When most musicians pick up their instruments, they dream about performing concerts at sold-out venues, aspire to record albums that are spun on repeat, imagine their playing being studied and emulated, and yearn to be adored and admired by hoards of ravenous fans. All of that is fine and dandy to bass virtuoso Evan Brewer, who has accomplished all those things and more in his 36 years—but for him the thrill comes in the practice. “For me, practicing is the best part about being a musician, probably more than playing live or even recording. I love being in a room with just my bass and exploring new territory and trying to grow. That’s what excites me.”
Maybe growing up in “Music City” Nashville instilled such a strong work ethic in him, or maybe it was studying with Regi and Victor Wooten during his formidable years, which gave him both the discipline and ambition to master techniques such as double thumb slapping, tapping, chordal strumming, and all of the other fast-twitch moves that Evan so effortlessly pulls off in his wildly popular YouTube videos. It was all of those hours playing behind closed doors that led him to become a luminary in the metal world as he established himself with his bands the Faceless, Animosity, and Reflux, which paired him with the talented Tosin Abasi of Animals As Leaders. It was putting in the time in his musical upbringing of studying theory, chords, modes, and scales that led to his two masterful solo albums Alone (2011) and Your Itinerary (2013).
Entheos: (L–R) Navene Koperweis, Evan Brewer, Chaney Crabb, Travis LeVrier
And now Brewer is applying his tactical mastery to its fullest extent with his progressive metal supergroup Entheos. Composed of singer Chaney Crabb, guitarist Travis LeVrier, and Brewer’s longtime rhythm section partner, drummer Navene Koperweis, Entheos has just released its second album in two years. Exploring slower tempos, commanding dramatic mood shifts, and anchoring in groove-based riffs, Dark Future is a complex and dynamic album that doesn’t rely on speed and brutality as much as its predecessor, 2016’s The Infinite Nothing. With Brewer contributing a lot of the album’s structure, it’s brimming with orchestrated tapping sections, hard-hitting breakdowns, and heavy, rhythmic slapping, which is Brewer’s preferred technique on this material. A savage masterpiece from front to back, Dark Future shows the maturity of metal lifers who have spent years in sweaty clubs paying dues and honing their chops, but it also shows the hunger of a band whose potential has barely been tapped.
Brewer is currently juggling more than he ever has before: constant touring for the new album, a packed schedule of teaching lessons, and his first child, daughter Lily, born in December. Diaper bags need to be organized, material for an eventual third solo album has to be worked out, videos need to be edited, and tour itineraries have to be reviewed—but all of that will have to wait until Evan gets the sweet catharsis of his practice in.
Previously with this band, you would write to the riffs instead of writing the actual riffs. What was the process like this time?
It was totally different. I contributed a lot of the core concepts and brought in ideas that I might have potentially used on my future solo albums, and a lot of that stuff stuck. And this time, instead of sending stuff back and forth, we actually got together for brainstorming and writing sessions, which allowed us to work out individually written parts together. So you’re definitely hearing a lot of stuff that originated from the bass on this album. Once we converted my ideas into metal riffs, they became really cool, because it added a dimension that infused melodicism into our music.
So none of the ideas you brought in were metal?
Not one single thing that I brought in was heavy. It’s weird; I feel like I’m a versatile writer and I can write in a lot of styles, but I have a very hard time writing stuff that sounds metal right off the bat. Coming from the bass, it’s just hard to create a metal riff, because it’s such a guitar-driven genre. Instead, I would bring in a chord progression or something that sounded like it should have been on one of my albums, and then we’d turn it into guitar-based metal riffage. It was a tremendously inspiring way to go about it.
Was it a conscious decision to predominantly slap?
I chose slap as my most common technique because I like the way the attack sounds, and in this genre there aren’t a lot of players doing that. You can get that sound playing hard with a pick, but it would be really hard to achieve that using your fingers. I use the down-and-up “Wooten style” of double thumb slapping, and by doing that, you can emulate the sound of a pick. I’ve been doing it for years. It’s fun to adapt that technique to metal music, because you’re so far away from what would be a stereotypical slap part. There are certain lines that should be exclusively played using slap, like a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songs. You’re not going to play “Get Up and Jump” with a pick, because it’s a slap thing. But these parts aren’t like that. I’m just using that technique because I like that sound.
Your slapping is more utilitarian than show, and you do it with a lot of right-hand economy. How important is your technique to your sound?
