James LoMenzo Of Megadeth: 'I Had A Well Rounded Outlook On Music Totally'

artist: megadeth date: 09/26/2009 category: interviews
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James LoMenzo Of Megadeth: 'I Had A Well Rounded Outlook On Music Totally'
James LoMenzo has been playing bass with Megadeth for over three years now. He first appeared on the United Abominations album in 2007 and has now recorded Endgame, his second record with the Dave Mustaine-fronted metal band. His insertion into the group has been seamless but James will be the first one to tell you, at first blush he wasn't sure about the relationship. Lomenzo comes from a blues background he digs Cream and trios the Who and wasn't necessarily a metalhead way back when. But he was always up for a challenge and after playing with everyone from Slash, Zakk Wylde, David Lee Roth, and Ozzy, jumping into Megadeth didn't seem like such a big leap. UG: Back when you were playing with White Lion, could you have connected the dots to see yourself ultimately playing in a band like Megadeth? James LoMenzo: At the time I joined White Lion, I couldn't see myself doing that. Truly. Because before that I was playing with Bobby Rondinelli's brother and had actually gone in and replaced Felix Pappalardi. OK? Now that's where I was coming from; that kind of vibe. Back then, I was a big 60s, 70s muso. A Felix Pappalardi and Jack Bruce kind of guy? That kind exactly. Turn up the amp and make it bark. That's where I came from so you have to understand that going into White Lion I loved pop music too, I really love all kinds of music and I used to play French horn in high school and college I had a really well rounded outlook on music totally. So it just seemed like every time something came up like the White Lion thing, I understood pop music; I kind of understood 80s metal although it was just beginning. It was kind of just doing what it was doing there. Not my favorite music because of the simplicity and because of oftentimes the invisibility of the bass guitar in that music. After we made that first record, I was floored cause I was like, I can't hear my bass; what happened? But nonetheless the record did very well, the band did very well, and it set me on the next course. I wouldn't have chosen Megadeth especially back then because in my mind's eye the bass and I have all respect for David Ellefson cause he's actually created a signature sound for and with Megadeth - wasn't my style. Again, I was more into the blues thing and I was never into following the guitars quite as much. I always liked the bass pulling against and making its own space which is why I love three-piece bands. To bring this full circle, yeah, I have no problems at all playing music with Megadeth. As a matter of fact, I thought it was a really cool challenge. When I first met Dave Mustaine, I said, I might not be the right guy for this band cause really at heart I'm a blues basher. And he said, Megadeth is a blues band, its. It's just a lot faster! So it was a little tough for me to get behind it stylistically although I rap it out and I could play all the parts. But after a couple weeks of sittin' there and watchin' Dave and seeing how his hands moved and listening to the records and stuff like that, it makes a lot of sense; a lot more sense than I ever thought it would. You did go back and listen to some of the earlier Megadeth records with Dave Ellefson and stuff? Well, I didn't listen to it album by album which took me years to get to that point. It's embarrassing because fans know so much more about the band than I do. You have to understand that I had three-and-a-half weeks counting rehearsals to do a show with the band. They were doing 20+ songs and if I tell you I knew two of the songs! Thank God I used to hang out at that Club L'Amour in Brooklyn (notorious east coast rock club) otherwise I wouldn't have known any of them; they used to play them on the sound system. I'd go, Oh, that's Megadeth; I love that song. What I did was I made up a learning tape of just those songs and then later on as we started moving about and interviews and started coming, I started learning about the history of the band and which song this album is actually on.

"I wouldn't have chosen Megadeth especially back then because in my mind's eye the bass wasn't my style."

