Interview: Ben Kuzay

Dan McAvinchey: Let's begin with your solo album, "In The Halls Of The Punisher". When did you write the songs, and what were your goals when recording started?

Ben Kuzay: I wrote these songs from 1999 through 2007. They comprise only a small
fraction of the music I wrote during that time period. Through those
years I was involved in thrash metal, power metal, black metal,
instrumental hard rock, and other styles of music, each of which I focused
my creative efforts toward at some point. I had a particular idea in mind
for what type of album I wanted to make, and my endeavors in making it
were a complete success! I listen to that album on a regular basis and do
not get bored with it. My listens to it do not bring flaws to my
attention, but rather reaffirm my belief that I succeeded in making the
product I wanted to make.

When I started recording the CD I wanted to make an album in which each
song is of a very high quality, and in which my spirit is never
compromised. I wanted to make an album that I could listen to over and
over again, and be proud of my achievement. After all, when commercial
considerations are past, you have to live with yourself. I never enter a
project with the nearsighted goal of turning out a product that I'm not
proud of, in hopes it will make me rich. I look to the future, and within
myself, and decide, correctly, to put my innermost self into every second
of sound on the album. Only then can I be assured future pride over my

Dan McAvinchey: How did you practice in order to get to the advanced level of playing you are now at?

Ben Kuzay: When I picked up the bass guitar a month before my 13th birthday, I began
playing Cliff Burton's "Anasthesia: Pulling Teeth". This lead bass
approach to music has never left me since. I was given my first bass
guitar and amp for my 13th birthday, and my first tab book for Christmas.
It was Metallica's "Kill 'Em All". Throughout my teen years I learned many
of my favorite songs on bass and guitar by Metallica, Pantera, Black
Sabbath, Danzig, etc. The guitar I learned was mostly rhythm, and a
little lead. Bass is my primary instrument, but I also play guitar,
keyboards, and I sing as well.

Then in my mid to late teens I got heavily into King Diamond and Mercyful
Fate, and figured a whole bunch of their stuff out on guitar and bass,
practicing along with the CDs furiously. I think King Diamond is the
greatest songwriter and singer on the planet. This really helped hone my
skill, as these bands are more technically advanced than the
aforementioned ones.

Throughout my twenties, I have pretty much focused on original music:
some of it my own, other music being written by bandmates I've had and
bands I've played for. I haven't bought a tab book in about 10 years!
The next one I'm going to buy though, is the Rush "Anthology", bass edition.
I've been meaning to do that for about two years now. I was, actually,
going to purchase Stu Hamm's "The Bass Book" back in '01 and '02, but I
hunted for it madly those two years, just to find out that it had recently
gone out of print! What a disappointment! So, if anyone out there
has a copy of this book that you want to sell, let me know!

Dan McAvinchey: What do you think is essential for a great solo?

Ben Kuzay: I think that the same thing is essential for a great solo that's essential
for any part of the arrangement: passion and emotion, as well as the ability to
captivate the listener and take him or her into your world for just a
moment (or maybe longer). Too often individuals dissect the composition,
assigning unique duties to each part of the arrangement. All parts of the
arrangement should flow in and out of each other, blending together to
make the perfect magical concoction that accomplishes that which the
musician (magician) set out to accomplish.

Dan McAvinchey: What are your favorite tracks on your CD?

Ben Kuzay: It's so very difficult to pick favorites! I can tell you what I love
about each track. I love the ambience, texture, and atmosphere of "In The
Halls Of The Punisher", "Passage Through A Strange Place", and "The
Suffering At Hope's End". By pulling emotions from the depth of my heart
and translating them into sonic waves, I attempt to pull the listener in
and whisper in his or her ear my deepest secrets. I am not responsible
for the reaction certain souls may have to that.

What I love about "March To The Guillotine", "Defending The Fortress", and
"Retribution", is the fast-paced, chop-your-head-off feel! The spirit of
these songs is noble and is of victory. The defeatist mentality present
in much of today's music is absent from mine. I particularly love my
keyboard solo in "Retribution".

