Marillion's Pete Trewavas: If His Bass Were A Ball...

As with the other members of Marillion, bassist Pete Trewavas is a significantly talented yet understated player who fills a well-defined role. His bass lines are integral parts of the stories that are Marillion songs.

In much the same way that players from Paul McCartney to Sting to Geddy Lee tell stories within stories (or songs within songs) through their melodic bass lines, so too does Trewavas. A player competent in many styles, he knows how to play what a song calls for, whether it’s a melodic walk up and down the neck, a funky groove, or just holding down a simple eighth-note pattern.

His side projects outside of Marillion include playing with Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater and Chris Maitland from Porcupine Tree, but Marillion has been his home ever since the band’s inception, and it certainly wouldn’t be what it is with anyone else. We had the pleasure of meeting him at a special album listening party in New York City in March, and an even greater time talking about his role with the band the following week.

Note: If you jumped into this interview directly, don't miss our extensive Marillion band interview and feature story here.

We all had to be on the top of our game at the same time, which is actually quite hard when you’re not that used to doing it [that way].

MPc: This was the first time in many albums that Dave Meegan wasn’t producing. Tell us about working with Mike Hunter in the producer’s chair for Somewhere Else.

Pete: Mike is an old friend. He’s somebody we worked with quite a few times before, though. He assisted Dave on Brave when we were recording that up in Liverpool. And he also put together an intro tape for us called The River, which was taken from little bits and some of the parts from Holidays in Eden, and also some of the parts from Brave because we had just recorded that. He kind of mixed it all together in a remix kind of style thing which was really cool ,and we ended up selling that. Actually, that became its own thing that we sold on the website for a while. It was like a twenty-minute long piece that he’d put together. It was really good. And more recently, Mike worked on mixing the Marbles album. He actually mixed most of the tracks from Marbles, and we really enjoyed the sound that he got in the mixing.

Somewhere Else, the title really sums up everything about the album. To be honest, we really have tried to go somewhere else with it, and one of the main inspirations, I suppose, for that was working with Mike. Mike’s a different kind of producer; very dedicated, very musical, you know? He’s very serious about what he does, and we wouldn’t have it any other way because we’re absolutely serious as hell about our music. But Mike has worked with a lot of younger bands, a bit more indie influences I suppose, and that came out in some of the approaches he wanted to use recording us. I think if you listen to “See it like a baby” or “The Wound,” or one of the slightly more rock-y songs, I suppose, you’ll see that.

I think one of the things Mike wanted to do was capture the essence of what we do. And he wanted the blood, sweat, and the angst and the… everything, everything encapsulated in a moment in time when the whole band is working together and playing together and is really on it. That’s what he wanted to capture on… I was gonna’ say “on tape,” but of course it wasn’t on tape as it was on Pro Tools on a hard drive.

We went through lots of very cool equipment to make it sound really good, none of which I remember the names of, sadly. Oh, we used Focusrite pre’s and we used some nice big old compressors and lots of valve stuff. Gives a nice sound, but makes the studio room very hot, actually! The mixing room, I should say… ‘cause we’ve got a nice big mixing desk which is always pretty warm anyway, but then you bring more and more outboard gear and the place was just like summer all year round.

MPc: How different was the recording process for Somewhere Else compared to the previous albums?

Pete: The recording process was very different from Marbles, I’d say. The way Dave works, and the way we worked quite often, I suppose, wih Dave: in the past, it was to kind of record bits, and record the drums, and then add things to it and build up songs, build up a kind of a collage of bits and pieces that add to the song, you know. And although we would always record the backing tracks as the five of us, we quite often didn’t keep that much of the five of us performing. We would go back and replace things – change bass sounds, and change this and change that, and add more layers of music and more parts. What Mike wanted to do was strip it down and have us almost working in reverse to that. He wanted the songs arranged to the point where we had all the parts we wanted to play, all the right sounds, and we’d go in and we’d play it. We’d play it like we all meant it, and we all had to, so we all had to be on the top of our game at the same time, which is actually quite hard when you’re not that used to doing it [that way], especially with new material.

