Tone Talk with Taylor Hughes

Photo by Anna Selle

pure xtc is the moniker of multi-instrumentalist Taylor Hughes. While writing my debut EP, I wanted to set a very specific mood… like, you’re driving through the city at night and it just stopped raining. Glowing neon signs are reflecting in the puddles between the cracked pavement and you’re ready to blow off some steam from a bad week… More like a really bad year. I wrote it about a time I was fresh out of a break-up and impulsively moved to New York City, experiencing the highest highs from exploring the city alone, but also the extreme lows of being alone.

For the last decade, you would have found me behind a drum kit, recording, and touring in various bands. Finally, I’ve found the courage to jump in front of the drum kit and revisit my gateway instrument, guitar. pure xtc is layered with gritty guitars reminiscent of music I grew up listening to, like Radiohead’s OK Computer era or Silversun Pickups’ Carnavas. Some songs have a more dreamy wet tone, lots of modulation. I’m obsessed with chorus and delay effects at the moment (and most of the time). My debut single, “ghost” is set for release on July 9, 2021.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?       

Tone sets the mood for everything; from the first 10 seconds in, I want the listener to get the feel of the song, not just, “Woah! I found this new effect and I’m throwing it in every chance I possibly can!” because I’ve absolutely done that and the songs just had a disconnect. As years went by, I learned the song is king ideology. The more I’ve leaned into that thought process, the more dynamic my songs have become.

What are your favorite tonewoods?      

I’m obsessed with koa; I dream of a new Taylor GS Mini in koa!

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?           

I have a Marshall Origin 20; it’s very clean and takes my pedals so well! It’s also the lightest tube amp I’ve ever carried. Paired with my Marshall head, I have an Orange 1×12 . I use a Blackbird pedalboard simply because they’re the cutest on the market, and I’m obsessed with cable mgmt – it hides all the ugly stuff really well. As for pedals, I use:

D’Addario tuner

Ernie Ball VP Jr.

Keeley Compressor

Swollen Pickle

The Rat

Walrus Audio Fathom and hopefully soon a SLARP! I’m absolutely obsessed with Walrus Audio; if you haven’t gotten your hands on their stuff, I highly recommend doing so!

TC Electronic’s June 60 – made to replicate the iconic chorus from Roland’s Juno synth, I died when I saw the wood-paneled sides!

JHS Morning Glory with a remote. I love being able to flip the switch from overdrive to a thick distortion. I have a song that goes from a dark pop vibe immediately into a hardcore breakdown within a matter of seconds. So that’s kind of a crucial one for me!

What about strings?     

Elixir custom lights on my Taylor Big Baby; I’ve written every song of this upcoming EP on that guitar. It was a gift from a really special human, and I swear it has superpowers. On my Strat, I love D’Addario NYXL 1052’s.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

I usually lay a bed of synth pads with just stagnant chords and start laying my drums down from there. If you were standing outside of my home studio, you’d most likely hear me singing and clapping out patterns along with a metronome, occasionally an OH F*CK if I’ve really had a break, though! Seriously though, I just turn the lights out and try my best to not overthink or doubt myself.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?            

I plan on using a fair amount of synth, effected vocal, and sampled drum backing tracks live to help fill out the live sound. I always thought that it helps listeners have something to immediately recognize from the songs they’re used to hearing in headphones. I just really love production, so I try to include it in my live sound as well! I’m always excited to see how artist’s replicate specific moments that I’m obsessed with on a record.

What does your practice consist of?      

Lately it’s been me playing along with the stems and a click track, just trying to get comfortable playing and singing while pedal dancing!

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to pick up the guitar and play?        

Lately, Echo & The Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?           

Stand your ground, speak up, and don’t ever let yourself feel intimidated. You deserve your spot; you’ve earned it — keep going.