It’s snowing in the UK when MusicRadar calls Korn bassist Fieldy to hear about his new solo album, Bassically.
“Oh that’s crazy,” he laughs when we tell him how an icy blast from Siberia dubbed The Beast From The East has brought much of the UK road to a grinding halt. He says he’s sat at home in Southern California in a tank top.
It’s been 16 years since the musician unveiled his solo debut under the monicker Fieldy’s Dreams, using the downtime in between Korn’s Issues (1999) and Untouchables (2002) albums to explore more ganger rap-inspired musical ideologies. So what made him feel like now was the time to release his next solo record, this time in the form of fusion funk instrumentals?
“Korn have been so busy over the years, just making music, it became my job,” he admits. “I wanted to step back from it. I did that earlier rap stuff as Fieldy’s Dreams, but I’m a player not a vocalist. When you’re younger you just sample and try things, as I’ve gotten older I’ve embraced being a bass player – that’s what I do.
“There’s another project called StillWell that I play guitar in, so I do dabble around with instruments, but bass is who I am and what I do. It’s what I’m most comfortable with. I asked myself, ‘Do I enjoy this?’ and ended up doing a bass solo album because it’s definitely a fun hobby!”
With this album, the bassist chose to write individual pieces with no overarching concept or common thread – it was simply a case of letting the music pour out of him.
He would “just fire ideas out, from a jazzy song to a reggae song to a funk song” and allow these ideas to influence him instead of overthinking what they should sound like. The results are an eclectic mix of funky rhythms, percussion and bleepy electronica that marks the first time we’ve heard the bassist sticking to more traditional bluesy, pentatonic structures.
“Yeah, for real!” he agrees. “That’s why it came out sounding really fun. A lot of that came from working with [producer] Anthony ‘Q’ Quiles - that’s what helped get it out of me. Because at the beginning it was really hard, I wasn’t used to playing like that. I was really out of my comfort zone and that’s why it took 10 years to do this! I had to learn where to lay and duck.
“I wanted to dig in the notes and make sure they mattered. I didn’t get too technical; it was more about the note itself. I didn’t want this to be a bass-y album. You hear bass players saying less is more, but that’s really hard to do when you want to be all over the place. But it’s true, less really is more.”
Last April, Korn announced Fieldy was unable to perform on their six-date South American tour and enlisted Tye Trujillo, son of Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo, to fill the spot until their founding bassist’s return the following month. So what did he make of the young virtuoso after seeing the footage?
“When I caught the videos of Tye playing, there was something about him that just screamed ‘rockstar’,” says Fieldy.
“Being a rockstar isn’t necessarily about the playing or being a shredder, it’s about everything, and when I saw Tye and thought, ‘What a star!’ I remember when he came and auditioned for me and he totally nailed it!
“That’s what is cool about musicians like that. You can feel this energy when someone are that good at what they do. Another friend of mine has a 13 year-old daughter that can rip through all these solos. I mean, I didn’t even start until I was 16! We didn’t have YouTube and all these other things; we had to figure it out in the garage, haha.
“And honestly, I’ve checked out bass players that are up and coming and there are some kids out there that are mind-blowing. It makes me want to quit, that’s how good some of them are…”
Here the Korn bass maestro give his five tips for bass badassery…
1. Don’t try to sound like anyone else
“Honestly, even though throughout my entire life there have been bass players I’ve loved, I’ve never really wanted to sound like any of them. So my first tip is don’t try to sound like me or whoever else… you can get inspired, then take a handful of bass players you like and twist it up into your own thing.
“You don’t want to sound like one other person; you won’t get anywhere. People will just think you ripped off that guy. It’s about taking a tiny piece of the cake from everyone, blending it all into your own combination. You can always appreciate someone’s work without ripping them off.”
“Flea is one of my favourite bass players, but if I just wanted to be as good as him, I would have quit playing years ago. I just love his style and note choices; there’s just so much soul in there - even now, after all these years. I like Primus a lot and at one point I was listening to a lot of Stanley Clarke. But remember, you can never become your hero, all you can do is take something from them.
“Even to this day, when I pick up my bass, I don’t think about what Les Claypool might play. I just play what comes out of me, that’s about it. You have to force yourself into being creative within yourself because it’s in there! You have what it takes. So just start making your own music and sounds, just be creative and go for it.”
2. Practise every waking hour
“Honestly, it’s not something anybody likes to do, but you won’t get anywhere without keeping at it. The way I chose to do it was sit in front of the TV with the bass, not even playing notes, just slapping and pulling non-stop. If you do it all the time, it will come quicker. And you can still watch TV!
“My advice is get your right hand really comfortable, because that’s your rhythm and who you are. Your left hand is scales and notes, which doesn’t come later unless you are super into bending and vibrato, which isn’t that popular amongst bass players.
“For me, it’s all about that slapping and plucking, the way your fingers attack the strings, and so that’s what I would practice. Fingers are punchy, real and unpredictable. Things might jump out or pop out - it’s more chaotic and fun. And it’s nice to be able to go from light to slamming just using your bare hands.”
“It started out in the early days with Iron Maiden, and then it was all about 80s rock. Even to this day, I’m still an old ’80s rocker - I listen to it every day. I started wondering what the hell was going on with all these bass parts, and I’m so glad I discovered them early on - because hybrid bands like RHCP, Faith No More and Primus were punk, aggressive, hard and yet funky. If it was straight funk, it wouldn’t have drawn me in the same way.”
3. Find the right holes to fill
“My style is all about staying out of the way. If a drummer plays a fill, I won’t do anything there - I prefer to find spots where there are holes. That way you can also hear what I play better, I can get my little lick in there and it makes more sense. I don’t like playing over what someone else is doing.
“Because we have so much low-end, it can get tough down there. Every Korn album we’ve put out has been challenging for standing out in that low register. I could go on and on about notes that get lost on certain albums, but it’s just one of those things. If the song sounds really cool, you might lose a bit of yourself in the mix, but you just go with that.
“The low-end is a big part of Korn’s fuller sound, but if it wasn’t for that collective effort, we’d be nowhere. It’s all about give and take when you’re in a band.”
“I also have some brightness there, too, but my fingers just love that low-end. I’ve always used a five-string bass because I just love that big, deep string. It became my love, I don’t play anything else, that’s just me. If I’m comfortable, I’m the guy that sticks with it - and now I’ve been playing the bass for 20 years, living in the same house for 20 years, I have same email… I’m a creature of habit. Once I know I like something, that’s it for me!”
4. Learn your scales
“Because I didn’t! Now I’m older, I wish I had learned it all. Still to this day, I don’t know one scale, period. I completely go by ear and stick to four or five notes in the song that I like.
“I’m not a scale type of player - I might like an extra note here and there and, actually, four or five notes can sound like 15 notes depending on how you play them!
“Honestly, if I had learned my scales, I could have done this album in three months rather than 10 years, haha! It’s really important to learn that stuff; it will help you learn and develop a lot quicker.”
5. You’re an entertainer, so don’t forget to entertain
“The biggest mistake is when players try to be too technical and good. A rockstar needs to move around with presence and be an entertainer; if that causes you to be sloppy, it doesn’t matter. The guys that are concentrating really hard on being technical are the ones that will probably end up being teachers. Looking the part is number one for me!
“If I go to see a player, I want to see a character. For example, [Blink-182’s] Travis Barker barely has any drums, but is so fun to watch because of the way he moves. He’s an awesome drummer, too, but it’s the movement of his body that’s just so interesting to watch. So sure, make sure you can play good, but never forget you need some kind of quirkiness to you… because that’s part of the deal.”
Bassically is available now via PledgeMusic.