Chris Catero is the bassist with Phoenix, Arizona’s Razer. This band flat-out Rocks (Yes, with a capital R). Chris has previously toured the world with Marty Friedman, and now holds down the bottom-end on Razer’s self-titled CD, which was produced by Alan Niven, known for managing a little group called Guns N Roses. Support this great band. Visit their website and pick up a copy of this barn-burning album. Enjoy!
1. First of all, thanks for doing this, and congratulations on being the first bassist featured on Korea Guitar.
Wow it’s an honor to be the first bassist featured, thanks for having me! Us low-down guys need to get in on the action too! Ha!
So let’s get right to it. Why do you play bass and who influenced you when you first started out?
I actually started out very briefly on guitar but gravitated to bass quickly as I have very big hands and it was just more comfortable for me to play. It just so happens when I first started learning I had a buddy playing bass who wanted to play guitar more so we kind of swapped and I never looked back. I do however play guitar for songwriting and sometimes on recordings here and there. At any rate I think my first real influence was Gene Simmons as a kid – I loved Kiss and he was just this badass creature in the band – way cooler to me then the rest. And I loved the tone he had too, very growly. But it was Steve Harris of Iron Maiden that made me actually want to pick up the instrument. Not only was he utterly awesome as a player, but he also always had that very in-your-face stage persona that I really connected with…I have that same kind of attitude so between him and Gene I figured this was really the instrument for me!
I’m a finger style bassist and very 70’s influenced in that I like to play melodically and move around the neck, and in that respect Geezer Butler and Geddy Lee were big influences as well. I’m a very jam-oriented player and a lot of that comes from those cats. Cliff Burton too, and all those guys I just mentioned also have very overdriven tones which also I was drawn to as a player. One other guy from that same time frame whose playing I just love is Bob Daisley, and he’s probably my biggest influence when it comes to writing and recording bass lines in the studio. The guy has just been brilliant in what he’s played on record over the years.
2. Do you remember your first bass? What do you play now?
Oh yeah as I still have it! Was an early 80’s bolt-on neck Ibanez Destroyer bass – super growly tone! Now my main basses are Thunderbirds, both Gibson and Epiphone. I do play 5 string basses pretty much exclusively so my Gibson T-Bird is a kind of rare 5 string version, and I helped Epiphone develop their 5 string Thunderbird Pro basses as well (I actually do product videos for Epiphone basses at times). So I have a few of those that are all set up somewhat different and with different pickups. I also have in my collection a couple Fenders (Jazz and P basses) as well as a kind of rare mid 90’s Ibanez fretless, a Schecter that’s thumb bass styled, and a more recent addition is a Jack Cassidy semi hollow body Epiphone. There’s more in the collection too…one can never have too many basses!
3. What was the first concert you ever saw?
The first one was Van Halen in the mid 80’s and Eddie was on fire that night as I remember. But when I first got to see Iron Maiden that was like the “HOLY SHIT!!!” moment for me – I knew I wanted to play for real after that.
4. Give us a brief history of Chris Catero. What were you doing before Razer?
Well I started out just jamming around with friends in high school who had moved to my little home town in NM, and they taught me a few things as they had been playing a couple years at that point. The real monumental moment in my evolution was one of these same friends, and the friend I had got my first bass from, Jeromy Graves (who was also one of the original guys in Razer) accidentally shot me in the left arm while hunting in between my junior and senior year of high school. I had very limited use in my arm for almost a year due to nerve damage from the shot, and quite honestly probably should’ve died with as much blood as I lost – it severed my brachial artery. I had aspirations to go play small college basketball as I’ve always been an athlete all my life but after that accident my hand was paralyzed for close to a year from the nerve damage so the bass became the best source of rehab I could find, and I got very serious about music after that. So it was one of those “worst thing/best thing to happen to me” scenarios.
