I’m honored today with the privilege of speaking to an incredible musician and bass player to the stars, Sean Delson. Sean has been a part of bands such as Salem Ash, rap-metal innovator Stuck Mojo, The Duke Project, Fozzy (featuring Chris Jericho), and now Agent Cooper. He’s traveled all over the world to perform, from the United States to Australia and far between. He’s even played live with former-Dream Theater drummer, Mike Portnoy, and been served shots onstage by Pantera drummer, Vinnie Paul, all in the same night!
Hello again, Barry! The honor is all mine. That was a great night you just mentioned. All that happened at the famous “B.B. King’s” in New York if memory serves.
Thanks Sean, and you’re correct. Fozzy rocked the house that night! Anyway, I wanted to talk of your beginnings for a moment. What brought you to the bass guitar over another instrument? What inspired you about that sound?
I’m not exactly sure, but it may have something to do with sitting first chair playing trombone in school for 4 years. I also remember my piano teacher commenting on how unusual it was for a student to be so comfortable with the left (bass side) hand parts. Maybe it was just meant to be?
Trombone? How did you end up playing trombone, of all instruments? And can you tell us more about you trying your hand at piano?
To be honest, Barry… I need to ask my parents about that one. I think I took to the piano after the “Trombone/Braces” fiasco. Hence that leaning to the bass clef side of things. Yes… that is it. It was post trombone days. I still have a nice 88 key weighted keyboard in my studio for writing purposes, and just to tinker on when the mood strikes. Thinking about it now, I really should spend more time on it. Believe it or not, my very first instrument for the school band (Middle school band in sixth grade) was the flute! I thought I was being clever by NOT having to carry a huge case to and from school. Have you ever carried a tuba in its case? The flute and I really didn’t get along, and the teacher asked the class if anybody would consider the trombone as there was a shortage in that section. I jumped at it, and really took to it fast. That part, I can’t explain, but it just came easily. Learning to play trombone and the songs at the time was very easy to me. Hell, I have no clue why.
Which musicians had the most impact on the development of your style?
I always have to list Geddy Lee, Andy West, and Steve Harris as the top 3 for giving me my chops foundation. I loved coming home from school and playing to the records of Rush, Iron Maiden, and The Dregs. When I moved out to California to attend BIT (Bass Institute of Technology), I met a kindred spirit in Dave Benner. He was attending the school as well, and is a GREAT bassist! He also helped shape my approach and I give him credit as being a major influence. And of course, there’s no way I can leave out my older brother Corey! Bless him for helping me so much and teaching me songs when I first started playing bass.
And who are some of your favorite musicians today?
WOW! That list almost has no ending. I think we would have to break it down to styles, genres, etc. It’s a long and varied list! There is so much going on today in music. But as I think about your question, I asked myself. “What is it that you go to when you just want to ‘hear something?’” Believe it or not, it’s usually really old school RUSH or Martina McBride. I bet you didn’t see that coming…
Martina McBride? That certainly comes out of left field considering your playing style, though you do have an eclectic catalogue. Speaking of which, can you paint me a picture on how progressive rock outfit Salem Ash came together?
Remember I told you I went out to CA to attend MI (Musicians Institute)? Well, we (now-famous drummer Matt Laug and I) left Florence, SC in my brother Corey’s van and drove 3000 miles carrying all of our belongings with the hopes of “making it” in the music business. As you do. I grew up listening to all of the progressive bands due to Corey playing all of those records, so I guess it just was “normal” to me. That was the style that came naturally as a result of the many years being bombarded by the genre. Bands like Kansas, Genesis, The Dregs, Jethro Tull, Styx, and of course, Rush to name a few…. That should paint the picture, yes? Back to Salem Ash: Approximately 1 year after leaving for Hollywood, Corey moved out there as well so we could form a band. I knew of, and jammed with, a drummer named Dodd Lowder at the school (another kindred spirit from NC). On a side note, Dodd was roommates with Dave Benner. Salem Ash came to life in Hollywood, CA with Corey on lead vocals and guitar, Dodd on drums, and me on bass. A 3 piece was born. We bounced around LA for a while and then decided to set roots in Atlanta, GA.
Matt Laug! Really? This was long before his time of playing with everyone from Alanis Morissette to Alice Cooper to Christina Aguilera. What sent you both your separate ways?
