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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



“Ask Me Anything” – Interview idea, Inspired by Steve Albini

May 19th, 2012 | 52 Comments | Categories: site updates |

Recently, Steve Albini posted an ‘AMA’ on Reddit. I’ve never spent any time on Reddit, but a few people sent me the link to it, and I read it. The basic idea is that someone notable says ‘hey I’m here, ask me anything’. And what you get at the end is part hagiographic fan-boy nonsense and part really cool interview with questions that magazine and radio people would quite possibly never think to ask. In Steve’s case, it’s lots more of the latter. Here it is, if you want to read it.

Anyway, it got me thinking – I’m not remotely notable enough to do the ‘AMA’ thing on Reddit, and don’t really understand the site anyway, but the idea of hosting a load of questions posted by interested people and answering them as a kind of ‘crowd-sourced’ interview appeals to me. I’ve no idea whether there’ll be much interest in posting questions, but I’m going to stick this up on the blog and see what y’all say.

As it says, you can ask me anything. No promises I’ll answer everything, but feel free to ask away and we’ll see if we can put together a definitive set of Stevie-info for people who are looking for a way into SBS-world, yes? 🙂

So, if it sounds like something interesting to you, please do post a question in the comments. I’ve yet to decide whether I’ll answer them there (the threaded comments here would make it easy to follow if I did) or whether I’ll cut and paste them into a new page… probably both. Either way, post away and we’ll see what we come up with…

[you may also notice that the single post view for this looks a bit different – I’ve tweaked the site to make reading individual posts more focused and less distracting. I hope you like it 🙂 ]

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52 Comments so far ↓

  • Paul DeLano

    I absolutely love your fretless playing. If there was one great secret to your tone, what would it be?

    • Steve

      Paul,

      I’m not sure I believe in either secrets, or there being one path… I think your hands are always going to be the most influential element in your ‘sound’, but mine is definitely a combination of hands, strings (Elites flatwounds), fingerboard material, set-up, electronics (Lane Poor pickups in passive mode most of the time) and then the processing – the amp simulator on my Lexicon MPX-G2 plays a pretty big role in the overall sound of what I do, as does the reverb (with all the low-end rolled out of it so I get no reverb when playing ‘bass’ bass even if I leave it switched on…

      So yeah, hands and technique, but certainly not in isolation 🙂

  • Mark

    What do you think you would be doing now if you’d never learned to play an instrument?

    • Steve

      great question! probably learning to play an instrument 😉

      I’d probably have gone into either education or computing… or both. Those seem to be the two things that fit best with the way I see the world, though it’s tough to imagine how I’d see the world if my world-view wasn’t shaped by my experiences as a musician…

      Actually, I may have ended up being a youth-worker, given that part of my early trajectory was in that direction, but I don’t think I was a very good one, so maybe not 🙂

  • guitartim

    Let’s start with the biggie… Hall or Oates?

    • Steve

      that is *the* question, after all. At this point, I think I’d have to say Oates, mainly for his backing vocal arrangements, which are a big part of what made Hall sound so awesome. the BVs on Every Time You Go Away are sublime…

      ‘Tache or Mullet? it’s such a tough call 🙂

  • Daniela Atanasova

    Why do you wear pink shoes? 🙂

    • Steve

      simple answer is ‘I like pink shoes’… 🙂

      longer answer is that I think men in the UK are rarely offered anything remotely interesting to wear. I made the very smart move of marrying a woman almost the same size as me in most clothing items, so I steal her coats and jeans. I also spent about 3 years wearing a sarong most of the time, in the late 90s/early 2000s… that was fun 🙂

      I’ve always gone with the Eddie Izzard line on this ‘they aren’t women’s clothes, they’re my clothes’.

      But the shoes are definitely made as men’s shoes, are exceedingly comfortable, and give help my feet to stay visible when they otherwise might get lost 😉

  • Mike Maddaloni - @thehotiron

    Have you ever been alone in a crowded room?

    mp/m

    • Steve

      on many, many occasions, usually when I was the only sober person there. Wherever ‘there’ happened to be. I often ended up feeling totally isolated by the randomness of the nonsense going on around me.

      I also have this thing of trying to find solitude in crowds, particularly on the tube in London, so I’m pretty good at zoning out the craziness there and finding an alone space, a meditational space, if you will. It feels pretty amazing 🙂

  • Glenn Smith

    You have very high level of technical sophistication with your performance equipment–how do you reach a point, mentally, of allowing the music to transcend your interactions with the technology?

