Interview: Dean Bennison, Guitarist for ANUBIS

Dean Bennison (Anubis)

Australian progressive rock outfit Anubis returned this year with the release of their fourth studio album titled The Second Hand. The album is filled with masterful performance by the whole band, but what’s of the most interest to us is the guitar tone the band achieved which feels very natural and warm, but also cinematic — making it fitting for the overall sound, described as cinematic progressive rock.

We talked with one of the guitarists in the band, Dean Bennison, about his exposure to music, picking up a guitar, but also about the guitar tone on The Second Hand, setup, his favorite gear, and more.

How would you describe your initial exposure to music?

My first musical memories are from about when I was four years old or so. My Dad and I would spend a lot of Saturday mornings listening to his record collection. I remember we used to play side two of Abbey Road a lot.

Were you in the music programs in school while you were growing up?

Yeah, I was pretty lucky that my parents were very encouraging, and pretty much let me try out whatever I wanted musically.

We had an organ at home when I was very, very young, and I was fascinated with it. I used to sit at the organ for ages with headphones on just fascinated by the sound of it. As soon as I was old enough, my parents paid for lessons so I could learn to play the thing properly.

A couple of years later I joined the school band and played clarinet, so then they of course shelled out for clarinet lessons as well and a couple of years after that I got into guitar.

Dean Bennison, 2017 promo shot (source: anubismusic.com)

Dean Bennison, 2017 promo shot (source: anubismusic.com)

How did you get into playing guitar?

I wish I had a better reason, but it was because I was getting to the age where you become aware of the opposite sex, and clarinet or organ just weren’t seen as “cool” instruments at the time, so I asked my Mum if I could get a guitar.

Did you start to listen to music differently once you discovered guitar?

Probably not if I’m honest. At least not right away. It took me a few years of learning before I really started to feel like guitar was the instrument for me. After that point, I think I became much more aware of the guitar in the bands that I was listening to.

Who were some of your early guitar influences?

Well the obvious one is David Gilmour of course, but I would have to say that Mark Knopfler was a big early influence as well. A lot of people can hear the Gilmour influence in my playing, but most people miss the Knopfler thing. Funny really because there’s phrases in stuff like the solo on “The Passing Bell” that are really just entirely ripped off from “Brothers in Arms.”

Tell me about your guitar technique.

My technique is nowhere near most of the guys in prog. I’m from the less-is-more school of guitar, and that’s at least partly down to not having the chops to be any better.

The things I think that I do well, are string bending and phrasing though. I think a lot of guys who have much better technique than mine, tend to be terrible at phrasing. There are solo passages that just go on and on without a break for you to take it all in.

In fact that’s one of the great things about working with Doug, the other guitarist in Anubis. He has great technique, and his phrasing and solo construction are amazing.

If you listen to his solo on “These Changing Seasons III” on the new album, you can hear how good his technique is, but it’s also phrased beautifully. The construction of that solo is so brilliantly done. Doug’s one of that rare breed of guitarist that blends technique with taste and restraint.

What guitars are in your collection? What is your a guitar that you trust the most?

There’s a bunch of stuff in my guitar collection.

I’m a big Fender fan, and specifically a Strat fan, so there’s about five different Strats, and there’s a blonde coloured one which is definitely my favourite. It’s a 57 reissue that I’ve modified the wiring in, and it’s just a beautiful guitar to play. That’s been my go-to guitar for a few years now.

I’ve got a Les Paul Special that Dave gave me that I use whenever I need something with humbuckers, also a Tele which is actually one of the Squier Classic Vibe series guitars which are brilliant guitars especially when you look at the cost of them.

For acoustics I’ve got a Maton EMGA that is my main 6-string acoustic, and a few Cort guitars for everything else. I’ve got a nylon, a 12-string and a J45 copy of theirs and while they’re a more budget to mid-level brand, they make some really great guitars that are really great value, but also sound really, really good.

Dean Bennison

With the advancement of the technology and amp/effect simulation, do you still use pedals?

I know everyone is heading towards things like the Axe-FX and Kemper, and I can see just how convenient they are, but I’m still attached to the idea of lots of pedals.

Having heard some of the new digital stuff, I admit, it sounds really great so I don’t think it’s about being a tone-snob or anything like that. I’m just kind of attached to a more old-school approach, with several guitars, a whole bunch of pedals and an amp.

Having said that, I’ve just finished putting together a new pedalboard for our European tour next year that’s kind of a hybrid thing, and includes a Sansamp and a DI on board so I can go direct to the PA when we can’t afford to take or hire a backline.

