Former BP cover artist and contributing columnist Bryan Beller is such an overall bass beast that other musical monsters such as Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, and Metalocalypse/Dethklok’s Brendon Small have been seeking him out for over 20 years. Since 2013 Beller has anchored Joe Satriani’s band, which also features Keneally and drum demon Marco Minnemann. Beller is also a player/manager in the fusion trio the Aristocrats, featuring Minnemann on drums along with freak fretmaster Guthrie Govan—whose fretboard chops rival Satriani’s, but in a completely different, often whimsical, and even hilarious context. On both bands’ new CDs, Beller shows that he knows what to do and what not to do for a given situation. With the Aristocrats, Beller routinely plays things only a mutant with an extra bass chromosome could fathom. He keeps it human for Satch’s alien surfing.
What kind of direction did Satriani provide when you accepted his gig?
Not much! Joe’s not trying to fool anybody with his music. It’s melodic instrumental rock, and the songs have very straightforward forms. After nearly two years on the road, I was honored that he trusted me to know the difference between playing live and recording, and also not to overplay on the very solid songs he wrote.
What’s your overall M.O. playing with Satch?
I generally go for an aggressive rock sound or something a little smoother, and I change my finger attack accordingly. For something like “A Phase I’m Going Through” or “Cataclysmic,” I’ll let my fingers fly through the strings for rock chime and aggression. For a darker, tighter sound on songs such as “Stars Race Across the Sky” or “San Francisco Blue,” I’ll shorten my finger stroke so there’s no real top end to interfere with other, more important frequencies.
Can you compare your playing with Satriani to the Aristocrats?
Talk about opposite worlds! There’s so much going on bass-wise in the Aristocrats—partly because we’re a power trio, partly because Guthrie writes intricate bass parts, and partly because we’re generally pushing the envelope. “Jack’s Back” has a ton of high-register double-stops and fingerboard- spanning parts. “Pig’s Day Off” is intricate and difficult, even though it’s a ballad of sorts. My composition “Texas Crazypants” has a pretty serious high-octane Dixie Dregs-ish riff in the chorus. The Aristocrats’ music is far denser than Joe’s stuff, and the contrast of density vs. economy is a great musical balance for me.
What’s your tonal palette for the Aristocrats?
I’ve got a very aggressive, overdriven sound for “Stupid 7,” “ZZ Top,” and “Texas Crazypants.” I use a darker, fuzzier overdriven tone on the spaghetti western “Smuggler’s Corridor.” I use clean, bright tones on “Jack’s Back” and “Pig’s Day Off,” and clean, dark tones on “Pressure Relief,” “The Kentucky Meat Shower,” and “Through the Flower.” It’s the full palette, and that’s what’s great about the Aristocrats. You need to bring everything.
The Aristocrats, Tres Caballeros [2015, Boing!]; Joe Satriani, Shockwave Supernova [2015, Sony]
Basses Mike Lull M5 (active), Mike Lull PJ5 (passive)
Strings D’Addario ProSteels (.045–.130)
Rig Gallien-Krueger Fusion 550 head, Gallien- Krueger 2001RB head, 4 Gallien-Krueger 410RBH 4x10 cabinets
Effects Boss OC-2 Octave, Electro- Harmonix MicroSynth, Xotic Effects Bass BB Preamp, DigiTech Bass Driver, Aphex Bass Xciter, Providence ABC- 1 Anadime Bass Chorus, Boss DD-3 Digital Delay, TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, TC Electronic Flashback Delay, Demeter Opto Compulator, Dunlop Cry Baby 105Q Bass Wah