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Entries Tagged as 'Rant – Politics, Spirituality, etc.'

Improvisation For A Better World – Making Sense Of Things With A Bass In My Hands

June 29th, 2016 · 2 Comments

For years – perhaps decades – I’ve said that ‘instrumental music is what happens when I run out of words’. I love words, I love what language makes possible, and my default position is always ‘talk more, listen more, don’t give up on dialogue’.

But I hit a point on Monday when the barrage of shrill voices on social media (NONE of it targeted at me, I hasten to add) – people with plans, schemes, ways of interpreting what’s going on, insider knowledge, spiteful interpretations, thoughts to counter the spite, arguments with, from and between politicians… it just became a cloud of shouting. Like a montage from a David Lynch movie meant to represent the dreams of an insane person. Or the set up for a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis song. Talking loud, saying nothing. The intentions were mostly good, but were also mostly desperate, reactive, non-reflective, and lacking in care.

At this point, I thank God that I am, at heart, an improviser. That I’ve built a music practice around responding to now with sound, around being able to step into that instinctive, mystical space – not having to sit and painstakingly compose music that reflects how I feel and then play the music I’ve written…(there are people who do that brilliantly, and I’m grateful for their art and the guidance I’ve received from it through the years).

My need is to sort through ideas, emotions, reactions… sadness, anger, confusion, hope, clarity, absurdity, more anger…and music is where I go to do that.

Sharing it is how I throw a line out to anyone else who connects with it. It’s a pretty exposed thing to do, as there’s pretty much no way to counter a response of ‘you’re just playing any old shit and saying it’s about whatever you want…’ – but that’s also a discussion that’s so utterly pointless I wouldn’t enter it anyway…

What is true right now is that I’ve pretty much run out of words, and I’ve exhausted, to a large degree, my need for other people’s words to try and make sense of what’s going on. We’re in a massive downward spiral, and there are many ways of seeing a bright future in a crystal ball, or predicting the collapse of civilization as we know it. I don’t need that kind of guesswork, I need to stay in touch with the emotional/spiritual side of this, and then harness that to actually DO things to help the people whose lives are changed by this. Because, as well as being my refuge and place to ‘heal my hurts’, as Faithless put it, music is a constant challenge to me that music isn’t enough. To take that inspiration, that comfort, and go do something for those who are really messed up by this. Because as a white dude born here, with an accent rooted in the UK, I’m not at risk. Our financial position, in the longer term, is pretty precarious, but that’s not even close to the fear that all the amazing people who have chosen to make the UK their home and are now facing a rapid increase in racist abuse are feeling.

So, make music, then use the inspiration of the music to change the world around you. It’s as simple as that, and as complicated as that.

So how does this play out? A lot less time on social media, for sure. I need to train myself not to get on Twitter of Facebook expecting the sum of the shared ideas to bring clarity. It won’t. I need to spend time every day making music that reflects how I feel about what’s going on. This weekend, I released ‘Referendum’ – 6 tracks directly reflecting on what’s been going on. 4 from before the vote, 2 from after.

The Pre-Order Plan:

I’m currently working on the follow up to last years A Crack Where The Light Gets In and The Way Home, but it felt important to get these works out now. You can listen to that, and buy it if you want. If you want to ‘pre-order’ the new album, please Subscribe via Bandcamp – it’s £20 a year, you’ll get about 23 albums and 4 singles immediately (everything solo I’ve ever released, and a collection of subscriber-only collaborations from the last 2 years), and everything I release in the next year. Which will include a series of subscriber-only video previews of the new music as it happens. The first of those videos went up today.

I’m not doing any other kind of crowd-funding campaign for the new album, there are no ‘tiers’, no attempt to get you to increase your contribution, or sell you stuff you don’t want or need. There’s just music, lots of it, and you can pay £20 or as much over that as you want… It’s entirely your choice. The subscription model fits my music-making so well, and the response from the subscribers so far has been amazing.

I’m so grateful for their support, and the feedback that happens on the Subscriber feed on Bandcamp. Please sign up and join in.

This is the future of sustainability for niche music. Be a part of it.

