In a studio chock full of modern recording equipment and with walls adorned with gold and silver discs, it’s no surprise to see flightcases that wear the multiple battle scars and decaying airline stickers from countless world tours. Our host is Peredur ap Gwynedd – Perry for short – the Pontypool-born guitarist best known for his work with Australian electronic rock act Pendulum.
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Though his career has seen him collaborate with artists from all over the world, early inspiration was provided by a guitarist from much closer to home. “Tich Gwilym was where it all started for me,” Perry remembers. “He was everybody’s hero growing up around Wales where I’m from.”
“Apart from him, hearing Back In Black for the first time was transformative. Anybody hearing that, even now can’t fail to be impressed! It still sounds fresh over 40 years later. I think my cousin had it and played it for me, along with The Number Of The Beast. After hearing those it was like, ‘This is what I’m going to do with my life!’”
Growing up in a musical family kickstarted a lifelong affinity for the guitar. “We always had guitars in the house,” Perry reveals. “My parents always played – acoustics. I’ve still got a 1968 DeGeorgio Brazilian acoustic which my mum had, it sounds lovely.
“My dad had a steel-string guitar,” he continues. “I started messing about with that about age seven or eight, then at about 13 I picked it up properly and started listening to things like Maiden and Gary Moore and started working out licks. The lick on Back In Black itself, the pentatonic run, I realised was the same notes as I Love Rock ’N’ Roll by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, and found out about the pentatonic blues scale and just went from there really.”
“It was all bonkers when Torn came out, all of sudden Natalie was the biggest artist on the planet. Countless world tours, five-star hotels… we were treated like royalty”
Though initially self-taught using magazines, Perry studied music at school and had some piano lessons when he was younger, so he “knew what the dots were”. At the age of around 15, he started having guitar lessons, which would eventually lead to a degree in music from Goldsmiths in London. “It was lot of contemporary jazz guitar and a little bit of classical,” he recalls. “I wasn’t very good at it, but it served me well.”
Perry counts hard work and a few lucky breaks as the foundations of his achievements, which began in earnest with a role as a guitarist in Norman Cook’s Beats International collective. “That was my first proper gig,” says Perry. “Playing live guitar in a dance-music band certainly helped me with later gigs, namely Pendulum, of course! From there I did various bits in the session world, a lot of TV mainly. iDot for Welsh TV channel S4C, recording lots of music for adverts globally, sessions, gigs, anything really, I was really lucky!”
Sometimes a session player receives a call that can define their whole career. Perry remembers that moment for him when in came back in the 1990s. “In 1997 I was asked to join Natalie Imbruglia’s band through a friend of mine who was asked to put a band together for her,” he says. “We just knew she was off [Australian soap opera] Neighbours.”
Imbruglia had just released her debut single Torn, which went on to become a huge worldwide hit, topping the US Billboard Airplay chart for 14 weeks. Her debut album Left Of The Middle would go on to sell over seven million copies worldwide.
“It was all bonkers when Torn came out,” Perry recalls. “All of sudden she was the biggest artist on the planet. Countless world tours, five-star hotels… we were treated like royalty, she was number one everywhere! The UK, USA, Australia… that first album campaign lasted for 18 months of solid touring, circumnavigating the world, working every day… multiple awards, private jets, gigs, festivals… crazy times! Initially, I remember getting the single through and thought, ‘Yeah I’ll get a few months’ work out of this.’ Lo and behold, I got nine years’ work out of it!”
When Imbruglia took time off, her band stayed together and backed other artists, notably Sophie Ellis Bextor around 2001. “Then I got a role as guitarist for a French singer called Myléne Falmer with some amazing gigs in Paris,” Perry reveals. “It was lots of fun, it was a tour but in one venue with a huge stage set. I remember I had a huge hydraulic platform that went up and down, I was just doing rock horns all the time, it was amazing fun, like being a kid!”
Perry remembers getting his gorgeous Honeyburst 1995 Les Paul Classic while on tour with Natalie Imbruglia some time around 1998. “I got it from one of the stores on Denmark Street in London,” he says “I basically wanted to get as close to a Burst sound as possible without paying £250,000! I love the flame on the top but it’s not too garish or flash.
“The original pickups were far too powerful for the stuff I was doing with Natalie so I replaced them with a pair of Seymour Duncan Antiquities, which to me are an excellent reproduction of Gibson PAF pickups from the 50s. These ones were handmade and apparently, they aged the covers by leaving them on the factory roof for a year. It’s had a headstock break but to be honest I think it sounds better since being repaired!”
“I used to use it with this 100-watt Hiwatt amp with Natalie,” he continues. “It’s a really early one with the plexi logo, apparently one of the very first ever made in Dave Reeves’ garage. It’s loud as hell but has such an amazing punchy tone.
“There’s a funny story too. We were playing on [BBC TV show] Later… With Jools Holland and Page and Plant were on the same show. Page sent his tech over to ask me about my Hiwatt as he’d never seen another one and thought that he had the only surviving one in the world! He offered to buy it but I respectfully declined. I toured with it all over the world. It’s crazy when you think about it now but at the time it was just a great amp.”
