Growing up in the quaint and charming town of Mullingar, Ireland, there were many things that young Tanya O’Callaghan enjoyed doing, but it wasn’t until she turned 17 that playing bass was one of them. After abandoning drums to pick up the instrument, she quickly became obsessed with it, and due to the lack of a bass teacher in her area, she turned to her favorite players—Justin Chancellor (Tool), Colin Greenwood (Radiohead), and Pino Palladino—for inspiration. Hungry to improve and excel, she started joining every band and musical project that she could find, which led to her landing increasingly bigger gigs while attending Newpark Music Center. She eventually got a call from Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, who invited her to come to his studio in Jerome, Arizona, to record on his new band Puscifer’s album. This sparked her desire to jump into America’s vast music scene, so when she turned 25, she took the plunge and moved to L.A., where she knew no one and lacked any musical connections.
After months spent sleeping in hostel beds next to her bass, and partaking in any open jam session that she could find, musicians started noticing the dreadlock-sporting vegan with the magnetic Irish accent—thanks in part to her massive stage presence and ability to rock nasty grooves in any genre. Before long, she was working with Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones), Steven Adler (Guns N’ Roses), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), and eventually Dee Snider, with whom she’s been touring the world for the past two years. Now a first-call veteran in high demand, O’Callaghan has begun working on her debut solo album, which she promises will be as rocking, diverse, and epic as her career has been thus far.
How is your solo album coming along?
It’s in the early stages right now, since I’m finally off the road after so long. Like most musicians, I have a ton of song ideas and riffs saved to my phone, so I’ll go through those and develop some of them. I’m going to have a lot of my friends guest on the album and come play solos and drums and fill in parts. I usually write in a specific way, because I like to include a lot of melodic bass parts using chords and harmonics, but it’s been evolving and has been getting heavier and heavier. The album is going to rock for sure, but it’ll have some Radiohead-ish parts to keep it varied. I’m not looking for airplay or to cash in; it’s going to be purely art.
How did you first start playing with Dee?
Initially I was only supposed to play a couple of shows with him, but it turned into two years of world tours and tracking some songs on his new album. My name first went into the hat from some touring friends, and I got a call from Dee’s management, and I went out and played, and they liked it and invited me on. There’s no magic formula in this industry. Obviously it helps if you know people, but it all comes from your work ethic and reputation. Be on time, be prepared, know the parts, and be a great hang. Half the battle is that people have to want to be around you and hang out with you. Life on the road is a lot of downtime.
What’s it like playing bass in his band?
I was at the end of a tour with an R&B/pop artist named Jordan Fisher, so my brain was in total pop mode at the time. I didn’t grow up listening to Twisted Sister at all. I mean, I knew the hits from the radio, but I had to listen to those songs a ton and take them in. I hadn’t played full-on rock & roll in a while, so it was fun to get my distortion and overdrive back out and let down my hair and just rock out. _ e music is so iconic; it’s a blast to play live.
How do you dial in your tone for each of your varied projects?
I’m not a gearhead, but I know what tone I like, and I usually just dial everything in on the spot. I like to turn on the amp and go for it. On this tour I played my Sadowsky NYC bass exclusively, and I absolutely loved it. It’s so versatile, and it’s genuinely a plug-and-play instrument with the way you can dial in the preamp. When you’re touring all over the place, you don’t know what the amp and sound situation is going to be like, so it’s important to have a bass that will be consistent and maintains your sound. Actually, on this tour I gained the nickname “TKO” because I kept blowing amps up. They just couldn’t handle that powerful bass. It drove the tech crews crazy.
How much of that amp destruction was due to your fingers and playing technique?
Oh, a lot of it. It’s all in the hands. I’m mainly a fingerstyle player, although when I play with Steven Adler I use a pick, because Duff McKagan always used one—and when you’re paying homage to another player, you should try to stay true to their sound as much as possible. I always do my best to play for what the song needs. I dig in quite a bit with my fingers and get aggressive, but if I’m playing with a singer–songwriter, or during a mellow part, I’ll play softer accordingly. Playing live, I like to go wild and really get into the song and let loose. That’s when I dig in. And that’s when amps can get blown up [laughs].
What are the key elements to landing the big gigs that you have?
A lot of it comes down to people wanting to see good people do good things. Word travels around the music industry quickly if you’re not on top of your shit. It’s a combination of being driven and having other musicians see your drive and want to help push you forward. Musicians tend to help each other and want to land each other gigs. Word starts to get around, and reputations are built around your passion and ability, and that’s how your phone keeps ringing. Stay on top of your game. I’m not really a rock star or a partier in the rock-lifestyle sense. You’re more likely to see me doing a shot of wheatgrass than you are a shot of whiskey
Dee Snider, For the Love of Metal [2018, Napalm]
Basses Sadowsky NYC J-style
Rig Gallien-Krueger MB Fusion 800, GK Neo 212, GK Neo 810
Pedals AMXR Bass Fuzz Deluxe, Bass Chorus Deluxe, Bass Envelope Filter, Carbon Copy, Bass DI
Strings Dunlop Marcus Miller Super Brights, Sadowsky Stainless Steel SBS45B (.045-.130)
Accessories Warwick Rockboard Pedalboard