"So, who are your influences?'' It's a question that reads so
platitudinous in music magazines that it feels hackneyed no
matter how cleverly disguised. Fortunately, one needn't even ask
Johnny Christ of Avenged Sevenfold. A quick spin through the
ten tracks of Hail to the King, his band's sixth album, leaves
little to the imagination. The album plays like a joyride through
the hard rock airwaves circa ’'91, as reverberations of Duff
McKagan and Rex Brown rattle the chassis and reflections of
Cliff Burton flicker like flares in the rearview.
The band as taken lumps for wearing its influences on its tattooed
sleeves, with Machine Head frontman Robb Flynn going so
far as to satirically congratulate the band on its successful “covers
album.” Haters will hate, but there’s a whole lot to love about Hail
to the King, which marks a new stage for a band that got its start
as a Southern California metalcore outfit and has grown into one
of the biggest hard rock acts on the planet. For his part, Christ
parades his influences loudly and proudly, taking as much pride
in shaping his own tone as he does in meticulously crafting “just-right”
bass lines in the molds of his heroes.
There are a few moments on the new album when the bass
really jumps out, but that’s clearly not your highest priority.
Many of your peers would agree that’s the measure of
a proper bass player.
Thank you for saying so. Especially when you’re talking heavy
metal and hard rock, that’s where the bass needs to be—locking
down with the groove most of the time. There are moments to show
you can play—or, more importantly, to accentuate a part of a song.
Whether it’s bass or any other instrument, I want to orchestrate
parts so you could hear the song a million times without But
stepping all over the vibe of a song just to say, “I’m
still here” is just not my M.O. these days.
In the AX7 setting, how do you go about
dialing in your sound?
At first, I was going about it wrong, looking for
lots of low end—more felt than heard. When we
started working with [producer] Mike Elizondo
on Nightmare, I played a lot of Rickenbackers and
P-Basses. Those basses have a lot of low midrange,
and that really helps hold it down—the bass blends
well with the kick drum, and at the same time it adds
a really cool texture to the guitars. So, upper bass
and lower midrange frequencies have become really
important for me. In this kind of setting, the guitars
are going to sound the way they sound. But take the
bass out and they’re not going to sound right. I’m
basically looking for the best way to maximize the
impact of the guitars.
How has your playing technique changed
When I started with Avenged Sevenfold, some
of my favorite bass sounds came from Duff McKagan.
He played with a pick, so I started doing the
same. On our earlier records, there was a progressive
element in our songs, and the pick gave my
tone the slice and presence I wanted. I also grew
up listening to [fingerstyle players] Steve Harris
and Robert Trujillo. Being on tour and seeing those
guys actually play made me think, Okay, I’m kind
of cheating here. So I started to develop that side
of my playing. Now I play either with a pick or with
my fingers, depending on the sound I want. On this
record, “Heretic” is a song that seemed to want a
dirtier type of bass tone, so I used a pick on that.
I’ve played with a pick since I was 12 years old, so
it’s been an accomplishment in itself to start turning
myself into a fingerstyle player. Overall, I feel
like playing with my fingers gives me more control
Whether it’s with my fingers or a pick, I like to
attack the bass as hard as I can. I’ve always loved
the percussive sound of the strings on a bass guitar,
when it sounds like something slamming against a
metal wall. That’ something I’ve always gone for. Over
the years, I’ve tried different ways to get there. It’s
like anyone else: “I really like that sound. How do
I get there? How do I get there?” Just now on this
record, I’ve become extremely happy with the tones
I’ve been seeking for a long time.
For years you played Ernie Ball Music Man
StingRay Basses, but now you have a new signature
Schecter bass. How did that come about?
