In Session: Jordan Withers of Poison Noises

SCHENECTADY – The music industry, rife with innovators and entrepreneurs in various areas and select niches, is extremely diverse. Simply put, there is a lot more that goes into the business than performance. One such field exists in the world of guitar pedals and effects, and what’s more, there’s someone right in the Capital Region taking this niche focus by storm. Jordan Withers, founder of Poison Noises, has taken a rough idea that started on a lark, and built his company into something that services the needs of guitarists not only at a local level, but those that have international renown as well. There’s a veritable catalogue of internationally touring musicians who find their hands on Withers’ creations. I had the chance to sit down with Jordan this past week. What follows is our conversation.

Jordan Withers

Lucas Garrett: Well, Jordan, thank you for sitting down with me today to talk about Poison Noises!

Jordan Withers: Yeah, dude. I’m excited about it.

LG: How are you?

JW: I’m good, man. I’ve been almost mindlessly building pedals non-stop for the past month, now. Just trying to have everything ready for this big release we just announced. But it’s good. I’m excited, we’ve been planning this for eight months, or maybe even a little bit longer. We had some ideas of things we wanted to bring into this new format. Maybe even late 2021. It’s cool to see it finally come into fruition, we’re super stoked about it.

LG: What you do is not a very common thing.

JW: Haha.

LG: I’ve interviewed a lot of musicians, but I’ve never really interviewed someone on this side of the business before. What made you wake up one day and say, “I want to do that!”

JW: When I first started doing this, it must’ve been January of 2020. At the time, I was the store manager at the Guitar Center in Albany. The whole thing started with an argument I had with my roommate at the time, who is also my drummer. He was super into this one pedal we were talking about at the time. It was a fuzz pedal. I was trying to explain to him how simple of a circuit it really was, and how prices were exorbitant, blah, blah, blah. Long story short: I put in the investment at the time, which for parts I didn’t realize how cheap it was, and built one to literally prove a point, and it kind of started snowballing from there. Then, of course the pandemic hit, I dove deeper into it, and when they asked us to come back to Guitar Center, I said, “Ya know, maybe I’ll do this instead and give this a shot.” Here we are going into the third year of it now.

LG: That’s not a long time that you’ve been doing this, but in that short amount of time you’ve done some pretty cool shit!

JW: Yeah, for sure! Haha. What’s really cool, aside from the fact the community is super inviting: everyone is very appreciative of each other’s growth in the pedal community. And, there’s not a lot of stuff like that, especially when the majority of communication is on the internet. It’s crazy to think of how much we’ve done in such a short period of time right now. But we literally just don’t stop. Twenty-four-seven, this is just what I’m doing with my free time now, you know what I mean? Luckily, it is paying off.

LG: Is it just you on the pedal building aspect, or do you have more than one person doing that?

JW: As it stands right now, there’s three key members of the business. It started off with just me and Connor (Taylor). He was actually the store manager of Guitar Center in Albany before me. He was my boss and then he went to work in a different store and I took that one over. Him and I stared doing this together. The whole idea was I get to do the creative stuff and he handles all the business stuff. In my mind, that’s still the way I wish it was working. Hahaha.

Then, we onboarded Jeff (Pitcher), who is another weird Guitar Center connection. He used to be my guy when I went to Guitar Center when I was 16. He and I somehow managed to get into business together doing live audio and media and recording things altogether for another company I work for, Apex Media. We actually just did sound for GEM Fest in Glens Falls this year. Poison Noises had a booth there as well.

As it stands right now, we have seventeen different pedals we build. I build sixteen of them, and Connor builds one. Haha. That’s because “The Crook,” which is the one we have all the famous people playing, and is on the JHS show all the time, I just couldn’t keep up with the demand by myself. So, we have Connor building those out in Connecticut. I build them too, also, here and there. But most of the time, if you’re getting “The Crook,” you’re getting it from Connor, and if you’re getting anything else, you’re getting it from me. They’re all my designs.

The way it works is: I’ll put something together; I have an idea; I give it to those guys; they play it. They’ve never told me they didn’t like anything, yet. I’m lucky there! Haha. Then we talk about what we’re going to name it, how we’re going to market it, what kind of colors we’re going to do, that kind of stuff. It’s a group effort, you know?

LG: How do you learn to do something like that? I barely know anything about the mechanics of a guitar, and I’ve been doing this for eighteen years now.

JW: Haha. Before I was at Guitar Center, I went to college in New York City. I went to the Institute of Audio Research. That was for audio engineering: recording music and stuff. I was working in really cool studios, living in New York City, doing the whole thing, and then the economy kind of fell on itself. I came back here. One of the courses I took was an audio electronics class, which was like, “Let me show you how to build a little smokey amp, or build your own microphone,” type of thing. And, I’m always fixing my own guitars.

LG: I think people look at musicians and… this certainly isn’t true for me, that because I play out and write my own music, that I know everything there is to know about the ins and outs of a guitar. It’s like, “No, I know how to play guitar but…”

JW: Most of us don’t even really know how to do that. I always tell people I’ve been faking it for sixteen years! I really haven’t learned anything since, I’ve just been playing the same stuff over and over.