In college I played in various cover bands until I met a guy named Tom Gattis who had once been signed to the Combat record label and we formed a metal band called Wardog together. That band went on to sign a deal with Metal Blade Records and we did a couple albums for them. But also Tom had grown up with Marty Friedman and they had been in their first band together called Deuce. So through Tom I met Marty around the end of the “Countdown To Extinction” album cycle and he actually convinced us to move to Phoenix, AZ, where I still live today. I formed Razer with a couple of my Wardog bandmates and obviously that stuck. During the last several years too I did the artist relations for Krank Amps where I got to work with a lot of cool guitarists like Michael Wilton of Queensryche, Dave Rude and Frank Hannon of Tesla, James Hetfield of Metallica…just tons of players that kick ass. And like I mentioned I also do product videos for Epiphone Guitars, Eminence Speakers and a few others as well as stay busy doing at-hire bass gigs, songwriting for different things, and production work.
5. Playing with Marty Friedman, who was featured on Korea Guitar in July, must have been a great experience. What did you take away from your time in his band?
Playing with Marty was another giant leap forward in my evolution as a player. I first jammed with him to re-record some old Deuce songs along with Tom and it was a blast to play with a guy of that caliber. And then after we moved to Phoenix him and I became friends and I would actually spend some time at his house recording stuff in his home studio, and I gleaned a lot of tricks and knowledge about how to get and record guitar tones and how different sounds fit into doing recordings. Eventually when he first asked me if I wanted to go tour in his instrumental solo band I had a huge “GULP!” kind of moment as while we had been friends for a good while by then but the prospect of playing fairly technical instrumental music with him scared the hell out of me! I was thinking to myself I’d be having to do some pretty fierce Billy Sheehan, Barry Sparks and Tony Franklin basslines, and the band at that time was his former Megadeth bandmate Jimmy DeGrasso on drums and Ron Jarzombek from Watchtower on guitar – killer players one and all – so it was a little daunting! I do possess good playing chops but I’m more of a straight up rock guy who menaces the stage more so than wearing my bass up high and playing lots of notes haha. But by nature I’m never been one to shy away from a challenge and after we started rehearsing I realized I could totally hang and it really vaulted me a quantum step forward mentally, like “yes I can do this and belong”. After that I ended up doing some more tours and the “Exhibit A: Live in Europe” cd and “Exhibit B: Live in Japan” dvd. Playing with Marty really progressed my playing and more importantly I learned a lot of how pros at the highest level do things and handle their business; it was a great experience. And while making the new Razer album I kind of put my bandmate Jordan Ziff on Marty’s radar by sending him demos of what we were doing and ultimately introduced them at the NAMM show last year. Marty was really into his playing and long story short he asked him to play second guitar with him on a U.S. tour he just wrapped up, so we’re keeping a tradition going there haha!
6. How did Razer get its start?
Well the band came out of the ashes of my old band Wardog I mentioned earlier. Myself along with guitarist Paul Sullivan and drummer Eric Bongiono, formed Razer and played for a while as a 3-piece before my buddy I mentioned earlier, Jeromy Graves, joined. Chris Powers joined a few years ago on vocals and is just a monster singer. He was just named Male Vocalist of the Year by a big publication here in Phoenix, amazing voice. Then Jeromy decided to leave a couple years back and Jordan joined which kind of changed the flavor of the band. Prior we had been a little more of a big radio rock sound that has been happening for a while here in the US, but after Jeromy decided to leave I made a cognizant push to start writing music I wanted to hear versus what I thought “the market” wanted. Really we were in a pretty depressed state with Jeromy leaving who was a brother to us, and we weren’t happy where we were at musically or professionally. So at about that time is when Jordan subbed a few gigs and ended up joining the band. Jordan is an amazing guitar talent and plays like a genuine old school guitar god which really appealed to me…honestly it was a lot like playing with Marty again – same kind of vibe. So I just started writing a lot of music I thought was cool and worked with what talent we had in the band now, and the the guys kind of went along with it. My thinking was we have this monster singer and guitarist, let’s write music that showcases what they can do and that type of music happens to be near and dear to my heart and everyone else’s in the band, so that’s what we did, trends be damned.
7. Where did the name Razer come from?
I came up with the name Razer so blame me hahaha… Years ago that popped into my mind using the meaning to raze, or to demolish so to speak. It just sounded like a big ol’ dumb heavy metal name that you’d know so we went with, wasn’t too much more thought put into it than that haha!
