Big Bottoms

Big Bottoms: Jamie Morral of Candlelight Red

Photo © 2012 Terry Dobbins/Scenes of Madness Photography
Photo © 2012 Terry Dobbins/Scenes of Madness Photography

Candlelight Red is just the kind of band that gets under the skirts of the typical Metalsucks trolls, and that should be enough to show the less odious among us that they’re doing something right. A solid up-and-coming heavy rock band who has earned every bit of their radio support, Candlelight Red has created an intriguing synthesis of concise, catchy hard rock with grandiose, Euro-metal atmospheres. (Think Dark New Day meets Soilwork.)

The band is a true four-piece, boasting just one guitarist, bass, drums and a frontman. And just like a good power trio, for it all to work, the bass needs to get to work and fill up the space the guitar and drums can’t reach. It’s a job to which Jamie Morral takes admirably.

Morral is a groove player; every note he plays is meant to complement or to support. It’s Morral’s tone, however, that makes him undeniable. One need only listen to the crunch of “Reflecting,” “Like A Disease” or “Demons,” from Candlelight Red’s latest full-length, Reclamation [Imagen Records, 2013] to get it.

Below, Jamie leaves no questions unanswered concerning his tone; he talks about his introduction to the bass and how he developed his technique.

Candlelight Red is a true four-piece, and I’m always curious about one-guitar bands; have you ever discussed adding a second guitarist?

No, it’s always been a one-guitar band. Jeremy [Edge] is such a talented guitar player that we never really needed another. And I feel pretty strongly about my bass tone and that I can hold the foundation down, even when he does leads and stuff like that. Our live sound engineer puts me right up there with the guitar. It’s not like some bands you go see where they’ve got two guitar players and the bass is just buried in the mix.

It’s the same thing on the record. If you listen to Reclamation, [engineer] Mike Ferretti captured my bass tone pretty close to what it is live. That’s one thing that I worked with Mike on in the studio. When someone comes to see Candlelight Red, I’m right up in the mix with the guitar.

What made you start playing bass?

Well, I was probably a junior in high school. I always played rhythm guitar. I was never a lead guitar player. But I always played guitar. My junior year, my brother had a band and the bass player quit and he asked me if I wanted to join on bass. Once I started playing bass, I loved it. I think I was more cut out to be a bass player than a guitar player. I just never had the opportunity. I’ve been a bass player ever since.

Are you primarily a finger player or a pick player?

I’m a finger player. There is one song on the record, “Cutter,” where I use a pick in the verses just for the tone and the sound we were looking for. But that’s the only song on the record that I do use a pick for.

I’m so into your bass tone, especially on “Reflecting” and “Demons.” It sounds sort of Fieldy influenced. What do you use to get that sound? 

Everybody asks me that. Ultimately, good bass tone starts with the bass. You have to have a good bass and good pickups to get a good tone. I play Schecters. I’ve been endorsed by Schecter since the last time I was in a band with Jeremy and they’ve just treated me amazingly. For my tone I have to have active pickups; I use EMGs.

I was playing the Ampeg SVT tube preamps for about 10 years. Then one day we went to Guitar Center, just killing some time. There happened to be a Line 6 LowDown preamp in there, which is a rack-mountable head. I just plugged it in and tried it and thought it sounded sick. I never thought I would change my setup. I’m all about “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But I tried the head and ended up buying it to have as a backup, then I tried it a few times during sound check and completely switched over to it. Then I got another one, the LowDown HD750, the bigger one, and that’s what I use live now.

Also, I’m really heavy-handed; my fingers strike the strings really hard. When I setup the action on my basses, I try to get it so the strings fret out a little bit. That gives me some growl from the fret noise. I don’t have them bottom out too much so that I lose my low end and they don’t sustain. But that fret noise always helps to get that bass tone.

Growly is a good way to describe it. It’s not clicky, but it does have a crisp top end to it.

