An occasional column in which an awesome bassist talks about his or her new album. This month: Wolfgang Van Halen of Tremonti and Van Halen
Wolfgang Van Halen, best known of course for playing bass in Van Halen with his dad Eddie Van Halen (Yipes! That’s four ‘Van Halens’ in one sentence) also plays with Tremonti, the excellent rock band fronted by Creed and Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti. Their new album, Cauterize, is out as we speak and features serious fretwork from VH Junior, who tells us about the new suite of songs as follows…
“I used my usual set-up of a Fender Super Bassman head and a Fender 8×10 PRO speaker cab. I also used a EVH 5150-III head and EVH 5150-III 4×12 cab for the ‘dirt’. I used my custom black with silver stripe ‘Stealth’-finished Wolfgang four-string bass and my custom ‘Wolfenstein’ J-Bass, which is blue with white and black Frankenstein graphic. I do not play a five- string or six-string because I feel like I’m still trying to figure out how to play four strings. Any more than that and it gets a bit overwhelming… for me at least.
“Mostly Mark came to us with a [song] idea and we would all jam and come up with what we thought we should play, unless Mark had a specific idea of what he wanted to hear for a certain part. If Mark already knew what he wanted I would just put my own flavour on it.
“Van Halen and Tremonti are two very different bands. VH is more rock-centric, whereas Tremonti is much more metal-oriented. I love doing both. Tremonti requires a lot more aggressive picking like triplets and syncopations. A good example of what Tremonti requires from me would be the song ‘Radical Change’. That song is ridiculous! Doubling what the guitar is doing is a pretty crazy thing to do. With Van Halen it’s all about the pocket and grooving with my uncle [VH drummer Alex Van Halen] and staying locked with the drums.
“A part that sticks out in my mind for Tremonti is the slap section in the breakdown of ‘Dark Trip’. It was really fun to explore a different style of playing that I haven’t had the chance to before. I can slap but I don’t really do it much. I don’t have much of an opportunity in either of the bands that I’m playing with right now. If I do, it’s usually in the context of a jam. In Van Halen, a song I very much enjoy playing is ‘China Town’ off of the A Different Kind Of Truth album: a wicked uptempo song that’s got a lot of fun parts to play, especially the tapping intro that I need a capo to do. The crazy tapping at the end with the bass wah is another highlight. From a groove standpoint, the song ‘She’s The Woman’, also from that record, comes to mind.
“I got started as a bass player when my dad asked if I wanted to start jamming with him and my uncle in 2006. I had never really explored playing the bass that much. I had already been playing drums for five years and I’d been playing guitar for three years. It was a great foundation to have in order to make the transition to bass. For me, playing bass well is about staying in the pocket and establishing a lock with the drums: that’s the most important thing you can do. After that, exploring and contributing your melodic ideas for the benefit of the song is important as well.
“My first bass was a vintage 1974 Sunburst Fender Jazz that my dad owns. I dug that bass a lot. I played my first song, ‘On Fire’, with my uncle and my dad on that bass. He still has it… It’s killer! I own many basses but my favourite would have to be my black with silver stripe Stealth Wolfgang bass. Its one of two that exists. The other one is the black with yellow stripe, built for me in 2011 by Chip Ellis at EVH/Fender. Chip is the master builder for all EVH brand guitars. We’re working on bringing my Wolfgang bass to market. I’m really excited about that, because I think if people could play it and know what I know about how perfectly balanced and amazing-sounding it is, they would embrace it big time. Even before Chip painted it, he brought it to me unfinished but assembled to test, and I fell in love with it at that very moment. I wouldn’t let him have it back for a few weeks because I didn’t wanna part with it… even for a paint job! I’ve never played a more comfortable or better-sounding bass.
“My bass heroes are Les Claypool and Justin Chancellor. I was probably about 14 years old when I discovered Primus. Hearing the song ‘Lacquer Head’ with that rhythmic thumping thing he does in the main riff, I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever heard on a bass and said to myself ‘I have to learn how to play that’. Around the same time, I got heavily into Tool. They were like one of the first bands that literally took over my life! I was completely consumed by Justin’s style: the way he used effects and the fact that he played with a pick was a big inspiration. He’s such a melodic player. I love the way Adam [Jones, Tool guitarist] holds it down and Justin moves around him. The range of his dynamics is mind-blowing. From the heaviest to the cleanest tone on the record and everything in between, it’s just badass! A good example of his heavier tone would be when the guitar drops out in the verse of ‘Vicarious’ and its just bass and drums. That tone is enviable.
“There’s also an Australian band called Karnivool. The bass player, Jon Stockman, is very similar to Justin Chancellor. Check out the song ‘Simple Boy’. He’s got wicked tone, high skill and amazing musical sensibility. If you haven’t checked out Karnivool, I highly recommend you do. They are one of my favourite bands. One of the most incredible bass players that I’ve ever seen has got to be Victor Wooten. I don’t know where to even start… he’s just amazing!”