Seether's Dale Stewart: 'A Good Bass Player Is A Tasteful Bass Player'

artist: seether date: 08/20/2014 category: interviews
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Seether's Dale Stewart: 'A Good Bass Player Is A Tasteful Bass Player'
Seether formed in South Africa in 1999 and for the past 15 years they have consistently landed singles at the top of the alternative rock and hard rock charts - a difficult feat in these turbulent times. On July 1st, 2014, Seether released their sixth studio album, "Isolate and Medicate." In the following exclusive interview with the band's bassist, Dale Stewart, we discuss the writing process behind the new album, the crossover between bass and guitar, and the woes of the music business.

UG: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at Ultimate-Guitar. Do you ever look up tabs?

DS: Oh yeah, although usually if I want to learn a song I just wing it. But sometimes if I want to really do it right, I'll look up the tabs. I'm so bad at tabs because I don't use them very often so it takes me so long to decipher it. I don't read music or anything like that either.

How did you come to know the guitar?

I actually wanted to play violin first because there was this girl that I liked in grade one who brought one in and played for the class. I thought that was pretty cool and I wanted to learn how to play one. So I asked my parents for one and they figured they'd just start me out with a guitar instead. But my hands were too small so I was really having trouble fingering the notes properly so I quit for a couple years.

I think I was about 12 when I started discovering music like Guns N' Roses and AC/DC and it made me want to pick it up again. I also figured out that girls like guys in bands and I figured I should get in on that. But I started playing again and fell in love with it again.

When did you start playing bass and why did you choose to stick with that?

I started playing bass when I was 18. I had some friends who had a band and needed a bass player. So I became the bass player by default. It's a much different instrument than a guitar and I really fell in love with the rhythmic element of playing bass. There's a lot of rhythm involved with guitar as well but I like to lock in with the drummer and the groove of it was just great. I've always thought of bass as being like the mayo that holds the tuna sandwich together.

I remember seeing you guys several years ago and being impressed with how big your sound was for only being a three piece. But you recently added a fourth member, a touring guitar player. How did that come about?

Actually our guitar player, Bryan (Wickmann) has been a friend of ours for a long time. We met him when he used to work at Schecter Guitars where he did graphic design and did all the artistic stuff over there. So he's a very talented man in that respect too. We just became friends and he and I actually became roommates for a while in LA. He said to me that he wanted to get out of the corporate side of things and go on the road. So he came out on the road with us as our guitar tech for a couple years. We started talking about incorporating another guy for the live shows and we threw out a couple ideas and said why not just have Bryan do it, he's already a part of the organization, he's a good friend of ours, and he's a good player. So it was just sort of a logical step.

Did he contribute in the studio at all?

In the studio, it was just the three of us - me, Shaun, and John. But in the studio there's always overdubs and things. Like a song gets recorded and then we go in and do the fiddly bits on top of it. It's fun to play as a three piece but you just can't do everything that you do on a record when you play live so having a fourth person can help add some depth.

But you know, if you write good songs, the core of it will always be there and hopefully it translates. It's cool to play songs that we've been used to playing without certain parts and hearing those parts again makes us feel like we should have done this years ago. It breathes new life into it and Bryan is just having the time of his life. So watching him on stage grinning and having a ball is fun. It definitely livens the show up a bit.

Where you ever at a point where you felt as though you were in a rut with your stage show?

Yeah, it's easy after a while to become kind of jaded. You catch yourself every once in a while when you're doing several shows in a row and you're tired and hung over you just don't want to play and it's at a big festival and there's a lot of people just chomping at the bit to see you play. It's just like, come on listen to yourself, get out there and play. You don't realize how fortunate you are to be in that position. So you come out of it pretty quickly once you check yourself. But yeah you do fall into that from time to time. We love what we do. We enjoy playing and that far outweighs the times when you just want to go home because you're feeling worn out. But you do reach those points after you've been on the road for a long time.

I think people have this sort of romantic idea of what it's like to be on the road but actually it's far less exciting than most people realize. There's a lot of sitting on the bus with nowhere to go so you just end up watching TV or reading a book or listen to some music. If you watch a movie about a band it always about the sex drugs and rock and roll. You never see the guy sitting in the lonely dressing room playing "Solitaire" on his iPhone.

You never found yourself on a roof screaming "I'm a golden God!"?

Not yet. But there's still time. We'll put that on the bucket list.

So this new album is your second after your split with Wind Up Records. We haven't talked in a while. So that's old news, perhaps, but I wonder if you might take us through that whole ordeal.

Yeah, we just got a phone call from management one day saying that they had read a press release saying that they had sold us to Concord Music Group and that was the first we heard of it. So we were kind of taken back by it. I use the analogy of the scuba diver who comes up and the boat is gone. It was that kind of feeling.

But it turned out to be great because the new record company has been awesome so it actually turned out to be really good for us. The past two albums, they haven't dabbled with us at all in the studio. They just say, we trust you, we have faith in you, just send us the album when its done. Wind Up wanted absolute control of everything and it was always a fight. It was so easy this time so it was cool.

The new album sounds great.

Well thank you. It came together rather quickly. I think John knocked out all the drum tracks in a couple days. I did the bass is a couple days and it was on to guitar, then vocals, and then overdubs. The whole thing took about 16 days. I think it's as a result of us being used to being in the studio. It's a different kind of playing in the studio than live. It's something you can only learn about by being in the studio.