Your real indoctrination into Megadeth was on the United Abominations album. What was that process like and what did you learn to prepare yourself for the Endgame album? Well, I was a little lost. I'd been in the studio so many times with so many different people and my favorite albums that I've done with those people were the ones that were really unprepared. They just said, Show up. David Lee Roth: Show up. Zakk Wylde was great at that; we'd just always do that. Just come on in, we'll make a record. He didn't even know what he was writing; he just had ideas floating around and he's sit down at the piano, bark some things out, and so I've always been good at the seat of my pants. Again, this was a little different of a process but the same kind of fear leads to conquering sort of scenario. I hadn't heard anything they were doing; actually that's not true, I had heard two of the songs. One of them might have been Washington Is Next! and I can't remember what the other one was. The rest of it the first time I was hearing it was when they were laying down a drum and guitar track for most of the stuff. And Glen [Drover, guitar] would take me to the side and go, This is this part and this is this part and I'd sketch out as best as I could some of the riffs. I actually kind of write em down in my own weird tablature so I could remember it because there was a lot comin' at me real quick. And that's the way we did it. What were your feelings about United Abominations? It turned out, you know, it wasn't as organic as other bands I've been in; it was definitely a very delineated way of doing things. Dave's mind seems to work that way which is kind of cool. I think if you listen to his guitar style, it almost shows itself and everything is kind of compartmentalized. So, that was good, and it brought me more away from the blues and more into pattern-oriented music which is actually a great brain exercise. It keeps you from atrophying because you have to remember what you played three or four parts ago and then throw it away and play something completely different. Did you learn anything from that process that you brought to the recording of Endgame? Endgame was a completely different animal. At that point, we had played some of the riffs live; some of them, not too many. So I kinda knew where we were going. Dave made this staunch announcement before we proceeded with it and told me, I just want you to do the British metal thing. And I said, Well, that's basically holdin' it down. He goes, Yeah, that's what I want. That does seem like a bit of a departure for Dave. And I didn't mind it; I thought those were cool marching orders cause we had just come off with Judas Priest and I'm such a fan of Ian's [Hill, bassist] because he really lets loose that great big attention. And I said, The only caveat I would make on that is I've got to have that great suffering bass amp sound because that kind of sells the attitude. And he goes, You'll have that; you'll have that. So, yeah, we went in and did it that way. Dave started going through this organizational process for weeks. Just finding old riffs that were on tapes and I was helping him in the studio pulling out old tapes of old rehearsals and finding these little gemmy things that he hadn't touched or thought about for years. And so we started bringing that in and running to the practice room and throw one riff over the next. Again, less organic but certainly a good methodology especially for Megadeth's kind of music. When you talk about Dave and his organizational process, it would seem natural that he would have every song in a fully-fleshed demo form with vocals and lyrics in place. Well, eventually it turned into that but not so much the vocals because this is the second time I've seen him go at it [referring to the United Abominations sessions]. He really does reserve the vocals and the lyrics to the end. Endgame. I try and get the plugs in as much as I possibly can! No, he reserves that because I guess he becomes inspired by what's there and plus if you listen to his singing style, it would probably be a little treacherous to kind of knock it out and try and move his vocals over his fingers. So, yeah, he did even sketched out a lot of the bass stuff while I was away and I said, Wow, that sounds great; why don't you just go with that? And he goes, No, no, no, put your thing on it. I wanna hear you play. You've kind of talked all around it but how much freedom does Dave allow you in terms of coming in with bass parts and different sections? On this one, he kept saying, Go ahead, man, go for it. Try it; go for it. And we just kept coming back to what was there and not because for lack of ideas. I think it just had to do with the space for measure-by-measure. I mean there's so much guitar riffing on this record, that there isn't too much pulling away that I can do. The drums seem to sit in a certain spot, too, and so most players will tell you, You're the bridge between the rhythm and the chordal fusion of the thing and you're trying to find that bridge between the two. There's not a lot of space here even for some of the more half-tempo songs. And so half the time I'd be there with Andy [Sneap, producer] and Dave would be around and we'd try and stretch things out and Andy would go, What do you think? And I'd have to agree with him. It just sounds good, lay it in. It's one of those records. For a lot of the tracks on Endgame, you're just doubling riffs and approaching it that way? There's a lot of following the guitar; probably a lot more than I would normally care to do but in this case happily do just because it seems to work within the context. And there are some parts where I just kind of spread out but as far as I can tell there are no big bass sections. There are a couple of nice little intros and things like that. Talking about intros, Dialectic Chaos introduces the album with an instrumental. To me that always sounded like that big Boston song, Foreplay. Not chord by chord but just stylistically it's kind of an introduction; it's an introductory piece. So I thought about it and listened to it and thought, Well, what would John Entwistle do here? and I imagined he would just kind of hit those notes and let them ring out really big and broad and make it sound really classical. John Entwistle was one of your favorites? For Zakk Wylde, I know it was Randy Rhoads and he liked Uli John Roth and people like that. You just latch into these guys because they have a voice that sounds closer to the one you've been having in your head. For me, it would definitely be John Entwistle.