8. Alan Niven helped discover Motley Crue, Dokken, Tesla, and managed Guns N’ Roses, Great White (which he also co-produced and co-wrote with) and now Razer. What does he bring to the table and how did you get in touch with him?
Alan and I met while I was still at Krank Amps as I had helped him out with some gear for another act he represents called Storm of Perception. We really hit it off as people and eventually I played him some of the new stuff we as Razer were working on at the time. The tunes kind of intrigued him and we set up a vocal tracking session so he could hear Chris sing in the room with him. Chris started to belt out the first couple lines, and I saw Alan’s eyes get big and a smile came across his face…I knew he was going to get involved then haha.
Alan and I are peas from the same pod really – we really see eye to eye on most things, we work extremely well with each other, and ended up co-producing the album and together do all the business affairs of the band. He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met in the music biz and he really infused some real no-bullshit rock n roll sense into the band. He has a keen ear for things and his belief in what we were doing was a major kick in the ass for all the guys to lay down killer performances on the album. He’s definitely the sixth member of the band…
9. The new album is killer. I would love it if you could take us through it track by track. People are gonna love this disc. First off is Blood For Blood. Two things struck me about this track. Chris Powers can really sing. Holy Crap! And that riff. She’s a beast.
Haha yeah Powers has some pipes doesn’t he?! This was the first song we recorded vocals with Alan in the room too, and the song that got Alan interested in the first place. Half of our album is detuned down to a drop B tuning while the other half is at normal 440 pitch, so the album has a classic yet also modern feel to it. This particular tune I first wrote that riff on a standard tuned drop D guitar but as soon as I played it on a drop B guitar if became quite the beast as you said. I like earthmoving type of riffs and this one is definitely a doozy! But I really like too the almost gospel sound of the vocals in the chorus against all the heaviness, and I think Chris singing in between Jordan and Paul’s solos have this cool old Led Zeppelin singer/guitarist feel that has been pretty MIA in most rock the last several years. To me this was a perfect opening track – bluesy, heavy, and a big vocal hook.
Blood For Blood on Youtube
-Next up is It’s a Mutha. Killer bass intro and a fantastic post-guitar solo bass/guitar shred.
This conversely was the last song written for the album. I love overdrive and distortion on bass and on this particular song I threw on my trusty ol’ Bass Big Muff pedal and went to town! Alan thought we needed one more uptempo song so I came up with this and it definitely has that punky Guns feel…it wasn’t intentional but after I came up with the riff I thought well it certainly doesn’t hurt anything to have that haha! And cool you dig the guitar/bass lead in the middle. Really that came about from me messing around with Jordan as he’s a monster chop picker, kind of like Nuno Bettencourt in Extreme. So I started messing around with some stuff using a picking technique I developed where I alternate pick with my index finger’s nail and it sounds very pick-like, and I can play fast 16th notes using it. I came up with the little chromatic riff and and BOOM – we had that middle section. To me that section feels like if Motorhead and Mr. Big were bumping uglies haha…
And I have to credit Alan with the lyrical idea and title to this one. After we first played him the demo and I was sitting there showing him the melody I had and he started singing “It’s a mother, mother, motherfucker…”. We laughed at the time but he was serious, and we all kinda went “hmmm…well ok then!”. So Alan kickstarted things by writing some lyrics, and then him, myself and Chris sat down and knocked out the rest of the lyrics together… That was a new thing for us as we’ve never had anyone outside of the band write with us. Alan is an amazing wordsmith and we had a great time writing with him. We wrote lyrics all together on a few tunes on the album.
It’s a Mutha – Youtube
-The power ballad Into the Light. This one really showcases the vocals. Great solo, too.
