STALKING THE STAGE LIKE A caged cat, pounding his low-slung PBass with a sneer solidly etched on his face, Eric Avery seems like a man with a lot on his mind. Between 1985 and 1991, the Jane’s Addiction bassist crafted some of the catchiest subhooks in modern rock. Since rejoining the seminal alternative rock band earlier this year, he’s been on a quest to make it all sound better. On a recent stop outside San Francisco, Avery sat for a spell with BP to talk about the perils of low end, the importance of punch, and his practiced methods for attaining balance.
You primarily played Precision Basses when you first were with Jane’s Addiction, switched to Jazz Basses in your solo work and when you toured with Garbage, and are now back to playing P-Basses. Why is that?
I suppose I wanted a psychic break from what I had done in the past. I didn’t think about it much until we started doing some recording earlier this year with Trent Reznor. He assumed I would want a P-Bass, so he had one waiting for me in the studio.
This is your first tour with Jane’s since you left in 1991. How are things different for you this time out?
There have been points as we’ve been revisiting these songs where I’ve had to make decisions whether to keep my original lines or change them to suit me now. When I was a kid, I was making instinctual decisions, and didn’t really know wrong notes from right. In general, I’ve tried to stick with the spirit of the original parts.
What has changed for you in terms of tone?
I find the bass on our old recordings was very midrange heavy. This time out, I wanted to round things out a little bit. On this tour, we’re playing a step lower than the originals, and the thicker strings [.050–.110], combined with Steven’s tendency to be a rumbling drummer, can create a low-end overload. I try to get a strong low-end signal, and then put in some ultrahigh frequencies via the cabinet’s tweeter to get the pick sound to cut through. I try to scoop out the mids with my pedals, but I wind up putting them back in for more punch. With this kind of thing—especially in Jane’s Addiction—it’s good to have more of a high-end sheen on bass, since it’s basically playing the role of a rhythm guitar. A bottom-heavy signal might fit well in a traditional rock band, but it can sound muddy and lifeless when it’s on its own.
Aside from playing this run of live shows, what are you working on?
I’ve been working on my own stuff while out on tour, getting bits of noise clips from soundcheck and messing around with them in Ableton Live, Reason, Pro Tools, or Logic, depending on the task at hand.
Your setup now includes a pretty well stocked pedalboard, something you never had in the old days with Jane’s. What do you like to use in terms of effects?
I use the MXR octave pedal the most, because there are several occasions when I’m playing an octave higher than a bass normally would, and I find I’m missing some of the low end. Poor tracking is what kept me from using octave pedals in the past, but the MXR pedal tracks really well. I use that on “And Then She Did” and on “Stop.”
At one point before we went out on the road, we were experimenting with having more improvisational moments in the show, where I would create loops with my delay pedals and looper, creating beds of sound that I can then riff over. We haven’t done much of that, though. It’s strange—you really have to put in a lot of time practicing to properly play with pedals, because you need to get a good feel for how the pedal reacts.
Who’s an up-and-coming bassist whose playing you admire?
The one bass player I’ve been loving lately is one that nobody has really heard of yet. His name is Jonathan Hitchkey, and he plays in my friend Josh Klinghoffer’s band. He’s also done stuff with Omar Rodriguez of the Mars Volta. He’s a really inventive player, and people are going to be hearing more from him soon. He makes really surprising note choices—choices I would never make. I’m always looking for people who are able to be unusual and inventive without overplaying, and that’s a tough thing. Jonathan’s playing really brings a unique character to songs.
Basses:Two Fender American Standard Precision Basses
Rig:Fender TB-1200 head, Fender 610 6x10 and 215 2x15 cables
Effects:Boss TU-2 Tuner, MXR Bass DI+, Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth, Boss DD-6 Digital Delay, Boss DD-7 Digital Delay, MXR Bass Octave Deluxe, MXR Micro Amp, DigiTech WH-1 Whammy, Boss FV-50H Volume, Radial JDI direct box, Mogami cable