Ellen O’Reilly meets Papa Roach bassist Tobin Esperance.
It seems like a world away, here in the freezing cold winter, as I recall my time spent in the blistering heat at Reading Festival 2014. The weekend was filled with a host of excellent live rock bands, including Royal Blood, the 1975, Band Of Skulls and Queens Of The Stone Age, not to mention the Arctic Monkeys. It was a weekend of heat, exciting live music and great bass players.
Speaking of which, I had the chance to sit down in the shade and have a chat with Papa Roach’s bassist and main songwriter Tobin Esperance, who tells us: “I think I got my first bass when I was eight years old. My dad was a bass player, he would always have one, and I would get it out and act like I was playing. It wasn’t until I was about 11 years old when he started to show me bass-lines like Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ and Beatles stuff, and from there I just went off.”
I ask about the early influences that led to Tobin’s playing style in Papa Roach. He explains: “I remember trying to learn Marvin Gaye, and that’s how I discovered James Jamerson. I got really into funk with James Brown, and then funk-rock bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. That’s how I learned to play bass, just by playing along to records.”
Throughout his career, Tobin has received no formal bass tuition – until four years ago. “I met with this guy who was just there shaking his head and he said, ‘Just show me what you’re doing, what you’re capable of’ and he basically just ripped on my technique,” he chuckles. “But I was just too far gone. I’ve been doing things my way for so many years, that to try and start over from scratch and be disciplined enough to do things the ‘right way’ was just not on my list.”
It’s at this point when I wonder aloud why a successful bassist who was already in a huge band would want to get lessons… “I wanted to read music really bad, and I ended up looking at the notes and trying to just do it, but it was just not gonna happen! I was so accustomed to just hearing it and playing along that I didn’t need it. I totally respect people who can read music, but I have an ear.”
As I had just watched Papa Roach perform, I asked Tobin about his sound, in particular his awesome octave fuzz effects. “That’s a Malekko Industries Bassmaster,” he says. “I struggle with it when I’m playing in different countries where the power is a little different, because it gets noisy and unpredictable, but for the most part it’s the hugest, gnarliest sound.”
Tobin gives me a rundown of his live setup. “I’ve used Ampeg since day one, the 8×10 and the SVT sound, but for travelling in Europe I try to condense down to a really light rig, so I just have a Sansamp pedal and a power amp. I really think the tone comes from the bass and I play Laklands, which to me are one of the best, well-made basses out there. The overall tone you get from them is ‘the sound’ and that, combined with your fingers and how you attack the strings, is all you need.”
I ask Tobin to tell me about a few of his favourite players and styles, and he replies: “Of course Jamerson: when I hear anything funk or Motown, I just lose it. I love reggae too. I like a lot of different pick players like Joe Lally from Fugazi and Eric Avery from Jane’s Addiction who are more melodic players, although that’s a completely different style from what I normally do. I try and stretch out and play something different from what the guitar is doing. I’ve always been influenced by hip-hop music, especially the groove and simplicity in the bass-lines, but most recently I’ve been influenced by synth-pop and old 1980s music. I like to step on the overdrive and add a little octave that makes my bass sound like a synth at times too.”
Papa Roach’s album F.E.A.R. is out now.