Jane's Addiction's Eric Avery on the challenges of writing a great bassline and why he was drawn to teach himself the bass guitar because of his shyness

 Bassist Eric Avery of Jane's Addiction performs at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on March 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Eric Avery's role in Jane's Addiction found him at the forefront of what became known as alternative rock in the late '80s, but for all his bandmates' exhibitionism, the self-taught bass player knew early on that he wasn't built that way.

"It makes perfect sense that I was drawn to the bass," he told ABC News. "Because I sort of wanted to be involved in the world but was shy, and no one ever cares about the bass player – especially back then anyway. So I could sort of be involved, I could even be onstage, but not be the focus."

It's this recognition of the role his bandmates were playing that helped make Avery's parts so memorable and vital to the Jane's sound. He ended up becoming the foundation. 

"The vast majority of Jame's Addiction songs were built around the bassline; the bass melody of some kind, or progression, and then a vocal melody that Perry [Farrell] would sing.

"Stephen [Perkins] the drummer is very expressive and emotional and dances around a lot. The guitar is playful and dances around a lot. And so the role I provide is to be a bass: BASE. And I would say that characterises my playing."

It was Avery's inherent shyness when he was teaching himself bass alone that helped inform this melodic foundation; he needed to fill the sound as he had nobody else back then with lines and chords. "My initial instincts were to try and create something that sounded beautiful to me, and complete in a musical way. In a way that playing an acoustic guitar would be more musical sounding."

How am I going to make this new somehow and communicate at the same time?

The focus on musicality over technicality has remained in Avery's writing, even as his knowledge of the ability has expanded over the years. 

"The challenge of creating a great bassline is taking something that has finite parameters that are basic and simple, and to combine them in some way that is novel, that can also disappear from focus and exist," Avery added. "How does someone go to a canvas with a palette of colours – making has been doing that for millennia. How am I going to make this new somehow and communicate at the same time? When I recognise that in other people's works, I just think, it's been lying out there in plain sight and no one else found that."

Check out the full interview above. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.