When you think of heavy metal bassists, a few names should come to mind. Steve Di Giorgio is definitely one of those names. Spanning his twenty plus year career thus far, Steve has worked with some of the greats in metal history from the likes of Death, Testament and Control Denied to Vintersorg, Iced Earth, Sadus, Obituary and the more recent Charred Walls of the Damned.
Growing up in a rather musical environment, he quickly developed a deep passion for self expression in his musical endeavors. Initially, he learned to play the bass clarinet, tuba, bass trombone, and the stand up bass. It was not until later in his life that he picked up the electric bass thus founding his place in the world of heavy metal. In 1984, DiGiorgio formed the band Sadus with a few of his high school friendsWhat started as a few kids having fun would eventually turn into a thrash metal icon of our day. Presumably, it was Di Giorgio’s fretless bass work [that] proved to be the bands meal ticket.
My first question for Steve was, “When it comes to bass playing, who are some of your main influences?” Presumably, he had a lot to say. Steve responded, “I just try to stay influenced and inspired by everything and everyone around me that I can. I still hold on to the influences of my youth when I was starting out and learning who was out there. Guys like: Chris Squire, Geddy Lee, Dave Pegg, Steve Harris, Geezer Butler, Charles Meeks, Billy Sheehan…”
“Also guys that I’ve been lucky to discover along my journey like: Randy Coven, Tony Franklin, Barry Sparks, Ryan Martinie, Jon Stockman, Justin Chancellor, John Myung, Joey Vera…But also remain as much in touch as I can to my peers, there are quite a host of talented bassists recently. Even just the bassists in metal I can appreciate guys like: Jeroen Paul Thesseling, Lars Norberg, Alex Webster, Mike LePond, Roxanne Constantine, Rob van der Loo, Anis Jouini, Emilio Dattolo, Dominic Forest LaPointe, Tony Choy, Rainer Landfermann, Jan Erik Tiwaz, Arran McSporran…” After talking with steve, You can start to understand what he is truly about. A phrase used commonly in his repertoire and one that can presumably define him would be “Holding down the low end”. In turn, I asked him what his definition of the term or what it ultimately meant to him. He replied, “Being one of the three points in the triangle and just as important; connecting rhythm to melody. Being the transition between the pulse and the tune. Joining the percussive sounds of drums to the chords, notes and phrases of the melodic instruments – and making it all heavy.” To say he had put it eloquently would be more than an understatement.
Aside from the numerous records Di Giorgio has under his belt, he is acclaimed for bringing the fretless bass into the forefront of metal. At the time, the fretless bass was relatively unknown within the industry due to the extreme precision required.
So I asked him, “What initially gave you the idea to incorporate the fretless bass into heavy metal?” Steve said, “The sound. Simple as that. Obviously in the late 80s / early 90s there was nowhere for me to hear it in metal music. But I wasn’t then or never only listening to heavy metal. And the thing besides the simple curiosity to try it that drew me to fretless in a heavy context was actually from a Jethro Tull album. Back when Ian Anderson kicked almost everyone out and pursued a solo attempt to only release it as the next Tull album, “A”. But it had the most innovative sounding bass to me at that time and when people wanted to “be like Mike”, I wanted to sound like Peggy!”
“Later I was enlightened by guys like Mick Karn, Bunny Brunell, Gary Willis, Jaco and a few of the guys I mentioned before (Tony Franklin, Randy Coven, etc.) that play with an obvious or blatant fretless sound” explained Di Giorgio.
“Having the right tone is mandatory for being a fretless bass player in metal music. It can be barely heard or completely washed out in that wall of brutality that is the thick over-layered guitar sound and the overbearing overpresicion of the drums. I would of course suggest when recording to always use new strings that are bright and clean. Adjust the tone to the mix instead of trying to push up a predialed tone in the mix. Most scooped tones that bass players like muddy up the whole thing and as a result get the bassist lost in square wave hell. Getting the right range of mids of the bass brings out the “voice” and makes the fretless qualities more evident. Amps and processing gear is getting less relevant these days as everything is done in the digital simulated realm. But there is no replacing a real bass of quality; a shitty bass will get you a shitty tone and thusly mixed right out of there. For a fretless bass over the years I have gone from Fender, to Carvin, to ESP and now have found the perfect tone god – the Thor Bass, from USA. Super quality made instrument, fully custom and personally made to suit; by an excellent bass player. Such a rich and all-encompassing tone in the studio, plays and feels like a dream as well as a beautiful look for stage. I stick to using the stuff that sounds good or responds well for me, although sometimes these things will change as companies evolve or alter their product. Sometimes I’m super picky and loyal about things that never change like my Rotosound strings. But for the Thor Bass, I’ve never believed in anything more, this bass IS me.”
Later in his career, he developed his signature high speed fingering style. Refusing to use a pick, Di Giorgio crafted the intricate, unique and captivating sound that we all know and love him for. A three finger assault on the bass at high rates of speed and an original approach to improvisation are what made Steve Di Giorgio a pillar of the contemporary metal community. One of Di Giorgio’s most exemplary performances would be his works on the Death albums Human, Individual Thought Patterns and three re-mastered tracks from the re-release of Symbolic alongside the iconic Chuck Schuldiner. That being said I had to ask him to describe the experience of working on the Death albums, or generally just working with Chuck overall.