Yes, that was long before then! I was 17, and I think Matt was 18, when we packed up and headed out to Hollywood. We lived together back then, and had 2 different approaches on how to be successful in the Music Biz. My only goal was to be in “a band.” A band of brothers that wrote, recorded, and toured together. Just like a lot of the bands I mentioned earlier. I never really wanted to be a “session guy” or a “hired gun.” I wanted THE FAMILY. Call me greedy, but that was what my soul told me to go for. Matt, bless him, approached it in a different way. He wanted to audition into an already successful band, and he definitely worked his ass off studying, practicing, and honing his chops and feel. He’s earned every drop of his success, and continues to play with the TOP recording artists alive today. I always say to him, “Damn son! Your resume looks like a lie!” But it’s not!
I don’t think I mentioned it earlier, but Matt played on the last 3 songs Agent Cooper just recorded. When he came to stay here at the lake house this past summer, we agreed that we somehow HAD to do something together on a record. So let it be written, so let it be done! And you too can have Matt play on your record. He has built a brilliant website setup to where he can record his drums in a top notch studio in Los Angeles while you watch and hear it live streaming! A true miracle of the digital age if you ask me. Given that I’m technologically handicapped. Please do yourself a favor and check out www.mattlaugdrums.com and see what he’s up to, or have him play on your record!
Also, you mentioned that Salem Ash started in LA but relocated to Atlanta. Why Atlanta?
That was largely due to the music business teachers at the school. The two largest Music Mecca’s at the time were, of course, NY and LA. Nashville if you were into country. The study showed that Atlanta was the second most up and coming music scene. So, being that we were all from “The South,” it just made sense for us. We figured we’d go to Atlanta, set up camp, and forge a career in music there. The theory was sound, anyway.
Salem Ash only released one EP, is that correct? I’ve heard the songs and they are phenomenal. What was the main reason Salem Ash didn’t last with such great material?
That fast forwards us a few years since moving to Atlanta and adding fellow “Florentine” Doug Busbee as the lead singer. We had a few member changes over the years, with Corey switching between guitar and drums several times. Frank, who you know as Bud, Fontsere was in there as well for a few years on drums. I assure you none of that material has gone to waste! Many of those songs written in the Salem Ash days ended up on the Agent Cooper records. We are always mulling over old songs to see if we can salvage them, even if it’s just a few parts. Some make it, some don’t.
After Salem Ash, vocalist Doug Busbee went off and formed Agent Cooper. Meanwhile, your brother Corey Delson, former Salem Ash guitarist, put together a project called Throkmorton. You can be heard playing with both of them. What can you tell us about that period and the different projects?
At the beginning of that period, it was hard on me, and somewhat stressful. Corey wanted to really focus on more of a pop songwriter sound, and Doug was not about to veer off the progressive sound we had been working on for so many years. I was caught in the middle really. I tried to do both as best I could.
Rich Ward, of Stuck Mojo and Fozzy, has always called you one of his favorite bass players. No doubt why he turned to you to join him for those and projects like The Duke. How did you two meet?
Good old Rich. I owe him so much. Way back in the day, there was a very young Stuck Mojo. We (Salem Ash) played a lot of gigs together around Atlanta, and just became friends. That was heightened when I landed him a job with the landscaping company I worked for. We rode around together listening to music and plotting how to “make it.” Hahaha!
Can musicians live on music alone? I know you helped out a number of musicians the same way by getting them day jobs at that landscaping company.
Of course, many musicians eke out a living from just playing music alone. Then, there is the less than 1 percent that go on to do REALLY well…. You know, the Taylor Swifts of the world. But back to the harsh reality of the landscaping days. YES, at some point I feel like every musician in Atlanta worked there at some point! I got everybody a job that needed one. Music is a bloody tough racket! When even the likes of Jon Bon Jovi says in an interview that if he started music during these times, he probably wouldn’t have made it…. Well, that just about says it all.
What were you up to when the call came in asking for you to join Fozzy?
Getting called to play in Fozzy was a direct result of Rich asking me to play on his debut solo album. It seems that the current bass player of Fozzy, at the time, took offense at not being asked, and decided to quit, I believe. So Rich called me and asked if I would learn a set of music for a gig in NY that Fozzy was playing…. In like 48 hours! The rest, as they say, is history.
Up to that point, Fozzy had been almost strictly a cover band. Had they already settled on writing original material by the time you were offered the slot?
Yes. I joined the band when they turned the corner from wigs and covers to really making a go of it as a serious band. “All That Remains” was my first Fozzy record.
