Reprinted with the permission of Bass Frontiers Magazine
Insightful lyrics, intelligent messages, brilliant arrangements and a lot of incredibly hard work have contributed to Queensrÿche's thirteen years of platinum success. Thirteen years. Many other well known bands that have emerged in the early 80's did their standard "five year recording career stint", broke up and now their albums have been in the record store cut-out bins for a minimum eight years already.
Queensrÿche continues on a career many bands could only hope for. "We're occasionally asked about the whole Seattle music scene," bassist Eddie Jackson noted to me while we were hanging out on the tour bus. " I was once asked if we felt like 'pioneers.' I replied, 'Pioneers? Do we really look that old?'" During a recent Queensrÿche performance in Sacramento, I had the opportunity to spend the day with Eddie Jackson and talk about his career as a member of one of the most innovative American hard rock acts of all time.
Christopher: It's been four years between Empire and Promised Land. What does a guy do with himself during that time? Vacation?
Eddie: Well, first of all, it wasn't four years off as you might think. Empire was released in 1990 and Promised Land was released in 1994. Just because there was four years between albums, there wasn't four years off. When Empire was released in 1990, we had to tour and support Empire for one year and three months. The Empire tour took us into February of 1992. We took a break when the Empire tour ended and then we started writing and working on Promised Land in 1993. We had about a year off for vacations and to spend time with the families.
Christopher: Let's talk about the latest Queensryche album, Promised Land. Each member essentially recorded his own parts at home and you mailed the ADAT cassettes to each other? Can you elaborate on the process?
Eddie: We were coming up with ideas for Promised Land during the time we took off. 1993 is when we got back together as a band and began writing and putting the songs together on our ADATs. Then we went up to an island to record the album. In 1994 is when we started checking the real estate ads, looking for a rental so we could find an interesting place to record. We wanted to get away from the city environment and create our own environment and that's how we came up with our own studio called, Big Log Studio. Its a small island north of the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle. It's very remote, about population minus fourteen. (Laughs). It was great fun and it allowed us to focus on one thing: Make a great album. Well.... to us, we think it's a great album.
Christopher: It sold a million copies. There's obviously a few people out there that agree with you on that point. So you sequestered yourselves to the island for how long? I understand each of the band members started working at home, recording their parts on their ADATs?
Eddie: With the success of Empire, we were able to go out and buy...
Christopher: ... the island?
Eddie: (Laughs). No. Geoff (Tate) bought his own island. As a band, we bought our own recording gear. We all ended up buying ADATs and it turned out to be very convenient each of us having an ADAT or two. As we were coming up with ideas at home, and if Chris (DeGarmo) had an idea, he'd just send me a tape, I'd put my part or parts down and send the tape on to whomever. Many of the demo sounds turned out to be very, very good and were good enough for the record. It seems the real reason we went to our island was because we had so many tapes. Our producer, Jim (Jimbo) Barton, who has worked with us on the last several albums, spent a great deal of time just going through, and organizing, all of the tapes. That took four to five months. The record was then mixed at Bad Animals Studios, which is Heart's studio. Working on the island was great. We got to spend time with our families, since it was close enough, we could come home on the weekends. If we had our parts done, two or three of us would take a few days off.
Christopher: How do you record your bass? You have a very rich and sometimes aggressive tone. It always sounds like you're really moving a lot of air.
Eddie: I use GK 800s and I'm running them through McCaully cabinets through McCaully drivers. I have a tendency to drive the amp louder then hell. If you were to actually listen to the cabinet itself, it sounds like garbage. But when you incorporate the D.I. with the room microphone and just EQ it a bit, there's enough edge so it's the sound I really like to play with and like to hear. It also depends on the song. On "Out of Mind", I don't particularly want the sound I get out of "Damaged" or "Promised Land". "Out of Mind" is such a very slow tempo, atmospheric track. I also used fretless bass on "Out of Mind". I've also played fretless on "Anybody Listening" off of Empire and "Disconnected" from Promised Land. For the song, I just work accordingly to what I feel. My sound is a sound that I have enjoyed hearing for many years. It was Tom Peterssen of Cheap Trick, the second album, "In Color", that really sold me on that very aggressive sound. My sound's not the same identical sound as Tom Peterssen's sound, but I vibed off of it immediately. When I first heard it, I said, 'That is a cool tone.' I've tried for years to define my own sound so when people hear it they'd say, 'Hey, that's an Ed Jackson bass sound.'
Christopher: How do you approach fretless compared to the fretted bass?
