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Lady Gaga Guitarists Ricky Tillo and Tim Stewart on Gear, Mixing Genres and Playing the Super Bowl

Ricky and Tim have played the world's biggest stages (and taken KHDK pedals with them) but they still fondly remember playing cheap gear when they were starting out.

Ricky Tillo and Tim Stewart

You guys must be the ultimate Guitar Chameleons, what's it like switching from Lady Gaga to Thebandknives? How do you pull it off?

Ricky: Listening to different genres really opens up a lot of creativity; there's a lot of ground to be covered in both scenarios. Working in the studio doing sessions for other artists and writing and producing our own music for years has helped add to our repertoire of sounds. 

Tim: Switching styles and genres for me feels pretty natural just because I am a fan of all styles of music. I never wanted to be a purist or confine myself to playing or listening to one thing.

Basically: There are no rules.

Does genre define tone, or does tone define genre?

Ricky with his Ghoul Screamer and Scuzz Box

Tim: Tone is a very important part of a genre but I think there are multiple elements that define a genre or sound.

Ricky: I think experimenting with tone leads to the discovery of new genres. Sometimes doing things that are out of the ordinary in a certain genre is what it’s all about. Sometimes the wrong way ends up being the right way, what some consider a terrible sound would be more exciting or a signature for a song. Basically: there are no rules.

Ghoul Screamer has been my main overdrive for the Joanne tour with Lady Gaga.

Where does the KHDK Scuzz Box and Ghoul Screamer fit in with all the TC Electronics stuff?

Tim + Ghoul Screamer + Scuzz Box

Ricky: I went to the Guitar Shop in Toronto on a hunt for some cool overdrives. My guitarist friends Robb Cappaletto and Aaron Marshall from INTERVALS happened to be there and told me to check out the KHDK pedals. I love the sound of raw, pure tone. And those pedals deliver!

Ghoul Screamer has been my main overdrive for the Joanne tour with Lady Gaga. Super tweakable and customizable to the guitar and amp you play, tons of tone shaping options. Scuzz Box has been an indispensable fuzz. It has so much tone-shaping and headroom on tap. Sounds great through an amp and also direct into the board. Already using it in new Thebandknives and SATE songs too. 

Tim: I love a simple, straight forward set up. It's a delay or modulation, then  various drives and fuzzes for me. In the studio I’ll use different combinations and more experimental things than I do live generally. The Scuzz Bux and Ghoul Screamer are a perfect pair for me, I can build a sound I’m super happy with based around these pedals!

Are any parts of your chain customized?

Ricky: Lots of my stuff that is customized, I’ve lost track! A lot of things are stock too. Guitars with different switching options and pickups, some pedals with different mods done to them.

If you could only keep one piece of gear, what would it be?

Tim: My 79 Les Paul! Hopefully, I'll never have to choose...

Ricky: My Nash TK-54.

What is the one piece of gear that's always fascinated you but you never got?

Tim: Pedal Steel!

Ricky: The Batmobile. 

Playing with bad, cheap gear is the most amazing learning experience.


thebandknives is Ricky's and Tillo's rap-rock band

So many guitarists out there are searching for their 'ultimate tone'. What's your advice to them? Will they ever find it?

Tim: I think it changes; it’s a journey...some days I’m super inspired by the tone I’m getting and other days I can’t seem to get it right. I think the search is the best part.

Ricky: My advice is - trust your ears! Part of the experience for me was playing through terrible gear growing up. This forced me to work harder to get tone with just my hands on a crappy acoustic guitar with mile high action. That experience is invaluable!

If you can make the worst gear sound great, once you get the good stuff, it will be like lightbulb goes off. The magic is in the player's hands and ears and not the gear...but great gear definitely helps you get there!

With Lady Gaga, we get the freedom to add rock'n'roll elements to the show.

What's the cure for G.A.S.?

Both: There's never enough gear!

You've been playing with Lady Gaga between 4-7 years. How much creative freedom do you have playing her shows? How do you get your own voice through?

Tim: I get a good amount of creative freedom. Of course, you have to treat the songs with respect and care. Gigs are not just about me or my voice. It’s really about finding the moments when you can add something from yourself without changing the nature or direction of the material that’s been created by the artist.

Ricky: Early on, the music was very synth-heavy and we had to create guitar parts for the live show. We definitely got the freedom to do what we do and add a rock'n'roll element to the shows. There are a lot of interludes and instrumental breaks in the live show as well that give us a chance to use other textures.

I'm excited to get to play music everyday. The Super Bowl was just one of those days.

You've played the Super Bowl with Lady Gaga: where do you go from there? 

Tim: It was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget but I feel so fortunate to be able to play music in general! Each time I play it feels special in some way. I've definitely have bad gigs and days here and there but generally it’s something that I consider myself very lucky and blessed to do. I've never stopped lookin forward to new experiences.

Ricky: Travelling via train for these next two Thebandknives shows in France while answering these questions is pretty epic! I'm excited to get to play music everyday. The Super Bowl was just one of those days.

Which artist has the best catering?

Tim: The catering in the smaller clubs in France is amazing! We just did a run there with my group TheBandKnives, every club was so hospitable.

What's the ultimate cure for jetlag?

Tim: Alcohol and sleep! Haha I don’t yet...still haven’t figured it out in almost 20 years.

Any advice on getting along with others on tour?

Tim: You have to find ways to connect and get along. I’ve been very fortunate thus far because almost everyone I’ve toured with has been amazing. To me it’s really not about the artist or the places you go, it’s about the friendships you create.

Ricky: Make music together. All the time.

Check out Ricky's and Tim's Thebandknives on Bandcamp or follow them on Instagram