Speaking of slots, how’s your Mum?
JESUS! It never dies…. That whole “Sean’s Mum” chant and T-shirts gimmick grew so large that I had to sit down with my parents and explain the whole “mom joke” thing. That’s funny as hell looking back on it all. In the UK, it even made a write up in a Nottingham newspaper!
Did your participation in Stuck Mojo come as a given with your involvement with Fozzy and The Duke Project, or were you re-asked to join in for that one? While on the subject, which of these was your favorite to participate in?
Pretty much from moment I played with Rich on The Duke Project, that was it for all the bands. The core band remained the same, and only the singer changed. So it became a “cycle” if you will. We would record a Fozzy record, then a Mojo, record. Many times we would also stack the tours. For example: Fozzy would do a 3 week run across the UK and then into Europe. Let’s say the tour ended in Paris. CJ would fly home after the gig to fulfill his WWE obligations, while Lloyd [Nelson] would have been flown over to see the gig, and then a Stuck Mojo tour across Europe and possibly the UK would begin. It must be said that making all this work out smoothly is largely due to Mark Willis. He’s the man behind the curtain that manages EVERYTHING for the 3 bands. He even helps Agent Cooper, so hats off to Mark. As for my favorite, that’s tricky. Talk about 3 totally different bands. From a sheer musical standpoint, I would have to say The Duke Project. I can expand on that if you wish. Fozzy was so much FUN! Of course having a world famous superstar celebrity as your lead singer really opened a lot of doors that afforded us many great opportunities that we may not have otherwise been offered. I’m sure you can see that. MOJO was a machine. Plain and simple. The vibe was very different in that band, and the crowds that it drew. Intensity! So they each have their place, you see?
Absolutely! And I’d love to hear more about what makes The Duke Project your favorite musically.
That’s an easy one. If you’ve heard that record, you will know that it was a serious departure from Stuck Mojo and Fozzy for Rich. It was his solo record and these songs were so much “from the heart”. The songs came from a “different” place. Not the angry riffs everybody was used to. There is so much musicality on the record and I enjoyed having the freedom to write and create my bass lines on those songs. Even pulling out some fretless bass, which you don’t really get to do that much in metal! Working with Rick Beato was great as well. There’s nothing wrong with riffing, mind you, but this record was nothing like Rich had ever done and I was honored being given the task to play bass on it.
You’ve toured all around the globe. Where has been your favorite place to play and where are you itching to perform that you’ve never had the chance to before?
Of all the Globe Trotting, I must say…. Australia was probably my favorite place. Now that may be because we did so much other stuff, like visiting zoo’s, boating, and just plain old exploring. Australia has a huge boating community, and you know how much I like boating. A place that I’ve never played? There is one place that we tried to go to, but for some reason… it just never happened. That place is Japan. I really want to play Japan…. Bad.
In 2011, Fozzy’s lead guitarist, Mike Martin, left the group. Later that year you also announced you were leaving to focus on Agent Cooper. I imagine that was not an easy decision to make, as steady work for a musician is hard to find. What was the main factor that led to your departure?
No, it wasn’t easy. In between the touring, I was still, as much as I could be, involved with Agent Cooper. We would try and do something: plan a record, book some gigs, etc… and a Fozzy or Stuck Mojo tour would always come up, taking me away. With Rich, touring is a constant! Which is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. But year after year, I felt like I was letting the AC boys down. What started out as “Can you help me with my solo record” turned into nearly 10 years worth of recording and touring. That’s not a complaint! It was a blessing. Stepping down was simply a personal choice that I had to make. All of the years spent touring that I have done, has been nothing short of “Living the Dream.” Yet, always present, was the longing to do that with Agent Cooper. To complete my personal “Music Bucket List,” I had to do it… And I made it happen when Agent Cooper toured Europe with Tony MacAlpine. It was a dream come true for me. I know Rich and guys could all relate to that feeling. The need to fulfill that “inner voice’s” calling. We all have it in some form or another.
Agent Cooper is filled out by the ensemble of vocalist Doug Busbee, guitarist Mike Martin, keyboardist Eric Frampton, drummer Ganesh Giri Jaya, and bass player extraordinaire, Sean B. Delson. How did this reincarnation of Salem Ash come about?
It started many, many years ago, as you have now read, in Hollywood. Salem Ash, in a nutshell, just kind of morphed into Agent Cooper. Nothing was really ever lost. The spirit of it has always remained a constant for us all.
