Each genre of music has its influential acts: those that did more than others to drive the form on to new heights, pushing the boundaries and making it new. These are the bands that non-fans most readily identify when asked to ‘name a (insert genre) band’. In thrash metal those bands are Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica. But each genre also has its unsung heroes, bands who elicit adoration from fans – bands like Exodus. Critically and commercially successful during the 1080s, Exodus has had a particularly rocky history, with numerous line-up changes, extended hiatuses and the tragic early deaths of band members. Jack Gibson has been holding down bass duties in the band since 1997, dealing out crushing metal riffs with the speed and precision that are the hallmarks of the genre. It seems, though, that landing the gig was partly due to happy coincidence.
“In 1996 I was playing bass with Gary [Holt, Exodus guitarist] and Tom [Hunting, the band’s drummer] in a band called War Dance,” he says. “Exodus had been on hiatus, but eventually War Dance morphed into Exodus, and seeing as I was already there they asked me to stay on. Tim Bogert once told me you need to be in the right place at the right time.” And so Jack’s long association with the band began, but let’s rewind and find out how him got his start on the four-stringed wonder.
“I started out as a bass player,” he says. “I realised that all my friends were playing guitar, so I made a decision to play an instrument that would be in demand. It’s turned out to be a good decision.” Unlike many musicians in the rock and metal world, Jack didn’t go down the self-taught route, instead choosing to study bass guitar at the prestigious Bass Institute Of Technology in Hollywood. There he learned the ins and outs of bass playing from some of the best in the business, including his hero Billy Sheehan.
“Billy is my big influence, along with Geddy Lee,” he says. “I remember seeing him play with Talas back in about 1985 or ’86. They were supporting Rising Force and I just couldn’t believe you could do that on a bass. I decided then that I wanted to do that, but in a thrash metal setting. Getting to learn from Billy at BIT was amazing, but I have to say that I’ve learned a lot from guitarists and other musicians too.”
So what advice would an educated metal bassist hand out to those of us looking to make inroads in our playing? “Practise every kind of finger exercise you can,” Jack tells us. “Train your hands to work through any movement that could be required of them. You can even do these things sitting in front of the TV. A lot of it is just muscle memory. That way, when you’re actually playing, you don’t need to commit any brainpower to executing licks. Other than that, the most important thing is to play with other musicians because nothing helps you get better than playing music. Other people will push you beyond your limits, and that is the best way to grow as a player.”
Thrash metal isn’t particularly known as bass-centric music, although there are exceptions, of course. With the crushing speed and intensity of the guitar riffs and drum parts, it’s all most bassists can do to double up riffs and drive out root notes to hold everything together. The reliance on unison riffing for maximum intensity means that bassists don’t have much room to manoeuvre – so how does a bassist influenced by Billy Sheehan and Geddy Lee deal with this reality?
“Well, sometimes Gary has to calm me down a bit,” he chuckles. “Usually he’s right too. Live I’ll tend to flex out a bit more, throw in some fills and little bass parts that aren’t on the albums. A recording needs space and fewer notes to sound clear and tight. It’s always helpful to remember that the bass has a particular role to fulfil. Just playing the basic Exodus bass parts is more than most bassists get to play anyway, so really I feel quite lucky as a player.”
Aside from Exodus, Jack also fronts an outlaw country band called Coffin Hunter, which he characterises as music to have fun and drink whisky to, and a far cry from thrash. “It’s got a Hank III [grandson of country legend Hank Williams] vibe to it. Tom from Exodus plays drums and I’ve got Larry Otis on pedal steel. He used to play for Ike and Tina Turner.”
With Exodus’s new album, Blood In, Blood Out, it seems that the veteran band are back on top again. “It’s always good to know that your music is reaching people,” says Jack. “The one thing about Exodus is our no-compromise attitude. That’s what our fans have come to expect, and that’s what they love, so we always aim to deliver.”
Blood In, Blood Out is out now on Nuclear Blast. Info: www.exodusattack.com.