Lamb of God’s Mark Morton: What I Look For In A Bass Player
When you’ve been performing and touring as much as Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, you’re bound to make friends with some incredible musicians. Morton used that to his benefit on Anesthetic, which is his debut solo album. The 10-song collection is a who’s who of the rock and metal world with appearances by Mark Lanegan, Chuck Billy, Jake Oni, Myles Kennedy, Mark Morales, Josh Todd, Randy Blythe, Alissa White-Gluz, Ray Luzier, Steve Gorman, and more. The late Chester Bennington provides vocals for the opener, “Cross Off.”
The list of bassists is just as impressive. Anesthetic features the low end rumble of Mike Inez from Alice in Chains, David Ellefson from Megadeth, Paolo Gregoletto from Trivium, and Yanni Papadopoulos. Morton himself picked up the four-string for a song, as well. It may be a guitarist’s album, but the bassists certainly help to guide the direction of each song.
As such, we reached out to Morton to get the scoop on his album, working with world-class bassists, and what he looks for in a bass player.
How long have you been working on this album?
You know, it’s funny. I’ve been asked that a lot but I don’t know because I don’t really timestamp stuff. I can tell you that we started pre-production and making studio demos with my producer Josh Wilbur in late summer or early fall of 2016. I had been writing and collecting songs for two or three years before that, and certainly, some were written after that.
The way the album started coming together is just that I write songs. Sometimes I write heavy metal songs and those go to Lamb of God, but sometimes I write songs that are more rock or blues influenced. I can’t force those into the Lamb of God process so those songs started collecting and I thought they were worth developing. So, creatively I don’t know how long, but as an official project, we’ve been working on it for at least two years.
How did you come up with the album title?
Conceptually, anesthetic is something that dulls the pain. Music for me has always been a place of healing, a place to escape, and everywhere in between. It’s very cathartic and therapeutic for me. I saw the relation between the title, Anesthetic, and that concept for me.
Are you the kind of guy that will pick up a bass every once in a while or no?
I do quite often, actually. I make a lot of demos when I’m on my own where I program drums and play the bass lines just to make things a little more listenable. Sometimes I’ll write songs for other artists to use, usually under the radar with that stuff. Then I do a lot of demos for the Lamb of God material and I did a bunch for Anesthetic. I also played bass on one of the songs, called “Sworn Apart.”
When I was sent the list of people on this album, I was blown away. The bass roster alone is incredible. How did you get everyone in on the process and what was it like?
David Ellefson and Mike Inez are both friends of mine. I’ve crossed paths with them through different festivals and touring opportunities I’ve had through Lamb of God. We did the Soundwave Festival in Australia a few years ago with Alice in Chains, and Mike was on that tour. We’ve kept up ever since.
Alice in Chains was here in Richmond a few years ago and I caught up with him after the show. We were catching up and I mentioned that I was working on this project. This was relatively early in. I asked him if he’d play on a song or two and his response, as I recall, was “Man, I want to play on more than a couple!” He ended up playing on about half the album.
Originally, I wasn’t going to put any heavier or thrash songs on the album because I figured I have those covered with Lamb of God. Josh suggested that I put more extreme metal on the album since my fans would want to hear that, too, so we committed to doing some more extreme songs. Those became “The Never” and “The Truth is Dead.” Those are the songs that David Ellefson played on. Having known him over the years I can say he’s a phenomenal player, a really cool guy, and super down to Earth. I hit him up to see if he’d be interested and he was.
Yanni Papadopoulos plays on the song “Reveal.” He’s who I’ve been playing with. The band that plays on that song is a consistent project that gets together to write and record music. I’ve been playing with him for some time. He’s amazing.
That song really sticks out stylistically, and it’s more groove oriented.
It is, and in the context of a conversation about bass playing, I think that’s a real standout track. There’s great playing throughout the album of course, but that song, in particular, is really heavy on the groove. Yanni is all over it with the groove.
The other bassist on the album is [Trivium’s] Paolo Gregoletto, and he’s fantastic. He’s on “Cross Off” and really holds down the song great. It wouldn’t be the same without him.
It sounds like you wrote these songs and had the players come in afterward. How much did you have written bass lines and how much did you just let them go wild?
Pretty much all the latter. I had demos that everyone was given that had me playing bass: a guitar player playing bass and not trying to sound like just a guitar player playing bass. Pretty much with this caliber of player I had on here, I wouldn’t tell them what to play. They’re all so proficient and talented so I gave them artistic license. They all put their own stamps on it, but some of the songs lent themselves more to stretch out a little bit. I say that because I’m thinking of Mike Inez in particular, who really did some cool stuff. It’s almost improv at the end of “Axis.”
I was going to mention that because as it keeps building you can really hear him bubbling in the background.
He was going off for sure. That was a really fun day. I had Mike Inez and Steve Gorman, the drummer for the Black Crowes, in the studio together. We were having fun and Mike really got into it.
Did Mike use his own rig for that? He had some pretty grinding tones.
He brought his own bass for sure. If I recall, Josh typically uses the EBS Fafner in his studio, so I think we used that. I’m pretty sure we used that on everything except “Reveal.”
As a guitar player, what attracts you to a bass player? What are you looking for?
For me, it’s similar to what I want in a guitar player. I want someone to have a voice that’s characteristic of their playing. I like players who have a good ear for tone. They can find a good balance between the low end while having enough attack so that it locks in. Different people approach that in different ways, but everyone’s interpretation of that balance is part of what gives them a voice on the instrument. And just tasteful licks. Not overplaying but also not being scared to pop up and add something.
I think, too, when it’s more technical or busy on the riff side in the context of metal, finding the balance of how many notes you play is important. I’ve learned this a lot from playing with and listening to John Campbell in Lamb of God. He’s a fantastic bass player. He has a really intuitive way of interpreting the lines in such a way to support the guitar riff without necessarily mimicking it. He’s not just playing everything on a different instrument: he’s bridging the gap between the kick drum and the guitars. He’s really focused on what notes to hit, which ones to drop an octave… When we’re playing 16ths he might be playing 8ths. It’s a real craft to attain that type of balance.
What else is coming up this year? Any Lamb of God news to share?
I’m out with the solo tour in March, then from there, we’re waist-deep in new Lamb of God material. There’s a whole lot of new song ideas bouncing around. We’re working on that then we’ll be doing the North American tour with Slayer in May, then we’re off to Europe. It’s going to be a busy year, for sure.