Tone Talk with Beth Cameron of Black Bra

Black Bra - Photo by Grieves Anderson
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Hello. My name is Beth Cameron and I play guitar, sing, and write songs in my band, Black Bra. I started playing when I was fourteen once I heard Bikini Kill and Heavens to Betsy. The guitar players who have influenced me the most over the years are Mary Timony, Geoff Farina, and Polly Jean Harvey. These days I’m a big, big fan of Melanie Faye. Outside of guitar players, Kate Bush was a huge influence on me, musically. Other than Kate Bush, I’ve gone through huge Neko Case, Bjork, and Kanye West phases.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
I’m no fuss when it comes to tone. I like a little dirt. Clean, sparkly tone annoys me. My biggest pet peeve is when a guy walks over to my rig and starts messing with knobs or tries to tell me how they could make my tone better—and believe me, it’s happened more times than I can count over the years. When I want to experiment with my tone, I’ll let you know. Really the only thing that’s changed over the years is I used to be against using any effects pedals. I was clean and/or gain for many years. I thought I was being a purist. Ha! I came around to effects and for a time, swung hard the other way.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
I’ve played the same Music Man 130-HD head and Marshall 2×12 cab since 2002. I’ve never found anything better. I mostly play Gibson SGs, but I have a Fender Jaguar Baritone I love. The pedals currently on my board: EHX Holy Stain, EHX Memory Boy, BOSS DD-3, TC Electronic June-60, EHX Soul Food, and a custom fuzz/gain/boost pedal my synth player, Jesse Case, built for me. These are the pedals I used to write the songs on the new Black Bra album, so that’s the way it’s gonna stay for a while. I’ve used Electro-Harmonix pedals since I started playing. The Big Muff was the first pedal I ever bought. I think you could say I’m a loyalist when it comes to gear. Again, no fuss.

What about strings?
I used Ernie Ball Heavy Top / Skinny Bottom. I was in a two-piece, Forget Cassettes, for a long time—Just guitar and drums—and I used to tune my guitar down half a step to make it heavier. Those were the only strings that could hang and I’ve stuck with them ever since.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
It definitely depends on what kind of album I’m making. The Black Bra album was recorded live in very few takes. The band set up in the same tracking room so we could play off each other’s cues. I wanted that live feel, mistakes and all. It’s what these songs called for. I’ve also made records where you’re building and writing as you’re recording, very polished, layered records. I typically have a pretty solid vision of the album I’m trying to make, so I don’t require much producing anymore, but I’ve had to learn that through the years. Especially being a woman, I had to really learn the confidence to have a voice and stick to my vision. I’m big on sonic references and will usually have a list of references to tie to each song before getting to the studio.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
Well, considering my sound hasn’t changed much over many years, it’s just become second nature to me now. It’s just a matter of making adjustments and allowances for the room you’re playing in.

What does your practice consist of?
I used to be a much more disciplined player when I was touring for long stretches at a time. Now that I don’t tour and have another career, practice has become more of an inspired habit. Now, I mostly pick up my guitar because I want/need to write a song, not to go over scales.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
My answer would have been different ten years ago and even one year ago…..

Don’t feel pressured into making your art your career. You can call yourself an artist and have another career. It’s about the quality of your work, not the quantity, and certainly not quantifiable with a paycheck. The biggest contribution you can make to the world is to be uniquely you.

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