Interview conducted and edited by Bryan Beller
Interview original transcription by Johan Westman
Photo by Tracy Ketcher
[Ryan Martinie launches into interview unprompted, from introductory casual conversation...]
I think that it's not even about necessarily the players themselves, but it's about the relationship that the players have with other instruments around them, and I've found that to be one of the most valuable things for me. It's the relationship. It's not about how good or how fast or how many inversions I can play. It's the relationship that my parts bear to the other things that are happening within the song and whether it's musical or not, whether it serves a purpose or not.
Somebody just paid me a nice compliment and it was interesting. They said "You put the notes in the right place, a lot of metal guys just try to play too much." And I have to share that I sympathize with that a little bit, because there's a lot of "follow the leader" or "play copycat" in the metal world, you know, and what else are you gonna do besides that? But there are also some musical things to be done there, and I think that we're gonna end up talking about the most players, I think. Steve DiGiorgio, you brought up. It's funny, I just met him at NAMM for the first time. Once again, I'm a huge Steve DiGiorgio fan.
Yeah, he's amazing.
Ah, he's just ridiculous. Great player, and that's going back to the Death stuff that he did that really turned me on. These players are really out of this world, and it's not just simple “follow the leader,” it's not copycat lines that they're doing. These things were technical and they were speaking for the song, not just to fulfill the bottom-end.
Why don't you just play with an octave-pedal? If you're a guitar player who wants the bassline to sound like the guitar line, just do what Meshuggah did!
[laughs] That's funny.
I'm glad you laugh, but I'm serious. I think it's great, I love Meshuggah...
Yeah, me too, but I got what you said! [laughs]
Yeah, I mean, what the hell else are you supposed to do? If that's what you want, then why not just do some MIDI-program crap and make it happen for yourself if that's what you're looking for. Otherwise, don't come looking to a Steve DiGiorgio or somebody of his level, [or] a Martin Mendez from Opeth, who plays beautiful lines. Why would you want somebody like that? Why would you want a Trey Gunn when you just want that? That's not what these players are for, that's not what their artistry is for. Anyway, there's my first little tangent.
Specifically, what's the mission of the bass in Mudvayne?
It's changed over time. I think, at the beginning, I had the typical “have-something-to-prove” metal guy attitude, because there are so many great players out there and you don't wanna end up just tossed. You don't wanna be the chaff, you want to be the wheat. So I felt like, probably on that first record, it was about, "Let's make these songs badass, let's make them hard, let's make the parts really difficult," and at the same time there was a lot less direction with that. Actually, during writing, the thought process is, "Let's make this the coolest that I can make it," but then you're bound to the song, for me, and that's really what I ended up coming back to, is really being bound by the song and what it wants me to do.
And I say that as it's a living entity, which I believe that they are, the songs are alive, just like bands, artists, like any other thing you can say is alive, and I think that allowing it to be alive and direct you to where it wants to go is a good idea. So I ended up back at really paying attention to the song, and I haven't listened to that record in, gosh, I dunno how long, but I'm sure that the parts are made for each other. And that's really what I'm looking for, personally, is to have something that's unique but also doesn't stick out like a sore thumb – that every note, every bit is necessary. That's the compliment I got paid, and if I've actually really accomplished that in the song, then I couldn't ask for anything more than that.
This is the fifth studio album, the new one, is that right?
What was new for you in tracking this particular album as a bassist?
Well, it's always basically been the same kind of processing approach: work in a circle, work with each other, listen to what's going on, and let what be, be. But I also tried a couple different techniques. I'm always trying to reinvent or bring something new to the table, something that's just a tad off of the recent path. So I've got this kind of hammered-two-strings-at-the-same-time octave-thing that I've been doing, and I used that for the chorus in "Happy." It's something that I liked and that I thought I could utilize in other ways as well, so there's more of that on this record for me, as far as a technique or a couple of different techniques that I've brought that I don't hear other players doing on their records. Not that they haven't been done, or done better than what I can do.
Is that's what's going on in the beginning of "Beyond the Pale"?
