Death Atlas: An Interview with Olivier Pinard
Olivier Pinard has to be one of the hardest working bassists on the planet. Based in Montreal, he’s currently in the bands Cattle Decapitation, Vengeful, Akurion, and Cryptopsy. Each band specializes in their own brand of death metal, and each one benefits from his thundering bass lines.
His latest release is Death Atlas with Cattle Decapitation, which Consequence of Sound calls a “remarkable work of death metal devastation and emotion.” Akurion’s Come Forth To Me will be released on April 10th, and when we reached Pinard, he was in the middle of writing new riffs for Cryptopsy.
“I can’t write music on paper. I really need to play with the instrument,” he shares. “That’s how I write and how I think it should be. I know some people who write on the computer, but it’s not for me.”
We got the scoop on Pinard’s start in the Montreal metal scene, how he gets his monster tone, and how he manages working with all his bands.
How did you get your start on bass?
I was twelve years old when I started on a lefty acoustic guitar that my dad had. My older brother played the guitar and said, “Dude, we should start a band together!” I said alright, I guess I’m going to pick up the bass. So I just played on the bottom strings of my dad’s acoustic. Later that year my dad bought me my first bass for Christmas, and since then I’ve played every day.
What was your first bass?
It was a brand called Barracuda. It was like a cheap replica of a P Bass, but it wasn’t good. A year or two later when I was fourteen, I bought my first Ibanez. I was working just to buy a new bass because I knew I needed a better instrument. There was no way I was going to improve with that bass. The action hurt your hands just to play it.
I liked the thin neck and thin body of the Ibanez SR. I still have that one and a six-string I bought later. I used to play six-string all the time, but a few years ago I decided to go back to five. I just feel more comfortable with it.
Were you always into metal?
Iron Maiden, man! At first, I didn’t feel like there were a lot of metal bands that had the bass up front. I was looking for something inspiring so my brother said, “Listen to this” and he played “Two Minutes to Midnight.” Then I learned the whole discography when I was younger. I played every Iron Maiden song at least once. It’s crazy, but that’s my ultimate band.
Are you still a huge Maiden fan today?
Yeah. I was super bummed to miss them the last time they played here, but I had to be on tour with Cattle Decapitation for Summer Slaughter. It was the first time I’ve missed Maiden since 2003. But I can’t complain – I’m touring. I get to do what I want with my life so it’s all cool.
Aside from Iron Maiden, [Metallica’s] Jason Newsted was [a huge influence]. I don’t know why, but he was always a big player for me. He was always the badass bass player, even if he wasn’t the most technical. The first time I saw the DVD Live Shit from Metallica, I thought he was the most badass guy in the band.
What was the metal scene in Montreal like when you were growing up?
The metal scene was huge. In the beginning of 2000, local bands like Quo Vadis, Martyr, and Cryptopsy were selling out big, 2,000-capacity rooms. Just them – local bands. It was huge. I don’t know what was going on in that era because now it’s completely different, but it was massive. I was really into it. When I first discovered death metal, it was through Cryptopsy. I said, “What the hell is that!?” I was thirteen years old back then and super scared to go to a death metal show, but it changed my life. It was all new to me: death metal, being at a show, seeing a mosh pit… And remember back then, there were no cell phones so everybody was in the pit. It was scary to go to a death metal show back then. Now people are just looking at their phones.
Do you remember your first metal gig?
Oh yeah, I remember. I joined a band in 2007 called Under the Grave. It was my first band after high school. They found me through MySpace and sent me a message. It was a bunch of young guys, we were all sixteen years old. Even so, we got an offer to sign for a label here in Montreal and we were freaking out. My first show we played in a room in Montreal called Cafe l’Inconditionnel that was basically a closet. My bedroom is bigger. [laughs] I remember my amp blew up on stage. On my first real gig ever, my amp blew up! I didn’t have the experience to know what to do, so I just pretended everything was alright. Also, my guitarist’s hair got stuck on my bass. I was playing a Yamaha John Myung model, so it had a big headstock and his hair was totally wrapped up in it. So we finished the show with him next to me, trying to pull his hair out of the tuners. It was a disaster.
That’s one of the best first gig stories I’ve ever heard!
It was my first gig outside of school. Before that I played a lot of concerts because I was in the jazz program at school, so we played the Montreal Jazz Fest. As a metal bass player, that was my first gig. It was a disaster, but it’s a good memory for me.
What was the first larger band you got into?
I did Under the Grave from 2007 until 2009 when I joined a band called Vengeful. It’s another death metal band from Montreal. They had members that were in other big bands and they were musicians I really respected. When I heard one day that they were looking for a bass player, I knew I had to try out ASAP. I wanted to be the first one to audition for them. I reached out to the guys and they sent me three songs to learn. I learned ten songs instead of three. I wanted it so bad. After we played the three songs, I asked if they wanted to keep going and they said sure. They told me on the spot that I had the job.
A year later, I joined Neuraxis. I think the singer posted on Facebook about their bass player leaving, and I just commented something like, “I think I’m too young, but I’d love to try out.” Right away, he told me to give it a shot. It happened the exact same way. I was the first to audition, and I learned twelve songs instead of three or whatever. I wanted to prove how serious I was. It worked out great because I got the job and we did an album called Asylon, which is still today one of my favorite releases I’ve been on. We did a couple of tours supporting the album, but it didn’t really work out. Some band members had personal issues, so they decided to stop for a while. But I still wanted to continue.
