THE DORK REPORT :: dr.rift

by Paige Drobot 

Stylus Magazine interviewed Kyle Halldorson, the artist and producer behind Winnipeg’s Dr. Rift, about the instruments and inspiration he uses to create music.

Stylus: I hope everyone is ready for a nerdy conversation between guitarists. Let’s get right into it!    What was your first guitar, and when did you start playing?   What were you listening to then?

Kyle: A Squire (by Fender) Strat was my first guitar, gifted by my parents. It must have been in grade … 7 that I received that.

I actually started playing around with my Dad’s guitar at age 11.

What did I listen to?? Hmmm … a mish-mash of Finger Eleven, Pearl Jam, I Mother Earth, Soundgarden, Chumbawumba, Big Shiny, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Nine Inch Nails, Big Shiny Tunes 1 & 2. That “Now” compilation … can’t remember what volume. The one with Bitch by Meredith Brooks hah.

S: I also did the years of playing around on Dad’s guitar before getting my own!  

Ooo, the soundtrack of our time. What a time to grow up, eh? Seeing the last rock bands on TV. Singing incomprehensibly like we came full circle back to “Papa Oom Mow Mow.” 

I know you have a very sentimental guitar in your collection; can you tell me more about that?

K: Well, the fact that I still have that first Squire is pretty sentimental. But at this point, a black Fender Strat, which was my father’s, is the most sentimental. He passed on February 7th, 2022. Since he was also the reason I started playing guitar, playing it feels very becoming. That, and it plays beautifully.

S: If my first guitar had been a Squier Strat, I probably wouldn’t sell.  ….   My Dad had a thing for Washburn (!?), so my first guitars are essentially worthless.   

Your Dad wins the Cool Dad award today. I’m so glad for you that you can play his guitar and feel some connection to him whenever you want! 

What about amps? Do you prefer a tube amp or a solid state? What are you using now? 

K: I’m just barely coming into knowing what gear I prefer or what works best. I was rolling with a Traynor tube head/stack forever until recently when I also inherited my Dad’s vintage Music Man solid state. Upon a quick search, it also has power tubes. 

I’ve been using that for recording my albums and playing live (for both dr.rift and Dizzy Mystics), and for me, it’s the best tone and clarity I’ve played with.

S: OOO, those are both nice. Those old Music Man amps get the Fender cleans! Traynor stack is a beast. 

dr.rift has been recording an album?! I know that this is music that you did extensive pre-production for, with really detailed demos, with you on most of the parts.    How has the transition from the collaborative writing of Dizzy Mystics to the “I’m in charge era” been going so far?

K: Well, the first Dizzy Mystics album started out the same way. I was alone or “in charge” before I knew who would be in the band. Now that Dizzy Mystics is working on album two as a collaborative unit, it’s nice to have the start of dr.rift acts as my outlet to let my own ideas layer up naturally without worrying about writing parts for other people. My friend Edward Oakes (who drums on the dr.rift album) also wrote some beats without songs attached, in which it inspired a song out of me.

Not to say dr.rift will forever be just me writing absolutely everything in the future. It would be nice to write the primary core of the song and have others write their respective instruments if I’m stuck on writing for such instruments. Collaboration is beautiful.

S: Oh! I didn’t know that! I thought you had always been a unit!   

Oh, definitely. It is so good to have an outlet to let loose. That is interesting, to be honest; so many other kinds of music are written with drum beats outwards, so why not? That is one of those “the best ideas are right in front of your nose. I’m inspired by that.  

The riff that I will include in this issue is the lead that comes in after the beautiful finger-picked intro of your song “From My Hands.” This is such a familiar and time-tested structure for progressive rock, right out of the Yes bible.    

When did you write that song? When did you write your FIRST song ever?

K: I’d love to dig into what you mean by this further! Since my head was so in the moment of creating this, I couldn’t really tell what type of structures I was working with or if they were familiar. I love hearing unbiased and musically knowledgeable thoughts on what I write! I do know that there is an approachable and “semi-standard” feel to From My Hands/Fleeting. Also, I adore early Yes (the Yes Album through to Going for the One especially). Major, major inspiration.

I wrote that song in 2021 and perfected parts later in 2022. It all came to me very quickly.

My first song(s) ever, more just sections of songs, came as early as grade school in childhood. The first song I wrote and was proud enough to share was probably in grade 10ish.

S: I don’t mean like, “I’m calling you out for ripping off  early, YES !” I mean, YES…. The acoustic guitar goes all intricate and soft for a minute (or ten), and then boom, the bass comes in with a massive riff.  

Those ’60s and ’70s prog bands were being really dorky about things, though, borrowing from European “classical” compositional practices … if you want to get into it … crickets … 

Do you utilize non-standard tuning? There are moments in your acoustic guitar playing reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s freaky tunings. Whenever I hear people doing that, I imagine all the time spent sitting , messing around and living that tuning.   When my instrument is tuned differently, it feels like a different instrument, one that I don’t have an intimate relationship with yet.    

K: Actually … I’ve really just been writing and playing in E standard and drop D. Other than that, just random capo placements, which does bring new writing inspiration. 

Dizzy Mystics covering Soundgarden many times brought in many wacky tunings to play with, but from that, I really only wrote something in E standard with the low E dropped to B (Rusty Cage tuning).

I look forward to dabbling in much more unorthodox tunings, especially in reading how Joni Mitchell continually finds inspiring new ideas. I get those same feelings from playing around and writing on my Mandolin.

S: If you had unlimited money and power, and there was peace on earth, what gear would you buy? Absolute dream rig?

K: I would spend all day, stress-free, playing different guitars through different amps/pedals to be able to answer that, and then I would splurge. I used to want an Orange amp only because it seemed to be trendy with my interests. The Mars Volta, The Fall of Troy, and High On Fire use them, so they seem to push clarity through clean and heavy tones. If there are colourful leads and weird chords ringing through loud and clear, then that’s where I’m looking gear-wise.

S: Follow your heart, eh? Very rational answer!  

I think the trick to pushing through with anything is just leaving some headroom and not being afraid to crank it when it’s your turn to get on top of the mix. I also find the size of the band is proportionate to the amount you need to crank it.   

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