Digging up crazy diamonds from a Troll Hole, with Cogswell Sprocket
“I think I’m up to 24 guitars now. I used to say you can never have too many guitars but I think maybe you can.”Cogswell Sprocket
Tolkien fans will know… “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
Well, this musician knows of another type of hole. This one full of pinball tables and noise making machines: it is a ‘troll-hole’ (according to his wife), and that means music! And, in listening to what comes out of there, it’s not unreasonable to imagine a healthy harvest of psilocybin mushrooms sprouting from the floor, or containers of dried peyote buttons lining the walls of his dimly lit cellar studio.
Cogswell Sprocket’s music takes you along the hidden pathways of your brain, guiding you through a tie-dyed meadow, down to a lake where Griffin’s drink. His Pink Floyd-esque guitars, hypnotic drums, rolling bass lines together with the reverb-laden, hypnotic vocals are all the ingredients needed to create the perfect psychedelic brew, best shared with the likes of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft (A Storm in Heaven era) and listeners on the popular social music platform Bandlab.
We recently spoke with Cogswell Sprocket about his adventures in life and music… let’s get into it…
Thanks for spending some time with us Cogswell Sprocket. I’ve been enjoying your music for a while now, and keen to learn more about you as an artist/ musician… first off, I’m curious about the name. How did you arrive at ‘Cogswell Sprocket’?
I’m not sure why I didn’t use my real name and image when I started posting. I guess I felt more comfortable hiding behind something when I was unsure of the process. I started out picking the image I use which is a drawing I had created while playing around with some software. This image felt futuristic which somehow led me to the Jetsons and resulted in Cogswell Sprocket. I wish I had a cooler story behind this but that’s it…
Aaah!!! I did not make that connection… and, I watched The Jetsons (though I preferred Captain Caveman) as a kid too!! I guess this is an opportunity to come out of hiding then? Do you want to tell us a bit about ‘you’ and what life looks like outside of music making?
My name is Shaun Wheeler. I’m a fairly normal person with a lovely wife and two wonderful children. We’ve been married for 31 years. Our daughter is a professor at a university in up state New York, and our son is a game designer for a large gaming company in southern California. We are so proud of both. Most of my working life I have been a contractor and early on I started changing where I lived and worked every few years. We continued this tradition after we were married. This lifestyle was super cool because it allowed us to experience multiple states, and get to know the people, places, food, and music in each. It was a blast!
Kudos for the great parenting skills Shaun! And the travelling around sounds interesting. Where have your adventures taken you?
I was born and raised in the mountains of Tennessee and have lived/worked in Florida, South Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Ohio was the end of the move around game because our son started 1st grade and we decided it would be best to settle down. After living outside of Cincinnati for 10 years we decided I would start my own business and I have been working for myself ever since. My boss is an asshole. I work in industrial automation, and I design and program the electrical systems that run manufacturing machinery. I truly love my job most days. It’s challenging and dynamic which helps keep my brain happy.
Aside from the day job, you obviously get a lot of enjoyment from music. Where does that stem from, and which bands/ artists would you say have influenced the music you create?
I can’t remember a time that I didn’t love music. My father was a music lover as well, and I have very early memories of him playing albums on his cool 1950’s hi-fi console. He played Hank Williams, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Roger Miller (I love ‘King Of The Road‘), as well as cool old gospel, the Rat Pack, etc. When I was 6 or 7, he took us to see a jazz band in a local high school and I was hooked. Santa brought me a snare drum and cymbal in this same time frame, and this was my first musical instrument. A few years later I was given my first electric guitar. While all of this was going on, my older brother started getting into Rock and Roll and it was all over. I was born in ’59, which put me in the perfect window of time to experience the growth and wonder of rock.
