Ryan Neff is currently dealing with a broken transmission on his band’s touring van. 12 shows into Miss May I’s current US tour, it’s not something he anticipated, but like all challenges in his career, he seems to be taking it in stride. “Our TM [tour manager] and I are renting a box truck and an SUV for the band,” he says matter-of-factly. “Once that gets here, we’ll unload the trailer into the truck. The van will get fixed—whatever it takes to get to the next show.”
Miss May I has been on tour since April 10th in support of their latest SharpTone release Shadows Inside. Neff’s growling, pick driven tone is prevalent throughout the disk. It’s a sound and style forged when he was first introduced to metalcore in his hometown, Troy, Ohio. “I didn’t get an introduction to the kind of music that my band plays until I joined my first band, She’s A Nightmare,” he reveals. “That’s when I really got exposed to heavy metal. Until then, I was more into industrial metal.”
BP caught up with Neff, while he was waiting for his rental vehicles, to discuss his formative years, touring without backline and learning how to sing and play the “old school way.”
How did you first start playing bass?
I started playing in high school, around my junior year. Some friends wanted to do a talent show and one already played guitar and the other already played drums, so bass was the thing. The show never happened, but I started playing bass anyway.
Did you ever take formal lessons?
All throughout high school I had a teacher that I enjoyed working with. This is pre-YouTube, when you had to buy tablature books. I would go to him every week and learn songs. We touched on assorted styles, but focused mostly rock.
Any specific examples?
We worked on a lot of Muse songs. I remember learning Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. At that time, I was really excited about Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle. That was the realm I was in.
You never played metalcore until your first band. Did that necessitate any kind of adjustment playing-wise?
I went into my very first practice playing songs like I was in Queens of the Stone Age, like all upper register stuff, having a great time and moving all over the place [laughs]. I didn’t realize that’s not how you fit in the pocket with a double-kick drum.
You play mostly with a pick?
On slower things I play finger style. I have tiny hands, so I’ve never been as quick and articulate as I am picking. With the double-kick constantly going and supporting two guitars and singing, the pick really helps punch through. The pick and the tone choice are crucial in this kind of music.
You do seem to use an aggressive over-driven tone all the time.
I leave a lot of the mid-range in. I started using these Dimension basses and they have this really nice mid-range growl. I don’t have any cabinets live, so whatever I created in the studio, as long as I didn’t do it digitally, I can easily recreate with an analog pedal set.
What was your studio set-up?
We had one DI signal and one over-driven signal that we made with a Darkglass pedal and now I just carry the exact same thing on the road.
You sing all of the clean vocals in the band. Were you always a singing bass player?
No. When we were all local there was one song that had singing—it was three syllables and it didn’t even repeat. So, I sang three syllables in my life.
How did you develop your singing/playing chops?
I showed up for the first gig in Texas and they’re like, “Alright dude, we hope you learned the record.” I’m like, “I did and it turns out there’s seven songs full of singing now guys [laughs].” [Neff left Miss May I in late 2007 to join Cincinnati band Rose Funeral and was replaced by Josh Gillespie, who he subsequently replaced in 2009].
So, you started singing and playing on your first tour?
Yeah. It was super stressful doing it in the live atmosphere, but I like that I did it the old school way. I learned how to be a live singer by being a live singer. Sometimes I got it right and a lot of times I didn’t. I just didn’t know how to sing. It was definitely not in my skill set.
Did it affect your approach to bass?
It makes the playing aspect much more complicated and makes writing very complicated as well, because you have to be thinking, “How hard do I want this riff to be, when I might sing some complicated melody over it?” Or conversely, “Man, that riff is too good, I have to sing something real simple to keep that riff [laughs].”
Would it be safe to say that your early introduction to metalcore ultimately shaped your current playing style?
All musicians are formed by the music scene that is around them. In the area that I was in [Troy, OH], it was punk rock when I was young—then metalcore just kind of happened. If it wasn’t metalcore when I was at that age, I don’t know if I would’ve ended up doing the metal thing. I probably would’ve started a bad-ass Queens of the Stone Age cover band somewhere [laughs].
HEAR HIM ON: Shadows Inside, Miss May I (SharpTone Records)
Basses Fender American Professional Series Jazz Bass (4-string)
Rig/Effects Pedaltrain Pedalboard, Radial JDI, Dunlop DC Brick, Boss GEB-7 Bass EQ, Darkglass Microtubes B7K Ultra Bass Preamp, Darkglass Vintage Microtubes Bass Preamp, Darkglass Microtubes B3K Bass Preamp
Strings GHS Boomers Contact Core Super Steels
Picks InTuneGP GrippX