In 2012, Cooper released a six-song EP called From The Ashes, an apt title considering the origin of the band. The band then took this release to the road as main support of guitar virtuoso Tony MacAlpine’s Dream Mechanism European tour, as you just mentioned. What sticks out in your mind about this tour?
Of all the touring I have ever done, this tour was the most fun of all. I can’t explain it, but the bus was full of so much camaraderie it was amazing. The very last night of the tour we were in Paris. How do we always end up in Paris? We ALL were a bunch of sorry-looking, beat up skeletons after many nonstop weeks of touring. All of us tired and looking quite gaunt. But I wandered into Tony’s dressing room, and could tell everybody was feeling sad. Sad to see it come to an end. Let me tell you, that on most tours, a lot of people are like, “I can’t wait to get home!” or “Just two more shows and it’s over!” Not on this tour… I said to all members of both bands the following fantasy: “OK guys, (and Nili Brosh) here is a big red button. If you press the button, the tour carries on for another month. It doesn’t stop. If you don’t push the button, we all can go home.” Barry, everyone in that room, some tired, some sick, some both… Everyone said they would push the button. I know it’s hard to explain what that moment felt like, but it sums up the tour. None of us wanted it to end. Damn…
Things have been pretty quiet on the Cooper front since the band returned from touring Europe. However, earlier this summer you snuck the full-length album, Far From Sleep, right under our noses. Why such a quiet release for an album of such great music?
It has been quiet. A little too damn quiet. Right after the MacAlpine tour, the plan was to finish the record and tour again with Far From Sleep that Fall to coincide with the release. Would you believe that we had 3 tours “implode” in a row! It was awful. Mind you, this was no fault of our own. It was “so and so went into rehab again” and “So and so’s band has just quit so there will be no tour.” It was crazy. All that time lost. We held on to FFS for way too long, waiting for a tour. Finally, we were well on the way to having another album recorded when impatience lead us to just throwing it out there. The music biz as we know it, is totally different than it was 10 or even 5 years ago. All we want to do is just keep making music that makes us happy. Throw it out there… it’s all we can do. Let the cards fall where they may, dammit. There are no more labels to speak of like it used to be. Now I will grant you, we probably should have hired someone clever like yourself to help us release it properly. We really do need a “social media” guru in that respect! Perhaps we will discuss this a little later, yes?
I’m always happy to help, as you know. Speaking of social media, the band released a digital holiday charity single of the classic “Walking In The Air” last year to benefit the Claire House children’s hospice. Can you tell us about Agent Cooper’s involvement with this charity?
Well, we have always talked about doing a Christmas song, and we all agree that there needs to be more good in the world. So we made up our minds to do a Christmas song for a charitable cause. You know my wife is British, and every summer we always have a house full of British girls to soak up some sun and enjoy the lake we live on. When we started kicking around the idea of a song, my wife and all the girls immediately said “Walking in the Air!” It’s a British CLASSIC. But here in America, it’s not very popular at all, sadly. There are very few people here that have ever heard of it. England has always been really good to us, so I presented it to the band and we just started working on it. It was a nightmare getting all the clearance(s). I’m serious, that was very hard. Our charity of choice was to be Claire House, in the UK. It’s a children’s hospice. Claire House was a great, great choice. For more information about Claire House, and or to see the video and hear the song, just click here: http://vimeo.com/81089508
Daniel Craig introduced the video, I mean… come on! I’m so happy to report that we were able to raise some good money for this worthy charity. We will be pushing it again this year. A loud shout out and big thanks to a very old friend of mine, Mike Carr and his production company, Mummy Cat Productions, for putting it all together. The animated feature, called “The Snowman,” is from 1982, and always plays during Christmas in England. It’s a beloved classic and I can’t be happier with how it turned out. I have it on my Playstation at home and, every once in a while, I’ll turn it on and crank it up on the big screen. It’s very emotional.
What can you tell us about the future of Agent Cooper? What do we have to look forward to, and will it be soon?
A few days ago, I had a very serious discussion with Mark Willis about it. He wants to see us back out there as well. I told him “Just let me get through this year, and we will revisit this, in great detail, in January 2015.” I’m very excited and optimistic about that. I’m not sure how we will handle the newest record yet, but we have some very fun stuff being recorded!
So there’s a new record in the works! Sounds great. I don’t suppose there’s an official name for the album yet, is there?
We haven’t settled on anything yet, but we are seriously considering, “The Barry Adkins Story – A Tale of Woe.” Thoughts?