    • Steve

      Another great question – a lot of it is about not changing my gear very often! I’ve never been one for swapping things out all the time in the quest for ‘perfection’, knowing that a deeper knowledge/experience is often the solution, not new shiny stuff.

      As a result, I can be pretty instinctive in my interactions with both the Lexicon processor that does all the clever noises, and the Looperlative which does the looping. I’m still getting to know the SoftStep controller, so that interrupts my flow a little at times, but it’s getting there, and the potential once it’s fully integrated is massive.

      The Looperlative was also built largely to my specifications – the hardware was built by my friend Bob Amstadt, who sent me the prototype and said ‘what do you want it to do?’ – it had an ethernet port in the back, so I could email him requests for features and he could send me updates. So pretty much every function I could ever imaginably want from a looping device is in there… or is on the list to go into the next software revision. Having gear built to your spec is a remarkable luxury and not one that I take for granted at all. 🙂

      Finally, I’m v. conscious of my ‘instrument’ starting at my fingers and ending with the sound coming out of the speakers. I make no real distinction between my bass, amp, processing etc… all if those bits are elements in ‘the instrument’ and I play them all as such. So any changes are about ‘the instrument’ not about tricks and cleverness… if that makes sense 🙂

  • Pierre

    This is probably a really boring question, but I’m still really interested in the answer: your top 3 to 5 bass players in “traditional” rock setups (you know what I mean – guitar/bass/drums)?

    • Steve

      specifically rock, or just normal band line-ups? Cos a lot of them would be in pop/funk/soul/hip-hop line-ups… ah, let’s do both 🙂

      Rock (in no particular order):

      Doug Pinnick (Kings X)
      Julie Slick (Adrian Belew Power Trio)
      Tony Levin (King Crimson/Peter Gabriel)
      Mike Watt (Minutemen/solo)
      Jeroen Thesseling (Obscura)

      other:

      Pino Palladino (particularly with D’Angelo)
      Yolanda Charles (The Deep MO)
      Bernard Edwards (Chic)
      Leland Sklar (James Taylor)
      Mark Sandman (Morphine)

      that’ll do for now. 🙂

  • Anthony Quinn

    You drew on some visual arts for your Believe In Peace improv album. Is that something you do, or plan to do again?

    • Steve

      Hi Anthony,

      the situation around Believe In Peace was pretty amazing, and unique – I hadn’t planned to record an album, but was so struck by Geoff Bush’s art that I decided to improvise some music in response to it. It was great to be able to encourage the people there to carry on wandering round the room looking at the art, allowing the music to soundtrack their visual journey through Geoff’s work.

      Inspiration comes from so many different places – most of my music is me trying to put something non-musical to music – so sometimes it’s visual art, sometimes it’s film, sometimes it’s politics.. at the moment a lot of it is being a dad… the regular themes are mostly built around gratitude and serendipity, but I’m open to inspiration wherever it may appear, so I hope I find myself in a situation like the gig in Minneapolis again!

  • Tom Robinson

    I was amazed to see your tweet explaining how to set a YouTube link to go straight to a certain point in the video. It’d be great if you could explain it again in more depth here, but here’s my actual question:

    Do you know of any way to do this with the BBC iPlayer/RadioPlayer? Radio shows almost never notify the artists in advance that they’re going to be played. Result = bands are constantly tweeting out to their followers to Listen Again to this or that show (at ‘X many’ minutes in) so as to hear their three minutes of glory, and what Steve Lamacq or Lauren Laverne said about them afterwards…

    A neat way to direct listeners to a key moment in a recent BBC radio show would be a godsend for many musicians…

    T x

    • Steve

      hi Tom!

      lovely to see you here, and glad you like the YouTube trick – the idea is that you can just add ” ?t=54m45s ” to the end of any Youtube URL for it to link to a specific point in a video. It’s particularly hand if, like me, you’ve got lots of videos where you’re talking total nonsense before the song starts, and want to be able to link someone direct to the music, like this –

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAdvWNB_2QE#t=2m17s

      …now for the GREAT news. The iPlayer uses almost exactly the same mark-up, so all you have to do is add your ” ?t= ” info at the end, and you can link to specific moments on the iPlayer!! how great is that? (just make a note that it’s a question mark not a hash for the iplayer…)

