Interview: Bassist Rudy Sarzo Discusses Gear, Randy Rhoads and Animetal USA
Bassist Rudy Sarzo reflects on his career and discusses his latest project, Animetal USA.
Since Rudy Sarzo turned up on heavy metal's radar in the early '80s as Ozzy Osbourne's bassist, he's made a career out of providing the low end to a bevy of heavy, household-name bands, from Whitesnake and Quiet Riot to Dio and Blue Öyster Cult.
However, Sarzo recently left BÖC to concentrate on a fairly new project, Animetal USA, a new version of a successful Japan-based power-metal band that reigned from 1996 to 2006.
Animetal USA includes singer Mike Vescera (who goes by "Metal-Rider" in the band), guitarist Chris Impellitteri ("Speed King"), Sarzo ("Stormbringer") and former Slayer drummer Jon Dette ("Tank"), who replaced Judas Priest's Scott Travis due to the ongoing success of Priest’s Epitaph Tour.
How to sum up the Animetal USA experience? Try mentally melding Japanese-style anime with speed metal.
"Animetal USA really excited me to be able to play more of the speed metal style," Sarzo says. "To play at 160, 180 bpm doing 16 beats. I never played like that with Whitesnake, I never played like that even with Quiet Riot, so this gives me a fresh challenge. It's also is an outlet to put my creativity playing in speed-metal style."
Below, Sarzo discusses the new album, reflects on his early days with Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads and discusses the future.
GUITAR WORLD: How did Animetal USA come about?
The band is Mike Vescera, our singer. He was a member of band called Loudness, which was one of Japan’s most significant metal bands. They were very popular in Japan, so he has been living in Japan for about two years. While he was there, he became a fan of anime. A few years ago, there was band called Animetal, and they did what we do, which was basically take anime theme songs and do them in the style of heavy metal or speed metal. We’re basically more of a speed metal band.
Animetal ceased to exist a few years back, so a couple of years ago, Mike was having a conversation with our record company, Sony Music. He was talking about the idea of resurrecting the whole concept of Animetal. So we're now called Animetal USA. The reason I was asked to join the band is I'm a 3D animator, I do graphics, compositing, animation and all that, and I'm fan of anime, being one of the most influential art forms of visual art that there is. Also I had toured in Japan with Ozzy, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake and Dio.
Then next came to getting a guitar player, Chris Impellitteri, which was one of the most popular guitar players in Japan with his own group, Impellitteri. The guy is just an amazing, amazing musician. On our first record, Scott Travis of Judas Priest was the drummer, but he’s so busy with his schedule with Judas Priest; when it came time to perform in Japan we recruited Jon Dette, who had been a member of Testament and Slayer. So that’s our band.
When we went in to record our second album, that was the group. We have two albums on Sony Music. The first is called Animetal USA. The second is called W. it’s a very famous phrase in the anime world. It’s distributed throughout the world through Century Music. Through Century Music we basically have what’s called the Special Edition, which is songs taken from the first and second albums.
As a bassist, are you playing differently with Animetal USA than with any of your other bands?
It’s always refreshing where you can play with a group where you can actually use certain musical skills you didn’t get to practice with other bands. One of the things that enabled me to go toward playing with Ozzy to Quiet Riot to Whitesnake to Dio to Animetal USA is the fact that I can adapt to the style of the band. With Animetal USA, it excited me to be able to play more of the speed metal style. To play at 160, 180 bpm doing 16 beats -- I never played like that with Whitesnake, I never played like that even with Quiet Riot, so this gives me a whole fresh challenge. It's also an outlet to put my creativity playing in speed metal style.
Are you still using Peavey basses?
I do still play Peavey basses, which is what I played on both albums. I use a four-string and the five-string. There’s a lot of different tuning, a lot of drop tuning. So sometimes instead of me dropping down to a C, I actually tune my D string to a C, which actually gives me a tighter feel, especially when I’m playing really fast -- anything from 140 beats and above. It gives me better articulation and clarity in my count. It’s ideal to have a tighter string.
With the Peavey, the neck is stained, not painted. When that's the case, do you feel the vibrations in the wood?
That’s exactly what it is. After playing all these years, I’ve noticed that the more bare the wood is ... when I test a base I never plug it in. I pick it up and I see how it feels acoustically. I look at my left hand as a grip, and if I feel the vibration, that is a sign of a great instrument.
Do you use Peavey amps?
No, I haven’t used Peavey amps since Whitesnake. There was a period where I was using Ampeg prior to Whitesnake and Quiet Riot. With Ozzy I used mainly Ampeg, but in the '70s, I was using Acoustic and recently I started playing with Acoustic amps again, and I just love it. With Animetal USA, every single track and performance I do live is with my Acoustic amps. I just can’t believe the clarity, the punch, the volume. Actually, for the first time I have to put the amp as far away from me as possible. The volume, the clarity is just so overwhelming.
You were good friends with Randy Rhoads, who died in 1982. Do you still see his influence today -- and do you still think about him?
I think about him enough to have to sit down and write a book to answer the No. 1 question I get asked around the world: What was it like to play with Randy Rhoads? He’s such an influential musician even today, 30 years after his passing. The way I put it is, in any post-Randy Rhoads guitar player, I always hear some kind of influence in their performance, even in their compositional style. Every time I receive an email or a message on Facebook or whatever, from kids, young guitar players, 10, 14 years old, they say, "Man, I discovered Randy Rhoads. He’s my favorite guitar player."
That really touches me because it’s great to hear a new generation giving Randy the credit he deserves for being the well where most guitar players drink from. He has influenced generations and still does. So do I think of Randy every day? Of course I do. We all do. All of us that got to know him and perform with him. We have that common. We'll never lose that bond, that thread, our admiration toward Randy as a musician and as a friend.
A long time ago, you were feuding with Ozzy and a few other people. Is all that in the past now?
Yes, yes. Silly things happen. If you look at the big picture, you look more at what we have in common than what we have not. At the end of the day, that’s what always takes precedence. As a matter of fact, I’ll be doing a lot of interviews on behalf of Ozzy and Sharon for the latest release of the Speak of the Devil DVD. Everything is really wonderful between the Osbournes and me, which is the way it should be. Because if you ask me what the most significant group in my career was, it has to be being a member of the Ozzy Osbourne band. They gave me my first break, they took a chance on me, a complete unknown, just based on Randy’s recommendation. If it wasn’t for them we would probably not be having this conversation. I owe my career to Sharon, Ozzy and Randy Rhoads.
For someone who has been in the metal circuit for more than 30 years, how do you feel it has evolved or changed?
When I look up my influences, I can look back as far as Hendrix, to me the first metal influence, and then bands like Vanilla Fudge, which were metal and progressive. Then it keeps evolving -- Led Zeppelin, The Who, Deep Purple. They’re all part of the roots of the metal tree, and then it evolves. In the '70s, it kept evolving. It branched out to prog-rock, then Judas Priest, then to be a part of the new wave of metal with Ozzy, British metal. To tour with Ozzy with bands like UFO; then with Quiet Riot with bands like Iron Maiden. I see it has a huge tree with some really deep roots that just keep branching out.
Animetal USA's self-titled debut (Buy it on iTunes) is gold-certified in Japan. Their latest album, Animetal USA W, came out June 6 (Available as an import only at this point).
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