by Josh Petraglia
| Bassist Dave Meros
For some, with the end of the 70's and early 80's, Progressive Rock died. But not for everyone. With a bit of desire and no small amount of drive, one soon finds that with a some internet legwork, you can find dozens, perhaps hundreds of Progressive and Prog Metal bands out there, including Dream Theater, Transatlantic and their Radiant Records label stable mates SPOCKS BEARD.
Global Bass' Josh Petraglia spoke to bassist Dave Meros of the Beard in his first article as a writer for GB.
Josh Petraglia: Ok, so let's start with what have you been up to since the release of Spocks Beard V?
Dave Meros: Well, we did both U.S. and European tours...the U.S. tour in the summer and two European tours, one last winter and one again in the summer.
Neal has been writing lots of material as usual, so now we're working on the new CD, which should be out in summer '02.
I've been doing a lot of touring with Eric Burdon as well, doing lots of dates in Europe, the U.S. and Australia.
Josh: I know that Spock's Beard had planned to record their new album on 9/10/01 a day before the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Have things changed since than in terms of material such as new songs or new lyrics pertaining to the terrorist attacks?
Dave: We were in rehearsal for the new CD on the 9th and 10th, but had to cut it short because Nick was really sick. We were all going to take a little break (a couple of weeks) and regroup when we could. Then, Sept 11th happened and it turned into a longer break than planned.
Partially because everyone's schedules are so hard to coordinate, partially because Sept 11th put a big downer on everyone for a while, and partially because of trying out some of the stuff in the rehearsals that we did have, Neal decided he needed to re-write a lot of the CD.
So, yes, much of the CD has changed since Sept 11th, but not in response to the attacks. Since the new CD is a concept thing, sort of a rock opera, we were thinking about maybe changing where the story is based, which is NYC, but there was really no point in that. The rewrite was basically to make things flow better and to take some dead wood out.
Josh: I also heard that the new Beard album is going to have something like a 40 min Epic piece on it. If so, are you going to be playing that in it's entirety on the upcoming tour?
Dave: It's actually one giant composition, in the neighborhood of 100 minutes of music, maybe more, so if we do that live the concert would basically be the whole new CD and maybe a couple other things as an encore or something.
We could break it up, though, I guess. . . .we'll have to wait and see.
Josh: How does a band take on writing a song of such long duration? Also, tell us a bit about how you will be recording it?
Dave: Man, that's Neal. . . he's from another planet. I don't see how he can do it, either. He has limitless musical ideas. He keeps all the parts in his head and draw from them when needed. He records a fully produced demo, sends it to us and we learn it "as written". Then when we get together for rehearsals and recording, we change stuff around a little. He came in every day with major new ideas for almost every part. I think that if we didn't get it permanently recorded on tape he'd never finish writing new parts. Actually putting it down on tape makes it final.
We record in big sections and then edit it all together when mixing. What determines where we divide it up is basically production. If we come out of some huge rock thing, then go into a rubato acoustic guitar and vocal thing, we'll divide it there since all the sounds are completely different. Sometimes the sections are quite long and encompass quite a few musical themes, sometimes it's just a couple minutes.
Josh: How does the new album differ from any other Spocks Beard album?
Dave: It's a concept thing, like I said earlier. Also much longer than any previous CD's. Musically, the complex parts are more complex, the soft parts are a little gentler, and because of the underlying story that the CD follows, it tends to be a little more dramatic. I think it's going to be more appealing to the progressive rock fans and a little less appealing to the mainstream, although not dramatically different.
Josh: The bass solo on the V's "End of the Day" is rather cool. Can we expect a lot more bass playing like that on the new album?
Dave: Thanks, Josh!! Unfortunately, there's no "Jaco" or "Rocco" on this one. I love playing like that, and it's actually one of my strongest styles, but Spock's Beard is generally not that kind of band. That part (End of the Day) was actually kind of a joke at first. We were unsure of what to do there and we just started to play it that way for fun, but it sounded pretty cool so we kept it.
As the "comic relief" part of the new CD we did a perfect late 70's disco section . . . . only 8 bars, though, so don't worry. It's pretty hilarious. I have no idea why, we were just messing around and got a big kick out of doing that.
Josh: I know that on past Spock's Beard albums you have played several different types of basses and the French horn. What did you use for the recording of the new album?
Dave: This CD is the debut of my "Fendenbacker", or "Ric-o-Jazz", or whatever you wanna call it. It's a Ric 4001 that's been severely modified. A buddy of mine found a really trashed Ric in a pawn shop, and I turned it into a project bass to try to make a "one bass fits all" for myself.
It has a set of mid 70's spacing (think Marcus Miller) Jazz Bass style pickups as well as another identical set of pickups in the traditional Ric positions. Four pickups total, with a switch that chooses between the two "basses". I can also have all four on at the same time.