I played StingRays for years—they’re awesome
basses, and the company was great to me. I just
wanted to change things up and develop my own
signature bass. We talked about doing something
together, but they wanted to stay true to what they
were doing. More power to them—the brand has
been around a long time, and it’s obviously working
When I played the P-Basses and Rickenbackers
on Nightmare, I felt like that was getting closer to
the tone I want to get. I wanted the percussive low
end of a StingRay humbucker blended with the classic
P-Bass clunk and Rickenbacker growl. For six
months, Schecter and I went through six or seven
different pickup combinations before finally trying
an EMG 81 guitar pickup in the neck position. When
we tried it, we knew we had what I was looking
for. With a blend knob to roll from one pickup to
the next, the bass has a really broad sound, from
pianistic clarity to distorted growl. Right up the
middle gets the sound I generally want. After 60
years of the electric bass, so much of it is all the
same; it’s cool to be pushing some boundaries and
trying new things.
The body and headstock style strikes me as
a nod to the Rickenbacker aesthetic.
I went to a design company and said, “I want something
that looks metal, but classic metal.” I didn’t
want it to look cheesy. I definitely took some inspiration
from the Rickenbacker headstock, because
you look at that bass and you know it’s an amazing
piece of equipment. Just like with our band’s music,
I wear my inspiration on my sleeve.
In a recent interview, [AX7 vocalist]M. Shadows
characterized the new album as “an Avenged
Sevenfold album from the early ’90s and late ’80s.”
Do you feel that way from a bass perspective?
Yeah, absolutely. Late-’80s, and early-’90s metal—
early Metallica, Pantera—is what I grew up with. I
would even go further back than that, to Iron Maiden.
Listening to Steve Harris in the late ’70s and early
’80s, it’s inspiring to hear a heavy metal band that
has all the great guitar work, but also incorporates
this amazing bass playing. That’s something that
I’ve always wanted to do. When a song calls for it,
I’m ready to do it. Once again, Rex Brown and Duff
McKagan are big influences on me. Cliff Burton is
probably the biggest. That was a whole new direction
of bass playing at the time. Sonically, that era
of music had a lot going on; if you tune in, you can
hear what every single instrument is doing, but
when you sit back, it’s just all so heavy and molded
How did you write your bass parts on Hail
to the King?
This time around, we were writing every day for
nine months straight, and there wasn’t a whole lot
of time for me to work specifically on my bass lines;
I was more focused working on the songs. About a
month before we started pre-production was when
I started messing around with bass lines. But the
whole time I was thinking in my head, I’m going to
write out a few stylistic choices, but at the end of
the day I want to get into the studio with a clear
head on each song and really feel the vibe of how
it’s being laid down—how the drums are coming
together with the guitar, and how everything is
just getting pieced together. Then I’d hone in what
needed to happen on bass.
Do you find mid-tempo songs like “Crimson
Day” particularly challenging?
When I was demoing that song out, I was playing
somewhat busy stuff. I thought it could be cool if it
had a ’90s rock ballad kind of feel, and that maybe
I could get away with doing some classic Duff-style
lines, like what he’d do “November Rain” or “Don’t
Cry.” When the song started to really come together,
I was playing lines I had messing around with, and
before anyone else even said anything, I realize it
wasn’t going to work for that song. So I just dropped
back, listened to the kick and snare, and tried to
just be present in the sonic range and not so much
‘that’s the bass doing that’—just keep it on line. As
the song builds through the bridge, I felt like there
was some open space, so I played some runs to give
it a bit of an angelic kind of feel.
“Heretic” stands out for its gnarly tone.
There, we went heavy on the EMG 81 pickup.
It just needed to sound seedy and dirty. It was a
combination of four things: playing with a pick,
really clanking into it, turning toward the neck
pickup, turning up the distortion channel. Each
was a subtle change in and of itself, but all of them
together really brought out the sonic value of what
we were going for.
When you’re playing with a pick, where are
you connecting with the strings?
I go pretty much between the backside of the
humbucker and the front side of the bridge. I’m
not keeping my hand in one place at all times—I
like to feel it out.
Where’s your go-to fingerstyle spot?
I typically go right over the humbucker. I rest
my thumb on the top left corner of the humbucker
and let the fingers fall where they are after that.
What rigs did you record with?
We had a DI for everything, but we also used my
Gallien-Krueger 2001 RB head into an Ampeg 4x10
cab they had at the studio. We did a kind of blind
taste test with combinations of cabinets, and that
one was consistently good.
What’s your live rig?
