James LoMenzo’s interview
Written by Kevin Tanza on March 11, 2021
James LoMenzo is one of the most seasoned bassists in Rock and Metal music. He has played in a wide variety of bands throughout the years, but he is mostly known for his work on Hard Rock band White Lion, Thrash Metal legends Megadeth and guitarist Zakk Wylde’s side project, Pride & Glory. He has also enjoyed successful stints with groups such as Black Label Society, Sweet Lynch, David Lee Roth, Tim “Ripper” Owens and Mike Tramp.
Not only a bassist player, but also a very reliable musician and a great professional, it is very easy to like James and it was an absolute pleasure to have him do this interview with us, discussing a lot of what makes a top class bassist tick and a few interesting comments of what you need to succeed as a freelance musician. Hope you enjoy it.
First and foremost, thank you for doing this, James. It’s great to have you here. How are things going with you these days?
I imagine I’m the same as most people right now, longing for this long foggy dream to end and get back to our regularly scheduled lives.
What are you working on these days?
At the moment, I’m working on some new music with my latest band Firstborne, which features Chris Adler on drums, Myrone on guitar and Garish Pradhan on vocals. We’ve been consistently cranking out new music and you can check it out at thefirstborne.com. As soon as the world opens up, we’ll get out there and start doing shows, I really can’t wait for that.
Focusing on your career, how did you get started into bass-playing?
I started as a guitarist around 10-11 years old. I had no ambition to play bass. I wasn’t even sure what a bass was. I was happy to strum chords and sing. I sang most of the songs I’d hear on the radio. I started getting a little stuck on the guitar after a while. My cousin, Scott who was living in Northern California, kept playing Jimi Hendrix for me. We even went to the Woodstock movie in the theater then to see it and at the end they have that epic scene of Jimi playing the Star Spangled Banner. I was totally lost on the guitar after that.
So latter on in that year I went to summer a camp that my junior high school music teacher had opened up in Pennsylvania called French Woods. It was a music and arts camp, I think it’s still operating to this day. Anyway, I’d brought my guitar with me to this camp to start a band. The second or third day, I heard this crazy sound rolling over the lake. It was what I would come to know as a bass but at the time I thought to myself “Whoa, that sound travels everywhere”. I located the source in one of the small rehearsal rooms they had there. When I went in, I saw a fellow named Gene jamming on a Gibson EB-3. I said, “Hey, that’s a bass guitar right?” He handed it to me and said, “Check it out”. I was immediately hooked. I thought to myself, “This would be a great instrument to play, to back up my singing”. It was obvious to me that it was a bridge instrument between rhythm and melody. To my surprise and delight, Gene said, “You’re welcome to hang on to it for the summer”. I was so grateful.
I started up a band and now was a bass playing lead singer! Soon as I got home I pulled the top to strings of my guitar and aped playing bass on it ‘till I could afford to buy one. That’s how it started, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. The early 70’s were an amazing time for the recorded bass guitar. It was a superstar instrument as far as producers were concerned. All these great players, Chris Squire, John Paul Jones, John Entwistle, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorious, one great player after another. So much stuff to learn and be inspired by.
What do you think are the aspects of being a bassist that are not discussed enough?
It can be a thankless job. Most people can’t focus on bass frequencies as easily as upper register instruments like guitar and vocals. You sure do miss it when it’s not there though. I love the power of the instrument when it’s mixed right. The way you can feel it and the way that can influence the music in a very visceral way. Yeah, maybe people don’t discuss how it’s not the “ego” instrument to the audience. I can tell you this: the respect you can get from other musicians if you’re a musical player is priceless! Mostly, the satisfaction comes from just making the music groove.
You have recorded with a lot of different types of bands. Do you have a favorite equipment to use when recording or it varies from album to album?
I love using amps and mics so much more than just playing through a DI. A lot of times, a producer will insist on using just a DI and so I’ll usually try to incorporate an overdrive pedal (used very judiciously) and maybe a compressor or exciter. I’ve found these elements, in lieu of an amp can be much cooler sounding and help the bass find a more identifiable place in the mix! When I am able to use an amp, I love to use my Ashdown ABM heads and cabs. They’ve got a great balance of power, midrange tone and grind that really gives the bass a personality. The big variable is always the bass itself. I’ll usually pack up three or even seven different basses depending on the session. They all speak in a different way. My main basses are all custom Yamaha’s based on their BB series.
