Yup, this week hasn’t let up on the awesome – we’ve had magazine covers, new albums, radio play and now two great new videos appearing online...
Firstly, here’s the latest video of me shot by Gregor at BassTheWorld.com – filmed at the Warwick Bass Camp a couple of weeks ago. It’s sort of an improvised baroque counterpoint piece, that morphs into a meditation on the serendipity of just letting things unfold. It’s called Better Than The Plan and it’s here:
The 2nd one is a long awaited clip of the first time the brilliant Divinity Roxx and I played together live. The first track from our first ever gig, at Kidderminster College. This bodes very well for our ongoing project, dontchathink?
…OK, how about a bonus video, because I don’t think I actually blogged about this last one when it was posted… From the gig earlier this year with Beardyman at the Jazz Cafe in London. This is the first bit of it to appear online, and it’s basically a 3 minute bass solo. Which is rather lovely. Playing with this quartet was a whole lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to doing more with Beardyman soon…
My week of rather lovely media exposure rolls on – last night a track from A Crack Where The Light Gets In was played on my favourite radio show ever. It’s not my favourite radio show because they played the tracks, it’s been that since before they started occasionally playing my music about 14 years ago.
Late Junction is, not to get too hyperbolic, an amazing example of what the BBC license fee does/did best… eclectic, joyous, and exploratory with none of the demographic limitations that commercial radio’s need to appeal to advertisers demand.
I’ve discovered SO much music through Fiona, and earlier on through Verity Sharp. To have my music played in that context is an amazing validation of what I’m up to. The technical side of it is never discussed, there’s no ‘ooh, it’s so clever for a bass player to do this!’ – just my music alongside a whole load of the most beautiful, wide-ranging wonderfulness from around the world. As a validation of purpose, it’s about as good as it gets.
The track that Fiona played last night was ‘Praxis’ from A Crack Where The Light Gets In – have a listen to the whole album below, but do listen to the show linked above – the new context for the track, between all the other amazing stuff, gives a different perspective on it… and you get to hear Fiona say it’s one of her favourite tracks of the year 😉
…and a free download to the first person to Tweet me and tell me the name of the album that the track referenced in the title of this blog-post is from 😉
There’s a brand new design for the ‘everything’ USB Stick, a limited edition square one, featuring the artwork to both the new albums.
So, Competition Time! I’ll be giving away three of these USB Sticks in October to people picked at random from anyone who posts a selfie with their copy of the new issue of Bass Guitar Magazine with me on the cover. A few people have done this already, which is really lovely to see. Take a pic, post it on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and tag me in it, and I’ll stick all the names in a hat in October and send out 3 USB Sticks.
If you can’t wait that long, You can order one now for £25, OR, for the bargain of the century, subscribe for £20 and then buy the subscriber-only offer on the USB stick for £13 – you then also get the 10 album FingerPainting set included too. So that’s 40 albums(seriously, 40!), a live video and my novel, PLUS a year’s worth of new releases with the subscription, for £33 plus postage.
Which is nuts, right?
So, get snapping and tagging.
And if you’ve bought the new albums, please do post a review on Bandcamp and share the link to them around on Twitter.
Hope you’re enjoying the magazine article. More fun stuff on the way!
So, as promised, my long-awaited new solo albums are released now! There are two of them because I recorded WAY too much material for one, but after Sue Edwards (my trusty co-producer) compiled the first one, there was still at least one coherent album there. But they didn’t feel like a double. Two distinct experiences, telling different stories. So here they are.
They’re both live in the studio, none of it is pre-recorded loops, just me and my usual toys plus a Quneo for playing percussion and synth sounds – no overdubs and very little editing at all. Listen here:
I was going to be releasing them next week, but actually brought it forward a couple of days because Bass Guitar Magazine have just announced that I’m on the cover of their October issue, out next week!!
