Blending heavy metal riffs with left field melodies and an anything-goes approach to songwriting, Puppy are fast becoming one of the UK’s hottest prospects. Somehow managing to meld a pop-rock sensibility in the vein of Weezer with the heavy aesthetics of 80s metal giants like Metallica and Maiden they’ve carved a sound of their own since their inception in 2015.
You can be a head-banging metalhead or a shoegazing introvert and still love this band and it’s this juxtaposition that’s landing them the plaudits of the music press. After huge success with their inaugural album ‘The Goat’ and a Maida Vale session which they were nominated for by Daniel P Carter, we sat down with Jock Norton, guitarist, vocalist and primary songwriter ahead of festival season to get the low down on the last album, the festival season and of course, the gear.
World Stands Still
Hey Jock, thanks for taking the time out to chat to us, how are you doing today?
Jock: I’m real good thanks. I’ve just finished moving flat so I’m enjoying being on my sofa. That’s kind of my new hobby.
Puppy’s last album The Goat has been met with some serious acclaim, how was it working with Tom Dalgety?
Jock: Yeah people seemed to dig it for the most part which is great. Working with Tom was really cool, he’s a super nice guy and he’s produced some of our favourite bands like Pixies and Ghost so by proxy that’s really cool. We also worked with a producer called Neil Kennedy on a lot of the album too who was also great. Most of the bringing together of the album was done by him so he deserves most credit there I think.
What were the main amplifiers you used to record The Goat?
Jock: It was a whole range of stuff really. For cleans we mainly used a Fender Twin, and then for distorted bits, we used a mix of Mesa Dual Rectifiers, Marshalls and a Bogner of some description. I used the JVM205 a lot. We didn’t really use many pedals and tended to go for natural amp distortion on everything, just layering up the different amps to add more character to the tone.
You’ve got ArcTanGent and Y Not Festival dates coming up, what guitars are you going to be using?
Jock: Well I’ve always used Fenders but having traditionally been more into short scale ones like my duo sonic I’ve gotten really into Strats. A lot of the stuff on The Goat is in drop C, and the strings on a short scale just get a little too flappy when you’re down that low. Fender UK have been great and helped me out with a couple of their newer Strats, both of which have humbuckers on the bridge. One of them has a coil tap too so for recording it’s great- super versatile.
What was your first guitar?
Jock: My first electric guitar was a Squier Bullet Strat. My Dad plays guitar so was super keen to teach me, but it hurt my fingers so much to play I got put off and didn’t pick it up again until I was about 14 or so. I wish I still had it but sadly it’s been lost to the winds of time. The Strat I play now looks pretty much the same now though so in a way I’ve come full circle on it all.
You’ve got a very powerful, no-frills kinda sound, what’s on your pedalboard at the moment?
Jock: It’s super simple and boring really. I come clean out the amp and then stack a Maxon Tube Screamer and a Crowther Hot Cake for less or more drive. I also have a Boss Chorus Ensemble that’s always running, and then an NS2 Noise Suppressor to keep things from getting too buzzy. I’m sure it could sound way better but I’m so lazy that if it works, I’m happy. I should really get someone smarter than me to help me out with it.
Do you use the same amplifier live that you do in the studio? If not, what are you bringing to the live dates?
Jock: Live I used a JCM800 head for a long time, but the guys at Marshall UK were kind enough to loan me a JVH205 head that I’ve been using for shows. It’s great- really nice cleans as well, which I missed on the JCM800. I use a 1960A cab with it too which sounds great.
What brand/gauge of strings do you use?
Jock: Whatever I can get my hands on really, I’m not super fussy about brands. I use 11’s on a short scale like the Duo Sonic and have recently switched down to 10’s on the Strats which I’m getting into. I like having a bit of looseness on the trem arm and 11’s makes it kinda hard for me to have that and keep it at a reasonable angle. I’m sure anyone with any guitar knowledge reading this would probably be able to sort that out, but as a Luddite, that’s the conclusion I’ve arrived at.
For the bassists and drummers out there can we get a quick rundown of what Billy and Will will be using for the upcoming dates?
Jock: Billy is endorsed by Natal Drums and will be using a 4-piece Walnut Originals kit (two rack toms) in the red and white colours of his beloved Arsenal. He breaks cymbals so often that it’s hard to say what he’ll use there, but probably a combination of things borrowed, rented, or stuck together with Sellotape.
According to Will he will be using “a super soaker full of Tizer plugged into a VCR”. Make of that what you will.
Question for a friend, you’re dropping ‘squealies’ [Pinch Harmonics] all over your riffs, how did you nail that technique?
Jock: It’s like the only guitar trick I can do so I lean veeery heavily on it. I think I first heard it on Slipknot’s Duality and couldn’t work out what was going on, but then some older kid showed me, and it blew my mind. I was about 15 and I kinda stopped learning anything new after that.
How do you approach your solo-ing, are you an ad lib it on the day guy or a studiously studying before the recording session kind of player?
Jock: Nah I’m nowhere near good enough to ad lib it. Maybe at one time, but I don’t practice enough anymore. I try and approach them like mini songs I guess and work out something that sticks in your head and makes it sound like I’m better at guitar than I actually am. The latter part is very important.
Do you write singing and playing at the same time or is it a case of ‘I’ve written this ridiculous riff, how the **** am I gonna sing over this now?!’
Jock: It depends really. Sometimes it’ll be the riff that leads the song and sometimes it’s a chorus idea with a melody or whatever. A lot of Puppy material is about juxtaposing those bits together, so those processes are pretty intertwined. Usually though if there’s vocals the instrumental stuff chills out a bit so it’s easier to come up with something on top of it. If it was all happening at once it would probably sound a bit mental.
You’ve just done the Maida Vale session for the Radio One Rock Show, how was it being in such a legendary studio?
Jock: It was great. We’d been there once before in 2017 to do a live to radio thing but this was the first proper session we’d done. I think a valve in my amp head died just before we were due to start so that was fun. Oh, and Will forgot his bass strap so had to do the whole thing sitting down. We’re an incredibly professional outfit.
What’s next for Puppy after the festival dates?
Jock: We’ve got some really exciting stuff lined up that we’ll be able to make some noise about soon. I can’t say anything about it right now but we’re all really excited. Keep watching the skis.
Appreciate you talking to us today, last question, have you ever been to a Dawsons Music store before? If not, fancy popping in to see us next time you’re local?
Jock: I think I may have grabbed some tour supplies while we’ve been out on the road, but I would love to pop by next time I’m in for sure. I want an 8 string if you can hook that up?
Puppy’s album ‘The Goat’ is available on Spotify and iTunes. You can catch them at ArcTanGent and Y Not Festival this summer.
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Matt is a multi-instrumentalist, music geek and current Content Creator at Dawsons Music. He composes, records and produces out of his home studio in Manchester as well as playing in two bands, China Moon and Sawbones.