This tune is Powers’ tour de force vocally I think. This a deeply personal song written with some loved ones I had lost in mind, and really everyone kind of approached it in the same manner as we all have lost close family at times. I told Chris what I was thinking when I wrote the music and he just kind of sang that main part at the top of the chorus right off the top of his head. I then quite painfully but cathartically wrote out the rest of the lyrics…was a very hard song to write for me. And Jordan plays a beautiful Queen-esque kind of solo that fits perfectly in the song. Our drummer Eric too had the good mind initially to drop this one into a half time feel as I had originally wrote the music with a double time driving, dare I say U2 kind of feel. I think subconsciously I was a little afraid of making it a giant ballad thing but I’m glad we went there with it that way. And we purposely made it bass/vocal driven in the intro in lieu of piano or anything like that. To me it feels a lot more unique like that…
-The Last One. I think you found a keeper with Jordan Ziff. This dude can flat out rip. Great solo here.
Yeah he can play a bit! This was a tune that we had kicked around early on in the formation of Razer and updated in this context now. Jordan has the super cool feel that I compare to Michael Schenker, Marty, Nuno, John Sykes…he simply has tremendous tone in his hands and a sense of phrasing you just can’t teach – you’re born with it. And really this solo was fairly off-the-cuff in nature, we didn’t spend a lot of time going over it.
-The Things You Do has a real Zeppelin feel to it. Kind of a Zeppelin 2015 thing.
Yep that pretty much nails it haha! Again we wanted to really showcase what both Chris and Jordan can do and this song does exactly that in a cool, dark way. I kinda came up with the music to this sitting around in my studio late one night and I pretty much knew immediately Powers was going to be all over this. Again Alan, Chris and I sat down and wrote the lyrics and they have the dark, sexually charged vibe of late night bad love you can’t shake…very rock n roll. And this is another tune where Jordan kind of jammed his solos throughout. I especially like his outro that interplays with Powers vocal line. We’ve heard it described as a cross of Alice In Chains and Zep, and that sounds about right to me haha…
The Things You Do- Youtube
-Ironborn: Game of Thrones?!?! What are you downtuned to on this one. Sounds ultra low to my untrained ear.
Yeah Chris and I are big GOT fans and I had this idea of titling a song “Ironborn”…just sounds powerful! So him and I lyrically wrote loosely about the character of Theon Greyjoy who is pretty reviled in the books…we thought it made for interesting context.
This is another tune like “Blood For Blood” that is tuned down to drop B and has a very heavy kind of riff. There’s a funny story in the writing of the music to this in that I would sit in my back room studio and jam a lot and my dog Eddie liked to come in there and “sing” to the amp, which basically was him barking his little ass off. So I started playing the music that ended up being “Ironborn” and he would bark in all the stops in the verses which I though was hilarious. I really wasn’t paying attention so much to what I was playing and more so laughing at him, but it finally dawned on me what I was playing was actually pretty cool. So for the longest time before we wrote lyrics it had the working title of “Eddie’s Song” haha…
This too was a song Alan had a deep hand in. He wanted us to slow it down from where we originally were playing it so it loped along more, and then had ideas of expanding the arrangement to make it more epic in nature. And I really like the Thin Lizzy-ish vibe of the dueling solos between Paul and Jordan in this.
Ironborn – Youtube
-Scordatura is an instrumental. Very Schenker-ish. I’ve always wondered about instrumentals. Are they just tunes you can’t think of words for (I remember Maiden’s Losfer Words) or did you set out to write an instrumental?
Well this is the first thing Jordan and I worked on together, and honestly I wasn’t sure if the music was going to be in the right vibe for the album as I wrote it prior to us having Jordan or really morphing into what became our writing direction on the album. But I figured it would be fun to sit down and test the waters of recording Jordan. I didn’t think it was instrumental material until that writing session where Jordan just played all over the verses, and I thought what he did sounded killer all on it’s own. So it planted the seed that this might make a cool instrumental which again was something we had never done. I like how you gave it a Schenker comparison because to me that’s hitting the nail on the head again – what him and I came up with feels very much in that vibe, like a Scorpion’s “Coast To Coast” kind of thing (which happens to be one of my favorite instrumentals btw…). So once he played all he did and him and I came up with that melodic chorus we felt it was perfect to include on the album.
-Better Time. Love the vibe on this one.
