Recorded at Friday night’s gig at the Islwyn Guitar Club in Crosskeys, Gwent, South Wales, here are two new tunes that ‘emerged’ – they’re both improvs, but I like ‘em, so will probably have a bash at something like them for the new album…
The recordings are remarkably good considering they’re just on a little Tascam digital recorder thingie (recorded by Andrew Buckton – fab singer/songwriter who came with me, and sang beautifully on the gig too).
I’ve written a lot over the years about the power of curiosity – that most of my own best disoveries have just happened because I was interested in something and decided to investigate it without waiting for any kind external confirmation that that was ‘OK’ or ‘wise’.
So yesterday when a link from a friend landed me at xtranormal.com and I saw that there was a ‘create’ button, I set to work writing a comedy script for two people talking about a solo bass house concert.
Since then it’s had about a thousand views (pretty good going for overnight on a Sunday!), and I’m sure has quite a journey to go on yet… All because I saw a link, clicked it and played around.
Try it, sometimes it can really help
Anyway, here it is. “Solo Bass. It’s The Future.”
Feel free to share it around, or make your own videos. It’s pretty time consuming, but well worth it
[EDIT] it’s worth noting that the first place I shared this was Posterous. An awesome blogging platform, that I’ll write more about v. soon!
Since Saturday’s upload, I’ve put 2 more videos on Vimeo for your delectation and delight, which contrast the different ways that the Looperlative can be used to either simply provide a loop for a piece of music, or be integral to the way it’s created, and the sound that emerges.
I’m fascinated by the relationship between technology and end result, and by the methods that we as musicians can use to keep our own technical thoughts and experiments subservient to the greater artistic and communicative aims… [Read more →]
After the new tune I posted on Audioboo a few days ago, I’ve got the bug for uploading new tunes. Hopefully it’ll finally kick me into action to make some decisions about the kind of record (or whatever passes for a ‘record’ these days ) I want to make. [Read more →]
A few months back, I was asked to put together a list of 10 of my favourite basslines by Bass Guitar Magazine. I sent them a list of 10, and a little note about each one, but the article is now out without the little blurb. So here’s the blurb. They also numbered them, as though there’s an order to them, which there clearly isn’t. Music doesn’t work like that. and If I wrote the list again today, it’d be different.
But anyway, here’s the list, with links where possible, and a little bit about each one…
Le Freak – Chic : one of the funkiest lines ever from the Beatles Of Disco. I could’ve picked just about any of their hits. Bernard’s tone and feel are a thing of wonder. Refuge Of The Roads – Joni Mitchell : My favourite bassline from my favourite album ever. Every note Jaco plays on the whole Hejira album is sublime. Maxwell Murder – Rancid : carrying the ‘punks that can really play’ torch forward, Matt Freeman manages to be full of energy, inventive and a chops-monster at the same time. Orphans – Deacon Blue : one of the first pop songs I ever heard with chords on a 6 string bass. This is almost all just bass, voice and tambourine. Beautiful Chicken Grease - D’Angelo : Pino was The Man in the 80s, and he’s still The Man now, only instead of slide-y fretless and a curly mullet he’s the cool king of hip-hop. My whole understanding of rhythm changed when I heard this album. Selene – Michael Manring : not exactly a ‘bass line’ but without a doubt one of the most beautiful pieces of solo bass music ever recorded. I Keep Forgettin’ – Michael McDonald : what locking in with a kick drum is all about. Louis Johnson shows restraint, digs deep and has a bass tone to die for. Forget Me Nots – Patrice Rushen : My favourite ever slap line. Freddie Washington probably even has a funky heartbeat. I’m In Love - Frank Dunnery : Matt Pegg, son of Dave, basically soloing through most of this tune, in a way that sounds neither wanky nor out of place. Exceptional playing and writing. Spirits In A Material World – The Police : again, could have picked one of about 15 Police lines. Something magical happens when Sting gets with Stuart Copeland, even though they both play ‘out of time’ most of the time. Proof if ever it were needed that you don’t need protools to make incredible music.
