ABE LINCOLN AND TOWER OF POWER have both advised against it, but Hunter Burgan is swapping horses midstream. For the last 13 years, Burgan has delivered A.F.I’s gut-pounding low end with his favored Fender Jazz Basses, but the agile bassist has found a new voice in the Fender Precision. Hear Hunter on A.F.I.’s latest, Crash Love, and on Sainthood, the new release from Tegan & Sara.
How has your approach to tone changed recently?
I’ve recorded a number of albums, and I’ve always looked for that perfect Fender Jazz Bass sound. For this album I wanted something different, so I switched to Precision Basses. Also, I’m using effect pedals for the first time. I’m having a lot of fun with that.
How do you select the pedals for your rig?
After a lot of testing in the studio with our producer, I went out and bought a bunch. A lot of them sounded cool, but weren’t quite right. When we geared up to go on the road, my tech Vince Dennis— who plays bass with Body Count—brought a bunch of his pedals for me to try.
How do you write your bass lines with A.F.I.?
Usually a song will start with a basic melodic chord structure, and we’ll hash something out in our rehearsal space. There’s usually an incubation period where I’ll keep my ideas loose; I want to make sure that when I lock it down, it’s exactly what I want to be playing. After all, there’s almost an infinite number of ways you can approach a two-chord song structure.
How does your writing collaboration with Tegan Quin work?
We basically charge each other with finishing each other’s songs; she’ll send me vocal tracks, or I’ll send her a complete instrumental. When she sends me vocals, I’ll listen to figure out which sounds are going to work well. A lot of that takes place in my head—if I start banging away at some instrument, it’s going to color what I’m hearing. I try to keep it as open-ended as possible.
Aside from bass, what instruments do you play?
I grew up playing bass, guitar, keyboards, and drums, in order to start bands and keep them going. I play piano the most, because for me it’s the most relaxing. With the piano, all the notes are sitting right in front of you, and you can play as many at once as you want. With bass, you can only play four—but maybe you shouldn’t! Playing one instrument for a while and then switching certainly gets you to think in a different way.
What music are you listening to these days?
When I hit the road, I’m actually a little disconnected from music; I’m basically left with a snapshot of wherever my music exploration was when I left home. But I’ve gotten into the new Phoenix record, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix [V2, 2009]. I’ve also found a record with Buddy Rich and Max Roach where each drummer is panned to a different speaker [Rich Versus Roach, Verve, 1986]. On some tracks they’re soloing back and forth—it’s amazing.
What’s the story behind your solo project, Hunter Revenge, and what do you like most about it?
It started out as an homage to early- ’80s dance pop music, but has evolved into an outlet for anything I want to do that’s not A.F.I. It gives me a chance to get sexy onstage [laughs].
HEAR HIM ON
A.F.I., Crash Love [DGC, 2009]; Tegan & Sara, Sainthood [Sire, 2009]
ON THE WEB
Follow Hunter at twitter.com/tranquilmammoth
Basses Custom Fender Precision Basses tuned EADG and EbAbDbGb; D’Addario XL Nickel Round Wounds
Rig Ampeg SVT heads and 8x10 cabs (x3)
Effects Fulltone Bass Driver, Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron, Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth, Boss CEB-3 Bass Chorus