AT 32 YEARS OLD, MATT RUBANO SEEMS TO HAVE IT PRETTY MUCH FIGURED OUT— tour the world with Taking Back Sunday, take a few months to record a new hit record, sub on Broadway in your spare time, and sharpen your jazz and fusion chops in the spaces between. It didn’t come easy for Rubano, but his years of hard work has begun to pay off in a big way. Matt took a minute to talk about what it all takes, and gave BP a glimpse at what went into making Taking Back Sunday’s latest, New Again [Reprise, 2009].
Photo by Contessa Abono
What was your process for writing the bass parts on New Again?
In pre-production, we demoed the entire album. When we started recording, we wanted to track as much as we could live. But it’s hard to do that and get everything on the track how we’d like it. We weren’t really happy with some of the bass and guitar tones, so we re-recorded all of it; we had a lot of specific tonal ideas that we wanted to get across, and they were the kinds of things that needed to be right, or we wouldn’t be happy with the album. We had to do that in just four and a half days to meet our mixing deadline. It was intense and challenging, but also a lot of fun. At that point, playing the parts wasn’t the challenge—it was nailing the tones and getting it done in enough time.
What exactly where you looking for with your tones?
We tried to share the space between the guitars and the bass in such a way that we got heaviness and different degrees of density, and not by simply layering tons of chunky guitars. We wanted to really have different guitar tones occupying different frequency spaces. The bass would have its own space, and the heaviness was created by sharing the entire spectrum, instead of just having tons of rhythm guitars in the mids, bass on the bottom, and leads on top. We let the content of each part really dictate the tone; I went for super-heavy fuzz on certain songs, and lead tones on others. If we had a sparkly-sounding part, we wanted it to float on top. If the bass part was pumping eight-notes, we wanted it to really lock up with the kick drum and have the right tone for rhythmic support.
It sounds like you’re using lots of distortion on the record. What gear worked?
We almost recorded exclusively with a DI, but I used a Fulltone overdrive petal, an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, and a Dunlop Crybaby Wah. I used a Boss OC- 2 octave pedal for “Carpathia.” Aside from that, it was all about re-amping through my Aguilar to try to put the tone together. And we made some tweaks during mixing to really make certain parts shine.
The band has a new guitar player, Matt Fazzi. How has that changed things?
Matt is a very atypical rock guitarist. He has a knack for odd time signatures and parts that cross the bar line and wrap around. On “New Again,” for example, the verses have essentially four guitar parts that change every two bars. For me, that works really well because it allows me to complement that phrasing. Also, now the other guys really push me to play at the far reaches of my abilities. At times where I might be more inclined to lay back, they call on me to step up and unload whatever craziness I can come up with.
I have a sort of reputation as a jazz and fusion session player, and in this band I try to counter that by being supportive. But these guys always want me to bring in those elements of my playing. We’re not talking about extended solos and crazy samba grooves or anything, but I’m able to really express myself in a fuller way now. Some of that comes from the guitars being willing to share the bass and guitar space in such a way that we’re all serving a larger purpose. It frees me from that mundane, archaic support role we’re “supposed” to play as bassists. I totally love simple lines— I don’t feel like complexity is more enjoyable than simplicity. I think it’s all dictated by whatever you’re trying to accomplish musically. When there is space to reach out, I certainly like to do so. And I feel listeners like to hear that, as well.
How do you know when to do that and when not to?
I don’t like to step on toes. There’s nothing worse than listening to any ensemble where you can tell one person isn’t listening to the others. The philosophies that have helped me serve TBS best come from my experience in straight-a-head jazz settings, where I’m always aware of everyone that I’m playing with. For example, when Adam [Lazzara, singer] finishes a line with an ascending melody, I might follow up with an ascending line of my own. I try to do it in spaces where it’s pleasing to the ear and not conflicting with anything else, first and foremost locking with the drums.
Who are some of your influences?
In some ways, it reads like the pages of Bass Player! I’ve had the really good fortune to study with some of the more beloved bass players like Victor Wooden, Otell Burbridge, John Patitucci, and Victor Bailey. I was one of the first students at the Bass Collective in New York City, and those guys were teaching in that first year. They were all in New York at the same time, so I was able to learn about funk from Victor Bailey, harmonic consideration and improvisation from John Patitucci, straightup soul from Oteil Burbrigde. These are lessons that never go away. Certainly Jaco Pastorius changed my life as a musician, James Jamerson changed my life as a bass player and composer. There are guys on every street corner that I love. Chris Wolstenholme from Muse, Juan Alderete from the Mars Volta….
There are some boring bass players in rock, but then there are these gems like Chris and Juan. And of course there are guys like Flea. I really owe my entire life as a musician to Flea, not because of his fantastic slapping ability or any of that stuff, but because that was what attracted me to the bass in the first place. From there I discovered Bach, Miles Davis, and Jaco. In high school I was listening to Jane’s Addiction, Fishbone, Primus, and that whole early-’90s alternative exposition. Those bands all had very prominent bass players who where doing really interesting things in the context of their bands, and it all had a tremendous influence on me.
Photo by Contessa Abono
What advice would you give aspiring bassists? What do you feel you’ve done right over the years?
If 17-year-old me could look at 32-year-old me, he’d be pretty psyched! It takes a certain amount of stubbornness and focus. I set out wanting to be a jazz and session musician. But that got old really fast, because it wasn’t as gratifying as being part of a musical situation that was accumulative, where we could watch something grow. Getting a paycheck is cool, but being a part of something like that is cooler.
After years of being in New York, touring with TBS, and playing all over the world, I would say that the last two years have been the most satisfying for me. I subbed on Broadway in a show that was very fun— a Latin-influenced musical called In The Heights. I am in the Sesame Street Workshops production of The Electric Company. I’ve started hosting a video countdown show on Fuse, I still have a jazz trio, and the occasional jingle gig comes my way, so I’ve been really lucky. The last two years have been a culmination of everything I’ve done. It’s taken almost 15 years, but all the seeds are now blossoming at once.
Sometimes that’s what it takes to get something going. You really have to eat a lot of rice, soup, and oatmeal while you’re trying to piece it together. It’s certainly come from practicing super hard, learning how to read, and loving all styles of music. I’m lucky, because I’m not a guitar player that got relegated to bass. I’m a born-and-raised bass player, and I’ve been told many times that my love for playing my instrument shines through. That’s what makes people want to have me around.-CA