“ONE APPROACH AS A BASSIST IS TO be minimalistic,” says Joey Vera. “But the bass can also be another voice in a song. It can be a game changer, helping to elevate a chorus or accentuate something in a bridge.” For the past 30 years, Vera has been using his nuanced style and gritty tone to elevate and accentuate the music of several innovative metal bands. He rose to fame in the mid ’80s with power metal band Armored Saint and has since gone on to play with progressive metal pioneers Fates Warning and Arch/ Matheos. In 2010, Vera produced, wrote, and played bass on Armored Saint’s sixth CD, La Raza, and last year he laid down the thunder on Arch/Matheos’ Sympathetic Resonance.
What are the challenges of playing in progressive metal bands?
Guitar players cover the whole frequency range, and they can be selfish when it comes to sharing. They’ve got bumps at 100Hz and below, and their major spikes are from 1k up to 10k; there’s no room for us to play with. It’s tough to be the person stuck between the kick drum and the lead guitar.
How do you get a tone that cuts through on tape?
For the last ten years or so, my preference has been to do my bass tracks after the guitar player has done his. In the old days, it was more common to do the drums first, then bass, guitars, and vocals. But when you’re playing with just the drummer and a scratch guitar part, you’re shooting in the dark as far as finding a tone that will cut through a wall of Marshalls. I don’t want to get in the way, but I want to make sure I’m heard. You need to hear the big picture in order to contribute something that’s going to make a difference.
How did you track the bass parts on Sympathetic Resonance?
I didn’t use any amps. It’s all direct and bi-amped, which is an approach I got from dUg Pinnick. I make one signal the low-end signal—I shelve everything off the high end and midrange. Then I use another channel that will be the opposite; I cut everything below 300Hz, and boost the highs. On these last two albums, distortion has become my friend, rather than my enemy. I use both a Tech 21 SansAmp PSA-1, which is mostly modeled for guitars, and a SansAmp RBI, which is for bass. I used the RBI as the low-frequency channel, and I rolled off a lot of the highs. The top end, distortion, and nastiness comes from the PSA-1. I also run a third, direct channel clean, which gives the mixing engineer another option for getting more definition.
What’s your approach for writing bass lines?
Songs write themselves, so I try to recognize what they want to do. If I can fi nd a way to be myself, feel comfortable, and jibe with the drummer and singer, I think I’m doing a good job.
HEAR HIM ON
Arch/Matheos, Sympathetic Resonance [Metal Blade, 2011]
Basses Fender American Standard Precision Bass, Fender American Standard Jazz Bass V
Rig Ampeg SVT head and 8x10 cab
Strings DR Strings Hi-Beams (.045– .105, .045–.125, and .050–.110)
Effects Diamond Bass Comp, Tech 21 SansAmp PSA-1, Tech 21 SansAmp RBI, Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble
Other Dunlop DC Brick Multi Power Supply, Line 6 Relay G30 wireless unit, Boss TU-2 tuner