Normally we have a few weeks to learn [the songs]. We finish an album with all the sometimes-last-minute overdubs that can make a huge difference to a song. And then we rehearse it live, and then eventually once you’ve toured it for about a year you’re really happy with how you should play it, and this was the other way around. But Mike wanted the version right there so that when he pressed Record, we could play it for him, you know? And that was really cool. It was a very exciting way to work, actually. And I think it worked really well for some of the songs.

“If I could learn most of the parts of those albums,
I thought I was doing pretty well actually.
‘Course I’d usually play a lot slower, you know!”

MPc: So now, something that I’ve loved over the years with Marillion, and I’ve got almost everything you guys have ever done…

Pete: That’s a hell of a lot actually! (laughs)

MPc: Well OK, maybe not all of the little intermediate releases… but certainly all of the studio albums.

Pete: Right, all of the major releases.

MPc: Something that’s great about Marillion is that you guys manage to continually change and evolve your sound from one album to the next while always sounding like Marillion. But because of the way In which your style is constantly changing from one record to the next, it’s really hard to pin you down and say, “Oh, there’s a certain influence that I hear in your playing,” and I realized in thinking about it, that there are only two bass players whose influence I might possibly notice on your style of playing – Paul McCartney and Sting.

Pete: Wow! I’ve never even thought about Sting, but you’re probably right, actually! (big grin) Interestingly enough, Paul McCartney is the obvious [influence], and he’s the person I kind of always quote. I remember reading a review or an article by some bass player a while ago now, and they were saying “If you pick a style or a type of bass playing, you can usually go back and find that McCartney did it at some point on one of the Beatles albums,” and it’s almost certainly true. You know, even the kind of psychedelic stuff that Pink Floyd were doing early on, and Yes and Genesis to an extent, you can hear that style of playing on bits of Revolver and bits of Rubber Soul, even, which is really kind of cool. He was doing a lot of stuff that I really liked.

Somebody who I didn’t listen to way back in the sixties who I really should’ve, actually, was John Entwistle, because the more I listen to John Entwistle these days, the more I think, “god, why didn’t I ever pick up on this guy earlier?” But I guess Beatle mania was such a thing when I was growing up that you kind of almost forgot there were other people existing. You know, the beauty of growing up and learning to play and being interested in music when I was a kid, is that radio in England was just one channel! (laughs) It was the BBC Light program, I think it was called, and you would get everything on there. You would get The Kinks, The Who, The Stones, The Beatles, Perry Cuomo, Frank Sinatra, a bit of Bing Crosby ‘round about Christmas time, and just everything in between – Bobby Darin, goodness knows what else. So my mum and dad kinda’ had the music on, and usually the radio, a lot when I was a kid and I just remember everything was coming at me. It was really cool, and it was nice to actually have all of that to grow from, and to pick and choose what you liked and what you didn’t like. I hated a lot of radio, but it meant that I got to hear a lot of stuff that you appreciate, and it became part of your influences even if you don’t even notice it.

There’s another band called Caravan who I hardly ever quote, but I used to really love Caravan when I was about fourteen. When I was starting to play in bands, I used to listen a lot to The Land of Gray and Pink and there was another album called For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, ‘cause they always had rather suggestive titles, but the bass player… I was actually influenced quite a lot by the bass playing on those two albums. There were two different bass players, there was Richard Sinclair, I think…

“I’ve decided in more recent years to calm down the sound and
try and help the sound man, and try to get a better, clearer sound.”

MPc: There are some people who say that the mark of great influences is the fact that you don’t specifically hear the influences in your playing.

