Interview: Ben Kuzay

Dan McAvinchey: Let's begin with your latest solo album, "Perpetual Reign". When did you write the songs, and what did you want to achieve when recording started?

Ben Kuzay: I wrote all of the music on this CD from January through September of 2008. Most of the songs were the result of me sitting by myself in my living room and fiddling around with the bass guitar, completely directionless - which is the setting I find most conducive to songwriting, and also most pleasurable for at-home playing. If one has a direction when he picks up his instrument, his window of possibilities is narrower. When one has only his personal pleasure-taking as a motive for picking up his instrument, a higher quality and broader range of music will have a chance to emerge. Sometimes I write several songs in a month, while other times I go several months without writing a song. Nothing I do is contrived. Everything is pure and from the heart.

While creating this album, I did, however, exclude a variety of styles of music that I was working on, because I wanted to make a bass-shred CD. So, I continued writing whatever suited me, then chose which music would or wouldn't be suitable for this CD. To the best of my knowledge, I am the first person in the history of recorded music to create an album that features, as its format, lead bass with metal accompaniment. If I am mistaken, I welcome anyone to email me and enlighten me. If, on the other hand, I am not mistaken, I stand proudly and announce my achievement to the world.

Dan McAvinchey: What in your background allowed you 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 "(Anesthesia) - 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.

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!

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

Ben Kuzay: I think that the same thing is essential for a great bass 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: I don't have favorites. I love every song on my CD. This said love is a prerequisite for release or live performance. Many artists release albums that they think contain some great songs, a few pretty good ones, and several mediocre ones, as well. This, they say, is a "commercially viable" approach. Really? More so than just being a real musician and being able to put together an album of songs that you think are all great? Pardon my audacity, but I disagree. People obviously will buy an album on which they're aware that every song is magnificent before they will purchase one that they know has several great songs interspersed amongst a majority of mediocre ones.

That being said, I will give you a synopsis of each song on my album, and what qualities I like about it.

I love the sinister and harsh feel of "Vortex". I believe that I capture a Lovecraft-meets-Sade feel in this one. The texture of the guitar, bass, and keyboard do not put the listener at ease, but rather make him privy to a world of horror to which he'd previously been (happily) unaware. The ambient breakdown in the mid-section gives the listener a chance to ruminate over all of the thoughts that have been (purposely or not) shoved down into his subconscious.

"On Top Of The World" is a fun bass shred song. It has a catchy chorus with some bass harmonies played in the verses over the top of the main riff, which is played in the background on both bass and guitar. I particularly enjoy playing the entire solo section of this song. Every phrase of this section gives me great pleasure to play, and to listen to on CD, as well. The final climax is the sweeps at the end of the solo section.

"Perpetual Reign" is another fast-paced metal song with a couple verses and choruses. This one mixes ambiance and various other experimental features into its lengthy and multi-part mid-section, as well. Keyboards are employed, again, to set the listener at unease. The bass solo is blistering.

I love "Fantasy Girl" for the feel that it captures. Unlike most of my songs, I wrote this song with a feel in mind that I wanted to capture. The music in this song expresses a combination of emotions, and I am extremely happy with my success at accurately describing, through sonic portrayal, the unique experiences and desires which inspired this song.

"Ascension" - what can be said of this fast-paced hard-rocker? I love the guitar work I did in this song. The theme solos I played in the choruses are the only lead solos I played on this album, and I am very happy with my songwriting and technique. Joel Wanasek performed a guest solo in the solo break, and he did a great job. I really love the harmony guitars during the verses, and the way they blend with the faster-paced bass riffage going on underneath.

"Where Dead Villains Lurk" is a prelude to "Homage To Hated Heroes". "Where Dead Villains Lurk" is ambient and classical. I even employed a tambourine on this one! I really love the feel of this track - pure emotion, pure art. This is definitely the least radio-friendly piece of music on the CD! The spirits of the most hated and reviled men in history stir when this song is played. Then when "Homage To Hated Heroes" starts, they rise up, with fury and vengeance!