This is another kind of Zeppy-feeling tune, and one of the first tunes I wrote for the album. I was very inspired at the time watching Black Country Communion’s “Live Over Europe” dvd and I had an acoustic sitting out in the living room all the time. I’d suddenly have an idea, grab the guitar and whip out my iPhone and record a memo of what I’d come up with. I pretty much literally wrote all the music on the album on that phone! This was just another that as soon as I played it for Powers he immediately had some cool melodies coming out of his mouth… That’s another thing I should mention – when we write typically we’ll demo the music out and then Chris and I will usually sit down and la-la-la out melody lines to the music. It’s a great way to develop a song’s melodic structure and get the notes right where you want them. Then we go back and write lyrics to the melodies… One day we’ll have to release all the la-la-la sounding demos hahaha!
-The Chosen One. Serious groove on this one. Great riff. Great solo. This one is my favorite on the album.
This a fav of mine as well. This is another in drop B and that riff is just slinky in that tuning. I love heavy groove playing so there’s a lot of that going on throughout the album, and maybe because I’m a bass player and a songwriter these riffs tend to roll that way coming from me. The other thing I like to try and infuse in heavy riffs is a sense of real musicality and not just slamming chords against a beat all the time. And honestly this riff is just fun to play!
In this song too I had the idea where I really thought it would be cool in the verses to have some serious guitar stuff answering the vocals and both Chris and Jordan laid down some great stuff… Really this is a running theme on the album – we organically wrote stuff we really wanted to hear as listeners but simply haven’t been hearing in a long time.
-Shattered. Beautiful leads in this one. I can picture Jordan recording this with his eyes closed, just feeling it. Beautiful song
Yeah this was another song that Alan challenged me to write, he wanted a minor acoustic number and I came up with this. I just love the feel of this and you’re right, Jordan plays really beautifully throughout this tune. I was going through the demise of a very long term relationship at the time, and Alan had written some lyrical ideas to the chorus that were really on-topic in what was going on in my life. He told me I should take in my situation and breath it back out in the rest of the lyrics so there’s some real emotion in those lines. And I think Powers again just sings his ass off on this one. Also the outro solo is probably my favorite solo on the album, and yeah it was a bit of an eyes-closed feel thing when Jordan was recording it.
Shattered – Youtube
Haha hmmm…I guess that would have to be “Big Bottoms” by Spinal Tap as it’s nothing but bass!!! HAHA! A close second may be “Spirit Of The Radio” by Rush. Slappin’ da bass!
11. Who are the new bassists out there right now that we should be listening to?
Honestly I wish I could tell you! I don’t listen to much new music nowadays but I hear some cool bass stuff in Muse’s music. It’s funny as even tho I’m a bass player, bass is typically the last thing I write and record on songs as years ago I transitioned from wanting to be a good bass player to wanting to be a good songwriter. So something cool has to poke out on bass within the context of a song now before I’ll notice it. I laugh as I remember I had all these killer Billy Sheehan-type of tapping chops, etc., when I was younger, with my bass higher up on my waist in a kind of geeky jazzer manner, and I asked myself eventually once I got into a serious original band, “how the hell much of this kind of playing am I ever going to use in tunes I wanna write?”… The answer I found for me personally was not that much, so I moved away from listening to bass players and tended to listen to how a song’s parts flow all together. I’m sure tho there’s some rad players out there today. I do love how recently guys like Glenn Hughes have gotten on the radar of young bands and players and that’s a new thing for them!
12. How’s the music business these days? Is guitar music back?
Well the answer there is a long and subjective answer depending on who you talk to haha. The business itself is unnecessarily flagging I think as the powers that be in the biz in the late 90’s switched to marketing guitar driven music like pop music, have failed miserably at it, and are still the ones holding the reins and blaming everything else for it not being as sellable as it once was. While I’d agree there’s a lot more things to consume a person’s free time nowadays I absolutely believe there’s no shortage of people wanting to hear rock music. But a few things need to change within the culture.
