Published Jun 02, 2014The baritone guitar Thérèse Lanz plays in Calgary, AB-based noise/doom project Mares of Thrace is one of the most distinctive musical instruments in Canadian metal. "At this stage in the game, [the guitar] is considerably better known than I am," she jokes. The custom-wired baritone is a Godcity original, a one-of-a-kind creation built specifically for Lanz by producer (and Converge guitarist) Kurt Ballou. "I think he specifically wanted to make it because I wanted something weird. It contains a guitar pickup and a bass pickup, both wired with separate quarter-inch outputs split through an XLR cable. It's also a 28-inch scale baritone."
The unique instrument allows Lanz to inhabit a nebulous sonic space between a traditional guitar and bass, and has become a crucial element in the aesthetic Mares of Thrace have built. As a duo — Lanz and drummer Stef MacKichan — creating sonic depth and richness with minimal tools is a productive creative constraint. Lanz says playing a baritone guitar "was a specific response to being a two-piece group. I have heard a great many times that two-piece bands could all really use a third member. So we developed a number of workarounds to fill out that particular sonic vacancy."
Engaging head-on with what could be perceived as a deficiency has pushed Mares of Thrace to find entirely new aural textures to experiment with. "There are frequencies that a guitar just doesn't cover, no matter what comically superlative number the knob on your amp goes to. Having a baritone with a bass pickup, which I then run through a bass amp, emulates it." This doesn't give Lanz the range of both instruments — "it's more like you have neither" — but actively engages with what would otherwise be perceived as a deficiency in the sound and turns it into a deliberate choice.
In addition to her trademark baritone guitar, Lanz creates her signature sound with a combination of guitar and bass amps. "Since I have a quarter-inch output for each pickup, I plug the guitar one into a guitar amp and the bass one into a bass amp." Lanz is quick to admit that her choice of guitar amp also blurs the lines between guitar and bass tones. "My 'guitar' combo, which is an Orange Thunderverb 200, was intended to be a bass amp, but it sounds great as a guitar amp. Then I offset them a little bit; it's supposed to produce a mild chorus effect." For her bass setup, she uses a "modified" Gallien-Krueger through a Yorkville cab. "It broke down midway through tour and I have been slugging it out through a combo."
As far as her amp loyalties are concerned, Lanz has very clear opinions: "I have been addicted to Orange amps for over a decade. I tried one on a whim when I was a wee, young thing and then saved up forever to be able to afford it. British analog gain!" That first Orange amp came courtesy of Guitar Works — "affectionately called Guitar Kers" — in Calgary, purchased when Lanz was only 19. "That was my trusted steed: the Orange OR80. I upgraded to the Thunderverb because it was 200W and had an extra channel. You know, from when I needed to switch from 'loud' to 'really loud.'"
While the complex and unique set-up Lanz has built for Mares of Thrace may be a trademark, she hasn't had the opportunity to utilize it to its full capacity in recent months — she's been studying for an associate's degree in Game and Interactive Media, majoring in game art, at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy in Chicago, while MacKichan began an accelerated, two-year nursing program at the University of Calgary. "Stef and I have both been run off our asses with school and live in different cities, so for the meantime, Mares practices are unfortunately conducted with a click-track, my Pod X3 and headphones in my apartment." Not exactly the elaborate and carefully crafted set-up Mares are used to, but it's just another form of constraint Lanz and MacKichan are determined to turn to their advantage.
Despite these restrictions, Lanz is reluctant to state that Mares are on anything resembling a break. "'Hiatus' sounds like we're fuckin' quitters, which we're not; we'll keep writing, just slower." In fact, the duo already have plans to electronically release a demo, written while Lanz and MacKichan have smoothed out their long-distance relationship. "I think it's our best work," Lanz says excitedly, "but every idiot says that about their new shit."