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Seth Jabour on Writing 2,500 Songs and Playing With Drummer Icons

Seth Jabour plays guitar with 8g Band at the Late Night Show with Seth Meyers. We talked to him about his guitar, genre switching and his can't-live-without gear.

Seth, you’ve been with the indie rock band Les Savy Fav for over 15 years. In 2014, you joined the 8g Band on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

What are some of the challenges in changing the way you play from your Les Savy Fav to the Late Night show?

Playing for a TV show, you might not have the same creative freedom as in your own band. Playing on the Late Night show now, I choose to take a slightly more conservative approach while still retaining the characteristics of my playing that have come to define my sound. It’s certainly opened my mind to a lot of new genres to play with. As the 8g Band, we’ve really expanded our palette, so now we'll play things like Afro Rock, Reggae, or whatever.

I have a very wet signal and I really love using pedals with everything! I’d use my phrase sampling pedal, like my Line 6 DL4 and just grab lots of guitar parts and layer and loop them. So with the 8g Band, things are a bit more “tasteful”, though I did bring my collection of pedals to the show.

I want clean sound to start. After adding in effects, it's always nice to be able to come down to a good, neutral baseline.

When Fred Armisen put the band together he chose us based on our own sonic qualities that he liked and I still bring mine to our sound. I’ve always had a love and an ear for melody. That's the one thing that I always like to try to interject into my guitar playing wherever I’m performing.

So you do get a little crazy with genres at the Last Night Show?

Sure! Having played with Les Savy Fav for over 15 years, I’ve naturally developed a sound and style that worked within that band: I wouldn’t have pitched a country song with Les Savy Fav, but on Late Night, we’ll actually go for some bluegrass or R&B. Funk is another genre that’s always catchy and fun to play. Our goal is to capture the feel of whatever genre we want to play and pass it through the 8g Band filter.

Seth Jabour Pedalboard
Seth's pedalboard with the Scuzz Box

How do you adjust your gear for these different styles?

I like to start with a mostly clean sound that I can then layer my effects on top of. My pedal board is where I do most of my “work” - that is sculpting my sound via distortion/fuzz, reverb, chorus and delay. Naturally, my guitar and pickups configuration plays an important role in what kind of a tone I want to go for.

In Les Savy Fav I played my amp on a high gain channel and never used much of a clean sound: everything was dirty and driven to begin with.

I’m using the Scuzz Box on the fuzz setting, but I think the scuzz setting is just so awesome!

In the 8 Band I want clean sound. That is where I start and then I add in some other effects and dial them in a little bit more, but it's always nice to be able to come down to a good, neutral baseline.

You have the KHDK Scuzz Box in your rig; what do you like about it?

Seth with his Scuzz Box

Oh, I love it. It’s up front in my signal chain, after my booster and my compressor before all of my colorful effects like delays and choruses.

I’m using it on the fuzz setting but I think the scuzz setting is just so awesome! I love that it’s so 8-bit, really great and very unique. Most people are used to guitar effects, but the scuzz setting really makes people’s ears perk up and everybody goes ‘Whoa, what’s making that noise?’

KHDK really made a pedal that can get your conventional fuzz tone, but then you flip the switch and just get a really crazy fuzz tone out of it.

We must written upwards of 2,500 songs by now.

As a guitar player, you have to figure out how to use it, you have to listen to what it's doing, what it's characteristics are and then take control of that and try to connect it to your style of playing. I think that's a fun challenge.

Playing a gig like the Late Night show is very coveted for a musician; how did you land it?

Fred Armisen had approached our bassist, Syd Butler, and asked him if he would recommend a guitarist. The band came together fairly quickly after that. Each one of us has had a relationship with Fed over the years, so the forming of our sound was an organic process. I think Fred was looking for a specific “feel” and he chose us players who he could trust to deliver.

What’s the preparation for the Late Night show like? Must be pretty different from a classic gig?

I’d say so. We show up to work and write new material for that day’s show. I guess we must have upwards of 2,500 songs by now, most of which are made up of no more than a few riffs.

Our strategy is to write material that’s tight enough to create song structure but loose enough to allow for improvisation, since these songs are designed to be played anywhere from one and a half to two and a half minutes. Sometimes we’re out there playing for 6 minutes which can begin to feel a bit repetitive. That’s why we usually write a part A and part B, so we can switch back and forth between the two just to keep the ear active.

We try to avoid being too rigid, so whatever we write, there’s always room for members of the band to improvise.

How does the writing work in practice?

Seth's Fano

We show up, compose our music and then break for lunch.  During that time, each of us kind of goes off to our own little zone and we'll put our notes together for the day. I write out my music as tablature. We have an onset rehearsal at 5 o'clock each evening when we run down the set list.

Since we have a different drummer every week we practice our top of the show theme and stuff like that too so that we have the opening song worked out in advance. And then we have showtime at 6.30 pm!

