Published on June 17th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
One of the most distinctive, innovative, and influential bassists in the world, Reeder has power to inspire and demoralize even the most talented players.
“[Reeder’s] playing really fucked me up,” complains Jason PC of iconic Australian metal band Blood Duster. “I decided to do almost nothing on the bass as everything [after Reeder] felt contrived, like I was trying to be ‘Kyussy’ or some shit.
“As a reaction to that I decided to stay on a single note as much as possible, and it’s only recently that I have begun to venture out a little by playing melody-type lines. I hope he’s happy with himself.”
“Scott is one of the best bassists on the planet, yet such a humble man, you would never know it being in his presence,” says Kyle Stratton of Atala and Rise of the Willing. “His work with Across the River really started the desert sound. Kyuss is one of the most legendary bands of all time.”
Reeder’s story is well known to anyone into hard-riffing psychedelic rock. Starting out as a kid in 1981 with his bands Subservice and Dead Issue, he was eventually tapped to take over on bass in Scott “Wino” Weinrich’s band The Obsessed after their regular bassist was involved in a motorcycle accident. In The Obsessed, Reeder contributed a landmark album to the genre with Luna Womb in 1991.
A central figure in the Palm Springs desert rock scene from the late ’80s to the mid ’90s with his band Across the River—who, along with Yawning Man, was a direct influence on Kyuss’s sound—Reeder joined Kyuss for their last two albums, Welcome to Sky Valley and ...And the Circus Leaves Town. His influence (together with jazz-trained drummer Alfredo Hernandez) was immediately felt, steering the band into ever funkier and more experimental musical directions.
With his mastering, recording, and engineering business gathering steam, Reeder nonetheless found time after Kyuss to gig with Tool while guesting in a number of his friend’s bands, from Unida and Goatsnake to Earthlings? and Palm Desert band Ten East. His production career is equally impressive, with credits including Sunn O))), Karma to Burn, and Orange Goblin to name but a few.
Reeder—who comes across as affable, kind, and humble—now contributes to the bands Sun and Sail Club and Fireball Ministry and tends to his cattle ranch in the Palm Desert while remaining one of the most sought-after sound and production guys for rock music in the world.
We were lucky enough to catch Reeder a few days after his 50th birthday, which seemed like a good place to start our conversation…
BNU: Many happy returns! When you look back at your journey so far, what things are you most proud of? Do you still feel driven to achieve things personally or musically, or do you sort of just slow down and enjoy everything more when you get older?
Thank you! Fifty years! Crazy…
I’m probably most proud of the things I didn’t do. Especially in the Kyuss days, it was good to say no. A lot. Sometimes we were asked to do some crazy shit to promote records. But even as young as those guys were, there was a sense of what was gonna be regretful, and we passed on lots of stuff.
We had a great little run! These days, I can’t imagine doing the band thing full-on like we did back then. I enjoy every moment in slow motion at our ranch—I don’t think it has anything to do with getting older, and I certainly don’t rest on whatever small laurels I’ve accomplished.
Man, I had a pretty intense experience on a bus last year when the driver fell asleep—Dave Ellefson was on the bus and grabbed the wheel and kept our bus from flying off the Autobahn! It was a very close call—it’s made me appreciate every single moment we have here. It showed me that I shouldn’t sweat the small things.
Especially in the Kyuss days, it was good to say no. A lot.
How did you get involved with raising cattle and horses? It seems kind of an unlikely thing to have ended up doing. Did you always like animals and farming?
Well… after my Dad died, he left a little chunk that gave us a leg-up to really get our lives headed where we wanted to go, so my wife Renee and I mashed our dreams together. I wanted a studio where I could make noise, and she wanted to be surrounded with horses and livestock. We finally found a spot where we could do everything we wanted, and she got me hooked on the horses!
I also loved horses when I was a kid but the ardor kind of faded when one bit my head, another stood on my foot and nearly crushed it; they used to try to brush me off on the fence or bushes when I rode them. Do you have to become friends with a horse in order to ride it, or do you have to show it who’s boss? Do you have a favorite horse?
Oh, I had some bad experiences in the beginning! I realized later that some people actually drug their problem horses when they try to sell them—that may have been the case on a couple of ours.
But we finally got my guy Gilley from my wife’s cousin—he’s perfect for me! We took just a few minutes to connect, and he realized I just want to cruise and enjoy the scenery. He worked hard in his past, so I think we’re mutually stoked!
I’m working with two yearlings, too. There has to be a mutual respect for it to work out. And as with people, you should never do anything that takes away their dignity.
We have a good rapport.
What made you pick up the bass when you were a kid? Was it always bass for you, or did you come to it via another instrument?
