Reverb Interview: Jeff Hughell of Six Feet Under

From the NAMM Show in January to the Christmas In Hell tour with Six Feet Under in December, bassist Jeff Hughell had a busy 2015. Within those twelve months, which included managing his tile contracting business, welcoming a new baby, and collaborating with bassist Kevin “Brandino” Brandon for an upcoming album, he recorded a six-song EP, Trinidad Scorpion Hallucinations, scheduled for release on January 8.

Hughell spoke to Reverb about his custom Warwick basses, songwriting, and how he captures his sound in the studio.

You had quite a year. When did you find time to write and record this EP?

In between everything else, I would come up with ideas, record them direct in my home studio, perfect them, and work with people through e-mail. That’s how it came together. I have a MacBook Pro that I run Logic on. I play Warwicks, which sound great direct for clean bass tone. I use Positive Grid for the distorted tones and EZdrummer to get ideas going for pre-production. I’ve been using that setup for about two-and-a-half years.

Take us through the creative process. How do you develop the songs from idea stage to final versions?

Sometimes ideas come to me when I’m driving. I record a video with my phone, mouth the riff that’s in my head, and come home and translate that to playing it on the bass. From there, the whole recording process will make me say, “Maybe I should do a harmony here,” or “I should layer this.” A lot of times you record and say, “Wow, that didn’t work. Let’s try something else.” I don’t say, “I need to write something right now,” and it happens. It doesn’t work that way for me.

Are there certain techniques you swear by for recording bass tracks?

I record everything direct. When I’m recording at home, I might have an effect on it just for my monitoring, so I can hear it as I record it. I send all the direct tracks, with zero effects, to Zack Ohren at Castle Ultimate Studios. He mixes and masters everything, and he reamps all of my bass tracks. He is a mastermind in what my bass sounds like. I’ve been working with him for almost 10 years. He runs the clean bass through my Gallien-Krueger rig, which is specific to what I sound like. He also runs a direct track using the SansAmp, which dirties it up a little bit. So there’s actually three separate tracks of the clean bass that are all the same performance, but you’re hearing three different signals mixed together. That’s the magic of how he makes my bass sound.

Your Warwicks are customs. What are the modifications?

Jeff Hughell's Six-String Warwick

The one I used most on this album is the seven-string Corvette. Warwick doesn’t typically make seven-string basses, so that’s obviously a big thing. The Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups are custom-made by Kevin Beller. In some of the other models, the pickups don’t pick up the strings exactly like they should. With this bass, they measured exactly on every string. It picks up perfectly and makes for a clear-sounding tone, especially for tapping. Another thing is that it has jumbo raised frets. When you get your finger exactly on the fret, for fingerstyle or for tapping, it really cuts through. Of course, the Bubinga body is a dense wood that resonates really well. It’s also the heaviest bass I’ve ever picked up. I have a six-string Corvette that’s made of Bubinga. It’s a standard German bass and only slightly lighter than the seven-string.

Was that a bit of an adjustment?

There was a slight adjustment. When I’m recording at home, I’m mostly sitting, so I don’t notice it as much. Live, it’s definitely heavier. The tour we just finished was the first time I’d taken that specific bass with me, and it didn’t cause a toll on my body more than my other basses have. There’s a certain way that I move onstage that shifts the weight so that it’s not always crushing my neck or my shoulder. I also have the spongiest straps that you can get. I use Comfort Strapp. I started using them 15 years ago, and when I get a new instrument, I buy one of those.

Why do you prefer the seven-string models?

I always imagined being able to do more things if I had more strings. That started in 1999. Guitar Center had Conklin seven-string basses and I was able to go in and play one. All these ideas I had that the four- or five-string didn’t accommodate, I could suddenly easily do them. All this more melodic stuff, chords, everything just came together. At one point, maybe 10 years ago, I wanted nine strings, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that seven strings are perfect for me. My seven-string bass is like a five-string with two higher strings. A lot of seven-strings have an extra high string and an extra low string. I think there’s no point to the extra low string. It’s way too low, it’s not audible to most people, and most bass amps can’t even handle it. Having two extra high strings gives me the range that I want.

Jeff Hughell's Warwick Basses

What else did you use on the new EP?

On five of the six songs I used the seven-string Corvette, and on “The Crown Won’t Cool It Down,” I used the six-string. Both basses have the Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups and Dean Markley SR2000 strings. For the distorted bass tracks that sound more like a guitar, we used an ENGL Powerball head into a Marshall cabinet, a very high-gain guitar amp. That was something we hadn’t done before, and it came out really well. We used a Marshall head on the last album, and the tones I use through Positive Grid when I’m demoing are like guitar tones, so I wanted to find the best-sounding guitar amp and run it through that. Zack has a lot of really good guitar amps in his studio. It was his idea to use the ENGL, and it was a good idea on his part.

What do you take on the road?

It depends on where I am. In certain situations I have to use backline equipment. On this last run I started using the Darkglass B7K as a direct box. I depend on the direct going out of that to go to the soundman, so that’s mainly where the tone is coming from. First I run it through the Seymour Duncan Studio Bass Compressor, because if there’s any problem with the backline amp, you still have it going to the soundboard to come to the front of house. What I typically take on tour is the Gallien-Krueger 2001 head and a NEO 412 cabinet. The NEO 412 is wider than the 810, it’s a little bit smaller, and it has way more power. The first time I used one I thought, Wow, I’ve been lugging around this huge Ampeg and I could have this amazing tone? I’m really happy with it.

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