The Frontline: Michael McKeegan

Rock power trios, eh? There’s a concept. Having grown up playing in a three-piece, where I was fortunate enough to have a guitar-wielding older brother and a drum-bashing younger one, we always had a ready-made band to jam and rock together. Thus it was a logical step into Therapy?, another three-piece with ideas about making a big noise. At one stage Therapy? expanded to a four-piece and, while there were a lot of live advantages to having the second guitar (and electric cello), it presented me with a lot of problems dynamics-wise, parts-wise and even tone-wise. I spent a lot of extra time in the studio and live, tweaking my sound and parts to try and find a place for the bass.

Credit www.ashleybird.com

Credit www.ashleybird.com

Either I found myself doubling those rhythm riffs, or the more adventurous bass parts were swamped sonically by the guitar and especially the cello, which has a similar range. Interestingly, when we stripped back to a three-piece, everything sounded tighter and punchier overnight, especially with regard to the bottom end. I could go back to playing chords and try more interesting moving lines which had previously been lost. In a three-piece, getting a good tone is very important in finding that right space, along with the other instruments and the parts you’re playing.

Sometimes a slightly cleaner, less driven sound works better with bass chords or when you’re tackling an unconventional counterpoint. Both of these can sound muddy and tend to clash a bit more if the bass tone is particularly driven, and if you’re tuning considerably below standard pitch, as we now do. While we currently augment our live sound with a few samples, backing vocals and loops, there is something wonderful and freeing about that classic three-piece drums, bass and one guitar combination. Think The Police, Motörhead, Hüsker Dü or the masters of rock minus their frontmen, Van Halen, Sabbath, The Who, Pantera, Led Zep… It’s a set-up which means everyone gets to shine equally and has to deliver with nothing to hide behind. There’s no such thing as an off-night with the power of three.

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