      So, for example, here’s the link to the Steve Hogarth/Richard Barbieri track you played on the show the other night –

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01hz2f0/The_Tom_Robinson_Show_19_05_2012/?t=54m45s

      you can see, the extra bit just comes after the slash at the end of a regular iPlayer URL. Got to love the cleverness of the BBC webnerds. Hurrah for open web standards 🙂

      hope that helps with sharing the show… xx

  • abbo

    I ask this in all seriousness, what would you say is your biggest gripe and really really gets you angry in the world of music? I ask this as you always have a very positive and supportive demeanour about nearly everything I’ve ever seen you write.

    Much applause.

    abbo

    • Steve

      Hey abbo,

      mostly it’s things to do with the way that the machinery of the old industry gets in the way of more music existing. The wielding of powerfully defended vested interests, particularly when they start affecting the law, like the digital economy act, REALLY piss me off…

      I’m also saddened – though not surprised – by so many people’s willingness to put up with the shit that gets foisted on them by TV and mainstream radio, who never dig a little deeper to find the music that will actually make their lives better, rather than just be some crappy old McDonalds for the ears… but that’s symptomatic of a much deeper malaise in contemporary culture that runs far beyond music…

      In music itself, I find it bizarre when people who are mostly dreadful at what they do are celebrated for it, but I tend not to talk about music I don’t like, even when it’s by people I don’t like, for two reasons – firstly, it’s hard enough making music without other musicians getting on your shit about it not being good enough, and secondly, I have friends and students who often really like some of the music that most irritates me, and I don’t want to disabuse them of things that are meaningful to them based on my own set of aesthetic prejudices …in the case of my students, as their ears are opened to greater possibilities, they often here the bullshit for what it is before too long anyway 😉

      …but for the most part, I really am this happy about everything!

  • Dubber

    When can we have wine?

    • Steve

      soon! I would say tonight but we’ve just walked into town, and my arthritic hips are REALLY playing up (no shit) – so you’re welcome to come over here if you fancy the bike ride, but I don’t think I’d make it walking… 🙂

      (good question though 😉 )

  • Cathy(G)

    I’m having a bit of a Facebook crisis, to be honest it’s more of a mid life crisis but the whole facebook/social media thing is part of it, so my question?

    Having read and related to Juju’s blog post about why she’s leaving FB http://littlefishmusic.com/leaving-facebook do you think FB gives us the opportunity to connect to people (we know) that in the real world we probably would have lost touch with or do you think that the ability to see what our ‘friends’ want us to see about their lives on an hour by hour, minute by minute basis makes us less likely to have a genuine connection or to see them in the real world in the same way we would if FB didn’t exist?

    • Steve

      Hi Cathy,

      I think, for the most part, the bits of pop psych that talk about how social media makes us behave are overstated. In both directions – tech doesn’t make us better or worse people, it just acts as a channel for our various characteristics all the way along the spectrum from best to worst to be manifest.

      So social media is both a tool to connect us and an information overload that numbs us to the realities of proximity to pain. It’s a way to stay in touch with friends on the other side of the world, and it’s something that we can use to pretend we’re closer to the people who live near us than we really are.

      The reality check required to fix those particular misapprehensions in ourselves is a relatively painless internal monologue, reminding ourselves of what really matters to us, of our own dispensation towards banality (which is still the single most tragic thing about pretty much all human interactions, virtual or otherwise – the inertia that characterises our fear of vulnerability and reality).

      So I tend to find that the interactions on FB are as meaningful as I choose to make them – I can remind people that they are loved and special when they’re having a rough time, I can laugh at lots of funny stuff, and I can unsubscribe or unfriend people who habitually post nonsense that I find unhelpful or damaging.

      That said, I think the far bigger problem with FB (and certainly one of the driving forced behind the kinds of algorithms that decide what you see and what you don’t) is that the site itself is evil. Evil in the sense that it pretends to be a social network when in fact it’s basically a massive commercial data-scraping tool – anything you put in, anything you look at, any relationships you have on there are thrown into these great big programs that analyze data and churn out information to sell to advertisers so they can more effectively target you with shit you don’t need or want. FB have also shown that they’re happy to turn that data over to the police if asked, and no doubt make it available to national governments if subject to enough pressure, or plied with enough cash.