Let's see, "Beyond the Pale", how does that go? [sings]
It's got that chimey, percussive intro-line...
Yeah, I'm doing double-stops, but at the same time, I'm hammering two strings at the same time and switching it back and forth. Yeah, it's that technique, that's exactly what I'm talking about.
Are you hammering with two fingers on the neck, on an octave and then using your left hand to mute?
Yup. Well, both right and left hand muting. Like, the backside of my palm – I use the backside of my right hand to do some muting as well and left hand muting also. It's a tricky little thing, to get it just right and to get all the voicings to really come out, but it has a certain timbre that I don't think you can get any other way. Well, maybe you could if you dicked around with some gear, you could find it. But I like the natural approach to playing, and I'm not exactly…I'm not a purist, I mean, go for it. If you like synth bass, then utilize it. I'm not against any of that stuff, but I do like to find those things with my hands.
How about "Out to Pasture"? There's a line there that's fingerpicked but then there's some harmonics in there, and then the verse line has got a dropped 1. Usually you only hear that kind of stuff in Ska or Reggae. That song in particular seemed to stand out to me – there's a ton of bass stuff going on there. There's the intro, there's that dropped 1 bass line, and then in the outro there's all this super melodic stuff.
Yeah, and the chorus is the sleeper! It's the only thing you didn't mention, which makes me really proud, because it's supposed to be transparent, which is maybe one of the most important things that has come to me – in playing and in relating to the other instruments and in particular my band – is transparency in the writing process. It should be there, but at the same time you shouldn't have to try to get around it, it shouldn't be something that's a solid thing that you have to get around to hear everything else.
So in that whole chorus I'm doing a crazy-fast flamenco guitar-picking pattern. If you have the tools, pull everything else out and listen to that pattern. It's as fast as my hand can possibly play. It's just this retarded-fast pattern, and it's a sleeper, because it sounds like I'm playing single-notes almost, or chords, like I'm strumming chords, but really what's going on there is something completely different. It's interesting that you pull that song out – that was a fun song for me because of the arrangement. [It] called for different pieces to be put in line and those lines to be built from each other, I felt. And so I hope that they bear relation to each other within the song and are transparent, in particular that chorus. I'm glad that you didn't mention it. That makes me feel like I accomplished my goal.
When there’s a lot of the chordal stuff going on, the sections in these tunes on the record where there's not as much riffing and there's more room for you to put melodic bass lines in there, like the pre-chorus of "Beautiful and Strange" and the bridge in "1000 Mile Journey" – where does that come from? Because I never did ask you about your original influences.
Ah man...it's so vast. I mean, I can't really separate myself from any of the things that I've been exposed to. Having said that, you know, this is supposed to be about metal, so...
That's okay, go for whatever came up.
Well, for me it's everything from listening to Miles Davis to theatrical music. I was just listening to A Little Night Music. I love [Stephen] Sondheim so there's a lot of theatrics, I think, involved in bass because it can carry a lot of different things. It can carry the melodies, the counter-melodies, it can be the rhythmic instrument. So utilizing bass for a lot of different angles within a song allows you to draw from a lot of different elements, I think. I guess the same could be said for any musical instrument, but I know the most about my instrument so I can only speak for it.
Any players in particular though?
Oh it's ridiculous how much, I mean...if you don't remember the first few notes…[sings the opening tritone riff from “Black Sabbath”]
For metal, everybody remembers that. Everybody remembers some John Paul Jones lines – how can you miss them? For me, back in the day, for metal, it was somebody like Jeff Walker from Carcass who I was really into. Glen Benton from Deicide. Ihsahn and Tyr from Emperor. Geddy Lee was massive for me. I remember coming across Hemispheres and just trying to figure out all the bits in “La Villa Strangiato” and being mesmerized. [hums Rush’s “The Trees”] Oh no, sorry, that's “The Trees.”
And all of the stuff from Exit...Stage Left, or right, or whatever that record was called.
