The Aristocrats—guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann have a brand spankin’ new album dropping on June 28th. Titled You Know What?, this is the fourth release from the rock-fusion trio. The band will be hitting Canada for 5 dates (Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City) in late July.
Bassist Bryan Beller was kind enough to give Let’s Rock a few minutes of his time. He chatted about the writing process for You Know What?, what it means to be a team player as a bassist, how the band chooses names for instrumental songs and much more. Due to some technical difficulties, the interview will only be presented in written form.
On the writing process for the new album, You Know What?
“This is the same process that we used on records past which has worked well for us so we just figure, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We’re all individual solo artists and were before we formed The Aristocrats so we’re all capable of writing our own demos completely, you know, programming drums if we need to, playing bass guitar if we needed to. That’s what we do. We write in isolation actually and then we present our work to the other guys. The good news is, this is our fourth album so we’re very familiar with what the other guys do, so it makes it cooler, easier and more fun to write for the band knowing that. So, that’s how we do it and I think that why does it work? It’s because all the different styles that you hear on there, it’s obvious that we had some shared common influences before we ever met…a lot of the Frank Zappa stuff, some of the fusion stuff, basic rock stuff like Queen. I think that all of that adds up to a really good familiarity and a lot of fun and we feel like we can do anything with each other. That’s the thing. So we pushed the boundaries on this record, went some directions that we haven’t before and we also went in directions that we knew the other guys would kill if they got their hands on it.”
On how the band comes up with names for instrumental songs
“Well, I think it’s different for everybody. I can only speak for me in that I generally want to have a name for the song before I even start writing the music. Especially with instrumentals. Because that way, I have some language and some context around the meaning of the song, what I’m trying to convey. And then I can fill in the music to tell the story, what I’m summarizing in the title. You know, the English language, any language, is a very, very useful tool for communicating. That’s why everybody uses language, you know. So those words that are in the title of the songs are very important to instrumental songs because there are no lyrics. So, I try to be very careful about them and choose them ahead of time.
The one exception to that would be All Said And Done, which is a song I
wrote for the album, which is kind of a pop song almost. In a dream I heard people singing the chorus to that song, like a big gang chorus. And then I woke up and thought, ‘What was that?” And then I just kind of ran to my iPhone voice memo and sang it, then made a really quick demo and it became a song. I remember they were all singing “All Said and done’ in the dream. So that’s how that happened.”
On each member writing 3 songs for every album
“I’m sure there are other bands that have multiple songwriters that would come in with their demos ready to go. It’s easier nowadays than it used to be because of digital technology. You can really make good demos. It seems to be working. We’re trying not to screw with a formula that’s working for us.”
On how he adapts to playing with different guitarists. (Bryan has played and toured with Satriani, Vai, Keneally and Govan)
“Well, once you know a person’s artistry, and you’ve played some shows with them,you go in knowing, just like any gig. It’s really not so much about, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna hear this flurry of notes’, it’s ‘Well, what does this person’s music sound like?’. What are their influences?
If I play a Satriani gig, I know I’m really gonna be concentrating on really keeping the groove, nice and simple, not doing too much, making sure the foundation of the song is really solid and then when there’s time, stretch out, stretch out. Whereas when I’m playing with Mike Keneally,, you’ve gotta be ready for anything at any second. And those forms are extremely difficult and complex and there’s just a lot going on there. The aristocrats can go in a lot of different directions. It can go in any direction. And Steve Vai’s music is actually fairly specific in a lot of ways. When you’re doing the Vai thing, that’s a specific thing too.”
I think the most important thing is just to listen to the song. That’s obviously the foundation of everything. When you’re playing with an artist, there are obviously gonna be some similarities in their songs. That’s what makes them an artist.
