Musicians building their own instruments is nothing new, but Nothing More have taken things to the next level with The Scorpion Tail: a 400-pound, 14-foot-tall monstrosity that was constructed and conceptualized by the band's bassist Daniel Oliver. Built from metal scraps including salvaged car and motorcycle parts, the instrument allows the group's intrepid frontman Jonny Hawkins to use Ableton software to manipulate — in real time — his vocals, as well as his bandmates' guitar and bass effects (which are connected via MIDI using the instruments' Axe-Fx signal).
Then there's the automotive spring that catapults the whole thing into the air, which Hawkins controls with a series of levers when he isn't banging on the kick and snare drums. You can witness The Scorpion Tail in all its glory and absurdity this fall, as Nothing More will be dragging the beast around with them as they tour behind their recently released fifth album, The Stories We Tell Ourselves.
Below, the mad musical scientist himself, Daniel Oliver, reveals what inspired his creation ... and how he brought it to life.
WHAT IN THE WORLD INSPIRED YOU TO INVENT A THING LIKE THE SCORPION TAIL?
DANIEL OLIVER It started with the idea of trying to replace this little stupid MIDI controller that Jonny had that looked like a video game controller. I was trying to make something out of steel that could give big visual representations of the music. The Scorpion Tail was built to manipulate the guitar, vocal and bass kind of like the way a DJ would manipulate a recorded track with like dive bombs and stuff like that; it's like a Dubstep machine. I just wanted to make something heavy that takes a lot of energy to move around that Jonny can wrestle with onstage. But at the end of the day I also wanted it to be a musical instrument that makes sense with Jonny's movements so the audience can also see that the way he moves is causing the music that they hear.
WHAT'S YOUR BACKGROUND AS FAR AS METALWORK?
I started welding about six years ago, so haven't really been doing it that long. I had a couple of automotive friends who were like, "You've got to learn how to weld, it makes things so much easier, you're going to love it." At the time I was super broke so I put it off but once I finally had a friend show me the ropes I fell in love with it. The thing that kind of pushed me over the edge to start learning was the idea to make a spinning bass stand — I knew there was only one way to build that and it's not out of wood. So that's where I started and that was the first thing I ever built. A lot of the welds were horrible at first and I had to cut a bunch of stuff off, but once I jump head-first into a project I get really into it.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, IT TOOK YOU OVER SIX MONTHS TO BUILD THE SCORPION TAIL. WERE NOTHING MORE TAKING A BREAK WHILE YOU WERE DEDICATING YOURSELF TO CREATING IT?
No, I actually built it while we were writing and recording [The Stories We Tell Ourselves] but since it was a self-produced record I knew it would take a long time and I didn't have to be there for everything. I knocked all of my bass tracks out early in the back lounge when we were on the Disturbed tour and when we got home I was pretty much just in the garage. Every now and then [guitarist] Mark [Vollelunga] would pop in and be like, "Hey man, can you come sing some harmonies?" I hold the record for going from blue-collar to rock star; I think it's one minute. I've been in parking lots outside of arenas fixing something [on The Scorpion's Tail] and then I'll just run it to the stage and put my bass on and we go.
THAT BRINGS US TO MY LAST QUESTION: DO YOU EVER REGRET MAKING THIS THING?
I think I've been saying that every day for months. [Laughs] I'm not a programmer so the actual MIDI brain was built by somebody else and I had to pay somebody to do the wiring as well just because I was flat out of time coming into the tour and wiring isn't my forte. I literally have just been stressing out for like the last three weeks, working on it every day trying to get all this wiring stuff right. I regret building it a lot, but it's also become a child of mine. I look at it and I'm like, "I don't know where the hell this came from. I don't know how I did this." It just kind of blows my mind that there's this thing onstage that's kind of this extension of me. I'm getting used to it but I'm not totally used to it at all.