EVOLUTION HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE
HALLMARK OF JUAN
de la Peña’s three-decade career. From his days as a
student and his
mid-’80s tenure with shred gods Racer X to his sensitive pop duets in
soundscapes on the Mars Volta’s lean new disc,
muscular, fluid bass playing has continuously evolved to
create—forward-facing concepts in modern bass.
But in this dire economy and with album sales at their lowest since
the 1990s, Alderete
is using his adaptive skills in a new direction: adjusting to a smaller-scale
idea of what it
means to get paid for his talents. “There was a time when the Mars
Volta had a
and I didn’t have to carry my own gear, put my own basses away, or
up,” he says.
“But you have to evolve.
“The good thing about the digital world is that it is easier
Alderete continues. “But being an artist for a living has been
don’t want to pay for those records.” His stripped-down
tours prove his point.
the European jaunt he recently undertook with his collaborator in Big Sir,
Papineau, the duo hit 23 cities in 25 days, traveling mostly by van, sleeping
on couches, being
their own roadies, and manning the merch table. If you think that sounds like
for someone just starting out, not a 48-year-old Grammy-winning artist with a
disorder, you’d be right.
We sat down with Alderete to talk about his new effects website for
bass players, working
with drummer Deantoni Parks, his love aff air with compression, the future of
and the Mars Volta’s surprisingly lean new aesthetic.
Noctourniquet, your seventh album
with the Mars Volta, doesn’t sound
as lushly produced
as some of the band’s previous records. Was that a conscious
It’s very simple compared to our other records. The songwriting has
are no long passages, and there aren’t any real difficult unison riff
more textural, like
a Radiohead record. [Guitarist] Omar Rodríguez-López and
really love “Krautrock,” and I think they put a lot of that
element into this
How did you track your bass parts?
I cut most of them live; I might have fixed some things here and there, but
most of it
was all just one take. We miked my 1968 Ampeg B-15, but for the heavily
parts, like on “Zed and Two Naughts,” I used my SVT-VR and
8x10 so I could get
I don’t like hitting the B-15 hard. It’s not made for that;
it’s made for
straight bass. And I
played a lot of fl atwound strings.
When and why did you start using
I started using flats in the mid ’90s because I wanted that
’60s or ’70s sound,
like James Jamerson or John Paul Jones [Note: In his February
’08 cover story, Jones told Bass Player that he stopped
using flatwounds early in his session career.] For this
record, Omar really liked the way the fl ats sounded,
so I used them. I’ve been using Ernie Ball fl ats, which
remind me of the bass tone on vintage records.
You use a lot of effects. What role does your Boss
CS-2 compressor play?
It kicks off the other pedals like you wouldn’t
believe. Any effect I put after it becomes more hectic
and crazy because the signal is getting compressed
and accentuated by the high-end boost. The fuzz
sounds huge, but you put the compressor before
it, and it’s gigantic.
Besides my hands and my instrument, I’d have
to say that the compressor is the most important factor of my sound. It makes
everything I play a
little more focused. I think I would have been a much
cleaner musician had I not found that pedal, but I
can’t not use it now.
How important are your amps to your
They’ve been good to me and the Ampeg stuff
sounds great, but to be honest, I’m done using bass
amps onstage with the Mars Volta. It’s all about
monitoring. The sound guy isn’t miking me—he’s
me though Pro Tools. I had a soundman
tell me, “I’ll put a mic up there because you
want one, but that doesn’t mean I’ll use it.”
are always trying to get fewer mics onstage so
they can make the vocals and the drums sound
better. That’s what it’s all about. So eventually,
I just gave in.
Why even have amps onstage?
So I can sound good for myself. The audience
is hearing whatever the engineer wants them to
hear. My hands are in there and my effects are
going through the DI, of course, but it’s the real
world. If it’s not my ideal sound coming through
the PA, so be it.
You had an incredible connection with former
Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore. What’s it like
playing with Deantoni Parks?
Stylistically, Jon is probably the best fi t with the
way I play. His feel is like John Bonham-meets-Afrobeat,
and our common ground was probably Led
Zeppelin. Deantoni is way more a musician than
I am. He can play anything. He’s a pioneer of that
instrument, like Eddie Van Halen on guitar or John
Coltrane on sax. He’s conceptual; he doesn’t think
in licks, he thinks in musical concepts. He’ll take a
simple guitar riff and make it go into another world
or genre, and it all sounds tight. It’s like having Miles
Davis in the band.
What’s the story behind your new website,
I’m going to show other bass players how crazy
and freaky we can get with pedals and how we can
innovate. I don’t use pedals to get traditional sounds;
I like things over the top. I don’t want it to sound
subtle. I want my instrument to sound like something
else so that it’ll take me somewhere I haven’t
been. So the website will be me exploring pedals and
sounds and approaches to music.
What’s the secret to making a living as a
musician in this day and age?
Have more than one project. Besides being in
the Mars Volta, I play with Omar’s solo group, I
helped Cedric with his solo record, I play in Big
Sir, I have Vato Negro, and I’m always talking with other musicians
it materializes, sometimes it doesn’t, but
I’m always looking. You have to. It’s the only way
you’ll be able to survive. Otherwise, treat your
music career as a thing you do on the side, and
go get another profession.
