In a former life, Juan Alderete was an ’80s shredder in the heavy metal band Racer X. Here he is in 1987 with fellow Musicians Institute-trained masters Paul Gilbert (left) and Bruce Bouillet (right). Photo by Neil Zlozower
What about “Warped Descent?”
That song was written after Mark cut his drum tracks, so it’s a drum loop. I was in my studio messing around with two pedals, the Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl into the Descent Reverb by Walrus Audio, and I was like, “Whoa, that’s dope.” I threw up a mic and recorded it. No click—I just trusted my time. I threw it on my SoundCloud at first, like, “Check out these two pedals.” I kept listening to it thinking I should make something out of it, so I sent it to suGar, who dug it and added to it.
The bass tone on “Angels Flight” is huge. What went into it?
We recorded “Angels Flight” live, and suGar really liked that version, but I envisioned it being heavier, so I overdubbed my bass on it and made it a little tighter. Robert came to my studio and miked me up and put me through the DI and I overdubbed myself. I still don’t know if I did the better thing. There are still some characteristics of the live version, like my wah envelopes were tighter and cooler sounding, but the overall heaviness of it is bigger now.
What sounds like bass, but isn’t, is Marcel [Rodríguez-López] from Mars Volta—that’s his Moog Voyager. I already had the bass lines written. I just said, “I want you to play the synth like that.” He’s a genius when it comes to sound making.
“Love or Lost” reminds me of something Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius would’ve recorded together.
The inspiration for that tune was a band I love: Deerhoof. Sometimes I sit around and say, “I’m going to try to write something that sounds like my version of Deerhoof,” or whatever. On the first Big Sir record, I was trying to write songs that were like my versions of Tortoise songs.
What basses did you use for tracking?
On “Love or Lost,” I used [Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist] Josh Klinghoffer’s Hofner. It’s the guitar-shaped one, not the Beatles shape, with Diamond pickups and tapewound strings. That thing is dope. I overdubbed a Kala U-Bass on it, too.
How do you like the U-Bass?
I use the shit out of those on hip-hop. You pull that out on dudes bumping 808s [Roland drum machines] and they go, “What the fuck is that little dude?” They love it. I’ve used it on Jonwayne stuff—this rapper I work with out of the Low End Theory crew. I used it with Domo Genesis. He’s one of the guys from Odd Future, but he’s solo now and I used that on his record.
What do they like about it? That it sounds like an upright?
The U-Bass has way more thud and low end than an upright. It really goes back to the shorter-scale instruments. I always give props to Owen Biddle [formerly of the Roots], because he was the first dude I ever read talk about it. He had that CallowHill 30"-scale 5-string with tapewounds, and he talked about the low-end fundamental of a short-scale as opposed to 34" or 35" scale. The longer you go, the more taut the string, the more it sounds like a piano. You go the other way, and you can see it in the waveform in Pro Tools—it’s different. Maybe it’s not as defined, with the same articulation as a 34" or 35", but it’s huge sounding.
The Landscape bass I use with Jonwayne sounds like an upright. That’s the bass I have that sounds most like an upright. Everybody knows I don’t really play upright, so I fake it [laughs].
I’ve seen you play Goya basses, too.
Those are 30”-scale basses. I use them in Dr. Octagon and with Deltron 3030. They are great for sounding vintage. They sound even more vintage than a P bass with flats. A P bass with flats, the way I play, makes me sound kind of like a cross between [Motown’s] James Jamerson and [Iron Maiden’s} Steve Harris [laughs]. I hit too hard and Jamerson only played with one finger [Alderete uses two]. I always try to sound like Jamerson when I have flats on a P bass, but I don’t. I know I don’t. I know I probably sound like Steve Harris.
When you play a Goya with flats, it just sounds way more vintage-’60s Motown, because you can’t hit it as hard. You’ll put it out of tune. So you play softer and lighter, and it has more of that authentic vibe to it. And the pickups are kind of janky, so it sounds more ’60s. I still rock those on the hip-hop gigs.
What’s your objective at pedalsandeffects.com?
I’m trying to keep bass players in the game through effects use. That’s how you stay in the game. That’s why I play with a pick, fretless bass, fretted bass, Kala bass, short-scale bass, long scale, flatwound, tapewound, roundwound. You know what I mean? You give them tons of different options. That’s why these hip-hop gigs keep coming to me. Domo from Odd Future, Jonwayne, Deltron, Octagon. I played on their new records. I use weird bass sounds because they’re sounds they can’t get with synths. You have to have this, otherwise you’re limiting your opportunities to make a living. It’s transcending the fucker. You can hate what I do. That’s cool. But really, I’m here trying to keep everybody in the game.
So, it has to do with staying relevant?
I was in a band for 10 years [Mars Volta] that was going crazy with this stuff. We were trying to make something new happen. I’m still that dude from the ’80s who was trying to play fast because that was what was happening at the time. I was trying to evolve somehow and keep things interesting. But I got bored of that, so I got into fretless because I’d never done it and I wanted to see what my take would be. Then I got into effects. It’s constantly reinventing, because I’m just not the dude who’s going to stay there and play straight bass. There are a million dudes who can do that.
I guess ultimately you must weigh calls to the history of the instrument with where it can potentially go?
Jamerson might’ve hated the way I play. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Hendrix was playing blues-rock guitar licks and then he got on the Octavia and started playing solos with that. He would’ve constantly bought pedals. Guitarists have the Edge, Van Halen, but no bass player ever threw pedals out there where I was like, “Whoa!” There were guys doing things, but it was always just like an occasional chorus pedal, so I was like, “Fuck man, I’m going to try it.” That first Vato Negro record I did—there’s shit on there I don’t even remember what the pedal combination is. I could guess at it. It’s just gnarly, what I was trying to do, because I was literally going, “I want this shit to sound bananas. I want to be the Hendrix of the instrument.” I don’t consider myself that, but I wanted the same pioneering spirit. I wanted to do something that I hadn’t really heard before, but I thought would light people up. I am not one of those dudes who listens to his own music, but when Vato Negro pops up on shuffle or whatever, I’m like, “Man that is some out there shit [laughs].” And that’s my goal.
And now for something really rad: Halo Orbit onstage at the Airliner in Los Angeles earlier this year. Get an earful of the way Juan Alderete makes his bass speak in alien tongues, and how seamlessly the band integrates electronics and live performance.