“It changed everything. We were playing these little shows outside town and when the song hit, everything changed. It was unbelievable.” Alter Bridge bassist Brian Marshall is talking about the sudden, and immense, success of his other band, Creed, who were elevated to the rock stratosphere in 1997 with the release of a single, ‘My Own Prison’. All these years later, Marshall is fortunate enough not only to play with Creed – who reformed after a three-year layoff, although he’d left in difficult circumstances in 2000 – but also with Alter Bridge, the band formed in that hiatus.
Marshall deploys a range of basses with his two bands, endorsing Sadowskys but using many other models as requirements dictate. “I keep the Sadowskys for playing live,” he tells us, “although I’ve also used Fender Jazz basses and a Music Man in the past. For recording, though, I only use a Stingray five-string. Its B string has a more piano-like sound: the B string on the Sadowsky does have a lot of oomph behind it, but there’s something about the Stringray. Also, the neck is thinner and I’m able to be more precise with it, I think. I just love to play the Sadowskys live – there’s something about the way that I can attack the strings a little harder, and they’ll still come across clean in the mix. With the Stingray, I finesse the bass a lot more, and it’s the best sound that I can get when I’m recording. It’s been a trial-and-error issue, but every record I’ve been on since [Creed’s 1999 album] Human Clay, I’ve used that same bass.”
Asked how he’s evolved as a bass player in the 25 years that he’s been playing professionally, Marshall explains: “I’ve gotten faster. My fingers are definitely a lot quicker. Theory-wise, I’ve come a long way too. Playing with our drummer Scott Phillips really helps, of course – I really key into the nuances that he plays and see what we can do together, especially when writing music. I really love the bass drum and snare drum, and I try to lock into then as much as I can.”
Is he also a more intuitive player these days, we ask? Definitely: “Early on in my career I did my own thing, maybe, whereas now I play more collectively among all the musicians in the band – I key into different things and different melodies or guitar parts. They inspire me to do something different and I look for that a bit more. I look for inspiration within whatever’s happening.”
Every player has areas for improvement, though, agrees Marshall. “I’d like to improve my improvisational playing. Players who improvise are hard to come by. I’m a song guy, and I like to develop songs and verses and get up there and play with the guys. You know, when you don’t know the song, all you know is the key – and there’s certain guys that can do that and certain other guys who are really skilled in that area. That’s something I would love to be better at.”