainly of a few single pedals which are, an equalizer, a delay / reverb pedal, an overdrive, a drop pedal, and a chromatic tuner. But like I said, the majority of my sound does really come from tweaking the amp pre sets and a bit of a mix from the single pedals that I use if necessary. Like I said, again all of this comes after years of experience experimenting too.

Let’s go into detail: Please explain the elements of your effect loop. Which devices do you use, in which order and why?
Well for me it’s very simple, I run through a chromatic tuner first, then the drop pedal, followed by an equalizer (which to me is the most vital pedal on my pedal board). Next is the overdrive and last ending with the noise suppressor. So yeah not very technical, but just basic enough to help get me through various situations. One thing I’ve learnt especially when touring through Asia and playing countries with different volts and power supply etc. it’s that you need to always be on tour with a back-up plan especially with the gear you carry on the road. Cause a lot can go wrong and it can happen anytime. The kind of band we are, we don’t always have a crew with us, so until today we are very self thought and prepared for the worst on tour. So believe it or not, I have even prepared myself to play a show without an ENGL amp (complete worst case scenario), because I’ve been there before and believe me it sucks, but with the simple effect loop and pedal train that I have, just give me any high gain amp and I will make it work… the show must go on!

Mind game: You are only allowed to take one single (!) effect on stage – which one do you choose? Which effect pedal makes up your sound?
Ok, so in this case for sure it would be the overdrive pedal, cause after a while of tweaking around with the amp settings, I am quite confident I would find a decent enough sound. However if I have to take just a single pedal alone and that’s it, no amp and nothing else offered on stage but left alone to just go completely DI into the mixing board, then I would have to play it safe and just rely on the all time legendary pedal we all know as the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone!

Do you have an effect that you use in a completely different way than originally intended, or that you have perhaps even (re)built yourself?
No, unfortunately not.

Do you use a noise gate – why (not)?
Absolutey! When you are playing such extreme technical music with such high speeds, tempo changes and skills, it is quite necessary for our style of music to have a noise gate. It can seriously make the world of a difference to your live sound. I dont think I would be even comfortable today going on stage without one.

Is your effect board „ready“ or in constant change?
It’s super ready, I have literally set it up in way where I could be in any part of the world today with any amp model supplied to me to play with and I will somehow find my way and get my sound managed. Again, I’m not the kind of person who likes to change much unless completely necessary, and I am some what stubborn to convert too, especially when it comes to gear (laughs).

Finally, do you have a tip for beginning musicians?
Play music for yourself first, and not to impress others or try to fit in. Love what you do and feel free to make mistakes, but more importantly learn from those mistakes. Practise as much as you desire and use every learning opportunity out there to better improve yourself, and your skills as a player. Lastly, always remember, Impossible is Nothing!

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