      That’s definitely my bigger problem with FB. I don’t think our humanity can be undermined by the potential to talk to people in certain ways. We choose to engage in whatever we we do, and the general level of banality on FB is no more or less a surprise than the number of people who are willing to watch ‘Britains Got Talent’…

  • Sam Hallam

    I’m interested in your thoughts on improvisation, and teaching improvisation.

    There’s an amusing irony that a large amount of improvisational music is taught within very strict boundaries. (i.e. Bebop tunes, Rhythm Changes, whatever) and that as a beginning improviser you will mostly be able to practice with other musicians only in those idioms.

    How and when is it then possible to break away from improvising in what can sometimes be a outdated and dogmatic context to truly get at the heart of what improvisation is and focus on spontaneity and MUSIC in general… rather than working on just ‘killing it’ over Oleo for the next 20 years?

    • Steve

      Good Q, Sam

      I think the teaching of improvisation as ‘learning jazz’ has done a great disservice to the music of the world, as though jazz is the only tradition in which improv exists.

      The learning of the jazz canon should, I think, be seen not particularly as ‘learning to improvise’ but primarily about ‘doing your homework’ – there’s a way of playing that kind of jazz that brings with it a specific set of learning – much of which is about a shared vernacular, rather than the wider improvisational goal of building your own vocabulary, not just melodically but harmonically and idiomatically as well…

      Jazz – within that post-bop tradition – is a technically very demanding musical world. The amount of stuff you need to learn to get your instrument around in order to even have a reasonable chance of not looking like an idiot in a jam session is pretty huge. The point at which you can innovate on top of it is further along that path.

      For people who are passionate about that particular idiomatic path, it makes a whole lot of sense. For those of us who have little interest in playing bop/swing/post-bop etc. the ‘tyranny of the Omnibook’ has been in many cases a real hindrance to forming a unique, personal voice and perspective on our chosen instrument.

      So I tend to look at improvisation as primarily an orientation towards music making. One in which the decision-making process, moment to moment is mine. Collectively, our focuses on making the best music we can as it unfolds, making decisions based on all the things we’re aware of. We can dip in and out of idioms if we wish (assuming there are no other stylistic of philosophical constraints placed on the world – for example, if you were playing within the ‘non-idiomatic’ tradition of the london improv orchestra) and we can contribute our voice to the building of something musical ‘good’.

      The way the improvisation sits alongside various musical traditions strikes me as another layer on top of that orientation towards music – most forms of jazz bring with them a huge weight of expectation regarding the parameters within which you’re improvisations are going to happen, specific kinds of phrasing, rhythm, scales, techniques… there’s a very macho ‘dues-paying’ culture that requires you to ‘prove what you can do’ before you’re allowed to subvert those traditions.

      Which is clearly, in artistic terms, utter bollocks. It makes some sense as a cultural manifestation of a preservationist instinct (not necessarily a bad thing), or for someone who sees the integrity of the tradition as paramount to the context for their ongoing work, but as a way of limiting the freedom of expression of any particular artist, it’s meaningless.

      So what’s important here? Naming the processes, coming up with a sensible understanding of what’s actually going on, of a kind of ‘hierarchy of process’ for how the concept of improvisation interfaces with our loftier artistic goals, and making personal decisions about the degree to which that specific jazz vernacular is important to us being able to say what we want to say on our instrument (and also – significantly – to our ability to get work on our instrument within our chosen field – my lack of facility in bop/post-bop contexts has no doubt lost me work, though it’s lack of evidence in my solo work has more than made up for the £345 I may have lost in the last 20 years by not being willing to plough that particular furrow 😉 )

      What we practice is what comes out when we make music – you can fairly easily spot players who dedicated years of their life to playing bebop-and-its-descendent-forms – they have a relationship with dexterity and with that harmonic world that is pretty tricky to shake off. That’s no bad thing at all, if that’s the music they want to make (I find it really hard to shake off the harmonic world of the new wave and progressive music I grew up with too!) but it’s never advisable to be too closely wedded to music you’re not passionate about…

      • Sam Hallam

        I suppose the next question I have to ask as a follow up. Is how do you curate your own personal environment so you can work towards your own goals.

        If one’s improvisational influences do not fall within the environment you are in, what is the best way to work towards that?

