I am a big big fan of Reserving Dirtnaps, and their bass player Aaron Winter. Miracle Drug has been blessed to play with them a few times over the past couple of years, and we all got along really well. Whenever they come through town they always stay with my fiance and me. I consider them good personal friends now, and I also really admire their musicianship.
Aaron is a standout talent, and his story is exactly what the Bassist Spotlight is all about. I hope you enjoy Memphis, Tennessee's finest, and check out their new record, Another Disaster, coming out on WAR Records later this month.
Introduce yourself to everyone.
Our next contestant on Bassist Spotlight hails from the Memphis, Tennessee hardcore band, Reserving Dirtnaps. When he’s not playing bass, he enjoys cooking, working out, spending time with his family, and being a corporate sell out. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Aaron Winter.
How'd you get into playing the bass guitar?
I always wanted to play bass, once I got serious about music in my late teens. I had two good friends that played bass, so there never was really an opportunity for me to do it with the bands I was in in my late teens. My good friend, Jason Lancaster (Few Left Standing), is freakin’ Master Shredder on guitar and found a drummer in Wynne, Arkansas who had a practice space and a bass amp the Summer before my Sophomore year of college.
Prior to this, I had attempted guitar to no avail, and predominately did vocals for the bands I was in. My two friends I mentioned at the beginning of this question were in other projects, so we needed a bass player if this drummer worked out. We looked for a bass player for a couple of weeks with no luck, and I brought up me playing bass to Jason. He was skeptical at first, but the more we talked about it, the more we both thought it was an idea worth trying.
The next day, I went to a local music store, bought an Ibanez ATK, and that evening Jason and myself went to jam with this new drummer. I had never played bass before this. When we got to practice, Jason and the drummer started playing “Texas Flood” by Stevie Ray Vaughn to warm up, and it instantly made sense to me to where I jumped in and started playing along with them. We jammed on that song for close to 30 minutes and when we got done, Jason and the drummer just stared at me and were like, “what just happened?”...I was hooked after that.
Did/does your family support your musical endeavors?
When I first started, no. My mother did not like it at all...especially when I kept coming home with new gear. Like I said, I was in college at the time and she saw it as not only a distraction but a money pit. She has since warmed up to the idea and both her and my father support me now to this day.
My wife Rebecca has always supported me from day one. She is actually a big reason why I am in Reserving Dirtnaps now, due to her encouraging me to start playing again. I had about a 15-year hiatus between the last show Few Left Standing played and the first practice I had for Reserving Dirtnaps, so I wasn’t only out of practice but didn’t have a lot of confidence about playing with or in front of people.
It was my wife who encouraged and motivated me to get involved with hardcore again. My 3 kids are supportive as well, but that’s probably just because they don’t have a choice!
Do you play any other instruments?
Not where anyone else can hear me play them. I have a piano at home and have used that to write bass lines before, and on occasion will pick up a guitar and fool around. However, that’s the extent of me playing any other instrument.
Were you born, and raised in Memphis?
I was pretty much raised in the area, as I moved here when I was 6. However, I was born in Oakland, California and my parents are both originally from Iowa. I told people for years that I was either from California or Iowa, but I am proudly from Memphis.
Do you think Memphis has any influence on your style of playing?
Absolutely...the blues and soul music is everywhere here. I seriously don’t think I would have been nearly the bass player I am today without that influence. I’m really stiff and anxious by nature, and I believe appreciating blues, soul, and jazz have helped loosen up my playing.
Tell everyone about your time with Few Left Standing.
Wow...FLS just somewhat happened all at once and ended kind of the same way. Jason and I had played with Jon Keegin (drums) in other projects in the past but stopped because Jon felt called to play only Christian music. Me and Jason plugged away for a while with other drummers until Jason got invited to play with Jon in his new Christian metalcore band. Chris Stafford (vocals) was the bass player at that time but eventually stopped playing due to his family. I got the invite to play, and things immediately clicked with the three of us like it never had before.
Chris was asked about 2 weeks later to come in and do vocals (which he had never done before) and day one busted out that insane growl that was his trademark. We quickly got about 4 or 5 songs together and played 2 shows in Memphis before getting a gig in Birmingham, Alabama that a friend of ours set up for us. The show was at a place called Slacker 66 and we heard the guy who ran it had started a label and was looking for bands. We played the show, met Chad Johnson, and after talking with him after the show pretty much got a verbal agreement to be on his label (Takehold Records).
