Pedal-Head: A Conversation with Aisha Loe

Words by Jasmine Bourgeois
Photo courtesy Aisha Loe

Aisha Loe is a 44-year-old, California-based musician who grew up in a blue-collar family living in Santa Cruz, Karachi, Pakistan, and River Edge, New Jersey. Loe works as a solo artist, was one half of all-girl electronic darkwave band, Addicted 2 Fiction, and also produces custom guitar pedals called LOE Pedals. Though primarily a bass player, she also plays guitar, saxophone, and has been working with Ableton since the first version. She also does sound effects for film and TV. Some of her work can be heard in the Fast & Furious franchise.

Loe sees a connection between building pedals and taking a DIY ethic to electronic music-making. For her, building your own effects and learning how to program is all about empowerment and freedom. “Back in the nineties, when I started doing virtual MIDI programming, I experienced the same lack of female peers on the Ableton forums. Now many, many women are rocking Ableton,” she says. “I love to see that. I’m hoping that more women will get into building effects in the near future.” She also wants to one day launch a class for girls to build their own equipment; so that they can “understand what makes the sounds we like to hear,” she explains. “I myself have only scratched the surface of what is possible when you have the ability to make any sound you want without the aid of computers.”

We spoke with Loe further about boutique pedals, selling pot, collaborating with yourself, and the importance of practice spaces.

Tom Tom: Could you tell me about what boutique pedals are and the process of building them?

Aisha Loe: When I hear the term boutique pedals, to me it just means they are expensive! This is part of why I decided to just start building my own. I haven’t really had the interest to design circuits so far. I just love to build them and come up with useful combinations for my recordings. It was also a way to be able to access pedals from ages past that are long out-of-production. I am and have always been absolutely obsessed with analog circuits. The Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man is still my favorite pedal of all time. I was lucky enough to spend a day with Howard “Mick” Davis (the creator of this circuit) several years ago, and that really got me thinking about starting to build my own effects. Now, I build just about every circuit I can find, just to learn and hear more sounds.

Could you expand on how you see the connection between building effects and the work you do with that fundamental, basic collaboration aspect of making music?

Building effects for me is very personally motivated. Since I am a solo artist these days, it’s really about making the sounds I need in order to collaborate with myself! I live in an area where I am finding it very, very hard to find collaborators with open minds. It’s very tech here in the Bay Area nowadays. In fact, I started diving deeply into this pedal-building thing after moving here, because I was frankly bored of making music by myself and wanted a new challenge. I have a good job up here, so I was able to afford parts and tools for my workbench. It’s here in my studio apartment that I share with my wife, who is also an artist (she designs the art for my pedals). I am trying to move back to Los Angeles, eventually, where I have an amazing group of talented friends who inspire me to collaborate. I am also grateful to have had this time away from it to really get the hang of this building stuff. I have built over 200 pedals; now I just need a space to set them all up and get inspired!

I’d love to hear more on your thoughts on being a working class musician.

I started working when I was 14. I worked at a Domino’s Pizza and saved up for my first real guitar. My mom had to put a roof over our heads and feed us on one income, so I never let her buy me any gear besides my very first guitar. Me, my brothers, and my other musician friends would all work at food places, so we could eat for free and not have to spend money on food. We shared everything with each other. It was pretty awesome to grow up in a house where all the siblings played, and played together.

Me and my brother started selling weed to kids at school when I was 16. That really helped us afford amps, guitars, drums, pedals, and whatnot. In fact, if it wasn’t for cannabis, I might not have been able to access any of the things I have done in my life. I worked as a bike messenger for a cannabis delivery service when I was living in New York City, for years. I made a great living, and got to know the city in this beautiful, intimate way that I am truly grateful for. I had flexibility for gigs —I was in three bands at the time—money for my several rents, and I had freedom. Now that I am living in California, this is no longer an option for me as it is legal here and therefore not as profitable.

So, I went back to working in food. Cooking is a lot like mixing music. There’s a balance there that to me directly correlates. I absolutely love cooking for a living and can’t imagine my life without it. However, it ain’t easy money. We work twice as hard for a lot less in the food industry. It’s really a shame that the people who make our food get paid so little. Farmers make even less. They have the hardest job in the world, in my opinion.

As I touched on before, I think it’s important to include something about access to studios. Places to play music out loud are rapidly disappearing from our landscape, or are becoming so expensive that we can no longer afford to play. The places that are left are in terrible neighborhoods, where women and men could be easily attacked if they are on foot, as many musicians are in the cities. I would love to see some of these tech “philanthropists” who are music lovers put their money into creating affordable rehearsal facilities, especially for low-income female/queer/different folks who are the most at risk for being attacked at night. Especially walking or public transit-ing home with their gear. I can’t tell you how many times I hear my musician friends saying that they don’t rehearse. Shows are their rehearsals. How are we supposed to produce quality music if we can’t rehearse? To me, it shows. I have yet to see a local band that really stands out to me. I can easily tell when a band is under-rehearsed, and that’s a shame, because some of them actually have really good material, but no place to go suss it out properly.

This interview was originally published in issue 34, buy it at our shop here!


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