Its easy to get lost in todays ever expanding landscape of heavy metal bands. A landscape so saturated to where anyone with a guitar and a credit card can release an album, such a drastic contrast of where the industry was not long ago. This recent musical evolution has made it hard to pinpoint which musicians are driven by genuine passion, and which ones are simply following the flock so to speak. Often times its even more difficult to locate such an honest musician when their position in the band gets overshadowed by singers and guitar players. This is why I felt it necessary to shine the spotlight on Daniel Firth, a bass player with enough heart and passion on his sleeve to inspire legions of metal fans for years to come.
Daniel has a unique ability to expose his low tone in such a way that it feels secure and steady, without becoming muddy and overbearing. His attention to detail is a clear reminder of why more musicians like him need to be brought into the forefront, so as to lead by example. Especially in a time when so many younger musicians are using software presets and copy/paste techniques to achieve their sonic vision. Bass guitar should never be treated as just a lower tuned guitar that plays the same notes as its seemingly cooler and flashier cousin. Its a craft that requires skill, precision, technique, dexterity, and dedication. All qualities Mr Firth displays each and every time he picks up his bass.
I chatted with Daniel in the cavernous halls of his deepest darkest dungeon located in the demonic depths of Scotland’s most haunted…okay I emailed him some questions. However, his level of depth and detail rivals any interview Ive ever done. He covers everything from his first steps towards becoming a musician, to his love for his Scottish homeland.
How did you first start your journey towards becoming a musician, and picking up the bass guitar?
I’ve always been very enthusiastic about music, maybe thanks in part to a copy of Queen Greatest Hits I that started me off on the right path from a very young age. I can’t actually remember a time when that tape wasn’t in my life. I would listen to it on a Walkman until the batteries ran out and Freddie’s voice started going all deep and creepy as the tape wound to a halt. My tastes moved around a fair bit over the years, but it was when I started really getting into heavy metal around the age of fourteen that I started to think about picking up an instrument (a short foray into the world of trumpet notwithstanding).
I got my first guitar when I was fifteen and had already set plans in motion to start a band with some close friends, even before the purchase had been made. None of us could play very well to start with of course, and none of us took lessons. We just learned by picking songs of our favourite bands and trying to work them out each week in my garage. We eventually started writing our own material and cut our teeth playing live gigs around the Scottish island we lived on, called Orkney. It was a proud moment when, after competing in a battle of the bands competition, the local newspaper described us in its review as ‘Too different for Orkney’.
It wasn’t until years later when I had been living in Glasgow for a while that I first started playing bass. I had bought a cheap one for getting ideas down on home recordings, and when a work colleague of mine got wind of this he asked me if I’d be interested in joining a Misfits tribute band he was starting. I agreed, and suddenly had a setlist of about twenty songs to learn. I went about it with great enthusiasm, which didn’t go unnoticed by the singer in the band, who also happened to sing for Man Must Die. They were looking for a bassist, and I was quite taken aback to be offered the spot. I invested my meagre savings in a quality bass, spent my evenings after work practising harder than ever and from there things just snowballed. These days I find myself a bassist first and a guitarist second!
How does your bass playing differ when it comes to approaching a band like Cradle of Filth, versus a band like Man Must Die?
I’d say my technique is quite similar for both bands, and even my approach in terms of writing. With MMD being in drop tuning, that takes a bit of a mental shift, but I think what’s going to sound best on bass in most heavy bands boils down to a few simple things. I make a point of trying follow the drums and lock in with what they’re doing rhythmically, especially the kick drum. Melodically, although it’s sometimes appropriate to closely follow what the guitars are doing or go to town on a more outlandish melody, I find it’s almost always better for the song if the bass provides an anchor and keeps things simple, giving context to complex riffs. Funnily enough, I’d say when I write whole songs for Cradle, as I did for ‘Yours Immortally…’ and ‘Hammer of the Witches’ on our most recent album, they end up with some of the simplest bass parts throughout them, because I really like to push the guitar riffs to the forefront in my songs.
Who do you draw inspiration from, and what elements of their style do you try to incorporate into your own sound?
My two biggest bass idols are Geddy Lee and Steve Harris. I wouldn’t say I’ve consciously tried to adopt aspects of their playing, but I’ve definitely picked up their tendency to play rather hard! I’d say the single most important thing I learned from these two is the power of the rest. Well timed moments of silence in basslines can add so much punchiness and percussive power.
What are some of the essential elements that create your signature bass sound?
In terms of tone, I keep my rig incredibly simple. I have a great sounding bass in the Schecter Hellraiser Extreme. Coupled with the fantastic and versatile Darkglass B7K, I find I have all the tonal options I need. As for signature elements (it goes without saying that you need punchy mids and rumbling low end), I find I like a little bit more top end than a lot of players. I think the occasional sound of bass strings slapping off frets is brutal, and the sound of the pick attack adds definition when playing fast. I make an effort to pick that out with my tone without invading those high frequencies in the overall mix too much.. The brightness of fresh strings is essential to me as well. As for playing, it’s hard, percussive, fast when required and not shy with the fifths!
