Eric Avery: Reverse Engineering

November 5, 2012
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ERIC AVERY IS NO STRANGER TO BEING APPROACHED FOR BIG OPPORTUNITIES from landmark bands. After co-founding Jane’s Addiction in 1985 and using the next six years to assemble several albums’ worth of memorable bass lines, Avery departed and headed out in search of new projects. He worked on solo material, movie scoring, and even producing before he began getting calls for tryouts from Metallica, Tool, and Smashing Pumpkins. Avery kept course with his own material until he received a call from Shirley Manson of Garbage in 2005. The bassist clicked with the famed electro-alternative rockers, and he immediately joined them for their Bleed Like Me tour.

This year, Avery is back on the road with Garbage in support of Not Your Kind of People, reconstructing the tracks of Justin Meldal-Johnsen and reinterpreting the tracks he himself contributed to the record. Avery is also busy working on his second solo album and partnering with Brent Hinds (Mastodon), Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan) and Jon Theodore (the Mars Volta) to form GTO, which is fusing mathcore roots with Avery’s own “simple is better” sensibility.

How are you making these Garbage bass lines your own in a live setting?
I’ve never been one to focus on what the kick drum is doing, but because there’s so much going on in Garbage’s music, Butch [Vig, drums] and I have made a fetish of what the kick does with the bass, and we find ways to get them together or keep them separate. But really, the Zen art to me is choosing the notes that I don’t play.

Are there any parts from the album that you’ve changed drastically?
There are parts in Garbage’s music where the bass is very jazzy sounding, which is not my thing—I’m not interested in creating more of that in my playing. So I had to figure out how to change it and make it my own. I decided to approach the jazzier songs in a dub way that has a round sound with no treble.

What is a Garbage show like from your perspective?
I occupy an unusual space, both figuratively and literally; the bass player is the one person who isn’t an original member. So I’ve found myself performing to not get in their way. But at the same time I want to step it up and bring my best game to the performance. And that’s true musically, as well.

Describe your writing technique.
I don’t really have much technique with a capital T, because I’m entirely self-taught. I just modeled myself from the English bassists from the ’80s— primarily Peter Hook from Joy Division. Ironically, I’ve found out that guitar players wrote a lot of those bass lines. I think that really sculpted my melodic approach as a bass player.

How did your time with Jane’s Addiction shape you as a bassist?
Playing with Steven [Perkins, drums] and Dave [Navarro, guitar] all those years was very formidable. If I hadn’t played with guys who play like that, my bass playing would probably be a lot busier now- adays. Both of them play so tastefully, it forced me to find a few notes and repeat them just to lock it all down. And that kept us all in line and kept us away from fusion land. They always pulled Perry and me in a rock direction, which made me more of an ath- letic bass player.

What’s your take on the importance of music theory in a rock setting?
I have learned a lot in terms of formal music theory, and I feel I’ve done a good job of not letting it take away from my natural way of writing. Luck- ily, my bass strap isn’t fastened high up near my neck yet. You have to have an understanding of theory as a bass player, because if you do something weird like throw in some strange inversion, it’s going to make the whole sound misshapen. I always just come back to focusing on the principal of bass.

What makes your playing so influential to others?
I believe people cite me as an influence because of the band I was in, and the role that the bass played in that band. I learned early on that less is more, and I knew to stick with it. I always used to say that I write bass lines that I could teach my mom how to play. And some rock songs are unidentifiable if you play the bass parts on their own. I want mine to be distinctive even when they’re isolated.

How did GTO first assemble?
We all converged out in Austin, and we jammed together and then left and never really followed up. About eight months later, Brent did an interview and mentioned it. That got a lot of attention, and the idea was exciting people. So we decided that we should probably pursue it. We have a pretty sub- stantial amount of material now. It’s challenging for me, because it’s a lot of weird time signatures, and I have to keep up with those guys and their mathcore tendencies.

INFO

LISTEN

Garbage, Not Your Kind of People [Stunvolume, 2012]

EQUIP

Bass Fender Jaguar Bass
Rig Line 6 POD HT Pro
Effects Ableton Live
Strings Dunlop Round- wound (.045–.105)

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