Planet Bass Ė The Chris Dale Interview April 2004
Chris Dale is a rock bass player who as well as fronting his own band Sack Trick has toured and recorded with artists such as Atom Seed, Bruce Dickinson and Ace from Skunk Annansie. He sometimes teaches at Brighton Institute of Modern Music and on Access to Music Courses and is also one of the co-webmasters of this site.
You can email him at- email@example.com
What inspired you to first pick up a bass and what were your first attempts at playing it like?
Seeing Kiss on the Lick it Up tour made me realise I wanted to be in a band. I tried guitar for a couple of months then moved over to bass when I realised all my classmates played guitar better than me, but nobody played bass. I was in two bands straight away, not because I was any good, just that nobody else in our year was playing bass. To be honest my first attempts sounded pretty awful and Iím very grateful to my Mum and my neighbours for putting up with it.
Who were your early influences and what did you learn from them?
All I listened to at that time was heavy metal- AC/DC, Kiss, Maiden, Ozzy etc. But although the music was quite similar the bass players were all very different. Cliff Williams was always just pumping straight root notes and it sounded great, Gene Simmons was playing walking McCartney type bass lines, Steve Harris was driving the whole band with those fast triplets and Bob Daisley seemed to combine all of the above on Ozzyís first two solo albums. It taught me from the start that there was a lot more to this bass playing malarkey than meets the eye. Then I heard Billy SheehanÖ
Did you take lessons or are you self-taught?
I took a few lessons on classical guitar when I first started. I just wanted to play Kiss songs really, but the teacher just looked blankly at me when I played him tapes. He thought it was all a bit rubbish so we didnít really get on.
I also did a Bass course at the Academy of Music in Wapping, but again didnít really see eye to eye on rock music.
Most things I learnt either by sitting in my room for hours figuring things out slowly or jamming with lots of different people. By far the best thing to do is to jam with as many people as possibleÖand listen to them.
Whatís the most important bit of advice you were given by another musician?
Sounds kind of stupid now but a drummer called Joe Clancy that I was playing with in an early Thrash Metal band called Black Orchid, told me to listen to his bass drum. Prior to that Iíd really just been jamming guitar riffs on a four string. It took someone to point out to me that bass playing is really about locking the bass and drums together. I think us bass players are really the lynch pin in any band and if weíre not locked in tight with that kick drum the whole band is going to go down the drain.
Whatís the most important bit of advice you could give to new bassists?
Sit back and listen to your band. Really find out exactly what the drummer and guitarist are doing and how best you can compliment that drum fill or that minor chord. Theyíll appreciate you the more for doing it.
Where do you stand on the old fingers vs. plectrums debate and why?
I started out playing with a pick because it seemed easier, then I noticed a lot of my favourite bass players played with their fingers and figured there must be a reason for it! Iíve not looked back since. Finger playing gives far more flexibility especially with attack and tone. Having said that there are certain times, mainly when recording simple straight rock beats, when I think a pick can sound better.
Do you play 4, 5 or 6 string basses mainly? Fretted or unfretted?
4 string fretted plain and simple. Iíd rather detune the E string than go to all the extra bother of another string for a just a few extra notes. I recently recorded some really Heavy stuff for a band called Twin Zero that needed tuning down to C. There wasnít really a problem detuning down there, so why go to the effort of a new string? Also my Warwickís got 26 frets going up to a high A, if you need a higher string than that you should maybe consider another instrument?
How would you define your style of playing?
Iím basically a four string rock player, but I like to dabble in slapping, tapping and silly experimental sounds.
Tell us a little about the artists you have worked with, and how/if you adapted to playing with each of them?
People usually know what theyíre getting when they call me to play for them (see last question) but I think itís very important to be flexible in the studio on other peopleís projects. Iím always prepared to try other peopleís ideas out even if Iím not keen on them at first. We can always go back to the original idea if it doesnít work.
Who was the most inspirational and in what way?
The most inspirational player Iíve ever worked with is Alex Dickson who did the Bruce Dickinson Skunkworks album and still does Sack Trick with me. Heís the best all-round musician Iíve played with and a very underrated guitarist who also sings amazingly and writes great songs. It was him who got me into trying to sing and write songs myself which started the whole Sack Trick ball rolling. Oh and heís a huge Kiss fan too, which helps.
Do you warm up before a gig and if so how?
No, I probably should do but often playing in a cold dressing room then going out onto a warm stage seems to do more harm then good. Iíve hurt my hands a couple of times warming up too much, then again Iíve also played the first song a bit sloppy even more often.
Do you have any other last minute rituals or habits before a gig?
No. I think theyíre mostly little habits to combat nerves.
What do you drink onstage?
Water and beer. Probably more beer than water. Iím not usually drunk onstage these days. I donít drink before a gig, but I do like to relax and enjoy the gig with a beer.
Have you ever played while drunk or under the influence of drugs?
Yeah loads of times! Sometimes when I was in a band called the Atom Seed weíd all go onstage pretty baked, and yes the playing would suffer, sometimes I couldnít stand up straight. In all honesty if Iíve had more than couple of beers my playing does start to suffer for it, and I think thatís true for most people. I learnt this one the hard way.
