Boundless energy – and super-human time management – enable Joe Satriani, Mike Keneally gigs, amidst non-stop touring with Aristocrats
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
October 24, 2016
Bryan Beller is a founding member of the mega-popular rock trio, the Aristocrats, a band that also includes guitarist Guthrie Govan and drummer Marco Minnemann. Throughout his brilliant career, Beller has also performed with Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa, Mike Keneally, Dethklock, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.
FBPO: Congratulations on the success of the Aristocrats. You seem to be barreling forward on a non-stop basis.
BB: Thank you very much. Yeah, it’s been quite a wild ride over the last five years.
FBPO: And the latest news is about South America, right?
BB: Yes, South America and Asia. Well, Asia first, actually. We’re going to Japan, Thailand, India, Nepal, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Australia, and that’s exciting. And then we’re going to go to South America in November.
FBPO: Who’s coming out to the shows? Is it old people? Kids? Jazzers? Fusion-heads?
BB: Well, I don’t have perfect market research on it all, but I find that we get more young people than a typical Joe Satriani or Steve Vai show, which I think is great – some young people getting into instrumentally-minded adventurous music. Of course we’ve got a lot of people who are the stalwarts and supporters of this genre and have been for a long time, which we’re very grateful to have as well. I mean, you know, we just show up and do the best we can and the people show up and watch us play and we’re very grateful.
FBPO: Somehow, in between the Aristocrats gigs, you’re still keeping busy with Satriani and Mike Keneally. How do you do it?
BB: Well, you know, I’ll do anything for Mike. I love Mike Keneally and it’s only because of Mike Keneally that there is an Aristocrats ‘cause he introduced Marco [Minneman] and me back in 2005 and he also helped me get the Dethklok gig and he introduced me to Joe Satriani. So any time Mike wants to do anything, I just make sure that there’s a way for me to do it. I love playing his music and I love hangin’ out with him; he’s a great guy. And, as you, know, we have a tour coming up in October in the Northeast and a couple dates in the mid-Atlantic as well, so I’m really looking forward to that. It’s being squeezed in between the Aristocrats’ Asian and South American tours! [Laughs]
FBPO: Well, a lot of coffee or whatever it takes.
BB: A lot of coffee! This is part of the dual touring cycle for Joe Satriani and the Aristocrats. You know, we’re just going to go back and forth. Joe Satriani is still promoting the Shockwave Supernova album and the Aristocrats are promoting Tres Caballeros, but the touring cycle’s nearing the end for those albums now.
FBPO: I just talked to Mike last week. I’ve got a new site, called ForGuitarPlayersOnly.com.
FBPO: So I interviewed Mike. We’ve also had Satriani, Steve Vai, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Neil Young. We’re really hittin’ it hard.
FBPO: Are you still on the jazz charts? I remember that was quite a shock to you last time we talked.
BB: That was a fluke. Contemporary jazz? The Aristocrats? I thought it was funny, being on the charts next to John Scofield and all. Charts. What does that even mean any more?
FBPO: You made a comment the last time we spoke. You said, you know, you go into the studio, you make a record, and then you go out and tour. And by the end of the tour, you wish you could make the record again because now it sounds like you would have wanted it to sound when you made it. Do you still feel any of that?
BB: I would just say that for the Aristocrats, we actually resolved that issue on this record because we went into Alvas Showroom in San Pedro and played the new material four nights in a row in four residency shows before we went in the studio. So that gave us live experience with the songs before we went in. It gave us some insight into the music and that was really cool. So that can be addressed.
And also, another line of thought, which I think is Joe’s line of thought, is when you go in the studio, you’re just tracking a song and you don’t want it to be like a live statement. That gives it oxygen and it can breathe a lot more. So I don’t think there’s a wrong answer to that; it’s just a matter of how you want to do it.
FBPO: It’s hard to hear San Pedro being mentioned without thinking of Mike Watt. Did you happen to cross paths with him down there?
BB: No, but we all know that’s Mike Watt’s stomping ground!
FBPO: Tell me about your equipment.
BB: The Gallien-Krueger stuff is great, especially when I’m traveling around the world, I can use the MB Fusion pre-amp with any backline. I mean if I show up in like, Colombia, they may not have a Gallien-Krueger rig, but if I bring that pre-amp, I can just plug it in to whatever power amp they have, whatever cabinets they have and then it sounds like my G-K rigs, which is great. And of course if I’m in the states or Europe or maybe a place like Japan, they’ll have the G-K stuff and then I can use the whole thing there, which would be a pre-amp plus two 2001s into four 410 RBHs, which is awesome! But you know, whether it’s four 410s or two 410s or one 410 or one power amp or two power amps, whatever, I just did the G-K sound.
D’Addario strings I’ve been using forever. Xotic effects, the bass pre-amp, a great overdrive pedal, a little Ampeg in a box.
FBPO: Tell me a little more about the Xotic pedal.
BB: The funny thing about that pedal is that I actually am using the older generation of it. They updated it gave a little bit more gain and high end and I actually like the older version of it, so I have two versions of that, the Xotic effect BB bass pre-amp. I use it as my first stage overdrive, which means that I may put some other stuff behind it for additional drive or effects. I don’t use a dirty rig because I want the option to be clean. I don’t want to have to commit to having an Ampeg sound all the time, so I use that as, like, my overdrive box. It’s an extremely organic, natural–sounding overdrive. It responds incredibly well to different finger pressures, attack. It’s just very organic. So that pedal has earned its spot on my pedalboard for like ten or thirteen years running now and it’s not going anywhere. It’s a great pedal. I love using it.