I started playing drums when I was four—I wanted to be Ringo! I took lessons in the back room of a bar when I was five or six. My Mom would drop me off and help me lug my stuff through the bar past the customers.
I didn’t switch to bass until I was around 15 or 16 when the bassist in my band quit. We couldn’t find another bassist, but my friend Alfredo Hernandez played drums, so I switched.
Your technique and style is often remarked upon, with playing a left-handed bass and stringing it in reverse. Why do you to play that way? Also, you play mostly with your fingers and kind of hit really hard quite high up towards the neck. How did you arrive at that style? What other players most influenced you, and did it take you a long time to find the tone you liked? Do you record with the same bass you play live with?
Hitting hard came from being a drummer at heart! Playing strung upside-down came from flipping over my Dad’s and my Grandpa’s guitars when I was little.
Hitting hard came from being a drummer at heart!
When I switched to bass, the players I was into would be Chuck Dukowski from Black Flag, Mike Watt from The Minutemen, and Mike Roche from TSOL.
And, yeah, I’ve always recorded and played live with whatever bass I’m into at the time. I was on the Rickenbacker for years, through Across The River, The Obsessed, and most of the Kyuss days.
I’ve been playing Warwick basses for a while, now—they were a godsend. I was checking out high-endy stuff at the NAMM convention. I wanted to buy something really nice to kick my ass into playing more, and I fell in love with their stuff. And I swear, once I started with them, there was this positive energy rubbing off from the Warwick family that’s had a huge effect on my life! Lots of good things have happened since I met those people!
Kyuss grew and changed musically so much in the space of time from when the band first started as Sons of Kyuss to when it ended after Circus. What do you imagine might have happened musically if the band had kept going with the lineup of Alfredo, Josh, John, and you?
I was peaking on mushrooms when the jam section hit… Man, that was fun!
I think it would’ve gotten weirder, in a really good way. After we spent a ton of dough at big fancy studios to do Circus, we went into the Rancho in its very early days to cut a few things, including Fatso Forgotso, which was probably my favorite thing we ever did.
The four of us knocked it out live. I was peaking on mushrooms when the jam section hit… Man, that was fun! I was giggling out of control for a long time after the take!
I got so excited about the possibilities of just being a lot more casual about the whole recording process, and just going in when we were inspired, instead of booking a big studio months in advance, booking the technical people, and spending all of our money to make something that we could do easier, cheaper, and in a more relaxed state.
What was it like recording …And the Circus Leaves Town? This is an album that was initially underrated, but in recent years it’s come to be regarded by many as one of, if not the best Kyuss record. What do you remember about the songwriting process? What do you like most about Circus?
Well… I think on Sky Valley, maybe I was trying too hard to make my mark. On Circus, I kind of sat back more and tried to go with the flow a little more. Others might disagree, haha!
But then there would be situations in the songs where I’d look ahead and knew I’d get bored playing stuff hundreds of times on the road, so I’d throw stuff in.
Phototropic was one of my favorites. Josh showed me his chords, and I slithered around with my fretless. I knew I’d have to do it live, but it was a good challenge to learn something new and commit to doing it the best I could. I felt like my playing was maturing a little bit on that record.
I have to ask you about Metallica and the infamous documentary Some Kind of Monster. Do you reckon it was an accurate, fair portrayal of the band? John McBain said he left Monster Magnet because he hated life on the road. Had you been successful in your audition, how do you think you would have coped with touring with a band with that level of shit going on? Also, the guys you’ve played with in the past all seem so laid back, you know, and your personality seems the antithesis of the ego and bullshit that would have come with being in that band? Do you feel like you dodged a bullet or do you feel regret?
Yeah, I’m not a big fan of life on the road, either.
If my wife could’ve dropped everything and stayed on the road with me, I suppose I could’ve been happy out there all the time with a Metallica or a Tool. But it’s not fair to ask that of someone. The money could make things comfortable to some extent, but I don’t like being gone from our ranch for very long. We’ve set up a good life for us here.
I would’ve given either one of those bands my best shot had I been the guy, but honestly, I don’t know how long I would’ve lasted.
As far as Metallica goes, I think it was incredibly brave to make that film and let it out. Hell, yeah, it was honest! It was a rough time. I love those guys. They’re very normal people that happen to possess extraordinary talents, who had the weight of the world on their shoulders at that moment, especially with the whole Napster backlash, and losing their long-time bassist, Jason Newsted.
[Metallica] are very normal people that happen to possess extraordinary talents
James was struggling… Lars is a nervous ball of creative energy, but I’ve been around him in chill-out party mode, too, and he’s awesome.
I see Trujillo quite a bit these days—we both endorse Warwick basses, so we bump into each other at promo events a lot. Metallica lucked out with that guy—he’s a good dude. He had some big Jason shoes to fill… not to mention that guy before him!
