“Playing with a pick changes the instrument so much you cause the music to step out of one realm and into a much darker dimension with more capability to inflict pain on the listener—the kind of pain the listener likes,” attests Tony “the Beast” Carboney. “To the haters and purists that say using a pick is a cop-out or that bass isn’t meant for picks—I agree that for most genres you wouldn’t require a pick or that they downright shouldn’t be used, but I dare anyone to match the aggression of my rock bass lines by just using your fingers.”
Carboney is a player of strong convictions as his performance on the latest Otherwise record, Sleeping Lions, will attest. His deep pocket and aggressive tones on songs like “Angry Heart” and “Close to The Gods” provide the band with a formidable foundation not unlike those of his influences: Rage Against the Machine, Green Day, Tool, Thin Lizzy, Rancid and Queens of the Stone Age, to name a few. “Pick playing is for the rockers and bangers of the world, but fingers are just as radical if that’s what the song calls for. You must have a strong hold on both techniques if you want to make the best of a bass guitar. Grill or cast-iron pan? Are you really a dope cook if you can’t see the beauty in both?”
BP caught up with Carboney on Otherwise’s current US tour to discuss his “rock/pocket” approach to bass, how noise and inconsistency help to define the band’s sound and the challenges of breaking a band in the current musical climate.
How did you get into playing bass when you were a kid?
There was this perfect era of new rock music happening around 1996 that was just so fun to play along with - Tragic Kingdom (No Doubt, 1995), Ixnay on the Hombre (The Offspring), Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1991), Evil Empire (Rage Against the Machine, 1996), Ænima (Tool, 1996), Dude Ranch (Blink-182, 1997), Three Dollar Bill Y’all (Limp Bizkit, 1997) – that it got me caring about fast and energetic bass lines, as well as deep and heavy approaches to the pocket and enforcing the groove. There’s something about bass—its importance to the sound of a band takes longer than most other instruments to understand, especially in rock music.
Who were your main influences then?
My main influences in my freshman year of high school were Flea (RHCP), Eric Wilson (Sublime), Justin Chancellor (Tool), Tim Commerford (RATM) and Sam Rivers (Limp Bizkit). Even Mike Dirnt (Green Day) helped make sure I remembered it was okay to use a pick and stay extra present in the song with a catchy line. These are the guys that made me realize that a bass line could make my eyes light up, and they made me ask myself, “Damn, how did they come up with that?”
Who are your main influences now?
Nowadays I pull from some more mature players like Pino Palladino (the Who), Gabe Nelson (Cake), Rob DeLeo (STP), as well as all the favorites from my adolescent years. But as much as I studied theory and jazz and funk, I’ll never forget how fun it was to play Sam Rivers’ line in the verse of “Counterfeit.” It was a legendary example of bass being rad, instead of holding the groove with a simple thump like a lot of other people would have done. It wasn’t perfect—it was just some dude having a ton of fun in the studio and you could hear it—no click, no perfect take, just being himself so hard that you couldn’t ignore it.
How did you go about crafting your tone on Sleeping Lions (DI? miked amp? both?)
Our producer Bob Marlette and I put our heads together on tones, but he crafted the sound around my stylistic decisions. We got the most love out of his beautiful black on black Fender jazz bass with heavy strings, high action and plenty of gain. We really wanted to hear the pick scrape through the strings. For this album, Ryan [Patrick, guitar] played a couple songs on bass and I played a couple on guitar. It’s awesome to have the option to trade off and blend different vibes. I play seriously and aggressively and try to slam you into the ground. Ryan will try to make you float away.
Do you have a practice regime when you are not on the road? If so, of what does it consist?
I honestly train my ears more than anything. Nothing has helped me to learn bass better than trying to copy my influences. You’d never change the game until someone shows you how the game is played in the first place. So, I listen to my favorites and always try to dig deeper into their brain and figure out what makes them tick. Also, I ear-trained so much in college that life has turned into a series of scale practice and interval training. I absorb the parts, chords, riffs—everything I hear on the radio—without having to play along. When I listen to music, I can’t help but assemble the theory puzzle.
How would you describe your playing style?
Deep down, I’d like to think I’m a behind the beat rock/pocket player above all else. If I thought it would fit the vibe of Otherwise, I would play more behind the beat and lean into it a little harder, but we are shooting for radio friendly hits and we want to top the charts. Some people don’t dig the pocket approach and don’t want niche bass players in their rock playlist, so I rock out right on the beat with my drummer, Brian Medeiros—if we lock in together then life is grand.
What song or songs on Sleeping Lions do you feel best exemplify your playing style and why?
The title track, “Sleeping Lions,” for sure. The main riff is bone-crushing heavy. That song became what it is when we found the disgusting tones. It’s like we dialed back distortion, but threw dirt and garbage all over it and set it on fire. I was suddenly free to drag my bass line through the mud and beat it down like it owed me money. We let all the noise and inconsistencies run wild, so whenever our hands moved across the neck, or when the pick touched the strings, you hear it loud and clear—it just makes you play different. In the verse you can really feel the bass and guitar with the pick on the string impatiently waiting to strike on the downbeat.
How hard is it to break a band in the digital age? Is touring more essential than say in the MTV-era?
Touring is the only way for a rock band to make money these days, which is fine. Breaking a band is, and has always been, as easy as knowing the right guy and having a decent song, but staying relevant and making real money is the tough part. You must bring something fresh to the table and I think Otherwise has always been a breath of fresh air for the music industry. Adrian [Patrick, lead vocals] wants to use lyrics that nobody else would ever use and Ryan writes bold guitar parts that breathe life into the songs—he doesn’t just play power chords like a lot of other well-behaved guitarists out there. These things separate this band from the herd in a good way, but it’s also part of our struggle. My advice would be to always network and stay in touch with your connections and make sure your tunes and your image stick out. “Good” songs aren’t enough anymore.
HEAR HIM ON
Sleeping Lions, Otherwise (Century Media)
Bass Fender Precision
Amp Ampeg SVT-CL
Cab Ampeg 810E
Effects Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi
Strings Ernie Ball 2831 Power Slinky (.055 - .110)
Picks Dunlop Tortex