Often times it can be difficult to translate the energy of a band like Man Must Die with such low notes on a bass, what approach do you take to ensure your low end is tight enough to keep up with such intricate parts?
I learned very early on that in extreme metal, playing constant sixteenths on the bass is not the way to go, tempting though it may be. You can gain so much more clarity and thickness by underpinning fast riffs with eighths instead, so that’s what I tend to do in MMD. It helps the whole song groove as well.
Do you notice any differences with the audience that shows up to a Man Must Die show in comparison to those who show up to a Cradle of Filth show?
Cradle attracts quite a diverse crowd. There are more women than most metal shows for one thing, which is great, and many people like to dress outlandishly or put on corpse paint. At an MMD show it’s a bit more punk. For example, in the venues we tend to play, it’s a lot more viable to encourage stage diving. If you do that at a Cradle gig you invite all sorts of problems. Both crowds are generally very energetic though, with lots of moshing, crowd surfing and singing along.
When you got the job with Cradle of Filth, what was the first thought that crossed your mind?
I need to buy a five string!
Cradle of Filth has an extensive back catalogue of songs, many of which contain elaborate arrangements, is there any song in particular from the past that you find challenging to play live?
It was a bit of a challenge to play certain songs when I first joined Cradle, but these days I’m pretty comfortable with everything and can concentrate more on what I’m doing on stage. That can depend on the quality of the monitors though! For example, if you can’t hear what’s happening during that triplet alternate blast on ‘Heaven Torn Asunder’ things are likely to get a bit messy. Having said that, some of the hardest parts to play have actually come about from the new album, as I do have a habit of trying to push myself when in the studio, and of course we’re now playing those songs live.
What is your opinion on the current state of heavy music, is there anything you’d like to see more of or less of?
I have some complaints, mostly to do with the various production methods employed these days that make everyone sound like robots. I’d like less of that. In terms of what people are playing, there are certain trends I have no interest in. Playing music as fast, technical, or de-tuned as possible at the price of writing an actual song is something that bores me extremely quickly. There are loads of great new bands out there though, maybe even to the point of saturation. You have to do something pretty different to stand out these days.
Are there any goals you continue to strive towards as a musician?
I’ve had plans for my own metal project brewing for years now, but I count myself lucky that I’ve been too busy with other big projects to make it happen. It’s definitely still a goal though, and I plan to do everything but the drums myself, in the studio anyway. Hopefully that will come about in the next few years, and all the songs I’ve been writing since I was a teenager can finally see the light of day!
I’ve also just started a new crossover band in Glasgow called Rat Gash, in which I’m playing guitar. Our writing has been very fruitful so far, and we’re hoping to play some gigs later on this year.
You’re a native of Scotland, so what are 5 things you’d recommend every metal fan do if they visit your homeland?
I’m utterly in love with the Scottish countryside. I’ve made it my mission, as have many others before me, to climb all 282 mountains greater than 3000 feet in Scotland, known as Munros (so far I’ve done 55). I think such a challenge is a fantastic way to go about exploring and getting to know my homeland. Anyway, the point is that I think the best way to experience Scotland is by getting out in the beautiful countryside to climb some hills or walk through some glens, drinking it all in.
If you ever get the chance to visit Orkney, the island where I was born and grew up, there are some amazing things to see – the kind of things you don’t fully appreciate as a youngster living there. You can find the 5000 year old ruins of a neolithic village called Skara Brae, ancient stone monuments and tombs too numerous to mention, natural wonders like the Old Man of Hoy, which is the biggest sea stack in the UK. Or, if you’re into more recent history, there are the rusted remnants of a scuttled German fleet from the First World War still poking up from the waters of Scapa Flow. Those suggestions should be enough to get you started, but there’s so much more.
Spend a day checking out the sights in Edinburgh. I lived there for a couple of years, and though I eventually decided it wasn’t the place for me, it’s a tourist’s dream. Check out the castle and a museum or two. If you’re the active sort you could split it up with an ascent of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano in the middle of the city, for the best view in town.
Glasgow has plenty of great attractions too, with my personal favourite being the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where you can see Salvador Dali’s ‘Christ of Saint John of the Cross’. Catch a gig if you can too, because we’ve got the best crowds around. You may well meet some characters! Finally, try some haggis, neeps and tatties with whisky sauce. And whisky. Those suggestions are almost enough for a Buzzfeed article!
Where to Find Daniel Firth
The amount of professional musicians who take the time to craft answers with such detail is few and far between, and its clear in doing so that Daniel Firth loves his craft and has a deep respect for its roots. My only hope is that this will inspire more musicians to take better care of their music, and not treat it as such an expendable commodity. The songs we create will outlive us all, but passion is unmistakable, and nobody will pay any attention if you don’t devote all that is in you towards everything you create.