Bryan Beller, on the value of being versatile…
Fredericksburg Virginia is now hosting a monthly Bass Forum for bassists in the region. The Forum began in May 2009, and it has met four times now. Though the meetings started small, initially averaging about 15 people, participants are now commuting from both DC and Richmond to attend.
In August, the Bass Forum was fortunate to host a clinic with the multi-talented Bryan Beller. His clinic focused on the benefits of being a versatile bassist, a very appropriate topic considering Beller’s resume. He has worked with artists like Dweezil Zappa, Mike Keneally, Steve Vai, and Dethklok, is a contributing editor for Bass Player magazine, a former Vice President of SWR (working his way up from being a product tester), a solo artist and a composer with two releases to his name. Beller shared from his personal experience to illustrate why a bassist needs to be open and versatile.
Beller’s diverse listening and musical interests were a key factor behind his varied resume. He talked about enjoying artists like Tool, Led Zeppelin, John Scofield, John Patitucci, Rage Against the Machine, Chick Corea, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jeff Beck, and many more. This openness as a listener allows him to perform in various situations, ranging from death metal to R&B gigs with his wife, singer Kira Small (www.kirasmall.com). Kira and Bryan had performed in New York city the night before, so she was at the clinic with Bryan. This was a lucky break for Forum participants. Bryan demonstrated his versatility as an R&B player by performing some selections with his wife. Here’s a beautiful arrangement of Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone”.
In this next song, Bryan demonstrated how he has to fill the rolls of a drummer, bassist, and guitarist while accompanying his wife. This is “I Ain’t Never” from Kira’s upcoming Offrow Records CD.
Bryan delved into his compositional influences as a solo artist and a composer, adding some weight to developing open and varied listening habits. He took the attendees through the processes and ideas used in some of his compositions. While saying there was no one right way to compose music, Beller suggested that bassists could try writing from a perspective other than that of “the bass”. When Bryan began composing, he found that he really wanted to write music for guitarists. That compositional approach is very apparent on “Greasy Wheel”, from Bryan’s latest album “Thanks In Advance”. The influence of John Scofield is referenced in the prominent guitar parts in “Greasy Wheel”.
I was surprised by an interesting facet of his compositional approach; he often starts with the title of the song first. Regarding “Greasy Wheel”, he commented “Well, what do I want this song to mean? Well, this song is called Greasy Wheel. It’s about a group of people getting together who don’t have anything to do with each other in a workplace, somehow trying to figure out a way to make something work and make money. And what (do) those moving parts of human beings sound like when they’re together?”
Beller talked about another one of his influences, bassist John Patitucci. Beller explored that inspiration in his composition Get Things Done.
After showing some R&B bass chops and discussing his use of a variety of influences while composing, Bryan addressed another aspect of his career; answering the call when a death metal band needed a bassist. And even more unusual, a death metal band that is based on a cartoon. Dethklok started as a fictional band featured in an Adult Swim cartoon called Metalocalpyse. As Dethklok’s popularity began to soar, Brendon Small, the show’s creator, was asked to take a live version of the band on the road. Beller and his long time creative partner Mike Keneally got the call to perform in Dethklok. Thriving on variety, Bryan said yes. He is now on his second tour with Dethklok.
As a treat for Dethklok fans that were in attendance, he performed some tracks from the new Dethklok album, Dethalbum II on his brand new Mike Lull T-Bass. For his work with Dethklok, Bryan tunes the bass down a major 3rd to C, F, Bb, Eb.
Here is an explanation of the varied hand techniques he uses to play the Dethklok theme song.
One of the most important points about versatility that Beller made came from his experiences auditioning with Steve Vai. He suggests that one should give priority to being open to doing what is needed by the artist auditioning you, rather than putting all the emphasis on proving you can do the gig. (After all, isn’t that the baseline requirement anyway? That you actually can play the tunes?) Once you demonstrate you can play the tunes, the artist is interested in what else you have to offer. Be open to being a musician who provides whatever the artist needs. For example, if you only play fretted 5 string bass and the artist asks you if you can play fretless bass on a song, be that person who plays fretless. Say yes, and then go buy a fretless, practice and learn.
This point really struck Forum attendee Billy Wooten. Wooten later commented “I’d never considered that. When the audition comes up, be sure to understand the artist’s needs and, play what THEY want, not what you want them to hear. This statement should be copyrighted.”
Here is Bryan playing “Freak Show Excess”, one of the songs he learned to audition for Steve Vai’s band.
Beller’s clinic ran for two hours straight, and it was clear he was enjoying the dialogue found in that small classroom of fellow bassists. Bassist Ron Plichta commented “I had a great time. Bryan’s a cool guy and I liked how he presented himself…not as some great “master” but more on how to get gigs and adapting his style to the music.”
Kira Hendrickson really admired Beller’s openness in sharing his professional experiences, both the good and the bad. She was impressed by Beller’s ability to “walk away from a poor audition, and then pick yourself up and learn from it.”
Ben Titus, a local working bassist added “It’s refreshing to go to a clinic where the featured artist isn’t showing off blazing chops the whole time. Beller presented all of his information in an accessible manner. None of it was uber technical speak, or trying to bury the audience in music theory and analysis. Instead, he honed the topics down to what we need to know and what can be most useful to us now as working musicians. In addition, his outlook on life and how it influences his playing and writing was great to hear. He offered great pointers that we can all use to better ourselves personally and professionally.”
Bryan ended the evening with a performance of “Life Story” and “Cave Dweller”, both from his latest CD “Thanks In Advance”.
Brittany Frompovich is a highly regarded educator, clinician, blogger, and bassist who currently resides in the Washington DC/NOVA region. For more content from Brittany, check out her blog, her YouTube channel, and her Bandcamp site. She also offers handmade unisex music-themed jewelry through her Etsy store.