Dream Theater's revered bassist John Myung was just named number one in Music Radar's poll to find the 25 Greatest Bassists of All Time, and on bestowing him with this award, the British publication sat down with "a most humbled and gracious John Myung" to talk about his win, his approach to playing bass, his gear set-up and much more. Check out a healthy excerpt of the Q&A below, and go right here for the full feature.
The 'Greatest Bassist Of All Time.' That's quite an honor - and a stunning testament to the devotion of your fans. But how do you even respond to such a title? Is it all too overwhelming?
"It definitely an honor. I view it as a social endorsement that reflects on a lot of different things, from the band I'm in to the records we've put out to the basses I play. But it's quite an honor, absolutely, one which tells me I'm on the right path. My gratitude goes out to everyone who voted.
"But I, in no way, feel that it's true in the sense of the title of the award, because there's so many great players all over the world who contribute amazing music. So, even though I'm deeply flattered and appreciative, let's say that it's taken with a bit of objectivity."
Is that your way of saying, "I'm not worthy"?
"Exactly. [laughs] You have to keep these things in perspective."
When Slipknot's Joey Jordison won the Rhythm magazine Greatest Drummer Of The Last 25 Years poll, he described the feeling as "bigger than winning a Grammy." Do you feel the same way - or would you still like that Grammy anyway?
"I can relate to that statement, since there's something unique about this award. Unlike the Grammys, it's uncalculated and natural. With the Grammys, there's a whole process that's involved. This is real life; it's about as real as real gets. As a result, I feel very connected to a lot of people. It's a vote of confidence, as though people are telling me, 'We trust you and expect you to continue to do your best.' It's… it's very heavy! It definitely has me humbled."
How do you feel about your relationship with your fans? Obviously, they hold you in high regard. Do you feel a sense of duty to please them, or do you feel that, as an artist, you have only yourself to answer to?
"You know, there's a lot of people reaching out to me, and when that happens, when you get the kind of positive reinforcement that I get, it's bound to make you feel good, and it's definitely going to push you to do your best.
"Moving forward, I think all I can do is put my instincts to work and do my best and hope that I'm on the same page as everyone else.
"The fact that there's an audience out there that accepts what I do is a huge source of stimulation, motivation and energy. I wouldn't be where I am without them. The audience is a big part of this whole thing. At the same time, yes, I have to be myself because that's how it all began. So what I do is, I take in the energy from the fans, but I have to give what I have inside me and push it outward - if that makes any sense." [laughs]
With all due humility, do you consider yourself to be a great bass player, or do you still think you have a long way to go?
"I see myself as having a long way to go. I have a lot of ideals that I would like to reach, but as life goes on, ideals are just that - ideals. To me, living a focused and balanced life is one of the biggest challenges for me, especially as you get older.
"Music is about life; it's about putting your living into your music. So first, once must live. There's a great quote by Sergei Rachmaninov that really sums it all up for me: 'Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.'"
That's a fantastic way of looking at it.
"Absolutely. It's what adds the realness to this. It's what makes it matter."
What are your thoughts on some of the other players who were on our list? I know bassists such as Chris Squire, Geddy Lee and Steve Harris were big influence on you.
"Without a doubt. Those three players really mean something to me since they inspired me to play, to go out and buy a bass guitar and to want to be a musician. They still inspire me to this day.
"Touring with Iron Maiden this past summer was an awesome experience for me, to be playing with a band that was very responsible for bringing me into music. And just a couple of weeks ago, I went out and saw Rush on their Time Machine tour, and they were incredible. I was so blown away. It's like… they're still doing it to me! [laughs] All of the players you mentioned, they're unbelievable. I respect them so much.
"But you know, there's so many other players: Jeff Berlin, Marcus Miller, Billy Sheehan, Jaco Pastorius, Tony Levin. The list becomes quite long. I could try to name them all, but I wouldn't want to leave anybody out."
You're famous for playing six-string basses. What models are you currently using? Do you see any changes to your instruments in the near future?
"That's a really good question. I've been playing a Bongo bass by Ernie Ball Music Man, and I've been experimenting with different neck and body dimensions over the last year. It's actually really hard to make changes when it comes to spacing and body mass - there's so much retooling that has to go on.
"But the company has been really cool in listening to my thoughts about where the bass needs to go in terms of body mass and neck spacing. Just a few weeks ago they sent me a combination that has really worked for me, so I hope it'll turn out to be a new model."
Do you have any kind of practice routine you adhere to? When you're at home or on tour, what do you do to keep in shape musically?
"Actually, for a while I was into just playing, and I could never understand why I liked to do that. And then I realized that that was how I got my energy, just repeating these sort of mindless finger patterns. I would notice that after I played, I felt centered and energized. I felt a great sense of well-being. It's the same sort of thing that happens when people meditate.
"What I've done now, though, since I've been home is I've broken out the Bach cello book, and I've found that the range of the cellist is very comparable with the six-string bass. So rather than do mindless exercises, I decided to apply myself to learning some of these pieces. A different part of your brain takes over."