Feel free to post your lists in the comments. Would be interested to read them. But please, don’t bother with the ‘what??? how could you miss out ********** (insert bassist here)’ – there are only 10, it’s not a definitive list, as I said it’d change now, and it’ll be different again tomorrow. So relax, and gimme a list of great lines.
I’ve been hoping this interview would surface online for a quite a while - Adrian asked a really smart set of questions and, crucially, came back with questions relating to them. Email interviews can be really dull if it’s just a questionnaire (unless it’s MEANT to be a ’20 questions’ type deal…) – because there’s no conversational flow. So as a tip for those of you interviewing online, send 2 or three questions to start with at most, preferably unrelated ones, and then develop each one with questions that follow on…
But I digress, this is about me – anyway, it’s a great interview, and I was kinda surprised at the quote in the sell that says,
‘The unexpected popularity of bass looping in the UK can largely be attributed to Steve Lawson‘,
but I guess there’s some truth in that. It’s probably just that I’m more aware of my own influences than my influence.
OK, so it’s christmas day, and I’m blogging, what of it? Happy Christmas, y’all. Hope you’re having a fun day. We certainly are here in Ohio.
Anyway, thought I’d do a quick post about my touring looping rig. Here’s the picture:
from the top we have:
Samson S-Mix (mixer) ART TubeMP Preamp
(next to it is the…) Lexicon LXP1 reverb. Looperlative LP1 looper
Lexicon MPX-G2 processor
and on top of the LXP1 we have my Ebow, G7 Capo, Slide, Sennheiser Mic and currently-missing rubbish cell phone (if you see it around, let me know, I can’t find it anywhere). The JBL speakers were provided for the house concert in Milwaukee. We don’t generally travel with speakers in the US, just find people locally to lend us things.
The signal flow is really simple – bass goes into Lexicon MPX-G2, which goes into the S-Mix, and has the ART preamp in the FX loop. Lobelia’s loop mic goes into the LXP1, and that also goes into the S-Mix, which then goes into the Looperlative. The Looperlative then goes out to the desk/PA/Speakers/whatever.
And here’s what’s happening on the floor -
The big pedal, rocked back, is the Visual Volume Pedal.
then an M-Audio expression pedal, which controls the loop volume.
Then a Rolls Midi Wizard that controls the looperlative.
then Another M-Audio expression pedal, for the MPX-G2 (sometimes wah, sometimes volume, sometimes pitch etc.)
then a Roland EV-5, for Loop feedback.
Then a Lexicon footswitch for different stuff on the G2
and finally another EV-5 for track speed on the looperlative.
Meanwhile, Lobelia is using a Roland RC-20 for much of her looping, unless I’m looping her or she’s doing improv stuff through my rig, in which case she just plugs a mic into the volume pedal and uses my bass set-up exactly as-is.
So there you go, a Christmas present in the form of some gear geekness. Post a comment with any specific questions you may have about how it all works
One of the things I most like about teaching electric bass is that very few kids are ever told by their parents to play it. ‘You need to learn piano/violin/clarinet because I never had the chance’ is the bane of so many teacher’s lives and one of the main driving forces behind kids giving up playing an instrument as soon as they are afford a degree of self determination by their parents.
In all my time teaching bass (15 years) I think I’ve had 3 students ask to do graded exams. In the same time over half the parents that have brought their kids to me have asked whether or not it would be a good idea. There’s an assumption in education these days that people a) need some kind of external certificated validation in order to measure where they are up to and b) that without that, students will lack motivation and will just slack off because no-one’s telling them what to do.
