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A Novel Approach
By Thomas Wictor
Bass Player Magazine
Published July, 1998

Bryan Beller rarely takes the easy way out. The graduate of Boston's Berklee College of Music has worked with Dweezil Zappa, Mike Keneally, and Steve Vai, practitioners of some of the most complex, challenging rock music being written today. And when Keneally's band Beer For Dolphins opened for Vai during his American tour last winter, Bryan was bassist, tour manager, stage manager, bass tech, and van driver, logging 9,000 miles in a jam-packed Mitsubishi Expo. This chaotic but ultimately worthwhile experience helped Bryan take stock and make some changes in his professional life.

"After the tour," he states, "I was doing freelance work around Los Angeles when I discovered I've got a bug for writing. And I don't mean writing music. I wrote a piece for Bass Player [Audition!, April '97]; that was fun, but doing gigs and occasional articles was making it tough to do what I really wanted, which was to write a novel. It's hard to support your career as a struggling musician by becoming a struggling novelist, but I went ahead and did the unspeakable: I turned down paying gigs to focus on the big picture. That meant finishing my novel and working on Mike's new album, Sluggo! [Immune], which was released in November. I ended up spending all of last year writing. I also worked closely with SWR, which was a way to keep my nose in the music business while I wrote."

Bryan's two main musical outlets, BFD and SWR, ended up dovetailing neatly in the form of The SWR Sound, a compilation of instrumental tracks from endorsers, with proceeds benefiting the City of Hope hospital. "To represent me they chose a track from Sluggo! called 'Egg Zooming.' It's a maniacal, polyrhythmic tune I thought they'd laugh at, but they loved it." Bryan also worked on a track Steve Vai recorded for another compilation, Merry Axemas [Epic]. "Steve called me one night and asked if I could play on his version of 'Christmas Time Is Here,' from the old Peanuts TV special. He called at six and wanted me there at nine, so I went to Keneally's house and got a tape of the song, learned it, and went to Vai's place--and two hours later it was done. We ran through it once and then he picked it apart bar by bar, telling me exactly what he wanted where."

Is it frustrating to have his bass lines so regimented? "No," says Bryan. "I never get so stuck on one of my parts that I can't change it. Changing things is part of the deal, because you're working for somebody else. It isn't your music. Bassists who write a lot may find that hard, but I don't sit down at night with original music burning in my head. When I first got to L.A. I wanted to write music, but every time I tried all I would hear was 'La Cucaracha.' It never went away no matter what I did. I'm afraid if I tried writing again, the same thing would happen. Maybe it was a sign."

In the last year, Bryan's equipment has also been reorganized. His Fender Jazz Deluxe V is still his main bass, but amplification is now provided by an SWR SM-400 and two Goliath 4x10s, the full power of the head bridged into one cabinet completely clean. The signal is split; the second cab gets an SWR Interstellar Overdrive preamp, which toggles between clean and dirty and is powered by a Peavey DPC1000 power amp. "On Sluggo!," Bryan laughs, "the track 'Why Am I Your Guy?' features a crazy distorto-tone courtesy of the Interstellar Overdrive. It's an uptempo rager where I get to play like a madman." Bryan's rig also includes an old DOD Octave pedal and a TC Electronic chorus.

Bryan is quite familiar with the experiences of bass giants Scott Thunes and Andy West, who played difficult, quasi-commercial music and ended up leaving the business. Even so in a perfect world he says he'd continue to be a bassist who writes, instead of being a writer who dabbles in music. "I love doing both--but it's been hard getting a novel done in the middle of all this, and I want to get back on the road and support Sluggo!. I want to be more of the Music Boy I think I am at heart. I feel absolutely blessed by the degree of musical success I've had, which has been more massive artistic rewards than financial gain. There are lots of bassists who could easily have worked with Dweezil and Keneally; sometimes it's just a matter of one phone call starting a string of events. I've already been unbelievably lucky."

Reprinted with permission from the July, 1998 issue of BASS PLAYER. For subscription information, please visit

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