Sundressed Guitarist AJ Peacox Knew He Had to Play Guitar to Write Songs

AJ Peacox rocking out on stage.
AJ Peacox rocking out on stage. Matt Cardinal
In Pound For The Sound, Phoenix New Times get technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature tones.

Sundressed lead guitarist AJ Peacox may be new to the band's permanent lineup, but he is no stranger to their antics. In fact, he spent several years as a touring member, filling in on various instruments for the band. And when you watch him play, you can understand why Sundressed decided to make him a permanent piece of the equation, even though he lives in San Diego and the band is based in Phoenix.

Peacox was born in sunny San Diego, California, and had plenty of music flowing through his veins at birth. His father played guitar with the army band in his platoon during the Korean War; his mother was a classical flautist. He first picked up saxophone as a fifth grader, an instrument he still busts out from time to time today.

As he entered his teenage years, Peacox just wanted to be in a band. He took up electric bass in seventh grade, an instrument that got him through some "dark" times during middle school and also launched him on his quest to play in bands. As he got into high school, he found himself playing in lots of ska bands, especially because he was a woodwind player. However, he was constantly looking to indulge his love of guitar, open mics, and singing. He learned lead guitar out of necessity, because he didn't feel he could start writing songs for a band with a bass.

After high school, Peacox enrolled in the inaugural "Pop Music" program at the University of Southern California, graduating in four years. Another band he plays in, Weatherbox, went on a massive tour about one week after college graduation, and Peacox found himself playing sold-out shows across the country. It was on this tour that he met the fellows from Sundressed, and the guys became friends. Soon, he began filling in for the band on tour, and the rest is history.

Peacox and Sundressed have a homecoming show at The Rebel Lounge this Friday June 1. The performance marks the second show in a month-long Sundressed tour. With all the hustle and bustle of tour in the air, New Times was able to get some words in with Peacox via phone and email about his gear, his life after USC, and the band's upcoming show.

Phoenix New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?

A.J. Peacox: I’d like to say that my hands are my secret weapon. I’ve cycled through lots of different gear throughout my years of touring in bands, which is something I love to do because I like to try everything. What has allowed me to stay consistent is my technique. You can always dial-in an amp or a pedal to fit your needs on the fly. I don’t want to have to rely on a specific piece of gear to make or break a performance, especially when you’re on the road where things break all the time.

That being said, I do have gear preferences that make my job easier, either because they help me achieve a signature sound, or really just because they inspire me, and make me feel comfortable on stage. My single-channel Orange AD30 is great because of its simplicity. Just master, gain, and 3-band equalizer. I set the gain just on the edge of breakup so I can push the amp into overdrive with pedals. I also like to leave the EQ flat because I enjoy the natural, default state of what the amp was designed to sound like, no dramatic mid-boosting or anything like that.

One thing I do that might be considered unique is that I always have a compressor in my pedal chain. I’ve had a couple different ones throughout the years, but the JHS Pulp n’ Peel V4 has won my heart. I keep it always on with very light compression right in the beginning of my chain, so that I’m sending a nice even signal through my pedals and to my amp. When you get excited on stage, and start jumping around or digging in too hard, the compression will keep things controlled. I also play a lot of complex chord voicings, and I want every note in that half-diminished chord to be heard, which the compressor also helps with.

click to enlarge
A.J.'s setup.
A.J. Peacox

What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?

I love my Japanese Fender MG69-Beck/Co. It’s the signature model of a fictional guitar player from the manga Beck, which is the first thing I loved about it. It’s a loud orange color with a pearloid pickguard and a red competition stripe. It’s flashy, but also pretty nerdy when you find out where it comes from. Two of my favorite guitar players, Yoshiaki Manabe from The Pillows and Casey Prestwood from Hot Rod Circuit, both played Mustangs on lead guitar, which seems counter-intuitive at first, playing lead on a short-scale guitar with low-output single coil pickups. However, I learned a lot from incorporating it as a lead instrument, and it definitely improved my playing and challenged me.

Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?

I recently traded a guitar to my friend Jordan from the band Miss New Buddha for his 2008 Gibson SG Standard. The reason that guitar is special to me is because it was previously owned by my friend Drew Pelliseck, who played it in Weatherbox when I first joined that band. It’s funny to me how I came to own that guitar five years later, and that it had changed hands among my musical friends so many times. I’ll be using it on my next tour with Sundressed.

Another cool instrument I have is my Lakland/ESP 55-69 5-string bass. I got it on my first trip to Japan for insanely cheap because of a New Year’s sale. It’s a flamed pink color with all-gold hardware and a huge maple neck. It looks crazy, and it marks my first trip to Japan, which was a big thing for me.

Just checked out Sundressed’s new video for “So Poetic.” What was the band's process behind putting this music video together?

Jesse Lobell was the director of that video, and came to us with his full artistic vision. We simply showed up, put on suits, and played through the song a couple dozen times so they could get shots. We didn’t have to be there for the rest of the shooting, but there was catering and a full production crew working that whole day. It was definitely the most professional music video shoot I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of. Someone in the crew heard me complaining that I wish I had gotten coffee before showing up, so they brought out a coffee maker and made some for me. I felt like a real rock star!

How do you feel being a part of USC's pop music program benefited you as a guitarist and songwriter today?

Going to USC gave me a baseline to ground a lot of what I was doing. Nobody ever taught me how to write a song, and I only had a guitar teacher for a few initial lessons when I started playing. My professors at USC helped me backtrack to the foundations of songwriting and playing guitar, so now I had names and processes for everything instead of just intuition. It was nice because I didn’t have to learn a concept from classical music or jazz and then translate it to be relevant to my music, because everything was already in a pop music context. It was an interesting, and sometimes unstable program. When I was accepted into the program it was the first year they had ever offered pop music performance as a major anywhere. It was a big experiment. I have my laments, but also a lot for which to be grateful. It was my friend Griffin Kisner that I made at USC who asked me to play bass in my first touring band, and I don’t know where I’d be if that hadn’t happened.

Sundressed has a show this Friday, June 1 at Rebel Lounge. Any words you wish to share with readers about your upcoming performance?

I love playing in Phoenix at the beginning of a tour, because hometown shows with Sundressed are always so fun and energetic. We usually have extra members on stage for those shows. There are so many people I can’t wait to see, like Party Rachel and lil ECB. It will give us momentum as we head out to the rest of the U.S. on this tour. Also, if someone brings me coffee from Cartel Coffee Labs, I’ll leak you new Sundressed demos.
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Henri Benard
Contact: Henri Benard