Eddie: I just picked it up one day thinking it was a regular fretted bass. Then I quickly realized my finger positioning was always incredibly flat for some reason. (Laughs and mockingly talks to himself) What is wrong with this bass? It's broken, guys!
Christopher: You gotta think sharp!
Eddie: It was really like starting over. Fretless is just something I picked up slowly over time. It's a whole new style of playing. I tend to keep my rock edge to fretless. I like to throw in some spices and color on the fretless bass to enhance a song. It's such an expressive instrument.
Christopher: What about five, six and eight string bass?
Eddie: I have a Tobias five string bass that I got after the Empire tour. I was going to use the Tobias on the Promised Land tour, but the electronics are Bartolinis and they have a tendency to be a bit more cleaner and warmer sounding then what I prefer. But, the problem was the Operation Mindcrime graphic on the instrument was so cool, I didn't want to destroy it by changing the pick-ups. The graphic goes over the pick-ups and if I were to change the pick-ups to the EMGs I normally use, I'd have to reroute the instrument and probably wind up destroying the graphic. It's too much of a good looking bass to screw with it. The instrument sounds great as is, but I prefer a little bit more of an aggressive sound, which is why the EMGs tend to suit me. Every six string bass I've ever come across have these incredibly wide necks. I'd have to use one hand above and one hand below the neck to play a scale. (Laughs.) I had an old Kramer eight string bass that I recently sold. The one with the aluminum neck. I also have a Hamer twelve string bass. I've had the Hamer twelve about a year and a half. I didn't use it for quite a while because it needed to be set-up. It buzzed like crazy around the ninth or tenth fret. I took into my friend's guitar shop, it's called The Guitar Works in Seattle. The guy who owns the shop, Mike Lowell, is amazing. He fixed it up and it plays great now, but I have never had a chance to use it. I'll probably use it on the next album.
Christopher: You were a big Spector man, and in the I Am I video you're playing a Fender. What's your bass of choice for the road these days?
Eddie: On this tour I'm playing Fernandes basses. I have a bunch of four strings, a five string and a fretless. I had my favorite Spector bass stolen during the Empire tour in 1991, so they're semi-retired now. We were at a radio station in Boston and we were doing an on-air, two song, unplugged kinda' live gig. Afterwards, when our instruments were being loaded into the limo, some punk stole my favorite black Spector when the driver's back was turned. At the time, I owned four Spectors and I've bought a few more since then. Unfortunately, none of my other Spectors sound like the one that was stolen. There was just something about that black one, it was rich, full... it was unfortunate. A few days after the Empire tour ended, I received a letter from the Boston court stating they caught the kid who stole my bass and I was to appear in court, in Boston, in eight days. Over $3,000.00 in expenses later, I'm in court trying to get my favorite instrument back. It turns out this thief hid the instrument behind a dumpster or building right after he stole it, so he could retrieve it a later time. Someone apparently found my stolen instrument that this punk hid, and stole it from him. The bass couldn't be retrieved and I wound up getting monthly checks from this punk to make restitution for my expenses. But check this out, after we were done with all of the court proceedings and I was about to leave, this punk who stole my guitar has the audacity to come up to me and ask me for an autograph.
Christopher: That takes some set of nuts. Did you smack him in the head?
Eddie: (Laughs). I really wanted to.
Christopher: Scott Rockenfield is a rock-solid drummer. You and he have great chemistry. How do you and he work out the rhythm parts?
Eddie: Many times Scott and I will get together and work out parts, a lot of it is spontaneous, we'll just jam on an idea one of us has. Sometimes if we start jamming on an idea, that's when we come up with some pretty cool parts. When it comes to tracking the parts, we get very focused in on the specifics of what we're trying to get across.
Christopher: What "team" advise do you have, especially for bassists and drummers, to improve themselves, not just as individual musicians, but as a rhythm section?
Eddie: I think one of the important ingredients is just the personality chemistry and the friendship that's been established. That's always been the bottom line for us. That's really what keeps bands together for the long term. The only problem is, it's hard to control that. You always hear horror stories about other bands where the bass player and the singer or the guitarist and the drummer couldn't get a long, but the only reason they were continuing was because of a contract or whatever. In those type of situations you really hear the stress in the music.
Christopher: When did you first start playing and who were your influences?
