Tone Talk with Nicole Rae from The Gooms

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Photo by Oscar Moreno (taken at Kaaboo Festival in San Diego)

My name is Nicole Rae, I am twenty-four years old and the lead guitarist, co-songwriter, backup singer, and occasional lead singer of Los Angeles band, The Gooms. I am the only girl in the band and am amongst three kind-hearted and beyond talented gentlemen. Our debut full-length album, Laugh. drops on July 24, 2020, with singles available now. You can also check out our EP With an M that’s streaming all over the place!

I attended Music 101 every day on my way to school from kindergarten to senior year. My Dad was the tenured professor and chauffeur who, through impeccable taste and uncompressed iPod files, would blast every influential artist that he believed I needed to hear. It didn’t matter who from the neighborhood was carpooling with us to school; this was Music 101.

Through this musical education, I found my core influences: the Beatles, David Bowie, Prince, Radiohead—always asking to learn a number of their songs during my guitar lessons that started at age six. I soon went outside the bounds of Music 101 to branch into my love of Alabama Shakes, Talking Heads, Jenny Lewis, and Blondie. To this day, my Dad and I still send songs back and forth, which usually land on my “Songs I Wish I Wrote” Spotify playlist. He recently turned me onto Shriekbak, X, and Morphine, to which I replied with Fiona Apple, Steve Lacy, and Alice Clark.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Tone is the way your guitar sounds; could be shrill, clean, fuzzy, or piercingly warm with dark undertones and bright resonance. I never had a good relationship with tone until I started recording music with The Gooms. When you’re in the studio, everything is very exposed, and until then, I never realized that the boosted highs I used to hear from my electric guitar in our small rehearsal space (over crashing symbols and through protective earplugs) did not provide the best sound for my guitar parts. After recording experience and slightly turning down our practice volume, I quickly learned how to have the right sound for me—which is typically on the cleaner side with a bit of a fuzzy grit. For acoustic guitar, I enjoy a darker and deeper tone.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
For live shows, I use a Fender American Stratocaster paired with a Vox AC 15 amp—a combo almost as classic as peanut butter and jelly. These two pieces of equipment work together to create necessary reverb filled clean tones and can be cranked to get pretty dirty. The standard set of pedals that remain velcroed to my board include an Xotic SP compressor (local LA company!), Electro-Harmonix Germanium Big Muff with overdrive and distortion, Electro-Harmonix Memory Toy, MXR Black Label Chorus, and TC Electronic Hall of Fame. The most recent pedal I purchased was an overdrive pedal because my guitar is often mixed down during live shows. I won’t make any assumptions as to why. Is it because people expect girls to play soft rhythm guitar? Is it also the reason I’m typically asked if I’m the lead singer? Either way, this pedal has a high peak switch and a pretty powerful volume and drive knob that really enables my guitar to cut through the stereotypes and be heard for soloing.

What about strings?
D’Addario 10’s. Never tried any other strings, don’t really want to. These things last, feel smooth to play, and I like their packaging.

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Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
The studio is a newer part of music for me, so I keep my eyes on the producer and sound mixers to see how they navigate a recording and hope it rubs off on me. The best thing I can do is come prepared with my parts and never be afraid to ask for another take or suggest a crazy idea. Sometimes someone makes a joke about a group of people screaming bloody murder over a particularly hectic part of a song, and you suggest we try it, and it lands in “Unoriginal Boy” (the eleventh track of our upcoming album Laugh.).

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
I keep the knobs on my amp relatively the same throughout a live show, only really changing either the reverb or tremolo if need be. I also make sure my pedals are consistent with my amp volume, so when I push them, they don’t suddenly drop or increase the volume.

What does your practice consist of?
Practice is mostly teaching myself songs as ear training (currently “I Want a Little Sugar In My Bowl,” Nina Samone), soloing to everything I hear from TV commercials to Instagram live dance classes (tastefully), and working on applying arpeggios to various chord sets (and trying to figure out why they are so weird and cool). I also take an occasional guitar lesson with Carlos Calvo, who has taught me since I was six years old. Beyond him being like a family member to me, he is a profound guitar player and accomplished musician with the ability to easily explain and convey the hardest musical concept. At this point, when we jam, he shares pieces of his vast knowledge of theory, we apply the theory to playing, and when the lesson’s over, I just sit in my room trying to hold onto everything we covered that day.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
I’m still trying to navigate my way through all of this, and with where I am right now, I would say to speak up for yourself, your music, and the projects you believe in. Be smart about your opportunities, talk to everyone interested, but be genuine. My Grandpa Mike always said, “You can’t BS a BSer,” and there’s a lot of ‘em out there. Push for what you want because if you have the music or product to back it—sometimes even the personality to back it—you will be rewarded. Balance your stress with living in the moment. Be conscientious if you’re being treated unfairly and speak up for yourself. Tell them you play lead and to turn up your guitar in the mix. Be proud of being a female guitarist.

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