Bassist Spotlight: Joe Principe (Rise Against, 88 Fingers Louie, Dead Ending)

Rise Against @ The Theater at MGM National Harbor, National Harbor, MD, 2017. (Photo: Alyssa Howell)

Working on this interview I came to fully understand just why Joe Principe is such an in-demand bass player. He has played and recorded with some of the most talented musicians in punk rock music.

As I was finishing this Bassist Spotlight up, I was listening to the Where It Went Podcast guys Revelation Records Instagram takeover with Joe. It made me think of a million more questions I should have asked!

I wish I would have asked him about singing and playing at the same time because he is arguably the best at it. I'll catch up with him next time. He's an amazing talent and a very sincere, kind person. I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I did doing it.

Introduce yourself to everyone.

I’m Joe and I play bass for Rise Against and Dead Ending (sort of), and formerly of 88 Fingers Louie. 

How did you first get into picking up a bass guitar?

Funny story…I had zero intentions on playing bass but I can attribute the catalyst to being in the right place at the right time. I was skating my friend's mini ramp and our mutual friend brought his younger brother, Dom, to hangout. We got to talking and realized we had the same tastes in music.

He told me he was starting a band and asked if I played an instrument. Up until that point, I had only messed around on the acoustic guitar that was collecting dust at my house but, that was enough to get asked to play bass for the band. 

Dom loaned me a bass and the rest is history.

Do you play any other instruments?


Did your family support your musical endeavors when you were first starting out?

My mom is the absolute greatest. My father passed away when I was 7 so she raised my sisters and me alone.  She always told us to follow our hearts in life which allowed me to go down the music path.

Were you able to play along to records/tapes/radio when you were getting started?

I would sit in my bedroom for hours playing along to my favorite records: Descendents, Gorilla Biscuits, Agnostic Front, Naked Raygun, and Bad Religion, to name a few

Have you always played with a guitar pick?

Yeah, pick for life [laughs].

What do you think about playing with your fingers?

I poke fun at my friends who play with their fingers because I just prefer the tone you get with the pick. That grind!  Now, I realized there are plenty of insane finger players who get great tone in their own right but I'm stubborn so, pick only [laughs]. 

When you're picking, what are you doing more often? Downstrokes, upstrokes, or alternate picking?

Upstrokes to start a song/picking pattern. I don’t know why I learned that way but it just felt natural. It makes playing triplets easier to play for me. But, being a punk bassist I definitely worked on my downstrokes to get my Dee Dee on.

You have been writing and performing in bands for several years. Has there been a common way you write with them? 

Either I write a full song (bass and guitar) and bring it in and it's done, or, I’ll bring in a riff and collaborate.

Do you find that you keep your original ideas or do you take them home with you to be revised? 

When I write, more times than not, I write guitar and bass and keep them more or less the same. My guitar and basslines kind of intertwine so changing one or the other will change the vibe of the song. 

Rise Against (Photo: Ryan Bakerink)

Is there a spot on the neck of the bass that you hang out on the most or do you use every string and fret in the course of playing the songs? 

It just depends on the song and what is fitting to me. Some songs lean on a lot of bass chords (I credit early Jawbreaker for that), and some just need the low end to be held down. 
Are there any bass players that inspire your style of playing over the years?

This list is all over the map but these guys were important to me: Craig Setari (Sick of It All, Straight Ahead), Frank Bello (Anthrax), Karl Alvarez (ALL, Descendents), Fat Mike (NOFX), Minor Threat (Brian Baker on bass and Steve Hansgen), Daryl Jenifer (Bad Brains), Klaus Flouride (Dead Kennedys), and Pierre Kezdy (Naked Raygun).

I have been blessed to play with some amazing drummers in my life, and I play differently with all of them ie: Chris Daly, Rich Edsell, Thommy Browne, Jimmy Santiago Vela, Terry Campbell. 

Are there any drummers who change the way you approach playing the bass guitar when you are with them?

I would say Derek Grant (Alkaline Trio, Dead Ending) sticks out. Derek has such a unique feel so it’s really fun to play up to the way he accents things on drums.

What's your favorite amp, pedal, bass guitar set up?

The Holy Grail bass tone for me has always been a Sans Amp pedal, Ampeg SVT head, and an Ampeg 8x10 cab. Bass-wise, I started years ago with a Fender Jazz bass and loved it. That aggro tone I got from a jazz bass really complimented all my fills and chords that I would play.

Then I switched to a P bass just for a change around 2005. I finally went back to a jazz bass last year. Feels like home. 

Photo courtesy of Joe Principe

Do you have different gear for tour, and for recording?

The last few years I was touring with a Darkglass 900 head (built like a tank, very road-worthy) and an Orange 8x10 cab. 

Do you have any gear horror stories you would share with us?

As much as I adore Ampeg….They never could withstand the heat they endured on Warped Tour. Constantly overheated. I had a good two-week stretch early on where my head would go out daily and I would scramble for a loaner because I couldn’t afford a new head or a backup. 

You have toured all over the world. Are there any other cities you would like to live in?

I really love the ocean and have always been drawn to San Diego.

How has Rise Against been dealing with COVID? Are you guys practicing?

We’re focusing on our families. We were in the studio right when all this started so we just sit and wait (impatiently) to get that out in the world and hopefully get back to playing live. 

How are you and your family dealing with Covid?

My kids are amazing. There are ups and downs but they’re powering through. They know that this is so everyone can remain safe until the vaccine is rolled out on a more widespread level. 

When I was doing my homework for this interview, a bandmate of yours told me to ask you about the "Kid Rock in Florida story." Can you elaborate?

Yikes [laughs]. We were headlining the State Theatre in St. Petersburg, FL and when we pulled up to the venue we were told some dude named Kid Rock was on the show with us. We had no idea who he was and what he sounded like. It was right before his big single took off.

Kid Rock insisted on headlining and tried to “bro down” with us while we were out back skating before the show started. It was all very silly to me [laughs]. One thing I’ll say, there couldn’t have been more than 30 people watching him but he played like he was in front of 10,000 people. 

Is there anything going on in your personal life you'd like to talk about?

I'm doing this DJ show for Vans. I spin punk and hardcore monthly and plan on having some bands play and be interviewed in the near future. So check that out. 

Do you have any new music that you're working on that you can tell us about?

Coming Soon! We released one song back in September for a DC Comics series called Death Metal. The track is called "Broken Dreams, Inc.," and is on all streaming services. 

Finally, do any words of wisdom for someone picking up the bass guitar for the first time?

Practice Practice Practice. And learn however you feel comfortable. If lessons don’t feel right then go it alone. It’s all about what works for ya; there is no right or wrong way to learn.


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Tagged: 88 fingers louie, bassist spotlight, dead ending, rise against