When we got the first mixes back from Mike at Architekt [Studios], Mike had never seen the band live. Our live sound engineer heard the mixes and was like, “Dude, we’ve got to get your live bass tone on the record. Because when people come see the band live, that’s part of the Candlelight Red sound.” So that’s when I started working heavily with Mike, hashing out what my tone is. Mike altered some stuff and sent it back and he totally nailed it. Even though he never had a chance to see the band live, he totally nailed the bass tone.

What cabs are you using?

A long time ago a guy built me some custom birch cabs. They actually look like road cases, they’re really cool. There are two 4×10 cabinets with aluminum cone drivers and that’s what I play through. A lot of my tone comes from the cabs too. I have not found another cab yet that gets me the tone these cabs do.

Do you setup your basses yourself?

Yeah. When I call in to order something from Schecter, they always ask what the tuning is going to be and they’re always pretty damn close with their setup. I have to tweak them out a little bit and lower the action so I do get some of that fret noise happening. But they set them up and they do a great job. It also depends how much we’re playing because you have to adjust stuff when you play a lot.

I imagine fresh strings are important to getting that crisp top end too.

Strings are a huge thing. To get the tone I get, I have to have fresh strings. That requires changing them every two or three shows.

I use SIT strings. Jeremy and I have had that endorsement for a while too. I use stainless steel strings always. I don’t use nickel. If I put nickel on my bass, it just sounds like I’m putting a dead set of strings on my bass right out of the box. It doesn’t work for the tone that I go for.

You do all the screams on the album, too. Was it hard to develop the coordination to play bass and perform vocals too?

It takes some time for me to get my fingers to do the right part and scream at the same time. I’m no Billy Sheehan on the bass guitar. I consider myself a good groove bass player. I play in the pocket, but I have to practice to get my parts.

We didn’t really do any preproduction for this record. We went in and recorded and wrote the songs in the studio, on the spot. We tracked the songs before we played them live. So when we got ready to play new stuff live, I had to sit at home and learn the bass part again and then say, “Okay, I have to play this bass part and sing it now.” I didn’t have to do that in the studio. I just tracked my bass in the studio and then tracked the vocals.

“Reflecting” is probably my favorite song on the record right now. What’s yours?

“Reflecting” is one of them. We’re actually tuned to G on that song. I had to write some vocals for a few of the songs, so I kind of like “Over Again,” which is a laid back, mellow song. I wrote that song to be kind of meant for people who have lost somebody close.

Do you write music on bass or on guitar?

I write stuff on guitar too, but I can really groove on the bass. Me and Jeremy have been playing together for so long. If I have a riff or just hum something and store it on my phone and show it to Jeremy, he can just pick it right up and then we’ll build something together from there.

What’s the bass part you’re most proud of on the record?

I like “RX.” That’s a cool song. When I was going to track the breakdown in the middle and the end of that song, I went through it once, and Mike was like, “That’s going to be tough to play without a pick.” And Morgan Rose, who produced the record, was like, “Dude, you’re going to have to use a pick on that.” I asked for a couple passes, and Morgan was like, “Dude, you’re never going to get it.”

By the third time, Mike looked at Morgan like he was saying, “I think we got it.”

It’s not super technical, but it’s kind of a cool groove breakdown. “Reflecting” too is cool. I think that’s a good song.

When you’re finger-picking, do you play with two fingers or three?

I play with three most of the time. Sometimes just my first and second fingers, but if I have a really fast picking part, I use three.

When I started playing bass, I never had any lessons or anything. Initially, I think I played with a pick. But I said, “If I’m going to be a bass player—and no offense to bass players who play with picks—I need to play with my fingers.” I don’t know if my technique is anywhere close to what some people would call the “correct way,” but it works for me.

Is there one area in which the band improved from working with Morgan Rose as your producer?

If you go from the Wreckage album [2011] to Demons [2012], the EP, you can hear the progress of the band. Me and [drummer Brian] Dugan being in the band changed the whole vibe. I loved that first record, even though I didn’t play on it, but I think the band has stepped it up a notch. I think the writing is better and the melodies are better.

Reclamation is the best thing I’ve ever been involved in. I don’t think there’s a weak track on the album. I think we could take any song of the album and put it out as a single. I’m very proud of the record.

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