Yeah, it's furious. I'm thinking about this, running the gauntlet of players and who was meaningful and King Crimson came up in my mind, because, what a changing, alive organism it's been over many years. You had John Wetton, who played on the album Red, and then you have Tony Levin, who, of course, everyone knows who Tony Levin is. I got to get a peek of him at NAMM actually, like, "Oh there's Tony over there!".
It's his bald head sticking out some booth! [laughs]
Yes, yes, you know! And then you have somebody like Trey Gunn.
Who's a freak.
Who's stellar, I mean, he's ridiculous. So, when you think about the time period, you're talking late ‘60s to present day just in one band, from playing in all the time signatures, to playing fast and playing slow, to being melodic. Metal bass has really always pushed things. It's almost a little sad that I hear players talk about "well, I only listen to this style" because I think that the players themselves are probably pretty diverse. From what I know and from meeting a lot of different players from all the touring that we've done, the players that I know who really enjoy what they do listen to a lot of different styles of music, they're not simply stuck in one genre. They've been influenced by everything that they've listened to, and that includes Geddy’s Mini-Moog stuff, that includes Type O Negative’s Peter Steele, simple lines that were meaningful. It includes the John Paul [Jones] beautiful line[s], that were such an integral part of such beautiful writing that Zeppelin did. It includes Paul McCartney’s awesome stuff. Go back and listen to “Helter Skelter,” how bad-ass is that? It's great and it's metal! [laughs]
You want to know something? The first thing that I thought of when I started getting further into the record and there was more of the melodic stuff under the guitar solos was like, "This guy sounds like Paul McCartney in metal.”
I'm probably gonna use that, so I'm glad that you said it before I did.
Well, people don't believe that. I did an interview recently and they asked, "What are you listening to?" and I just told them that I do marathons with bands that I'm into. I'd just recently gone through an Aerosmith marathon – talk about great bass playing, holy crap, there's some amazing lines there! But then I go through a Beatles marathon. I mean, the Beatles marathon happens at least once a year, where it's all day long Beatles and only Beatles. When I'm just walking around the house doing my thing, that's all I wanna listen to. How can you not be influenced by those things?
And it's not just the bass players, it's about everybody else around them. [Fear Factory/Strapping Young Lad bassist] Byron [Stroud] is amazing, I love Byron.
[laughs] He's just this gigantic tower of rock.
He's so great, Byron's so amazing. He's such an amazing dude, I love Byron. And I love Devin [Townsend]’s stuff, but you can hear that...how can you not be influenced by the parts that Devin’s writing? And by that amazing drumming? It's not just Byron’s playing that's killer, or the parts that are great, it's the fact that those parts were made to go with what's going on around them.
And that can be said with, I think, all the best things, whether you're talking about Michael Anthony, how stark some of those lines are. Back in the Van Halen days, everybody was like, "Aw, poo-poo on Michael Anthony!" but, you know, go screw! Because those lines were perfect! They were perfect for what they did.
They were raw and...
They needed to sit, they were pretty slick. You kinda hid how good he was in a way and it was easy to miss him, a little bit, because you had Alex and Eddie and then you had a goofy-ass front man dancing around, hopping off things and [imitates a David Lee Roth trademark scream] doing this thing!
So, it's easy to miss some players that are really integral and did the right thing at the right time for the song. And I'm hoping that we have more players like that in the future, you've got Troy [Sanders] from Mastodon who's...
Who is awesome!
Who's awesome. Well, the ball-sack brothers – which maybe they're never referred to as this – but the ball-sack brothers are all great!
They're aaaawesome people man...
[chuckles] But he's an amazing dude, and you listen to those parts in the songs – not only are the overall songs and the band a great band, but the parts are just right. As he said, I'm never gonna compete with these guitar players that are frickin' awesome...
And he's singing that crazy stuff at the same time too, which is a whole other thing.
Yeah, that's the part I don't get with players like Geddy and Les Claypool and these guys that can do these crazy things and sing at the same time. That's pretty amazing. I remember listening to pianists [like] Dubravka Tomsic, and listening to Chopin and such, and listening to the left and the right hand do completely different things and being completely amazed. Or Stanley Jordan stuff, you know, holy cow, melody and counter-melody at the same time. John Patitucci! Oh my gosh, these things that completely amaze me, that people can really stretch their wings that far, that there’s such a scope. I hope to see what I saw when I finally realized…Chick Corea, Inside Out [1990, GRP]. When I got that record, it about blew my top off.
