Liam Wilson of The Dillinger Escape Plan

March 9, 2010
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Interview conducted and edited by Bryan Beller
Interview original transcription by Kira Small

Photo by Cari Veach



Liam_WilsonWhat metal genre would you call Dillinger, and this album in particular? And how does that impact your bass playing, if at all?


What kind of metal? I don’t know necessarily. I’ve always loved to cop the Jaco punk-jazz stuff or like, you know, fusion-metal or something like that. I really abhor the whole sub-categorizing thing, but I definitely feel like my band is a mix of like really fusion-y stuff, really metal stuff, thrashier metal stuff, and a little bit of melodic pop, poppier sensibility, [with a] kind of punk attitude? I don’t know. It’s really hard to fit it all into a metal genre ‘cause I don’t think it steals from metal any more than it borrows from any other thing that we’ve been into. If Cynic is metal, then we’re kind of taking what they’re doing…all that fusion-y new age-y stuff, if that counts as metal, then I guess we’re under that category.

I mean when we do our more metal-ish things, it’s undeniably metal. It’s got the anxiety, the speed…but I don’t think it stays there any longer than it stays anywhere else.

Here’s an even harder one. Can you describe the band in ten words or less?

Uh…as long as I can string ten words together!

[laughs]

Um…let me think…let me come back to that.

How about your playing? In that same kind of really bullet-point, limited thing. Have you even thought about how you would describe it to somebody else?

It’s basically like a lineman with a chainsaw. You know, I’m blocking for touchdowns. I’m certainly not the dude running for touchdowns so much as I’m blocking for them, which I’ve heard other bass players say. And when you’re talking about like something cutting I’m not talking about like a razor blade. It’s a lot more like a chain saw.

But it’s still gotta have pocket, and I think like that’s something I definitely look at dudes like Rex Brown for. You know, at least in all those Pantera records, there was a pocket there. And it was still nonetheless as heavy as anything else.

In “Endless Endings” and “I Wouldn’t If You Didn’t,” the really, really aggressive odd time with strange accents and stuff like that – how do you hang with that in the form weirdness and still find pocket in that?

It’s kind of hard to explain. It’s more like a rock pocket than it is a funk pocket, for some of that stuff, where it’s just a matter of maintaining that head nod. As long as you don’t hear me that much then I’m doing the right thing. As long as nothing I’m doing jumps out at you, then I think I’m holding it together. And then especially in “Endings” – I can’t really exactly explain it other than just being able to break things down to that 16th feel sometimes.

Are you counting when it’s real fast 5’s, or real fast 7’s? Or are you just feeling the accents?

I’m mostly feeling it. When we’re writing the stuff and I hear [drummer] Billy [Rymer]  be like, “Oh yeah, this part’s in 5,” or like when I count it, I’m usually the last to really count it. ‘Cause once I hear Billy or somebody be like “it’s in 5” then I’ll just instinctively be like, “OK, 5.”. But it definitely gets to the point where I’m like feeling it. There are certain things in “I Wouldn’t if You Didn’t” – there’s a breakdown and then it comes back in really fast and then it breaks down even more – there’s this one little fast piece in there where I’m like counting how many hits are between certain pieces, but I don’t count out full bars. There’s definitely certain times when it’s just like, “OK, it’s 4 then 3 then 5 then 4,” you know, mixed in with these little phrases. So a lot of it I’m just trying to feel. But there’s a couple things here and there that you absolutely have to count.

Talk about making this album as a bassist – what’s new for you on the instrument, in the studio?

I guess a lot of it was [that] I was so stoked on the last record and the whole vibe, I was just trying to be like slightly more melodic, I guess. I didn’t really want to get too weird. On the last record, I was a little bit more like, “Oh cool – bigger studio record, more time, let me bring my fretless, let me bring all this stuff.” And this time it was just like, “OK I’m just going slam-bam.” I discovered the Aguilar Tone Hammer. That thing changed things a little bit.

A lot of it for me was mostly syncing up with a new drummer, and just hearing his pocket. We’ve had a couple of drummer line-up changes, and I really feel like this dude had to step in and cover all the bases that we could do before. To me his feel is a little bit more on top than, say, Gil [Sharone] or even Chris [Pennie] at times. And it just forced me to be that much more conscious of my time. We did certain things to a click track just to make sure everything really lined up well, and just to maintain the ferocity so that [the] energy level doesn’t drop at the end of the song.

