From her distorted, fast-picked fills on the intro of “Let Me Live,” to her vicious slap riffs on “Earth to You,” bassist Emma Anzai of Sick Puppies proves that she knows how to set the tone with her emotive and technically ear-catching playing. Her hard-rocking metal trio’s recently released fifth studio album, Fury, boasts big riffs, catchy hooks, and heavy tones—all of which capture the turbulent path behind the writing process that saw the departure of original singer/guitarist Shimon Moore, and the introduction of the band’s new frontman Bryan Scott.
Anzai and her bandmates turned that transition into an exciting new chapter of the Australia-based outfit’s already stellar career that started with humble beginnings. After forming in the music room of their high school in New Wales, in 1997, Anzai took up a job as a telemarketer to help fund her band’s initial EP, Dog’s Breakfast. Fast forward to 2007 when their acclaimed sophomore studio album, Dressed Up As Life, debuted on the Billboard 200 charts, which led to countless festival headlining spots and international fandom all over the world.
A big part of Sick Puppies’ success comes from the energetic presence of Anzai and her ability to switch from slap technique, to digging in with a pick, to getting a deep growling tone with her fingers at the blink of an eye. Equipped with her Warwick Streamer basses and a new sense of passion for music, Anzai is ready to lead her band into the next phase of their careers. And if her stellar bass work on Fury is any indicator of things to come, there’s plenty to look forward to.
What was the writing and recording process like for Fury?
It was a totally different process for us this time around, especially because this is the first album we made with our new singer, Bryan Scott. We’ve been in this band a while and Bryan brought in both a breath of fresh air and some fire. It felt very natural this time around because we had a lot to express—whether it was anxiety or frustration or angst. We had to expel it all through the writing process and I feel like we suceeded.
Has the band’s writing process stayed the same over the years?
It happens a lot of different ways, whether someone brings in a riff or a theme for a song, or just four lines to start it off. It’s always a collaborative process, which keeps it very interesting and gives us our overall sound.
How do you go about writing on your own?
Whenever I noodle around it seems like ideas just kind of come out and I try to capture them. I can be playing something random and some lyrics or a melody will pop in my head. If I sit down and pick up my bass for a couple of hours I usually have positive and productive results. I never try to force it; I rely on ideas happening naturally.
How did you achieve the big tone you got on this album?
During this process we were feeling really energetic and aggressive and I’ve always wanted to experiment with distortion and broken up tone. It was a tricky process because I like to slap and dig in with a pick, so it’s hard to have one particular tone that will span all of those techniques and sound good. I tried to dial in my tone as simply as possible. The same goes for when I’m the road playing live. I don’t want to have too many pedals or too many presets to make it confusing. I use two channels now, one clean and one dirty. My sound is heavier, so I need to convey that live.
How did the opening bass riff for “Let Me Live” come about?
We were working on that riff and we were piecing together an intro, and I had the idea of moving that part up to a higher register on the neck, which sounded really good. We were messing around with tones in the box at the time, and I didn’t even have any pedals set up, but we got a great sound for that part. We ended up isolating the bass and I’m happy with how it turned out.
What’s something you learned from this process as a bass player?
As a musician in general you’re always learning. You’ll never get to the point where you feel like you know everything and you can’t grow from an experience. Being a musician is a work in progress. The studio always makes me better because of the precision and mindfulness you have to put into your playing. Similarly, songwriting makes you focus on melody, rhythm, lyrics, and everything as a whole. This time around I learned a great deal about songwriting and how to push harder to make something better. There were days where we spent fourteen hours straight in a room trying to get a song completed, which brings out a great deal of determination. Usually, you’ll work on a song for a few hours, take a break, and come back to it. That didn’t happen on this album. I learned being persistent can bring out a lot of good ideas.
You use slap, fingerstyle, and pick techniques. What dictates when you use each one?
It depends on the song. If I don’t want the bass to stick out too much I’ll use my fingers, for a smoother tone. If it’s an aggressive part where the drums are pretty dominant, I’ll dig in pretty hard with a pick. I love to follow the drummer’s fills, and in those cases I’ll usually slap because it gives the bass much more of a percussive feel to it.
How much of your tone comes from your hands?
That’s hard to say. Obviously you have to find a tone you like that also sounds good. When slapping, I figure out if I want to be percussive or melodic, and if I want it to have a lot of middle and high-end or keep it low and growling. For pick playing, the key is finding the right size and gauge pick. I prefer Dunlop mediums.
Who are your greatest bass influences?
When I first started playing I was into Chris Joannou from the Australian band, Silverchair. Chris is a lay-it-down and follow-the-kick type of bassist, but there was something extra about his playing that inspired me. On the other end of the spectrum there’s Victor Wooten, who is amazing and can do pretty much anything. His influenc led me to push the boundaries of slapping and try new and different ideas. He’s very inspiring in the way he encourages you to play for yourself and develop your own style.
Why bass? What resonates about the instrument with your personally?
The stereotype is that bass players are laid back. I suppose I am most of the time, but I do love getting really aggressive with the bass. Playing live is a form of catharsis for me. Some people go to the gym to blow off steam or some have other outlets. Playing shows is the way I purge what’s going on in my world, and I feel extremely good and relaxed afterwards.
Bass Warwick Streamer Stage I Basses
Rig Ampeg SVT-CL Head, Ampeg Classic SVT-810
Pedals Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI, Boss Tuner
Strings D’Adarrio B-E-A-D from a Medium 5-string set (.135-.065)
Picks Dunlop Mediums
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Purchase Fury: HERE
Photos of Emma by SicPicPhotogrpahy