When the music and cinema worlds collide, the results are often questionable. We can all name a long list of musicians who act and actors who play music, and the occasional gem aside, the crossover doesn’t usually work. Keanu Reeves tried it, Steve Martin tried it, Jared Leto tried it—and while they all gave it their best shot, there’s often something about the actor/ musician interface that doesn’t feel quite right.
When I interview the actor Jason Momoa, a meeting arranged by our mutual friends at Fender, there’s none of that slightly weird overlap. Momoa’s name—or at least, his face—is known to most people because he enjoyed a cinematic hit in 2018 as Aquaman, the DC Comics character, and before that as a warrior called Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game Of Thrones. His film career is doing just fine, thanks, and for that reason he isn’t trying to build a second career as a musician. He doesn’t have an album to promote, or any other musical agenda to push, which is what’s so refreshing about this interview. The man simply loves bass, using it as an outlet for creativity, honing his mental and physical focus with the instrument, and—as we all do—finding within the low notes a state of flow that takes him away from the everyday world.
What’s more, Momoa is exactly like the rest of us when it comes to his bass heroes. Mention Les Claypool or Robert Trujillo to him, and he’s instantly excited, revealing the Primus and Metallica-loving fanboy behind the imposing 41-year-old. It’s an education to witness this transformation, considering that Aquaman took over a billion dollars in box-office revenue, and that Momoa is presumably not that easy to impress. If you need evidence, ask him about the music he was into as a teenager—and watch him go.
“Pantera, Rage Against The Machine, Primus, Black Sabbath, Red Hot Chili Peppers,” he tells us. “I really, really love John Frusciante and Flea, they’re really huge in my life. Tool, too. I listen to pretty much all of it. A lot of the music I search for is a lot more offthe beaten path nowadays. I respect everyone out there doing it, because it’s so hard and so challenging, and I just try not to judge.”
You may have seen pictures of Momoa at musical events such as Slayer’s final show in 2019. He’s a headbanger to the core, hence our recruitment of the biggest names in that field to ask him questions on the pages you’re reading here, but it’s important to understand that he’s not just into metal. As he says, “I’m really rooted, like one of my gods in music is Tom Waits, but having said that, my goddess is probably Ani DiFranco. I was raised with Miles Davis and Janis Joplin, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor is one of my all-time favorites, too.”
In bass terms, though, you only have to mention the late CliffBurton of Metallica and he’s unstoppable. “Oh, let’s talk about Cliff!” he laughs. “The first song I’m dedicated to learning is [Burton’s 1983 solo piece] ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’. That’s the reason why I have my Rickenbackers, because of him. I fucking love Cliff. He was unbelievable. Did you see [Metallica’s new live album] S&M2, with the standup bass playing it? Oh my God. I had chicken skin, I was watching it over and over. I thought that was just so beautiful for Cliff. I’m all old Metallica, bro. I probably listen to Ride The Lightning and Kill ’Em All every week, if not every other day.”
It comes as no surprise that Momoa is close to Metallica’s current bassist Robert Trujilllo. “When’s that guy going to teach me how to play bass? Ha ha! He’s like my spirit animal, I love him. When I’m with Robert it’s like we both came out of the same cave. We’re the spitting image, and I absolutely adore him and his son and his family, they’re amazing.”
Another idol is Les Claypool of Primus, with whom he recently jammed during a visit to Claypool’s home. “That was like a childhood dream,” he marvels. “We just hit it off. He was playing the drums and I was playing bass and going ‘Jesus Christ, man’, I was so nervous. Les is like fuckin’ God, so it was really hard to relax because he was just playing drums and I was supposed to start filling space and I was like ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ I look forward to the day when I can communicate on the bass on that level.”
Did Claypool advise Momoa about bass playing, I ask?
“Yeah, I gotta learn a lot of stuff, I taped a bunch that I’ll be learning right now. I can’t wait to gather more knowledge to be around him and just jam. We had a really great time together, which was a really big relief, because you don’t want to meet your heroes and then they’re fuckin’ assholes. We were having fun, just being fathers and family men. It was super inspiring. I asked him a lot of questions.
I asked him what his hardest song is to play, and if he can still play it. The song ‘DMV’ is his hardest; he has a very hard time playing it. I got the story behind why he did these really challenging things, and how he’s pissed because now he can’t do it on stage!”
Another meaningful aspect of this conversation is that Momoa is slightly out of his comfort zone. “It’s my first instrument interview,” he tells me right as he picks up the phone, which is important because—no disrespect intended to our colleagues in the film-magazine world—he’s now answering questions that he’s never answered before. This leads us very quickly into profoundly emotional territory.
Jason fields questions from his bass heroes, right here. First up: Les Claypool of Primus!
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