For me as a teacher it’s imperative to get across to my students - especially the younger ones – that them not practicing has no impact on me whatsoever. I can just pick up where we left off in the last lesson as though the time were continuous. The point of practice is never to placate me. Practice serves two purposes – it’s enjoyable (if done right) and you get better – the two are clearly deeply linked. The idea that practice has to be torturous is another crap hang-over from the music education of the early 20th century, where suffering was a signal of how serious you were about what you’re doing. That’s clearly bollocks, especially for people with families, friends, jobs, school work and other interests. Practice time should be valued time in and of itself not just for the pay-off. The pay-off makes it even better, but playing an instrument should be fun!
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require a large degree of self-discipline, commitment and focus, it’s just that we’re selling kids short by telling them that those things can’t be enjoyable!
These are all elements in my reasoning for not following a syllabus. If a students comes into a lesson, tells me about a gig they just went to, and I then teach them something the band they’ve just seen – whether it be an actual song by them, or something that can be drawn from that music – they can pulled a little closer to the magic at the heart of music. The gap between them and the music they love is lessened and the feeling that the magic is in their reach is heightened.
At the heart of what I teach is a desire to help the student write and play music that can change the world. It might not, but the desire to play the songs that have soundtracked their life – whether that’s Mozart or Metallica, Stockhausen or Stock, Aitken And Waterman – and to then create their own music is what drives individuals to learn an instrument, and pandering to the wishes of pushy parents who want lil’ Tommy to get certificates so they can brag to the other mums and dads about the distinction he scored in his grade 3 exam is the death-knell of lil’ Tommy’s musical aspiration.
Parental encouragement is often an utterly vital and energising force in the music-life of a student. I still take inspiration from my mum’s on going encouragement of what I do, and am thankfully big enough to ignore the distain with which my dad views my musical endeavours. Channeled in the right way, parents can be integral to the musical growth of a student. But if pushy parents are allowed to ride roughshod over what Tommy actually wants to do with music, he’ll end up as one of the 95% who give up before they are 18, and may resent it for decades to come.
We’re your parents an encouragement or a hindrance to your creative path? Comments pleeeeeze
I think it’s safe to say that for almost every person playing a musical instrument, there’s a part of it that is about exploring a part of their character and personality that they don’t get to exercise elsewhere. Whether that’s me as a solo bassist writing music that expresses all the stuff I struggle to put into words (which is why so many of my tunes are inspired by death), or the bloke who works in a garden centre learning speed metal to play in a pub on friday evenings, because he’s desperate for the garden centre to not be the sole defining entity in his life, there’s something that music gives us that would otherwise be sorely missing from our lives.
Being a ‘bassist in a metal band who happens to work in a garden centre’ is actually a pretty cool place to be in life. It has cache with your work friends, it has the security of a wage from the job, and it’s not the kind of job that’s going to drag you off away from rehearsals with your band, which means you can be fairly well committed to what’s going on.
It also often means that you can afford to have – and have time for – lessons. So when I get to meet with players in that situation, and am entrusted with the task of providing them with the tools, the process and the inspiration to learn more about their instrument, my role becomes a rather therapeutic one.
It’s not good enough in that situation to dismiss the style of band the person plays in and hand them pages of scales and arpeggios to learn, along with a load of tunes that you the teacher like.
No, a degree of personalisation – both of content and delivery – has to take place in that kind of transaction for it to be of value. I spend the first couple of lessons with a new student discovering things about them – why they play, what they play, what they do when they first pick up their instrument, and technical bad habits they’ve picked up, any erroneous ‘rules’ they’ve been told by other people about what you can and can’t do with music, any bogus (or useful!) terminology they’ve picked up in the past, and what they instinctively are capable of.
I very often get them improvising in the first lesson, just as a way of showing how lax the rules are on what ‘works’ and doesn’t ‘work’ – within some fairly broad tonal boundaries, anything can sound ‘good’ if you keep it simple enough, and build on it… the value of discovering that creativity doesn’t require induction into Dumbledore’s Inner Circle or the Knights Who Say Ni! or something (see my Creative Choices blog post for more on that).
