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Photo by Dana "Distortion" Yavin.
There’s some great back-and-forth with Gus G. on “Here Again.” The melodic bass parts suggest they’ve been worked out ahead of time.
Ellefson: “Here Again” had the foundation already in place. It just needed some intense shredding lead guitar, so we had Gus G. come in and take the song to the next level.
Bello: Gus is a great dude and an awesome player. When we first heard him play over it, we were both saying, “Holy shit, man!” [Laughs.]
Ellefson: We can strip down “Here Again” by muting the vocals and bass and use it as a bass clinic track. It’s got these licks that are laid out like phrasings. When you play instrumentally, there’s a time to shred, but also a time to let the listener become familiar with the melody. On the first and second verses on “Here Again,” I play those melodic bass lines in and around the vocals, and on the third verse, Frank takes the melody. It’s cool because it works whether or not the vocals are there. It was a creative method for layering melodies that could stand together or work alone.
How did Jay’s expertise influence the EP’s sound?
Bello: He’s got an amazing ear, and the fact that he’s a bass player helped because this material is really rhythmic. With A&A and Anthrax, he’s always had an ability to tell us what works and what doesn’t, and show us why if we don’t hear it right away.
Ellefson: A good producer lets the creative process happen—but when needed, they can offer their opinion and expertise. He also makes great sounding recordings, so he’s pretty much the fifth Beatle on this.
Dave, did you rely on your signature Jackson basses?
Ellefson: Jay had a variety of instruments in his studio, but I always bring my signature Jackson Concert 5-string with me.
Did your newer signature model—the Kelly Bird—make an appearance, or did you primarily use your 5-string Concert model?
Ellefson: It was actually the Concert. It’s funny that you mention it: Years ago I was talking to a guitar tech about how I think basses with points and angles look cool. His response was, “Well, looks may come from points, but tone comes from curves,” and I always remembered that. Most of my basses have that traditional P-Bass look, and I pay attention to how much wood is used for the body and the neck. I like 5-string basses because there’s a lot of wood in their necks. The necks on my Concert basses are thick and wide, and they’re neck-through. I find that those basses with active EMG pickups in them just fit well with heavy rock guitars.
Frank, what inspired you to get an 8-string?
Bello:We’re both huge Cheap Trick fans who love the sounds Tom Petersson gets with his 8-string and 12-string basses. My 8-string sounds like a piano and a bass blended, which is heavy in a really unique way. The first time Jay and Dave heard it, they insisted we put it on the EP. We ended up using it a lot.
You also switched from passive pickups to active EMG X models for your signature ESP model. Why?
Bello: You know when you can’t describe what you really want to hear, but you just know it in your head? When I tried out the X’s, I found that they gave me the best of both worlds. The EMG guys had approached me, saying they knew my sound well and had a good sense of what I was going for. They got it right when they recommended the X’s. But even though they sound cool for what I’m doing now, that’s not to say that they’ll be in that bass forever. I like to keep pushing the envelope with both music and my sound. You gotta keep experimenting!
Did you use a pick for any of your parts?
Bello: That’s what I did, pretty much. It just fit with the vibe of the songs. I actually played more guitar than bass on the EP. Dave played a lot of the bass parts, in addition to his guitar parts. Who would play what wasn’t set in stone—we’d just say, “Hey, you want to play guitar now? Cool, I’ll grab a bass.” That’s the kind of camaraderie that we have.
What axes did you use?
Ellefson: I recorded with Jay’s 1991 Gibson Les Paul Standard, running directly into Pro Tools with amp plug-ins, and each track doubled.
Ruston: It’s an interesting guitar. My friend Ben Kerry, who plays in Lifehouse, purchased it in Australia when he was playing there with Savage Garden. Ben and I do a ton of work together, so his gear is often at my studio.
Bello: I used it too, and man, I loved that Les Paul! I’d take it home if I could. It was easy to play and felt so fluid, and it fit so well in the tracks with both clean and distorted parts.
Ellefson: I love playing thrash guitar. I started off learning the older Megadeth stuff years ago, and my rhythm chops have gotten good since then. I started contributing riffs on So Far, So Good…So What! with the songs “Liar” and “Hook in Mouth.” I’m not a lead guitarist, though—that’s an entirely different skill set.
You got a seriously mean guitar tone. What did you use?
Ruston: For the heavy rhythm tracks we used a Marshall DSL JCM2000 stack. It was the simplest chain that you can have: a Shure SM57 on one speaker, and a Les Paul into the Marshall. I usually also take a DI off of the Marshall, just in case I want to reamp it through a Kemper modeling amp or Pod Farm. I didn’t have to do that in this case because the live tone just sounded so great. For the clean guitars, we used a Fender Twin Reverb reissue, processed with chorus and reverb patches from Pod Farm.
What about bass amps and stompboxes?
Ruston: The bass tracks are primarily a combination of a Hartke LH1000 and a Tech 21 SansAmp RBI preamp, along with a few Pro Tools plug-ins for effects, primarily Line 6’s Pod Farm. We used the amp for a stock bass tone. From there we split the signal into a DI, and ran the DI track into the SansAmp for a bit of grind, but not full-on distortion. That was patched into Pro Tools running Pod Farm. Depending on the song, I used the plug-in’s stereo chorus, Leslie speaker, reverb, and analog delay patches to augment the tone.
Which guitarists are your biggest influences?
Ellefson: When I first started learning to play bass at age 11 or 12, I bought a Hondo II, the quintessential cheapo electric guitar when I was growing up. I’d always loved hard rock guitar, and I really liked Paul Stanley’s style. He had a very interesting approach to writing and playing, and wrote riffs that were different from anything else happening at the time. And I really liked the Pete Townshend approach of big guitar chords.I also started digging AC/DC around that time. There’s a power in the simplicity of an A/G/D/E-style riff, played in the traditional sense. But what really got me into guitar was Judas Priest. I just loved the power of their I-V power chords. After that I got into Rudy Schenker and the Scorpions.
Bello: A lot of my guitar influences are guys who had to play and sing at the same time. Since I had to step up to the mic with these songs, I was able to draw from those same influences in new ways. Paul Stanley was a big influence for me too. Robin Zander from Cheap Trick was another huge influence. I know I don’t sound like either of them, but the fact that they make playing and singing together look so easy was a big motivator. It’s weird, because I’ve been playing bass and singing for a long time, but playing guitar and singing is different in a way. They’re so connected to each other. The rhythm guitar often determines when to push forward or pull back, and I really admire the guys who can do that. James Hetfield is amazing at it, as is Dave Grohl. Man, Dave Grohl! He amazes me because I’ve seen what he can do on the drums, and then he took that step to the mic. He becomes one with the guitar while he’s singing, and that’s an element of this that’s pretty refreshing to me right now.