Focusing on things like down-picking as a metal bass player. Down-picking has become an Olympic sport for me. I didn’t really notice how aggressive a down-pick sounds compared to a tremolo pick until I really built up the strength for it. [Producer] Steve Evetts just whip[ped] me into shape, ‘cause he’s a bass player too. So him being our producer just constantly on me so hard, to make sure that I’m nailing things like “right at this angle, over this pick-up in this way, down-pick.”

Wow!

Little things like that. When I was recording the last record and then [had] to go out and play the stuff, I learned how to down-pick. And doing it live – you know, a couple hundred shows since the last record – I start to build up that muscle strength. And even this time in the studio, my arm would just give out. But again, I know in two months I’ll be able to do that too. I remember watching a Flea video with – who was it – River Phoenix? You know what I’m talking about?

I’ve heard of it, I think.

It’s an old, old video. But I remember seeing him like be slappy and do all of his  finger-style stuff, but then pick up a pick and just like play punk as fuck. And I remember him talking about down-picking, and it was one of those things where it was like, 13, 15 years later I remember seeing that video and now it’s like coming back around. And its one of those things where its like, “OK I always knew that…” but, as a metal bass player, just stripping it down and realizing that there’s really not a whole lot of room for ornament on it. It kinda goes up like a Frank Lloyd Wright house. [BB laughs] It’s just like: Wall. Corner. You know, not a lot of molding, not a lot of trim. A lot of light.

That’s great that the producer is a bassist and you were getting into details like the angle of the pick.

Everything down to like even what pick we used. He’s just a maniac about that stuff, and really being on me about it. And then you hear it, though! I’m sitting there and I’m like, “Dude, it’s perfect!” and he’s like, “No, one more time”. And I hit it and all of a sudden I hear that overtone? You know, that range of overtones and all the harmonics that are in every note. I mean, maybe I’m getting a little metaphysical, but you actually hear it and all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, that’s what I’m going for!”

Sometimes I think producers get hung up on seeing the waveform and not listening. But even then it goes the other way, when I can see the waveform and see that, “OK, on this part I am consistently this much behind on the 1.” And when I see that, all of a sudden it helps me correct it. So it’s really like noodling – like nitpicking those kinds of things.

And just doing what I’m good at. Again, I’m not trying to solo. I heard something recently like: Lee Sklar never solos – and constantly gets the gig. Fucking Will Lee – just kinda lays it down! And I’m like that’s all I really need to do, you know? ‘Cause this band is so over-saturated. I don’t necessarily need to be lead bass player.

What song on that record are you most proud of, and why?

“I Wouldn’t If You Didn’t” really came out of nowhere. When we were writing that I didn’t think that that would come out the way it did, and I really think that that opens things up a lot for us. Musically, as a bass player, I think it showcases 90% of what I can do and what the band can do. “I Wouldn’t If You Didn’t” covers a lot of the things that we’re talking about here in terms of metal. It’s serious, there’s parts I have to count, there’s parts I have to feel, there’s parts that like I’m just down-picking. Or even like “Good Neighbor” – that’s another song where it’s just down-picking fury. I look at dudes like – not even as bass players – James Hetfield on “Master of Puppets.” That song is 99% down-pick - and it’s fucking insane! But it’s so aggressive, and that song…no matter how much alchemy you do, you can’t get it. And I really think it has a lot to do with that dude’s right hand.

I grew up listening to Jaco and all this stuff, and the left hand was all over the place, but really honing in on right-hand technique is really my goal this time around. And like I said, “I Wouldn’t If You Didn’t” – it’s fast, it’s got all the weird noodly stuff, but then in the middle it really breaks down, and there’s some practically inaudible finger-pick chord comping. There’s melodic supportive roles with the vocals. I think it really plays off the vocals a lot. That song really sticks out for me.

There was a good melodic thing on the fade of the second song…

Oh, “Gold Teeth on a Bum” – 3rd song. It’s almost got an Alice In Chains-y kind of chorus to it. And it gets a little weird at the end. Yeah, that song, to me, that one part I was trying my hardest not to make it sound like “Californication.”

It worked! I didn’t get that.

Yeah, ‘cause Steve Ebbets and I were joking around in the studio…moments like that come up and you just start laughing to each other and you end up playing bass lines and then recording over it just for laughs. [In] the end of that, some of the chord changes are the “Californication” chord changes and I’m like, “Fuck!” I can’t get Flea out of my head and I think it’s appropriate. The Flea – or like even Joe Lally – like huge – and like recently like Joe Lally / Fugazi fan. You know, just fucking laying it down, being melodic. His bass lines are memorable. But I think that most people, unless you’re a bass player, you don’t even realize that that’s what you’re locking into.

