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SBL Student Spotlight – Matt Agius

In the second instalment of our new Student Spotlight feature, we’re talking to Empra’s bassist Matt Agius about his evolution as a bass player.

Don’t forget, we’re going to be catching up with as many SBL members as we can throughout the year to marvel at your bass playing, unravel your tone secrets and find out about your gear. Want to take part? If you're studying with SBL and would like to share your experiences, then please don't hesitate to Contact Us so we can help promote your story to the SBL audience.

Matt Agius - Empra

Hailing from a musical family, Matt Agius has come a long way in his bass philosophy. He recalls his early days as a kid whose career direction was decided by an Australian band called The Living End. “I was ten years old and it was the first concert I’d ever been too,” remembers Matt. “I just loved the raw energy of the crowd and from that moment on all I wanted to do was play rock ’n’ roll.” Asked how he’s evolved as a bass player in the time that he’s been studying with SBL, Matt tells us: “Scott has a real gift for making learning fun and engaging, so I was immediately encouraged to push myself to learn new things. I eventually decided to sign up to the academy, which is just an incredible resource. It pushes you to progress as a bass player, but also as a musician. The community aspect is also more valuable than a lot of people might realise.”

So how does Matt keep his fingers flexible? With some interesting exercises, he reveals: “It can be easy to fall into the trap of practicing what you’re already good at, so I think it’s important to challenge yourself to learn new things. SBL really encourages you to do that. My current practice routine involves connecting to my Mac via an iRig interface and using GarageBand to practice over different loops, but it all depends on what I'm working on at the time.”

Bass-wise, Matt relies on a Rickenbacker 4003, plugged into an Ampeg SVT-CL and an 810 cab. “I’ve played that Rickenbacker at every single gig for the last seven years!” He says. “It has travelled with me all around the world and I love it. It really is my bass for life. My backup is a Fender P-Bass, which is a Nate Mendel signature model. That bass really suits my sound, but it comes ‘road worn’ straight out of the box, which is a little lame if you ask me. I would rather have caused those dints and scratches myself!” And the secret of good rock bass? “Just relax and remember as much as you can from the rehearsal room. My strength is playing live, so the more live work I can do the better.”

Watch this space: it seems that Matt Agius and his band Empra will be flying the Australian flag for some time to come. We asked him the following questions, covering everything from his time at SXSW to opening up for Fall Out Boy in Singapore.

What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?

Definitely not a guitarist! Maybe a frontman, but I can't really sing. I love to jump around onstage, engage with the crowd and generally throw off a lot of energy. So I guess I might end up as a terrible frontman, but without the bass I'd be screwed!

What's your best gigging tip?

Be prepared. There is nothing worse than getting to a gig and knowing that you haven't put in the work to learn a certain song. When I play live I like to completely tune out and get in the zone, which allows me to have so much fun. The only time I get nervous is when I know I haven't prepared and that ruins the whole experience.

Tell us about your projects outside of SBL

I'm definitely a band guy with Empra, but I would like to do more live session work.

Any career highlights?

Where do I start?! EMPRA had the privilege of touring America last year. We played 50 shows in three months and lived on a tour bus, which is something I've always dreamt of! The tour included a week at SXSW in Austin, which was incredible.

We also got to open up for Fall Out Boy at an outdoor amphitheatre in Singapore a couple of years back. It was great to play in-front of such a massive crowd and witness up close how a pro band and its crew works.

We also played on the main stage at the House of Blues in Los Angeles before that venue shut down. We represented Australia there in a big international battle of the bands competition and won first prize. That kickstarted a lot of things for us. It was an amazing experience.

Who are your favourite players at the moment?

In terms of new players, I'm really into Mike Kerr from Royal Blood. His band absolutely kills it and his tone is insane. He has given a big middle finger to all those two piece bands that don't use bass players! I saw a Scottish band called Biffy Clyro in London the other night and their bass player (James Johnston) is so solid and has such an incredible tone. I've been a fan for a while, but I was so blown away by their set. Other than that, I’ve actually been listening to a lot of the classics again. I’ll never get tired of hearing McCartney or John Paul Jones basslines!

What Pedals Do you Use?

In terms of pedals I keep it pretty simple. I always use a SansAmp bass driver which adds a bit of grit and clarity to the amp tone. It’s a great pedal to have on tour because you can always get close to your tone, no matter what amp you’re using. I also use a Big Muff to load up all that fuzz!

How do you unwind?

I don't really! Outside of music I really love to travel and experience different cultures. I think its important to really enjoy your short time on this earth, so I try and make life memories all the time and go on as many adventures as possible.

What’s been the best thing about 2017 so far?

Funnily enough it's actually been taking a break from music. I've been traveling for the last month and have gone through some of South East Asia and the UK, with quite a few more stops to go! Every day has been a massive adventure and I really love meeting new people and seeing how the locals live in different parts of the world. I'm currently in Liverpool, which is the home of the Beatles!

And the worst?

I haven't played a single gig in 2017! I'm also traveling without my bass, so I definitely miss it. It has certainly been a challenge, but I'm sure I’ll find some people to play with along the way, for sure.

Who would be playing on your fantasy jukebox?

It would be a good mix of the old school: AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. And some newer stuff too: Biffy Clyro, Nothing But Thieves, Royal Blood, Car Seat Headrest… anything that rocks!!

Check out Matt in the videos below and at www.facebook.com/empraonline/

To join Matt and our other amazing students within the SBL membership click here and grab your 14-day free trial today.