Well, that’s flattering! I’m really not sure how well a comedy album would sell though. You mentioned earlier that you have an affinity for boating. When did you first become interested in maritime activities? And on any given weekend, what can Sean B. Delson expect to be found doing?
I grew up on boats thanks to my parents. Sailing, fishing, cruising, you name it. On any given weekend, you can find us beached up on some island getting into various forms of hedonism and evil. Not really so much the evil part, but I thought it sounded cool.
You’ve had a signature bass designed by Halo. It looks interesting! Is it in production and for sale, or is it a one-of-a-kind affair?
It’s much more than “interesting”… it’s a bloody work of art! It is for sale on a custom, order by order basis (search “Delson”). I won’t bore you, unless you want me to, with the details on how it’s made and it’s specifications… It’s a bass taken from my head, and brought into this world by Jeff Lee at Halo and his team of luthiers. That was another “Bucket List” item checked off… The Sean B. Delson Signature Series Bass.
There’s undoubtedly at least one person craving to hear more about what makes this bass tick. Can you give us more specifics about it?
When I was first offered the opportunity to create and have a signature series custom bass guitar, I was told to “make it your own… your own design, specs, etc.” So I really sat back and gave it some thought. If you look around, so many builders, including Halo, are going with all of these outlandish designs. Futuristic looks, if you will. Then I thought, let’s take it back, let’s get back to the roots of where it all started. Following that, was the idea, “What would happen if a classic Beatle Bass married an old school Gibson SG bass?” In my mind, that was the shape I wanted. If you look at the bass, you will see that Jeff Lee at Halo also sprinkled in a little BC Rich, and the SBD Bass was born.
On the technical side, I just combined all of the custom goodies that I have applied to my session basses over the years. It had to be a neck thru body (not bolt on), full 24 fret with easy access, ebony fretboard, and the electronics had to be 2 EMG’s custom wired to have a separate volume for each pickup AND a master volume to control the whole bass. Not a standard “mix” knob. Separate “bass” and “treble” knobs in addition to a sweepable stacked pot cut/boost midrange control. Taking it one step further, I wanted a custom 27 volt cavity for three nine-volt batteries to power the electronics. That extra voltage really gives you more headroom and lets the low end really “blossom”. Especially helpful on my six-string basses, and really heavy low tunings like Mojo and Fozzy use. I’ve never really had a Sunburst Blue instrument, so I went with that color. Quilted Maple, of course. The white banding was Jeff’s idea, and I like it. In my best handwriting, I signed my signature, and it can be seen in Mother of Pearl inlaid into the headstock.
A lot of people have said to me, “I can’t believe you didn’t make it headless!” I really contemplated that, and on a 6 string model, I definitely will go headless. It becomes a balance issue really. With a headstock full of six bass tuners, our good buddy gravity will really pull you down on your shoulder due to so much weight hanging out there. I don’t like that. With a headless setup, you can NEVER knock it out of tune. It’s so much easier and faster to tune with your right hand while muting with the left. Also the bass really sits right in your gut without that weight on the headstock. It’s like you become one with the instrument. And surely we don’t need to go into the advantages of eliminating the odds of smacking your band mates in the face or knocking down a mic stand whilst running around the stage. Plus, fans love to grab on to “anything” they can get their frenzied hands on. That’s disastrous with a headstock! If that’s not enough and more details are needed, I can keep going!!
Haha, no. I think you nailed it. Now, you mentioned earlier that you played trombone as first chair at your school for four years. Are your ever saddened by the fact that you could have been a world famous trombone player to the stars?
Is there such a thing? I’m afraid me getting braces stopped a very lucrative career as a trombonist dead in its tracks. The very same “train tracks” that I had a mouth full of! I did enjoy it, to be honest, and I was getting really good at it, as far as you know. It was sad not being able to play…..
What should we know that we haven’t already covered? Would you like to plug anything? Websites, music, or a bridge in London you’d like to sell us?
I really would like to ask for everybody reading this to please check out the Clair House video and pass it along. “Like” it, “tweet” it and any of those other fancy new internet inventions. I could say go to AgentCooper.com and buy our albums, but the charity is more important to me. Please help us help those kids this Christmas!
Agent Cooper – Walking In The Air from Mummy Cat Productions, LLC. on Vimeo.
Thank you so much for your time, Sean! It’s always great to speak with you.
Thank you! Until next time!
Sean B. Delson