One of the things I like about Steve is as a bass player, and as a huge Beatles fan, he constantly defaults to me tracking last, which I’m a huge proponent of. So then all the vocals go in, all the electronics go in, all that stuff is there, and then I can just literally glue it together. And I get to play off things like the electronics or Greg’s vocals, now that I hear them, in a way that I don’t think most metal bass players get to do. A lot of the times it’ll be like drums, bass, and then everything else – it’s more of a foundation thing. [In] Dillinger, the rhythm guitars end up being the foundation, and I just end up being the shellac.

Why do you think metal is so big right now?

It’s a combination of art mimicking life. I think people feel the tension of the world kind of speeding up, you know? And I think the same reason why people are into extreme sports is, like, it’s kind of been done. And there’s still room in metal to do it faster or more aggressively. And it’s starting to bottom out, hit its glass ceiling, but again I think that there’s a certain level of craftsmanship that I think is coming back around – like there’s a self-awareness. Again, I think it boils down to the name of our record – that “option-paralysis” feeling of, there’s so much going on and I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know. Maybe to me, metal is a response to some of that violence, and at the same time that quest for information.

I read an article recently about how kids who listen to heavy metal typically do better in school than a lot of other people…there’s a NY Times article about this, I’m almost positive, within the last year, where like they did a study and found that like kids who listen to metal were typically more calm. Like, somehow, the metal helped soothe the already spin-cycle mind. I don’t know.

Maybe it’s also for people who don’t necessarily dig on jazz. That jazz just seems to be, to a lot of people, repeating itself. And metal is just kind of, to me, new. 25 years ago you couldn’t go to school for something like punk or rock, or even like in an art school, like, graffiti. These things weren’t taught in schools. And now all of a sudden you can pick up a Hal Leonard book about punk and learn Sex Pistols songs. And those dudes were basically just like “Fuck this. I have 100 bucks, I’m going to the pawn, I’m buying a bass, and I’m just gonna bash at it!” You know? And metal is on that cusp, where 50 years ago jazz wasn’t being taught in school. And I know when I was younger and going to rock camps – like guitar summer workshops and stuff like that – there was like Metal 101. They didn’t even have a metal bass class yet. But it’s coming.

What are your general thoughts on the role of bass in modern metal, in that conversation you just had? What is there new to do?

Some of the things that I strive personally to do, and look to dudes like Trevor Dunn from [Mr.] Bungle…that dude can play with his fingers and can play with a pick and pull it off. And I really feel like having that versatility…you don’t necessarily need that Vic Wooten kind of technique. Yeah, sure, that works, and I know dudes in metal who use it, but to me it still has to do with that versatility. And metal inherently – at least from my perspective, at least in my band’s context – we’re constantly trying to explore those other genres, like Latin genres, and just kind of finding a way to pull that stuff in and Dillingerify it to the point where most people don’t hear it.

But to me, a lot of our really choppy rhythms that people get kind of tongue-twisted on are just like Latin rhythms, just really fast. So to me it’s a matter of like doing what jazz did with like a John McLaughlin or a Ravi Shankar, or even John Coltrane – where they brought over that Eastern sound and changed things, or the way jazz went to Ethiopia,  or is already with like John Zorn and Bungle and us and dozens of other bands who are really trying to bring in those outside influences and glue it up. But I think dudes like Robert Trujillo, they have a really well-rounded thing and they could get away with playing in anything. But metal just has this stamina thing that a lot of other things don’t have.

I was going to ask you who your bass heroes are – you mentioned Shawn Malone and Colin Marston…

Colin Marston [of Behold…The Arctopus], as a contemporary dude, absolutely. I think Robert Trujillo was really one of my first “bass dudes.” The dude from Mercyful Fate or King Diamond, Hal Patino. Dave Ellison and Tony Bono from Into Another. Pick dudes – I never played with a pick until I joined the band. So I had to learn how to step up that game. There’s always dudes that I forget. Rex Brown – I definitely dig what he’s done. His tone and his groove is definitely cool. I’m still trying to think of ten words to describe Dillinger. And other bass heroes…I mean Jaco, for sure. You know who else I really dig is the dude who invented the contrabass.

Anthony Jackson.

Anthony Jackson! And fucking Jonas Hellborg.

