Far from being just another heavy metal band, the American quartet Machine Head occupy a unique niche in the pantheon of metal music. Their music straddles several styles, from groove to thrash and beyond, and the musicianship they bring to the table is astounding, but it’s their place on the metal timeline that makes them stand out.
McEachern, who made his bones with a band called Sanctity before joining Machine Head in 2013, appeared on the Bloodstone & Diamonds album a year later. His audition for Machine Head is available to view on Youtube; you’ll appreciate the chap’s phenomenal bass skills when you see it. Talking of which...
Which basses do you play?
I use ESP's E2 J4 model. It’s their Jazz shape, a little bit reworked from the classic Jazz. The model that I have comes with active Seymour Duncans. I travel with three or four of them; a main bass in our normal tuning, a backup and a five-string for anything that’s really tuned down. We have a couple of songs that approach low F! I use a 130 gauge B-string for those...
How do you amplify your basses on tour?
I use a blend of a Kemper [amp simulator] and the DI live. In our jam room, though, I have a small head and cab, just so I have something pushing air. I picked up the Mesa Subway 800 head and the little 1x10 cab that comes with it. It’s great for the jam room, I just run the Kemper through it.
Does the Kemper deliver a completely accurate tone?
The Kemper does get fantastic tones, but everyone I talk to says it’s 95 percent there – there’s just a tiny thing missing – but they’re extremely portable, and great for traveling if you have a lot of fly dates. My tone has a little bit of compression and distortion, but I’m looking to add a bit chorus and fuzz and maybe a wah. One of the new songs has a cool background wah going on, which I’d like to do live – so I’m working on introducing those into my chain. I already have a Boss chorus and I’m looking to get the Dunlop bass wah, which I really like.
How did you get into bass?
I grew up in Virginia and played in the school orchestra when I was in fifth and sixth grade, aged 10 and 11, and when I went to middle school the teacher of that orchestra told me they needed an upright bass player, so I volunteered. I also got my first bass guitar that year, a Fender Mustang, and I got really into it and started up my first band at the age of 12. I moved to a Fender Jazz after that, having borrowed one from school and really liked it. I learned really early on that those basses feel super comfortable to me. I also played an ESP B205 with active EMG soapbars in it; it was just a $500 bass, but it was the first one that I bought with my own money. I played that for quite a while. I had a Dean five-string for a while; in fact it was the bass that I used to audition for Machine Head.
Did you evolve quickly as a bass player?
I had classical training, so I took to it very easily and really enjoyed it. I was writing original songs with my drummer at the age of 13! Just terrible, wannabe rock songs. We were influenced by Alice In Chains and Green Day and the bands of the day. I was actually playing bass more like a guitar. I had a little 10” Traynor practice amp and I would turn up the gain and the distortion on it, playing power chords. I knew I loved the bass, but I wasn’t particularly informed about what the bass did; I was heavily influenced by Cliff Burton at this point. That raw, crazy, distorted madness that he had – I was definitely trying to emulate a bit of that.
Have you tried Cliff’s signature Morley wah?
Oh, I definitely have one of those. It’s designed for Cliff’s exact tone; as soon as you press down on it, it’s wide open and screaming. It’s cool, and I like it, but it’s not exactly subtle, because it goes from super closed to way open really fast. The Dunlop’s overall sweep is a little more gradual.
Who else influenced you?
A lot of the standard metal guys – Mike Inez, Peter Steele, Steve Harris of course – that you have to be influenced by because they’re so prominent. Later it was Victor Wooten too, and later Charlie Mingus as my education continued. I haven’t got too deep into slap bass yet, because I was never in a lot of situations where it was required or requested. I’ve played a lot of rock and a lot of metal, and even when I was in jazz band at school I was playing upright bass. I’ve been moving in that direction lately though, checking out online videos. It never hurts to gain extra skills, even though I may never ever use it in Machine Head.
You successfully auditioned for Machine Head in 2013. Did you already know them before that?
I knew them a little bit, because my old band Sanctity had opened for them in 2007. At the time, their bassist Adam Duce had a broken leg, so they had Brandon Sigmund from Hostility playing bass. Monte Conner [then VP of Roadrunner Records] suggested to Robb that maybe I could fill in on backup vocals. I was on tour with two bands at the time, basically. So seven or eight years later, my old drummer from Sanctity called me out of the blue and told me that Machine Head were holding auditions for bass players. Our old manager told me he’d check it out and a few days later I got a call.
Sounds nerve-wracking – was it?
I told myself ‘I’m gonna give it a shot – and whatever happens, at least I tried’. I’m not really a nervous person; I was more excited at getting the chance to do it. I was never sure that I was going to get the job; I just told myself that I was going to go through the process step by step, and enjoy it. I practiced for a few weeks and my friend shot my video, which got a positive response and I got the call to fly to California for a live audition. I made sure I knew the songs in and out, had my audition – and here we are!