John Browne: Monuments Man

John Browne has had quite the eventful musical journey so far. A guitarist, composer and founding member of successful UK metal band Monuments, Browne recently told us about the inspiration behind his heavy rhythmic guitar sound, his exciting solo project that has been keeping him busy, and how he uses his array of AMS Neve gear to his advantage.

“I woke up a little bit late again, so I’m glad we decided to do this slightly later,” admits John Browne when joining me on yet another Zoom call.

Following a stint with previous band Fellsilent, Browne went on to record three albums with his current band Monuments over the last decade, as well as starting a fruitful solo project and his very own signature guitar line, so we’ll forgive him for having a lie in.

“When I was in school, the other Fellsilent guitarist Acle Kahney, who is now the guitar player of Tesseract, was dating someone I went to school with,” Browne recalls. “I was really inspired by his guitar playing and instantly wanted to join his band, so I worked really hard, became good friends with him, and ended up joining Fellsilent around September 2004.

“What really was the catalyst for the remaining members of Fellsilent - and whether or not they got a second guitar player - was that they saw Meshuggah, a Swedish metal band, live. It kind of solidified that they wanted the second guitar player for that really heavy aggressive rhythmic guitar assault, that Meshuggah are basically the kings of. Without Acle, I definitely wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now.”

While Browne feels the lockdown period was a productive one, he hasn’t felt any more inspired than he usually would, and reveals that he in fact works better when he is under some kind of time restraint:

“For example, I previously wrote an album for 8dio, who make sample libraries. That was 10 tracks in a three week period, but in the pandemic, I haven’t done anything like that. I've definitely written music, and recently started building my new studio, so I’ve been productive in other ways.”

It’s got that instantly recognisable sound, and a low-mid thickness that isn't really produced by any other equipment…

It was in fact just one week before the initial UK lockdown back in March when Monuments returned from tour:

“I love being out on the road,” remarks Browne. “I think it's the reason that I do all of this, but being grounded, and just actually being able to enjoy the time at home as well is never a bad thing. So I think as far as coping goes, the only thing that really bothered me was just that I wasn't able to go out and get a coffee!”

Having said that, Browne has used this time to focus not just on writing, but a bunch of different projects, including his own tutorial website called Riffhard and his own signature guitar series with Poland-based brand Mayones.

“Mayones have some of the most insane OCD level of engineering and construction I've ever seen,” says Browne. “The guitars are phenomenal, and I actually got sent three of my new models about a month ago just to do some video stuff and promotional activities.

“The moment I picked it up I was like, ‘this thing's absolutely insane’. It's almost like when you get a piece of Neve gear, you turn it on and put it through an audio source and you don't even have to do anything. It just instantly sounds better - it's kind of the same feeling.”

Browne believes that for musicians - what with people not buying as many records as they were in the ‘80s and ‘90s - it is important to keep busy and have multiple income streams:

“I think that's just a product of, I hate to say it, streaming services. As long as musicians are productive, they're constantly busy doing different things. You get something done and then two more things get added to the pile. When it’s your own business or your own band, I think that automatically you just want to be able to do everything at once, and it almost seems overwhelming sometimes. So when I say that I'm probably busy till the end of time, I'm not actually joking!

“That's the main reason for this new studio - I wanted it to have a sense of going to work. I think that's one thing that musicians are maybe quite bad with, the whole working from home. Sometimes it's just hard to get into a routine, so for me, getting this room away from my house was kind of a precedent for me to set routines and only spend X amount of hours per day working.”

Browne’s new studio is very much a Neve-centric one, and he has been using the company’s products on and off throughout the years.

“I've got a friend who originally had a Neve 88R console when he was still in London, and then he moved his studio to Los Angeles and got an original 8078 console,” Browne remembers. “I recorded with him back when he was in London, and have not had the opportunity to record in the new location, but there's always been some form of Neve gear present throughout all the times I've been doing this stuff.

“And then a friend of mine, Joseph Heaton, started working for the company. Joe comes from the same musical background as me, playing in progressive metal bands, so I hit him up one day, we got chatting, and obviously I’ve been a big fan of the Neve equipment ever since.”

In his new studio, Browne has a 33609 stereo compressor, which he uses on his master chain, a couple of the company’s 500 Series rack modules, and the 88R preamp, “which is really, really cool”.

He also has the 1073 EQ and 2264 compressor limiter, which he uses for “a bunch of different sources, and as a channel strip,” he reveals. “So I'll go into the 73 EQ, into the compressor limiter, and it just instantly sounds great. You can literally almost do anything to it and it's gonna sound great.

“Neve gear is just the standard when you want that really big sound,” he continues. “I'm guessing that there's probably a piece of Neve equipment on 80% of all records between the ‘60s and the ‘90s - it’s got that instantly recognisable sound, and a low-mid thickness that isn't really produced by any other equipment.”

When it comes to recording guitars, Browne either opts for the 88R or the 1073 preamp, depending on the source sound:

“I also have an Audient preamp which is really transparent, so quite different to the Neve,” he says. “You can put really loud sources into it, and it's not really going to quiver, so that’s great for certain applications. I also have a Stam Audio 73 copy, which doesn't actually sound like the Neve, and instead focuses on the upper mids, which again is very useful depending on your source. I’ve experimented with lots of preamps of course, but those are the ones that I seem to keep hold of.”