Josh Smith – Northlane ‘Guitar Discoveries of Intuition’

Johs Smith Pro Series Signature Josh Smith SoloistTM SL7 ET, Ebony Fingerboard

“We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don’t. I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.”Henry Rollins.

The above quote from the Punk Mogul and Godfather of DIY reads more as advice from his career as a spoken word performer than the manic hardcore front-man for titans of the hardcore genre Black Flag; yet the message upholds infinite strength. There are countless instances of luminaries who faced career-breaking rejection only to turn the negative around to become heroes in their pursuit, a prime example being arguably the best basketball player in history Michael Jordan, who was famously rejected from his high school varsity team. A large percentage of the Earth’s population is aware of what transpired after that historical “failure”.

Sydney’s progressive metalcore juggernaut Northlane’s guitarist and band manager Josh Smith is familiar with rejection, especially in regards to his schooling days. Having recently unleashed the JOSH SMITH SOLOIST™ SL7 ET model he helped craft with Jackson guitars, the notion that Josh was actually considered practically ineligible for proper music tutelage in his youth seems unfathomable. As he reminisces on his past, the story that unfolds is truly remarkable.

“As a kid I was probably really annoying, I did well academically and in sport, one of those ‘good at everything types’.” He admits with an almost comic tone – “But I was SUCH a slow learner when I picked up the guitar. In fact I was absolutely useless at it, in fact I was SO bad that my first guitar teacher, after about 18 months of trying to get me to play the most basic things with any sort of mild success decided that it was best for him to dedicate his time to other students, and he dropped me.”

“Everything was hard. Proving him wrong was the biggest motivator for my career. It’s what put the fire in my belly. These days I just woodshed what I need to play until I can play it.” 

Resembling Mr Rollins’ aforementioned statement, Mr Smith learned much more, to astronomical levels. As an instrumentalist and manager, a quick revision of Northlane’s achievements justifies the learning and hard work aptitude that Josh and his fellow New South Welshmen put into their outfit with deserved successes. Three ARIA awards, an AIR award and a further 10 nominations with the National Live Music Awards, Heavy Music Awards, ARIAs, AIRs and J Awards – the acknowledgements are beyond astonishing. The sixth studio album released in 2022 Obsidian was done completely independently adding an element of near immeasurable dignity and gratification to the band’s incredible work ethic.

Obsidian was a tough record to make as it was written and recorded during COVID, and carries that fog a bit for me as someone who was involved with the project, there’s a lot of hard memories from the process.” Josh admits in a slightly anguished yet thankful tone, before continuing: “We are very grateful of our fans for sticking by us through that period, and we feel privileged to see the band go from strength to strength since it’s release. It hit number one in Australia, had an ARIA and J award nomination, and the Obsidian Tour of Australia was our biggest on record. I look forward to taking it overseas next year. Being on the reigns as the band’s manager and also releasing independently made it feel like an even bigger achievement and it’s something we are sincerely proud of.”

Michael Jordan collaborated with shoe company royalty Nike to construct the Air Jordan model may years ago; whilst this is not quite on the same wavelength, as previously stated Josh Smith has collaborated with famed metal guitar company Jackson Guitars to create the Soloist SL7 model, an incredible feat undoubtedly. It is intriguing to discover though, how this relationship with such an iconic heavy music guitar brand came about?

“I was asked about this a number of years ago. Many people were looking for something similar to what I was playing and I was often asked about when a signature model would be available. Eventually the chorus grew too loud to ignore. Initially Jackson suggested doing a limited custom shop run. I actually turned that offer down, for me it was important that I could introduce a guitar of this spec to someone on a lower budget than that, I wanted it to be accessible to more people in both numbers produced and price. Pro series was the best compromise where the build was still of roadworthy quality that I’d put my name on, but at a price point many would be able to afford.’ Josh discloses with an infectious sincerity – “That being said, the spec is absolutely premium and a very easy culmination to make of all the Custom shop and USA Jackson guitars I’ve played over the last decade, beginning with the first B7’s I tinkered with around 2013. I’ve refined what works for me over the years and the result of that being boiled down with style is my SL7.”

To wholeheartedly confess the honour that it is to be involved with the guitar company that inherently pioneered the heavy metal guitar design would still to a degree, be very understated. Quiet Riot‘s Randy Rhoads was in turn an architect to the equipment and evolution of physical style that transformed appearance, sound and the demographic of not only the guitars, but the players as well as the company that is still holding strong after 40 years; a true historical artefact of heavy metal music. With this knowledge, it plagued this writer to understand how Josh felt about being a part of such a monumental and historical company and that his input is an integral part of their future?