It’s very important. With any player who has a specific right-hand style and they’ve been doing it for a long time, it becomes ingrained in what they do and a staple of their sound. I think of players like Gary Willis or Victor Wooten, or any player who has a unique right-hand technique. It doesn’t look weird when they do it—it looks smooth and internalized—but it might take someone else a lot of practice to get the same sound. I very rarely have to think about what my right hand is doing, but when you use a technique for a genre or style that it’s not usually based in, sometimes you have to sit and think about it. That’s the case for me with bringing this type of slap into the metal arena.
How did Entheos avoid the sophomore slump?
It was easy, because there was still so much left on the table for exploration. Even after this album, I don’t feel like we’ve begun to tap into what we’re capable of. We went into this wanting to be more musical than all-out heavy. If you’re going to be a metal band, I think that’s a good way to go about it—go ahead and establish your heaviness on the first album, and then moving forward, you can explore different vibes and feels.
“Black Static” opens up the album with a slow, brooding build rather than coming out blazing.
That song came about in a strange way. The first thing you hear on the album is one of my chord progressions written for my solo material, but when I wrote it, I felt like it had a darker sound than I usually want. The second part of the song was something we had already been working on, but we couldn’t figure out how we were going to go from the second part into the chord progression. I threw it out there that it would have a continuous build-up effect if we just switched their order and started with the slower section. It provides a nice contrast. The theme of this whole album is contrast.
How did you use the theme of contrast in your bass playing?
Because of the songwriting diversity, I had to switch up what types of sounds I was getting. On the previous album I had only one kind of dynamic, and it was all-out attack bass. It would be like if a guitar player had their distortion on all the time. Whereas on this album, that wouldn’t have worked, because there were chord parts, mellow parts, tapping parts, melodic parts, and heavy parts. I had to find a tone that would work for all of it without having dramatically different sounds. I wanted it to be one sound throughout the whole record with continuity, but it needed to be versatile. So I went with more of a traditional bass sound.
How did you achieve it?
Unlike the first album, where we all went into the studio together, I recorded the bass at my home studio by myself, where I have more bass gear than most professional studios, because that’s what I do. I tried a lot of different basses, preamps, and complex signal chains, and what I kept coming back to was my MTD Saratoga Bass with flat EQ and fresh strings. I went into a Jule Monique tube preamp, and that was it. You hear some different sounds on the album because we manipulated the signal in post a little, but it was all tracked through that setup.
There’s a contrast between the tapping parts in “Pulse of a New Era” and “The World Without Us.”
The tapping part on “Pulse” is a more linear approach. The style of tapping on “World” is similar to what you would hear a guitar player doing on a lead riff. It’s more chordal, coming out of the school of Stanley Jordan and Victor and Regi Wooten. Those parts are all about outlining chord progressions and voicings through two-handed tapping. Rather than the linear concept of tapping four notes per string, this is about using four notes on four different strings, making a fuller chord sound.
Speaking of Regi, studying with the Wooten brothers was a big part of your development. How did they impact your playing?
The lessons and techniques I got from Regi are deeply ingrained in what I do, because he laid a framework for me that I’ve been building upon for years. Without that foundation, my playing wouldn’t be the same. He showed me things that stuck and things I can develop. “World” is the perfect example. That song is “Regi-fied” in my mind—maybe not the tonality, but it’s based on the way he taught me how to tap through scales and think of scales as chords. If you changed the time signature and changed the harmony, it could be something from him. Besides that, anytime I can see Regi, Victor, or any of the Wooten brothers play, it’s tremendously inspiring.
Do you think about your live show when you’re writing material for this band?
This time I did. I wanted to make sure I could actually enjoy playing these songs onstage and not have to think, “Oh no, here comes that part—I hope I can actually hit it tonight.” The album kind of echoes that, too, because we love technical music, but we want to make sure we’re doing it smart. If you’re too fast and too technical all the time, then the listener becomes desensitized and it doesn’t have as a deep of an impact. We’ve all been doing this technical music stuff for so long. It’s not just about making crazy music; I want to have fun playing it. A band of this technicality is never going to be able to jump around and get crazy like a rock band. But at the same time, having slower tempos and groovier stuff allows us to get into it and feel it more, and hopefully the crowd does, too.
You’ve played a lot of different basses, but you seem to be smitten with your new MTDs. What do you dig about them?
Instruments are kind of like musicians, where once you get to a certain quality level, who’s to say who’s better? How can you say that Stanley Clarke is better than Victor Wooten, or that Zon basses are better than Warwick, because they’re all great, right? It comes down to personal preference. I’ve found that MTD basses suit my techniques and my style and the sound I hear in my head in a way I’ve never experienced before. My two MTDs do everything I need them to do, in a way that’s unprecedented. First of all, I’m able to play better and sound better more easily than I have on any other bass, and that’s huge for me. Also, when you’re in a professional relationship with a company, you want the relations to be good, and Michael and Daniel Tobias are two of the best guys I’ve ever met in this business. They’re authentic and generous people, really down to earth, and they’re in this for the right reasons, which means a lot to me. I’m thankful to know those guys.
