It’s one thing to start a new band in this day and age and wonder what, if anything, to anticipate from record labels in terms of interest, recording budgets, promotion, tour support, etc. Add a pandemic on top, and the entire industry, much like the rest of the world, is clearly in uncharted territory. Even for the DIY crew out there, releasing new material during a pandemic is fraught with uncertainty, especially knowing that, at the time of this interview, performing the material in front of a live audience was off the table. For James LoMenzo and his cohorts in Firstborne—Chris Adler (drums), Girish Pradhan (vocals), and Myrone (guitar)—that’s exactly the environment they found themselves in when they decided to launch headfirst into the ring and debut their new project, independently releasing their self-titled debut EP in 2020. “It’s a very weird time,” admits LoMenzo. “We had some offers by record labels, but everybody’s hands are tied. They don’t know exactly what they’re doing.” LoMenzo credits Myrone and Adler for the momentum behind Firstborne. “They jumped on this thing right away and got it out there. Maybe we’re giving too much of it away, but what else can we do at this point? I think the exciting thing is that people are kind of watching this become something, and we’re not even sure what it is yet.”
The origins of Firstborne can be traced back to the Hail! all-star band tours that both LoMenzo and Adler have participated in for the last few years. “Last time we went out , we went to Beirut and Dubai, and Chris was the drummer on that leg,” recalls LoMenzo. “So, I was thrilled because I knew that he was just freshly out of Lamb Of God, and Chris also just finished playing with Megadeth.” The two got to know each other on that tour, as both players and people, and Adler ended up sharing some of his musical ideas for a new band. At the end of the tour, LoMenzo told Adler, “Well, if you ever need a bass player…” Fast forward a few months and LoMenzo got a call from Adler, who was in India doing drum clinics. “He was like, ‘Dude, I found our singer,’ and I was like, ‘I wasn’t even aware we had a band yet [laughter].’” Soon thereafter, once Adler was back in the States, LoMenzo says he started getting a lot of music in his email inbox. “So, I throw on my old Alembic bass, which is really cranky and obnoxious, and just did what I do and sent it back. At the time I’m thinking, ‘This is really good. I’m excited about it.’”
At 62-years-old, James LoMenzo has been around the band block a few times, so one would think it would take something musically special to get him excited at this point in his career. He cut his teeth in the early ’80s on the New York City and Long Island club circuits, first with Clockwork, then with Rondinelli, a band put together by former Rainbow drummer Bobby Rondinelli and his brother Teddy. In 1984, LoMenzo joined White Lion and was at the forefront of the ‘80’s hair metal and burgeoning MTV-era music video scene with their hit songs “Wait” and “When the Children Cry,” both off of their double platinum 1987 sophomore record, Pride [Atlantic].
Following the collapse of that particular musical trend, LoMenzo found himself in good stead, playing with Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde on-and-off in the ensuing years, in both Pride & Glory and Black Label Society, then touring and recording with David Lee Roth in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and ultimately ending up in Megadeth for a four-year stint, from 2006 to 2010, replacing, and eventually being replaced by, original bassist David Ellefson. He recently rejoined Megadeth in the aftermath of Ellefson’s personal debacle, just in time to rehearse for and embark upon The Metal Tour Of The Year.
He’s also commandeered quite a few one-off projects too, including Hideous Sun Demons, and recently played bass for Sweet & Lynch, the collaboration between Stryper vocalist Michael Sweet and Dokken guitarist George Lynch. As of 2013, he’d been a member of John Fogerty’s band. His post with Fogerty is currently being held down by Tony Franklin, while his future with Megadeth comes into focus.
According to LoMenzo, Firstborne’s musical style is, “Kind of throwback, ’70s, ’80s metal,” he says, “Which is in my wheelhouse. It’s valid. Musically, it works in a very strange, new, throwback way.” Indeed, when you take the pedigree of LoMenzo, who has played within many different sub-genres of rock and metal, and combine that with Adler’s LOG tenure, and then add in relative unknowns Myrone and Pradhan, you’re going to come up with something that sounds familiar, yet refreshingly new. From the opening, chugging, thrashy riff of “Primordial,” which features a stellar quasi-bass solo undergirding the guitar solo, to the classic-rock melodicism of appropriately named “The Anthem,” Firstborne ably incorporates elements of their respective pasts and influences, all while managing to carve out their own unique identity as a contemporary metal band.
Punching through the mixes with audible, articulate, midrange tone, is LoMenzo, who manages to pull off a style of bass playing that harkens back to another era. Even though LoMenzo staked his claim to fame in the ’80s, his playing style on Firstborne is more akin to ’70s stalwarts like John Entwistle, Andy Frasier, Geezer Butler, and Mel Schacher. Just check out his playing on “Roll the Dice” or “Apocalypse” for exquisite examples of the kind of rock bass playing that has immense character and personality to it. By getting down into the muck and wrestling with the guitars, not just playing second fiddle to them, LoMenzo’s bass playing becomes an integral part of the Firstborne sound. Getting back to the pace at which Firstborne came together, LoMenzo states, “In less than two months, we’ve got an EP of six songs, just by trading emails, and the music is kind of speaking for itself.”
Since the Firstborne EP was recorded remotely, with files shared via email, LoMenzo relied mostly on his Pro Tools rig and an Avalon U5 DI for tracking. “I think that we’re in this wonderful, wonderful time,” he says. “We can actually put out quality work from home. Engineering is an art in itself. I don’t pretend to be that, but I think that everybody has the opportunity to create like this.” Though he uses “A ton of DAWs,” he’s most familiar with Pro Tools, so he’ll lean on that technology when he wants to turn something around quickly. “I like them all because they all do different things. But whenever I have to work fast, I always go to Pro Tools because it’s second nature. It’s very fast.” Lately, he’s been dabbling with the Harrison Mixbus DAW. “It’s just fantastic,” he says. “It’s for bass players and it sounds like tape. It reminds me of when I was in the studio twenty years ago.”