From there, boom...Chad got us studio time with Barry Poynter (Zao, Living Sacrifice, Embodyment), he got Limbert Fabian (album art for Hot Water Music and Snapcase) to do the cover art. The record dropped and momentum built. We released Wormwood a few years later, again recording with Barry Poynter, but this time we’re able to get Derrick Hess to do 4 panels of original artwork for the album.
The album premiered on the Top 50 metal charts and the hype got huge. From there, Tooth & Nail records attempted to acquire our contract from Chad, which he was able to parlay into them buying his entire catalog, plus give him a job as an A&R rep. However, once this happened, we all had a reality check. All four of us were married, both Chris and I had kids, and we had to make a decision to either pursue music or our family. We chose our family, of course, and FLS was no more.
Despite FLS disbanding almost as soon as Tooth & Nail re-released Wormwood, they got a good consolation prize in being able to acquire Underoath as part of the deal.
You guys were supposed to play Furnace Fest this year. Do you think they'll reschedule?
Yes...word we have received from Chad Johnson is that it will definitely go on. Right now, it is scheduled for May of 2021. All that being said, it’s amazing to have gotten asked to play and even more astonishing that we have received the outpouring of support and excitement from people about playing. When Chad first asked us, I figured he was just doing this as a nostalgia thing for himself...I honestly didn’t think anyone still remembered who we were.
Reserving Dirtnaps is one of my favorite bands and people. How did you get involved with the guys?
Ha...to be honest, I went in and stole the gig from a friend of mine. I knew Paul from back when I was in FLS and he was in Clenched Fist. He and Joel Murphy set FLS up with its first couple of shows and we played with them every chance we got. Now, fast-forward to November 20, 2017. I went to hang out with my good friend John Burton (who is one of my many influences in playing bass) and we started talking about who he was playing with and he made the comment about needing to buy a P bass so he could start playing with Reserving Dirtnaps.
I had been admiring Reserving Dirtnaps from afar for quite some time, but never thought Josh (Sowell) would leave the band. I asked John what happened and he told me Josh quit and Brandon hit him up about playing. John then told me that I should be playing with them because of my style of playing and influences fit better. When I left his house, I immediately reached out to White Paul (who I probably hadn’t seen or talked to in over 10 years) and told him I heard he was looking for a bass player.
He asked who I heard that from and I told him John Burton, to which he replied, “Well that is perplexing. I was under the impression that he was gonna do it.” In retrospect, I probably was a little too ambitious and should have talked more with my friend, but at the end, he was cool with it and Paul told me that night if he knew I was available, he would have hit me up about it.
So long story long, I and Paul met up that night to discuss it and here I am today.
Typically, how do you write your bass parts for your bands?
I always start with the root of the song. Most of the time it’s following along with the guitar riff, but lots of times I focus on the root notes of the riff and whether or not I have space to do something different without taking away from the song. From here, writing for Reserving Dirtnaps and FLS are somewhat different due to the music. FLS was metalcore and I could get away with more experimentation, playing bass lines that countered the guitar riff, and loosening up notes and bass lines that would otherwise be staccato.
Reserving Dirtnaps is much more lock-step and requires the bass to be the mortar that supports the guitar and drums and adhere them together to make an already heavy song even heavier, thus completing the song. That being said, Paul has always supported, and even pushed for original bass fills from me for different parts of songs.
I love to slide down the neck and tend to do that too often to the point where either Paul or Jason gives me that look that guitar players give bass players do something that is bothering them.
Do you use a guitar pick?
Yes...I like playing with my fingers, but am much more solid and accurate with a pick. I use Dunlop Tortex .88 picks (the infamous green picks). They are rigid enough, but still have just enough flex to help when I play faster, double picked parts.
When I'm recording and playing live, I try to hit as many downstrokes as possible. What is your picking style?
To quote an interview I read once with Cliff Williams from AC/DC, all downstroke for more attack. I definitely try to downstroke as much as possible...it just sounds meaner.
Is there a bass player who has influenced your playing the most?
