Drums take finesse and chops, and guitar playing requires being Master of the Riff, but when it comes to bass, there is something special that unites the players, though it’s not necessarily style. There seems to be an agreed-upon way to shred with a pic on guitar or blast on drums, and even a right way to do vocals, but heavy bass players can do anything from finger picking fury a-la Alex Webster to pick riffing or more basic, heavy, walking bass lines. Due to that, I posit that we as bassists have something in common through having nothing in common: We might all approach it different ways, and due to the flexible nature of our instrument, we might all be misfits in our own right, but one thing unites us: love for the low end.

With this in mind, I am kicking off this column by talking to a fellow bass player who moonlights in his full-time solo project, Gridfailure, as well as a bunch of other bands and one-offs, but also, much like me, spends his days mired in the editorial coverage side of the metal world. Dave Brenner of Earsplit PR was the perfect person to kick this off with. We break it down below.



How did you first get into playing bass, and why did it speak to you more than any other instrument?

I’m not sure it actually did at first; I wanted to play guitar. By the time I got into high school, I was already into bands like Anthrax and Faith No More, and there were a lot of musicians in my family. So I wanted to play guitar, but I ended up connecting in high school with a friend who did play guitar, and I really wanted to be in a band with him, and we decided two guitar players was stupid and I should just get a bass.

I started listening to more of what bass players were doing, these crazy riffy undertones, things that weren’t necessarily just following along with the guitar, doing the punk thing. I also got into stuff like hip hop and really got into listening to those low-end frequencies and how they help build things up in those genres, like the backbone of music.

Once you did start playing bass, what was your journey like? Did you pick up other instruments or stick with bass throughout the years?

Well, we started doing the band pretty much right away, and we wrote songs for about two or three years before we started playing out with other people, which happened by my senior year of high school. Then we were playing shows all the time. It was funny because we were doing straight-up hardcore punk, early DC hardcore style and street punk kind of stuff. I had a red mohawk and a jacket with patches all over it, and I started going to this bass teacher who dressed like Gene Wilder in 1968 or something; he wore bell bottoms, collared sweaters, had long hair.

He was funny—I would go in there, and he’d be playing Charlie Daniels walking bass riffs, old funk stuff, and then at the end, we’d do whatever I brought in, Pantera, Suicidal Tendencies, something like that, and he would just sit back and kind of do this meditation thing with his eyes closed, and then he would try and play the riff and just hit it. I was like, “How can you do that?!” Still to this day, I can’t really read music at all; I barely know any actual theory and skills, but that’s something I’m always looking to round out and expand on.

So even though you work in metal, which is a dream come true, at the end of the day it’s still work, and I know you’ve told me you play bass and music to unwind. So how do you separate that in your mind, even though it is still work to some degree, and in the same industry as your day job?

To be honest, the relaxing part—I don’t know if I ever get that. Because I try to squeeze in an hour or two of writing lyrics or rewiring a pedal board or playing guitar or bass or drums, or even keyboard, it’s kind of more of a switch-off of, “OK, I just did this brutal work day—Now get creative,” all before dinner or whatever, so I’m not sure if it’s ever relaxing.

Every now and then, I get a weekend to just jam, but you still have to be on a computer; you still have gear issues, so it’s not just watching a Sopranos marathon on the couch. So I don’t know if I ever truly get the relaxing part, but the enjoyment part, the creation and seeing something through from start to finish, there are definitely rewarding aspects of that.

It’s the same reason that I run and bike—so I can burn off some of the energy from 10 or even 12 hours of working with people’s faulty Bandcamp codes or whatnot. It’s kind of like putting myself through football training or something. It’s brutal, and you just pound away, with both working out and music; it’s kind of like an exorcism or something.

I totally get that—For me, even though I also get to work in metal and areas that I’m passionate about all day, it’s still a lot of sitting down at a computer, writing, editing, emails, so it’s a great reset, though I will say the work you put in can still feel like work.

Absolutely, and I think I also impose a lot of deadlines on myself, trying to release constant material. I do almost all my own artwork and design and videos, so sometimes I’m committed, and I can’t just, like, dick around on an instrument. I’m always telling myself I have a half hour to get this or that done; then I have to cook dinner or whatever, so it can be a blessing and a curse.

In terms of pedals and distortion, is there anything you have a preference for when it comes to your tone or sound?

I use a ton of effects for almost everything I do with my main project, Gridfailure. I even had a full pedal board for when I play live. For my vocals, I have two different microphones on two different pedal chains, so five or six pedals for each microphone, and that’s just for my vocal stuff. I don’t really play bass like I did for the first few shows; I’ve ended up doing more of just a vocal assault with most of it, and the drummer I often play with plays accordion, so it’s this very fun, creepy thing with a lot of improv at our live shows.

But overall, and especially with bass, everything has a lot of reverb. I’ll turn up the reverb and turn everything else down. As long as I have some kind of reverb delay, or driver distortion, I’m happy, and I love pedals; I have octave, tone dropping, and everything. It just kind of depends on what sound, or noise, I’m going for, or what the song is asking for.

Do you have any overall goals of where you want to be with your playing?

I always want to get better. Sometimes I wish I could just take a month and not do any work; all the bills are paid; all the house projects are done, and just focus on practicing and playing for a month. I don’t play enough, and I’m not nearly as good as I want to be. I look at people like Les Claypool, and he makes it look so easy; I can’t even fathom how he does it. That’s some visionary shit. Overall, it’s something I want to keep expanding on, building on my talent and getting better at playing and songwriting. That’s the constant, ongoing goal, but I’m still active with projects right now because if you wait around until you’re perfect to go out and do something, you’ll never do anything.


Follow Gridfailure on Bandcamp, and check out Earsplit here.

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