Badass bridge, Hipshot D tuner, and a string mute that I can raise or lower with thumb screws (I made it myself) were also added.
I did the refinish on the front of the bass, made and pickguard and did a lot of the other little stuff myself, but I had John Carruthers (Venice, CA) do the stuff that really mattered, like route the body for the two extra pickups, cause you only get one chance to do that, and it has to be perfect. He's the man, totally. He also did a really versatile wiring thing for me and one of the most amazing fret jobs I've ever seen.
So. . . since that bass can do almost anything, that's all I needed. I didn't really feel the need for a fretless on this CD, so that was it. No French Horn either. I actually suck pretty hard on that. It takes me about half an hour to get a four bar passage on tape so that it sounds OK. Used to be pretty good, but let it slide for 15 years or so. I bought one a couple years ago with all the best intentions, and was even getting a lot better for a while, but it's been in the case for about a year now. Just too busy. I'll get it together one of these days, though. . . I promise!!
Josh: I know that Spock's Beard has quite a following in Europe. How do the European fans differ from the fans in the United States?
Dave: Yeah, in very general terms, they really get behind live music a lot more, and seem to like a wider range of musical styles. So that gives us a lot larger and more enthusiastic audience than in the States. The fans here are just as enthusiastic, but there are a lot fewer of them, and they are spread out a lot farther geographically so it's harder to reach them.
Josh: Of course the question: What are your main influences?
Dave: In general, all the late 60's and early 70's rock, funk and Motown stuff. Also I was really into some of the fusion that was going on.
As far as bass player influences, they go way back before I even started playing bass. I actually didn't start bass until I was 20 yrs old, switched from bass trombone / tuba so I could fully rock out. But as soon as I started I realized that I had always been a bass player, just took a while to figure it out. . .
Influences: Paul McCartney for his fluid super-creative melodic lines, Chris Squire for the same thing, but with the exact opposite tone. John Entwistle, even though I didn't know at the time how badass he really was. James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Carol Kaye among others for that Motown style. Jaco, of course. Rocco Prestia from Tower of Power. Marcus Miller. Here's one you wouldn't expect: David Hungate (Boz Scaggs, Toto, etc). He's the most perfect bass player I've ever heard. Perfect time, perfectly subtle but beautiful parts, always showing tremendous restraint and discipline. He's a great all around musician and producer and has tons of technique and speed, but chooses to play the part that's best for the song.
I could go on, but those were the guys that really made a huge impression on me growing up.
Josh: What gear are you currently using and why? And is this the same gear used on the new Spocks Beard studio album?
On Bass: The Rickenbacker, described in painful detail above. The reason I use that is because 1) single coil pickups in the correct locations to get the tone I want, and 2) it looks cool.
Effects: Digitech RP21d - Tube preamp and effects in an all-in-one pedalboard. It has all the right stuff, great distortions, great effects. Besides the bass, that's the source of probably 90% of all the sounds that I get.
Amp - anything, really. . .on tour it's something new every time, and they all seem to work. With the RP21 doing most of the work, all I need an amp for is good solid amplification. I really love the David Eden stuff, though. Both the amps and the speakers that he makes are incredible. I also really like the SWR Henry the 8 x 8 speaker. That thing is fat!! (Or should I say phat. . . . .?)
What I have at home (and used on most of the SB CDs) is a couple EV 15's in enclosures that I built, a Balder power amp, Trace Elliot preamp.
For bass synth I have a Korg Prophecy and play it either normally or trigger it with Midi Step pedals. I used to have a couple Moog Sources, but they were a bit unpredictable. . . The Korg has physically modeled analog waveforms and great filters so I can get it to sound just like the Moogs. In fact, I recorded the Moogs on DAT, also recorded the sounds of a Moog Taurus and got the Korg to sound almost identical by using the DAT as a reference as I programmed the Prophecy.
Josh: I know that several members of Spocks Beard have side projects. Do you plan to do your own project in the future?
Dave: Not me, baby!! I used to have those aspirations, but I'm really happy and totally satisfied being the bass player in Spock's Beard. Plus, I have a very "normal" voice and my writing is more craft than art, so I'd make a pretty lame focal point.
Josh: I think that your bass sound is incredible. How do you achieve that sound and what was the road to that sound?
Dave: Thanks again, Josh!! You're so kind! Well, I EQ in a ton of mids. I just kind of experiment with frequencies mainly between about 400hz and maybe 3k and add quite a bit of overdrive, to just before the point that it gets fuzzy. For the more aggressive sound I mainly use the bridge pickup by itself and play pretty hard with a pick.
Josh: What is your take on the direction of today's music?
Dave: I like a lot of it, and I consider myself too old to understand the rest. But if I had to make a really general statement, there isn't a whole lot of useful innovation going on, and that's for a couple really good reasons:
First, rock, R & B, and all the other popular music formats have been around for enough time now that it's pretty difficult to find a style, sound, look, whatever that is different and good at the same time. So. . .there's a lot of repetition and "borrowing" going on, which can get pretty stale.