Whatís the biggest disaster youíve ever had onstage, and how did you cope with it?
Well like I say, collapsing during a song in fits of drug-induced laughter was probably a disaster looking back on it, although at the time I quite enjoyed it.
Whatís the biggest disaster youíve ever had in the studio, and how did you cope with it?
Probably on the same topic, the singer in the Atom Seed, Paul, once wiped one of my bass tracks after a few hours of playing, just by innocently fiddling with a few buttons on the deskÖ
Whatís been your proudest playing moment?
There have been plenty of good bits so far. Usually just getting a good sound in the studio and being pleased with a good take. Probably small things that nobody else would have noticed on a record.
Whatís been the most fun playing moment, and why?
If I had to pick just a single playing moment it would be doing a Festival in Detroit with Bruce Dickinson in 1996. The guitar amps had just broken so Bruce left the stage and told me to play something for the audience. Kiss had just started their Re-union Tour in that city two weeks before, so I turned my distortion on and played a few bars of Detroit Rock City with the drummer. I was in Detroit playing Detroit Rock City centre stage to thousands of people, and the kids went crazy!
Whatís been the least fun playing moment, and why?
I guess rehearsing the same songs endlessly isnít much fun. In the Atom Seed we fired our drummer, then put an ad out for a new one. We auditioned about 80 drummers with the same three songs over 4 or 5 days. That got pretty dull, by the end of it we couldnít tell good from bad or care. It must have been worse for the drummers trying to do their best in front of three guys who really just wanted to go home. In the end we gave the job to a friend of ours that weíd known beforehand anywayÖ
What equipment do you use live and in the studio and why?
Iíve got two main basses, a Warwick Thumb thatís really easy to play and gives a great light funky sound and a Musicman thatís a bit more of a beast but has a great rock sound. Between the two of them I pick which is suited to the band Iím playing with. Mostly I go for DI sounds, I never really saw the point in miking up bass cabs- they usually just seem to make a farting noise close-up.
Effects wise Iíve got a DOD Envelope Filter that gives a very cool silly slap touch wah sound. Iíve got a RAT pedal for a bit of distortion every now and then and I sometimes carry a DOD Bass Compressor to round the sound out a bit. A Compressor is the best way to make a rubbish bass set up sound good. Oh, and tuner can sometimes make you sound pretty cool too!
Are you fairly flexible about the equipment you use or must you always play with the same gear?
Iím very comfortable on my two basses and would feel a bit lost on someone elseís, more particularly if they were using unfamiliar strings. But when it comes to amps Iím not fussy at all. Like I said itís the DI sound that counts live and in the studio so an amp for me is just a monitor for me to hear myself a bit.
What one piece of equipment would you advise all bass players to own?
Please Santa brings all bass players a Boss Stage Tuner next year! If thereís one thing I hate it's listening to bands tuning up out loud in between songsÖ
Do you read music?
About as well as I read French, which is quite badly. I have to stare at it for ages and look bits up in a book before it makes much sense. I studied it a couple of times at school and also at Music College but Iíve never had to use it outside of those circles.
Do you play any other instruments, and how well?
I play a bit of guitar, but not especially well. I can play a few chords and some Kiss riffs.
Do you write or co-write songs and if so do you write on the bass?
I write on guitar and bass about 50/50. The songs naturally seem to come out more melodic if Iíve written on guitar and riffier if Iíve written on bass.
Do you ever play cover versions, and if so how do you learn the originals note for note or do you improvise you own parts?
That really depends whom Iím covering and what the situation is. There are some classics that canít be messed with. For instance, I think Steve Harrisí parts in Iron Maiden songs are integral to the song itself so I pretty much play them note for note. On other occasions like the new Kiss tribute album weíve recorded with Sack Trick the idea is to get a brand new feel to the music so often weíve stripped everything down except the lyrics and basic melody, then itís fun to see what else could be done around a classic tune.
Do you sing? Do you feel it is important?
I give it a go but I wish I sang better! Itís something I never took that seriously at first but realistically as a musician itís always a useful thing. Many bands looking for bassists are also looking for a good backing vocalist at the same time and if you canít sing and the next guy turning up at the audition can, guess whoís going to get the gig?
If you could nominate one song that youíve recorded to sum up your playing style and feel which one would it be?
I wrote a song for Sack Trick called I Play Bass. Its kind of self explanatory, though some reviewer once kindly called it the worldwide anthem for bass players, which I thought was nice. You can download n MP3 of it here.
What have you been doing recently?
The last yearís been quite cool. As well as the Sack Trick finally finishing our third album and quite unexpectedly playing the prestigious Roskilde Festival in Denmark, Iíve been doing some teaching for the Brighton Institute of Modern Music and also at Leeds University for Access to Music, I also got to fly out to Brazil to record an album for a metal guy called Renato Tribuzy and have finished the year off starting to record for the new Twin Zero project which is a new heavy detuned band with guys from Vex Red, Earthtone9 and Subvert that's coming out in 2004.
Do you have a personal or band website? Or would you like to recommend any other useful websites?
The Sack Trick website is at www.sacktrick.com with my own site at www.sacktrick.com/chrispaulodale. Theyíre both full of MP3s, video clips and photos of me being stupid with a bass.