That sounds like a crazy schedule with a looming deadline every day.

It is! Initially, we didn’t even have a rehearsal space at NBC so we were going to a rental space in Manhattan. And when we first started we had just a handful of songs that we had to commit to memory. And then we got keyed into this process of recording our music and playing it back into our ears before we got to perform them on the show.

One of the coolest aspects is having a new drummer ever week.

How it works is this: since we’re writing fresh material every day, we don't have to worry about storing a thousand songs in our brain.  We just have to remember them for the next 6 to 8 hours at a time and then we get a little audio tease, which gives us a clue: ‘Oh yeah, this is the guest’s walk on’ or ‘This is the song for our commercial break.’ It’s a great way to work.

Do you tailor the music you write based on what the program is, or which guest is joining the show?

Sometime, but in general we try not to write or play to type. We try to fill each episode with a little bit of a variety of music. Eli Janney, our keyboard player and music director, will go through our set and say, ‘You know what, we already have a funky song or a disco song. Let’s write a rock song next.’

I loved playing Jon Theodore from Queens of the Stone Age, he's a really excellent drummer and just a fun personality.

On top of all this prep, you have a new drummer every week! What’s that like?

It’s actually one of the coolest aspects of the 8g Band! It’s helped me realize that the drums are really the heartbeat of the band. The Show’s closing theme is a great example of a song that we’ve played over 600 times - and every time there's a new drummer, it changes its’ feel.

Some drummers will drum straight and some drummers really kind of jazz it up and add their own feel to it. The drummers have a lot of freedom to express themselves in that song.

Seth Jabour playing guitar 8g band

You get to play with some true drum luminaries, what is that like?

Oh yes. And each of them has brought something very unique to the bandstand.

I loved having Jon Theodore from Queens of the Stone Age with us. He's a really excellent drummer and just a fun personality. The person that sits on the drum throne really moves the band forward and drummers like Jon get up there and truly excite us.

Playing with Vinnie Colaiuta was awesome. Vinnie has played with the likes of Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell and Sting. He’s one of the most talented individuals I’ve ever met. He’s a drummer’s drummer, right up there with artists like Steve Gadd. His musical IQ is off the charts and for a band like us to be able to have someone like that sit in with us was really an honor.

Dave Lovering from The Pixies was another hero of mine. They are one of my most influential bands.

Abe Laboriel Jr, Paul Mccartney's drummer, is phenomenal, his instincts behind the drum kit are incredible! We had him on for two weeks and it was a joy just to hear the way he plays. He truly complemented what we were doing as a band.

We’ve also had Dave Lombardo of Slayer and I was personally very excited to play with him.  Heavy metal has been something I’ve always gravitated towards as a guitarist. When I was 16, I never would have imagined that in 25 years I’d be playing with Dave.

What’s your ‘can’t live without’ piece of gear?

In Les Savy Fav, I would have told you that the Line 6 DL4 is my most widely used pedal on my board and I've probably gone through six of them because they take so much punishment.

But now in the 8g Band the delay pedal is my favorite and if I had to take everything except for one thing out of my chain, I would say leave the delay pedal and get rid of everything else.

You seem to have pretty eclectic taste in guitars from Fano to D'Angelico or offset Fenders and Les Pauls. How do you pick them?

I played a D’Angelico for a while, but I’ve mostly played Gibsons in the past, I have a couple of vintage pieces at home as a part of my own collection that I really really cherish.

When the 8g Band started playing, Fred Armisen introduced me to Fano guitars. I immediately fell in love with their design aesthetics - very interesting. I went out a purchased an ML6 and kept it as my main player on the show. They lent me a JM6 last year and I've been using it and again I just love it. I love the way it sounds, I love the way it's put together. It's a very very solid guitar. This one has an off-set body shape that I’m into right now.

Sometimes I pick up a new guitar and think, ‘Oh that looks fun,’ or ‘I like the neck on this guitar’ or ‘I don't have something like that in my collection!’.

At the end of the day, I like to have an emotional connection with my guitar. There are plenty of wonderfully built guitars out there that are wonderful to play but might be a little boring aesthetically. And they probably perform greatly but when you get up there in front of people and you're standing behind an instrument, you want that instrument to look good while you’re holding it!

Is it hard having two Seths on the set?

Well, we’ve never gotten mixed up to the point where I’ve hosted the show and Seth Meyer grabbed the Fano. HA!

We all want to know: what’s the catering like on the show?

We get a dish of nuts every day which consists of almonds, cashews, and pecans. There’s usually an assortment of potato chips or a veggie straw, some hummus and a plate of crudités. Soft drinks, and water. It’s excellent and nutritionally balanced.

Do the other band members ever get jealous of your looks?

You know, I think the members of the band are all very handsome. 

Keep up with 8g Band and Les Savy Fav and decide for yourself who the best looking members are.