“Yeah it’s certainly a trip and for a minute, I had imposter syndrome about it, but I’ve worked extremely hard for a very long time to get where I am, and I’ve always repped the brands that supported me best I could. I’ve had a successful career in music and if Jackson sees value in that, then I’m stoked to be a part of their story. More importantly if other players are wanting to get their tools on the stuff I’m using, it’s awesome to be able to offer that.”

The Jackson guitar family is immense and imposing undoubtedly: Jeff LoomisMick ThomsonScott IanRob Caggiano and many more incite neck dislocation and ravenous energy from their listeners with admiration exceeding comprehension at times. Would you include yourself in that aficionado realm? What was your first interaction with Jackson Guitars?

“Oh yes! To most of them actually.” Josh professes eagerly – “I grew up listening to Slipknot and Machine Head so those bands hold a special place in my heart. The early Nevermore records were super important to me as well so having both Jeff Loomis and Chris Broderick on the line-up is huge as well. I think my first interaction with Jackson was seeing them on the walls of the music shops I used to go in and annoy the staff of as a kid for something to do with my mates. The Rhoads was iconic to me especially – other players that you hadn’t mentioned I’d grew up admiring played that guitar too – Alexi Laiho (Children Of Bodom) in his early days, Andreas Kisser of Sepultura especially. In one of his eras the late Jeff Hanneman (Slayer) played Jackson too. I was a kid who grew up on metal and Jackson was the most metal brand there was.”

The subsequent interaction for Mr Smith with these seminal guitars was of a more personal and professional nature. When Northlane was still in an infancy to some regard and on tour overseas with Chicago’s Veil of MayaJosh’s guitar fractured past repair. It just so happened that this would become the proper connection with Jackson; this scribe, therefore, found it essential to ask what that experience was like all those years ago?

“I got it right at the end of the tour. It was a stock, off the shelf B7. I swapped out the pickups for some Bareknuckle and took it to work about a week later on our headline tour in Australia. By then I had a second one too, it was neck through. They were both brilliant, they held tune extremely well and sounded way different to what I was used to but I relished it. The aspect I really fell in love with which was completely new to me was the B7 necks, and this is something I’ve carried directly onto my SL7. They were a thin to medium C shape, and had compound radius fretboards with a bit of a wider neck spacing.” Mr Smith advises with the enlightenment of a scientist – “I felt that for me it was the missing ingredient I’d always been looking for since I found the 27” scale. I have pretty big hands and I just felt so much more comfortable on these necks, and played so much cleaner. Chording was easier down the bottom, I had space to play everything with accuracy while throwing my body around a stage, and the top of the board was perfect for leads. The way it transitioned was seamless. It was far more suited to the big string gauges I use and I’ve never turned back.”

The evolution of the quintet’s sound is mesmerising. The last two full-lengths: Al1en and Obsidian have breathtakingly incorporated electronica amongst a magnificent metalcore recipe with djent moments interwoven to really highlight the individuality and brilliance of the now four-piece. With the return of live music and touring to nearly the full ability after the pandemic worldwide – what happens next for these NSW music innovators? A tour with The Prodigy perhaps?

“Oh I would love to tour with TheProdigy, they’re one of my favourite artists and absolutely kill it live.” Josh reveals with glee – “We love collabs but I think the next Northlane release is going to need another departure, and loud guitars are calling us back.”

At times, rejection is the ‘Firestarter’ and then learning is ‘The Calling’.

Interview by Will Oakeshott IG:@teenwolfwill

PRO SERIES SIGNATURE JOSH SMITH SOLOIST™ SL7 ET

Josh Smith and his new sig rig!

Get a closer look at the new PRO SERIES SIGNATURE JOSH SMITH SOLOIST™ SL7 ET here

Features

  • 27” scale
  • Alder body with through-body caramelized maple neck and graphite reinforcement
  • 12”-16” compound radius ebony fingerboard with 24 jumbo frets
  • Signature Bareknuckle Josh Smith Impulse single coil neck pickup and humbucking bridge pickup
  • Evertune F7® bridge
  • Available in aquamarine finish

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About Will Oakeshott (50 Articles)
Funny bloke, writer, Journalist, Vocalist, bit of acting, music, comedy and dad joke lover. Love: music, beer, bodyboarding, movies, books.