During the pandemic, LoMenzo opened up his closets and started dusting off some of his older basses, one of which happened to be his Alembic Distillate from 1982. “I pulled that out and cleaned it up and really enjoyed the medium scale on it,” he recalls. “And so, it was sitting here when the Firstborne stuff came about. So, I plugged that in, and it certainly paid off. It has that sweepable filter, where you can notch the treble and the midrange, which gave me that thrust to get over the thick guitars. I pulled that whole ‘obnoxious midrange’ thing—that’s what I call it. If you listen to it all by itself, it’s horrible. But when you play with really big, heavy guitars with a lot of low end, you can move everything up there, and hear the fundamentals.”
LoMenzo is quick to add that his “obnoxious midrange” approach, which he originally discovered while playing with Zakk Wylde, doesn’t apply everywhere, especially when it comes to his eight-years-and-running gig as bassist in John Fogerty’s band. “You don't need all that midrange,” he explains. “You’re playing in a context of a different kind of music. Some of my favorite stuff to listen to is Aretha Franklin’s music with Chuck Rainey. You listen to his bass and there’s not a lot competing with that, guitar-wise. The guitar is really thin, the drums are really boxy, he has space, so these guys don’t have a lot of midrange. It’s a contextual thing.”
Primarily a fingerstyle player, though he does grab a pick for extremely fast passages, LoMenzo landed the John Fogerty gig by remaining true to the idea of understanding context and leaning on the appropriate sound and rig. Upon the referral of drummer Kenny Aronoff, LoMenzo got an audition. But Aronoff insisted LoMenzo ask Fogerty to let him use his own amp, rather than relying on the backline provided by the studio, which is what everyone else auditioning did. LoMenzo recalls, “I’m sitting outside thinking, ‘How on earth am I going to cut this thing?’ I mean, I can play the songs, but everybody’s playing them great. How’s he going to pick?” Eventually it was LoMenzo’s turn. “John comes in, and he’s very sweet. He goes, ‘Okay, you’re ready to go?’ And I said, ‘John, if you could just indulge me for 15 minutes, I’ve got my amps in the car. I would really love to set them up. If I could just have that much time.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Sure, man, I want to see what you got.’” At the time, LoMenzo was using a Pearce Audio preamp into a Crown power amp. He used the studio’s speaker cabs. “So, I bring it in, set it up and walk away just to test the microphone, and I see John make a beeline to it—he’s looking at the knobs, he’s checking out the rig, he’s looking at my bass, and he’s really taking it all in.”
Unbeknownst to LoMenzo at the time, is that John Fogerty is a crazy gearhead. “He’s that guy—we’re all that guy,” he chuckles. “So, the next day, he calls me up and says I’m in the band. And so, what I found out later on was that John really did dig my tone. I didn’t do the ‘super-deluxe, kill Zakk Wylde tone.’ I just pulled back to a ‘polite, seventies-driven, with a-little-bit-too-much-articulation’ tone, and John really liked that. And in fact, when we do the early shows, if I kind of dial it down thinking, ‘Let me get more creative,’ he says, ‘No, no. Crank that thing up. I want to hear your sound.’”
As for recently reclaiming his post in Megadeth, LoMenzo says he simply got a text from one of Dave Mustaine’s managers asking if he’d be interested in joining Megadeth for The Metal Tour of the Year. “I had just finished a show with John Fogerty, so it was a little awkward to even think about it,” he admits. “I asked Dave’s manager to give me a day to sort out what to do and then I’d let him know. After going over it, it seemed like I would miss maybe seven or eight Fogerty dates, and well, I’ve had subs for Fogerty before, so I moved ahead on it.” After a Zoom call with Mustaine, he realized this was an important thing that he needed to do—“for Megadeth and for myself,” he asserts. “Kenny Aronoff got our mutual friend Tony Franklin in for me, so John’s in more than capable hands.”
When asked to describe this new alignment of Megadeth with the one he previously performed with, LoMenzo offers the following assessment. “I’ve been so fortunate in my career to have played with a lot of my favorite drummers,” he says. “From current guys who I’ve met out on tour and in sessions, to my childhood heroes. To come into this version of Megadeth with Dirk Ver Bueren is just the icing on the Mega-cake! He’s so capable and powerful. I’m finding him very easy to play with, and exciting as well. He’s so consistent, all I have to do is drop my pick on his parts and it sounds like a big metal machine.” In a band like Megadeth, LoMenzo says the drummer’s going to dictate the energy and the drive of the band. And with Kiko Loureiro on guitar, and of course Mustaine, the band “feels more like a freight train” then he remembers it. “And that’s to take nothing away from the many great players from Megadeth’s past. This version just does it like that.”
HEAR HIM ON
Firstborne, Firstborne (Independent, 2020)
Basses Yamaha Custom BB2024X (DiMarzio Pickups), Yamaha Billy Sheehan Attitude LTD I & LTD II (DiMarzio Pickups), Alembic Distillate, Custom Carved Sapele & Ebony Wyn Bass
Amps Ashdown CTM-300 Head, Ashdown John Entwistle Signature RPM-1 Preamp
Speaker Cabs Ashdown ABM810, Ashdown ABM215
Effects Ashdown FS-JLO Drive, Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe, Line 6 Helix & HX Stomp
Recording Avalon U5 DI, Audient iD 22 with ASP880, Pro Tools, Harrison Mixbus 32C, Line 6 Helix Native plugin
Strings Rotosound BS66 Swing Bass 66 Billy Sheehan Custom (.043 - .110)
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