Sound Shoppe: So this is your workshop, behind you?
Now, do you have a separate space? Or is this attached to your apartment or your house?
No, it’s in a building where there’s loads of different people doing all sorts of stuff. So there’s a bookbinder, somebody who makes shoes, an upholsterer. There’s all kinds of different people in the building which is really nice. And for where it is in London, it’s just crazy cheap.
Really lucky. Yeah. Really lucky to find it. But I think they’re going to knock it down soon, because it’s quite old. And going to build some luxury flats.
Do you have a lease?
Well, we’ve kind of run it all together. And then we kind of take out the running of the building, and then we pay our landlord. But I think this whole road has been earmarked for redevelopment, basically. So they’re just going to build those loads of new flats and stuff, I think. Not a lot we can do about it.
Looks like a nice place.
Yeah, it’s great. It’s really, really nice. It’s a decent size. I share it with my partner. She’s an artist. So yeah, it’s a nice place to kind of just hang out… I stay here quite a lot as well, because it’s just nice to be here and just work away on my own.
Do you live in London?
Yeah. So I live in Holloway. Do you know London at all?
I’ve been there a lot, but it’s been a long time.
Okay. I’m sort of based in North London, which I think is the best part really.
You live by yourself?
I split my time between here and my girlfriend’s flat.
Do you have plans to do anything outside of pedals?
I don’t think so. Well, not at the moment anyway. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing some Eurorack stuff. Because I mean, I think there’s increasingly just more and more crossover between pedals and Eurorack stuff. A lot of pedals have CV inputs and outputs and stuff. So there’s this weird kind of crossover between those two things now, which is cool. But I don’t really play with modular stuff myself so it’s a difficult thing to work on without having any experience and without anything to plug it into as well.
Yeah, I’m lost with that stuff. I would have no idea. Yeah, that’s why I don’t carry it myself. I mean, I feel like I need to know my products because people ask me questions.
What did you do before you built pedals?
So I was working in bars for eight years, and then just sort of doing this out of my bedroom just as a hobby. And then two years ago, maybe three years ago now, I got a job with Rainger FX here in London.
They’re really cool. They do some really cool stuff. And so I got a job with them. And it was just like my dream come true working for them. And i was finally able to get out of bar work, which was working till five in the morning and stuff. So it was really nice to have a day job and actually just get paid for doing what I spent all my spare time doing anyway, so it was so good. But then I was only there for about a year because the pandemic hit, which is kind of weird. So we all did a bit of work from home. But then I started having more and more spare time, and I was already here at the workshop, so I just thought Fuck it, I’ll try and do my own thing. See how it goes. Yeah, and it just went quite well.
It seems like you’re doing awesome from my perspective.
It was kind of surprising. One thing just led to another really, and it just sort of snowballed, which is nice.
Congratulations.Yeah, I started in the pandemic as well. I was just laid off. And I hadn’t played guitar in years. And I picked it up again. And I wanted to see what was new in pedals. And I saw the same shit that I had when I was 16. Like the tube-screamers and stuff like that. And so I dove into it, searching the internet, and finding new and interesting things. And I really enjoyed it. And so I was like, maybe I could sell guitar pedals. Something I picked up and then during the pandemic, the lockdown, in my mind, I was like, “Oh, I’m going to make all my demos. I’m going to do all my product photos.” And now that life has started again, I just don’t have time. I got all this recording gear. I don’t use it because it just makes sense to grab professional demos off the internet.
Since trying to do a lot of that stuff myself, like, pictures and all that sort of stuff, I’ve got so much respect for the people that are putting out this really high quality stuff. Because a lot of time and effort has to go into actually making something look that good, you know? Yeah, it’s really, really hard. And there’s just an unending list of those kinds of things, which you’ve kind of got to do. And a lot of the time actually, it gets in the way of building pedals.
Well, yeah, I completely understand. I thought I would be a better guitarist, if I had a guitar business, and I haven’t played the guitar. It’s all business. It’s going to the Post Office, dropping packages, keeping my website alive.
Yeah. People are always surprised when I tell them that, since doing this for just over two years, I’ve never played guitar less guitar in my entire life. I’m here every day, testing pedals and stuff, but actually sitting down and sort of just playing it myself. It’s kind of hard to find time to do that. So it’s a weird dynamic.
I do hope as I become more successful that I will have more time. I hope the same for you.
What’s more likely is you’ll just find other things to kind of fill the time.
Yeah, isn’t that always the way?