        Example, here in Little Rock, AR. There is a small but active jazz scene, but is focused on what I talked about it before, playing the music of Sonny Rollins, Charlie Paker, and whatever other standards. If the music you want to project is related to that scene but not part of it. How do you work an acheving your own goals parralell to existing within that scene (that you may or may not also enjoy and want to be apart of)

        Sorry if I’m making absolutely zero sense, just some thoughts of mine… 🙂

  • Andrew Newiss

    What was the first thing you saved up hard for and bought with your own money? Have you bought anything since then that gave you the same feeling?

    • Steve

      Hi Andrew,

      probably my first Modulus bass – when I left college, I worked 12 hours a day 6 days a week in a factory that stitched the ‘R’ logo into Russell Athletic clothing, in Perth in Scotland. I was saving up so I could go off and being a music-playing youth-worker for a year. But I also needed a new bass, hence the insane work schedule.

      I went down to London and tried out loads of instruments – the Modulus ended up being massively reduced in a sale, and when the guy in the shop (which was fairly newly opened) heard I was going off on tour with a proper band, he offered me a further (insane) discount that meant I got the bass for well under half the price on the headstock. It’s still my only 4 string bass, and I love it to bits. 🙂

      The 2nd time it happened was saving up for my Modulus 6 string fretless – they offered me a substantial discount (by this point I was a session player working with some fairly well known people) but it was still a lot of money and took me many months to save up for. The feeling of achievement when I paid for it and got the bass was amazing 🙂

  • Dr Maz

    Hello Steve,

    I’d like to know whether you think that the experience of music, learning, playing, sharing etc. [what else have I missed out here]! can be transferred to forms of digital software and new technology.

    My thought was what if there was an app that could teach you scales so that the player could apply this understanding to any instrument and any type of playing – or does this take away from the aesthetic of the instrument completely?…

    In short, what if your iPad were an instrument too?…

    🙂

    • Steve

      hello Maz! V. nice to see you here,

      I think ‘technology’ as a notion is an unnecessary barrier here. Someone once defined ‘technology’ as ‘anything invented after I was born’ – and that’s probably true. In musical terms, the piano is an incredibly sophisticated piece of technology that only allows for certain combinations of notes to be played (you can’t bend notes to find the ones between the ones it’s tuned to, and you can fade notes in, nor can you strike the strings in a different way without first ‘preparing’ it…)

      So when it comes to digital stuff, there are few ‘existential’ characteristics that are worth separating out, particularly when it comes to sampling technology. Back to the piano analogy – a digital piano is a very sophisticated sample triggering device – you have a range of samples and different ways of manupulating them via a piano-like interface – but you’re basically triggering a recording of a sound, you aren’t ‘making’ the sound… Familiarity with the form of a piano means we rarely think of it as such, and of course the nature of the beast is that it can be so much more than just a piano – the same keyboard can trigger a host of other sounds at the same time, and we can do things to the sample that would be impossible with any acoustic instrument.

      So, the role of digital tech in instruments needs to be seen in terms of what it makes possible, and how that fits with the musical aims of the music creator – I’m not a huge fan of making sample-based music, largely because I like the feeling that anything can happen in the moment… conversely, EVERYTHING I do is sample-based, cos that’s what looping is – it’s just sampling in the moment rather than pre-recorded…

      Re: learning – again, we need to look at what’s going on in the learning – what’s the material that’s needed? What metaphors do we use to make sense of the entirely abstract soundworld that we’re entering? Apps are a great way of introducing new kinds of visualisation for how particular kinds of harmony and music practice work – books have dictated for so long that we have this linear approach to learning harmony that really doesn’t make sense for so much of what we’re doing in music, as while music itself is a time-based experience and therefor things happen sequentially, harmony is a relational concept not a step-process. This is far easier to see on screen than on paper, where we can do 3D images, morphs etc. and also interact with those representations…

      …so the iPad already is an instrument – there are lots of instruments that exist for iPad, of varying degrees of control. My big questions are all about the kind of control it makes possible, and what will happen when someone dedicates the kind of time to a specific iPad instrument that the rest of us have spent on lumps of wood, magnets and graphite… The huge problem at the moment with app-culture is the time-scale. We see upgrades as a value-added, rather than seeing time invested in getting REALLY effing good at whatever we’re doing as being the value-added… that’s problematic if unrecognised 🙂

  • abbo

    I have another question for you related to your talents in the social media/web area rather than your quality bass playing I hope you don’t mind.