In your opinion, what are the three skills that every guitarist must bring to perfection?

I don’t think I’m in any way qualified to answer that. I think that whatever it skills it takes to develop your own style are the one’s that are important.

How did you work on perfecting your rhythm and solo parts?

To be honest, I’m not the best at practicing. I do play a lot, but mostly for my own pleasure, not really for the purpose of practice as such.

Back to music… You have launched your fourth studio album with Anubis entitled The Second Hand. Lead me through its creative process.

The main difference with this album was that it primarily started with us all in a room, jamming on whatever idea came up at the time.

While we all had material that we’d each demoed at home, we decided to put all of that aside and really work together on completely new material.

From there, Rob and Dave did the bulk of the work to gather the all the recordings of us jamming and whip it into some sort of shape that could then have the vocal melodies added to them.

What evolution do you feel The Second Hand represents for you as a composer and guitarist?

I think the biggest thing for me on the new album, is that I’m getting a lot more comfortable playing in my own style. I’m relying a lot less on my influences and developing a style that is more my own.

I think you’ll always hear the influence of Knopfler and Gilmour etc. in my playing, but I feel like I’m copying them less now, and grafting their influence into my own style. I hope it comes across that way anyway.

What were the biggest challenges you faced as a guitarist when making The Second Hand?

The biggest challenge at any given time was coming up with a part to play on the spot.

When you’re jamming with everyone else in the room, you can’t ruin the spontaneity by getting everyone to stop while you figure out a part. You’ve got to think quickly, and creatively. You’ve also got to keep reminding yourself to check whether what you’re doing is actually adding to what’s going on in the room, and not just add a part for the sake of having a part to play.

How do you go about channeling inspiration into writing?

Inspiration is the easy bit.

I think it’s really easy to turn a moment of inspiration into a piece of music. The hard part is crafting that piece of music into something bigger. That’s what Rob and Dave are particularly good at. They work incredibly hard at forming all of the inspired bits of writing into proper songs, and then using the concept to form those songs into a cohesive album.

Anubis live

Back to tech talk, tell me about your guitar rig you used for recording The Second Hand?

I mentioned a few of my guitars before, but there were dozens more guitars that we used on the album. Between the members of Anubis, we’ve got about 120 guitars or something, and I think we used about 50-60 of them on the album.

For effects, I used my big stage rig mainly, which is a combination of pedals and rack gear. The signal chain is roughly:

Boss CS-2 Compressor > MXR LA Machine Fuzz > Maxon Fuzz Elements Water > Proco RAT (my main lead sound) > Boss BD-2 (my main overdrive) > Boss EQ > Boss CE-300 Chorus (though I used a boss CE-3 pedal Chorus a lot on the album) > EHX Deluxe Electric Mistress > MXR Phase 90 > TC Electronic G major 2 (for delays) > Boss RT-20 > Digitech Supernatural Reverb.

From there it was mostly run through my Valvetone Hilite 45 amp, though occasionally I used a Sansamp rather than micing up the amp.

What are your five favourite pieces of gear in 2017, and why?

I’ve just bought a Boss MS-3 which has now become the backbone of my touring pedalboard, and I’m really enjoying it. It now means that I can get pretty much all of the sounds I need out of my touring board as well as my main rig. My old touring rig was good, but made quite a few compromises on sound for the sake of portability. The new one with the MS-3 is brilliant.

I also got the Digitech Looking Glass Overdrive a little while back which I like a lot. I think this came out before 2017 but it’s still pretty new to me.

The other thing that’s been around for a while now, but is new to me this year is the Temple Audio Design pedalboards. Amazingly well designed boards for people like me who hate Velcro. My new touring board is built on one of their Duo 17 boards.

Other stuff that’s come out this year that I’m just dying to get my hands on are the T-Rex Replicator mini, and also the Ed O’Brien Strat.

Now with the album out, what other dragons are you looking forward to slaying?

We all can’t wait to get into our European tour in July 2018. We went over there in 2015 and since then all we’ve wanted to do is get back there. We had such a great time.

This time around we’re playing at the Night of the Prog festival in Loreley, Germany, which we’ve wanted to play for such a long time so we’re really excited about that.

We’ve also got a gig lined up in the Netherlands, which was another country we went to last time and had a blast.

We’ll also be putting on a few other shows while we’re over there, so anyone interested should head to our website for all the details.

The Second Hand is out now; order it from Bandcamp. For more information, news and tour dates visit Anubis’ official website and follow them on Facebook.