So your products definitely have the theme of a hospital, the intensive care and intensive care audio. I find that interesting. What was the evolution of that? And in your pedals, which came first? Which pedal came first? Was it the pedal idea? Was it the Intensive Care audio idea?
I don’t really know. I always get a lot of good feedback about that sort of stuff, which is really nice.
Yeah, I really enjoy it. And I love the pictures on the box.
Kristoffer West Johnson is the artist. His stuff’s fantastic. I just stumbled across him on Instagram and just thought his style was so cool. But generally, branding is not really something I thought about that much. It just kind of happened. I think I just had the idea of Intensive Care Audio as a name. And then gradually over time, you just kind of think, Oh, well, maybe the logo will be kind of a cross. Well, maybe I could start naming the pedals medical related kind of terms. And gradually, it just kind of snowballed into this quite cohesive brand, I guess. But I never kind of had any plans about that. In the beginning, it was all a bit tongue in cheek and a little silly. But then actually, it’s kind of become the brand. It’s made it a lot easier, I think, to stand out in a way because you have this really identifiable, quite fun, brand. And it’s not really something I’m massively interested in, branding and that sort of stuff, to be honest, but because it was a little bit tongue in cheek and quite fun I enjoy trying to come up with little plays on words, for describing the effects, but also tying it into some kind of a medical condition or something like that. But I’m quickly running out of those!
It's nice having that kind of focus,. because sometimes you’ll see other pedals, and it just seems a bit all over the place. And they all look completely different. And I think it’s nice when you got one solid thing kind of driving everything forward. And it makes it easier for me to design stuff as well, actually. And that was the whole reasoning behind keeping them all black and white. It was because in the beginning, when I was powder coating enclosures myself and drilling them myself, I was just like, “Well, I’m not going to shoot 10 Black enclosures, and then flush out the gun and then load in some more powder and then shoot some white ones, which is going to be so time consuming. So I’ll just make everything black.” That was just a way of saving time. But then after a while, I just thought, well, I’ll just keep everything monochrome. I think that kind of stands out as well weirdly.
Now that I’m familiar with your brand, I could probably, if you had a new pedal and put it on a pedal board, I’d be able to pick it out right away.
Yeah, that’s something I was quite keen on actually. Because, there’s so many small pedal makers now, which is really good. But you put a pedal board in front of someone, and there are certain pedals, which people will pick out, even if they can’t see them properly, they’ll know either from the shape or from the color or just something they will be able to instantly recognize and so I liked that kind of idea of keeping it really recognizable, even if you can’t read any text or logos
I also really love the look of old signal generators and old bits of gear like that. I’ve collected quite a few over the years and I fell in love with the aesthetic of them which is quite simple and utilitarian. I’d say they’ve had a big influence on how my pedals look.
Also, with your pedals, predominantly, they have the wave form knob. I’m going to call it that, which I love. Because I like pedals that are easy to use. And I also like randomness in pedals. I like that they have that feature. And you have all of that. And is that something you set out to do? Or is that just something that happened?
I mean, I’m the same really, I really like randomness in pedals. I always kind of liked the idea of not really knowing what’s going to happen when you turn it on. Which, I guess, a lot of people would think is kind of not the point of a pedal. People want to know exactly what it's going to do every time but I like it when things are a bit more chaotic and unpredictable, because then it’s exciting, isn’t it? And every time you play something, it comes out a little bit different.
Yeah, it keeps your attention.
So, yeah, I was always keen on that. And also, with controls, generally, on effects pedals, I always found that they go to a limited point but no further, and you always kind of just... I always felt like, what if it could turn it up even more. Where does it go after this? And it’s a little bit frustrating because a lot of the time you’re kept in this ‘area’ of what they’d say is a usable zone. And it’s like well, who decides what’s usable, you know? So, whenever I was designing stuff, you might get to a point in a controls rotation and you think, well, up to that point is what everyone’s going to use. But let’s leave in the next 20% because someone might find use for this kind of crazy noise or horrible kind of clicking and... When you’re pushing chips to the absolute limits and stuff, that’s kind of fun. Well, I think it is anyway. And I think some people can find use for that. So why decide that people don’t need that? Let them decide, you know? Yeah, the waveforms originally come from... There’s a guy called Electric druid, I think he’s English. His name’s Tom. I think he’s in Portugal now. And he designed these chips called the stomp LFO, which were really cool. And that’s where the waveforms come from originally. So when I was sort of doing this myself, I just used to play around with those chips all the time. And I’d be bread-boarding a circuit. And I think well, what happens if I chuck in some LFO’s and see what happens. But since I’ve been doing this, I’ve adapted some of the waveforms so they are a bit different now. So they kind of do slightly less conventional shapes, I guess. So instead of sweep, there’s a staircase down and then a staircase up. And then instead of a triangle, there’s kind of a slide down and staircase up, which is a bit fun.