Pete: Well I hope… you do kinda’ hear McCartney. (laughs) I was obviously very influenced in my playing style for quite a while by Mike Rutherford. I used to love his work with Genesis, especially the early kind of albums, you know Nursery Cryme and…

MPc: The Peter Gabriel stuff.

Pete: Yeah, the Gabriel stuff was really inventive and so out of… really out of this world for bass playing. Very much more classically arranged, if you like. It was following some of the piano lines and things; very cool. And of course Chris Squire with Yes. Fragile and Close to the Edge were huge favorites – they were always on my turntable when they came out. So I’d sit in my room, as you do when you’re a kid, and try and learn. If I could learn most of the parts of those albums, I thought I was doing pretty well actually. ‘Course I’d usually play a lot slower, you know! (laughs)

I really just kind of got into listening to music and stuff, trying to evolve. For me it’s not about styles – it’s about feel. When I was a lad growing up, there were loads of clubs and pubs and bars with bands on in the UK. It’s not quite the same now, but it used to be. I could play every night in my hometown, and I lived in quite a small town, because nearly everwhere would open its doors to folk singers and bands and stuff. So I’d play in rock and roll bands, and I’d play in punk bands… I even stood in for a reggae bass player in a reggae band once. For me it wasn’t like, “I’m gonna’ try and be a reggae bass player now.” It was like, “I’m gonna’ try and feel it,” and make it sound like Marley or whatever it was they were doing. Not actually try and copy, but get the essence of what should be going on in the music across, and hopefully that’s what I achieve with a piece of music.

MPc: Now let's talk about your bass, your sound, and your equipment and the recording of that. I noticed on it mentions you playing an Ibanez RDB bass, but I’m not familiar with that particular model.

Pete: It’s a wooden… I couldn’t even tell you, I’m terrible. (laughs) It’s got a two octave neck which is what I really like about it, and it’s very similar to my Warwicks. I’ve actually gone back to playing Warwicks. We used various basses on this album. I’ve got a couple of old thumb basses [made from] very heavy, very dense, woods. And I like the active pickups and sound selection on Warwicks – it’s quite natural. And the Ibanez is similar to that in a lot of respects. They have a similar kind of electronics and tone, you know bass and treble cut and boost. But they’ve got a broader spectrum of sound.

MPc: So what do you favor when you’re playing live?

Pete: Live, the easiest one to play is the Ibanez, actually. It’s a Sound Gear bass, a signature model I guess. They’ve superceded the one I’ve got. I was very kindly given it by the main dealer for Ibanez in the UK about four, five, maybe six years ago? Could be ten actually. I mean my life is just…(laughs) Marillion time is different from normal time so… probably within the last ten years. And when I started playing them, I found them to be very easy to play. And they’re very precise as well. They’re actually really, really good at the top of the neck.

MPc: Do you remember your first bass?

Pete: I do! It didn’t have a name, my first bass, and it cost twenty pounds brand new, which was nothing, really. That was in the days when Fenders and Gibsons were expensive in the UK, so anything decent would’ve been five or six hundred pounds.

MPc: And what about your amplifiers?

Pete: I use a Laney B-2, which is a 400 watt valve and FET mix head so you can select it to be just valve or you can select it to be just a transistor, or you can have a mix which is kind of what I tend to do. It’s a bit grimy and a bit dirty, but it’s not too overloaded. It doesn’t get too messy – you’ve still got that clarity there. I use the combo with just two twelves, actually. I don’t tend to like a hugely loud sound. I used to – I used to have a great big stack of goodness knows what! I used to have a stack of, I think it was four twelves and two fifteens. And I used to use an SVT which had a great sound, actually. But the throw was always so much, I was always being told. We’d be playing places like stadiums, like the Ahoy, which is a velodrome in Holland, in Rotterdam, which holds 11,000 people. And the guy at the sound desk would be saying, “Could you turn the bass down?” It would just throw… this thing would just throw ‘round the building and be too hectic, so I’ve decided in more recent years to calm down the sound and try and help the sound man, and try to get a better, clearer sound really, a more defined sound. But we D.I. the sound as well, usually. We take a D.I. from after the peddleboard so that the peddleboard goes through the D.I. and we mike up one of the speakers as well.

