Five Finger Death Punch's Chris Kael: “People don’t hear bass; they feel it”

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Chris Kael of Las Vegas metallers Five Finger Death Punch on the role of the bass, keeping an eye on the future and knuckling down to business...

Our band is constantly busy. We try and stay on top of the game and do as many shows as we can, because in this day and age people have a very short attention span. Not every band is like Tool and can afford to take years and years between records! Our band is constantly chomping at the bit and doing new things. We’re always writing new material, always putting together records and always keeping things fresh. It’s definitely a good place to be at the moment.

The new 5FDP album, And Justice For None, was a blast to record. The rest of the band always gives me plenty of space to work with, so there’s room for me to be creative without stepping on the guitars, which is cool because it’s such a heavily guitar-driven band. I try to add colours, textures and depth, which I think I’ve done with this new record.

I play with a pick because of Cliff Burton - as soon as I saw that he played with his fingers I knew I could never play like that

My tone is bass-heavy on this record, without too much top-end. From the very beginning, I’ve always said that people don’t hear bass, they feel it. That was my frame of mind for this record. Our producer Kevin Churko might as well be a member of Death Punch at this point, when it comes to getting the best performances out of us.

His focus when it comes to bass is always to create something interesting that works with the guitars. We know the role of the bass in this band, and we try not to push those boundaries too hard. I hold down the low-end and try not to step on the focal points of the music; it’s definitely not a solo bass record!

At the same time, it’s not Metallica’s ...And Justice For All. I’m waiting for the day when they go back and remix that thing. I’ve heard versions online where someone has recorded extra bass for it; their bassist Jason Newsted has always been such a great player that it would be awesome to hear what he contributed.

His predecessor Cliff Burton was my hero when I was growing up. I play with a pick because of him, because as soon as I saw that he played with his fingers I knew I could never play like that.

Then again, looking into the past is not a good idea unless that’s where you’re planning on going. Always keep your eyes forward. I’ve talked a lot in the press about how I recently got clean from cocaine, because I want to let people know that if it can hit a guy like me, who’s always been the quiet one, it can hit anyone. On the day of this interview, I have been 86 days clean, and I feel great.

When I was growing up, and trying to figure out what instrument I wanted to play, I always knew it would be bass, because I loved what Gene Simmons did on the instrument. I was also a huge fan of [Metallica guitarist] James Hetfield’s rhythm guitar playing, because he had incredible picking-hand precision, so I’ve really focused in on trying to follow the guitar parts with my right hand.

With our style of music, you need to do a lot of palm-muting; you can’t get the kind of precision you need with notes ringing out. You need that kind of attack, even if the listener won’t necessarily hear that in the mix. I’m also a fan of mellow parts as well as aggressive playing. There’s some tricky stuff going on in the background, even if it’s not too clear.

I’m lucky enough to have a signature Spector this year, the CK4. It has a body shape that is a little different to the usual shapes, with an upper horn like a Viking helmet – because I look like a Viking, haha! I use Dunlop strings and active EMG pickups; I have Mesa amps and cabs, Sansamp and Darkglass for distortion and an EBS Multicomp compressor.

All of the guys at those companies help me get my tone. And you’ll notice a little tribute to our fans, the Knuckleheads, in the bridge. It’s detachable but it’s super-thin material, so you can’t use it without breaking your hand… please don’t try!

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