Bands are still using the same instruments and amplifiers that their parents used. Synths have come a long way, up to the point where they can accurately sound like the old stuff, or true acoustic instruments which are timeless. So there is a lot of different versions of the same old stuff going around, and as long as that's what's selling, it will continue that way.
Secondly, the business has shifted away from music as the focus. Image and marketing, as we all know, are the things that sell popular music, which doesn't really make sense when you think about it, but that's the way it is. I guess those things were always what sold records, but it used to be a much more open playing field.
FM Radio used to be stoner DJ's playing what they personally liked and wanted to share. Now what you get to hear is what a gigantic holding corporation has decided will sell the most advertising time. So it's very difficult and discouraging for bands who are doing something great. In other words, a lot of the motivation for being creative and trying new things has been removed.
A lot of that creative energy has lately been expressed in film. So. . .with everything so profit oriented and narrowed down, most people don't get to hear anything besides the "sure thing" hits.
OK, time to get down from the soapbox. I do really like a lot of stuff that's out now, though. I've been really into pretty heavy stuff lately, like Tool, Linkin Park, Nonpoint, Godsmack, and that kind of stuff. And there's this guy from Florida, Sir Millard Mulch that released a CD called "The De-evolution of Jasmine Bleeth". I've been totally addicted to that lately. Really wild stuff, kind of in the Frank Zappa vein, with lots of humor, great energy and insane playing.
Josh: I know that you play with a pick and your fingers, is there a favourite between the two? And what style is used for what type of songs?
Dave: I'm technically better with finger style, but I don't really prefer one technique over the other. I started out learning finger style and since I've never played guitar, learning pick style was hard for me.
At this point, I'm probably about 90% as proficient with the pick as with using finger technique. I switch back and forth for the differences in sound. I use finger style only about 10% or 20% of the time in SB, usually for the smoother sounding parts, and the more slow groove oriented stuff.
The pick is used for the aggressive sounds and also the sound you get when you have your palm partially muting the strings when you pick. Very vintage sound, ala Carol Kaye.
Josh: Do you have a daily practice routine? And if so what do you do?
Dave: I'm ashamed to admit that I don't really practice too much unless I have to really get it together for some recording or some gigs. Then, I just go over the parts I have to play until I have them down.
I used to spend a lot of time practicing scales and licks that I'd heard, though, and I think it's a lot like swimming: it's a lot easier to get back in shape than it was to initially get into shape. Plus, let's face it. . . .I play bass. . . it's not like I'm called on to play improvised 16th note Phrygian mode scales too often.. . . .
Josh: Are there any techniques that you are currently working on?
Dave: I've been trying to learn to play like a hippie, actually. Don't laugh. . .it's a lot harder than it seems. Your whole brain has to be in a different space than how people think now. It can sound so cool, though. . .
Josh: What techniques and practice methods do you recommend to other serious bass players?
Dave: Work on time and feel. Little does anyone else know, but the bass completely controls the feel of the band. You can make the band suck no matter how good the drummer is. Or. . . you can make the band sound great by playing those stupid eighth notes just right.
Josh: As you mentioned earlier you are presently on tour for Eric Burdon ( and The Animals). Is your sound entirely different when on tour with him then when on tour with Spocks Beard? If so what do you use?
Dave: Oh yeah, completely different. I go for a much more vintage sound, and also that "hippie" thing I was talking about earlier. I was using a Fender P bass with an old Telecaster bass humbucking pickup up by the neck for both a nice punchy and defined sound or that total muddy 60's sound. But recently I've been using the Rickenbacker. It does those things suprisingly well.
As far as amps, I just use what's there, and go through the PA via direct box.
Josh: Now I want you to be your own critic. What do you like most about your bass playing and what do
you dislike about the way you play?
Likes: versatility in both style and tonality, play with a lot of commitment.
Dislikes: lack of proper training and technique, poor sight reader.
Josh: I will leave you with one last question. I know that your schedule must be hectic at times. How much actual work is it being a full time musician?
Dave: Insane sometimes, especially if you travel a lot. I always say that I get paid to travel, and the gig is just for fun since I'm already there. Between the two bands, I'm gone more than 150 days a year (that's almost half of the time) and that can wear you out fast if you're not careful. An hour and a half show is really just the end of a 14 hour day, usually.
Plus... I tour manage Eric Burdon, and that is 10 times the work of just playing in the band. So I wind up spending much of the time that I'm home doing itineraries, flights, hotels, accounting, etc, etc. (Maybe that's why I don't practice too much anymore. . . . hmmmmm).
So, for me, the last five or six years have been the hardest work I've ever done, but also the most rewarding and fun at the same time.
Thanks for your time Dave. Good luck with the new album.
Spocks Beard can be found at their URL
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