Which kind of begs the question, with the supply and demand and parts shortage, how are you getting by with that? Is that affecting you?
Yeah. So far, I’ve just about got away with it, I think. Last year, I think I kept getting really panicked about it, especially the microcontrollers, which are really hard to get a hold of. I’d get really panicked while I was working, and kind of think, “Oh, God, I need to order loads.” So I ordered like 300, but they’re on backorder. So then they won’t be arriving for months. And then a few months later, I would get panicked again and forgot that I’d already ordered them. So then I just ordered another load. So then one day about 700 of these chips turned up. And I was like, well, that’s kind of good. It’s good to have been so kind of paranoid and forgetful in equal measure. I’m coming to the end of those now, so yeah, it’s kind of hard. And all the usual suppliers have been exhausted, So you end up just kind of trying to navigate your way through the dark recesses of the internet, trying to find chips..
It seems to me like you might be dependent on that Stomo LFO.
Well, yeah, so that’s a thing as well. So they were getting really hard to get hold of. I just managed to get hold of 500. Actually, which should keep me going for a little while. Yeah, it’s kind of crazy, because it’s not looking like it’s going to end anytime soon, I don’t think. It’s going to be another couple of years while they catch up. So I think it’s just going to be a case of just grabbing fistfuls of them when you can. Everyone’s sort of in the same boat, I guess so. But thankfully, I haven’t actually had to not... Oh, actually no, the Vena Cava Filter uses a chip called LM567. And they’re not even like microcontrollers or anything. They’re just kind of weird old tone decoders, but suddenly they all just have dried up. So I didn’t have any Vena Cava Filters for a few months, which was weird. Yeah, just one of those kinds of extra complications. It’s a bit of a headache, but you just have to try and keep up.
Yeah, I mean that’s businesses. There is always a complication.
Yeah, i’m learning all this stuff as well. I’m not particularly business-minded, so it’s a real learning curve
So when I caught up with you, you had four pedals. Did you start with four? Did you say, “Okay, I’m going to make these four? And this is going to be my brand?”
Patrick: No, I just started with one which was the Fideleater, which was the first one I released. Because when I started, I really didn’t have any intention of this becoming my full time job. So I just thought, “Oh, I’ll just put it out there and see if some people like it.” I’d been working on a few different things, but mainly just stuff for myself. All of these were just ideas I’d had and kind of thought, ‘oh, that’s kind of the sound I want or I want that for my pedal board’. So you start bread boarding it and messing around with it. And then if it goes well, I kind of think well, actually, maybe other people might be into this. It does sound quite good. The Recovery Phase was actually about quite early as well, even though I’ve only just released that. That was one of my first ideas, but it took such a long time getting that working properly. And getting it shrunk down to a reasonable size, because the original one was massive. Yes, so that kind of just went on to the backburner for a long time. Yeah, it kind of comes and goes with whether you think ideas are good enough to put out. One week, you might really love something, and then the next week, you think it doesn’t sound very good. There’s not really this kind of... for me, there’s not really like a chronology of work. It’s just sort of like this soup of stuff. And every now and again, you kind of just pluck something out and release it. See how it goes. Yeah, so I don’t really know what I’m going to release next. It will be kind of between a few different things. I’ll just pull the trigger on one thing soon, I think and see how it goes.
Let me ask you this, what is your definition of a ring modulator? Because I don’t really have one.
So it’s kind of like your modulating signal frequency, which becomes audible. So if you think about something like a tremolo, you’re modulating the amplitude of that signal, it’s going up and down. And you’re hearing the ups and downs of the signal. If you modulate that so fast, your ear kind of perceives the up and down of the signal as an oscillation itself, which becomes a tone.
That has an excellent definition. Thank you for that. I would never have been able to come up with that myself.
And the ring mod in the Vena Cava Filter seems to me, “to my ear” a bit unique and it’s the only one that I’ve ever liked. In fact, it’s the only ring mod that I carry. I wouldn’t carry it if I thought it was shit. And I actually have to put a new category up on my menu for ring mod. But is that in my imagination? Or is there something special about it?