Just one? If I have to pick one, it would definitely be Joe Lally from Fugazi/Coriky/The Messthetics fame. His bass lines are some of the most original I’ve ever heard. The way he layers his bass lines underneath everything else that’s going on while locking in with the drums is incredible.
His bass lines have always been the driving force behind what made Fugazi a great band, in my humble opinion. I can’t think of another bass player who plays like him.
Now if you want to go down the rabbit hole with me...
David WM Sims (Jesus Lizard), Matt Freeman (Rancid), and Craig “Ahead” Setari (Straight Ahead, Sick of It All) have to be mentioned in regard to influence and style. There’s a bass fill In the song "Sleepless" (first song on Another Disaster) where the influence from all 4 of these guys is on display. It’s a hot mess of a bass line, and I love it!
Are there any drummers who have changed the way you play?
Jon Keegin (Few Left Standing) definitely helped mold how I play early on. With Jon, what he may not have technically he definitely makes up for in playing in the pocket. Jon grew up on jazz and soul records, as his father did session work as a saxophonist in numerous bands and definitely helped me acquire feel and pocket presence, and how that works regardless of the music you’re playing.
John having that pocket helped me grow as a bass player in being able to compose a lot of the elaborate bass fills and lines that are throughout FLS songs on both albums.
What is your current amp, pedal, bass guitar set up?
For Reserving Dirtnaps, I have a 1990 and a 1996 Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray basses that I use. I tend to play out more with the 96 because it is somewhat beaten up and the preamp is more balanced. I used the 90 Music Man to record Another Disaster and it has an unreal amount of low end. I use 2 Ampeg 4x10 bass cabinets instead of an 8x10 because I’m old and stubborn about loading my gear in and out by myself instead of asking for help…also in the event stairs are involved with a gig, carrying two 4x10 cabinets is a lot more manageable than an 8x10.
Loading and unloading 2- 4x10 cabinets makes a world of difference. For my amp, I use a Darkglass Microtubes 900. It weighs about 5 lbs, has 2 Darkglass pedals built-in, and is the loudest amp I have ever heard. It’s the best bass amp available in my humble opinion.
For FLS, I have a 1990 Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray 5 string. FLS is the only band I played a 5 string in because I saw the need to be able to play a low C or B when Jason was doing something 2 octaves up. Also, when he tuned down to drop D, I could still play a low D. It definitely made playing more challenging at times because instead of playing that open D, I have to fret it. However, the FLS songs would not be what they are without a 5 string bass.
My amp/cabinet situation is/was always tube amps and 15” speaker cabinets. I currently have an Ampeg SVT II Pro and 2 Bag End 15’s that I use for FLS, but anyone who knows me can tell you that may change before this interview gets printed. I’ve always been a gear junkie and wish I still had half the gear I’ve owned over the past 20 years.
I forget what year it was but Miracle Drug played a fest with Reserving Dirtnaps, and we hit it off immediately. I'm not sure if it was our close ages, the fact we were touring in trucks, or our love of college sports.
Is there anything you can tell us that makes Reserving Dirtnaps so great for everyone to listen to/watch live? The Knocked Loose guys love your band.
Ah yes...you’re talking about Flyover Fest from 2018, I believe. Yeah, when I met you guys I was excited at the fact that I wasn’t the only old guy in the room. Plus, that set you guys played was amazing...it sounded like Dag Nasty and Gorilla Biscuits had a baby. You guys are definitely one of my favorite bands.
As far as what makes Reserving Dirtnaps great, I was a huge fan of the band before getting the opportunity to join. So it’s no surprise that the guys in Knocked Loose like Reserving Dirtnaps...I’m a fan myself. But I will definitely say that it is humbling that a band as huge as Knocked Loose is into us. I’m still grateful for them insisting on us playing with them the last time they played Memphis. Paul and Brandon are the ones who deserve all the credit though.
Paul’s songwriting is incredible...he writes the hardest riffs and there is flow and structure to his songs. So many bands pile up a bunch of breakdowns and call that a song. Paul has a vision when he comes up with a riff...it’s not just something to hang his hat on and add other miscellaneous parts and call it a song. Paul is extremely meticulous about each song and each part.
Every part being right is extremely important. Then you add Brandon to the mix...if I were to create a frontman in a lab, I don’t think I could do any better than Brandon. His vocals, lyrics, and imposing physical stature just make the songs that much more hard. He is the perfect frontman for Reserving Dirtnaps. Paul and Brandon are the core of this band and they put everything they have into making it a great band.
