Interview with Black Tide's Zakk Sandler
Band Photo: Black Tide (?)
Zakk Sandler wasn't a bass player when he signed on to fill in the low end for Black Tide, back when the band was still called Radio.
“They didn't have a bass player and I volunteered to do it temporarily until they found somebody who really knew how to play the bass,” Sandler confirmed. “When we got signed, I kind of looked at everybody and said, 'You guys know that I still don't know how to play bass, right?' And they were like, 'Yeah, we know Zakk.'”
Sandler first picked up guitar when he was eight, but now the Flordia native can't imagine playing anything but bass for the metal act. Even when a spot opened up for a guitarist, the band chose to audition, rather than shift Sandler's skills.
“There was definitely a moment where it was maybe that should be the case, you know, we'll get a really good bass player and I'll play the guitar,” he admitted. “I just think it's funny,” the 20-year-old bassist continued. “I'm the kid who, like, I fixed guitars all the time. I'd always be working on 'em, and now to be that dude that's not Mr. Guitar is kind of weird. I never thought that I'd end up playing bass. But I'm happy that I am now because some of my favourite dudes in bands are usually the bass players.”
Things seem to happen for a reason – or at least for the best, in Sandler's case. The quintet released their debut album through Interscope Records last year, and “Light From Above” was received with rave reviews.
It must be tough keeping cool when Guitar World votes your band “Best New Talent” and Rolling Stone names you “Best Rookies of 2008,” but Black Tide is just taking it one gig at a time.
Pamela Porosky: What's your favorite show been so far in 2009?
Zakk Sandler: So far, Tempe, Ariz. has been the best. I said to the crowd, “Anybody who can crowd surf up here, get on stage and touch me: 50 dollars if they can do it.”
Sandler: Nobody succeeded. They couldn't get me. They'd get kicked off before they could touch me.
Porosky: What do you listen to when you're out on the road and in between bets with unsuspecting audience members?
Sandler: I listen to my iPod, so I'll listen to some Tom Petty or Elliot Smith.
Porosky: What would you say has most influenced Black Tide's sound?
Sandler: As far as music is concerned, there's the obvious Iron Maiden and Metallica stuff, but we don't pigeon-hole ourselves to listen to one type of music. I think, in reality, we listen to everything. We don't really limit ourselves to who influences us or what influences us. I mean, you can get an influence from everything from a really awesome basketball game to being pissed off that your girlfriend cheated on you again.
Porosky: The guys in Black Tide, you were friends before the band?
Sandler: For the most part. Gabriel [Garcia] and his brother [Raul] started the group and I knew [Raul] from school, and our old guiatrist [Alex Nuñez], but we'd never really been that close. Then, when they didn't have a bass player, we'd play local shows together a few times – and not even local shows, really, more like just backyard house parties – and just kind of went from there. Then we slowly gained members, slowly lost members, all that good stuff.
Porosky: How much of a group effort is it when it comes to writing Black Tide tunes?
Sandler: Gabriel, on this last record, did the majority of the writing on his own, but now having grown a little and seeing how other people do it, we all now throw our ideas around. Also, because we're all so much more open with each other, it's just – when you're younger, it's hard to just kind of be like, “Well, this is how I feel.” I think as you get older, you learn to express yourself a little better, and it makes for a better mood all around in the band.
Porosky: You first started out on guitar. Any players influence you to pick up the habit?
Sandler: Eddie Van Halen.
Porosky: And when exactly did you switch over to bass?
Sandler: The day I joined this band. They were like, “Can you have a bass by four o'clock tomorrow?”
Porosky: Who are some of the bass players who have influenced you since making the six to four-string transition?
Sandler: Duff McKagan from Guns N' Roses and Michael Anthony from Van Halen. I like their qualities of what they do in the band, and not just their bass playing. Michael Anthony, for example, is one of the best side men ever. Every high-voiced harmony you hear in Van Halen is him, along with some pretty cool bass stuff; but, his voice in the band really helps make him important to the package. Duff McKagan and his writing to the band, I mean, his bass playing is pretty good, but I'm more influenced by his bass tone and his role in the band, as opposed to his playing style.