"There's so much guitar riffing on this record, that there isn't too much pulling away that I can do."

What about someone like John Paul Jones? John Paul Jones was great. When I was listening to him, the thing that used to throw me about him most was his tone wasn't exciting to me. It was big, it was broad, and it really carried the music and stylistically he was amazing and still one of my favorites. I've actually gone back to a lot of those early albums lately after reading the Richard Cole book [Stairway to Heaven]. I finally got hold of that and I've been rolling with that. But it's funny, not a giant influence on me. It was guys like Chris Squire, guys with the interesting tones; a lot of the progressive guys. And on the other side, the guy who played with Elton John. Dee Murrary. I loved that guy; he drives those songs. This Day We Fight. This Day We Fight was a bit of a knucklebuster; I definitely had to break that one down into sections because some of the riffs go by incredibly fast and the big strings don't move as fast as the small strings. So I remember stopping the Pro Tools rig once or twice to go, OK, can we just punch that one in because I really want it to sound good. How live were the performances on Endgame? Some of them we did together but mostly what ended up happening - and it was due to isolation restrictions because we built a studio but we really didn't soundproof it that good we kind of ended up doing drums and guitars first with guide tracks and then adding stuff as we went. 44 Minutes is a kind of mid-tempo rocker. Yeah, that's a really cool one. That one probably reminds me more of a John Entwistle style. You can hear the growl of the bass between the guitar riffs. Totally. I did that one with my fingers and that was a definite choice on my part and it works well on that one. Bite the Hand is a pretty intense track. Bite the Hand, yeah, dunga dunga dunga [mimics the riff]. Yeah, that has a really slinky riff which I dug too and then again I played that one with my fingers which is weird. It's actually an 1/8th note riff but when you play 1/8th notes with your fingers and you slam it off of the frets, you almost get like this dotted 1/8th note feel. It drags and pulls kind of like the way a good drummer will snap his snare and hold it there for a fraction of a second. So, again, another choice just to give it a little bit more breadth as opposed to being, in this case, a little less machine-like for that song. Talking about drummers, what is it like playing with Shawn Drover? He's a great drummer actually. He started out three years ago when I came here, by his own admission, he just kind of stepped up to the plate and started drumming not too long before this. He was actually a great guitar player. It's funny because he was green in the studio, admittedly green when we were doing United Abominations. But man, he took to it like a fish out of water which is evident on the record. This time it was great because he came in and he had all these drums with him; he had all these different sticks; like he was ready to go with cymbals. Playing with him this time on Endgame was really a pleasure because he really knew what he was going for. And he's rock solid on stage; every night it's great having him back there. It makes my job so much easier; I get to dance a little more because I don't have to worry about finding the rhythm at all. The Hardest Part of Letting Go sports some acoustic guitars on this quasi-ballad. That's one of my favorite songs on the record. That initially started out when David put that one together on the road, I remember; he put that one in a Pro Tools rig. It was just a little acoustic thing and he goes, You know what? It kinda started as a love song and then took a dark turn which I love because I love all those old Vincent Price movies. So, he had me hook, line and sinker on that one. But when he added that part I don't know if it was Andy's idea of Dave's but somewhere along the line they added that whole big orchestration thing and I thought, Man, that sure lends atmosphere and it definitely has that dark feeling. So that one to me is a real standout track in that it steps so far away from the other tracks on the record. Are you looking to create a different bass texture on a somewhat more subdued track like The Hardest Part of Letting Go? Maybe a rounder tone than you'd produce for one of the more rockin' tracks? There is some stuff in there and I haven't heard the mastered version, but there is some really nice Beatle-y stuff on the way out that I'm emulating cellos and stuff; little arpeggiated cellos and stuff. I mean it's all in there but I challenge anybody to really find it. But the point is it lends that sense as an orchestra would. Yeah, everything we did on this record, Andy and I went in with a basic tone that didn't change. He had a direct and I just said, Do what you want with it after that, dude. Here's the brush, you paint. What is that basic LoMenzo Megadeth bass sound? Well, it begins for me actually, in this case it was great because I get another plug, but it was my HyperDrive pedal by Ashdown. That's the core of my distortion on this thing which if you listen to it, there's this constant grinding that's going on in a weird mid-range frequency. It's an odd mid-range frequency. And it's something I kind of discovered playing back in the day with Zakk in all of the bands. I mean Zakk has a really thick Marshall tone and it's hard to get through there so if you can develop some really trebly and high odd harmonics, the bass will speak and give it a richness that the guitar alone won't have. And it will find its own place inside the band. So anyway I developed this pedal to do that and it really works like a charm. In the case of Megadeth, I really loved it because it lends this animation. Anyway, the sound goes from that into my Ashdown rig. I think I may have used the Aphex compressor and speaker Exciter [Aural exciter] and right into an Ashdown ABM 810 and a 15. Those two things have pretty much been my formula for probably about seven years now.

