From humble bass beginnings to eight-string success
No matter how a player’s style may change and develop, you can tell a lot about a guitarist’s playing from his origins on the instrument. Max Bergen is one such example. He’s a passionate ambassador of the eight-string guitar, not to mention rhythm over technicality for the sake of it – and, logically enough, his first instrument was bass, rather than the guitar.
“I started playing bass when I was 10, and moved on to guitar approximately a year later,” Max explains. “I think my heavy focus on the rhythmic side of guitar playing is due to the fact that my introduction to music was on a bass.”
After performing in a few different bands in his home town of Victoria, BC, Canada, Max sold his six-string and replaced it with an eight-string, the low-end giving him the freedom to work as a two-piece with a drummer.
“That experience really changed the way I looked at music; it showed me the difference between taking over a project and truly collaborating,” he recalls. “After that project ended, I downsized even further. I bought recording equipment and started learning how to produce on my own. Now, there’s nothing I love to lose myself in more than making music.”
And with Max’s latest effort, A Turn Of Events, it’s easy to lose yourself as a listener, too. It’s a multi-layered, punishing listen, as Max takes multi-tasking to the, well, max, weaving intricate tapped melodies around thorny, angular djent rhythms – and he even performs the EP’s distorted vocals himself. But while the music is influenced by the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan and SikTh, it’s hard to pin down just where it sits on the continuum of metal.
“I’m not the biggest fan of the ever-increasing convoluted metal sub-genre categorisation, but if I had to classify my music, I’d call it post-metalcore,” Max explains. “There are a lot of metalcore, post-hardcore, and progressive metal influences in my songwriting, and I really like to blend the catchy, upbeat melodies of post-hardcore like Dance Gavin Dance with the vulnerable yet aggressive sounds of old-school metalcore like 7 Angels 7 Plagues. I think that technicality should take the back seat and only be utilised to convey an idea and/or feeling, as opposed to being technical for the sake of being technical.”
So, considering his thoughts on over-technicality, Max’s choice of an Ibanez RG2228 eight-string for songwriting and recording might seem a little contradictory. It’s more than justified in his hands, however – particularly considering the way in which it interlocks with the bass tracks, which he also handles himself.
“I really like Ibanez because of how thin the necks are, and they honestly just feel nice in my hands,” Max enthuses. “My EP was recorded with an Ibanez RG2228 tuned down a half-step, and a four-string Fender Jazz Bass tuned up a half-step, so they meet in middle, and both have F as their lowest note.
“What I find so cool about this (and using an extended ranged instrument) is that bass, synth, vocal melodies (and, of course, guitar parts) can all be written on the same instrument. To me, an eight-string is the ultimate compositional tool.”
It’s only when you look at the rest of Max’s gear that you realise just where that ‘keep it simple’ philosophy comes into play: all he needs is one amp, and no effects.
“I utilise the most minimal setup possible – there’s nothing between my guitar and amp other than a cable,” Max says. “I like to find a nice heavy tone that I’m happy with, and leave it at that. I use a Mesa/Boogie Mark V, and I primarily play on the third channel with the mids scooped on the EQ. I really like the Mesa/Boogie sound on account of its pure, unforgiving metal brutality.
“One thing that’s so great about the Mark V is the graphic EQ; I love the sound of a scooped mid, but I want the bass slider tuned all the way down so my guitar’s tone is more even. Also, if the bass and the eight-string are playing the same thing, the bass guitar still has its own space to fill in the mix. With the graphic EQ,
I can have my cake and eat it, too.”
And what a tasty (if gritty) cake it is. It’s largely thanks to Max’s supreme compositional efforts – putting the songwriting before the playing – and the call and response sections of his tracks, which lend a very human element to the distorted tones.
“I’d consider myself a composer first, and a guitarist second,” he says. “My approach to writing parts is less about having one guitar hold its own, and more about how I can make two guitars interact and converse with one another. The section on my song Who Is The Milkman? (A Transient Comprehension) when the vocals first come in is a prime example of harmony where two guitars are having a conversation. At first they disagree, and then they sort out their differences.
“I’m also a very big fan of dissonance, and of making an idea shine through multiple lights. In On The Verge Of A Collapse, there’s a section that begins with incredible dissonance, but transforms into something much more triumphant.”
From discordance to success: it’s a concept that could be applied to any guitarist’s progression from absolute beginner to accomplished musician – or, in this case, to Max’s ascension from fledgling bassist to eight-string maverick.