Sick Puppies co-founder talks new music, bass technique and low-end gear
Photo Credit: Badfish Photography
Emma Anzai is the bassist of Australian-formed hard rock band Sick Puppies. Born in Singapore, Anzai spent time in Tokyo before eventually relocating to Australia. She co-founded Sick Puppies in 1997 with guitarist/vocalist Shimon Moore, who ultimately left the band in 2014. To date, Sick Puppies has released five studio albums, including Welcome To The Real World (2001), Dressed Up As Life (2007), Tri-Polar (2009) and Connect (2013). Their latest album, Fury (2016) was the first to feature the band’s newest member Bryan Scott, who assumed vocalist duties after Moore’s departure. Rounding out the trio is drummer Mark Goodwin, who replaced Chris Mileski in 2003. As of this writing, the band is fast at work on material for their newest record, with a targeted release date of late 2018.
FBPO: The 10-year anniversary for Dressed Up As Life was quite a milestone. Congratulations! How does it feel to be entering another decade with the band?
Emma: It feels good, for sure. I tell you, the years really do creep up on you, though. I guess you just truck along and then, before you know it, ten years have passed. It was nice to sort of take a breath and look back on everything that has happened and just sort of celebrate it. It was cool.
FBPO: You were on the road quite a bit last year. Are you able to sit down for a minute now, or is the work schedule still pretty intense?
Emma: It’s been pretty good lately. We’re pretty used to touring a lot. Right now we’re sort of taking a breath and writing for the next album. We’re doing a few shows here and there. We’re actually going back to Europe in June, to the Czech Republic, to do a festival there, so we’re just here and there doing some shows and some tours and stuff, but all in all we’re just trying to get new material for the new album.
FBPO: Let’s talk about the current lineup for a minute. What kind of adjustments, if any, the band may have had to make when Bryan came aboard, replacing Shim?
Emma: With any kind of new lineup, new person, by default, things are just different. It was great welcoming Bryan in because he’s a great guy and he’s a great, talented musician, all around, so that really made things a lot easier for us. It worked out really well from the get-go, so we really did get lucky there with him.
FBPO: What can you share about the new music you’re working on? How do you plan to follow up Fury?
Emma: Well, we just hit the ground running. When we did Fury, we were at a fast pace and we were writing. Bryan was new and it was all sort of happening. And now, it took us a little bit of time to just reassess how we’re going to approach this new one because we don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. We want to establish Bryan in and establish the sound back again as this lineup. And we wanted to make sure that it was familiar enough and it was “the band” enough for it to be this band, but also give it a leg up and change it a little bit. Like I said before, Bryan brings in a new energy and new voice, everything, so it was like a new incarnation, naturally. But this time, we’re just sort of exploring some new stuff, we’re exploring new sounds, that kind of thing. It sounds cliché, but you just don’t want to do the same thing over again. We’re keeping that in mind.
FBPO: I’m glad you mentioned that because we’re all a little curious, I think. The band’s music has included some pretty hard-core metal on the one hand, and some acoustic/”unplugged” stuff on the other. So what’s this “new sound” turning out to be? Which end of the spectrum?
Emma: (Laughs) That’s a good point. We like the fact that we’re able to stretch across the spectrum like that, and we’ll still do that. Obviously, we’re not going to stray too far away. We are us, as a band, so we’re not gonna be inherently different. I don’t know, we just want to explore some different themes, as well, this time. The last album was very focused on one theme and this time we toured a little bit, a little bit more live, so that will be different, but it will be the same kind of the spectrum. Let’s just say that.
FBPO: Where are you in the process? Are you just getting started or are you well into it? How soon can we expect to hear some new music from Sick Puppies?
Emma: We should be hearing new music this year. We’re still experimenting. We’ve got some stuff done, which is taking a little bit of time, but we’re definitely going to be getting something out this year.
FBPO: What else is keeping you busy? Or is that enough to fill all of your time?