For recording, goodness knows what we do for recording! I wouldn’t use a pedalboard for recording unless we were recording some live stuff. I would go through whatever we decide to go through. With Mike… wait a minute, he’s here in studio, so let me ask him… Right, well for recording we put the bass through two Neeve 1073 mic preamps and had various sounds going through them. We mic’d the amp as well. We normally end up with, and Dave’s the same, about four channels of bass sound which is then mixed into whatever is a good sound for the song depending on choice of bass and choice of other pedals that we might put in. We might put a chorus peddle in, and there’s a Dean Markley valve distortion that Steve Rothery’s got that we sometimes use. Not even distorted necessarily – just to give it a bit of, I don’t know… a bit of different definition, I suppose.

MPc: Do you make much use of effects on your bass?

Pete: Less than I used to. I used to have little signature bits that I’d do throughout a song, or more throughout the longer songs I suppose, where there might’ve been an interchanging sort of passage or whatever, or there might’ve been a bass run or something, and we’d use an effect: flanger, chorus, delay. I use a delay – the [TC Electronic] D-2. It’s fantastic ‘cause it’s like a low budget version of the… whatever…

MPc: The 2290?

Pete: Yeah, the 2290, which is a beast of a thing to cart about.

MPc: I love that you can actually tap in rhythmic patterns in the D-2.

Pete: Yeah, you can do that, and I used to have a Lexicon loop thing that used to be able to tap with a peddle as well, which is quite handy, but they can cause terrible chaos if you can’t just tap in [your pattern that day]. You’d be surprised how often you can get it really wrong. (laughs)

It’s great to be able to tap in things especially for writing, actually. But for live I tend to write in the echo or the time – it can give you thirds, quarters, and halves of an echo, or a BPM, or it can give you an echo time that you write in, so it’s quite clever. [But] if I can program it, god, anyone can, ‘cause I’m not that good at that side of things. I’ve shied away from programmable stuff in the past because of that, but it’s very user-friendly, and never seems to have gone wrong for me, touch wood (laughs)… we’ll be on tour soon so maybe I can update you on that. (laughs) I tend to use that more than any other real effects.

The other thing I tend to use quite a lot these days for some of the rockier songs over the last two or three albums is distortion. I know I’ve just used Steve’s Dean Markley pedal, or we could’ve just overdriven the amp. But for live I don’t use that. At the moment I’ve got a BOSS pedal that I use for distortion, but I was actually thinking of changing that to one of the Line 6 pedals or something because it’s not quite the sound that I need. It’s a compromise – and it’s not a very good compromise either, of distortion in handy pedal size versus a really nice distorted valve thing.

“Sometimes with other bands it’s kind of frustrating because
you expect things to happen in a way that it would happen
with Marillion but it doesn’t, and you can’t really say to people,
‘Can you do it more like this?’”

MPc: Outside of Marillion, you’ve recorded a couple of albums with Transatlantic, which features Mike Portnoy on drums. You’ve also recorded with the band, Kino, that features Chris Maitland from Porcupine Tree.

Pete: Aren’t I lucky? (laughes) I’ve played with some amazing drummers over the years.

MPc: How did those guys differ from playing with Ian?

Pete: Oh well quite a lot. Mike is very full-on power. He’s more mechanical in some ways than Ian, whereas Ian is a bit more musical… no that doesn’t sound right, that’s not quite what I mean.

MPc: I understand what you mean.

Pete: What I mean is Ian plays the drums more as a musical instrument, I think. Ian comes from a more percussion-based background. And Mike is like a big engine. Mike is like… he’s ferocious; he’s a ferocious drummer. And he has a very mechanical sense of timekeeping, which is great actually. But he’s very different from Ian in some of his approaches to things.