FBPO: And Mike Lull basses?
BB: Mike Lull basses I’ve been playing forever too. That main, red, active five-string I’ve been playing since 1999. That’s a bright bass, maple ash. Then I have a P-J five-string passive, which is alder body, rosewood fingerboard, and I use that for darker sounds. I’ve also been using a Spector Alex Webster signature model lately for a few other things. It’s just a different palette. I use it live for a few things and it’s been really fun to kind of have a more focused, “midrange-y” kind of modern thing ‘cause the Mike Lull stuff is generally “Fender-y” or “Fender-ish” and I don’t think there’s any crime in saying that. As I get older, I’m developing more tastes and everything like that, but my Mike Lulls will always be a part of me. I’m actually working with Mike Lull to create kind of a midrange-focused instrument as well, now. So these things are kind of a constant exploration and the tone journey continues no matter what. You don’t want to stand still forever because music doesn’t stand still. Life doesn’t stand still. Everything is organic. I’m still a Mike Lull guy. People have seen me playing the Spector around, so it’s not a secret or anything.
FBPO: I know how meticulous you are about tone. Have you had to scale down your arsenal of equipment for all the heavy touring you’re doing? What all do you take with you?
BB: I travel with three basses when I’m with the Aristocrats or Joe Satriani in the United States or Europe. When you’re on the ground, you fly once and then you’re on the ground for weeks. And so, you bring what you need to bring. I have two pedalboards. One of them is built on my Pedaltrain PRO, which is this industrial-grade thing, good for Joe Satriani tours where there’s a massive crew, gear trucks and all that stuff. You want it to be really built to last. I also have a secondary pedalboard that splits into two smaller boards that’s in a small Pelican case. It weighs under fifty pounds and I bring that one for more fly dates and stuff like that to save some money because with the Aristocrats, it’s our band, it’s our money. So I will bring that smaller pedalboard, even though it’s got all the same pedals as the big one. I say smaller, it’s a smaller form factor; it’s not a smaller functionality. It does the same thing. I duplicated the big one completely. So I’ll bring that. I’ll bring two basses, not three, and then I’ll bring the pre-amp. And there it is.
The rest of it is the power amps and the cabinets, like I said, but that’s all. You want to show up and bring your sound to wherever you’re going. That doesn’t mean fly with four cabinets. That would be ridiculous. Nobody would do that. Guthrie (Govan) flies with his little head and a pedalboard. Marco will make sure to bring his cymbals, not a drum kit; he has a special cymbal array. And then, you know, you can show up and sound like you.
FBPO: So what’s next?
BB: Well, this fall is going to be the Aristocrats in Asia and Australia – first time in Australia, which is great. Then right after that will be Mike Keneally with Joe Travers, the original Mike Keneally “Beer For Dolphins” trio in the United States, limited dates on the East Coast and Midwest and a couple dates in Los Angeles now. That’s in October. Then the Aristocrats go to South America in November and then Joe Satriani does South America in December. [See our interview with Mike Keneally on “For Guitar Players Only” here]
Next year there will probably be less touring overall, which is not entirely unwelcome. I do need some time to kind of recharge, although I’m grateful for all the work. And the big news, if I wanted to say anything, is that I have another solo album kind of just sitting up here in my head. I have a whole concept. I have it written down, I have song titles, album title, I have notes on it, I have voice memos of what they sound like. I just need the time to demo it and make it. And I’m hoping to really get going on that process starting next year.
FBPO: So this will be not Aristocrats-sounding?
BB: Right. Well, to the extent of what I contribute to the Aristocrats, some of me is in there, but some of that isn’t me. Whatever I write for my own solo material is conceptually different.
FBPO: Will you have a different band?
FBPO: Will Marco and Guthrie appear on it?
BB: Maybe there will bill guest appearances, but certainly, I think anybody would want their own solo album to sound different than what we do in that band, so that the band is a unique band.
FBPO: You mentioned in your first interview that someday you’d like to write a novel. Do you ever think about that any more?
BB: Oh yeah. True. Maybe when I’m spending a lot less time on the road, when my body doesn’t want to tour any more, you know. The next stage in my life, I would like to maybe sit down and write some kind of memoir, some of the things I’ve learned as a touring musician, person of the world. I like writing. I’ve always liked writing. I wrote for Bass Player magazine for many years. I just don’t have much time to do it any more because I’m playing so often and traveling even more than that. But yeah, one day I would love to get back to that and write something. I’m not sure exactly what it would be, but it’s always been a thought of mine.
FBPO: Anything else?
BB: I’m really, really grateful to anybody who’s been following me for any length of time, interested in what I’m doing with the Aristocrats or Joe Satriani or Dethklok or Mike Keneally or any of these bands that I’m associated with, or my solo stuff. I try never to forget that it’s because people actually care enough to listen that I get to have a career in the first place. So I’m grateful to everybody who’s been following along and who follows your site and looking forward to getting’ out there and hopefully playing for you wherever you are sometime soon.