Rival Shapes' Frank Dillon on Why He Left Shredding Behind and His Fave Gear

Frank Dillon performing live.
Frank Dillon performing live. Jessica Kazandjian
In Pound For The Sound, we get technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature style.

Rival Shapes guitarist Frank Dillon isn't quite an Arizona native — but almost. Born in Virginia, he moved to Tucson at age 6, and he still calls the city home 30 years later.

At age 12, Dillon started playing guitar. His first instrument was a Squire Strat, and he was all about it. He took lessons and learned to play covers to improve his own abilities. But eventually, he quit taking lessons and committed to songwriting. For Dillon, it's not about being a shredder. It's about focused musical expression and the human connection.

And that's exactly what Frank has been doing over the years. He's adamant about the fact that he has "been in bands since the time a guitar was in his hands." The guitarist even played in bands with Rival Shapes bassist Brock Lange and drummer Ryan Janac prior to forming this project with lead singer and longtime childhood friend Fred Baker.

Tucson's Rival Shapes have been playing out for five months, but they're gaining traction. The band released their new EP, Pull, this past May at Hotel Congress to a great hometown crowd, and they have already played in the Valley several times. The quartet is set to release the EP in Scottsdale on Saturday, June 17, at The Rogue Bar. New Times caught up with Frank via phone and email to talk about the band, their new music, and their Phoenix release show. 

New Times:
What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Frank Dillon: It starts with my 1965 Fender Twin Reverb Reissue. I wanted a classic, clean amp that could get loud without breaking up and handle effects. It also has an amazing reverb that is integral to my sound. The reverb is so vast and lush that it enables me to play minimal parts that can cascade over the top of the music. The one downside is the weight. It could double as a ship’s anchor.

My primary guitar for this project is an Eastman T-486B, which is a handmade Chinese copy of a Gibson ES-335 with a Bigsby. It comes stock with Seymour Duncan Phat Cat P90s. Me and these two pieces of gear are the secret weapon. Everything else is icing.

What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
I love my Twin and Eastman for reasons described ... Other than that, I love my American Deluxe Telecaster. A friend recently gave me an Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run pedal. That is going to be a lot of fun to work with on upcoming music.

click to enlarge Dillon's Eastman and the rest of his setup. - FRANK DILLON
Dillon's Eastman and the rest of his setup.
Frank Dillon
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
I have had a ton of gear of the years. I wish I could’ve kept it all, but space limitations and musical applications dictate what you need at any given time. There are definitely some things I wish I had, but I’m also a minimalist. I love the idea of having tons of guitars and amps, but if I don’t play them I feel like I’m neglecting them.

On your latest single, “Evaporate,” one can get lost in the airy, spacey tones gliding through the song like a bird floating in the wind. What was your process for recording that track?
I had the idea for a really slow call-and-response motif in my head. I started working it out on the guitar and recorded it at 45 BPM. At that tempo, all you have is space and time. I laid down some electronic drums just as a guide and wrote the second guitar part for the chorus over the top. I wanted something airy that floated over the top, so I broke out the MXR Carbon Copy and layered it over the top of the Twin. The subtle use of the Bigsby gave it that slow warble. Fred and I got together and decided that we would just repeat the same part over and over and just use different vocals and layers to indicate the transitions between parts. The goal was something minimal, slow and dreamy. We wrote the idea less than a week before tracking.

You had said you started taking guitar lessons and playing covers at a young age, but almost immediately switched out of that mode and into writing your own songs, even as a teenager. How do you feel that has helped you find the Rival Shapes “sound” and influenced your life a songwriter today?
I started reading tabs and taking lessons to learn about theory. At first I wanted to be a badass and rip solos like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and all those guys. I started listening to bands with great guitar players that weren’t lead-heavy, but more integrated into the music. I liked the idea that a musician can create a piece that takes a listener on a journey through a song or even a whole record. I think listening to music that you like and understanding the choices that are made is the fundamental building block to songwriting. Listening has helped me learn how to express myself without being extraneous. I thing that helps the Rival Shapes project a lot.

Even though the band is from Tucson, you guys are having your Phoenix release for your EP, Pull, this Saturday, June 17, at The Rogue Bar. Any words you want to share about the show with the folks here in Phoenix?
We are looking forward to playing more and more up in Phoenix. Our drummer Ryan actually lives up there [in Phoenix]. Please join us. It will be a great lineup with some awesome Phoenix bands. The Rogue Bar is a fantastic place and the night will not disappoint.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Henri Benard
Contact: Henri Benard