Brian MacDonald’s band PVRIS – pronounced Paris – are the top of the pops among the rock-loving youth, and with their eagerly-awaited second album on its way, they’re set to rise a long way in a short time.
Interview: Joel McIver
“I don’t really look at it like that. I’m just sitting in it and just enjoying it,” muses Brian MacDonald, softly-spoken bassist with PVRIS, when we ask him how it feels to be one of the most attention-grabbing new bands to come out of America in years. That’s an admirable attitude for someone whose group are the toast of the rock media at the moment: alongside MacDonald, guitarist Alex Babinski and singer Lyndsay Gunnulfsen (aka Lynn Gunn), PVRIS have been the recipients of so much adulation in the last year or so it would be understandable if their egos had over-inflated. But none of that is evident in our fella, a man whose love of bass keeps him stable…
What was your first bass, Brian?
My first bass guitar was a Fender Jazz; I got it in 2011 on my birthday, and I remember telling my dad what I was going to do with it, and he was super stoked. I just recently auctioned it off for charity. I did this little event on Twitter, where I put it up on eBay and it sold in four seconds! The person who bought it sat down with me on a Skype session. That bass has been all around the world with me. My heart was hurting a little bit to let it go, but I know it’s going to a good cause. I do miss it, though.
So what’s your current gear?
Right after I let the Jazz go, I got a custom Fender P-Bass. It’s all black, with a maple neck, and I love it. For the new album, I got a white Precision with a rosewood neck: I did the whole record with that. Those are my current basses. I used to play a Stingray, but that’s long gone.
Why switch from J to P?
I love Jazz basses, don’t get me wrong, but the way those P-Basses sit on my body is very comfortable and they’re a lot easier to play. They sound so good, too.
Your new album, All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell, has a ton of bass all over it.
Yes, there’s a lot of different bass. We ventured out a lot and got really crazy with it. We had a brilliant producer who really brings out your inner musician and your thoughts and ideas. We had synth bass, we had real bass, it was a mixture of both. I did a lot of grooving, and letting my inner James Jamerson out. He was one of my idols. He was on so many tracks: they called him ‘the Hook’ because he only used his index finger. I do that too sometimes.
Which other bassists do you admire?
Jamerson was the big one, because a lot of soul and funk was playing around my house when I was growing up. Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Earth Wind & Fire. Jaco Pastorius was another one: I found out about him through watching Victor Wooten videos. There’s one video where Victor is talking about a particular Jaco song, and I looked it up on Youtube and thought ‘Wow – he’s amazing!’ And then Prince was obviously an influence – he was an amazing bassist, and really underrated.
Do you play slap?
Not really. I’m still learning, and trying to pick up on things and become better at them, and slap bass is one of them. I broke both my wrists skateboarding and snowboarding when I was a little crazy kid early on in life, so they’re kinda weak, and I’m becoming accustomed to that. I did a lot of fingerpicking on this record too, and some with a pick, and then there is actually some slap on a song called ‘Heaven’.
How did you get into bass?
When we were starting the band, I played guitar in a different band, so when Pvris asked me to join on bass, I thought ‘You know what? Two less strings, I can do it, it’ll be easy’ – and I was completely wrong! It’s a totally different instrument. People say ‘Bass is just like guitar’ and I say ‘No way’. It’s a completely different style of playing. So I sat down and put myself through courses, learning how to play. I fell in love with it and was always playing bass when I was at home. My guitar was collecting dust.
What do you like about playing bass?
I love the grooves, and being in the pocket with the drums. That feeling grew on me and I just love it. The last few years of touring have all come out on the new record: I’ve let all those moments shine and got a little crazy and weird with my playing style.
Do you play five-strings?
Just four-strings, I’ve never used a five. On our last album, all the songs were tuned to C, so my custom Precision has 135s on there. I’m basically playing a pipe! It holds the tuning perfectly and still sounds good, though. On the new record we play some songs in standard tuning as well as in C, and it’s been nice to play thinner strings for a change.
Do you use amps live?
We recently switched to Kemper, which is perfect. I just run through that and go straight to the front of house and it’s amazing. When I first started I had an Ampeg 6×10 cab and an SVT 4 Pro head, but that blew up on stage, ha ha! It was unfortunate. That was my very first bass amp. After that I went to the Orange Tiny Terror, which was awesome, and then an Ampeg SVR cab hooked up to an Avalon M5 preamp, but since those it’s been the Kemper. I just gave the Ampeg rig away to a bass player who’s just starting to tour, because I hate seeing gear lying around that I don’t use anymore. Technology these days is crazy, I can barely use my iPhone…
All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell is out now on Rise. Info: www.pvris.com