After talking to Jack Townley of Elephant Tree, he suggested I speak with Pete Holland, their bass player. He immediately set up an interview and I couldn’t have been happier. Pete is a cool dude and put up with not only my interview questions, but my countless questions after. I was a fan of Elephant Tree prior to conducting both interviews, but after I’m a fan for life.
Pete not only lays down the heavy bass lines in the aforementioned Elephant Tree, but he also plays guitar and sings in Trippy Wicked And The Cosmic Children Of The Knight. If that’s not the greatest band name, then I don’t know what is. Getting perspective of both guitar and bass from Pete was an incredible insight, which I hope you enjoy reading and are inspired to create music as much as I was.
There is a lot that goes into making a perfect tone. In this series I’ve primarily discussed guitar tone, but a guitar tone can sound great on its own, and then terrible once you add other instruments. Since you primarily play bass in Elephant Tree, which bass amps are you currently using and do they differ from studio recording to live?
I’ve got the Orange Tiny Terror 500 watt bass head that usually goes out on tours and gigs, and I think it’s a great powerful amp that gives a good range. I find that with playing festivals more now, backline is provided, so I find myself using an Ampeg SVT or Orange AD200, I tend to put the settings bass up, mid mid, and treble just down a bit. You just kind of know when it feels right, for me it’s kind of a woolly, not too toppy, sound, but I play on the neck pickup a lot for fullness. For the Albums I’ve used the Ampeg Portaflex, which is the in house bass amp at the Church Studio where we’ve recorded. I don’t think it’s too dissimilar, it’s just gotta be beefy.
I’ve got the Orange Tiny Terror 500 watt bass head that usually goes out on tours and gigs, and I think it’s a great powerful amp that gives a good range…
What kind of pedals are you using for the bass? Do you add some distortion or use more of a clean bass tone?
I’m a fuzz man, and the classic Big Muff for guitar is where it’s at. Inspired from my man Dicky King in Trippy Wicked, I heard it a lot there and know it’ll do the job. Some people are surprised when you turn up and sound check, ‘that tone is just a Big Muff?!’ they cry, and yeah, that’s it. It just does what it should, it’s got a good depth with a bit of grit, I dial it in at the 666 position, as it just sits well around there. I also use a Bass Cry Baby, and Boss Flanger, for that build in Aphotic Blues near the end of the track. Dirty.
I know you play bass primarily in Elephant Tree, but also play guitar in Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (epic band name by the way). What bass and guitar are you currently using? Do you have a preference in instruments or enjoy both?
Ha cheers, yeah it’s quite the name. I kinda dig both, though I play the guitar quite lazily, being self taught I’ve picked up some bad habits along the way, usually distorted to hell so it sounds filthy.
So my bass in Elephant Tree is a short scale Gibson SG copy, it had a life before I got it as it has a broken and re-glued head, no markings, and a sheep tooth in it to keep the bridge up. I believe it’s from the 70s though, as the pickups just sound fantastic.
My guitar in Trippy Wicked has been a Gibson SG for years, tuned down to Drop A, but I started messing about with Drop F tuning a couple of years back, and got an LTD Baritone as it can handle that tuning better live, I still record at home with the SG or a Fender Telecaster for demoing riffs, they’re great solid guitars. I was told years ago that the way I play bass is like a guitar, and the way I play guitar is like a bass, I’m cool with that.
my Big Muff is a little Big Muff, it’s seen a lot of stages, and even had red wine go all over it at an intimate gig at the Dev in Camden, London…
Do you have a guitar, amp or pedal that you have had for a long time and will never part with?
Yeah, the Gibson SG copy bass I’ve had for ages, picked it up from a theatre I’ve been working at for over a decade. I was being shown around and I saw it just there in the workshop and asked whose it was, ‘don’t know, got left here, have it if you want’ and I did. The best price, and it feels just comfy too, being already worn in as it were.
I picked up a Trace Eliot stack a few years back, proper 80s. The head has gone funny a couple of times, but when it works, it’s great! Has a bit more depth and punch than the Tiny Terror, but is unreliable so I stick with the TT.
So my Big Muff is a little Big Muff, it’s seen a lot of stages, and even had red wine go all over it at an intimate gig at the Dev in Camden, London. The light stopped working for a while, but I took it apart, cleaned it up, and it still works fine.
I acquired an Ibanez Slam Punk a few years back, it’s actually quite a fuzzy kind of sound, and that was my prime pedal when I played bass in Stubb, still got it, although it doesn’t see much light these days, great sound though. I’m quite a hoarder, so don’t get rid of that much really, so still have a lot of the stuff I started out with, unless it’s a pile of dust, it’s so old I can’t use it.