How much did Few Left Standing tour?
Not a whole lot, which made the popularity we had at the time even more dumbfounding. We had 1 tour of the West Coast that was supposed to be 2 weeks long but got cut down to 10 days due to family issues. I will say the time we had on that tour was one of the best in our lives and we still talk about things we saw and did to this day.
Is there any other city you would like to live in?
I go back and forth on this all the time. There isn’t a city in particular that I want to live in, but more of a place or setting. One day, I would like to live on the beach, preferably in the Gulf. However, I think at times I would like to live in the woods in Iowa or Montana, on around 10 acres with a river flowing through my back yard.
However, I’ve lived in Memphis for close to 40 years and there’s a ton I love about living here. It’s big enough that you have most of the stuff you would have in a big city, but still small enough that you can park downtown and not have to pay $50 to do so. You can drive anywhere in the city and usually not have to worry about where you’re going to park when you get there.
WAR Records (Andrew Kline) is putting out Reserving Dirtnaps new record! How did that relationship come about?
That’s all thanks to your guy (and our unofficial agent) Matt Wieder (Miracle Drug). We played Louisville at Spinelli’s Pizza for the last show of our tour with Purgatory/Paper Trail/No Option in March of 2019 and after our set, Matt told Paul he was going to get us on a label.
Matt texted Andrew and put Paul in touch with him, and we were able to convince him into putting this awesome 7” on WAR Records. Yet another reason why we love you Miracle Drug fellas! It was great that Andrew took a chance on us and we are going to work our asses off for him and WAR Records.
If you could fill in for any band past or present, who would you love to play for?
Rocket from the Crypt...one of my favorite bands. I have always loved how they were able to combine punk with noise rock and a horn section. On top of that, they had more style, energy, and charisma than any other band in the late ’90s. Every time they played, they left everything they had on the stage. I like them so much, I have a rocket tattoo on my left leg.
How are you and your family handling COVID-19?
It hasn’t been terrible but has been a challenge for sure. Me and my wife are essential workers, and business is crazy busy for both of us. I’m a Senior Manager at the FedEx World Hub in Memphis, and every sort for the past 6 months has been just as busy, if not busier than our peak season before Christmas. Becca works for a UV disinfection company and they are busier than ever, due to the increased need for COVID-19-related disinfection.
Our kids are 15, 17, and 21, so they have been able to help with things around the house and take care of school on their own. It would be much more challenging with the increased hours we are working if our kids were younger or into trouble. Becca and I have been blessed with great kids.
Is there anything going on in your personal or music life you'd like to talk about?
Musically, Reserving Dirtnaps and FLS are about all I can fit on my plate, but I’ve always had the itch to do something more in the vein of Sonic Youth/Jawbox/The VSS. I grew up in the early ’90s and both Discord and Touch and Go records artists were probably 70% of what I listened to.
Personally, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. In addition to FedEx and RD/FLS, I have Personal Training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and would like to eventually get back into that one day in some form or fashion.
I also used to do competitive BBQ contests and would like to try and get back into that. Paul keeps trying to talk me into opening a BBQ place in Memphis that could double as a venue, but I’m not confident enough in my game to open a BBQ joint in Memphis...there are so many good spots here that there’s no way I feel I could keep the doors open.
I’ve also started writing. I wanted to make movies when I was younger and had an idea and script I started writing years ago. I have started modifying that into book form off and on over the past few years and one day hope to sit down and dedicate real time to doing the story I’ve had in my head for years justice.
Finally, do you have any advice for someone picking up a bass guitar for the first time?
To quote Vince Vaughn, you got to treat it like a lady! Treat the bass guitar as it’s own instrument. Don’t just hook up a distortion pedal, crank the gain, cut the mids, and mimic what the guitar is doing. Find the right bass and tone for you and learn how it fits in with the guitars, drums, and vocals...then add what is needed in regard to distortion or other effects. Also, look for influences in other areas of music.
Don’t be afraid to experiment…I’ve come up with hardcore bass lines from being influenced by other styles of music. Something I realized a long time ago is that you can learn something from anyone...even if it’s what not to do.
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