Bass Players To Know: Bryan Beller
We’ve all heard that James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, but in the world of bass players, there’s no doubt in my mind that this title would go to Bryan Beller. Beller has held and excelled at every position in the industry, from serving as a sideman for guitar phenoms Joe Satriani and Steve Vai to being an educator, journalist, and solo artist. The fact that he’s one-third of the insanely talented super-group The Aristocrats would be reason enough for him to be a bass player to know. His technical and musical versatility is unrivaled, his work ethic is never to be questioned, and his musical contributions are nothing short of epic.
Who Is Bryan Beller?
Hailing from Westfield, New Jersey, Beller got his start as a teenager—playing in the school orchestra on upright bass and then gravitating toward electric to satisfy his desire for rock and metal. He attended Berklee College of Music to concentrate on bass and in the process, played in a blues/rock band before making a name for himself in the progressive and fusion world. While at Berklee, he kindled a friendship with drummer Joe Travers. Travers moved to L.A and joined Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa in the band Z alongside guitarist Mike Keneally. In 1993, Beller auditioned for the group, landed the gig, and built longstanding musical relationships with his fellow band members. Throughout the 1990s, Beller worked at SWR and ultimately climbed the ladder to become vice president of the company. All the while, he continued to work as a sideman alongside Keneally, James LaBrie of Dream Theater, and Steve Vai and became a freelance writer for Bass Player Magazine.
By the mid-2000s, Beller had a multi-faceted career as a writer, touring sideman, clinician, and session musician. Assuming the role of Dethklok bassist, “William Murderface,” from the television show Metalocalypse, he brought seriously real talent and ability to the fictional character. In 2003, he released his first solo album, View, and has since followed it up with Thanks In Advance (2008), Wednesday Night Live (2011), and Scenes From The Flood (2019). While continuing to tour with artists like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, Beller cultivated a musical partnership with guitarist Guthrie Govan and drummer Marco Minnemann. This ultimately resulted in the formation of their power trio, The Aristocrats. After extensive touring, critically acclaimed studio albums, and three live records, The Aristocrats are held in high regard the world over.
Let’s Talk Style
First things first, Beller knows a whole heck of a lot about music. He’s worked in a variety of professional scenarios, toured the world, and regularly performs alongside stellar players. His playing looks effortless, sounds great, and alludes to everything from ‘70s funk to modern metal. As a composer, his solo material and contributions to The Aristocrats reflect the decades of practice, study, and inspiration that have come to maturity as a diverse musical portfolio.
Beller’s playing is intuitive and reactionary—his ability to respond and adapt to a musical scenario is what makes him a highly sought-after accompanist and band member. Much like a brilliant comedic actor, he’s able to take cues, impersonate, improvise, and push the limits of humor in a way that engages everyone present. This natural ability to converse is enhanced by the other players in the conversation, resulting in musical moments that are captivating, impressive, and pleasantly surprising.
With remarkably precise ears and keen attention to note duration, he is able to accurately mimic phrases and match the inflection of a riff. Combined with his superior technical chops and knowledge of harmony, he’s an asset to any band that performs complex synchronized lines. It’s no surprise that he frequently gets called to play progressive rock and metal.
An advantage of working in these genres, and of writing his own material, is that Beller often has the opportunity to play with sonic manipulation. Beginning with his truly excellent stand-alone tone, he excels at implementing pedals in a way that doesn’t get lost in a mix and instead, enhances the overall sound of the instrument. He plays to the effect, taking advantage of the textures provided by overdrive or envelope, and often implements slapping and other plucking hand techniques to further craft the tone. Beller regularly takes advantage of chords, hitting the root note on the E string and higher voices on the D and G strings. This allows him to add density and harmonic definition to his part and works especially well when playing in a trio.
Where Can I Hear Him?
“Everything And Nothing” (Bryan Beller: Scenes From The Flood)
Featuring everything from lush chords to a driving slap groove, this composition prompts the listener to question and reimagine the capabilities of the instrument and their personal identity. Beller layers multiple parts, a notoriously tricky endeavor on the bass, and does so successfully through the use of tone, function, range, and method of attack. He engages in a call-and-response with the lyrics, interspersing intricate slap fills between vocal phrases and adding a sense of urgency and adrenaline with chords in the higher register.
“All Said And Done” (The Aristocrats: You Know What…?)
Providing a moment of relaxed and groovy goodness to the record, Beller establishes the harmonic structure of the song with 10th chords. He integrates suspended notes to provide ornamentation as Govan executes a particularly sing-able melody. As the song progresses, Beller takes a sensational solo inspired by bluesy melodies and graceful execution. He explores the range of the instrument by jumping to the higher register, playing a descending flurry down the fretboard, and settling in to a slap part that expands on the original theme.
“Life’s Too Small” (Mike Keneally Band: Bakin’ @ the Potato!)
Traveling from jazzy verses to a dynamic solo section, this song moves across the full spectrum of prog, concluding with a hard-hitting groove that matches the intensity of the mantra, “Life’s Too Small.” Beller leads the band with melodic fills, sneaking in phrases between the lyrics to create movement without conflict. Accompanying Keneally in an assertive yet functional manner, he matches the dynamic development of the solo, using octaves and chords to increase the density and power of his supportive role. Following the solo section, Beller plays a unison line with the vocals, perfectly mimicking the phrase, before engaging in a heavy groove to ride out the song.
How about you? What’s your favorite tune or album with Bryan Beller? Please share with us in the comments.
Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!