Metal Hammer Uk - 12 1987
THE TALKING BASS
Interview taken by Stefan Kerzel
He has often been nominated as the best heavy metal bassist in the world. His sound and his solos have become famous within the genre. His name is Joey DeMaio, and just now, he is the proud holder of a world record for volume. But he's not just a dumb metalhead. His style emcompasses all musical directions, which is pretty essential if you have a tag of the world's best hanging round your neck. Stefan Kerzel spoke to Manowar's leader in America.
While there are a ton of great lead guitar heroes in metal, there are only a few bassists who are put into the same category. Why do you think that is?
J: "Maybe heavy metal is geared too much to guitar Every kid puts a guitar round his neck, dreams of becoming a guitar hero. RIT's a natural sort of thing, but what Is a guitarist without a good band behind him. The band, and especially the rhythm section (bass and drums) creat the backbone that the guitarist can build his sound. With somebody like me, you could theoretically leave the guitarist out, but that is only theory. Heavy metal needs guitarists. Bass, drums and guitar are parts of our music."
You are renowned for being a real professional, despite all the booze and girls
J: "You've got to be aware that the fans come to the concerts for music, and not just to look at a pretty backside. Naturally, I want a beer after the gig, not to mention a woman and a good time, but that comes after the work. When the gig is happening, I'm a musician, nothing else. I am a professional."
When did you start to play bass?
J: "I saw the Beatles and from that time on, I was really enthusiastic about rock'n'roll. I had really been pestering my parents to buy me a guitar, but when they did, it hung in my room for ages without me playing one note. That attitude changed when I met somebody who told me that he had a band and needed a bass player I went home and explained the situation to my parents. They thought I was crazy. I couldn't play a note and there I was telling them I was joining a band! Anyway, they got me a bass, and I joined. But they were absolute idiots, and it was an abysmal failure. After couple of months, I stood there and thought about the situation. So that my parents wouldn't get on at me, I went on playing. As you see, it was worth e effort. The bass scene then wasn't very exciting. It was seen as quite a boring instrument and nobody really tried to do anything innovative with it. It was difficult. You didn't have as thin strings or neck as a lead guitar, so it was difficult to do anything other than be part of the rhythm section. If you want to play bass like lead, you need a lot of force. That's the disadvantage that keeps a lot of bassists from trying to get different sounds. After a while, I found that you could get a bass with thin strings without losing the big, fat sound."
You're not a normal bass player. Within your style, there seems to be a strong classical influence. Have you ever studied classical music?
J: ''No, I haven't. Everything I play, I learned by myself on the bass. For a while, I've been working on harmony studies when I worked with a friend who was a drummer at the Chicago Symphony orchestra. Naturally, looking back, I would be glad if my parents had sent me to a professional teacher Then I would be able to play a lot more. But it's important that theory doesn't get too crucial. Far more important than that is a very precise and educated ear. There are a lot of musicians who rely more on their ear than anything else. With Manowar, we try to sound absolutely unique and that is only possible by playing by ear"
Your technique is close to that of a classical guitar player. It's not usual to learn that sort of thing by yourself.
J: ''The reason is probably that I wanted to sound different from normal bassists. Bass players normally have a very dull and messy sound but I wanted to be able to produce clear sounds, like a guitarist. A guitarist can't get the same sounds as a bass but the other way round, it is possible for a bass player to have the same variety as a guitar player. Obviously, you have to modify the bass to do it. Sometimes, I even go into the sound variety of the violin to get the higher notes, although you have to get a lot of power through your fingers for that. Of course, with a normal bass construction that is hardly possible. I play Ernie Ball in the numbers 040, 050, 060, 070. For a bass, those are very thin strings."
How do you construct your sound?
J: ''I use a lot of equipment, but no effects The only foot pedals I have on stage are to switch on and off my amplifiers. Live, I always play in stereo. One side of the amps take care of the high sounds and the other is deeper sounds. With the pedals, I chose which amps shall run. To regulate the volume, I use a booster. That's all. I don't think you can make a good bass sound with too many effects. Either you have it in your fingers or you leave it.
When I started playing, I listed to anything that sound strange or even remotely exceptional. John Entwistle, from the Who, and Jack Bruce were my favourites. They were individualists, and they had the own sound. That was very important to me Nowadays you don't find that. Bass sounds like bass these days. One of the exceptions is Lemmy. He has his own sound, and you could pick it out from hundreds".
Have you ever played in bands that played anything other than heavy metal?
J: "Of course, I've been in lots of different bands. I learned most of what I know on Broadway."