I’ve been using the G-K 2001 RB forever. For me,
it has the best distortion channel out there. I’ll run
through the 2001 RB’s distortion channel, I’ll send
another signal to a clean Gallien-Krueger head, and
I’ll send them each to an 8x10 cab. My stage volume
is a little obnoxious. [Laughs.] For my clean channel,
I just started playing G-K’s Fusion 550 head, a
solid-state amp with a tube preamp. I thought it was
going to sound warm and awesome, and it did. I’ve
also been playing through the new Gallien-Krueger
Neo 810 cabinets, which are unbelievable. I’m super
happy with my live rig now.
Do you have a string preference?
Six months before we went into the studio, Ernie
Ball sent me a pack of their Cobalt strings to try out.
I wasn’t looking to change, but when I tried them,
they had a metallic sheen that was very cool. So I’ve
switched to playing Cobalts.
Is there anything else in your signal chain?
There’s nothing constant, but there are moments
on some songs where I’ll bring a chorus pedal in.
Right now I’m using the H2O chorus pedal, and
occasionally a Dunlop Crybaby Bass Wah. Our style
is straightforward heavy metal and heavy rock, so
I don’t get too into bass effects. But every once in
a while, it’s cool to through in a chorus. It’s also
another ode to Duff.
When we last spoke, the band had just begun
playing with drummer Arin Ilejay. I wonder
if you could tell me about your evolution as a
rhythm section since then.
He really lays into the pocket perfectly. We’ve
evolved together—on parts of the new record, for
instance, I really understand where he’s going to go
with his hit patterns and lock in with that. But overall,
it hasn’t been too much of a transition. He plays
the songs the way they’re supposed to be played,
and it makes my job a lot easier to lock in with him.
Between Arin, Mike Portnoy, and Jimmy
“the Rev” Sullivan, the band has had some
heavy hitters behind the kit. How have each of
them differed from your perspective in terms
of how a groove sits.
The Rev basically taught me how to fit in
the pocket. He was my mentor; he taught me
a lot, and I learned just jamming with him. We
became right in sync with each other over the
years. I still very much play that style that Jimmy
taught me to play.
With working with Mike was great. When we
went in to do Nightmare, he listened very closely
to the demos that Jimmy had already recorded
and stayed very true to them, but he had a slightly
different feel. Jimmy listened to a lot of funk and
jazz, and he was able to lay back a little bit more.
Mike was a little more metal and progressive, but
he definitely had all the chops to make it happen.
Arin grew up playing in church, so he has a
lot of that gospel feel. We’ve taught him about
the style that we’re going for as a band, and he’s
picked it up in stride—he’s killing it. Every drummer
has a slightly different feel, but Arin lays into
the groove and sits just a hair behind the beat. It’s
really allows us to lock in, especially on these new
songs. When we’re playing live and have adrenaline
going, it can be hard to lay back on a song
that might require it. But we’ve been doing this
for so long, it doesn’t take long for all of us to
In many ways, yes. When I joined the band, I was
the new kid, and I didn’t fully understand the songwriting
aspect to playing bass—I just wanted to get
in there and throw bass lick riffs around whether
or not they made sense for the song. Now, I have a
better understanding of the songwriting process,
and I understand how too work as a band. I’ve definitely
evolved to where I orchestrate my bass lines
rather than throw down a bunch of riffs. As with
other things, when you practice your craft as often
as you can, it eventually starts to get better. I’m
still proud of the work I’ve done in the past, but
I feel that I’m maturing with each album, honing
in and synching into the groove. I love playing, so
I’m always trying to do things a little bit better.
(on Warner Bros.,
except where noted),
Hail to the King,
; Avenged Sevenfold ;
City of Evil ; Waking the Fallen
[Hopeless, 2003]; Sounding the
Seventh Trumpet [Hopeless, 2001]
Basses Schecter Guitar Research
Johnny Christ Signature Bass
Rig Gallien-Krueger 2001RB and
Fusion 550 heads, Gallien-Krueger Neo
Strings Ernie Ball Cobalt Hybrid Slinkys
Effects Visual Sound H20 Chorus &
Echo, Dunlop Cry Baby 105Q Bass Wah