This is by far the highest profile bit of media I’ve ever had – it’s a really bold move for the magazine, in a world where the musician press are often pulled towards putting the members of famous pop bands on the cover in the hope of getting noticed in WH Smiths. To put someone on the cover who’s highest profile gig is playing completely solo is pretty bold. It’s also a fantastic validation of what I’ve been up to for the last 15 years. I’ve spent less time over the last few years courting the world of musicians, and more connecting with the people who want to listen to what I do, whatever their relationship with musical things is outside of that. So to be featured in the biggest bass publication in the UK would be great anyway. To be on the cover is amazing. Huge thanks to Joel and the team for choosing to do this.
So, feel free to reserve the mag at your local newsagent. We’ll have some competition fun with it once it hits the shops.
And go hear the new albums. If you like ’em, you can buy them, or subscribe and them both plus 12 other albums for just £20 a year…
Which is what? Which is, the way musicians who are women are often treated and talked about in the music industries. While we’ve made a whole load of progress on gender equality, and there are now so many amazing women playing every imaginable instrument at the absolutely highest levels, we STILL have an issue…
The root of the issue seems to me to be that for a large number of men in the industry, the women that work in it too are first divided into one of two categories – fuckable or unfuckable. That’s the line. If you’re not hot, you’re ignored. If you are hot, then the purpose of any interaction, ultimately, is to try and get laid. There seems to be pretty much no acknowledgement of just how insanely toxic a notion that is for both the personal and professional life of the women involved, or indeed any consideration of the social and professional consequences of that, when guys end up trading stories of who they’ve slept with, and those women end up being ‘trouble’ on a session or tour because of past relationships, and get sidelined. And it’s ALWAYS the woman who gets sidelined. Bros before Hos, right? If you’re an amazing guitar player who slept with an OK drummer but it’s the drummer who’s the dude? Sorry, we’re going to get a new guitar player, cos there’ll be weirdness on the tour bus.
So, for the women who choose – for personal or professional reasons – not to have any kind of relationship with the musicians they work with, they become a conquest. And bets are had over who’s going to bed her first. Or rumours start, because hey, who could resist hanging round with a bunch of delusional wannabe rock stars, eh? She’s got to want to fuck one of you!
And what if the woman actually does want to have some fun? If no strings sex sounds like a great way to go? That’s not a choice that’s available. For the aforementioned professional reasons.
Observation: there’s no male equivalent of a slut, and no female equivalent of a playa. Men are rewarded for promiscuity, and women are punished for it, in every way.
But, I get told (and I DO get told), she looks so great! Anyone dressing that fine must be out for the attention. She laughs when I ‘jokingly’ tell her what I want to do to her. She’s one of the guys, it’s all funny…Well, it can be funny – I know some women with a way cruder sense of humour than me, that love crass jokes…But when it’s relentless? When it’s the only thing that’s ever joked about? When joking turns into being groped? It ceases to be funny. But, if she wants to get hired, she’s got to play along. And she HAS to look amazing. Because if you end up back in the unfuckable category, you’re ignored.
This happens pretty much every time I’m talking to a woman at a music event:
We’ll be sat talking about music, life, family, touring, stupid shit, whatever…
And some dude will come up and say ‘excuse me, I have to tell you that you’re so beautiful.’ blah fucking blah…
And my friend will smile and say thank you…
And dude will push it, and go on…
And eventually – hopefully – realise this is not their conversation and fuck off…
And nothing will be said about the person’s music or art, no attempt to engage with them as a fellow professional will be made. Just some bullshit attempt to ‘reward’ them with attention for how they look. Like somehow having creepy dudes going on about how hot you are and staring at your boobs was part of your career plan when you spent 8 hours a day learning your instrument, or 70 grand of your own money to get through 4 years of university to become the best musician you could be.
But then, it gets worse. And the playing bit of the event is also built around a peculiarly male obsession – that ridiculously competitive, chops-heavy, zero-sound-design, melody-free world of the fusion bass jam. where a bunch of guys trade ever more elaborate reharms over an E minor vamp. And someone quotes Coltrane, and someone does a bunch of clever arpeggios. And if you’re not the kind of player who wants to spend years and years of your life training for the bass olympics, you’re out.
