You Me At Six's Matt Barnes: “I didn’t play a P-Bass for ages. When I finally picked one up, the neck was incredible”

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(Image: © Matt Goff)

Formed in Surrey in 2004, You Me At Six occupy a niche that is not quite hard rock and not quite heavy metal, reaping industry awards and commercial rewards for the hooky songwriting and expansive production of their six albums to date.

The new one, VI, is out as we speak, so we caught up with bassist Matt Barnes for a quick peek into the life of the international touring rocker...

Did the bass go down smoothly on VI, Matt?

“Really smoothly. The guy I was recording with is Dan Austin, who played bass for many years with Cooper Temple Clause, so he knows his stuff. When I was in the studio with him, I knew I was in safe hands. We didn’t want to go with a huge name, because that comes with egos!”

What gear did you use?

Live, I admit that I’ve gone over to the dark side and I’m now running a Kemper

“I was using an Ampeg SVT Pro, the rackmount head, and that went into a little Ashdown 4x10 cab with a couple of mics in front of it. I used a Sansamp for presence and drive and the amazing Darkglass B7K for an everyday tone. The producer also had this really interesting idea; he ran the bass through a Sequential Circuits analogue synth, so he could change the modulation and the pitch-bend and so on after recording the bass. That way we got some really interesting tones that aren’t just from Pro Tools. I’d never heard of recording bass that way before, but it blew my mind. I’d play bass, and at the same time he’d go and play with the keys.”

How will you replicate those tones live?

“Live, I admit that I’ve gone over to the dark side and I’m now running a Kemper. I really like it; you can get so much versatility through it, and when we fly to Australia or whatever, instead of having to rent gear there, I can have so much stuff going on in a single box. You literally turn it on and it works.”

What did you use pre-Kemper?

“I used to use two Ashdown CTM 300s, one pretty hot and one with a dialled-down tone, and our front-of-house guy would mix it. Ashdown have sorted me out a lot over the years, and I still have a lot of their stuff. I still run their 8x10s live; I don’t just have the Kemper in my in-ears, because there’s no feel that way.”

And what about basses?

“I’ve got a couple of Fender Deluxe Precisions, which I moved to a few years ago after having been a purely Jazz man for the first six years of the band. With one of those and a Kemper, you’ve got so much tone under your control. I’ve been endorsing Fender for a while, and I love them. I remember seeing Tim Commerford of Rage Against The Machine playing a Jazz, and I instantly wanted one for that reason, and so I didn’t play a P for ages. When I finally picked one up, the neck was incredible. I’ve sanded mine down a bit, to lose the lacquer on the back; I like the unfinished feel.”

(Image: © Jon Stone)

What else have you got?

“I’ve got a Music Man StingRay which has an unfinished neck as stock. I want all my basses to be like that. You get a bit sweaty during a gig, and you can’t actually get up and down the neck! And the other bass that I absolutely love is a Sandberg California. Holger Sandberg delivered it by hand to a gig in Germany, which was such a lovely touch. I use Rotosounds 55 LDs and LEs. I use 110s for anything lower than an E tuning. I’ve been using them for years; again, they’re a great family company.”

How did you get into bass?

My first live performance was the Kinks’ You Really Got Me. There was only about six people there - one of whom was my mum

“I’ve always been around bass, because my dad has been playing it since he was a boy. He and his best mate, who is also my godfather, have a band called the Midnight Tokers, and I grew up going to see their gigs. I’d stand there, aged 15, feeling really legit because I was allowed to be by the stage in a pub. I’d got a three-quarter size Aria when I was 13. My first live performance was after I’d been playing a couple of months; I did the Kinks’ You Really Got Me. It’s a really simple bassline, and there were only about six people there - one of whom was my mum - but I knew this was what I wanted to do. I was hooked on playing bass.”

Who were the bass players you admired?

“For a while I only listened to three bands - Blink-182 among them. I loved the way Mark Hoppus played the bass, because he’s not a super-technical player but it’s so solid, with some really groovy licks. I was also a huge RATM fan, as I said, and Tim Commerford was always someone I looked up to as a player. On our last record we had a song called Night People which has a groove that is a bit Ragey. And the Red Hot Chili Peppers; what young bass player nowadays didn’t grow up loving Flea? He’s one of the greats.”

What’s coming up for you?

“It’s 10 years since we released our first album, so we might relearn the old songs and do some anniversary stuff. Then it’s Europe in the spring, followed by the United States, Singapore and Australia. We’re going to be away for eight or 10 months of the year, which is exactly what we want. We love playing gigs. It’s all going to kick off!”

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