Perry’s other Les Paul is a 1969 Deluxe with a stunning Goldtop finish. “It’s players grade with a few cracks and replaced bits, but it’s a great sounding guitar,” he says. “The neck is superb and the action is so low.
“I bought it up in Glasgow years ago while I was up there doing some recording for an artist that was looking for something more vintage-sounding than the guitars I had with me. The funny thing was that in the store they said it was reserved for Steven Seagal, who was on tour and had been in to play it the day before. I offered to buy it there and then and luckily they accepted!”
The pendulum swings
With riff-based rock music being his biggest guitar influence from an early age, when the call came in 2006 to add some guitar tracks to a song by dance-rock crossover act Pendulum, Perry jumped at the chance. This soon led to a full-time role in the band playing on hit albums and touring the world.
“It’s been some of the most amazing gigs ever,” he enthuses. “Playing before Marilyn Manson and Slipknot at Download festival was a particular highlight but there have been so many amazing tours and shows.”
Though Perry is known for adding big riffs to Pendulum’s music, he brings much more to the table than that. I also love playing ambient atmospheric stuff as well,” he says. “I do bring a lot of that into certain bits of Pendulum, there’s lots of atmospheric and textural stuff on the records – that’s me.”
“I love playing ambient atmospheric stuff. I do bring a lot of that into certain bits of Pendulum, there’s lots of atmospheric and textural stuff on the records – that’s me”
Asked how he creates those atmospheric washes and textures, Perry lets some secrets slip, pinpointing multiple delays, reverbs and compression. Lots of compression. “Compression has become so vitally important to me over the last few years,” he reveals. “20 years ago I didn’t understand it but I started messing around with a yellow Line 6 pedal – the same series as the big green DL4 delay but the yellow distortion one [the DM4 Distortion Modeler]. It has a setting called Boost/Comp and the compression in that is just beautiful. I got really into it then and now I use it all the time.”
These days, Perry utilises a Line 6 Helix. “It’s superb,” he says. “I used to have a big pedalboard with separate pedals but the getting Helix recently has been utterly transformative. It’s phenomenally good.”
When quizzed about how his setup works for such a huge rock show as Pendulum’s, with complex lighting and video to factor in alongside the musical performance, Perry reveals that it’s not as simple as plugging into an amp or two and hitting some rock poses like the good old days.
“With Pendulum we used to run the show from one big MIDI brain to control everything, the backing tracks, syncing up the lights and video, cues etc but now we are all separated from that. We all still play to a click track but with the Helix I can save all my tempos, delay times etc and it’s perfect for the wide range of tones and sounds I use.
“The lights and cues are still computer-controlled and synced to the click. Most big bands do this now as it’s the most professional way to ensure consistency at big shows. It’s essential to sync up the video and lights to timecode. It also makes quick changeovers at festivals much easier.”
Delivering a stream of rock and metal riffs to huge crowds in stadiums and at festivals while intertwined with Pendulum’s complex electronic rhythms means Perry needs an amplifier capable of classic tones but also one that comes loaded with modern features.
“With Pendulum I used big Hughes & Kettner heads for years, walls of massive speaker cabs, it was so loud but so much fun! My rig weighed over a ton on its own,” he laughs. “I now use the Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 18 and GrandMeister 36 heads and a couple of smaller cabs.
“It makes the travel and transport easier and these things are the best. I don’t think I’ve played a better amp than the GrandMeister 36, it’s amazing. That and my Helix – a small, portable rig but it covers everything sound-wise and is the best tone I’ve ever had!”
For Pendulum duties, if there’s one guitar that Perry couldn’t live without and one he’s most associated with, it’s his Grey Black PRS Custom 24 Floyd Rose.
“I’m not a fan of Bigsby’s, they just don’t stay in tune,” he says. “For me, as I hit the guitar so hard, the Floyd Rose is perfect. The intonation is spot-on when recording and live it stays in tune amazingly well. I’ve modified it slightly with a PRS HFS Treble pickup in the bridge and a Vintage Bass in the neck to tame the guitar slightly.
“I also replaced the five-way with a three-way and push/pull pot on the tone control to split the humbuckers. It just makes more sense to me that way live and now I have six sounds rather than the five it came with originally.
“I’ve a few other PRS guitars and the consistency is amazing. The green Custom 24 I use a lot. The SE Hollowbody is amazing, it’s like a brilliant ES-335, and the Silver Sky is just the best Strat!”
With Pendulum, Perry also used a Peavey HP Special a lot in the early days. “It’s really versatile with the addition of the Graph Tech Ghost Floyd Rose system for acoustic tones,” he says. “Theres great clip of us playing Propane Nightmares from Glastonbury 2011 which showcases the electric and acoustic tones it can produce.”
Before we head off into London’s rush-hour traffic, this most modernistic of guitarists pulls out the oldest instrument he owns, which is also one of his favourites – a 1931 Dobro Angelus resonator. “I mainly use it for slide,” he reveals. “It’s got such an incredible tone for recording, loads of vibe. There’s a ‘Hessy’s Of Liverpool’ stamp on it, meaning it was once sold at the famous store where The Beatles bought most of their instruments!” Like its owner, it has a strong musical pedigree indeed.