A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Steve DiGiorgio (fretless metal bassist)

Death. Testament. Autopsy.  These are bands that rose to prominence in the 80s and 90s in thrash and death metal. Do you know what they all had in common? Steve DiGiorgio on bass. Steve is a whirlwind of a player. He’s known for blazing speed and fretless playing. I’ve combed the internet, and I can’t find video interviews with him anywhere. However, his playing has become an important part of the fabric of metal history. When I think of heavy metal bass, the first person who comes to mind is Steve Harris. However, when I think extreme metal bass, the two players who always top the list for me are Alex Webster and DiGiorgio.

Steve is a blend of schooled and self-taught bassist. Interviews on the internet state that he played different instruments in school, including woodwind and brass, before moving on to stringed instruments. He learned to read standard notation in school as well. He says that when it comes to metal, however, he learned by ear, sitting by the radio and playing to albums.

After starting his first band, Sadus, during his last year in high school, he became a session player for a lot of Bay Area metal bands including Death and Autopsy by virtue of being friends with many of the players. Most of these albums were very well-received in the metal underground. Death, in particular, really influenced extreme metal with their entries, especially Human (1991) and Individual Thought Patterns (1993). The latter also featured DiGiorgio on fretless bass, something he says that he took up because he liked the sound. He said that there are tones available on fretless that just can’t be gotten on a fretted bass and he wanted to make that part of his sound. He kept it because it also differentiated him from other bassists at the time, which I find interesting because he claims to not have a signature sound.

Technique

When asked about his technique, especially speed, he revealed that starting out in a thrash band is what really forced him to develop his speed to the degree it is now. According to Wikipedia, he plays 32nd notes with his fingers! In several interviews, he spoke about watching guitarists’ hands become blurry with the speeds at which they were playing and of trying to find a way to keep up, even though playing on bass is mechanically different. In a Bass Player Magazine  interview, he says “So, I realized I had five picks – well, my pinky never touches a string, and my thumb doesn’t really pick, it just kind of bashes [laughter] – so I had several picks on my hand without using a pick.

Here’s a PDF “beginner” lesson he wrote about 3-finger technique.

Its interesting to me that Alex Webster, Steve Harris and Billy Sheehan also speak about this. It seems to be used a bit in metal. I also find it interesting for another reason. On the Talkbass forums, and in other books and Bass Player Magazine, its often said that “less is more” when it comes to playing. Lots of bass players share this wisdom. However, it seems like in many styles of metal less is not more. More is more. 😉 Its not even necessarily an age or experience-centric observation, because three of the bassists that I’ve looked at on this blog (Alex Webster, Jeroen Paul Thesseling and Steve DiGiorgio) employ it heavily, and are in their mid-to-late 40’s. I know the usual advice for employing techniques in playing is “Serve the song,” but I think that certain techniques are also found more explicitly in certain styles of music. For example, I couldn’t imagine speed metal having the same impact without well, speed. 😉 The same goes for slow playing in sludge metal. (Sorry, to those of you who get annoyed at the mention of subgenres.)

And, speaking of Jeroen, I believe that DiGiorgio actually filled in for him when Obscura went on tour in Japan in 2010, due to work restrictions which Jeroen had to abide.

Bass Player Magazine has a great interview with DiGiorgio from March 2010. Towards the end, questions are asked about Steve’s thoughts on the role of bass in modern metal, and how it differs from the late 80s and 90s, and he’s asked about what he thinks of seeing new technical and prominent bass playing in metal. I realize that I’m writing quite a bit on this, and its probably better for interested readers to go straight to the source for this information, so I’m including links to several interviews below.

The interview on FretlessBass.com, in particular, delves deeply into his musical influences and fretless playing. Its really interesting to me to read that he listens to a lot of Hindi and mid-eastern music. This is similar to Jeroen Paul Thesseling, who is apparently close friends with DiGiorgio, and hand-picked him as his replacement when unable to tour with Obscura.

Additionally, these are two more “official” sites with information about DiGiorgio:

Dark Hall – Changing Weather (Digiorgio’s instrumental jazz fusion band – 1998)


.
Death – Lack of Comprehension (1991)

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7 responses

  1. MAthieu

    My idol . he play bass like he walk, like he speak, like he make love with his wife… Steve Digiorgio is a GOD

    June 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm

  2. Pingback: Burning Ambulance reviews Death’s Human reissue « Ugly Bass Face

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  7. H

    Great article, thank you!

    August 21, 2016 at 1:45 am

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