Avenged Sevenfold’s Johnny Christ Has Been Through Hell. Now He’s Back & More Versatile Than Ever.
Christ (second from left) and AX7ON AVENGED SEVENFOLD’S 2010 release, Nightmare, Johnny Christ traverses a broad range of musical soundscapes. Songs like “So Far Away,” “Fiction,” and the title track bound from metalcore to melodic rock to grandiose, symphonic metal, and Christ’s tone and attack vary according to the needs and moods of each. His emotionally charged performance on “Tonight the World Dies” channels a grungy vibe with dramatically mournful lines and roaming legato fills that turned even his bandmates’ heads. “On that song I didn’t even really work out my parts beforehand like I normally would,” admits Christ. “I just went in and got caught up in the emotions of what we were all going through.”
What Christ and his bandmates were going through was the loss of their drummer and lifelong friend, Jimmy “the Rev” Sullivan, who died two weeks before they were to begin recording Nightmare. Up to that point, the Huntington Beach, California-based band was enjoying a wave of success that included winning a 2006 MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist, debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 with its selftitled “white” album in 2007, and headlining the Taste Of Chaos tour in 2008. Avenged Sevenfold (a.k.a. A7X) was evolving from its metalcore origins and becoming a crossover global rock force, but after the Rev’s accidental overdose in December ’09, the band almost packed it in. When they decided to soldier on, they had a mission.
“We had already demoed Nightmare with Jimmy,” reveals Christ, “and at first, we considered using those drum tracks and just tweaking them in Pro Tools.” But the Rev had cut those in one take. “Jimmy was very meticulous about his drum parts; he’d listen to the demos and refine his parts before cutting a final version. We decided that those demo tracks didn’t do him justice.” A7X happened upon a solution in the form of the Rev’s favorite drummer: Mike Portnoy. “Mike came in and was like, ‘I’m your puppet,’” says Christ. “His attitude was, ‘Tell me what you want, and we’ll keep doing it until we get it right.’ And that’s what we did.”
Using the Rev’s scratch demo tracks as the template, Portnoy painstakingly recreated his drum tracks under the band’s tutelage, refining them in ways that felt true to the Rev’s style. “Mike had an amazing level of professionalism and sensitivity to the task at hand, and it helped us get through a very dark period in our lives.” When it was over, A7X hadn’t made just another record; they ended up crafting a shroud for their fallen friend. Nightmare debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 when it was released in July 2010, but that milestone, and the band’s ensuing success, is bittersweet for Christ.
Despite his positive experience with Portnoy, Christ has an obvious affinity for the drummer with whom he spent six intense years. “Jimmy had a funky backbone that really influenced the band’s sound and the way that I play. He was an amazing musician; he would improvise something different every night.” Onstage, musical banter was a big part of the relationship between Christ and the Rev. “Sometimes he’d play some insane fill or change up a drum pattern, I’d come back at him with a different rhythmic figure, maybe emphasizing the right hand, and we’d just look at each other and bust out laughing.” Now Christ is on his second rhythm-section partner in just over a year: former Confide drummer Arin Ilejay took over for Portnoy in January. Despite playing with two different drummers in a relatively short time, Christ says he “hasn’t really made any discernable adjustments to my own playing. If anything, Arin is the one who has the challenge of acclimating himself at this point. Even with Mike, it was more about him adjusting to us rather than the other way around.”
Christ is a self-taught bassist who describes his style as punk meets metal, “though I’m probably not very good at the latter,” he adds with a laugh. His influences include Cliff Burton, Duff McKagan, and Les Claypool, and he names Primus’ 1991 landmark Sailing the Seas of Cheese as the album that made him want to play bass. Assimilating elements of all three influences into his repertoire resulted in the development of a malleable style that relies equally on playing both fingerstyle and with a pick. “For the heavier, up-tempo stuff, I use a pick because it cuts through,” he says. “But for slower numbers, like ‘Tonight the World Dies’ and ‘So Far Away,’ I play with my fingers. The pick doesn’t have the fullness you get from your fingers, but how I approach it just depends on the tune.”
In addition to switching back and forth between fingers and a pick, Christ pulls a variety of tones from several basses throughout the course of a gig, including Ernie Ball Music Man Stingrays, a Bill Nash PB-63, and a Rickenbacker 4003. Christ’s bi-amped bass rig embodies his varied approach to tone: He uses a Gallien-Krueger 800RB for a clean signal and a Gallien- Krueger 2001RB for a dirty signal. “For the dirt, I just use the built-in distortion on the 2001RB,” he says. “I tried some other pedals and stuff, but the G-K distortion is just a better sound for what I do.” He admits to getting the idea from fellow Gallien-Krueger user Duff McKagan. “I read somewhere that he used two rigs, but I never really understood how that worked, because I’m not too bright when it comes to that stuff! When I got a guitar tech, I got what I was after. In fact, Duff’s tech once commented that my rig is set up exactly like his.”
HEAR HIM ON
Avenged Sevenfold, Nightmare [Warner Bros., 2010]
Basses Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray Basses, Nash PB-63 Bass, Rickenbacker 4003
Pickups Seymour Duncan SMB-4d (on Stingray), DiMarzio Model P (Nash), Seymour Duncan SRB-1b (on Rickenbacker)
Strings Ernie Ball 2831 Power Slinky Nickel Wounds (.055–.110) Rig Gallien- Krueger 800RB (clean signal) and 2001RB (dirty signal) heads, Gallien-Krueger Neo 410 cabinets
Effects Dunlop CryBaby 105Q Bass Wah, Boss SYB-3 Bass Synthesizer, Visual Sound V2 H2O Chorus/Delay
Picks Dunlop Tortex Pitch Black .50mm