I could list so many bands that had a significant impact on my love of music that I don’t know where to start. Jimmy Hendrix, The Beatles, Steppenwolf, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, on and on and on. It was magical to discover and hear this music as it was created. I’m guessing when I was around 11 or 12, I realized that a neighbor two houses down had a Ludwig Drum set and we started jamming together. To prevent our parents from going insane we would take turns at who’s house we would play. This resulted in a drum set in my room for weeks at a time and was where I found my love for drums. However, guitars have always been my top love. Another amazing thing about this time in history is that concerts were so affordable. I still have a ticket stub from 1975 where I saw Kiss, Rush, and the Kids for $5 and this was the typical price. I also love the current music and there is no doubt that I’m influenced by many of these artists as well. I really like a wide range of music from Jason Isbell, Cortney Barnet, Cigarettes After Sex and Elbow to bands like Bad Flower, The Pretty Reckless, All them Witches and Porcupine Tree. In addition, I really get inspired watching younger musicians embrace good Rock and Roll. Naked Giants doing ‘Slow Dance II’ on YouTube is a perfect example of what I think playing music should look like. It makes me smile every time.
A number of very cool artists mentioned there – a friend of mine gave me the Porcupine Tree ‘Signify’ album years ago, a double vinyl. I wish I still had it!! Some of your tracks remind me of the Verve’s early work… they were a local band for me here in the UK, and very popular in the early/ mid ’90s. Are you familiar with them?
I love the Verve! There are some songs that takes me to a place and time. ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ is one of these for me. When ever I hear it I am instantly back in Alabama working on putting tiles on our bathroom floor. Odd but true. I bet it was amazing seeing them in local venues when they were getting started.
You’ve got some pretty cool instruments there, and I was particularly drawn to the old reel-to-reel in the image behind you there – can you tell us about your collection?
I have played around with creating and recording music for a long time. When I worked in South Carolina in the early 80’s I purchased the Teac 4 track reel to reel from a coworker. This was when I first began recording my music – however, I haven’t recorded on it in a long time. As I traveled from place to place there was always a coworker or friend that had some cool instrument or device that they wanted to sell for cheap. In Connecticut, I purchased a cool Akia synthesizer from a coworker which started my love for keyboards. In Wisconsin, again a coworker and friend had a 6-piece Rogers drum set that I couldn’t pass on. At this point I had guitars, a bass, synth, and drum set, and I love working with all of these when creating music.
There looks to be some pretty interesting guitars down there in the ‘troll hole’. How many are you keeping down there?
I think I’m up to 24 guitars now. I used to say you can never have too many guitars but I think maybe you can.
I would probably put my 1987 American standard Strat as the love of my life in guitar terms. I bought this new in ’87 at a small music store in Pittstown PA, and it’s always played like a dream. Also, most of my guitar heroes have played Stratocasters and I just love the feel you can get out of this lovely instrument.
Another cool one is a late 70’s/early 80’s Ibanez ST1200 double neck. I picked this one up a pawn shop in Pennsylvania. I think the shop was in a little town called Towanda. Anyway, I owned this for probably 6 years and ended up trading it to my older brother for an SG200 that I had to have. My wife was not happy because she loved the Ibanez. Earlier this year my brother came to visit, and we traded back after ~20 years. After giving the double neck much love (Shimmed and adjusted both necks, repaired some damage around the input jack and added some shielding) it is so fun to play. I’m so happy to have it home. Also, it has 4 super 70 pickups which are amazing and most like worth more than the guitar.
As for the really special guitars, which I mentioned earlier in the interview, the Strat that my lifelong friend left me when he passed away holds a real place in my heart. I’m hesitant to play this one and I’m not even sure why. He hung himself while in the hospital being treated for Pancreatitis and Covid and I still struggle to get my head around this. In addition, the two wonderful and beautiful Daion’s that my brother gave me this year will always hold a special place in my heart. One of them is called ‘The 78B’ and the other is ‘The 82’. What amazing and beautiful instruments.
Another one with a cool story is my Gibson ES-135. I had gone to Guitar Center to look at an Epiphone Wildkat because I though they looked cool. While checking the Epiphone out a one-legged gentleman that was shopping walked up to me and told me not buy that piece of crap. He took me over the this beat up ES-135 that they had just put out. End of story… and I will always be thankful to the one-legged man. I wish I could see him again and let him know how much I appreciate this. What a great guitar!