Besides having the right chops, what helps players
get the most desirable gigs?
Most dudes get gigs because they are easy to be
around. There are so many artists who don’t want
stress; they just want to focus on the craft and the
art, so they’re going to pick someone who’s effortless
to be around. Music is just one small part of it.
It really is. The most important things are experience
and learning how to navigate through life—
that’s how you navigate through your career.
How hard is it to manifest such a
It’s one thing to be an artist, but making a living
at it is insanely hard. It took everything out of me
to reach a level where I could make a living at it. It
just gets harder and harder, and I’m getting older,
so it’s going to get harder.
Do you think your education has helped you keep
Yes and no. Yeah, I took out a student loan and
went to Musicians Institute, but I didn’t really go
to school because I got into Racer X right out of the
gate and I spent most of my time practicing shred
to keep up with [Racer X guitarist] Paul Gilbert.
He was playing 16th-note triplets at 210 bpm, and
I had to get mine up from 130 or wherever I was
at. By the end of the band, I was in the 180s, but
I could never be as fast as him. My point is that
you’re going to get into these environments where
you have to adapt. I didn’t play that way, so I had
to alter my playing. And that’s when it becomes
about making a living.
So is that what you learned at MI? How to
I came to Los Angeles to be a career musician,
and that’s why I did Racer X. Even though I wasn’t
into metal, I said to myself, “It’s a record and
asking me to do it, and I should do it.” It sounded
like the future of heavy metal to me. When I made
that first Racer X record, I started to realize that I
was into innovation, and I’m still like that. I’m
evolving and developing, and that’s what has
been happening with my style. I found that I could
apply it to different things.
Who would you say is an inspiration for your
role in Big Sir?
Dali’s Car, the band with [Bauhaus singer] Peter
Murphy and the late, great Mick Karn, was a big
influence on the way Lisa and I view our vocalsand-
bass relationship. Mick played unbelievable
fretless; I was into Jaco, too, but Jaco played
R&B and jazz. I’m not in that kind of band, and
I don’t compose music of that nature. Big Sir is
like hip-hop meets new wave—it was important
to hear what fretless could do, compositionally,
in a genre that I play.
What’s the songwriting process like in Big
Over the years I’ve gotten more into Logic and
programming beats. Sometimes I’ll sample something,
enhance it with different bass drums or
snares, throw chords on it, and send it to Lisa. She
arranges it and cuts it all up in Pro Tools and sends
it back to me. Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes
it’s too much work for me. We did this record
all on our own; we didn’t have any money. This is the modern world,
is the era of making
your own records.
What affect has that had on
There’s just less money for touring nowadays.
You can see the effects of what’s happened in the
industry over last 20 years on a guy like me. Other
bass players see me and they’re like, “Whoa, this
dude’s going to wrap up his own gear.” Hell yeah! I
can’t afford a tech on Big
Sir tours. And that’s
what most musicians are going to experience in
this day and age.
Do you have any advice for players trying to take
their technique to the next level?
Don’t focus on licks and stuff that you’ll never
use. Practice playing grooves, solidly. That’s what’s
The Mars Volta,
Bros., 2012]; Big Sir,
Before Gardens After
Gardens [Sargent House, 2012]
Basses 32"-scale 1962 Fender Jazz
Bass reissue (made in Japan) modiﬁed
with Hipshot Bass Xtender and Hip-
shot bridge; fretless 1971 Fender Precision Bass with an additional Bartolini
Jazz pickup, a Starz Guitarz bronze
bridge, and Hipshot Bass Xtender
Rig Ampeg SVT-VR head, Ampeg
SVT-810AV 8x10 cabinet
Strings Ernie Ball 2806 ﬂats, Ernie Ball
Hybrid Slinky nickels (.045–.105)
Picks Dunlop Tortex .60mm, Dunlop
Effects On small pedalboard, for inter-
national tours: TC Electronic PolyTune,
Boss CS-2 Compression Sustainer,
Dunlop Crybaby 105Q Bass Wah, Boss
VB-2 Vibrato, Boss PN-2 Tremolo,
DigiTech PDS 20/20, vintage Electro-
Harmonix Bass Micro Synth, DOD
Meatbox FX-32 SubOctave, Line 6 M9
Stompbox Modeler, Line 6 DL4 Delay
Modeler, second-generation Sovtek
Fuzz, WMD Geiger Counter Bitcrusher,
MXR M288 Bass Octave, EarthQuaker
Devices Ghost Disaster Delay/Reverb,
MXR Custom Audio Electronics MC-
403 Power System. On larger pedal-
board: Dwarfcraft Eau Claire Thunder,
Wren & Cuff Pickle Pie B Hella Fuzz,
WMD Utility Parametric EQ, Behringer
Memory Man, Dwarfcraft Hax, Wren
& Cuff Tall Font Russian, Amptweaker
Bass TightDrive, EarthQuaker Devices
Rainbow Machine Polyphonic Pitch
Modulation Generator, EarthQuaker
Devices Hummingbird ll Repeat
Percussions Tremolo, EarthQuaker
Devices Organizer Polyphonic Organ
Accessories Mono M80 Dual Bass
Case, Mono GS1 Betty strap