"Homage To Hated Heroes" represents one of the biggest, most glorious moments I've had yet in my career. David Harbour, who is one of my biggest influences on the bass guitar, flew in from his home in Dallas, Texas, to JTW Studio just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to lay down two bass solos and one keyboard solo on this song of mine. It was a tremendous honor having the man who wrote and played "B.O.F." (which is my favorite solo bass song every, by anybody) in the studio, recording on my album!

Regarding his bass playing, I especially love what he did during the ambient section with the marching snare. In this section, he sounds exactly how he did in his fills and solos on the old Chastain CDs! He has the best finger-picking attack of all bassists I've ever heard, and this integral part of his playing shines during this section. His keyboard artistry was breathtaking. I was familiar with his bass playing and piano playing, but relatively unfamiliar with him as a keyboardist, so I didn't know what to expect. The brief keyboard part he played during the soft, ambient section (right before the marching snare) was amazing! But what was most amazing of all was his keyboard solo during the main riff - this solo he played on my song is my favorite keyboard solo I've ever heard in my life! And it's on my CD! This song was truly a pleasure to watch come to fruition.

Oh, I almost forgot - I love the three bass solos I did in that song, too!

The final cut on the album (and it is a cut, in both senses of the word) is "Murdering Angels (Just For Fun)". What I like about this song is its epic quality. It is a monster of a composition, clocking in at over nine minutes. Alongside my four bass solos (one of which is a slap-style solo, a bit of a departure for me), I have two guest soloists: Joel Wanasek on guitar, and Daniel Kuzay on keyboard.

Joel Wanasek showed that he is a creative genius with this brilliant guitar solo. I truly love this solo, as it adds so much to that section of the song. He really captured the diabolical feel I was going for there. His outstanding, top-of-the-line virtuosity doesn't hurt matters either.

Daniel Kuzay laid down a lengthy keyboard solo at the end of this opus. A darkness lurks, first over slow bass and drums, then over fast-paced guitar-driven metal! The emotion he captured adds a Gothic dimension to this track, and is yet another outside contribution which has enriched my CD tremendously.

There you have what I like most about each track on this album.

I want to also mention that another factor which I am very happy with, about both of my albums, is the sound. Joel Wanasek is a great engineer and does a fantastic job recording, mixing, and mastering my albums.

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

Ben Kuzay: Yes, I do! Last time you and I chatted, Dan, I said that I would, in the future, play all-instrumental shows with an accompaniment band. Well, six months after we spoke, my solo band played our debut concert! We are playing once every couple of months at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and are considering branching out further. All of our events have gone great so far! We have at least broken even on each of them, which in this business is something to be proud of! Hopefully 2010 will see larger audiences and substantial profits.

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: How has the economic slowdown across the world affected how you personally buy and discover music?

Ben Kuzay: It is difficult for me to determine which factors that influence my financial situation are the direct or indirect result of the world-wide recession. I think I have been affected, but I'm not sure. I will say this: I have not resorted to stealing other musicians' art. If I acquire a CD, I pay for it.

Dan McAvinchey: Are you using any social media sites to promote your CDs?

Ben Kuzay: Yes, I am on Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter. My main site, though, is

interview pic

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

Ben Kuzay: I am considering recording and releasing a bass instructional DVD in 2010. My live band will continue playing shows. We generally play an hour-and-a-half, by the way; we're not a shoddy assembly of class-B musicians who have to struggle to learn and remember a half-hour set. Rather, we're on all levels a completely professional unit of class-A musicians, and every audience that's watched us so far will concur.

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!

interview picture
Ben Kuzay is a bass guitar virtuoso who began his musical journey at the age of 13, with his first bass guitar. He is completely self-taught. In April, 2007 Kuzay entered JTW Studio (owned and operated by Joel Wanasek), and began recording his debut album "In The Halls Of The Punisher". Then, 2009 saw the release of his CD "Perpetual Reign", which features lead bass with metal accompaniment.

Dan McAvinchey conducted this virtual interview with Kuzay to discuss his beginnings on bass and the music on his most recent release.