Porosky: How do you approach writing your bass lines?
Sandler: It's rock and roll. You aren't really supposed to go off and do a solo, you're just very rhythmic with the drums, follow the kick, and note-wise follow whatever the rhythm guitar is doing. We have a lot of harmonies and stuff, so I kind of have to act as a third guitarist almost.
Porosky: How do you get your tone?
Sandler: It's all about the MXR M-80 pedal. Between that and my BOSS [LMB-3] Bass Limiter Enhancer pedal, that right there is tone that will never quit. It's the best thing in the world, along with my Schecter basses.
Porosky: How long did it take for you to find the right gear combo?
Sandler: I'm still not happy with the sound. It still changes every day.
Porosky: What do you think is missing?
Sandler: It could be anything. I don't know if anybody is ever really happy with their tone, because I think every day your ear is a little different, so you kind of want something more. Every day you think there should be some extra punch to it. You never know where it's gonna go and it just changes. It's evolution.
Porosky: When you're in the studio and find a tone you're at least satisfied with for the moment, how do you try to replicate that on stage, or do find that pretty impossible as well?
Sandler: As far as the tone I got on our record, I wasn't really happy with it at all. It was cool at the time for what I was trying to do, but now that I've been touring and experimenting with how I really want to sound, I'm finding that I'm going for what I actually used to hate.
Porosky: So you're going through this evolution you mentioned?
Sandler: More of a realization.
Porosky: If not in love with your bass tone, what is it about playing bass that you have embraced?
Sandler: I don't know. I just think I have less responsibility on stage.
Porosky: Wow, you really ARE a bass player!
Sandler: I know [laughing]. I don't feel like I have as much – I mean, you mess up a guitar solo, everybody knows. The bass player, you slip on a note, everyone goes, “Whatever.” And that's if they even notice it. And I really like being the low end. I think it's fun. I like that every time I hit that low note, you feel a rumble, but that's just me.
Porosky: And is playing music something you had always wanted to do professionally?
Sandler: I'd never seen myself ever doing anything else but music. Even when I was 18-years-old, my mom was like, “So, do you want to go to college?” And I was like, “No, I want to be in a band.” She was so happy. She was like, “Thank God. Lawyers suck anyway.”
Porosky: Do you have any plans for a follow-up to last year's record yet?
Sandler: We're working on it.
Porosky: Is songwriting something the band is always thinking about?
Sandler: All the time. There's always ideas, you know, you try a riff out and it's like, “Let's use that for something. I don't care what.”
Porosky: Do you jam on the road?
Sandler: Oh yeah. On those rare occasions that we get sound check.
Porosky: When you first released the album in March 2008, there was a lot of buzz around it. What kind of pressure do those kinds of labels put on the band, and how do you keep yourselves in check?
Sandler: The pressure of it was a little weird, because everybody was making us out to be this next big thing and, in our minds, we were like, “Dudes, it's our first record. If it comes out and a hundred people buy it, then it's a success.” When 11,000 people bought it, we were like, “Holy shit, that many people saw us and were like, 'I have to have their cd.” And as far as – we try to keep a good head on our shoulders.
Porosky: And what kind of influence does that hype have on how you'll approach the follow-up?
Sandler: I think because of a lot of the experiences we've had on the road, and expectations and failures and what not, I think it's definitely in for real songwriting. Our last record doesn't really transcend anything and doesn't put out any message of any sort and, even within every song, most of them are pretty open to interpretation. I think there will be songs in [the next album] that will have real meaning behind them.
Porosky: What's next for the band?
Sandler: We're going to Japan with Trivium; we're doing Warped Tour. I think we're going to head overseas in June, try and knock out some summer festivals and what not, and that's pretty much it right now, except just trying to write a lot.
Porosky: What is one of the greatest challenges you've had to face as a band so far?
Sandler: Growing up. I've been in the band for six years, and to think about the person I was when I was 14, and the person I am now that I'm 20... growing and changing every day, I think that might be our biggest challenge, because you gain experiences just from getting older.
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