Metal bass head to head: Trivium and Killswitch Engage

Paolo (Trivium) and Mike (Killswitch Engage) doing their respective thing onstage...
Paolo (Trivium) and Mike (Killswitch Engage) doing their respective thing onstage... (Image credit: Jason Moore & Igor Vidyashev (ZUMA Press/Corbis))

BASS EXPO 2014: It ain't easy playing bass in a twin guitar band, especially when said band has two blisteringly epic guitarists. Killswitch Engage's Mike D'Antonio and Trivium's Paolo Gregoletto are two of the most respected bass players in metal, and both of them have the task of holding it down with their respective drummers during some of the biggest and best loved modern day metal anthems.

Here they discuss the challenges of playing in a band with two guitarists, as well as tone, technique, and finding the perfect drummer.

How did you become a bass player?

Mike D'Antonio: "Well, a lot of my friends had bands growing up and it looked like one of the funnest things to do ever, just jumping around in basements and moshing with buddies. Kids playing guitars and basses, I just couldn't get enough of it. So at one point, [when I was] around fifteen (which I thought was a little late to start playing guitar or bass), I had one friend who had a bass for sale and one friend who had a guitar for sale. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the bass was the one I could afford so that was the one I started playing."

Paolo Gregoletto: "It started back when I was about eleven years old and a couple of friends just wanted to play in a band and play covers of bands we enjoyed back in the day. I picked up the bass and I really enjoyed playing it and I stuck with it."

"Guys like Cliff Burton, Steve Harris, and Billy Sheehan inspired me to follow the fingerstyle playing path" - Paolo Gregoletto

Which bass players were influential to you?

Mike: "I always loved Steve Harris from the moment I heard any Iron Maiden. Back then I loved Harley Flanagan from Cromags - he had the greatest stage attitude, I guess you could call it. Just shoving the bass headstock down fans throats; really aggressive and in your face. I just loved that. He was a good player and all that, but I really just loved watching him stalk the stage and view the fans as lowly people he could just smash over the head with his sound."

Paolo: "Guys like Cliff Burton, Steve Harris, and Billy Sheehan inspired me to follow the fingerstyle playing path because they played so well with their fingers and they showed what could be done."

Given that both your bands have two guitarists, how do you view your role in the band?

Mike: "I fit in wherever I can be heard I suppose. It's always those ranges that the guitarists don't want to hear, like mid range and all that kind of stuff. The bass is always recorded last so it doesn't clash with anything.

"Onstage they want me as low as possible because it muddies up the entire stage, so being on in-ears really helps a tonne with being able to hear myself and play accordingly. I've also thinned my sound out tremendously from when I first started playing, even going to lighter picks and, like I said, using a lot more mid range, a lot less bass, and more attack - just really going for the throat.

"We're very much a guitar band. You really don't want to step on anything they [Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel, guitars] are doing because it's so awesome."

Paolo: "The thing that's been cool with Trivium is I think everyone has always respected each other as a player and we always say the part you are playing should always be serving the song. I see my bass playing like a lot of players I've admired, like Steve Harris and Cliff Burton, players who have really left a mark on the music they made. That's who I try to emulate. Not only is the bass part serving the song, but also making sure that my bass part isn't just following the guitars, but adds a little flair to the music."

What are the key elements of your bass tone?

Mike: "We actually take two tones for the front of house: one is a clean tone directly from the head, the other is a distorted tone. I use a Tronographic Rusty Box, really it's like a compressor and distortion and DI all in one. I also use a lot of EBS pedals. I love their stuff - you can fine tune it tremendously, you can open the back and there's all kinds of trim pots so you can really get exactly what you want.

"I use an EBS bass DI that has a little bit of distortion and grunge thrown in there. Like I said, a lot of knobs to help with the tone rather than just, you know... A lot of people seem to put knobs on their things just to look cool. Mine actually have functionality.

Paolo: "I use Kemper profiler live and on my main sound I use a profile of an SVT450. It's kind of a classic head and I don't really put too much gain on it, just enough so I can dig into the bass pretty hard and have that growl. I also have a lead channel that I use with a profile of a Peavey head. It's pretty crazy to have all these options of tones, but it really makes a big difference and I'm always trying to improve on those subtle things.

"I run the Kemper direct and we've done that for a couple of years. I can't remember the last time I had a cab onstage. Its a very, very dead stage - all you hear is drums and we're all on in-ears. It makes the mix really incredible."

Can you tell us about your signature basses?

Mike:"Ibanez has been one of my best sponsors. They've been a huge supporter of me and my band since day one. The first two basses I had we're based off the SRX700, which is a through-neck bass that sounded great. I liked it stock and now my new bass is based off a Destroyer model which looks like an Explorer, so it's a lot bigger and more metal."

Paolo: "I started play playing BC Rich Warlocks live in 2006. I saw one at NAMM that I loved and I asked if I could get one made in a five string and they did it. I've updated it since: I updated the headstock and the natural wood finish, and I also had them make me an all black one. It's pretty much the most comfortable bass for onstage in terms of weight distribution, and it looks awesome."

"You've got to play with a drummer you connect with for sure" - Mike D'Antonio

Both your bands have super tight rhythm sections. What advice can you give players to help lock in with the drummer?

Mike: "I guess fifteen years of practice together? I don't even know if I'm even that good at it yet. It definitely takes a while and you've got to play with a drummer you connect with for sure. I think, essentially, the most important thing in a band is that once you find those players you click with, stay with them hopefully forever."

Paolo: "I think you can learn to play with any drummer, but to find the right person that compliments your playing is really important. I've known Nick [Augusto] since we were in pre-school together. We started our first band together back in the day and that's when that connection began. When you've played with someone for so long it just works. After so many years you get to know their tendencies and you know where they're going to go next. That helps you judge what you should play."

Who inspires you today in the bass world?

Mike: "There's this little known band called Acaro who put out a self titled, self made LP, and they're amazing players. The drummer used to be in my old band, Overcast, and we've taken them out on tour. They have an incredible bass player called Kevin Smith. He's fantastic to watch and the funny thing is he's actually a rocket scientist. When you talk to him, he doesn't seem like a rocket scientist - he's just a real mellow dude - but man oh man, he can play some bass!"

Paolo: "When I was really young I had the good fortune to see a Billy Sheehan clinic. That was a life changing moment. To this day he's my go-to guy when it comes to virtuosity. He inspires me to keep practicing."