Eddie: I started playing in high school, in 1978 or 1979, I was a 1979 high school graduate. But I was really not into playing the bass during my high school years. I polished my instruments more then I actually played them. (Laughs.) I started taking the bass a little more seriously when I was 19 or 20 years old. I loved Rush, Kiss, Grand Funk, Alice Cooper's bassist David Dunaway was great, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Iron Maiden... at the time, everything I was listening to was Hard Rock. When you listen to our first EP and first full length album, you can really hear the influences. We were listening to a lot of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. When I heard the first Iron Maiden album, I was in awe. When we recorded the first album, Steve Harris was the only thing on my mind at the time. He has a great sound and style.
Christopher: Are you and Steve Harris friends?
Eddie: Oh, yeah. He's been a fan since The Warning came out. We were on the Kiss tour at the time, it was 1985 I think, and we had about eight days off between dates. We were going to go home to Seattle from wherever we were on the east coast, when we got a call from Iron Maiden's management. They wanted us to open for them during a special five or six night, sold-out stand at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. We all said, (yells) 'Sure!' It was the first or second night of this week of concerts, and I was backstage changing basses when Steve Harris walks up to me and says, 'Hey, are you going to play NO SANCTUARY?' I said, 'Yeah. If you guys gave us a little more time to play.' He laughed and that was the first time we met them. This guy, who I was very influenced by when I was growing up, to have him as a fan... that's very flattering. I always thought he was one of the premier bass players at the time and I think he still is...
Christopher: Plus he writes the majority of Iron Maidens' music.
Eddie: True. He's a talented individual, a very gifted guy and Good People, too. There have been many times he'd just call to ask 'what are you guys doing?', 'what are you up to? 'where's the new stuff?' We've been fortunate during our early years. We have never toured in support of a band that has been mean to us. Every band has treated us very fairly. Granted, as an opening act you're restricted in lighting, sound and stage area. Iron Maiden was the first band we ever opened for who didn't limit our house sound. They said, 'Use whatever you want.' Kiss, Metallica and especially Iron Maiden, they've all been great. Ever since then, our opening acts are only limited in lights and stage room. There's nothing we can do about that. We have not limited our opening acts in sound. We treat them the same way we were treated coming up.
Christopher: It's good karma. What goes around, comes around.
Eddie: Exactly. We remember the old days. Why not treat your opening acts with respect?
Christopher: When you first started playing, did you ever imagine that you'd be where you are today?
Eddie: Well, we had our goals. It took us a while to get where we are now. We had several albums under our belts before Empire came out and every previous album had always sold a little more then the one before. Empire was released in early 1990 and it wasn't until late 1990 or early 1991 when the record really started to kick in gear. Overall, it took a good eight years before we had our real, big, big break. When Empire hit, it sold 4 million albums, but the success wasn't as overwhelming as it would have been if we had hit it really big on the first or second album. Had we sold four million copies on the first or second album, the success probably would have been a bit too much for us to handle or very difficult to follow-up musically. Look how many bands have sold millions of albums the first time out and they were either swallowed by the overwhelming success or they just could not musically follow-up their first release and then the vanished. There are other bands that have succeeded with that kind of instant success and continue to make great music. For us, it wasn't so bad waiting for it to come. We grew and matured with our success to where it was a lot easier to deal with it as opposed to having it all happen at once.
Christopher: Is this what you saw yourself doing as a kid, a teenager.
Eddie: No, not really. All I kept thinking about when I was in high school was drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.
Christopher: You too, huh? I wonder if we were in that same class?
Eddie: (Laughs.) Well, it sounds like we were cliché teenagers then. I had no career direction when I was sixteen or seventeen. My parents are still wondering and asking when I'm going to get a real job. I'm very fortunate. I occasionally think, as well as probably everyone else does, 'This can't last forever!', or 'Should this expire several years from now, now what?' I'm still very much surprised by all of this. I occasionally think, are we at the pinnacle of our careers? We're curious to see what we'll be writing next, where will be in our lives a year from now?
Christopher: Do you think you'll still be recording and touring ten or fifteen years from now as Queensrÿche?
Eddie: (Without hesitation) Oh, of course. Absolutely.
Christopher: On a lighter note: Do you ever look back at your old videos and cringe?
Eddie: Well, they were cool at the time. (Begins to laugh). But, you look back at them and you wonder, 'Was that us? Holy cow! What a bunch of puppies!'
Christopher: What would Beavis and Butthead's comments be if they ever saw the Queensrÿche's Nightrider video?
Eddie: (Now cracking up). Oh, geez.... (Imitates Beavis) 'Heh, heh, heh... uhhhh... Oh, God. Is this going to take long?'