So when I got that, it took me two or three years to even realize that it wasn't keyboards that I was hearing, it was actually the bass, just because I didn't have the whole scope of what bass could do. I didn't really understand it, and I still don't, you know? The-more-you-know/the-less-you-know kind of attitude I have, but I hope to see that in metal and in rock, the genre itself, that people coming up will not even know that that was a bass guitar that did that, and then later on down the road, they'll come to the realization, "Wow, this is really what you can do with this instrument.”
Let me make a hard right turn towards gear here. That sound that you've got going on with the very ultra-bright steel string vibe – how do you get that sound on the record, and what’s your live rig?
I'm pretty straightforward. Most of it's with my hand. I run everything wide open on the bass, split the pickups evenly…
What bass is it?
The Thumb, Warwick Thumb.
Got it, okay.
Which, I have one that's my baby. It's mainly what I'm using in the studio, and it's wonderful. I just talked to Jonas Hellborg about this. Talk about another amazing player. I got to see him and T.M. [Stevens] go for it at NAMM, it was so cool. John Williams was there, and Bootsy [Collins] was right there, it was crazy! Crazy, crazy guys.
But I got to talk to Jonas, and it's interesting that you brought up studio gear. Everything that people have heard for the most part – let's let the secret out – from Tammy Wynette, Aretha Franklin to the metal of these days, you're hearing it through Neve [preamps] for the most part. It's all Neve. Even if you're using an SSL, it's the Neve pre’s. Well, when I was speaking to Jonas about this, I told him that I really don't care about my live rig because I'm on in-ears now and it's all about having a great monitor engineer, it's all about what I have in my ears, so the actual rig itself is kind of a secondary thing to me. It's the bass and a nice D.I. I use Avalon D.I.'s – I use them in the studio and I use them live. They break down a little bit, iffy on the road, but man, that's a beautiful D.I.
So it's really about the bass and just nailing it through a nice pre and then just hearing it for you?
Yeah, and that's why Jonas designed the Hellborg stuff with that in mind. When I was speaking to him about that, I told him that it's all about those Neve pre’s and he's like "Well, I designed it with that in mind, that's why it sounds the way it sounds." And man, if you have a chance to play the Hellborg gear, it's freaking killer, bro.
So are you using that live as your onstage rig?
I will be. I don't have it yet but I played it at NAMM, and I didn't get to tinker. I was, to be quite frank, I was a little sheepish about playing, because like I said, all those guys and Steve DiGiorgio was right next to me.
[laughs] Perfect, standing between Jonas Hellborg and Steve DiGiorgio.
And Mike Inez was on the other side. So, here I am in this amazing company, so I really was a little frightened and I'm never frightened, never ever frightened to play on-stage. But man, in that kind of company, how can't you be? But yeah, I'll be using the Hellborg gear for sure, but I'm using the Warwick stuff right now.
You know, gear is gear is gear. It comes from your hands and it comes from, once again, how it works with the other instruments, and if you have a good producer who knows how to make that tone subtle. I hear from producers that bass guitar is one of the hardest things to do because you don't know how much to compress it or how much to leave it open, you don't know what things to sweep and cut out on your EQ to make it sit in just the right place. And with a player like me who has some different dynamic elements, it becomes even more difficult to get it to sit right, so when you hear a really good bass, you can pretty much count on a really good producer. Or just the right pieces at the right time with the right band.
If you had to classify what Mudvayne does in a metal sub-genre, what would you say?
Anything you want to add? Do you not see it as a metal band?
I don't know. I mean, really, the answer is I don't know. I just said the first thing that came across my head because metal to me seems to be this boxed-in thing and we don't live in that box, and I don't think a lot of bands do so it's a hard question to answer. It's not non-metal, it's metal sometimes, sometimes it's rock, sometimes there's some funk in there. What is it that we do? We make music.
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