I also get them working things by ear as early as possible, and encourage them to experiment a lot with fun things that may or may not end up sounding cool…
Why? Music is an incredible space for us to stretch the boundaries of what we define as our own creative limitations. It’s an utterly benign form, given it’s completely abstract nature (lyrics notwithstanding) and as such the worst that happens is you make an unpleasant noise. So you can go nuts and see what happens – it’s like taking a wild lashing serve when you’re break point down in tennis, only nobody loses if you get it wrong. It’s like declaring your love for a colleague on the day they leave the office because you’ll never get another chance, only no-one’s going to laugh at you.
Music is a space in which people can discover what they are capable of, and a good music teacher makes that possible, inspiring and an attractive proposition.
In the last post, I mentioned that my main aim when teaching is to instill in my students a love of learning. A huge part of me having a right to teach them anything is me respecting the music they listen to. Nothing is a bigger turn off for a student that a dismissive teacher.
At one college I used to teach at, I got hauled over the coals by the head of the place for not giving my drum students a transcription of the parts we were working on when I was teaching them some reggae. “But they’ll never have to read reggae!” was my response. Doesn’t matter, was the come-back, they expect a transcription, it’s a music school and we’re meant to be getting all academic on their asses.
I didn’t give them a transcription. Why? Because Reggae is folk music. It’s an oral tradition, with musicians learning by listening and playing. None of the great reggae bands played off written parts, especially the drummers, and the nuance in the feel and timing in reggae drums would be impossible to notate. To give drummers a score to learn reggae would be like making them listen to Break My Stride by Matthew Wilder as an example of authentic reggae. It would sell them short, ill-prepare them for playing reggae professionally, and would be lying to them about how the great musicians who play that style learn to play like that.
The only place one is ever going to need to read a reggae drum part would be a theatre pit, and even then it’s more likely to just say ‘reggae feel’ or even more patronisingly ‘island feel’…
See, academics in general don’t deal well with folk traditions, especially not contemporary forms of folk music like reggae, punk, hip-hop… the magic in any of those styles is in the subtlety, not in the stuff that can be conveyed on a score. Handing out written bass-parts to ‘Anxious MoFo’ by the Minutemen or ‘Maxwell Murders’ by Rancid isn’t going to make your punk student a better punk player, but getting them hooked on Mike Watt or Matt Freeman’s playing might… That’s not to say they wouldn’t both make a cool transcription exercise as a way of introducing your lil’ punks to the wonders of writing music, but scores are not generally the way that material is passed around in the punk world, and to suggest that it is is disingenuous.
I’m not into lying to my students – I don’t want to make things easy for myself by selling them short on what’s going on with the music they listen to or want to play. If their aim is to be a rock star, I’ll tell them
just how unlikely it is,
how unpleasant an experience the road to ‘rock stardom’ is for most people and
how much better off they can be playing the music they love, finding an audience for it, and letting the ‘lottery of stardom’ bit happen by itself…
What I do want is to teach them
how to practice actual music – not just getting good at exercises
how to listen and dissect the mechanics of what’s going on in the music they love,
how the musicians they admire get to where they are (one of the beauties of having written for a bass mag is I’ve met and interviewed many of my students favourite players – always handy when I’m asked about a particular tune or technique )
If I have students who play punk rock, I want to teach them the very best information I can about the world of punk rock, I want to show them how the great punk bassists get their sound, I want to introduce them to the music of the punk pioneers, the influencers of the genre, the attitude behind it… There’s nothing sacrilegious about transcribing punk basslines, but like reggae it’s largely an oral, experiential tradition – turning up to an audition for a punk band with a music stand and pile of manuscript is going to get you laughed out of the room…
As I said before, Context is everything, and there’s no reason to teach out of context, or lie about the context in order to try and shoe-horn one specific set of musical skills into a style that doesn’t require them…
Are there other artistic disciplines that have been spoilt by being “over-taught”? Does this happen with poetry and visual art, that the ‘academicization’ of it misses the mark for large sections of the discipline? Thoughts please…