I mean, I’m the same as you actually, I generally don’t get on with ring mods. I think they’re difficult to make them sound in any way kind of musical or not just like it’s a weird kind of tinny, horrible thing.
The buzz in the background. Like a noise. Like there’s a fly in the room.
Exactly. Yeah, I think it’s that the ring mod is going into quite a really heavy distortion. And I think that kind of helps because it just beefs everything up. And you don’t get that kind of tinny kind of sound. It becomes this quite big, aggressive sound, bordering on my octave territory. Because setting it in a particular place, you do get kind of an octave down effect. So I think that’s probably why it’s a bit more appealing.
Interestingly enough, you’ve got a Mattoverse pin you’re wearing, the yellow one. Do you get along with the other pedal makers? Do you guys know each other?
I guess I’m quite kind of new, compared to a lot of them, so I haven’t met many of them. I know about Mattoverse through Rainger when I worked there. So David Ranger, I think he knew the guy from Mattoverse quite well, or knows him. I met recently, the guy from Holy Island audio, which was really nice. We hung out with another guy called Simon Small (Tunnel Of Reverb) who writes for Sound on Sound and is a studio engineer.
Is he British? I’m just curious.
Yeah, he’s in Wales actually. Makes really amazing stuff, really heavy, doomy distortions, fuzzes and modulations and stuff. That’s the only other builder I’ve actually met in person. I know, there’s sort of like discord chats and stuff that everyone is in. But it’s a really nice community and how I got into all this is through the DIY stompboxes forum, which is one of the old effects building forums from back in the day. Sort of the one that kicked it all off really, the whole DIY boutique pedal thing. So I was a part of that for many years, and I just loved that kind of environment, where we’re just all helping each other out. And, even the new people were asking kind of basic questions, everyone was just really helpful and willing to give their time to help people learn and there was no competition or anything. So I think generally, it’s an area and an industry, which is just really friendly, and everybody is kind of willing to help each other.
I’ve spoken with other people. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve seen the blog, but I try to get to know the people I work with. And they say pretty much the same thing. It’s not really a competition. Everyone kind of does it for themselves.
Yeah, which I guess is born out of the fact that majority of people building effects pedals are going to be kind of musicians, or in some way connected with music, so I guess, there’s maybe a type of person or you’re just accustomed to trying to do stuff, which isn’t really about competing with other people. It’s more about a common goal or a common collaboration, or you enjoy the same thing, and you want to all help each other out, which I think is really nice. Especially considering we’re all businesses, and normally businesses will kind of compete with each other, but we don’t really have that, I think, which is really great. Yeah, so you’ve interviewed Doug, from Mid-Fi. Their pedals back in the day were the first ones I’d heard, and I just thought like, wow. I didn’t realize it was okay to do that! Before then all I’d heard was sort of pretty straight up big companies. And I was just like, what? You’re allowed to make pedals that make crazy horrible noises?
Interesting you say that, because before I decided to sell these things, I was trying to find just a Random Vibrato. And that’s how I found him with his pedal, the random vibrato. One pedal, you step on it, and it’s random vibrato. And that’s was my first introduction to Mid Fi and now I carry his stuff.
Do you enjoy working on your own as well?
Yeah, I do. I do stuff before work. I do stuff on the weekends. As you see, right now, this is my afternoon. I know, it’s your evening. Good on you, working in the middle of the night, man.
Yeah, I just work all hours. I really don’t like being bored or not having anything to do, so I just work. I mean, I was never particularly work driven before, but now i’m doing this, It’s not really work; it’s just hanging out.
Cool man. Do you have anything that you just want to say and put out there?
I’d encourage people to do some fun experimenting with some battery powered electronics. If you have some old effects pedals that you don’t use anymore, plug them in, open them up, lick your finger and start poking around. Or get a piece of wire and try making connections between different points. Stay away from points near the power supply or battery because you’re more likely to fry something but otherwise you might find some fun crazy sounds. I used to do that with children toys. I’d go to charity shops and buy kids toys that played songs or tunes or spoke, and take them apart and just start poking around inside to see if i could get them to make strange noises. Obviously don’t try any of this with anything that uses mains power because you’ll just fry your brain.
Thank you for allowing me to sell them in the USA. I appreciate that.
Yeah, thank you for selling them. It still blows me away when people buy them. Every time I get an email about a sale I am almost as shocked as the first one I ever sold. It’s a really strange feeling honestly. And especially when people running businesses are willing to take a chance on someone doing something a bit weird, it means the world. Thank you.