By the time you read this, Sean Tibbetts will probably already be back out on the road at his “day job” in American power metal band Kamelot. It’s a gig he excels at, with a highly distinct style and tone that perfectly complements the symphonic nature of the band’s otherworldly metal. Over the past seven years, however, during his down time from the rigors of the road, Tibbetts managed to put together Seeds of Power, the debut from his new side project, Sault, which was officially released on March 2nd. It’s the first time Tibbetts has ever embarked up on a leadership role, so the band name couldn’t be more apropos, even if unintentional. “Sault” comes from colonial French, meaning “waterfall or rapid,” but is also an alternative spelling of saut, which means “to leap.” To say that Seeds of Power is a leap of faith for Tibbetts would be an understatement. And to think he was simply and creatively just re-spelling “salt.”
While Seeds of Power songs like “Balance,” “Guilt” and “Fragile” feature some really cool, greasy bass glissandos, astounding bass solos, and melodic, two-hand-tapping breakdowns, the proficiency with which Tibbetts attacks his instrument isn’t the focus on Seeds of Power. Sault, it turns out, is way more band endeavor than solo foray, and Tibbetts is quite pleased by that fact. With writing and performance contributions from Arcanium’s Benjamin Riggs (vocals), Curtis Jay (guitar) and drummers Casey Grillo (Kamelot) and Matt Thompson (King Diamond), Sault turned into a collaborative endeavor that resulted in an album not only of stellar musicianship, but also of well-crafted songs. BP caught up with Tibbetts as he was preparing for Kamelot’s upcoming US tour in support of their latest album, The Shadow Theory (Napalm Records), which drops in April.
What was the catalyst for Sault?
Probably my resentment for being content. I could just sit back and play in Kamelot and do the things we do, but I felt the need to expand my reach and try something I have never done—I've never been in the driver’s seat. I've played many different styles of music, but never written anything like this. Sault is a cross of hard rock and metal. I wanted to write music that wasn't just inundated with double bass drums—I wanted songs that gave the music time to breathe. We also wanted to keep it simple with just bass, guitar, drums and vocals. Lately, I have been seeing a lot bands that come out on stage and are just a wall of pre-recorded tracks or keyboards that fill every inch of music. That kind of thing feels over-produced to me and we wanted more of an organic sound for this album. Will we expand on the follow up to Seeds of Power? We will see. We have already started writing for the next Sault album.
I understand you had a pretty severe accident when you were young that almost jeopardized your playing career.
I played guitar from when I was 12 until 16 and played in a few cover bands in high school, but I cut my left wrist at my day job opening boxes with a box knife. The doctors told me I would never play guitar again. That was a tough pill to swallow. I've done my best to prove them wrong [laughs]. After I healed, the bass bug sunk its teeth into me and I never looked back. I love being the foundation for the band and writing grooves that go outside of the usual “follow-the-guitarist” trend. I don't know of anything better than that euphoric feeling you get when you lock into a groove with the rhythm section. It's the stuff bassists live for.
When you were first learning to play, did you ever try to master anyone's style?
I have always tried to be unique in my playing, and not be overly influenced by any one player or style. Having said that, the guys that really inspired me to play are John Paul Jones, John Entwistle, Geezer Butler, Billy Sheehan, Victor Wooten and Geddy Lee. I could go on, but those guys are the real thing. Note that they are all four-stringers. That may be my biggest influence from those guys. They wrote all those amazing songs on four strings and that speaks loudly to me. I am constantly asked why only four strings? I refer to my list of giants.
How did you track your bass on Seeds of Power?
I ran direct and used a few variations depending on the song. I used different plug-ins, but the underlying main tone is a [Tech 21] SansAmp DI and compression settings in Pro Tools. I then added some dirt to a second channel and our producer Oliver Palotai [Kamelot keyboardist] blended them for a truly unique tone. Oliver originally wanted me to use just a clean sound, but I dug my heels in and said "No." My reason for this was simple, none of the songs were written with a clean bass tone, and I had worked diligently to come up with something different. Bands like Motörhead, Rush and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all have a very unique sound. From the first note, you can identify those bands. And one of the most telling features of those bands is the bass. I wanted Sault to have that same kind of element. Overall, I feel like we accomplished this, and the bass really cuts the mix.
Did you write and record this record together in a room or remotely, sharing files back and forth?
First, I am pledging right now that we will not take so long to record the next album [laughs]. The band is cheering in the background [laughs]. We wrote this album over five years in our spare time, in our home studios. I told everyone to do what they wanted as far as writing. It was about artistic freedom and playing what felt right to that person. I would write a little with a drum machine and pass it on to Curtis Jay. He then sent it to our singer Riggs, who would arrange it to best fit his vocals and then send it off to the drummer. Once we had a song, we re-recorded it and sent it off to Oliver to produce and mix.
I understand you practice a lot when not touring or recording?
I'm the kind of player that requires constant practice to keep my chops up. I am always looking on YouTube for new styles, approaches and techniques. I never seem to master any of them, but it does inspire new ideas and keeps me from becoming stagnant or getting stuck in a rut. I also refer to my old scales and theory books to keep myself in line.
You have a very distinct, recognizable sound and style. How did that evolve?
My technique is awful, so I'm told. "Your technique is wrong," says the guy in the back of the room with his arms crossed, looking disgusted [laughs]. My technique is not, as I like to call it, the "Bass Tie," up by your neck, but it works for me. My bass is an extension of my body. It is a part of me—my mind, body and soul. Players need to focus on what makes the creative juices flow from their minds, to the strings and out to your listeners, not how I hold the bass or strike the string. In the end, can you write pieces of music people want to hear? That is the important stuff. My playing and body movement is a direct reflection of the music being created. Every note is important, and you should feel it before, during and after you play it.
You apply effects very tastefully throughout the record. The distortion on “Peaceful Moment” comes to mind.
This was one of the last songs we did for Seeds of Power. I just threw some drum patterns into Pro Tools and started writing. When it got to the lead break I was shooting for a Judas Priest-type feel. Well, I totally blew it and missed that mark, but came up with something completely different [laughs]. Distortion on the entire song—love, love, love it.
“Last Man Standing” is another.
When I originally wrote it, I didn't care much for the opening riff until I heard it with guitar and then it was like, “Oh yeah, that's cool.” The slow breaks are unique in that I haven't heard a band do anything quite like what we did. I put a touch of chorus and reverb on it to give it that throaty feeling of doom. I'm proud of the bass work in the lead. It’s some of the more technical bass playing I did on the album.
Any advice for aspiring bassists?
Make every note you play count. Be unique in your style and tone. Never give up and you will be a successful bassist. Strive to be a kinder person than you were yesterday, and happiness will fill your cup. Stop bootlegging music or Karma will burn your house down [laughs].
HEAR HIM ON:
Seeds of Power, Sault (Saulty Records)
Basses ESP Stream Series, ESP Horizon (fretless), ESP TL-4Z Thinline Series (acoustic), Warwick Alien 4 (acoustic)
Amps Tech 21 SansAmp Bass DI, Alien Ears (in-ear monitors)
Effects Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork Polyphonic Pitch Shifter, Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion, Boss CEB-3 Bass Chorus, Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner
Strings Elixir .050 - .105
Picks InTune 1.0mm
Accessories Hipshot Bass Xtenders