Takac credits the album’s immediacy to the band working more quickly than in the past. “It used to take us two years to pull together a record,” he says, “And with the time we spend touring, it meant we were putting out a record every four years. But that’s too long for the way the industry works these days, so we’re definitely interested in working more quickly.”
The faster pace boosted creativity, Robby says. “Sometimes when you allow yourself too much time to pound something into shape, you wind up pounding it into the same old familiar shape. Working more quickly forced us to reach outside our comfortable groove. It really gave John a chance to stretch as a writer. Some of the stylistic jumps we make are pretty huge, but somehow the record wound up sounding very cohesive.”
Takac is a longtime user of Yamaha’s BB series basses. He takes eight of them on tour— not because he needs so many backups, but because he employs multiple tunings. Or rather, different transpositions: Instead of using a five-string bass to reach the low notes he needs, Robby strings some of his BBs with the four lowest strings from five-string sets.
“I’ve been doing it for years,” he says. “I used to record things in the studio on a five-string, but then I realized I wasn’t ever playing much high stuff on the top strings, so I really didn’t even need that top string. I never feel completely comfortable playing a five-string, so I just recut the four-string nuts for the wider strings.”
Now Robby has basses in E, D, C, and B-flat. “When we’re playing a song in C, it’s amazing to have that low C note,” he says, “Keeping track of all those basses can get a little chaotic, but I have them all color-coded: orange, black, and so on.”
The right tuning is central to the style that Takac has perfected after decades spent performing in a bass/drums/guitar trio. “In a three-piece, you have to fill more of the holes,” he notes. “So it’s great to be able to play octaves with the bottom string ringing open. To provide that low end while I play more stuff higher up.”
Takac says his BB basses perform well in those lowered tunings. “They’re great, man, just great. They’re really light, but their sound carries weight. When you’re out there throwing them around for 90 minutes every night, it’s amazing to have an instrument that feels sleek in your hand but still has that low-end power. Those basses have been through so much! I really enjoy playing them.”
When Robby isn’t writing, recording, or on the road, he’s probably developing music for his own indie label, Good Charamel. One recent project was producing the all-female Japanese punk band Shonen Knife. “They’re awesome,” he says, “and they’ve been playing together four years longer than we have!”
On a recent Shonen Knife tour of the US, Robby wound up driving the band’s tour van. “It gave me some valuable perspective at a great time in my life,” he says. “It was good to have the experience of carrying a bass cabinet into a club and having the mop guy swear at me because I was in his way. You know, we all tend to complain about whatever it is we have to do each day. But then I remember that what we get to do every day is make rock music and play shows.” He pauses, and then laughs. “And then, quite honestly, I feel kind of stupid.”
"IT’S AMAZING TO HAVE AN INSTRUMENT THAT FEELS SLEEK IN YOUR HAND BUT STILL HAS THAT LOW-END POWER"