LG: It’s really amazing what you’re doing!

JW: Oh, thanks, man! It’s exciting at the very least. What’s really cool is it’s re-invigorated me to play guitar, too. Something they don’t really talk about when you’re working in a music retail store: sometimes you lose that passion a little bit because you’re around it all the time. Now, it’s the total polar opposite of this for me now. It’s like, “I have this idea and want my guitar to sound like this. Let me put a bunch of components in my hand and see if I can come up with something.” Then I end up getting lost in guitar for forty-five minutes. I haven’t had that since I was a teenager. It’s very, very cool.

LG: Why don’t you tell us some of the bigger people you’ve sold these pedals to?

JW: Here we go: Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra; Brendan Benson from the Raconteurs; Matt McJunkins from Poppy and A Perfect Circle; Lincoln Parish from Cage the Elephant; Joey Howard from Paramore; Jade Puget from AFI; JT Woodruff and Mark McMillon from Hawthorne Heights; Neil Westfall from A Day to Remember; Jack Oshea from Bayside; Thrasher from Escape the Fate; Kevin Devine; Dave Catching from Eagles of Death Metal; Jack Bates from Smashing Pumpkins; Julien Baker; Thao from The Get Down, Stay Down; Tony Bradley from The Distillers; John Nolan from Taking Back Sunday; Dave Immerman from Avril Lavigne; Erik Paulson from Remo Drive; Chris Demakes and Roger Lima from Less Than Jake; Ritzy Bryan from Joy Formidable; Thomas Erak from Fall of Troy; Adam Deitch from Lettuce; Vaden Todd Lewis and Doni Blair from The Toadies; Joey Santiago from The Pixies; Wes Borland from Limp Bizkit; James Bowman from Against Me!; Ian Grushka from New Found Glory; Frank Iero from My Chemical Romance.

That’s the comprehensive list of the biggest names I can think of right now.

LG: Goddamn!

JW: Hahaha. Yeah, there’s a lot of people on there! Me and my girlfriend are going to the “When We Were Young’ festival in Las Vegas. There’s eleven bands on that billing that play our stuff, so we’re going to go into Vegas and try to meet up with as many of them as we possibly can.

Her and I have just been… literally this summer has been a summer of concerts for us right now. We keep calling these people up that play my stuff and are like, “Hey, what’s going on? You’re playing Albany, what’s happening?” We’ve seen four free concerts this month just because of people playing my stuff.

LG: There’s an added bonus right there.

JW: Oh yeah. The day I figure out how to make Poison Noises pay for my record collection, that’s it, then it pays for everything. Right now, it pays for my gear, it pays for my concerts, and the day it pays for my vinyl that’s when I essentially have no expenses left in the world anymore. That’s the next step: trying to figure that out.

LG: When is the new line of Poison Noises pedals going to come out?

JW: It’ll be the first of August. We left ourselves a little under a month of what we’re calling the “Pre-Order” time. That’s just so I can make sure I have enough for everybody because sometimes we don’t…? Hahaha. With “The Crook,” in a period of four months, we sold out five times or something like that.

LG: Wow.

JW: We didn’t realize how many people in the local area, especially the Glens Falls area, were fans. We want to make sure we have enough.

LG: You’re doing great work in not a lot of time, man. It’s very impressive.

JW: I appreciate that, man. It’s a lot of work, but in comparison to my day job beforehand, it’s a dream come true. I’m also very supported that I have a lot of friends, family, and my girlfriend that when I looked at them and said, “I’m going to quit my big boy job and start making pedals in the kitchen,” they said it made sense and sounded like something I’d do. Everyone was super supportive about it. For all the people that had faith in me, Connor, and Jeff, we’re super appreciative because it’s made all this happen.

Here I am, staying up ‘til 4:00 am soldering pedals together, but I don’t think it’d happen any other way right now.

LG: I forget what I was even doing, but I tried to solder something years and said, “Nope!”

JW: Haha. That’s funny. No, I’m a lot more ambitious with my projects now. When I used to change a pickup in my guitar it used to take me three hours back in the day. Now, I’m popping them in within fifteen minutes.

LG: So, what’s next for Poison Noises?

JW: Well, we’re going to do this launch on August 1st. Without saying too much, these won’t be the last pedals to come out this year. We have prototypes and fully-functioning versions of them. You’ve got to be careful you’re not oversaturating your own market. We’d also love to move on to other products: guitar pickups are something we’ve been talking about a lot. As it stands right now, we’re just going to keep on making more pedals if we can. We’re going to try to get them into the hands of cool people, including our local people that’ve been so supportive of us.

The real thing we want to do in the future is get our stuff into more stores. I feel like we’ve totally taken over the Capital Region in terms of what stores carry our stuff – we have literally everybody and they’ve all been super cool about it. We’d like to expand and branch out into other stuff. That’s probably what’s next for us.

LG: It was really good talking to you!

JW: Absolutely, man! I appreciate you reaching out.

LG: I’ll talk to you soon.

JW: Take care, man.

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