Playing two different instruments is two bands is pretty awesome, but what is your writing process like and does it differ a lot for each band?
So with Trippy I pretty much come up with the riffs, melody and lyrics. I’d make demos with a loose structure, then it would jammed out with Chris on drums and Dicky on bass to see where it all feels right, arranging and rearranging as we go. Then they would find their ways to make the track their own, with the personal flare they have.
Elephant Tree is a more collaborative method, which is cool as l can just blend in with everyone. It usually starts with either Jack or I have a riff, and we jam it out to see where it’s heading. Someone will have a follow on riff to add to it, Jack and I are quite similar with how we figure out a melody or harmony, so that can work out well. It’s all very organic the way it can grow, and with Riley donning the producers cap, or wizard hat, arrangements can be tweaked in the recording and mixing stage.
Sam on drums we realised has an excellent use of the English language, so we can often shoot him ideas we have, and he can turn them around to make them cohesive for the lyrics. And Johnny has found his synth voice to add a scope and dimension really help it expand, he’s also excellent on guitar and adds another vocal part now and then for layers.
The main thing we both want to get is the groove and feel to be right, we’re not flashy bands that can churn out solos for days, it’s not our style. I think our backgrounds are in pop songs and classic structures, but also like to dabble with a bit of experimentation.
two distortion pedals through a tiny practice amp I have set up – a Behringer Super Fuzz into a Big Muff into a 25watt Marshall, sounds great…
Often I find I play a cool sounding riff only to listen back and hear how terrible it was and get discouraged. I’ll then just continue playing what I already know how to play. What do you do for inspiration if you’re having an off day or to keep from playing the same things over and over?
Sometimes the best thing to do if you’re not feeling it is to just stop and put down your guitar. If you’re getting in a rut where you get angry and annoyed, it may not get you in the mood to pick it up again for a while.
During lockdown I have moments where I just want to play loud so I can hear something loud (not too loud though, I do have housemates and neighbours), I’ll play out either a Weedeater or Eyehategod riff through two distortion pedals through a tiny practice amp I have set up – a Behringer Super Fuzz into a Big Muff into a 25watt Marshall, sounds great!
Sometimes it’ll lead to playing a riff that I not played before, so I’ll record it on my phone to listen back to later, or just get right on GarageBand and get it down with a drum beat.
If you get that discouraged by the riff, then it probably won’t work out, but if there’s a part of it that you’re like ‘oh man, I can play this forever’ then that’s the part you’ll want to keep! There are riffs I’ve played for hours and not gotten tired or bored, which is good as you’ll never know if you’ll be playing that riff in front of thousands of people for the next few years or not.
I also like to figure stuff out, so I’ll find an album to play along to, or a song I dig, and just figure out what makes it tick. What tuning is it, what rhythm is that, how does that solo go, that kind of thing. It’ll sound like a right racket at first, but it’s all learning.
Do you have a specific song, or part of a song, that you are particularly proud of writing?
There’s a Trippy Wicked track called Because Of You which I’ve dedicated to my late father, who passed away some 30 years ago now. It’s quite Soundgarden inspired, with an epic ending. It’s quite dark, but also light and positive.
I also love Elephant Tree’s Dawn, it’s just so nice and sunshiny, with positive lyrics and the hippy idea of peace and love.
There’s a Trippy Wicked track called Because Of You which I’ve dedicated to my late father…
Do you have any practice routines or warm-ups that you do on a daily basis?
I should say yes, but I can’t say I do. I used to do run ups on the fretboard to get my fingers nimble, and I will get my fingers doing that before playing live to get them warmed up. As one time I played in this freezing sort of barn stadium in East Germany, my hand just froze up, and it threw me right out. So since then I’ve wanted to get them little digits proper moving beforehand.
I do find with figuring out tracks that I don’t know helps a lot, that’s how I’ve learnt all these years, and it’s a good way of discovering what you can do differently to help keep practice up, and keep it fun too.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I really appreciate it. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Cheers mate, no worries. I guess just keep your chin up, 2020 has pushed a lot of people’s buttons, and 2021 has started out much the same. We don’t know when things will start up again in the UK and Europe, but we’re hopeful for new writing and music in the near future.
So get yourself come fuzz, play dirty riffs to make you grin, and we’ll soon be making our ears ring at gigs again.
Interviewed by: Josh Schneider