I think we've gotten better with each album in that respect. Technology has gotten better too. Without ProTools, we'd have been splicing tape together and losing our minds. But we can just get dropped in at the chorus or verse or whatever. Technology is also getting to the point where you can mimic that analog sound. It's not spot on yet but it's getting there. Our producer Brendan O'Brian, he's really good at getting drum sounds and getting them to sound great.

Do you often experiment with different gear in the studio?

Yeah we do. Brendan is a bit of a gearhead and a bit of a nerd about the whole thing. I'm kind of the opposite. It doesn't really matter on the bass, that can be the same tone throughout the whole album but with the guitar you want to have different sounds and experiment a bit.

There's certainly a lot of experimenting that goes on in the studio. We'd get a new pedal in to try and we'd sit on the floor cross legged like a bunch of kids turning dials. That's the fun part, it's interesting and you learn a lot from it. We use a lot of combinations of pedals and amps or amps and cabs. Brendan has a really great guitar collection as well. He's got some old Martins from the 50's that we used for the acoustic stuff. That's the geeky part but it's cool. He had some old 60's Telecasters that we used - stuff that maybe should be hung on the wall in a museum somewhere.

Shaun played a lot of stuff on his signature Schecter guitar and I did everything on my signature Schecter bass. I love that guitar, it's just mean. I've actually molded my playing around that guitar because I've been using it for so long. When I go to pick up a different bass, it feels weird.

So your studio rig this time was the same as your live rig?

Yeah, I use Hartke amps and then in the studio as a secondary sound, Brendan has this little mini Ampeg stack. I don't really know what it is, it's tiny and I've never seen it anywhere else. You just run it balls to the wall and put a microphone to it and it just sounds amazing. I don't use pedals in the studio. I use them live a bit - a distortion, an overdrive, I've got a wah that I use.

You mentioned a difference between playing live and playing in the studio. Could you elaborate on specifically what that difference is?

In the studio I don't want to overplay or be too obnoxious on the bass. I think a good bass player is a tasteful bass player. If there's room, I'll do a run but if the vocals are important on a certain part, I'll stay in the pocket. I don't want to clutter the song up. I think being tasteful is more important than anything else.

You're the gentleman of bass players.

I like to think so. You don't want to go too crazy - I think it can take away from a good song. That's the battle. Everyone wants to shine but sometimes you just have to do what's best for the song. You need to know when to pull back during an intimate part of the song and then drop back in. It makes the song that much more dynamic. It's all about the song at the end of the day.

Has the reason you make music changed over the years?

I think at the root of it, it's very much the same. We enjoy making music. I know for Shaun, it's very cathartic on the lyric side of things. It's very much like a diary or his way to deal with sh-t. But musically, we love playing and it's so exciting to write music and play it live. We've certainly changed a lot as people. We've grown up a lot. That's natural, I think.

When you first start doing this and you're a young kid and for the first time in your life you've got a bit of money and girls are attracted to you for the first time and you think this is cool, it's easy to lose your mind and get sucked into everything. There's a mentality that there is no tomorrow so you can't miss a thing, you just want to party. Then after a couple years you start thinking maybe I need to slow down a bit, I'm going to kill myself at this rate. You tend to fall into a more maintainable stride.

The new album doesn't seem to be mellowed out at all - there's still a raw anger to it. Where does that anger come from?

I think there's still plenty to be angry about. I think as a result, we get to be not angry in our everyday lives. We're not a morose band that just mopes around. We like to laugh and have a good time. Once you've got all that anger and aggression out on stage or whatever, then it's like we can grab a drink and have a few laughs. I think that the new album is kind of a throw back to our earlier, heavier albums. It maintains a sense of melody to it as well that we feel is quite important.

We like that dynamic between heavy riffs and then melodic parts. Some people have told us that we're not as heavy as we used to be but I think the melody creates an illusion of a lack of aggression or something. It's weird. You could take a Hatebreed riff and if you sang a pretty melody over the top of it people would be like, what's with this mellow song?

I draw a parallel to the Pixies loud-quiet-loud formula.

Thank you, that's high praise. We love the Pixies. I think they're a great band and there are no bands who wrote better songs than they did. Even bands like Nirvana, they just wrote really good heavy pop songs. They're heavy and angry but they're kind of pop songs.

Do you fear that "pop" label? It seems most bands don't like to be lumped into that genre.

Not really, we don't lend ourselves to labels. We just consider ourselves a rock band. I don't think we've really crossed over into the pop realm. Maybe once or twice perhaps but I think we've stayed pretty loyal to our rock roots. I'm not opposed to it. I know that the pop thing to a lot of fans it's a big no no. But we write songs that we would like as music fans.

Any final thoughts or comments or plugs?

Thanks to the fans that come to the shows and let us get up on roofs and shout "I'm a golden God." But seriously thanks to all the fans who saved us from having to get a haircut and a real job and have allowed us to live that boyhood dream.

Interview by Justin Beckner
Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2014
More seether interviews:
+ Shaun Morgan 'Surrounded By Morons, So There's Fodder For Songwriting' Hit The Lights 05/18/2011
+ Seether's Shaun Morgan: Going Acoustic Is More Than Comfortable Interviews 08/14/2006
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