On January 8, Six Feet Under bassist Jeff Hughell released his third full-length solo album, Trinidad Scorpion Hallucinations. As expected, the music is loud, proud, relentless, and features plenty of the seven-string attack for which Hughell is renowned, and which he executes to perfection on his custom Warwick Corvette bass.
Hughell has little down time between music projects. For almost twelve years he has owned and run a tile contracting company. He still clocks in every day that he’s not on tour, and when he’s not on tour, he’s at work, in his home studio, spending time with his family, and indulging in one of his other passions: cooking. Known primarily as a metal player, Hughell is a schooled musician with a background in upright bass and jazz, both of which he still loves.
Alison Richter: When you write, do you hear all the parts in your head or only yours? When you send files to the musicians who record with you, do you send ideas for their parts?
Jeff Hughell: As far as guests who do solos, their solos are a whole different thing that they’re totally free to do. With the drummers, I have an EZ Drummer part that’s written, but it’s to get an idea of the song, and then they have total freedom to do whatever they want. If they even change the feel it’s fine with me, unless it’s a part that I specifically want something done on. I try to give people as much freedom as possible because I want to hear their style, versus me telling them, “You should play this.”
AR: Has someone ever sent something that changed the direction of the song?
JH: Not completely different, but I have had people send me things that I didn’t think of, and then I might add a little part to go along with that. On this album one of the interesting songs was “Relief.” I hadn’t thought about having any guitars on it. My buddy Matt [Kourie] did some vocals on it. He was here in California, but he lives in New York and he said, “When I go home to my studio, let me try to do some guitars on this.” I said, “If you want to, sure.” The day before I went into the studio, he sent me all these guitar tracks. It wasn’t something I’d thought about, and it came out amazing how everything worked together.
AR: Zack Ohren, at Castle Ultimate Studios, mixes and masters for you. Are you in the studio with him?
JH: With this album I sent him every file from the entire album before I came into the studio. I came in for two days and we reamped, mixed, and mastered the whole thing. I was there the whole time, so obviously what happens gets my approval. The direct tone with the Warwick is already great, so he just adds all that on top of it. You’re taking something that already sounds good and making it even better. I’m right there beside him making sure everything sounds the way I want it to.
AR: How does working with other bass players push you creatively?
JH: It’s always good to have someone else’s take on it. Especially being a bassist that does solo stuff, getting these other guys that are really amazing players to do solos on an album always pushes me and inspires me. Mark Michell, who plays for Scale The Summit, is an amazing bassist. He came in on a part I had done a solo over the same chord change, and I was blown away with what he did. He just crushed me. It’s always inspirational to hear these other guys come in and do what they do.
AR: You’ve said about the Gallien-Krueger, “GK helps me hear what I want to hear onstage.” What do you want to hear?
JH: Playing death metal, one of the things you need to hear in order to cut through is the high end. There are a lot of amps and cabinets that you can hear the low end kind of rumbly, but in a live situation you really need to hear that high end cut so you can hear the attack of your fingers and make sure on the faster rhythm parts that you’re right in there and playing with everybody else. With the Gallien-Krueger being solid state and having that really fast attack, especially with the tweeter you can really hear that clank and make sure that you’re locking in with the kick drum and with the guitar on the faster parts.
AR: You played upright bass in jazz band in high school and college. How did that help strengthen your playing and technique?
JH: It really helps strength-wise, because a lot of the time you’re not amplified, so you’re trying to cut through in this big band with a drum set, and it’s all about the attack of your hand. The picking hand is quite a bit different from playing an electric bass, so I would use my entire hand as the strength, mainly hitting the string with my index finger but using the strength of my entire hand to do it. Another part of that is obviously you have to be exactly where you need to be on the fretboard, or you’re going to be out of tune. You don’t have all these frets that are going to put you exactly on tune, and it does take a while to learn exactly where that is on the upright bass. Just having to sight-read everything is huge, musically, as far as understanding melodies, chords, scales, and rhythms, because if you’re sight-reading, that rhythm ends up coming exactly into your head. When you first start doing it, it can take some time, but once you’re really into it, you can look at a rhythm and it automatically comes into your head. That was a huge thing in the development of my playing.
AR: Do you still reference some of that training?
JH: A lot of my playing does come from that, but a lot of it comes from practicing with a metronome and putting in that time when I was younger, just taking something, working it to the bone with a metronome, getting it solid slowly, and then building up. A lot bass players and guitar players in general don’t realize that you need to be right on the fret. You’re going to get the cleanest tone and have the most exact thing by being directly on the fret, not in the middle or in between the two frets. I only took lessons for the first year or so, and I had a great teacher, but I see a lot of great guitarists that are not actually trained by lessons and they don’t realize that’s what they need to do, which would be a huge improvement in their technique.