I’m sure if there were an intimate film like that made these days, it would paint a completely different picture!
On the subject of documentaries, I watched Such Hawks, Such Hounds many times and am always impressed by Wino’s personality, the way he comes across. He seems like a dude with a pretty good sense of humor.
I was kind of surprised to learn that even despite his stature musically, it’s still hard to make ends meet and even being in well-known bands doesn’t always make ends meet. Did you ever struggle at any point in your career? Is that how you originally got into producing?
Oh, man, there were some great times and laughs with that guy. I was newly married, trying to be a responsible husband forging a career in recording engineering, when I got the call to do The Obsessed thing in 1991.
Their bass player was in a coma after a motorcycle accident… there was a German tour booked, and studio time booked in Berlin to record the next album. My wife Renee said to go for it—we’d make ends meet somehow.
That was a huge turning point, playing overseas for the first time, recording and co-producing my first album… my ultimate dreams were coming true.
We’d recycle cans at one of those automated machines, leaving plenty of liquid in cans to add weight
They were some lean times, though. We had a band practice at Wino’s pad one day, and we kited a check to get a good meal for everyone and then got dropped from our bank…
We’d recycle cans at one of those automated machines, leaving plenty of liquid in cans to add weight to get a little more money…
I was lucky that the studio where I worked would take me back after tours, but that was a rollercoaster, too. There would be industry strikes that could go on for months, bringing the studio to a standstill.
You’ve had the opportunity to tour all over the world and see some pretty interesting and beautiful places. Do you think landscape can influence music? For example, Norway is cold and kind of spooky, and black metal came from there. Do you think the Californian high desert inspires distinctive or unique sound? How would you describe that sound?
Your environment affects everything. The air you breathe, the food you put in your body, the feeling of your surroundings is definitely a huge factor in the music.
We grew up on the outskirts of civilization!
When my old band in the ’80s, Across The River, would go out with a generator in the middle of the night and just jam, it was the best. We wouldn’t throw a party with a bunch of people—we just wanted to go out and connect with each other musically. It was deeper than anything I’ve had with any band.
We were struggling to cope with some heavy stuff we’d been going through with a friend that was completely cracking… not unlike what Pink Floyd had gone through with Syd Barrett, I suppose. Our jams would disintegrate into feedback, just abstract howling out in the desert, expressing the confusion and pain that we were trying to process.
Those twisted expressions that only our little circle witnessed, were the most cathartic musical experiences I’ve ever had.
As far as trying to classify the desert sound… I think it’s impossible. Sure, you have a few bands that try too hard to copy stuff that’s been successful, but the true artists that are in it for the right reasons create beautiful stuff out of thin air that doesn’t sound like anyone else around.
You’ve produced a heap of bands in your time, and you’re still active musically. Have you ever gotten bored with rock, and if so, what was it that drew you back in and kept it fresh for you?
I know nothing lasts forever, but at this moment in time I have a good balance with everything. I get to travel and play live a little bit, then I’ll work with bands in my studio getting their visions out, and then we’ll have projects at the ranch… I never get a chance to burn out on anything. It works out well for my… spirit… is the word I’m looking for.
Rancho de la Luna has a kind of mythical status for fans of stoner rock, with all the Desert Sessions records and so much more conceived and recorded there. Were you ever involved in making those albums, or have you ever recorded there? How would you describe what it’s like hanging out there? Do you have a favorite recording that was made there?
Kyuss was there a few times early on. The B-sides we recorded there were so fun—I had lots of mushrooms on those sessions!
After we split up, Fred was getting more sick, and I filled in for him engineering a bit. He had a heart of gold, that guy. I traded services with him—I helped him do live sound for Joshua Tree’s Graham Parsons Fest, and he engineered my demos at the Rancho.
Earthlings? had me come out and play bass on a track—that was fun.
There were a few things I recorded or mixed out there in the Fred days—Wool, Slo Burn, Bluebird, some others…
Fred’s bed was behind a curtain next to the console. I’d ask bands to rent him a room at the nearby motel so he could get some good rest while we blasted. It was so quiet there back then. The recent times I’ve been out there, it’s been crazy! Lots of great parties… I was out there for the Foo Fighters recording—that was a circus!
What’s coming up for you this year musically or professionally? Is there anything you are particularly excited about?
I’m recording a new band at the ranch this weekend, and then there’s live stuff with Fireball Ministry, more studio stuff, live gigs with Sun and Sail Club in August… then I’m off to Germany for a few days to hang out with top bassists from all over the world at Warwick’s Bass Camp party.
And then Fireball Ministry is playing on a cruise ship with Motorhead, Slayer, Corrosion Of Conformity, and a bunch of others! Lots of fun on the way!