Emma: We’re just writing, rehearsing and exploring, that kind of thing. We just have to focus every day on it, so that’s pretty much what’s keeping us busy.
FBPO: Last time we met, we were at the Warwick Bass Camp, in Germany. You were playing the “Streamer, Stage 1” bass. Is that still your main instrument?
Emma: Yes. I’m still playing Warwick, Streamer, Stage 1. I’ve always played that. I guess I’m a creature of habit. I love it so much. I love the sound of it. There’s no real need to change that. But I wouldn’t mind, especially with this album, experimenting with new pedals and new sounds, but as for the bass, that’ll stay the same.
FBPO: What about the rest of your gear?
Emma: I’ve always been playing Warwick, as I said, and always through Ampeg amps and cabs, just an SVT classic – you can’t go wrong with that – and 8 x 10 speakers. Strings are D’Addario. I play a four-string and we tune down to drop C, so I get a five-string set and take the first four off and just use those. I find that works well. As for pedals, I got the Alpha Omega, by Darkglass. I just recently discovered them. Really, really great pedals. I’ve been doing a lot of writing with it and recording with it and that kind of opened up a new world for me, so I’m really into that right now.
FBPO: Tell me a little bit about your bass technique. Do you do a lot with a pick, or are you strictly fingers?
Emma: I like to do a little bit of everything. The problem is, there are a lot of people – which is a good thing – people get the technique taught to them early on, but I never really had someone teach me the proper technique. So I’ve kind of just gone through doing what I thought was correct and I guess to me it’s more (of a) “what sounds good, however you get there” kind of thing. And I really do love the whole slap thing because you get a really great rhythmic thing happening in there. What I really love about bass is that when you play along with a drummer, you can really follow their fills and get really in sync rhythmically with them, not only with the notes, melodically, but rhythmically and sort of percussively, like play along. I find that really a satisfying sound and it feels good to do that. I use a pick, mainly, after that, and then fingers only when, I guess, it requires it. I use Jim Dunlop picks, the black ones, 1 millimeter I think it is. It just digs in. Some songs require a nice smooth, rounded out tone that doesn’t get in the way and sometimes fingers are good for that.
FBPO: In our last interview, you mentioned a collaboration with Blue Stahli, a Detroit-based multi-instrumentalist. Are you working on any other outside projects, with him or with anybody else?
Emma: No, for now I’m concentrating on Sick Puppies. I had a little bit of time back then and he was kind of the first outside collaboration, which was a lot of fun. But no, right now I’m just focusing on Sick Puppies.
FBPO: What about the future? I know you’re pretty well ensconced in the new record, but what about beyond that? Is there something that you’ve always wanted to do, either with the band or on your own, that you just haven’t done yet?
Emma: Hmm. That’s a good question. I’ve been so, as you say, “ensconced” in Sick Puppies and the next step, ‘cause there’s always a next step when you’re with a band and doing that kind of thing. I don’t know. If I had time I’d love to collaborate with a rhythmic – not necessarily another band, but I’d like to work with someone like Blue Stahli, who has a different genre going on and a different mindset. It would just be nice to collaborate with different people. Maybe like a drum & bass kind of thing. I’ve always been interested in that kind of thing.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
Emma: Probably the fact that it’s a Plan A – you know people usually have fallback plans, they have something else on the side that they can do – and we just never got to that point where we had that Plan B, so Plan A had to work. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do ‘cause it was a long time ago when I decided to pursue music and I don’t know if there was anything else at the time that I would have pursued. The closest thing I can thing of would probably be to work with animals. I love animals and always have as a kid, so maybe that might have been a direction.
Fury is available here:
FBPO interview #1 with Emma Anzai
Girls Gone Bass: A Dozen Female BassistS Who Rock Our World (FBPO feature)
Our Week in Germany (FBPO’s coverage of the 2014 Warwick Bass Camp)