I also need to mention the guitar that I’ve owned the longest. It’s an old Sigma Acoustic that has been my friend forever. I’m guessing when I was 19, I dropped it and broke the head off the neck. I glued it back on with some Elmer’s glue and it still plays nicely. I think there was some quaaludes involved in this event which kept me from being real upset when it happened. Probably should keep this part out of the story. I love looking at all of the wear on this one and knowing it was all done by me.
The following are my favorite ones to play other than the ones listed above:
Eastwood airline 59 3P which is so cool and retro with 1000 switches and pots (I may be exaggerating a bit). It has a super cool sound and is a true pleasure to play.
An Antoniotsai, handmade tele guitar with the most beautiful inlays. I grabbed this one on Ebay before he got very noticed, and I am almost ashamed of how cheap it was. It is truly amazing.
My old trusty Fender Jazz bass (MIM). I picked this one up in Alabama in the ’90s and I play it all of the time. It’s a dream and oddly enough I never pulled the film from the pickguard, so it looks a bit odd because it’s curling up at the edges and looks goofy. However, since it’s been on there for over 20 years, I just can’t take it off now.
Schecter Jeff Loomis Signature flying V. – One of those deals that you just can’t pass on (I think it was a little of $200.00). A true rock machine. If I feel like some great feedback and crazy rock, this is the guitar.
Finally, I purchased a beautiful piece of crap Grote from Ebay last year. However, it is so beautiful and after replacing the machine heads, pickups and wiring it is a great guitar. It’s kind of a Les Paul type guitar and works well for the harder rock kind of songs.
Wow!! That’s an incredible collection! I need to work on mine after reading this! Interesting note about the inexpensive guitars being super valuable…. my favourite guitar is also the cheapest one I’ve ever bought. And it’s debatable whether vocals are classed as an instrument, or not. But you do sing, and often almost apologetically, or with a caveat for the listener, which I think isn’t necessary at all. I think it’s the vocals that led me to associate your work with that of the Verve.
I do attempt to sing in a lot of my work, but it would probably be better if I just skipped that part. I really love vocals in music, so I add them even though I know my voice isn’t very pleasant. It would be so cool to have an amazing voice and vocal range, but it is what it is.
I’m with you on that… vocals certainly aren’t my forte, yet despite that there’s often something swirling around inside my head that I feel I have to get out, it can’t be avoided sometimes. What compels you to create Shaun… where does your motivation and inspiration come from?
I think my primary motivation to create is simply my love of playing. I’ve been playing music since the 60’s, however I haven’t had any official training. I can read guitar tabs but that’s about the extent of my technical ability with music. I typically have little interest in trying to learn a song that someone else has done. I love to pick up an instrument and just start playing and see what falls out. I would probably be a much better musician if I spent more time learning how others play and sometimes, I wonder if I’m just to lazy to go through the process. However, I’m sure that in more cases than I realize, I’m influenced by what I’ve been listening to prior to starting to record. It’s very rare for me to think about what I want to do before I start recording, and even rarer for me to decide to do a cover.
How would you describe the music that you typically create and is there a particular genre that you associate with the most?
I think most of my music is kind of a dark psychedelic trippy mess. However, I really like doing the occasional song that’s just an acoustic guitar and vocals or synth and vocals, but I guess in hindsight these end up a bit trippy as well. As for genre I mostly associate with rock and typically pick this genre on postings even if it doesn’t feel like rock. I’m just not sure where else they would fit. When looking at the comments on my projects, Pink Floyd is the most common comparison that I hear. I do love the way Gilmore plays a guitar. Also, I spent a lot of time back in Tennessee last year caring for my mom. This is when I discovered the looper and how cool it was to just have a phone, some headphones, and an acoustic guitar. I have a few songs from these times that are different due to the environment. These will always be special because of the memories which are highlighted by background noises like crickets, air conditioner, cars, and trains. These are also some of the darker pieces that I’ve done.
Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process, and perhaps a few key lessons you’ve learned whilst making music – how has your approach developed over the years?