AR: What do you do to maintain and improve your hand strength?
JH: It’s actually interesting because I don’t play an incredible amount. I got all the metronome work and playing for hours a day fifteen years ago, so now I think if I played several hours a day I might have more problems like that. Another thing for hand strength is I’m a tile contractor for my day job, so if I were to not play for two weeks, because of what I do at work I’d still have that strength in my hands. That is a huge thing in having that attack, that hammer-on, is my hands are constantly conditioned by doing tile work. I own my own company, so I was lucky enough to build a business around having the freedom to still do music.
AR: You also play drums and piano.
JH: Yes, it’s something I’ve done for a long time. I don’t do it nearly as much as I should, but since I was in high school I’ve been playing piano and drums. I have a drum set at home, and I have an amazing Steinway piano that’s been in the family for generations that I still play whenever I have the time. My great-grandmother bought it and she hand-sewed the top of the bench, so I’m very honored that I’m the person in the family that got it. Another cool thing is Marc Gilson, who plays keyboards on the first song on the new album and did a bunch of tracks on my last album, is my piano teacher from when I was 14 years old. I’ve known him for over twenty years, and every time I call him up and say, “Hey, do you want to put some keys on a song?” he says, “I’d love to.”
AR: Did you enjoy piano lessons?
JH: I did. He had a kind of rare take on piano lessons. He would let kids come in with any song they wanted, and he would learn it and teach them how to play it. When he did Chaos Labrynth, we hadn’t met up in a while. I said, “Is there something that you want to do?” He said, “I spend most of my time teaching girls who hate piano how to play Nicki Minaj songs. Oh yes, I would like to be on this album!” They’re being forced by their parents to learn piano, so they take the song of the day and he teaches it to them. He taught me some amazing arrangements. He could play “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera all the way through in a really killer arrangement with all the solos on piano. I used to bring him Dream Theater songs. He taught me to play “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses, which is a challenging song.
AR: You keep busy with a lot of projects – obviously your solo work, you’re recording an album with other bassists, including Kevin Brandino Brandon, and you’re still with Reciprocal and Six Feet Under. Do you have plans to tour with any of them?
JH: I would like to tour if the situation was right, if I found other solo bassists or instrumental music, if somebody wanted to come out and we could bring all the right fans. If someone like Evan Brewer or Animals As Leaders wanted to take me out on tour, that would be amazing. The main thing I’m working on next is a solo project with Brandino. He’s been in the industry longer than I’ve been alive. He’s played with Aretha Franklin, Justin Timberlake, OutKast, and all sorts of amazing people. He’s got seven or eight Grammys and he’s also a Warwick and Gallien-Krueger guy. We met at Bass Player Live a couple of years ago. He really liked my style, I always thought he was an amazing bassist, and he said, “Why don’t we do a rock solo bass album?” I sent him a song, he liked it, added his tracks, so we have one song down, a couple of others in the works, and hopefully we’ll have a full-length album out in 2016. Once again, we’re trying to get a bunch of other awesome bass players on it as well. One song has Mark Michell. Reciprocal had an album that came out almost two years ago, but we haven’t done much recently. Andy [McLeod], the guitarist, and Dustin [Perle], the drummer, have some new material in the works that they’ve been talking to me about, but we all live far away from each other. That’s hopefully happening at some point, but it’s not out in front of me right now. Six Feet Under will be playing live shows, but I don’t know what the next tour is at this moment.
AR: Will you ever do a jazz record?
JH: There’s probably some things that are going to sound a little jazzy on the record with Brandino, but as far as going full jazz, it’s something that I would want to do locally and play in some kind of jazz band, just to get out there. As far as doing a record, it’s not in the plans at the moment.
AR: Would you like to play upright again?
JH: I would love to. I haven’t owned an upright in some time, so that would be a big step for me to get an upright bass and get that going.
AR: You are part of Bassists Against Racists. What is the story behind that?
JH: It’s a campaign that Hans-Peter [Wilfer], the owner of Warwick, came up with. As you know, with all the refugees coming into so many countries, they started coming into East Germany, which is where Warwick is based. There are still white supremacist groups there and people who were not happy about the refugees. Hans-Peter wanted to start a campaign to say that Warwick is against racism and they’re happy to accept refugees into their land. Especially in the music industry, and with all the people that we deal with, there’s definitely no room for racism, obviously. When you tour all over the world and meet all different kinds of people — we’re all human, we’re all into the same things, and playing all over the world gives you a greater respect for that. Racism should be a thing of the past.