Playing with different types of bands can make you much more flexible as a musician. How do you think you have changed as a musician throughout the years?
I’ve always approached bass playing as a musician, not a Metal, Rock or Pop guy. I always try to play in service to the music and compliment the players I’m playing with. Having said that, I still will sit with unfamiliar musical styles and woodshed along—trying to understand what it is that makes it unique and work it comfortably into my skill set. For example, think Reggae, Zydeco or even the Blues. Each one of those styles rely on leaning on a different fraction of the rhythm.
One of your latest musical efforts was Firstborne’s 2020 self-titled debut EP. What can you tell us about the making of that EP?
Firstborn is a very interesting endeavor. We are in the midst of creating a band and a band style without ever getting into a room together. It’s been a really great experience in that the more music we create, the more respect we find for each other as players and as people. Like most folks, we didn’t see what was coming so the plan was to start making music and work towards getting out and playing. When it became apparent that we’d be at home for the year we just kept at it. Since the EP, we’ve released five more tracks with no sign of slowing down.
Chris Adler is obviously a very renowned drummer. How was the experience of working with him?
I met Chris years ago when Lamb of God were on Megadeth’s Gigantour. I remember him being an outstanding drummer. We didn’t hang out a lot back then. Last year, when we needed a drummer for Hail!, he was available. I was excited to play with him and to get to know him. We hit it off great and when the run came to an end he told me he was going to be making some music, really just trying stuff to see what he’d like to do. I told him I’d love to be part of that so before I knew it he was sending me music from him and Myrone. It was really cool, unexpectedly classic Rock/Metal.
Soon after that, he went to do a clinic tour in India. I get a call from him and he said “I found a singer for our band!” I wasn’t aware we had started a band but none the less, Garish was remarkable! Making the music with Chris and Garish and Myrone has been really great and very fulfilling in that each player brings their own thing to it. It seems to mesh perfectly with very little effort or debate.
Being such a seasoned bassist, what do you think are main aspects to form a good rhythm base with a drummer?
It’s always communication. Not necessarily verbal but sonic. Listening. Some drummers have a built in thing that’s undeniable. When I play with those guys, I always try to find a way to complement and enhance what they do. Some of my tricks to accomplishing that are to work to identify how they interact on their kit. For instance, do they lead or lean heavily on their bass drum or is it their high hat or snare? It’s different for all of them. The really great ones are easier to figure out faster. So that leaves it up to me to find that pocket that they naturally create and to make decisions about how to use it to better help orchestrate the bass parts within the intent of the music.
Looking back on your career, do you have any special partnership in the rhythm base? A drummer that makes you go “Yeah, we worked really well together”?
The two guys I’ve played with longest, Kenny Aronoff and Brian Tichy, probably fit that bill best. I can go back to those guys any time after a while off and, well…what do they say? It’s like an old comfortable pair of shoes. I can lock up with those guys with one hand tied behind my back. They’re both great and they’re both very different, but after years of playing with each of them, well it’s just a natural thing.
You’re obviously used to offering your services to multiple bands. What do you think are the main traits that a freelance bassist should have?
Try never to be an asshole (laughs). Seriously though, if people are calling you then you’ve probably earned a good reputation as a player. More important than that, are you someone who can be a team player? Read the room when necessary? Not become a problem? These skills are almost more important than the playing. The basics of course are to be a good listener both musically and socially. Never ever be late. Always be rehearsed and prepared. Make sure your equipment is in tip top shape. Always have a b-plan for when something breaks (back up amp/guitar, etc). Most importantly, learn who the leader of the band is and give them the respect they deserve.
Do you have a particular album of yours that you’re really fond of? If so, why?
Thanks for asking that. I always liked Pride & Glory. Everything about that album appeals to me on a purely DNA level. Great three piece band, inspired live playing, cool songs with just enough variety AND… Zakk Wylde and Brian Tichy. Maybe you had to be there, and I was. I remember it being a very visceral, musical experience.
As a musician that is so used to touring and doing live shows, I’m sure that you have a ton of interesting and fun anecdotes. Do you have any in particular that comes to mind that is worth telling?
It’s all a blur at this point. Meet me at the bar, buy me a drink and then try and shut me up!
Is there any particular project or band that you wish you could do in the near future?
Aside from more music and future albums/touring with Firstborne, I’m up for nearly anything, I love surprises.
Thank you so much for doing this, James. It’s been a great experience. Any last words to our readers? Where can we follow you on social media?