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Thomas McRocklin

Thomas McRocklin

Musician, Producer
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Thomas McRocklin

Guitarist Thomas McRocklin exploded onto the guitar scene when he opened for Ozzy Osborne – at the age of 8! The six-string prodigy went on to enjoy a long stint in the limelight with TV appearances and collaborations with rock greats, including Steve Vai, who would become a friend and mentor. Then Thomas got the studio bug and changed direction, spending the best part of 20 years producing and mastering for others. He has recently picked up the guitar again and is already attracting a whole new audience both as a solo player and as one half of the MckRocklin and Hutch duo. He uses an Aston Origin mic in front of his acoustic guitar and recently acquired the Aston Stealth to use on his forthcoming ‘School of McRock’ tuition and podcast platform.

McRocklin and Hutch, B4G, Solo
From guitar to drum and bass

“The move away from playing guitar was a gradual, and then sudden, shift. When I was living with Steve Vai, and he produced my band’s first album, that’s when he had the Mothership Studio in his house. Every day I’d be going downstairs to the studio and tracking guitars, but it grew in to more of an obsession with the studio side of things. Even back then – I’d have been 12 or 13 – I remember being in some really big sessions with guys like Jimmy Iovine, and other amazing producers, and being really interested. Steve taught me a lot about mixing and how to operate the console. I was going back and forth to the USA a lot at that point but eventually when I came back [to the UK] I got my first Akai sampler and Korg sequencer, and my first Tascam 8 track. At that time there was no real easy way to integrate guitar, no DAW where you could just track guitars like Ableton or Logic. I was really into Rap and Hip Hop, then later I got really into Drum and Bass. I got so into that side of things, and with there being no easy way of incorporating guitar it pretty much got dropped overnight!

I went into studios and put some Drum and Bass down – there’s probably two albums worth of unreleased stuff that I might do something with - but the longer that went on… I’d always have my guitars around me at home, but when it comes to picking one up every one or two months you think ‘woah, it’s going to take a lot of work to get these fingers back in shape’. It got to two years, five years, ten years, and by then I was producing other artists, eight hours a night, then I got into mastering, which was another busy four or five years.”

Hooked on coffee

“It took people who knew about my background, getting me to try this guitar and that guitar, and the bug just came back. I’ve got a really obsessive personality, it’s all or nothing, I got hooked on basketball at one point, I got hooked on coffee, and gaming, for a few years, just took me out of it. I was playing shooting games like Counterstrike and then got involved with an Intel-sponsored clan – a completely obsessive thing! But eventually through someone putting guitars in my hands the spark returned and then it was just a case of sitting in the living room for a year or so while I got my fingers back in shape, and now I’m purposefully staying away from everything else, so no basketball, no games!

In this stage of my playing career all the releases have been mixed here [at Thomas’s Newcastle HQ] by me, and the mastering as well. I’ve no problems handing stuff to other people, and I’ve done a lot of collaborations with people like Gunship, Callux and Jared Dines recently, and I’m always happy to relinquish that responsibility. But because I spend all that time producing I’m quite happy to jump in at that end. Also the workflow is really quick; you tend to know what’s going to work right away, you don’t need to dilly-dally trying eight different compressors on a certain path. When you’re mixing and producing for money your decision making sharpens up very quickly.”

Any Marshall head

“Both Hutch and I have been through Cubase, Logic, a lot of DAWS but both ended up using Ableton a few years back, although we weren’t working together then. So all the creation is done in Ableton and I sometimes use Wavelab for the final mastering. Last year we had so many different plug ins, we’re both trying to streamline. Now we’re down to using Slate Digital, Plug In Alliance, Eventide and a couple of others.

My set up previously was mainly outboard gear, with lots of Universal UAD. But software has got better and better sounding and now, just for convenience, everything’s in the box, it’s so much easier to recall a session.

My guitar gear has really changed; I was using Fractal a lot, then I moved to a new iMac and I’ve moved away from the Universal Audio platform as this computer is able to run huge amounts of plug ins and track counts. But I’ve also got a bit of an obsession with outboard gear and pedals now. When I was a kid it was just ‘give me one distortion pedal, any Marshall head and that’s it’ I think it’s really important to be able to get a great tone from a simple set up – but now I have a pedal board with all kinds of stuff on it! Overdrives are something I’m really big on. I’m working on a Kemper pack at the moment so I have that, and a Fractal, but recently I’ve been using the Boss GT1000 a lot, it’s a great little size. A chain I really like is taking any good overdrive, into a clean head, and then the Boss tube expander which is a really cool load box, so I can crank a head but get line level out into my Presonus Quantum interface. Its USBC so it’s really low latency – it’s not perceivable, it all happens within 2-3 milliseconds.