“Sometimes people make good music together, and sometimes they vibe like yin and fucking yang…! Chuck is credited with a lot of things in the music world (metal world, of course), but one thing a lot of people don’t know much about is how aware he was. What I mean is that he was a good listener. If I thought of a wacky bassline to something he was writing, before I could even try to explain why it came to me, he was already ahead of it and looking for something on the next part. He had a good sense of when to hold me back and when to push me. It was great to have someone, especially the “main man” of the band not only appreciate what I contributed but also help me find my inner demon to conjure even sicker and more abstract things to play. There really was some math going on in that roiling storm sometimes.”
Beyond Di Giorgio’s works with the legendary death, he has always been a player in high demand. As of more recent years Steve has been working on recordings non-stop, and with good reason. “Its good to see Im still relevant, even into my 40’s” Claims Di Giorgio, and with all the recording that has taken place on his behalf as of late, I sought to inquire what his overall process for recording was, or, moreover what it entails. “You know how an insect has these eyes that can see all around his head? Well most of the time I am writing on the fly (pun intended), and I need to go into the omnivision mode. Which is to be in the riff, to know what the drums are feeling, to know the activity of everything else on top, and then improvise but make it seem like what I put down not only makes sense, and makes it entertaining and interesting, but also seems like I’ve worked on it for days before.”
“I guess I’m like a closer coming to the mound in the 9th with a one run lead, or a goalie in overtime facing a breakaway…I’m a good pressure player. If I have too much time to work on something I get complacent with the “too many options” syndrome. I know it seems like a cop out for not practicing, but not only do I not have that option open sometimes, also I ain’t going to lie but I really just don’t like to practice. And I don’t want to be all gypsy artsy fartsy, but there is actually something to just letting out what comes to you in that moment and leaving it there. Although I’ll admit, the more I learn how to edit my own takes, the more I cut to the chase and economize my own slop.”
In recent years Di Giorgio has been collaborating with long time friends Tim “Ripper” Owens, formerly of Judas Priest and Iced Earth, Jason Suecof owner/engineer of Audio Hammer Studios and Richard Christy in the super group Charred Walls of the Damned. Christy and Di_Giorgio previously worked together on the Control Denied album The Fragile Art Of Existence, alongside Schuldiner. CWOTD’s newest studio album Cold Winds on Timeless Days is scheduled for release in October 2011. “What can we expect from the new CWOTD album?” “More of the same as the first one, but of course a natural evolution.” Claims Di Giorgio. “This time it did feel like more of a group effort, even though Richard has once again composed the whole thing. But I think there was more room for some spontaneity and improvising input. Its all in the context of the sound that was established on the first album. But a matured progression in song writing and the benefit of having all worked together previously. It’s metal at metal’s best!”
While we were on the topic of recent musical endeavors, I asked Steve if there is anything else we should look out for in the near future. His answer was yes of course, and here is what he had to say. “I’ve been working off of a list of session recordings the past year nonstop…thankfully. I’m not always this busy, but its good to know that I am still relevant these days, even into my 40’s. The good thing about all these home studio set ups is that I have one going as well as having been involved a lot in recording sessions. There will be lots of releases coming out in the near future with what I would like to think of as some of my best bass offerings ever.
Also in February 2012 will be the release of the album of the new band I’m in called Soen. It’s not brutal but heavy, it’s melodic but not weak. Kind of a dark rock, rhythmical metal blend. Martin Lopez formally of Opeth started the band and I’ve gone to Stockholm a couple of times to help finish the new songs, and I am quite psyched for the result. We should be out there supporting the release of the album by the middle of 2012 for sure, I think the show will be as heavy as the songs on the album.
Beyond what Di Giorgio is producing in the world of music, I thought id find out if there are any bands currently he is into or might find inspiration from. He had this to say “To answer this is crazy. I could say sure there are many, I’m looking at my iPod and it would take the whole space of an interview to say what I like to listen to – even just in metal. And then again I think that hardly any of it is really that big of a deal. I find moments in songs, or some new albums in whole that can be quite inspiring, but none of it really lasts too long. I don’t know if it’s the translucency of music made in this current disposable market or if I’m just an old fuddyduddy stuck in the world of music I discovered when I was young and impressionable. But having said all of that, I really try and always keep my ears and mind open and try all and anything new to give it a chance. I have indeed found things here and there that are quite innovative and ardent that are quite enjoyable and inspiring. Mostly it seems I’m immersed in music that I need to learn and construct bass lines for. So the stuff I mainly listen to is raw ideas and tracks of future music.
Lastly, as our interview came to a close I felt the need to find out something about steve that most people don’t know, thus he left me with this conclusion. “Considering the context of this publication and most of its readers, I think I should say that I have never studied bass officially. I don’t consider myself self-taught either because I learned music fundamentals in school, to read treble clef and bass clef, and from a young age until high school I meandered through woodwind, brass and string instruments. But it was also only in school and I never really got too good at any of those. Then when I chose to pick up bass guitar, I learned on my own, sitting on the side of my bed, with the record player next to me, figuring out songs by the bands that inspired me to play in those days. I believe that learning theory and higher level education are totally beneficial. I would never put down studying or practicing and acknowledge that it is essential to increasing ones mastery of his instrument. But I also am living proof of one who is a student of the organic life, I’m like a sponge…I listen to every and all styles and techniques that I can and learn from every possible musician; bassist, drummer, guitarist, vocalist or whatever and just squeeze out my perceptions and influences onto what I do. You can see all the colors in the crayon box, but the picture I draw is unique from the recesses of my mind…and from my bass. Keep the low end of music strong!