Rob Ackroyd (Florence and the Machine)

By Jamie Franklin

Florence And The Machine – Boss interview

It’s been quite the year for Florence And The Machine. Mercury nominated; supporting Blur and Neil Young; winning the critics choice award at the BRITs, and only just missing out on a number one album behind the late Mr Jackson. The band’s guitarist Rob Ackroyd tells us how it all came about, and why he chooses Boss pedals to make his noise.

Hi Rob. Can you please tell us how you came to play guitar for Florence?

Mairead (Flo’s manager) and I have a mutual friend in Johnny Borrell. About two years ago, I got a call from Johnny saying he’s working with Florence and would I like to come down to the sessions and play some guitar. At the time I was working for a production company in Soho and was desperate for a change of scenery. I’d seen her at The Metro on Oxford Street and had been impressed, so it was an opportunity to seize.

It’s been quite a year for the band. What have been the standout moments?

Glastonbury was an important moment for the band; last year we played on the
Shangri-La stage in front of about seven people, most of whom were related to Flo. This year we were third from the top of the bill on the John Peel stage, playing in front of what seemed to be a capacity crowd. On the way back to London on the Monday morning we had the radio on and a few of the DJs said that our show had been one of the high points of the festival. To be mentioned in the same breath as Bruce Springsteen, Blur and Neil Young was just unbelievable.

What has been your history with playing Boss pedals?

The first pedal I ever owned was a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive, which I paired up with a Wah Wah. I was playing lead guitar in The Sextones and would pretty much play every song with the drive on full; just squealing through each track. It wasn’t great. Playing with Florence has demanded a broad and varied sound. When we first started together all I would use is a Boss TU-2 Tuner, and play almost clean through my Deville. But as time went on and the songs were honed, the guitar sound needed to be more versatile and expressive. Over a few months I introduced a Boss Loop Station, Tremolo, Octave, Reverb and Delay to my set -up which enabled me to recreate any sound imaginable. Well, just about…

You recently acquired a shiny new Boss DD-7 digital delay pedal. Can you tell us which tracks you use it on and how you make your sound?

I use the DD-7 on more than half the set! On songs Like My Boy Builds Coffins and Howl, I use it in unison with my OC-3 to create an ethereal bed of sound that Flo’s vocals lie on top of. On tracks such as Drumming Song, I use the DD-7 alongside my RV-5 (set on modulate) and play single strings to create a fat, undulating orchestral sound. There’s a cool reverse feature on the DD-7 too which I use at the beginning of Cosmic Love as Isa plays the opening staccato chords on her piano.

With record labels focusing much more on live gigs to make money, where do you see the music industry going in the future?

With websites like Spotify going mobile and the fact that it’s seemingly impossible to prevent illegal downloads, it seems the only option for the industry is with live shows. Ash have had a novel idea in that they are going to release something like twenty four 7” singles in the next year. Immediately it’s a harder format to be pirated and with such an abundance of releases their profile will increase. They will in turn have to play lots of live shows to promote each release thus making the band and the label very happy.

What advice would you give to bands starting out who get nervous before they play? Do you suffer?

It’s a fairly rare occurrence to get nervous before a show, which is a result of the amount of rehearsal time we’ve put in. When we were starting out our manager would hammer it into us that at the peak of their careers Nirvana and The Clash would rehearse six hours a day, every day. Six hours of rehearsal every day seems a little excessive, but I guess you can never be too prepared. Think about rugby or football players’ techniques when taking spot kicks: they follow a routine worked out in training in order to negate any match day pressures. Musicians should do the same. You should be the one checking your equipment is set up correctly, and before you go on, pick up a guitar and have a play to warm up your fingers. If you concentrate on this kind of pre-gig activity you shouldn’t have time to be nervous.

Who is the best guitarist in the world?

Obviously technical ability has no bearing on ‘the best guitarist in the world’. Joe
Satriani can play Flight of the Bumblebee but who’d want to hear it. It changes every day for me, depending on my mood – I could happily listen only to Richie Havens. As a kid I idolized Slash and still adore everything he plays on Appetite for Destruction, and Lies. But over the last couple of years I’ve probably spent more time listening to Bruce Springsteen than any other guitarist, so I’ll say him for now.

If you had unlimited money and a team of technicians, what dream Boss pedal would you have them make?

It would be a faithful reproduction of the Fender 1960 Reverb (but with a three spring tank instead so the reverb goes even deeper and lusher) combined with sturdy tremolo unit and fuzz, encased in brushed steel recovered from the Enola
Gay. That’s pretty much an all-encompassing perfect pedal.