Rudy Sarzo has played with some of the biggest names of heavy metal over the years, during the eras that many consider to be each act’s creative peak. These include Ozzy Osbourne with the late Randy Rhoads, Quiet Riot, and Whitesnake, among others. Most recently a member of Dio and Blue Öyster Cult, Sarzo has now joined forces with Animetal USA, a highly theatrical band that merges makeup and metal.
In addition to Rudy, Animetal USA is comprised of former Loudness singer Mike Vescera, guitarist Chris Impellitteri, former Slayer and Testament drummer Jon Dette, who replaces original drummer, Judas Priest’s Scott Travis. The group have already issued a pair of albums for Sony Music in Japan, and in 2012 both albums were compiled for a self-titled release in the US and Europe via Century Media.
As Rudy explains, “Mike Vescera used to be in Loudness, which is Japan’s biggest export in heavy metal. So he lived in Japan for two or three years, and while he was there, he became a fan of anime [Japanese TV animation]. Also, he was aware during that time that there was another band called Animetal, a Japanese-centric band, which was a combination of musicians who were from all these different bands that were fans of anime. They started playing metal versions of the anime theme songs. So after a while, they stopped doing that, and he got together with the record company and started thinking about the idea of reviving the whole concept of Animetal, and turning it into Animetal USA, to differentiate one from the other.”
He adds, “With Animetal USA’s first album, we had to start the foundation of what the band was going to sound like, so it was a bit more culturally specific to Japan. Kind of a heavier, speed metal version of Animetal, but with more of a global appeal, because the members had to be not only well known in Japan, but also people who were somehow connected with anime, whether as fans or, in my case, being an animator. I do animation and TV effects and I’m very video savvy. So that’s how I became involved with the band.”
Due to the group’s technically demanding metal style, Sarzo now plays mostly five-string basses. “I’ve been using my Peavey five-string basses. I use D’Addario strings, the five-string set, EXL 165-SL. And then there is the 130 that I add to the set for my five-string basses, the XB 130-SL, that’s the single. They’re nickel, and they last. Back in the day, I used to take them off and boil them after one show. Now, I can actually go two or three shows without having to remove the strings, because the tone lasts much longer than the strings I was using previously.”
He continues: “I’m doing my recording into a Pro-Tools rig, and I’ve been using a Line 6 Bass Pod directly into it. One of the great things about technology today is you’re able to record a lot of the tracks separately. The formula I found that works for me is to use a rig like that. The Line 6 brings a lot of clarity and a lot of punch and also, because you can emulate whatever settings you need, you can really tweak it. I can actually monitor my input and total mix through headphones, without delay. And because of Pro-Tools, I just go directly into it.”
Playing live with Animetal USA, Sarzo has decided to revisit his past, rig- wise. “I went back to my original sound. There are a lot of old Randy Rhoads videos with Quiet Riot at the Starwood in California. I’m going, ‘Man, I dig the punch and the clarity that I’m getting’ [in the video footage]. I was playing a Fender then, and I was using Rotosound strings, so I got a Fender with Rotosounds, but I’m going, ‘It just doesn’t sound the same’. I did a rehearsal for Animetal USA at Guitar Center Studios, and they had Acoustic amplifiers. I plug into the Acoustic, and I’m going, ‘There’s the sound that I was looking for.’ All of a sudden, I was sounding like my favourite tone. I used to have a 360 when I was playing in Miami, and then I sold it when I moved out to LA. And when I started playing with Quiet Riot, I started playing the 371. I just love the tone: it cuts right through Marshall stacks. It has so much presence, especially the new designed cabinets.”
Sarzo also explains how he records bass in the studio with Animetal USA. “A lot of the times you’re bound to the skills that certain engineers have. I’ve gotten to work with some of the best, but what makes it really unique is that I can really take my time and find different tunings. For example, Animetal USA does a lot of recording in C, and instead of dropping down to a C, I tune up to a C on the B string. I also do a lot of experimentation with tones, so my bass doesn’t sound the same from track to track. You don’t want to spend a month recording bass tracks. Of course, there’s more complexity to the tracks that we’re doing for Animetal USA than, let’s say, a traditional Quiet Riot rock song.”
Although he is best known for playing in heavy metal bands, Rudy recalls one of his most famous bass techniques: fretting the instrument with his left hand over the top of the neck rather than under it. This developed in his bar band days. “I don’t know if I was the first one to do it, but I hadn’t seen anybody do it like that before,” he says. “Actually, how it came to me was playing so many bars in the 70s, and playing the same disco or Deep Purple songs. Back in the day, you had to go from Kool & The Gang to Deep Purple. You had to play whatever happened to be popular and on the radio. You’d do three sets a night, and you had to keep yourself amused by the time it was three or four in the morning. To keep yourself awake, you start to play upside down.”
While he’s on the subject of the good old days, Rudy discusses his early bass influences. “My first bass hero was Tim Bogert from Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, and Beck, Bogert & Appice. Not only for his bass contributions, but also the chemistry he had with Carmine Appice. To me, that was my model for a rhythm section: the way that those guys gelled and communicated, the chemistry, and the whole thing. It’s ironic, because now I get to hang out with Tim at the Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp as one of the counselors. He’s a great role model and a really good friend. And then after that it was Jaco Pastorius. I grew up in Florida, in Miami, so I used to go watch him play around town. It was pretty scary, because I thought there were a thousand guys that could play like that… and then you come to realise that there was only one Jaco. He definitely inspired me and scared me at the same time.”
With such an extensive bass-playing resumé, which artist does he feel fits his style the best? “I grew up playing so many different styles, from R&B, all the Motown stuff, to Led Zeppelin, progressive rock, Stanley Clarke, Jaco, Chris Squire. Everybody really influenced me. I would have to say that my all-time favourite was a band that was so pure that it wasn’t really influenced by the music industry or even MTV. I’m talking about Ozzy’s band. We still had a 70s philosophy to our performances and the music itself. We were not really affected by any trends that MTV dictated.”
Last year marked the 30th anniversary of Randy Rhoads’ tragic passing in an airplane crash on 19 March 1982. Rudy remembers what it was like to play music with his old friend. “I did some interviews for another release, the Speak Of The Devil DVD [a live performance featuring Rhoads’ first replacement in Ozzy’s solo band, Brad Gillis] that came out through Eagle Rock Entertainment, so I had time to reflect on that. The thing about playing with Randy was that it was only about the music. Of course, he looked like a rock star, and he performed like one. But as a foundation of Randy Rhoads, the music was the only thing that really mattered.”
As Randy once did for Rudy, the bassist offers some advice for fellow bass players. “Think ‘rhythm section’. Think what is the best contribution you can make as a musician and as a bass player. Listen to the drums, lock in with the drums. The role of the bass player is the link between melody and rhythm. Think both: be rhythmic, be melodic. Go outside of the box, without getting in the way of the story. Be a storyteller with your instrument: always have something to say. If you’re going to practise, don’t play over and over again what you already know. Learn something new. I’ve been getting back into studying and exploring playing with modes, and playing with arpeggios. Just getting back in touch with the roots of what will make you a better musician. Not only improving your musical skills, but improving your compositional skills.”
Lastly, what are Rudy’s future plans with Animetal USA? “Right now, we’ve had two albums. In fact, we recorded two albums in less than a year. We concentrated on the Japanese market, and now we’re going to take it global. So the plan is to go on tour and go back in and do a third record next year.”