I’m obviously way outside of that world for another reason – my gear takes way to long to set up! This is the world of plug and play, a line of generic amps that give just enough midrange for everyone to battle it out… But it’s cool. I get a million other outlets and while I’m listening to this rutting ritual take place, no-one is stood next to me trying to feel my arse without getting caught.
And there are SO few women who can be bothered with this doleful charade. There are a few who can hang in that world, some who love it. But for the most part, the women I know in music are song players, writers, arrangers, producers – people who tell stories and put together the whole deal. Who care about sound design and things sounding good not just being metrically observable as faster or more complex than everyone else while 4 instruments battle or the same single octave span in the sound spectrum.
Why does this matter? Because it’s all about boxing in people’s options. It’s a social structure that has women watching men battle. It’s as old as dinosaurs puffing up their crests to see who has the biggest one and can pull the lady dinosaurs.
And it’s bullshit. This doesn’t mean you can’t dig bass jams. This is not a value judgement about being a part of that. It’s about acknowledging that narrowness of the social situation and how it impacts on the visibility of the talents of women vs the ‘value’ of their presence as eye-candy.
And let’s face it, everyone likes to look good. That’s not about wanting it to be the only thing that gets talked about. We want to look our best, because we’re on show. We’re entertainers, FFS!
Observation: I get to see a teeny-tiny-miniscule bit of what women put up with whenever a YouTube thread is taken over by some messed up angry-dude discussion about my nail varnish.
But the difference? The massive difference: I have options. I can choose to not wear nail varnish and pink shoes, to leave the wizard coat at home. I don’t suddenly become invisible. I like to look my best but when I’m too tired, it’s all cool. I have agency over my choices and they won’t negatively impact my career. For women? That’s very very often not the case. At all.
So, here’s why I never talk about the way my friends look – because I wouldn’t do that for a dude.
If you talk about the way men sound and the way women look, you’re an asshole.
If you compliment men on their choice of notes and women on their choice of neckline, you’re an asshole.
If you choose the guys you jam with because of their groove, but the women because you think you might be in with a chance, you’re a predatory shithead.
As human beings, we rely on music to tell the story of who we are. Music has done that for millennia. It’s part of our documentation. If we shut down the role of women within that, if we silence them and just make them part of the visual landscape, or fit their story-telling into the whims of the male gaze, the stories we’re telling are a lie. They aren’t us, they aren’t who we are.
For a lot of women, telling the real story of who they are would lose them work. They’d be unable to pay the bills if they took that risk. This is real shit that impacts people’s livelihoods. This isn’t just some theoretical feminist rant, or some moralising BS – women have neither the option to opt out of looking their best (while I can show up looking like a homeless dude and still get the gig) or to fuck all the dudes they like and do it without professional and social consequence (whereas I would be rewarded with high-fives and status if I managed to coerce my beleaguered female colleagues into sleeping with me).
So, have a think about how you talk about women, how you describe musicians who are women vs men. Next time you’re in a group of dudes talking about music, start talking about the women who inspire you and see how long it is before someone starts talking about how they look or whether they’d fuck them:
How easy would it be to dissent?
What would the impact be if you said you were uncomfortable with that?
Now think about BEING the object of it, dealing with that, in the context of your desire to be a professional musician, and the impact that would have on your career. And then think again about the ‘well, I’ve never heard a woman complain about it’ argument that’s used to justify the fucked up behaviour of the creepy dudes who obsessively pursue the women they work with.
It’s time to speak up.
And it’s time to LISTEN – to the stories of women, to the opinions and experiences of women, to the truth that may make us uncomfortable about our complicity in this screwed up behaviour. We need to listen without using our hurt feelings as a threat to the professional status of women. If they can’t tell you when your behaviour is out of line without it damaging their career, you’re not an ally. You’re the problem.