I really started putting consistent effort into recording when my youngest went to college. At this time in our lives my wife and I started a tradition of spending Friday and Saturday nights hanging out together, having some drinks and listening to great music. She will typically call it a night around 11:00 and I will head down to my ‘troll hole’, as my wife likes to describe it, and start playing. In most cases I pick an instrument, and a time signature and just start playing. After this I go for another instrument and build from the first track. The process normally starts with the bass or guitar, then the drums, then bass or guitar and finally vocals and synths.
The vocal and lyrics process is pretty much like the instrumental process. I just start singing and go for the flow of the sound as I make up words on the fly. During this process I end up with a flow that I like and will pick out something in the words that gets my attention and try to build the lyrics from there. When I first started this tradition, I would use canned drum tracks as a starting point, and this is probably the biggest change over the last year or so. I rediscovered my love of playing drums and this changed my music because of the sequence of building from the guitar, bass or synth and adding the drums later in the process. I have found that the first instrument that I start with has a noticeable impact on the song. Another change that I’ve made over the last months is to sit on the song and try my best to clean it up and minimize the mistakes and refine the lyrics before publishing. Prior to this I would think that what I had done was the greatest thing ever and I would go ahead and call it done and publish it. I would wake up the next morning and be horrified by the mess I had put out there and in a lot of cases pull it. I realized this was due to the Friday night having some drinks part of the story. I have found that intoxication makes my music sound amazing to me.
So big change there on waiting, learning, and cleaning up the song before putting it out. The other benefit of this is that I know how to play the song a week later. Sadly, I’m never successful at getting rid of all the mistakes. I like to blame this on too many tracks to try and get them all correct. In reality, I’m a bit sloppy when it comes to my playing, but I do like the feelings that I get when listening to my songs. It would be cool if I had a few great musicians hiding in a closet that I could get out whenever I wanted and make them do my bidding. Such is life. Another thing I like to do while recording is to dim the lights and turn on cool colored lights to set the mood (It makes me feel like a rock star).
Yes to the coloured lights… got to have that ambience when jamming out!! Glad it’s not just me then! And, from those dimly lit jam sessions, what would you say have been the most pleasing or proudest moments for you?
Not much to say here, however it does make me proud when someone from around the world requests a way to download some of my music so they can listen to it while driving around. I find it really cool that someone is listening to my stuff on a CD player in Russia. Also, being asked to participate in this interview is super cool and I really appreciate that.
Similarly, what have been the most challenging moments to date in your music making?
As far as music goes, I think learning to interact socially on the internet has been my biggest challenge. I have always avoided places like Facebook, twitter, etc. (I am confident that they make the world a less happy place). Bandlab was my first real plunge into this kind of interaction, and I don’t feel like I do very well with it. Hopefully I will get better over time. As I look at all the interactions going on it just confuses me. In addition, I don’t feel very good about trying to promote my work. That just doesn’t fit with my base personality.
How do you fill your time when you’re not making music or designing electrical systems for industrial machinery, (if there is any time left)?
My wife, children and pets are my life. Also, I love working with my hands whether it’s art, repairing stuff around the house or wood working. In the last few years, I started renovating old pinball machines as well as trying to do luthier stuff on my guitars. My older brother has motivated me on the luthier thing, and I find it fascinating and cool. However, I won’t touch any of the guitars that are really special to me. I do have a bit of a guitar fetish and have a few that were given to me that are priceless because of the giving and the story behind the guitar. My lifelong friend, cousin and the person I learned to play the guitar with passed away last year and he had asked his family to make sure I was given his mid 70’s Strat. For me, this is an example of a truly priceless guitar along with the beautiful Daion’s that my brother has given me in the last year.
That’s a beautiful gesture, and my deepest sympathies Shaun. Hopefully you can put that ’70s Strat to good use. Are you working on anything new at the moment?
Over the last few months since I started sitting on and cleaning up my songs, I always have something that I am working on and excited about. The current song feels different than my usual which I am striving for and hopefully it will come out that way.
Well thanks once again for sharing your stories with us Shaun… I’m blown away by the guitar collection, envious of the Teac R2R and excited to hear what you’ve got cooking up. Is there anything else you want to add that we’ve not covered?
I think your work at IAMUR is great and I just want to thank you for your efforts. You have turned me on to some really cool artists and your articles are top notch, so thank you for that.