Alex Venturella – alongside drummer Jay Weinberg, son of Bruce Springsteen drummer Max Weinberg – was recruited into Slipknot in 2014. At first his identity was concealed behind the mask that he wears, like his bandmates: but that didn’t last long: a bunch of distinctive tattoos on his hands gave the game away.
As Alex revealed to us, he’d been working in the music industry for years – and although that meant that his identity couldn’t be hidden for long, it also meant that he was equipped to handle one of the toughest gigs in metal. “All I was ever focused on was making sure that my bass sounded good. I never thought about stage nerves, or anything like that. It wasn’t until the curtain came up at the first Knotfest that I had a moment when I realised ‘Whoa! I’ve got a mask on!’”
If you thought playing fiendishly twisty pick lines in front of stadiums packed with shrieking crowds was tough, try doing it in a boiler suit wearing a mask that barely reveals your eyes. Somehow, Alex manages to deliver the goods on his Status Graphite bass guitar, night after night: read and learn.
How did you come to join Slipknot, Alex?
“I was teching with Mastodon in 2014 and we’d just got back from Australia, where we were doing the Soundwave festival. I was staying with [Mastodon singer and bassist] Troy Sanders’ brother Darren Sanders in Atlanta. One night, Darren’s girlfriend got a call from [Slipknot guitarist] Jim Root. I knew Jim because I toured with Slipknot in 2008, teching with Coheed & Cambria.
"So she passed me the phone and he said, ‘Do you know any bass players?’ I asked if it was for Stone Sour and he said, ‘No – the other band’ and I instantly said ‘I’ll do it!’ I gave him this whole drunken spiel about ‘I’ll give you some slap bass if you need it!’ and we were having a laugh. Then he said ‘Seriously, do you actually want to do this?’ and I said ‘Yes, I’d really love to do it’.”
What happened then?
“Four days later the manager called me and told me to learn six songs. I thought, ‘Fuck that, I’ll learn more than that’ and sat down on the couch and watched all of Paul’s old videos and DVDs, and crammed in as much knowledge as I could. Some people think it’s well easy to play Slipknot’s stuff, but there’s a lot of chromatic stuff going on and it’s a workout. I phoned James Leach, the bassist from Sikth, who is a good friend of mine, and said, ‘Dude, you won’t believe what’s happening’. He told me I needed to downpick as hard as I could, so I worked on building that up.”
What kind of reception did you get from Slipknot themselves?
“They flew me out to Sunset Sound studio in Los Angeles. They had a rig set up for me, but I said I didn’t really like it and asked if we could change some things around, which I did. I had Troy Sanders’ Zon bass with me and, being a tech, I’d set it up myself to play as nicely as I could. I said, ‘Right, let’s go!’”
What have been the challenges of playing in Slipknot so far?
“The main learning curve has been learning how to rock out. My thumb used to hurt because I was picking so hard: it would expand and blow up, so now I pick with more control and less aggression. I’d notice it hurting before and so I’d have to play notes with less attack, and our front-of-house guy would notice it because I’ve got four outputs. I was still playing fine, but I had to work around it to get back to the level I’d been before. So I’m always on the technical side of things.”
Does the mask make it difficult to play?
"At first the mask was a bit weird, but the LEDs make the sides of the bass neck easier to see! Sometimes when I’m headbanging forward I can see the fret markers and I know I’m in the pocket."
Did Slipknot ask you to play the same bass gear as original bassist Paul Gray?
“No, they were like, ‘Whatever you feel comfortable playing is fine with us’. We tried everything in the studio and recorded with a P-Bass, which sounded great. And then we did the same thing live, going through all the basses, trying the ones that Paul used and everything. Nothing beat the P-Bass, although as I said before, I tried Troy Sanders’ Zon, and used one in the studio. And for playing live, I auditioned different basses and went with a Status S2."
Are you a fan of headless basses, then?
"Headless has always been a thing for me, and now there seems to be a bit of trend for it coming back. I’ve always been a fan of Steinbergers, and there’s a great video of Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd – who is my favourite guitar player – playing a white cricket-bat Steinberger guitar. But I’m equally happy with headed basses too."
How did you get into bass?
"I learned tapping licks on bass, and then started playing more and more bass on the road, because I was teching for people. I’d pick up bass for an hour a day, using someone else’s gear, and I’d learn a load of Steve Harris licks. Having the knowledge of classical guitar, I knew the groundwork and how to get around the bass. I just needed to sound like a bass player, instead of a guitarist playing bass."
How did you find switching from playing guitar to bass?
"Being a classical guitarist and playing on a small scale, going to the bass was a bit of a stretch. And even when I’d learned to play bass, I’d never played it while rocking out or headbanging, and I have tiny little hands, so on my Status S2s I’ve gone for a Jazz-style neck and narrow string separation."
Is it odd being a Brit in a band of Americans?
"There’s always talk of me moving to America, but I’m from St Albans and grew up in Watford and I don’t want to leave my friends and my girlfriend. Also, the dudes in the band come from all over America, so everyone travels anyway."
So you’re in a good place?
"Definitely. If I’d got this gig as a random kid who didn’t know anyone, it would have been daunting, but I’ve done so much and know so many people that when we play a festival I can go into every dressing room and know everybody. I was in the industry but I wasn’t a famous bass player or from a big metal band, so it’s not about me: it’s about seven dudes who’ve been through a lot of shit and need someone to do service to what Paul did."