Bassist Spotlight: Wyatt Oberholzer (Chemical Fix)

Photo: Keats Rickard

There have been several examples of bass players throughout my bassist spotlight series that are talented across the board, with multiple instruments and careers in the music business.

One of the many pleasures I get out of the Bassist Spotlight series is highlighting players that go from being in a punk/hardcore band in their teens with their best friends to making a living with music in their adult lives. It's totally possible and, has happened to a lot of bass players I have met. From that initial first attraction to the instrument, the bass guitar can change your life. 

Wyatt Oberholzer is an amazing example of a super talented bass player that multitasks and is a true all-around musician as well. He came onto my radar through my WAR Records labelmates, Fixation. He also played in Drowse, but they broke up a few months ago.

I hope you enjoy reading about Wyatt's journey, as much as I enjoyed writing to him.

Introduce yourself to everyone.

My name is Wyatt Oberholzer and I play bass in Chemical Fix, sing in Fixation, write music for video games, and make records as an engineer/producer.

What was your introduction to the bass guitar?

I got my first bass when I was maybe 14, but I didn’t start playing bass in bands until I was 19 when I moved from Boston to Philadelphia. I’ve pretty much always played bass in at least one band since then. 

Does your family support your musical endeavors? 

They do! Or they try to [laughs]. My dad isn’t crazy about the type of music I play, but I have a video of my mom trying to mosh to American Nightmare when we played with them in Boston, and she always liked punk when she was younger, so I’d say she gets it. 

I know you play other instruments. Tell everyone what else you like to play.

I play guitar, which was actually my first instrument, but I play guitar mostly just when I’m writing for Chemical Fix. I wish I could play drums but my hands can’t do what my brain wants them to [laughs]. I also like to mess around with synths, I’m a pretty mediocre player when it comes to keys but I’m passable for synth stuff. 

Photo: Heather Vaught

Can you play and sing at the same time?

I can, and I do some backups in Chemical Fix, but it depends on the part—if I’m doing a more complicated bassline and the vocals are a totally different rhythm- no chance. 

When you're playing the bass, do you prefer to use a guitar pick or your fingers?

Pick, always. I love the sound of a pick against fresh bass strings, and bands I work with will tell you I’m a stickler about that too. The only time I think I ever played bass with my fingers intentionally was for one song when I played a Smiths cover set, and I think I played without a pick for “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now." 

What do you find you do more with your playing technique, downstrokes, upstrokes, or alternate picking?

It depends, for fast stuff like D-beats or blasts, or for parts that groove a little, alternate picking, but it's fun to challenge myself to down-pick mid-tempo parts, which is super punk sounding. 

Is there a sweet spot on the neck you hang out the most when writing, or are you all over the fretboard with the songs. 

Not necessarily on the neck, but I have certain intervals between chords I tend to use a lot when I’m writing. I do try to avoid writing stuff centered around the open E, because I think that’s boring and a cop-out. 

How do you remember riffs in your head if you're not near an instrument?

Oh, I don’t [laughs]. It’s 100% muscle memory, but as soon as it’s in my hand I know how to play it. 

Are there any bass players that inspire your style of playing?

It doesn’t come through in Chemical Fix, or really any hardcore bands I’ve played bass in, but I love Andy Rourke’s playing in The Smiths. Those basslines are super fun to learn.

The same goes for Peter Hook from New Order—he really invented a whole new style, using the bass to play lead parts instead of having guitars play them all the time. The Cure does a lot of that too, between the two they really coined that style that a ton of post-punk bands have used ever since.

Are there any drummers who have changed the way you play bass?

Absolutely, Mike Walsh who plays in Chemical Fix with me, we’ve actually been in bands together for probably close to ten years now. A lot of the time he’ll play something more interesting than what you’d expect for a certain part, like a two-step, for example, he’ll throw in syncopation or accents, and it becomes important that I hit those same accents as him, so I have to pick differently. He’s a pocket drummer too, so I’m very used to locking into the pocket with him. 

What is your favorite amp, pedal, bass guitar combo?

I’m a P-Bass loyalist, through and through. Jazz Bass necks are great, I just don’t love the tone. I’d love to get a Rickenbacker at some point too, but those only work for certain styles. Right now, I’m really into my Darkglass B7K into a clean power amp driving a 2x15 cab. I love the Darkglass, and I use that to get pretty much all of my tones. I like 15” speakers because they shave off a good amount of high-end, which tends to sound cheap and brittle to my ear.

I’m all about midrange, that’s what cuts through guitars, I don’t need the crunchy stuff on top, that’s distracting in my opinion. I do like the Ampeg V4B and SVT CL for recording, but those amps are crazy heavy, need a lot of maintenance, and aren’t loud enough, so I’ve been sticking to the power amp set up live for convenience and consistency.

Photo: Michael Walsh

How well do you eat on tour?

Oh, I eat so bad on tour [laughs]. Most of Chemical Fix is vegan/vegetarian so we make it a point to check out the best spots in whatever city we’re in, so we definitely go too hard. But it’s vacation, right?

Is there anything new coming up that you can tell us about?

Yeah, Fixation has an LP coming out on War Records in late spring/early summer I believe. Chemical Fix is starting to write for another record but that’s gonna be a ways out. 

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

As if I have time for a personal life [laughs]. My partner Alex is a saint, she puts up with me working two full-time jobs, and two active, touring bands and is always supportive of everything I do. I don’t know if I could do all of that if I didn’t have her to count on and to push me to always aim higher.

And on top of that she’s got her own career she’s been killing it in, she is part of the team that just opened and is running the new Brooklyn Bowl here in Philadelphia. She’s a rockstar.

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

Focus on right-hand dynamics, be mindful of bass’s role in the style you’re trying to play, and be tasteful—don’t overdo it just because it’s more fun to play, and if you wanna play really fast stuff, it sounds weird but try playing with your pick held backwards, with the wide end hitting the strings.

Mikey Bifolco, who plays in all the bands I’m in too, taught me that when we played in a band called Drowse together, I was surprised that it really worked. It’s especially good for like, '90s Bay style fast stuff like AFI, Nerve Agents, etc., where the picking is a little more dense than like, '00s Boston style fast parts. 


Check out Wyatt's website for more information about his engineering/production services.


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Tagged: bassist spotlight, chemical fix, drowse, fixation