At the same time, the software in the last year from people like Neural DSP, they’re doing some amazing plug ins, so when I’m doing Instagram posts I don’t need this huge signal chain, I can plug straight into the interface and get a great tone.”

This neck and that body

“I’ve had a long relationship with Ibanez, since I was a kid, so I have a rack of my old ones, but everything I do now electric-wise is on headless Kiesels. I have eight of them, all the same format; a swamp ash body and a thin neck profile, and I use Fishman pickups. Their Fluence pickups are incredible; they’re noiseless so if you’re in front of a lot of gear they don’t hum, there are no wound coils like traditional pickups, they use PCB boards and you’re able to dial in exactly the profiles you want. The definition, even on high gain stuff, is just incredible. Kiesel are like a Custom Shop on steroids, I can go to them and try things, like this neck and that body, you can customise everything.

 

I have a really old Lowden acoustic I spoke to the guys at Lowden and they think it’s actually a prototype because they couldn’t decipher the model. I don’t have that many acoustics, I have a Zeuss, it’s a plug-in with a piezo, but normally I reach for the Lowden and put an Aston mic in front of it.”

A nice starting point

“Hutch and I both have a Stealth, and on my stand here I have the Origin, and they’re both very, very good. The idea behind the Stealth was for the McRocklin and Hutch project. We’re going to be doing some bite-size plug-in run-throughs as a side project, and as an insight into how we make some of the McRocklin and Hutch tracks. We’re using the Stealth as the voiceover mic, it sounds amazing, They sound great on acoustics too.

A lot of the mics I’ve worked with previously, I’ll get the mic position sorted, choose a certain spot in the room I like the sound of, but instantly I’m reaching for dynamic EQs and different tools to shape things. But so far with the Aston mics I’ve found it’s just a really nice starting point. I have to do much less to get the end goal.

On a recent Instagram video I did [playing acoustic guitar into an Origin], when you listen to it on a desktop or with headphones, that’s when you think ‘actually this sounds great!’.

Obviously there’s a balance between mic placement for video and placement for the ultimate sound but even in that slightly compromised position that it’s in – just so it looks better on the video - in my opinion it still sounded great. I also have a Halo Shadow. I know a few people using one and it’s a great tool.”

Bouncing off a drummer

“I’m learning the tracks for the Dragon Force tour in November [McRockiin & Hutch are guesting for the power metal Londoners] and that will be the first live stuff for a while, apart from masterclasses and one-off events. Then we’re shooting and editing all the content fr ‘School of McRock’ and I’ll be at the NAMM show in January doing demos for various brands and probably some jam stuff in the evenings too. I’m also working on a live project, I found a great drummer who’s local and a bass player who’s in Edinburgh, not super-far away. With the McRocklin & Hutch thing we could turn up at a venue with a laptop, one keyboard and a Boss effect processor and we’re ready to go, but it’s a different feel when you’re bouncing off a drummer and a bass player. It will be great to get a 3 or 4 piece live thing going.

I’ll soon be launching a platform called ‘School of McRock’ and I think it will be great alongside this to do some podcast stuff. I know so may amazing and established musicians, just through Instagram alone, that we may as well do something with that. I listen to Podcasts all the time so I thought ‘why not try that?’”

Follow McRocklin's Social Channels:

Play guitar better than you thought possible: https://schoolofmcrock.com

Instagram: https://mcrocklin.com/instagram
Facebook: https://mcrocklin.com/facebook

YouTube: https://mcrocklin.com/youtube

Out-takes

Q.Who are your favourite artists?

A. When I was growing up the instrumental guitarists were Vai, Satriani and Paul Gilbert but now there are so many incredible instrumental guitarists coming through. I really iike Aaron [Marshall] at Intervals, but if I was to choose one band it would be Chon. They’re the type of band you can just chill to or just be blown away by the crazy guitar stuff.

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?

A. I’d probably have a coffee shop. I got really hooked into coffee, so much I was practising pouring latte art for hours a day, I got really good at that! I had a commercial coffee machine in my house, but I suffered from migraines from the smell of coffee so I had to get rid of it. Ts probably a good thing, or I wouldn’t be playing guitar at all, just pouring lattes and flat whites all night.

Q. What would your fantasy mic be?

A. Something I could operate without a stand. Something small and nimble which I could clamp on to various places.

Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston, or your experience with the brand?
A. Quality, Sound, Innovation, Looks.

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