While I was at Krank Amps I used to get hit up everyday by guitarists all over the globe trying to get endorsed, and honestly less than 1% of them were even trying to say anything original on guitar. I hear lots of guys with super playing chops but very little unique phrasing to where I could sense “style” in them. And that has to change. This generation of YouTubers who can see the tab and videos and learn to play any song by the numbers needs to sit down, NOT look at a tab or video and just try to decipher how to play songs by ear – it’s how you learn your own way of doing things and start creating your own thing. But we live in a “want right now” mentality at this point so it’s hard to try and talk a younger player into thinking he needs to take things the hard way to be better off for it. So in the end you get a lot of really generic rock songs played by generic players – it’s performed competently but lacks the emotion, feel and integrity to ever be really legit rock music.
And I think too the business as it stands today needs to be flushed. Everyone who has been running things at labels, fly by night “promoters”, etc., have slowly eroded music on a lot of levels for the past 15 years or so and we need more people in who actually get, love and understand rock music. Rock music has never been the sugar coated pop formula where you get sick of hearing it 2 days later and move on to the next thing…rock music is harder to grasp upfront sometimes but ultimately it’s complexity keeps fans satisfied and still listening years later. If Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Aerosmith or just about any other giant rock act were to come out today I don’t think they’d even get a sniff of a deal the way the business conducts itself currently with statistics driving the way they do things. We need more people who use their ears, not number crunchers! But I don’t think it’s incurable, I just think people who “get it” need to keep hammering away and trying to reform the biz. And I will say there’s no shortage of people wanting to play rock music so we just need get the dots reconnected…
13. Being from Phoenix, are you a Coyotes, Suns, Diamondbacks or Cardinals fan? (Sorry, I’ve been in Korea far too long. I envy anyone who has such a choice of sporting events)
Haha! I’m a massive Pittsburgh Steelers fan and am loving how football season is in full swing here now. I do catch the Suns and Diamondbacks games when I can as I’m a huge sports fan in general and we’re lucky to be a city that has all four major sports here.
14. What does the future hold for Razer?
Well hopefully a lot of playing out and spreading our music to different places. We’re hoping to get out on the European festival circuit this next summer and will be busy promoting this new album to anyone who will listen!!! We’re ready to come to Korea too!
15. What are three things every bass player should know?
1) Learn how to get a good tone for every gig. This seems simple but a bad bass tone destroys a mix just as much as a bad guitar tone does, and then the non-musician crowd (which is most of your audience) will think you “suck” even if you’re playing good stuff. This might mean spending more money than you want on a bass or amp, but if you’re moving into being a more serious gigging player this is essential – have gear that makes you and the band sound good, and take the time to listen to the other guy’s instruments and dial the right tone for the gig.
2) Listen to what everyone in the band is doing and be the glue. Even the best player is guilty of showing off a little now and again in a song and heading off the tracks into chopsville, but overall play what works best for the song. There’s plenty of times the most simple thing is the right thing for the song itself to impact a listener in the best way. I can certainly play a lot of notes competently but as a bass player getting the groove of the song locked in and slamming just right feels way better than showing how tricky you can be. I love feeling the groove swing way more than anything else! And it’s more than ok to play melodically within a song but make sure whatever it is you’re playing complements the tune overall. I’ll refer to the Bob Daisley school of rock bass here again – just pop on the first two Ozzy albums alone and you’ll hear some of the most awesome melodic but tightly groove locked bass lines ever recorded!
3) Be cool, be professional, and do every damn thing you can possibly do to better yourself for that next gig. Now I know this isn’t just for bass players, and might sound trite or stupid to some, but laziness, lack of effort, big egos, etc., all will keep you home and off the stage more than you can ever know. There’s A LOT of great players out there, but the guys who consistently stay in a gig aren’t always the best players, they’re the guys that are dependable, likeable, and are willing to do what’s right for the gig itself. They play and look the part and fit in, are easy to hang with, are team players…they’re all the things that make the other guys in the band want to play with them. As a bass player we already have one up on other instruments as there’s usually a distinct lack of good bass players usually in any given music scene, and those guys who fit all the criteria of being a good and reliable bandmate are always in the good gigs players want. Music circles are small, and a good reputation takes you further in the music biz than you might think…
Official Website: http://www.razerband.com/
Paul Sullivan: Guitars
Eric Bongiorno: Drums
Chris Powers: Vocals
Chris Catero: Bass
Jordan Ziff: Guitar