Bass Musician Magazine Goes In-Depth with Bassist Pete Griffin
Making it in the Los Angeles music scene is not an endeavor for the meek or faint of heart. With the talent bar raised at probably the highest levels in the world, along with incredible competition, becoming an in-demand bassist in the scene is a triumph achieved through years of hard work. Such a prime example is Mr. Pete Griffin. With a resume that includes: Steve Vai, Dr John, Zappa Plays Zappa, Zakk Wylde, Tony MacAlpine, Dethklok, Mike Keneally, Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, Generation Axe and many, many more. Pete was kind enough to sit down with Bass Musician to give us some insight into his world, give some pro tips, and to share what he had planned for a very busy and action packed 2017.
Your resume speaks volumes about your versatility and professionalism, how did you go about cracking into the LA scene and then networking to where you are at today?
When I first moved to LA I had very few connections so I knew I had to just “get out there” somehow. I basically answered every “Bass Player Wanted” ad I could find, about 85% of which led me pretty much nowhere. But a few of them turned into real paying gigs, or at least led me to playing live at places like the Roxy and Viper Room in a relatively short amount of time. Pretty soon I started getting called for bigger auditions, and then I got the gig with Hanson (yes, that Hanson), which was my first touring job for about 3 years.
What is your preparation process like when getting ready for a big new gig? Like learning music for players like Steve Vai and the like?
For tours like Generation Axe and Paul Gilbert where I’ve got a ton of brand new material to learn I just try to take it a little at a time, and learning tunes basically becomes my day job for a while. I’ve actually become fascinated recently with my own memory and what I call “hard disk space.” Everyone retains new information differently, and I’ve found that taking time to rest and absorb everything is crucial. I’ll finish a day of practicing thinking that I suck and I’ll never be able to overcome the task at hand, but then wake up the next day and nail the tune that was giving me such trouble the night before. When I catch myself singing the songs to myself in the shower or while vacuuming I realize I’m gonna be in a good shape when it comes time to rehearse with the band.
Tell us a bit how you were called into the fold for Giraffe Tongue Orchestra?
Brent Hinds and I became friends after Mastodon played the same stage as Zappa Plays Zappa at Bonnaroo. He’s a huge Zappa fan and came up to us right after they played to say he saw us in Atlanta and loved it. We just stayed in touch after that, always throwing around the idea of being in a band together. Thomas Pridgen and I had worked together with a band called ElixirOnMute, and we totally hit it off. I’ve been an enormous fan of Dillinger Escape Plan for years and had met Ben Weinman after a show at some point and we emailed a bit after that trying to get something together. One day Brent texts me out of the blue and asks if I wanna jam while he’s in LA, and when I asked when and where he said “Now!” I walked in the room with those 3 guys already playing so I just jumped in and everything just came together really quickly after that. We tracked the whole album with no vocalist, and then eventually William DuVall joined and just killed it over the instrumentals we had recorded and that’s how the album came out.
What was the writing process like for GTO?
Ben and Brent had been kicking ideas around for years, so they had some tunes pretty fully demo-ed out when we started. But we did have a couple of days at my rehearsal studio where we just jammed and came up with a few ideas, which pretty organically turned, into a few more songs.
What gear have you been gravitating towards recently for your go-to stuff and why?
I wear so many different hats these days that I’m constantly changing out the pedals on my board as well as which bass I bring. That being said I do still love my Lakland US Joe Osborn 4 and my Fender Dimension 5 for being able to fit into almost any situation. I also recently got a D. Lakin Bob Glaub which is an incredible instrument, as well as the one slightly “modern” bass I have which is a Sandberg Custom Supreme 5, which I use for the super chops-y material like the Animals as Leaders stuff with Tosin Abasi or Steve Vai’s material on the Generation Axe tour. For pedals my main distortion for years has been the MXR Bass DI+, it gets that clanky grit that helps cut through the mix, but I also really dig the Darkglass B7K Ultra. I’m still in love with Ashdown amps, which have been a huge part of my tone for my whole career, but sometimes you have to deal with backline so I’ve been bringing tube preamp pedals like the Twonotes LeBass or the EBS Valve Drive in case the house amp needs some help.
Who would you say were your biggest influences for how you approach the bass?
That’s hard to say because I still feel like I’m constantly learning, finding styles and techniques that I wish I were more comfortable with. I grew up listening to a lot of Police and Genesis, so Sting and Michael Rutherford are big early influences. Modern players that excite me are peers/friends of mine like Tim Lefebvre and Joe Lester (from Intronaut). Still one of my biggest influences is Meshell Ndegeocello; she has an approach to the instrument that is so unique and “rule-breaking” that just excites me so much. She treats the role of the bass like a vocalist, playing over bar lines and out of time in such a melodic but undeniably groovy way.
You seem to be a regular at The Baked Potato and jam and collaborate with a multitude of different artists there, what is so special about that venue and how did you hook with being a regular there?
Jamie Kime, the guitarist from the Zappa band, hosts the Monday Night Jam at the Baked Potato and when we started working together he basically demanded I come down and check it out. Just by going there a lot and hanging in addition to playing I got to know guitarist John Ziegler, who got me to play with his band VOLTO!, for a little while with Danny Carey (from Tool) on drums, as well as meeting other great musicians I wound up working with later on. The Potato is really such a unique place, especially in an increasingly musician-unfriendly town like LA. They not only specialize in having incredibly talented players there every night of the week, but they also treat the musicians really fairly and usually let them play all night, instead of the 37 minute set you get at other clubs.
What is your best piece of road advice?
Know how to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. Playing music is usually a very small percentage of tour life; most of your time is spent hanging out in dressing rooms, airports, tour bus lounges, etc. Everyone has different ways of fighting the discomfort and boredom of touring, it’s important to be able to hang and party with people while still staying healthy, but also to know how to keep to yourself and use your free time productively.
What is your best piece of music business advice for young musicians?
Be adaptable. I’ve been a “professional” musician for 15 years, and if you think about how many enormous changes the music industry has gone through in that time it’s jaw dropping. Whether it’s iTunes, YouTube, or Spotify, anyone who tries to stick to the “old ways” of making money while playing music has pretty much been left in the dust. There are days when I wish I understood internet marketing a lot more than I do; there’s always some aspect of this business that you could be better at.
GTO played SXSW this year, what other plans for the future are in store for GTO?
With a band like GTO it’s a bit of a scheduling nightmare since we all have other big projects in our lives. But, whenever we get together we just have such a blast both playing and hanging out that I’m sure we’ll do more together in the future. I’m so immensely proud of how the album came out, so I really do hope we do more!
Any other big plans for 2017?
Well Generation Axe is going to Asia in April, and there are some other things in the works with some of my other projects, including the band Legend of the Seagullmen (which also has Brent on guitar as well as Danny Carey on drums), so it looks like I’ll (hopefully) be keeping busy!
Pete is accepting students for both skype and in-person lessons. Visit online at petegriffin.com