DAVE “PHOENIX” FARRELL IS USED TO BEING the cornerstone. His band, Linkin Park, has dabbled in lots of flavors since 1996, journeying from nu-metal roots to alternative rock and stints of hip-hop to electronic rock, all with a large ensemble comprising two guitars, two vocalists, drums, and a DJ with an array of electronic samples, programmed sequences, and triggers. Underneath it all, Farrell’s bass lines have fortified the intense sonic landscapes, and like many a stealth powerhouse, Farrell has skillfully tailored his lines to function as the deep pulse at the center of the maelstrom.
But when it came time to assemble The Hunting Party, their recently released sixth album, Farrell and his bandmates decided to get back to their first loves—rock and metal—which meant a larger role for the bass guitar. Farrell stepped up to the plate, flaunting carefully crafted tone that cuts through the dense mix with powerfully distorted midrange on some songs and rumbles deeply with warm clarity on others. Alternating between using a pick and his fingers on his StingRay and P-Basses, Farrell got tenacious and fast on songs like “Keys to the Kingdom” and “War,” while tracks like “Guilty All the Same” and “Drawbar” proved his ability to lock in with drummer Rob Bourdon at slower tempos. Given the dynamic nature of the album, Farrell never skipped a beat, standing out when it was appropriate and blending in when the song called for it. The result? The most prominent bass ever on a Linkin Park album.
Despite his stellar work on The Hunting Party, though, the dude sitting outside his band’s Los Angeles studio waiting to start rehearsal is levelheaded about it all. “This a basketball team where somebody has to grab the rebounds, and that’s the role of the bass,” explains Farrell. “If that’s your role, you’re not battling to score baskets, shoot three-pointers, or rack up 30 points a game. But you’re essential to the team and you hold down the foundation. And that’s one of the most important responsibilities in the whole scope of music.”
How were the writing sessions for The Hunting Party?
In the beginning, Mike was bringing in a lot of electronically driven concepts that were an extension of what we’d already been doing. At a certain point, we got tired of hearing all that, and we wanted to hear something we weren’t finding in the music world, something more along the lines of our original rock influences. So we started working in that direction, and what came out of those sessions was much more appealing and energetic. That got us inspired and motivated.
Did the new direction change how you approached your bass playing?
As the record was shaping up to be heavier and more guitar-driven, I wanted to push what we were doing with the bass tone and with my playing. With five other guys in the band, I have so many sounds coming at me that it can be difficult to play anything technical; songs can get really busy with that much going on. But once we focused everything around drums, guitar, and bass, it was definitely easier to play more. I really drew from the phases in my life when I was really excited to play bass.
What was it like producing this album on your own?
In the past, we’ve always worked the songs up to a certain point and then brought in an outside ear. We didn’t set out to self-produce this record, but once we got into a certain place with our writing, we decided that we wanted to take it to the finish line ourselves. Brad [Delson, guitar] took over that role, Mike [Shinoda, vocals/guitar] steered the ship creatively, and we made sure everyone was on the same page.
What was your signal path in the studio?
I blend DI and a microphone capture of my amp, and if we’re looking for a thick or dirty sound, we’ll use a few different pedals to get the right tones. Some pedals sound good only in the studio, so I like to test out a lot of different effects. I always love the classic SVT sound in the studio, but we generally try out a lot of things and then create a reference with a couple of key tones for the bass—a few things that help keep us consistent throughout the record. But I do like changing things up from song to song to find what’s best for the track.
Do you ever find yourself fighting for space with the other members?
It’s different for each track, and I experiment to find what will best serve the song. I never want to play something simply for the sake of being heard. When I’m approaching writing, it’s never so much about what the bass will be doing. It’s more about what I can do to best serve the song. Maybe the bass will be best coming from a keyboard or a sample, or my electric bass that’s tweaked through distortion pedals.
How would you define your playing in Linkin Park?
The bass style I appreciate most, and the one I gravitate toward, is melodically aligned with the vocals and guitars and rhythmically aligned with the drums and samples. I’ve always appreciated the skill level that goes into jazz bass and other intricate styles, but I’ve always felt more of a connection with bass that has a groove and a soul. For better or for worse, I tend to gravitate away from the flashier stuff and more toward players like Adam Clayton from U2 or Paul McCartney. I love what they bring to the table and how they support the song.
Farrell (far right) with Linkin Park How frequently do you switch between using a pick and your fingers?
I usually use both about 50/50. I like the option to be able to do either, so I’m always holding a pick, but I play a lot with my fingers while the pick is in there. I’ll hold it with my ring finger and pinkie finger while bridging with my thumb and playing with my index and middle finger. That way I can just drop the pick into my fingers in the middle of a song. A lot of times, I’ll play verses and bridges with fingers and the choruses with a pick to get a little more growl and cut through better.
You also seem to gravitate toward the lower register.
Definitely. Live, I like to mostly play on the E and the A strings. The low end is more solid that way. I could pretty easily get away with playing a two-stringed bass because I like the tone and the sound of the lower registers of the instrument. I don’t ever like getting up too high, so I rarely play the D or G. That puts a lot of pressure on my tech to keep my intonation locked in every night.
What do you work on when you’re practicing on your own?
It varies. The last four weeks or so, we’ve been in rehearsals quite a bit, and when we’re playing for five or six hours straight, I don’t play on my own much. But when that’s not happening, I play quite a bit throughout the week. I play a lot of bass, but I also like to write on piano and guitar. My original background was in classical music; I started with many years of playing violin and cello. I like to go back to those fundamental things and keep my playing up to speed on them.
How have you become a better bassist over the years?
When I was starting out as a bass player, I spent a lot of time figuring out elements of funk, how to play percussively and as technically as I possibly could. As I developed different chops, I tended to force them into everything I was writing, and I tried to figure out how I could show off my skills. But at a certain point, I got really interested in the songwriting side of things. I moved away from the technical side of bass playing and started focusing on the feel of the song rather than adding another focal point; I wanted my playing to give each song a well-rounded personality, with depth of character.
What advice would you give another bass player?
When I was growing up, someone told me to never put my instrument in a case, and it seemed like such a silly thing, but I took it to heart. Obviously, you want to protect your bass from wear and tear, but if your bass is out on a stand in your room and you can see it, then there are so many times in the day when you can pick it up and play it. Make your bass a regular part of your daily routine. Playing for six ten-minute segments a day might be much easier than sitting down for a solid hour. Early on, when your fingers hurt and you’re developing calluses, keep picking up your bass every day. You’re going to get a lot better very fast. It worked for me.
Linkin Park, The Hunting Party [Warner Bros.]
Basses Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay 4- and 5-strings, 1959 reissue Fender Precision Bass
Amps Ampeg SVT-Classic, SansAmp PSA-1, Ampeg SVT-810E 8x10 and PN-410HLF 4x10
Pedals Dirty Boy Bass Bully, ZVex Vextron Mastotron Fuzz, EHX Holy Grail
Strings Dean Markley Blue Steel .045–.105