J: "Yeah. Everybody laughs when they hear that. In those day, I learned the fundamental rules you have to know when you we work together with other musicians. It is a completely new experience when you work with a group of singers or an orchestra. You have to keep totally in the background and sometimes you may not be recognized at all. You have to work with another 20 to 40 musicians and you have to get really into the thing. Then you are part of it, and you can do your job ''
How did you get a job in orchestra without the proper qualifications?
J: "I heard they were looking for bass player, so I went along. Simple as that. Naturally, I should have been playing from sheet music, but as I couldn't do that, I played whatever came into my head relative to the music The producer suggested that I listen to the part from a record. There was a lot of pressure on the orchestra, because the first show was the next day. I spent about 24 hours practising these bass parts. It became clear to me then how important it was to know moods. Through this and my friend from the Chicago orchestra, I got to know about Wagner"
Is your love of Wagner real, or is it just a good promotional gimmick because you have a lot of German fans?
J: "No, not at all. At the time, I didn't even know where Germany was. When I was in that orchestra, it became clear to me the possibilities I could have with music, not only 1 2, 1 2 yeah, that's rock'n'roll. With the interest in Wagner, I became interested in the country he came from. If you don't believe me, ask the band. On our first European tour I pestered the bus driver to take us 500 miles out of the way to visit Bayreuth. The rest of the band and crew wanted to drink and enjoy themselves. The band wanted to hang me, bu I had to see the place. Naturally, I would love to see a Wagner performance, but at the moment, I can't get the time off. In a few years time, it should be possible. Then maybe my German will be better, and I can understand what they are singing. America is only 200 years old. In the areas of music, art and literature, we are way behind Europe."
Let's talk about your equipment. What basses do you play?
J: "Mostly I only use Rickenbacker bass guitars. My favourite is the 400I bass which I play most of the time. I also have an SG bass."
Have your instruments been modified?
J: "Of course, basses like mine can't be bought in the shop. My bass mechanic has been working on the instruments for 11 years. He always either comes with new developments or adds to existing models. We have changed the distance of the strings by reducing them. In that way, the strings are almost like a concert guitar"
Have the tones and electronics been modified?
J: ''If I knew all the secrets of my roadies, I'd be a happy man. My basses have a very good sound pitch in both high and low areas. I like extreme sounds. Naturally, all my basses are passive. I don't like active tone controls because they detract from the true sound of the guitar''
What do you have on your basses?
J: "Doc (of course Dawk), my roadie, has been trying a lot of tone controls over the 15 years that we know each other. In the meantime, he's been developing them himself. The best ones that Doc has been putting into my guitars are from Bill Lawrence. Bill builds the best in the world."
We talked about your stereo sound. How is it constructed exactly?
J: "It's simple. There are always two pick-ups running at the same time. I said we had no effects, such as chorus, delay or harmonizers. If you have a good sound to start with, you don't need to play games. On my basses, there are always only two basic sounds, one clean and one dirty. The rest comes out of the fingers."
Which functions do the switches have on the guitar?
J: "With these swi tches, the single pick ups are put on and off. That is all. The big switch regulates the volumes."
It looks like it has been built out of an old radio!
J: "That's right. Normal models have too many other sounds. It's not possible to regulate. There are five different positions, and within a live concert, you use those five different volume levels. It makes it easier for the sound engineer because he knows at which level you will play a certain part of a song. We don't have many technical effects in our back line. When the technical end gets too complicated, there is a chance that something will go wrong, and I don't like being on stage not knowing exactly what is going on behind me. I want my equipment to be perfect."
What do you use the bass pedals for?
J: "I like to use a lot of variety, like lead guitar, but to keep the basic sound of bass, I play the basic harmony on my bass pedals."
So it's like playing two instruments at the same time?
J: "Yes. My bass pedal is one octave deeper than a normal bass. With that I can get a sound variety you can not get otherwise. Listen to songs like 'Battle Hymns' and then you'll know what a real Manowar bass sound is. "
What amps do you use to get this sound?
J: "The bass signal runs from the instrument directly through to the amp. I use CSE 100 bass amplifiers from Peavey, which have naturally been modified to my specifications. Doc adapted their force from 800 to 1,000 watt. I have ten of these amps. We are said to be the loudest band in the world in the Guinness Book Of Records. When I broke the record, only six of my amps were running! Obviously, when we play small clubs, we don't put everything in."
Which loudspeakers do you use in your boxes?
J: "We only use Electro Voice Proline Speakers in the numbers 12 and 15. We bought them in 1982 and since then, not one of them has broken down. That says everything about their quality. When we made 'Fighting The World': 38 15" and 24 15" speakers in the studio."
How can the ears bear that volume?
J: "Simple, we wear earplugs that reduce the volume by 30 dbs. Otherwise, we would go deaf!''