MPc: And how about playing with Chris?

Pete: When I played with Chris, he’d just left Porcupine Tree. And I think he wanted to get something out of his system. I think he just wanted to play what he wanted to play. It was great actually. I really enjoyed Chris’s playing on the album. It’s phenomenal. And he reminded me a little bit of Mike. He had that kind of thing that Andy Ward from Camel used to have, which was slightly jazzy, but in a kind of rock way. It’s really hard to describe.

The difference between (laughs) Chris and Mike, you know… we’d done some recording with Mike, I remember, specifically, on the first Transatlantic album, and we stopped. We were recording like five minutes of music at a time, and we were recording into Radar, and then he’d say “OK, that feels good… Drop me in halfway through the fill,” and I was just about to pull my hair out saying “You can’t drop in halfway through a fill.” He said,“Yeah, you can,” and we’d go, “Well now, wait a minute. What happens to all of the spillover and stuff?” and he said, “Well there wont be any.”

I asked if he could remember [all the details] and he said, “Yeah, I’ll remember exactly what I did.” I said, “But you know some of the cymbals ring before we’re gonna’ drop in,” and he said, “I’ll remember the intensity I hit those at.” (laughs) I’m thinking right, OK. This is in a completely different league to me then. I thought he’d done a really good fill, and I didn’t expect him to remember exactly what it was he did, let alone remember the intensity he did everything at. It’s like… unbelievable!

And then the comparison with Chris is that we were doing stuff for Kino and Chris didn’t necessarily like something. Sometimes we’d love what he did and he said, “No, no, no. I want to do that again.” You know he was a bit more spontaneous, I guess. I think Mike worked things out. He’s got that kind of brain that just works things out even before he’s played it, whereas most people don’t have the luxury of that, I don’t think. And Chris would hear something back and decide that he didn’t like that and would want to redo it. It was never do it better; it was just do it another way.

MPc: Do you have any plans for doing a new record with either project?

Pete: There are plans to do another Kino album. But I don’t have any plans with Transatlantic, which I personally think is a shame, but you know…

MPc: I’ve read that there have been some drastic life changes with [vocalist] Neil Morse and that’s probably got something to do with why we shouldn’t expect another Transatlantic record.

Pete: That’s probably got something to do with it. Yeah, and I think Mike was always thinking of it as a two album kind of project as well, which is cool. But I think we’ve got more to say. It was a lot of fun doing it, and I think it would sell records. So, you never know. Maybe one day.

MPc: Do you find that working on those side projects helps you bring something new back to Marillion?

Pete: Oh, for sure. We’ve been together in Marillion for years, and there’s a very natural way we have of working. Sometimes with other bands it’s kind of frustrating because you expect things to happen in a way that it would happen with Marillion but it doesn’t, and you can’t really say to people, “Can you do it more like this?” or you know.

So on one hand, it’s always really refreshing to come back to Marillion, but on the other hand, it is good to stretch yourself sometimes and go for doing new things as well. It’s a good way to keep yourself fresh. And we all go off and do other things. Mark’s been off and done some gigs with Travis, played keyboards for them, and he’s produced a couple of things in the past. In fact, I think he’s producing a singer/songwriter at the moment. And Steve Hogarth is off doing various solo tours around the place when we get five minutes off.

There might be some plans for myself and Ian to do some work together in the summer because Ian’s son, Michael, plays guitar. He’s a ferociously good guitar player, so we might be getting him in the studio to do something, which could be fun. And Steve Rothery’s working on the next Wishing Tree album, so yeah, there’s lots of bits and pieces going on outside of the band. And you need to do that because Marillion is a sponge. The thing about Marillion is that these days we manage ourselves and we promote ourselves and we’re the record company. From the record company perspective, we’re the product as well, so there’s a lot of hats to wear and a lot of time that that takes up. It will take all of your time if you let it.

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