On what it means to be a team player as a bassist
“The irony of my entire career is that I didn’t really train to be a kind of a hotshot bassist. I grew up playing Zeppelin tunes and I love Motown. Yeah, I listened to some progressive stuff and fusion like a lot of musicians. But it was never my desire to be the next Stu Hamm or Billy Sheehan. And here’s the thing, when you get into the quote unquote hotshot players, there’s a thing with bass players, specifically I think, that, if you go into a certain realm of your playing, it inevitably leads you to jazz-fusion. This is not always the case with guitar players. You can really get out there on technique and just be a rock player or mostly rock player, but with bass players, if you go past rock, suddenly your slappin’ and your playing Latin and you’re doing Chick Corea and The Electric Band. It’s a totally different thing.
So I made a concession early on that, first of all, I wasn’t gonna do Latin, I wasn’t gonna learn all the Charlie Parker solos. I just wasn’t gonna do that. But even beyond that, I didn’t really have a desire to extend the technique of the instrument. I mean I look at guys like Michael Manring and Victor Wooten, you know, completely groundbreaking, incredible stuff and I’m glad they’re doing it because I just never was the guy that was going to sit down and practice for 10,000 hours to figure out all that stuff. I just wanted to play songs.
So it was a bit of a surprise to me when my career went, you know, the first gig I had was with Dweezil Zappa and the next thing was recording for Steve Vai and then playing with Mike Keneally. And I kind of had to play catch up a little bit, technique wise, because I didn’t have ridiculous, blazing technique at my disposal. I had to work pretty hard. But the good news is, my core foundation is really grounded in providing support. That’s all I ever really wanted to do as a musician and a bass player. I really wanted to do that as a first and foremost mission. And that’s true regardless of whether I’m playing Flying In A Blue Dream with Joe Satriani, which is just 8th notes, the entire song or whether I’m playing Furtive Jack with The Aristocrats, which is a completely Hellacious bass line. It’s all over the neck, it’s just up and down relentlessly.
I try and make sure to remember that I’m that guy and that that’s what I’m
providing, no matter what the context is. No matter how crazy the music gets, that I just wanted to be what John Paul Jones was for John Bonham. If you’re in a trio, the bass does need to take up more space. And if the mission is kind of a progressive musically oriented thing, then you’re going to reach a little more of the bass player, but I think that there’s a way to do that without having to be Victor Wooten…And God bless Victor Wooten, I think he’s awesome. That’s not in any way meant to denigrate what he does, but I think it would be easy to fall into a trap of doing too much as a bass player when the door gets opened to you rather than just enough. Go crazy if you’re Victor, man, cuz there’s only one Victor, but most of us are not Victor.
The funny thing about The Aristocrats is that Guthrie writes the songs where the bass is most prominent. Guthrie wrote Last Orders with that incredible bass chordal thing that’s going on. And Spanish Eddie has a really wide ranging bass line. Most of the really tricky bass lines in our band are written by Guthrie.”
On what to expect from an Aristocrats show on the upcoming tour
“Well, you can expect, obviously some songs from the new album. We won’t be shy, talking to the audience, that’s kind of part of our gig. We don’t just stand up there an stare at our shoes. We’ll engage people and tell them what these songs are about. We’ll try and let the audience have some fun. It’s not just about, ‘Oh my God, look at these guys playing music. It’s difficult or blah blah blah.’ That gets old. We’re just here to have some fun and we hope the audience has fun along with us. If everybody walks away feeling like they’ve seen a good show, got to see a lot of notes too, but if they walk away laughing, that’s how we know we did our job.”
The meaning behind “D Grade F*ck Movie Jam”
“It’s from a reviewer who said that that’s what our music sounded like from the first tour. It was actually a show preview in Raleigh, North Carolina, basically saying, ‘These guys are coming to town and they’re really great at playing their instruments, but I’m not going to go watch a whole set of their D grade fuck movie jams.’ I was like, ‘you motherfucker, and also I’m stealing that.’ It’s a great line. I read it and I was like, ‘That is just gold.’ It took seven years to actually make a song about, but there you go.
Official Site: http://the-aristocrats-band.com
Be sure to catch The Aristocrats in Canada on their 2019 You Know What…? North American Tour
Live at The Brass Monkey – Ottawa, Ontario July 28
Visit The brass Monkey – http://www.themonkey.ca/