    I am trying to build my own website through one of the many pay and we’ll host and give you tools to build simple website platforms. now as a novice at all this I find the company I use to be more than adequate to cope with my limitations.

    My question is two fold really,

    1. I want to start blogging about about a musical project I am starting and other musical musings, and wondered whether to keep this blog uniquely on my own personal website or should I use other blogging platforms (or an other blogging platform) and link back to my website?

    and 2. As well as being a touring singer songwriter for some years now, I have taught and still teach, and I also work as a freelance photographer and film camera man (amongst other things) I love everything I do, but the advice I have had mostly was keep all this separate on the web, so I am in the middle of designing more websites than I know what to do with. what are your thoughts on integrating everything onto one website. or is the advice I have been given so far prudent.

    There is a specific reason I ask this and can elaborate if so required.

    Many thanks for your time.

    abbo

    • Steve

      Abbo,

      re: the blog, I’d have it as central to your site – it’s going to be where people find out who you are and what you’re really like. key stuff. So much of the web these days is about ‘what happened this week’ – the website-as-brochure approach doesn’t really cut it, and certainly doesn’t bring people back time and time again…

      Integration is a tricky one – I have a LOAD of websites – this one, solobasssteve.com beyondbasscamp.com microgigs.net officegigs.co.uk recyclecollective.com – most of them are dormant, but solobasssteve.com and beyondbasscamp.com both fulfill quite important roles – SBS.com is about keeping the purely geeky tech and philosphical stuff off this site, so I can focus on things here that have an at-least-tangential connection to music. and B*B*C.com is obviously about a specific teaching project. But I still have a teaching page on my main site here…

      I like well-rounded people, I like knowing that the person whose music I’m listening to has a life outside trying to get me to buy their shit. There’s no reason why normal people can’t make extraordinary music, but I also totally understand (and often feel) the pressure to be super-human in a post-rock-star music world. This post from the lovely Louis Barabbas addresses that particular angst beautifully – http://louisbarabbas.tumblr.com/post/23176647514/identity

      • abbo

        Thanks again, and thanks for the link, I empathise very much with the gentleman at the end of it, I have also had the beard dilemma, once I shaved it off and people didn’t even recognise me, and wouldn’t believe it even was me, Plus some friends thought my wife was having an affair when they saw her with me minus beard and hair.

        The main reason I ask this is because I am considering the crowd funding angle as a way to help finance my next album, and am researching additional ways of packaging and extras to go along with the main music on offer, i.e. prints of my work, a book etc etc as an added value and possibly something more unique than the music alone. This give me more to think about in this respect.

        Many thanks for you time.

        Best regards, abbo

        • Steve

          Ok, I’ll write some more about crowd funding soon – it’s a topic that needs unpacking much more fully…

  • David Jennings

    How far ahead do you plan in terms of recording, gigging etc (or is it more a case of going with the flow and letting a plan reveal itself)? How far ahead do you look in terms of career and life ambitions (or, again, is that a daft, misconceived question)? Cheers!

    • Steve

      David! We were just talking about you last night. Must meet up soon…

      Anyway, planning – simple answer is always ‘not far enough’. I’m terrible at long term planning. Awful. And even worse at holding back a release in order to maximise publicity around it – that’s never been a natural thing for me to do. In the days of pressing CDs, the natural cycle of sending CDs and artwork off and the cost of recouping slowed all of that down, but now that doesn’t happen…

      I’ve never got the hang of booking gigs 8-12 months in advance, which especially for festivals and provincial theatres, you HAVE to do, due to their publicity cycles. That may be part of the reason why I’ve never had any success in that world (of course, being a solo bassist may also be a hindrance, or the people doing the booking not being remotely interested in the music I make, but I’d rather put it down to bad planning on my part 😉 )

      So I’m constantly telling myself I need to get better at planning. It hasn’t happened yet…

      That said, I do have three, maybe four released lined up for this year alone, so I do know what I’ll be putting out recording wise, and I guess that means I could start to put gigs in around that plan… maybe now’s the time to get my shit together and start doing it properly…