The timing was perfect because, in November 2011, I had a phone call from Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy. At first, I thought, “No way is this happening.” I thought he had a question about bass or something. It was 8 a.m. so I didn’t know who would be calling that early. He talked for 25 minutes before asking me to try out. The same day, he came to my place with his guitar and showed me three Cryptopsy songs just to see if I could play the material. I felt super confident. Then he played a new song he wrote, which ended up being “Two-Pound Torch.” That had me freaking out. It was a good challenge.
The next day I went to the rehearsal room to jam a little bit, then they offered me the job. I stayed with Jon three or four days a week writing the music. The album was already written, but we were working on the bass lines. We did that for about three months. Then we did the self-titled album and the Book of Suffering EPs.
Then almost two years ago, I got a call from Cattle Decapitation. I filled in for them in 2013 during the Canadian dates of the Summer Slaughter tour. Their bassist couldn’t make it to Canada, so I filled in for him. It was so natural for me to play with them. They sent me the setlist and told me to learn the songs. They didn’t send any [written music] – I had to learn it all by ear, which was another good challenge. I met the band in Toronto. We never rehearsed or anything. We just jumped on stage and the chemistry was there. Travis told me back then that he wanted me in the band. When Derek [Engemann] left the band a couple of years ago, I knew that was my chance. Now I play with them and we just released Death Atlas.
So you’re in Cattle Decapitation, you’re still in Cryptopsy, and you have a new album coming from your project Akurion. How do you juggle all of that?
Right now, the timing is perfect. We just released Death Atlas, so we’re going to be on the road for pretty much all of 2020. Meanwhile, Cryptopsy is writing. When I’m not on tour, I’m writing with Chris [Donaldson]. It’s perfect because right now [Cryptopsy drummer] Flo Mounier is on tour with his other band, Vlitimas. So we’re writing, and next year we’ll hit the studio for another album. By 2021 the Cattle cycle will slow down a little bit. It will just be an endless cycle of going full throttle with either band.
I’m lucky enough to have Ion Dissonance’s Dominic Grimard to fill in for me if there’s any conflict. He stepped up for me last year in May, and he’s a good friend of ours so it’s a perfect fit. Everyone in Cryptopsy is supportive of me being in Cattle. There’s no drama or bad blood or whatever. It’s very cool. I’m lucky. Right now I’m dreaming of doing a tour with both bands!
When recording Death Atlas, did you use a dirty tone the whole time or are there clean parts, too?
I use two sounds, the main one uses the Darkglass B7K. It’s crunchy, but not too much. It’s a cleaner drive. Then I use their Microtubes X for the big chainsaw sound. It’s very punishing with a lot of distortion. I use that more for the “black metal” parts. The guitar goes higher, so I felt like the bass needed a big grunt underneath that. A lot of people think it’s too much distortion, but when you put it in the mix it is perfect. I like playing with a big distortion.
When you’re recording, do you have a certain signal chain you like to use?
I used the Neural DSP Parallax plugins for the two Cryptopsy EPs. For Cattle, I used my physical pedalboard with the B7K and Microtubes X. I blend the clean DI with the distortion. I really love my tone on Death Atlas. I’m pretty proud of it.
I love it, too. The sound of the bass feature on “Time’s Cruel Curtain” is crushing.
I’m very happy with that part. When the guys wrote the song, they left that spot empty for me. I was thinking, “Should I show off a little bit or just jam the riff?” It’s almost like a tribute to Cannibal Corpse – it’s very Alex Webster. I went for that. It’s simple but sounds so good.
I love that song. There are a lot of cool bass lines. I have some room to improvise a little when we play it live, too. On the album, the very end is a fade-out, but live we just keep jamming. Then it’s my time to add something extra.
What do you do to prepare for a big tour like you have coming up?
Nothing special, to be honest. I just keep practicing and try not to think about it too much. I don’t want to stress out about it. I practice the set, but I also just like to play a lot of songs. I’ll pick a Maiden album and play the whole thing. I still love to play bass for fun. Before being my passion or career, it’s still my hobby. Actually, what I do the most is play along with albums and try to learn the bass lines by ear. For me, I think working your ears like that is the best. I’m guilty – I don’t practice scales that much. I know a lot of bass players say you have to practice all scales. I get it, but when I pick up the bass I want to have fun. Then you push yourself to play harder and harder songs. I’m good at working under pressure. Like I said when I joined Cattle I had to learn the stuff by ear. It was very challenging, but when you know the show is next week you just have to do it.
What’s going on with the new Akurion album?
It will be out on April 10th, finally! We recorded the album almost three years ago, but we finally got a label to help us release it. It’s a lot of work to release it and we’re all very busy. We don’t want to tour. It’s an artistic project. We did it for the love of music. That’s it. It’s very cool because we did it live with the four of us in a room. Everything is really organic – no copy/paste. It was challenging because our songs are all six to nine minutes long. When someone messed up in the middle, you had to start all over. On top of that, I decided to play fretless bass for that project. It was the first time I did a whole album with the fretless. I decided to use the same tone I have with Cryptopsy with it. Big distortion on the fretless, just to do something different. I’m sure a lot of people will be upset by that because when you think of fretless bass you think Jaco. That’s really not what I did on this album. I used the bass more like a percussive instrument. It’s a different approach.
I know you’re already busy, but do you teach?
No, it’s not my thing. I would love to because I love to share. People message me all the time to get lessons, but I always send them to Dominic “Forest” LaPointe. He’s the ultimate teacher. He was my bass teacher when I was fourteen. He’s out of this world. He just thinks differently. The first lesson he gave me, he showed me how to do some tapping but with your pinky. He’s a good friend. I’m happy to know him and I owe him a lot.