In "The Little Toy Train", "The Royal Palace Pt. 1", "The Royal Palace Pt.
2", "The Road To Union", and "Sonic Aristocracy", I like the
classical-sounding keyboard arrangements mixed in with the tapping I do on
the bass guitar. It all combines for a very aristocratic feel, void of
influence by present-day society. You come into my world, when you listen
to these songs. Then, and only then, do you realize how beautiful it is.

"Metropolis" was a bit of a change-up for me, as far as this album is
concerned. What I love about this song is the rock beat and the different
techniques I employ in both my playing and my writing of the licks. It
was definitely a treat to play this song in the studio and listen as it
evolved into fruition.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the chance to showcase your instrumental music in a live setting?

Ben Kuzay: Not yet! But I will. I often do a several minute solo bass piece when
I'm playing live as a session musician in a band, and in the future I will play all-instrumental shows with a band accompanying me.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Ben Kuzay: I think instrumental music is traditional, and the complete lack of
understanding many people have of non-vocalized music is a very new
phenomenon. I think before the advent of mass-marketed recorded music
(about 60 years ago), people were quite accustomed to instrumental music,
which is evidenced by the fact that classical music was the most popular
form of music in America until the 1970s. It wasn't the most played on
the radio or television, because the media have their own agenda, in which
classical music doesn't fit; but it was, nonetheless, extremely popular.
Rock music, on the other hand, being a relatively new form of music, has
been traditionally vocal-oriented. Therefore, whereas modern instrumental
classical composers and musicians are accepted, modern rock or metal
instrumentalists are marginalized because of the ignorant prejudice which
exists amongst people.

Now, to answer your question, the reason certain music fans prefer
instrumental music over vocal-oriented music, is that they have the
prerequisite of an open mind, firstly. Without this important
characteristic, a person does not stand a chance of having the ability to
appreciate and enjoy instrumental music. Secondly, the music (whatever
genre it may be: flamenco, classical, ambient, metal, country,
atmospheric, etc.) appeals to the listener's innate character. In fact,
we often cannot pinpoint exactly what it is we like about a certain piece
of music, but the music nonetheless resonates within us on a deep,
personal level. If that's the case, no explanation needs to be made.
That type of inner connection matters more than a lot of the things we are
able to describe in words.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you heard any new bassists that have really caught your ear in the past couple of years?

Ben Kuzay: Yes, I have! My favorite new bassist is Zander Zon. He is only available
on YouTube. His compositions are so exquisite, and his playing is very unique, and most importantly, straight from the heart. Just search "Zander Zon" on YouTube, and a bunch of his videos will come up. I recommend watching "Epic Love" first. It is such a masterpiece! I am
deeply, deeply moved by that song.

Another new bassist worthy of note is Paulo Gustavo. Boy, can that guy play! Again, go to YouTube and type in "Paulo Gustavo Tumeni Notes". What comes up is a video of him playing his bass rendition of Steve Morse's "Tumeni Notes" song. Paulo utilizes top-notch skills in tapping,
slapping, and fingerpicking! I mean absolute, best-of-the-best in all three categories! It's really incredible. You can also find him on MySpace.

Dan McAvinchey: Other than guitar-oriented music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Ben Kuzay: I love music like Loreena McKennitt and Gloria Mulhall: Beautiful female
voices set to either a celtic or classical accompaniment. I love the Mortiis album "The Stargate" with Sarah Jezebel Deva singing. I also love bands like Haggard and Cruachan.

Dan McAvinchey: What's up next for you, what are some of your plans for the future?

Ben Kuzay: I am currently about half-way through recording my second solo album! I
am extremely excited about this!

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Dan McAvinchey: Finally, if you could do a once-off album project with any guitarist in the world, who would it be?

Ben Kuzay: Michael Harris, for sure!

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Bassist Ben Kuzay recently released his debut album, "In The Halls Of The Punisher", which he released through his own record company, Evil Ink. Kuzay has played countless session gigs with several different and diverse groups, played on recordings with some of the most highly acclaimed musicians in the world, and given bass lessons, as well as guitar lessons, to many satisfied students - the whole time never losing focus of his solo music.

Dan McAvinchey conducted this virtual meeting with Kuzay to discuss his approach to bass, and the deeper meaning of instrumental music.