      I’m not sure I have any career or life goals. I’m constantly surprised that I manage to do what I do and not be homeless. I have occasional moments of terror when I think about just how precarious it all is, and every now and then something a little longer term rears its head – at the moment, that’s the prospect of a PhD starting very soon, which would be all kinds of exciting. Must have a chat with you about that soon 🙂

      So, the simple answer is, I’m rubbish at planning and don’t think ahead. 🙁

      • David Jennings

        I wonder if you really are rubbish… or if your approach isn’t actually a sane and wise approach to managing an unpredictable, creative life. (Hence my asking if my questions were misconceived, because I think you could mount a confident ‘defence’ of your approach and argue that detailed planning or obsessing over long-term ambitions are more likely to make you anxious and frustrated than rich and/or successful). Are you really held back by rubbish planning? I bet if, say, you had an ambition to collaborate with someone you didn’t yet know, you wouldn’t have any difficulty taking the steps necessary to bring that about. Sorry, I suspect being a solo bassist may have more to do with it 😉
        Would love to talk to you about your PhD ideas. Anytime that suits. Sadly am not going to be able to make it up to Brum at end August as we discussed a while back – clashes with a family holiday. So we’ll have to cook up another ‘plan’.

  • Graham Hollebon

    Hi Steve, how are you?
    I guess I’m typical of many bass players. Competent, solid but over my many years of playing (36 and counting!) my style has become very predictable and pedestrian. What I play I can play well but I’m conscious there is a whole world of creativity that I don’t access. If you could give me two tips to help me break out of my routine style what would you say? Cheers and take care. Graham

    • Steve

      Very good thanks, Graham – really nice to hear from you!

      Right, two things:

      firstly, start setting parameters for practice that are outside what you would normally play – try playing songs you already know, but making up basslines where no two consecutive notes are on the same string, or where every other interval is a third, or play with a pick, or try playing 16th notes over a ballad… any weird set of criteria to make you not play like you.

      The 2nd version is a slightly more right-brain version of the same thing called The Channelling Game – pick a bass player and play whatever the tune is you’re working on in their style. Lemmy, Marcus Miller, Paul McCartney, Stu Hamm, Michael Manring… doesn’t really matter who, and neither does it matter if you’re not sure what they’d do – the idea is to trick your brain into ‘permission’ mode, where you’re allowed to do new things, where you’re actively pursuing things that aren’t you – you’ll never be able to play like someone else accurately just like that, but it may be enough to introduce some new element into your playing that you discover you like and can then work on in a more structured fashion…

      try that, and let me know how you get on!

  • Jennifer

    I’m not sure exactly how to phrase it, but what came to mind that I’m curious about is the relationship between, on the one hand, your own playing inc composing & performing, and on the other hand, your teaching. Like how does your playing inform your teaching and how does your teaching inform your playing… or if that framing of the question already presupposes a relationship which is not quite it, then please make up your own question in that general area and answer that instead 🙂

    • Steve

      Great question, Jennifer! The two are intrinsically linked. I find that teaching is often where I answer my own deepest questions, often ones that I’ve not been able to name til I have to deal with it in someone else’s music. I also find that the routine of teaching keeps me focussed on the things that are most important to my own practice – I’d probably let them slip if I wasn’t having the reinforced by talking about them on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

      And I also take great creative energy from seeing progress in others, from seeing people who previously couldn’t voice what it was they wanted to do now discovering their own path through music, and removing the obstacles to that journey.

      …not to mention that many of my compositions begin life in some form as exercises I’m using as demonstrations in a lesson.

      So there’s a symbiosis – the impetus to teach comes from seeing my approach manifest in the music I make, and that in turn reinforces my path by seeing it work for other people too 🙂

  • Patrick Allen

    Mr. Lawson, I am looking at getting a Modulus Q. 6. My question is does your 6 have the Chechen fingerboard or phenolic, and do you use the Bartolini or Aguilar pre-amp? I am going fretless. Thanks from the Colorado Rockies

    • Steve

      Hi Patrick,

      my fretless has a lined Granadillo board – v. similar properties to Chechen (which is what’s used on my fretted 6) – the pickups on it are Lane Poors (which they don’t make any more) and the preamp is a John East U-Retro, which I *love* – I’ve got his preamps in all my basses. If I was having one built now, I’d probably go for the bartolini soapbars, but have coil tap switches fitted for both pickups 🙂

      Good choice – I LOVE my Modulus basses more than is quite natural 😉