You play 5-string basses, but one is strung BEADG and the other EADGC. Why not just play a 6-string?
A lot of people ask me that question. I prefer 5-strings because I have what a lot of people consider bad left-hand technique, although for me I consider it good technique: I hang my thumb over the top of the neck to mute the lowest string and clean up that sound, and I even play notes with my [left] thumb sometimes. A 6-string is a little too wide for me to do that on. I’d play a traditional 5 all the time, but I love having the high C string; it’s a good way to get a little more out of the bass. A lot of players think a bass shouldn’t be playing in that register, and that’s fine. They say that doesn’t pay the bills and all, but I just want to have fun playing and exploring ranges. It’s especially good for writing, because you can hear chord voicings better in the higher register.
When can we expect your next solo album?
I have a lot of material stored and written—nothing completed, but the ideas are there. I’m not in a huge rush to do another one, because I do those for fun, and any success I’ve had with them is a bonus. I want to savor the experience of making music and go slow with it. There was a time when I thought I could get one done by early 2018, but a lot changed with having a kid and with the band and life, so it got put on the back burner a bit. That’s good, because I want my listeners to feel like they’re growing with me, and making albums too close together makes them sound too similar. I want to cultivate enough growth and change so when I do make my next album, there’s enough distinguishable difference.
What have you been working on in your personal practice?
I’ve been working through jazz books lately. Somebody reading this interview might never think that I’d play jazz, and I really don’t, but I do spend time reading jazz charts and trying to understand the harmony to add to my voice. I don’t have a lot of desire to write jazz music or play standards, but I do have a desire to understand why John Coltrane was deciding and rationalizing playing specific notes over a particular melodic minor chord. I’m analyzing jazz scenarios and contexts to broaden my approach to how I write. I also want to improve my fingerstyle playing, too. I see a guy like Bubby Lewis do something, and I’m like, How is he doing that with his fingers? All elements of my playing are constant works in progress.
By Chris Jisi
Unlike most metal bands that are built from the guitar riffs out, Entheos’ music is often reverse-engineered from chord-minded parts that Evan Brewer has plucked, slapped, and tapped on his MTD 5-strings. He notes, “Traditionally, metal doesn’t have a lot of harmony, so I’m trying to introduce that component, which I think gives our band a different sound.” Example 1 shows the tapped bass interlude 3:10 into “Pulse of a New Era.” “This is an example of a linear tapped line, which has a symmetrical half-step/step-and-a-half motion, giving it an augmented sound. I use my index and ring fingers on my left hand and index and middle fingers on my right hand.”
Example 2a has the second half of Brewer’s fingerstyle chordal interlude 2:47 into “Suspended Animation.” “I pluck with my thumb on the A string, my index finger on the D string, and my middle finger on the G string, except for the last three beats of bar 4, where everything shifts down a string.” Dig the eerie harmonies in bars 3 and 4, as he alternates major and minor triads. Example 2b occurs later in the track, at 5:47, where Evan’s tuning of his B string down to low A comes into play. “The guys asked me to add a little slap section to break up what is a long sequence.” The key to the motion and triplets here is Brewer’s use of thumb upstrokes, as shown. “Practice the triplets slowly on each string to help get your upstrokes as strong as your slaps and pops.”
Example 3a contains one of the key themes of Dark Future, Evan’s tapped chordal line heard in both “The World Without Us” and “Resonance,” and shown here at 1:38 as the pre-chorus of “World” (written in half-time). “The chord progression has a Phrygian sound, which is a tonality I like. Let all the notes ring; when I studied with Regi Wooten, he’d tell me to emulate a piano with the sustain pedal down.” Finally, Ex. 3b shows the tapped bass line in the chorus of “World,” which follows Ex. 3a at 1:57. “There’s a slap bass line underneath this, and the guitar is doubling portions of this line, so it’s tricky to hear. Practice it slowly at first to get the tapping fingering and the meter shifts together, and as before, let all the notes ring.”
Entheos, Dark Future [2018, Universal]
Bass MTD Saratoga 5-string, MTD 534 Custom Bass
Rig Aguilar Tone Hammer 500, Aguilar SL 410X
Effects Aguilar TLC Compressor, Two Notes Torpedo C.A.B Speaker Simulator, MXR Carbon Copy Delay, MXR M300 Reverb
Strings Dunlop Super Bright Custom Gauge (.030, .040, .055, .075, .095, .120)
| Photographs By Dune Baydoun