Right, It’s shaping up to be a very active autumn and winter in Steve-World. The new album I’ve been working on for a while has turned into two new albums! I recorded about 3 hours of new music for it, intending to put out one album of it. Having asked producer/promoter/manager/music maven Sue Edwards to help sequence the album, she came up with a beautifully coherent record, that only had two tracks overlapping with my shortlist of eight for my version… So we’ll release both. The second album took some rejigging to tell the right story, but it’s there, and I love them both.
News Part Two is VERY exciting – in October, I have three live dates with one of my favourite bassists in the world, Jonas Hellborg. Jonas’ music has been a constant source of inspiration throughout my solo career, both as a solo bassist and a collaborative improviser looking to stretch the role of the bass guitar beyond the expected confines. We’ve been friends for years, but this’ll be the first time we’ve played shows together.
The dates are:
Sunday Oct 4th: Birmingham, Tower Of Song (ticket link)
Monday Oct 5th: London, The Vortex
Tuesday Oct 6th: Leeds, Left Bank (ticket link)
Here’s the press bit:
Two of the world’s leading solo bass guitarists together on one stage.
Crossing musical boundaries and blowing listeners’ minds for over 30 years, Jonas Hellborg is one of the great innovators of the bass guitar. From the pyrotechnic flamboyance of his early solo electric albums, to his unique exploration of the richness and depth of the acoustic bass guitar, Jonas has changed the way people think about – and play – the bass.
Whether as a solo artist, or collaborating with many of the most respected names in music, from John McLaughlin to PiL, Ginger Baker to Shawn Lane, Jonas’ signature sound and uncompromising creative philosophy have produced an unparalleled body of work, mostly on his own Bardo label. Lauded by press and public alike, this is a rare opportunity to hear Jonas up close in the UK.
Steve Lawson is one of the most celebrated solo bassists in British music history – early in his career, he opened for Level 42 on their first Greatest Hits comeback tour, placing his unique take on melodic looping-based live performance in front of tens of thousands of bass aficionados. 15 years of regular gigging across the UK, Europe and the US solidified his place as a leading exponent of solo bass. Steve’s sound-world borrows liberally from electronica, jazz, pop, rock, ambient and experimental music, to form a sonic fingerprint as compelling as it is unique.
Following on from two years of wide-ranging collaboration, playing alongside musicians as diverse as Reeves Gabrels and Beardyman, Andy Gangadeen and Divinity, Steve is back with a fresh exploration of what the bass can be in the 21st Century.With the imminent release of his 12th and 13th all-solo albums (on the same day!) Steve is set to push the notion of what the bass guitar can be in 21st Century further still.
So this is how magical things can happen in Internet-world, I guess.
I was recording yesterday for the new album, finally remembered to film what I was up to, and recorded this straight away. It coincided with getting the new download of Reaper 5.0, which makes video sync to audio WAY easy, so I was able to pretty quickly sync up the audio to the video, put together the artwork while the video was uploading, put it on Bandcamp too and sent out the links on Twitter and Facebook. Simple as.
Right, the new album is coming along nicely – I’ve started sorting through what I’ve recorded so far, just so the editing and selection process doesn’t get overwhelming later on! I’ve just put up a new track on Soundcloud – a slice of glitchy instrumental hip-hop, all recorded live and solo, with me playing bass and Quneo – I’m loving the expanded range of sounds that this has brought into my music world! The album’s going to be quite different from my earlier work!
Here the track. There’s a full description over on Soundcloud. More like this to come:
And in the middle of all the recording mayhem, I found time to record an episode of the No Treble podcast, in conversation with their resident host, Mitch Joel. Getting an hour to chat with Joel, and respond to his rather brilliant questions and conversational direction, was a huge treat. I hope you enjoy it:
Also, a big thanks to everyone who came to the Manchester Jazz Festival gig with Jon Thorne and Rob Turner. It was the first live outing for the Quneo, which was all kinds of fun!