Yeah that guy’s nuts!

Yeah, those two guys in a bass player-y kind of world. And there’s another dude who I believe is also playing with John McLaughlin now…

Hadrien Feraud.

Oh yeah! I haven’t really nerded out on his stuff outside of YouTube, but those two, Jonas Hellborg and him and Anthony Jackson just have that flow. They can just fucking flow and it’s kind of amazing.

Last one. What should young metal bassists be doing right now?

Well, it’s all the same stuff, you know? I don’t think it’s changed. I think the rules of bass for young metal and old metal and bass in general are the same. Get a metronome! Jam with your friends! Listen to bands and learn how to play it! Explore other things! I love getting into like a Bach cello suite just to keep my fingerings odd, just to learn weird shapes. I love Jamey Aebersold books and those play-along things. I think teaching in any way definitely helps you refine your craft. I was doing some subbing at the Paul Green School of Rock and even just seeing little dudes getting stoked on what they were working on made me go home like, “I can’t let these little dudes school me.” You know?

Yeah…

These kids are learning fast because they have things that I didn’t have, like taking advantage of technology. Again, certain things that haven’t changed: you need a metronome. You need [to] just spend time on your instrument.

But the biggest advice that I give to other people is look outside of bass. And that doesn’t just mean “listen to guitar and vocals and drums.” I think that there are so many things outside your life that has to do with it. I remember skipping going to see a Faith No More show because I had a bass lesson. I think that was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. I definitely think getting out there and networking and playing in bands and just living your life…having things that have nothing to do with bass influence your playing. I’ve said it before – I love yoga. I think that that has as much to do with bass as anything else. If I’m warming up before a show I’d rather take 5 minutes and do some yoga than have my hands on the bass. Breathing is so much more…you know, I look at woodwind players and just notice how much their breathing has to do with their phrasing, and I think bass players – and string players in general – forget how much breathing has to do with your phrasing even though we’re not blowing through our mouths to get the notes out.

You guys are doing the Warped Tour this summer, right?

Yeah, we’re doing Warped Tour

Are you basically just going to be on the road non-stop once this thing comes out?

Yeah, it looks that way. I leave Sunday for two weeks, I come back in March and April. We’re doing five weeks in the States, and then pretty much June through August it’s Warped Tour, and little things in between. Maybe some European festivals. We’re doing Coachella, um…but that’s at the end of April. I’m pretty sure this whole year is gonna be as booked as we can get it.

I love the record, just personally. I mean I dig the aggressive stuff but I’m a sucker for like heavy melodic stuff like the stuff at the end of “Twins”…

Yeah, for sure, like the Beach Boys-y kind of moments. I mean, even that song, I came in at the very end and just played, like, one bass line. You know? And it worked! It was back to what I was trying to do on the first – just be humble about it.

[Dillinger is] basically a bass solo the whole fucking time. In its own way, you know what I mean? And just learning how to not play and just learning how to again just be supportive…I’m cutting my teeth in so many different ways in this band. The covers that we try to do, it’s like, everybody’s constantly trying to pull it off and everybody has so many different interests and instead of being like “Well, let’s start a new band,” it’s like, “Well, let’s just find a way to make it work.”

The edge that you’re getting – that kind little bit of sizzle that you’re getting on the sound – is that a SansAmp overdrive?

It’s mostly SansAmp. On “Gold Teeth On a Bum” or “Chinese Whispers”…“Room Full of Eyes”…that’s mostly the Tone Hammer. I believe that’s the Tone Hammer and a Big Muff. Otherwise it’s SansAmp, and it’s pretty much direct. I think we went through some pre’s – I wish I could recall what they are – I think just Chandler pre’s. It’s pretty much just a direct sound, SansAmp with [a] Tone Hammer.

What’s your main axe?

Typically live I play a G&L L2000 at the moment. I’m working on some other stuff. But in the studio I played an early Spector, like 500 serial number, Badass bridge, like early, early year Spector that Steve Evetts had.

And did he put new bright strings on it?

Yeah, every song.

You can hear it. It’s got that really, really cool chime.

Yeah, it’s huge, it’s round, it doesn’t cut as much as my live rig would. It’s dull, but it has attack on it…but, again, it has these overtones that I couldn’t deny. When you hear it by itself it’s like “ahhh”. There’s just moments where it was like, “That was really nice.”

Cool, man!

I can’t think of ten [words to describe Dillinger]. Like it matters. I would rather you talk about other shit.

 


 

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