Three years ago, Chris Kael was pretty much done with the idea of being a professional bassist. He was 37, working as a bartender in Las Vegas, and wondering if the chances of being successful at his age were over. Plus, he and his wife had always wanted to open a small, six- or eight-room hotel on the beach in Belize with a little beachfront bar. “I was thinking it might be time to throw in the towel and really focus on this other thing,” he confesses. “So I put all of my basses and amps on Craigslist. I was done.”
But then Kael heard that Vegas-based Five Finger Death Punch was looking for a bass player. “I thought, If you really want this, go after it.” So one night, after attending a System Of A Down show and gathering what he calls “Crown Royal confidence,” Chris sent a message to FFDP guitarist Jason Hook on Facebook. “The message was, ‘Hey, I’m Chris. I’m in Vegas. I know you guys are looking for a bass player. Look no further. Check with our mutual friends—I’m sure they’ll give me a positive recommendation.’”
Today, Kael is firmly entrenched in FFDP, which is on a national co-headlining tour with Volbeat. His wicked bass playing anchors both installments of the band’s The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, and he was recently voted Best Bassist by Revolver magazine among a group that also included Geezer Butler, Rex Brown, and Fieldy. Not too shabby for a guy ready to pack it in three years ago.
What’s the key to crafting bass parts that can cut through FFPD’s guitar riffs?
The biggest thing for me is not playing exactly what the guitars are doing. As a bass player, I have to figure out how to make the song the best it can be while still being heard, especially with the intense rhythms we have. In the first chorus of “Battle Born,” for example, there’s a lot of melody on the bass behind the guitars. It’s about doing things differently.
What about tone-wise?
When I first joined Death Punch, my basses had humbuckers, and I found that with our style, with so much low end, the humbuckers weren’t cutting through. Then I played a Spector with EMG P/J pickups, and it changed my world—the Spector has bite and drive, as well as clarity.
Would you agree that the guitars in FFDP occupy more low-end than the bass?
Yes. We tune to B standard [Kael’s bass is tuned BEAD], and in metal, the guitar always has been and always will be the dominant instrument. I’m basically there to add another layer, and with the guitars being so low, I had to find a way to develop my sound. So I ended up occupying the midrange rather than dominating the low frequencies.
How did you prepare for the audition?
I was bartending at the Cosmopolitan in Vegas, and I gave away all my shifts that week. I had to learn three songs for the audition, so for five days, I played those three songs ten hours a day—I wanted muscle memory.
Any advice for our readers?
If there’s something you truly want, put 110 percent into it—or somebody else will. Also, use the tools that are out there. As good a bass player as I am, there’s no way I would have gotten the audition—or won the Revolver award, which was driven by voters—without social networking. I would never consider myself the best bassist in metal. But the best social networker? Clearly, I’m good at that!
Basses Spector Chris Kael CK-4 signature bass
Rig Mesa Big Block 750, Mesa PowerHouse Traditional 8x10
Strings & Picks Dunlop Nickel Wound (.045–.105), Dunlop Tortex .88mm
Etc. Tech 21 SansAmp RBI Rackmount Bass Tube Amp Emulator