So, as you may know by now, I’m in the middle(at the beginning? near the end? There’s no way of knowing!)of recording a new solo album at the moment. Hours and hours of playing, recording, experimenting, listening happening every day. Which is all sorts of wonderous fun. It’s not an exercise I’ve indulged in to this degree since I recorded 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything back in 2011.
So what’s new? The biggest new thing is the addition of the Keith McMillen Quneo to my set-up. What on earth is that? you ask… Well, the Quneo is a MIDI controller, that can be used for pretty much anything that can be controlled via MIDI. In my case, that’s drums and synth sounds. I’m not – at all – interested in triggering loops, in having pre-recorded stuff that I bring in, but I am having a great time experimenting with playing parts in on it, and looping them in the Looperlative along with all the layers of bass.
Naturally, with there now being a straight up percussive element to what I’m doing, rhythm is occupying a very different part of the music that it usually does in my solo work. But I’m also digging really deep into some really broken, screwed up rhythmic ideas, so am fascinated – and a little trepidacious – how people will react… We’ll see I guess.
What’s REALLY exciting is that in the process of getting ideas together, I inadvertently finished a solo album. Closing In was started as a way to feed new tracks to my Subscribers as the project went along, but ended up being a complete solo album. It’s not THE solo album that’s going to be launched/released/whatever in September, but it IS one that I’m really proud of. I’ve been listening to it a lot, and have had really positive feedback from the subscribers about it. If you want it, you’ll need to subscribe (and get the other 14 releases that you get for your £20) – more subscription details here.
The rhythmic side of things does feel really natural, given the nature of so many of my recent collaborations – starting with Daniel Berkman and progressing through the duos and trios with Andy Edwards, through the nascent projects with Beardyman (including the quartet with Andy Gangadeen on drums) on up to the duo with Divinity, I’ve been blessed by the deep grooves and rhythmic wisdom of so many of my collaborators of late. Daniel was the first person I heard play music on the Quneo – though his main percussive instrument is the Roland Handsonic. Andy and I have spent the last 2 or so years exploring how both his electronic and acoustic kits interface with my looping set up, and have built quite an amazing musical language between us. And Divinity was the one that tipped me over the edge – in the week we spent working on duo ideas, she was playing electronic drums on an M-Audio keyboard, AND beatboxing into her Roland RC300, and it worked so well. She’s such a fearless experimenter, and has an approach to throwing ideas together and letting them find their own space that really fits well with my own experimental, exploratory approach. Three musical soul mates all bringing a new rhythmic focus and – crucially – new *processes* into my musical world.
So the experiments continue, hopefully some of the drummy-stuff will be up on Soundcloud soon for y’all to hear (and maybe another little preliminary EP for subscribers – I need to watch out that I don’t become SO prolific it just gets confusing 😉 ) and I’m really hoping to get a day in the studio with Andy Edwards soon – that could easily end up just being THE album, such is the consistency of the ideas we seem to be generating together of late.
Til then, the single best thing you can do to make sure you don’t miss any of the new music, is join the subscribers over on Bandcamp – you’ll get every new thing I do immediately available in the Bandcamp app, and downloadable from your Bandcamp collection, plus everything I release in the coming 12 months (which includes the impending release of the first two duo tracks with Divinity!)
Here’s one of the tracks from Closing In, that’s also on Soundcloud. Enjoy!
Given that KeithMcMillen are a music tech gear company, it’s deeply refreshing that the interview features such fascinating and deep questions (many of the questions were inspired by this blog post about Smallness ) – all credit to Tom Ferguson for instigating a conversation about something other than just music toys. (KMI make the Softstep controller that I’ve used pretty much every day for the last few years, and the Quneo which is my favourite new music-making toy, and may well feature pretty heavily on the new album. I love what they do )
Anyway, have a read, and tweet them to say thanks if you thought it was useful