"I loved pop music too, I really love all kinds of music."

And the Warwick basses? For most of this I used a custom-made Warwick Buzzard bass that's on the website if anybody wants to go there [www.jameslomenzo.com]. It is a John Entwistle one but they made it specifically for me with a little tag on it and stuff. Day one, I brought every bass I had literally; there must be about 20 of them laying around here. And we lined em up because I was really jonesed on getting a really active tone for this record. So we just went one after the next after the next and plugged them all in and this is the one that had that one weird sound. It's funny because from what I've heard on the record and again I haven't heard the mastered version it kind of sits back there in a really cool way because you can always pick it out and then you can forget about it like it's a rhythm guitar. Right to Go Insane features some naked bass intro. Yeah, that's a cool one. I wish I could take credit for that; that's a riff that Dave came up with on the road. It started with guitars initially and we were listening to it and he said, Oh, just do a bass intro to it. And so they just peeled that off and let it go. That's one of those lumbering half-time big things. I was thinkin' Deep Purple like when they came back in the 80s after they'd been gone for a while and then they all reformed. Perfect Strangers had that kind of lumbering thing so that was kind of my mindset in approaching it. Again, trying to get that rounded sound against the square beat. How has it felt bring these songs to the stage? As anybody will tell you and especially a band with as many years behind them as Megadeth, it would be kind of a left turn to bring all of these songs to the stage so to speak in one sitting; especially right off the bat. So we usually introduce two to three songs over the course of a tour. We were playing Head Crusher before we finished the album on this last Slayer tour and that was such a great litmus test. Because if the audience heads for a beer and then you start playing a song and then they turn around immediately? You're in good shape. And we were looking at 1,320 which might be another good one to introduce initially and then you just have to see what kind of life the record takes if people respond to it. We have such a great network on the internet that we're bound to find out what people's favorites are. And if that happens we just usually go right after the song and add it in. At the end of the day, how demanding was Dave as a bandleader? If you were 15 minutes late to a band rehearsal, would you be fined $10? No, no $10. Actually he's pretty easy; he's no different than any of the other guys I've played with in that he's a perfectionist. And it's interesting how many of these people arrive at where they are and drive their bands being this way. I could go down a list of them that I've actually played with. As far as it goes, Dave is a real sensible guy, he's a real smart guy, and he knows exactly what he wants. And I usually respond really well to that because it's much easier to know what somebody wants than to sit around and fidget all the time. But the cool thing is he's so passionate about what he does that it's a great deal for the audience. The truth of the matter is, if you've got a guy sitting out there during soundcheck and listening to the balance of the instruments on stage, it's not because he wants it to sound a certain way; he wants it to sound a certain way for the first five rows. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
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