INTERVIEW: Asking Alexandria’s Ben Bruce

IK Multimedia's MODO BASS

Asking Alexanrdia2012 was a breakout year for Asking Alexandria, headlining massive sold-out European and North American tours, and capping it all off with a slot on the Rockstar Mayhem Festival. This year they’ve packed in a stack of European festival appearances as well as a huge, huge show at the Download festival. And now they’ve released From Death To Destiny, their third album. Produced by Joey Sturgis (The Devil Wears Prada, Buried in Verona, Of Mice and Men), From Death To Destiny is heavy, melodic, intense and powerful. And it’s full of the twin-guitar attack of Ben Bruce and Cameron Liddell, both of whom are die-hard Ibanez guys with their own signature models. I reached out to Bruce because I thought it’d be fun to have a nice nerdly chat about all things six-string.

I hope you don’t mind talking guitar-nerd stuff!

I’ll try my best! My guitar techs know more about guitar stuff than I do! 

Well let’s start with the new album. I love that you’ve released two different versions of “The Death Of Me.” There’s a ‘pop’ mix and a metal one, and the pop one is still pretty damn aggressive.

Exactly, which is kinda what we wanted to do with this record. From all the people I’ve spoken to so far they’ve all said this is without a doubt our heaviest album. Albeit we’ve cut down on the breakdowns and we’ve focused more on riffs and leads, but it’s still very, very heavy. And we’ve always wanted it to be heavy but accessible to other people who may not necessarily have picked up one of our albums before, or any heavy album, for that matter. So the idea was to get these songs on the radio because we wanted to show people that, fuck, heavy music is still alive and well, and it can be on the radio and it can be heard by more than just people in their bedroom, yeah?

 

So what’s your background as a guitarist? When did you start? 

I started playing when I was – Jesus Christ, what was I, about 12 years old? And I’ve never really had any lessons or anything. For whatever reason I just loved guitar when I was a kid. I grew up listening to a lot of blues – Gary Moore and Eric Clapton and BB King and stuff – and I just fell in love with the guitar. And then I started to listen to more metal, Metallica and Iron Maiden stuff,  and I thought ‘Fuck man, this is really, really fun. I want to try and pick it up.’ So I asked my parents for a guitar and they said ‘Only if you learn on acoustic first’ and I said ‘No! I don’t want to learn on the fucking acoustic first! I want to play heavy music and I want to play it now!’ So for my birthday they got me a Yamaha EG112, a starter pack with a little practice amp, and I used to sit in my bedroom and play along to different records I liked. I’d learn the riffs by ear.

That’s very much like my story, right down to the Gary Moore. My first amp didn’t have distortion, so it wasn’t until my next birthday that I got a distortion pedal and the gates of hell opened up. 

I don’t understand why they say you should learn on acoustic first. What’s that all about?

I don’t know, but I know from teaching guitar that kids just get pissed off when they’re trying to play something heavy on acoustic and it comes out like ‘dink-dink-a-dink.’

Exactly. I wanted to play so badly the “Through The Never” riff from Metallica’s Black album. Such a good guitar riff, and that’s the one that made me go “Fuck! I need to play heavy guitar right now.”

That riff is totally a gateway drug.

It’s so good! To this day it stands up as one of the best riffs in the world. I think “Layla” is up there too, and “Crazy Train.”

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Totally. So tell me about Ibanez. I know you have your signature model – do you also play LA Custom Shop stuff? 

My signature model that came out not too long ago is based on my LACS guitars. Obviously it’s not going to be the same because each of my custom guitars is hand-built in the States and it would be very, very expensive to produce, but it’s like any signature series: when I was a kid I really wanted a Kirk Hammett ESP or an Ibanez Mick Thomson guitar, and it’s one of those cool things… I don’t even know why people want signature series guitars, to be honest. I guess it connects them with the band and the guitarist that they like while they’re learning to play guitar, and then you find your own style and you delve into the world of guitars and find out which one best suits your needs. But it’s a really cool guitar to start up on, get your bearings around the guitar, play some cool heavy riffs and shit, but it’s just very simple. It’s got the Union Jack graphic on it, it’s got the killswitch – like I said, there’s a lot of features that are based on my custom guitars. It’s as close as I could possibly get without having the US hand-build all these guitars to ship out around the world.

askingWhat drew you to the FR shape? 

It just seems more classic. I was never a big fan of the Stratocaster shape for whatever reason. It just always seemed like the typical guitar shape every brand in the world had. And the FR just to me looks like a heavier version of a Telecaster. And the Telecaster is such a sexy guitar. And then when you get the FR body shape it’s been given a bit more balls and a bit more metal. That’s what drew me to it to begin with.

What about pickups in your customs?

I’m using Seymour Duncan passive pickups. I’m not a big fan of active pickups. I don’t know why, I’m just not a big fan of those at all. They’re too touchy, too much feedback problems. So I’m using Seymour Duncans. I’ve actually got two more customs being built which should be shipped out within the next few days and I’ve got rid of the neck pickup because I don’t actually use it. And Ibanez are renowned for their thin necks, and I’ve never been much of a shredder – I’m just not into it – so I never found the Ibanez necks particularly comfortable, so they’ve based my Custom necks off a Gibson Les Paul Studio. They’re a bit chunkier and my hand really feels like it’s holding something.

What about amps? 

Peavey 6534. It’s basically the new 6505+ but with British tubes in them and it just gives them a bit more midrange than the 6505+ we used to use. [The 6505+] is very heavy and with lots of bass, and it’s awesome for heavy, extreme music, but with the new album having a bit more of a rock influence in it we thought we’d turn it down a bit and push as much midrange out of the head as we could get. The 6505+ wasn’t quite to our taste and they suggested we try the 6534. And they sound fucking awesome.

A lot of players don’t appreciate the importance of mids in getting their sound to really have cut and punch.

Oh yeah, completely. When we were starting I’d crank the bass to about 9 and the treble at about 3 and the mid at 4. You go back to that setting now and it sounds terrible. You realise that if you use all of the controls you can get more out of it.

Are you a pedal guy?

The only pedals I use are a tuner, a noise suppressor and a Crybaby wah. My delays and reverbs are run by my tech side-stage so I don’t have to run over and switch those on.

I like how Dimebag Darrell had his tech operating his Whammy Pedal for him so he could concentrate on riffing out on songs like “Becoming.”

Oh! I might have to get mine to start doing that! He does the rest of my pedals so he might as well take that one too!

Do you play any other guitar styles? 

I dabble in a bit of everything. I think I have musical ADHD. I was writing for this album and I came up with a bunch of songs that were way too pop-oriented, sort of Coldplay-style, and I’m really big into a lot of Brit rock like Oasis and stuff like that. I don’t think there’s any genre I wouldn’t play, there’s just some I can’t play. Like I’d love to pick up flamenco guitar one day. But I guess if I just pick up my guitar and go for a jam it’s usually blues.

Asking Alexandria play Soundwave 2014:

Saturday 22nd February – Brisbane
Sunday 23rd February – Sydney
Friday 28th February – Melbourne
Saturday 1st March – Adelaide
Monday 3rd March – Perth

General Public tickets on sale Wednesday September 4 from oztix.com.au

For more info: soundwavefestival.com.