Three Days Grace, Brad Walst, Dirty Spaces

“I LEARNED VERY EARLY ON ABOUT leaving space for vocals,” says Three Days Grace bassist Brad Walst.

“I LEARNED VERY EARLY ON ABOUT leaving space for vocals,” says Three Days Grace bassist Brad Walst. “Our first producer, Gavin Brown, taught us about songwriting and recording, and how to get a good sound.” One listen to Life Starts Now, the 2009 release from the Canadian rockers, and it becomes abundantly clear that Walst and his bandmates have learned their lessons well. On songs like “Bitter Taste,” “Break,” and “World So Cold,” Walst’s aggressive style is complemented by a distorted bass tone that perfectly supports the band’s mix of angst-ridden melodies and post-grunge guitar riffs. “Sometimes I’ll come up with a part and be like, ‘Check this out!’ only to have everyone ask me to simplify it,” he continues. “Listening back, I always get what they’re saying. We have a great singer who’s very melodic, so we have to leave space on the record so it can breathe. When it comes to playing bass, less is more sometimes.”

Walst is the definitive band-oriented bassist. He talks in terms of “us” instead of “I,” and where many players might cite specific bassists as being influential, Walst admits that bands—more than any one player—were his biggest influences. “Alice In Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden were big when we started writing original music,” says Walst. “‘The Alternative Route,’ a show that aired on our favorite hometown radio station, featured all the newest alternative songs, so we’d tape it on cassette and learn all the parts. That’s when we homed in on what we wanted to do and what we wanted to sound like: soft, melodic verses and heavy, punchy choruses. We built our careers off that.”

Today, the band’s career is marked by a 2003 self-titled debut that spawned three hit singles and a sophomore CD, One-X, which debuted on the Billboard album chart at No. 5. Life Starts Now, released in ’09, was certified gold in March 2011. Songwriting on all three records is credited to the band, and Walst says the writing process is a group effort that “always starts on acoustic guitars,” himself included. Nature provides some inspiration, too. “We’re big outdoors guys, and we have cabins and cottages where we go and bring ideas to the table. We go through a process, picking out the ‘golden nuggets,’ and we just hash it out that way. It works well for us.”

As for Brad’s distinctive tone, he discovered it in his guitarist’s garage. “We experimented by setting everything up and playing around for weeks, getting different tones with different combinations of basses and heads. We really try to get our tones together before going to the studio.” On Life Starts Now, Walst used his Ampeg SVT-CL head and 8x10 cabinet combined with a SansAmp Bass DI, which he sometimes mixed with either a Boss Overdrive or a E-H Big Muff. “It’s pretty dirty, but a lot of the midrange tones come at you, as well.” In addition to Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray and Sterling basses, two other components are crucial to his sound. “I started out playing fingerstyle and gradually moved into the pick. The pick really defines my sound. It draws out that aggressive tone.” Heavier-gauge strings, which he uses for “extra low end and bite,” are the other part of the equation. He uses a 5-string set on a 4-string, so his low E, which is usually in drop D or C tuning, is .130-gauge. “It’s more comfortable, and has allowed me to eliminate some of my 5-string basses.”

Whether onstage or in the studio, Walst’s dynamic, visceral performances permeate Three Days Grace’s music. “I turn into a different animal when I strap on a bass guitar,. I put the blinders on and go for it, and I think that emotion really comes across.”


Three Days Grace, Life Starts Now [Jive, 2009]


Basses Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray & Sterling 4- & 5-string basses
Rig Ampeg SVT-CL heads & Ampeg SVT-810E cabinets
Strings D’Addario XL Nickel Wound (.045–.130)
Effects Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI, Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive, Electro-Harmonix Big Muff
Picks Dunlop .73mm Tortex (triangle)


Beautiful Dirty Bass

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Eight Days a Week

AT 32 YEARS OLD, MATT RUBANO SEEMS TO HAVE IT PRETTY MUCH FIGURED OUT— tour the world with Taking Back Sunday, take a few months to record a new hit record, sub on Broadway in your spare time, and sharpen your jazz and fusion chops in the spaces between. It didn’t come easy for Rubano, but his years of hard work has begun to pay off in a big way. Matt took a minute to talk about what it all takes, and gave BP a glimpse at what went into making Taking Back Sunday’s latest, New Again [Reprise, 2009].