Photo by James Richards IV
Chad Ubovich: Headbanger’s BallWhat’s it like being in a band where every member happens to be a great guitarist?
It’s funny. We definitely all play guitar. And two of us play drums—Ty and Charles are both exceptionally good drummers.
Really? Charles is a drummer, too?
Yeah, it’s gnarly. He’s a very good drummer. But the differences in how they drum are very apparent. Ty plays on a small little ’60s kit and Charles loves to play on a big ’70s pounder. We all definitely dabble with other instruments.
Is your bass a Gibson Ripper?
It is. I’m pretty sure it’s a 1972 or ’73. The Gibson Ripper is a complete maple body and neck. But whoever the previous owner was decided to strip my Ripper of its Ripper soul—what makes the Ripper the Ripper—and took out the Varitone (the Ripper has a Varitone switch in place of the standard 3-position pickup selector). They also replaced the neck humbucker with this weird Japanese single-coil—it’s really loud. The original Ripper humbucker is really quiet and contained. This neck pickup is insanely loud, feeds back, and is gnarly. Apparently it’s the nature of this Japanese single-coil and I had no idea. I took it to a guitar tech and asked, “Can you put a Gibson in there?” He said, “No.” He wouldn’t let me change it. He said, “It sounds crazy and you should just leave it in there.” It’s a strange Ripper.
Do you use that pickup?
I do. I use both. I’m a firm believer in “middle”—the middle position with both on. The yin-yang kind of thing. Loud and soft.
Is that a philosophical or tonal conviction?
It’s both. It’s just how my brain functions. Even with guitar, usually I want two pickups and I use both. One has to be really muddy and one has to be really bright. I don’t know why, but that’s what I need in a guitar.
I was watching a clip of you performing and it looks like you have tape on the back of the neck. Why is that?
My first time playing bass in a band was in high school. My second time was when Mikal Cronin asked me to play bass in his band—I did that for a year before I played guitar in his band. In each of those situations, I put tape on the neck because I’m really a guitar player. My arm position memory is attuned more to a guitar and not a bass, so I put on tape as a reference for the frets. It helps out when you’re playing gigs and there are these insane fucking visuals—a bunch of strobes going on and you don’t know where you are and you can’t see.
Sometimes you pluck the strings with your fingers, other times you use a pick. How do you decide which is more appropriate?
When I first started on bass, I decided, “I need to play with my fingers.” Growing up, I watched Geezer Butler—he goes crazy with his fingers and you think it looks super fucking cool. So I went for it. With Cronin, it was all fingers. My whole ethos was, “I’m not going to use a pick.” Hell no. But something with Fuzz drives me to use a pick—either being lazy or wanting to get a little bit more attack. I mainly use a pick in Fuzz, but during quiet parts, or parts that have a little more swing, or those groovy parts where I need more control, I use my fingers.
You toured to support the first Fuzz album, but you helped create II. How has your role changed in the band?
When we went in to make this new album, we were all really gung ho on doing it together and putting as much input as we could into each thing. A lot of the shit is master Charles—the riff master—coming up with the majority of the song, and then me and Ty going, “That’s rad. Let’s play it.” We also played a couple of Ty songs. I have two songs on the album that I wrote primarily on my own. This album is a whole lot of water—with me, Ty, and Charles—and sometimes the water shifts toward one person, as opposed to the other.
What are you using for pedals?
When I first joined Fuzz I was all about no pedals. I just wanted to drive the amp, make it gnarly. But with this new record, somehow—it wasn’t conscious—the songs were getting heavier and more drawn out. I’m primarily using my Fuzz War.
So you use a Fuzz War too?
Using the Fuzz War makes this wall of sound with me and Charles. It’s the same pedal so it sounds like one big fuzz sound. On the album I used Music Man amps, but for touring my setup has pretty much been a gained-out [Ampeg] SVT. When you gain-out an SVT and you’re playing it with that Ripper, you think, “Damn, this sounds so rad I should not use a pedal.” But then, of course, when the song starts it’s just like, “Now I’ve got to.”
With the Fuzz War on bass you don’t need much. I turn it pretty much all the way down and then back up a tiny little bit, and it gives it a little more sustain. Recently, I’ve been venturing off into different effects pedals that I can get away with on bass. But it kind of weirds me out when I go to a bass dude’s rig and he’s got a delay, chorus—pedal after pedal. It’s funny because I think, “You’re playing bass. When are you using a delay pedal?” I’m really wary of becoming a “pedal bass guy” or something. Although recently I’ve thrown a wah pedal into my rig with Fuzz and I’ve been using that live. Bass wah sounds pretty rad.
Geezer used a wah on the first Black Sabbath album on “N.I.B.”
Yeah. There you go. Geezer used a wah. Boom.
So it’s okay.
Every headbanger bass player’s thing—Cliff Burton and Geezer Butler. We’re all just trying to live up to them.
With so much bass, guitar, and fuzz, how do you keep it from becoming a mess?
The biggest thing you have to understand is you need to be very similar. You need to be playing the same style, the same rhythmic patterns with your hands. When I’m playing bass with Fuzz, I’m listening to both Ty and Charles and I’m playing off of what they’re playing. I’m following. I’m the bass player. I’m playing off of them and I’m keeping them in line.
When we play live I have a guitar amp next to me—I run Charles’ rig all the way over to me so that I’m listening to both of us. That way I can hear how Charles is picking or if he changes his rhythmic pattern and I try to copycat that. That’s key when you’re getting that loud: You need a plan. You need a plan of where you’re going to go, what you are playing, and you need to all play in that way or else it will—like you said—sound like a mess. You’re trying to create one sound. It’s like a school of fish. They all have to be moving at the same time and if one does one thing wrong, you’re going to notice it.
And that’s why Ty is up front and Charles’ amp is on your side of the stage?
Yeah, it’s the whole three-piece jam-band ethos. There’s a reason why the Groundhogs did that. There’s a reason why Jimi would do that a lot—Mitch Mitchell would be right up there. When there are only three people, if one person drops out, it doesn’t sound as big or it sounds like something is missing. You need to be in line, looking at each other. Look at what the Ramones did, for example. You look at their setup and Dee Dee is playing two SVTs and right next to him is Johnny’s Marshall stack—one of his Marshall stacks is on Dee Dee’s side. I highly suggest that to everyone in the universe. If you’re in a three-piece and you want to hear the guitar player, put one of his amps behind you. It’s easy.