Tags: Music News · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Why I Never Talk About Women’s Appearance In Public

September 8th, 2015 · 10 Comments

[this is long and sweary – grab a cup of coffee, and strap yourselves in]

First up, read this Gawker Mansplainer post – it’s a very eloquent and funny exposition on the problem we’re exploring here.

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.

Be part of the solution. 

Tags: New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

For International Women’s Day…

March 8th, 2014 · Comments Off on For International Women’s Day…

It’s International Womens Day! A day to celebrate brilliant women, to acknowledge the massive debt our culture owes to the many millions of women who battled uphill to get past massive sexism and inequality to shape the world we live in. To give thanks for the mothers and sisters and wives and girlfriends, friends and colleagues who teach us and with whom we partner in building lives, culture, society, friendships, homes, communities…

But it’s also a day of reflection, a day of lament, a day to acknowledge that pretty much none of us dudes do enough to correct the imbalance, that we are want to fall back on tropes about slow progress or even to use clever blogposts and Facebook statuses to hide our inactivity behind. It’s WAY, WAY easier to write this than it is to call out some dickhead at work telling sexist jokes, to make a fuss about those situations where women are constantly overlooked, to check our language for times when we put appearance first in the list of things we compliment a woman for, as though they need to earn the right to be complimented on their work by looking the part first.

It’s always easier to sound like a feminist than to act like one. To write inspirational bullshit on the Internet than to get off my arse and do my fair share of the housework, to daily resensitise myself to the systems that enable my male privilege… So don’t take this as a statement of success, but an admission that I’m not where I should be. And neither are you, dudes. No sackcloth and ashes, just take some time to fix some things, OK?

And here, to celebrate the day, is some incredible music by women I’m inspired by and aspire to be like. Geniuses all:

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

We’re Not Thatcher’s Children, we’re Mandela’s.

December 6th, 2013 · 1 Comment

Long Walk to FreedomThere were two events in my 20s that helped me understand the scale of the age we live in. one was visiting the Berlin Wall. The other was reading Long Walk To Freedom.

All of a sudden, the scale of the importance of what was going on in my lifetime was brought home. It wasn’t just seeing it on the TV, it was reading about world changing events and people and REMEMBERING them happening. Seeing the broken wall, walking from West to East Berlin, and remembering watching it live, being taken apart. [Read more →]

Tags: obituaries · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

My letter to the Musicians Union About the Digital Economy Bill

April 8th, 2010 · 58 Comments

Well, the Digital Economy Bill passed. One of the stupidest yet most potentially catastrophic bits of legislation ever forced through in the Wash-Up (the last couple of days of a Parliament before an election.

I opposed it, I still oppose it and I will continue to oppose any legislation about the internet written by people who don’t understand the internet or, in this case, the music industries and the role that music plays in our culture.

I’m particularly ashamed that the Musicians Union – a Union of which I am a member, was a proud member, and have supported by paying double what I should’ve been paying for the last two years – supported this insane bill, to the detriment of musicians everywhere.

I made this public, and got an email of their ‘official position’ this morning, which is: [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

U2 And The Feast Of Enoughness

October 4th, 2009 · 11 Comments

In response to This article about the scale of U2’s current tour, I posted this on twitter and facebook:

U2, knocking years of the length of time earth can sustain human life, one gig at a time

The discussion on Facebook then got as far as one friend suggesting that people who objected to the planet-trashing excesses of U2’s tour wanted us to “email [all the gig-goers] to stay home and make organic muffins…..” – the kind of Richard Littlejohn-esque reductionist, lazy thinking that leads someone to say such things, often stems from the feeling that something they value highly has been questioned – in this case, it was a friend who was deeply moved by the U2 gig he went to, so any attempt to frame them as irresponsible needs refuting and debunking. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians

Fame, Fame, Fatal Fame – Michael Jackson And The Death of Global Super-Stardom

June 27th, 2009 · 22 Comments

The death of Michael Jackson – like so many celebrity deaths – has brought with it a swathe of responses, both from the public and in the media.

Anyone who ever met him gets dragged out to talk about ‘their relationship’, and anyone remotely famous who might have a connection (be it sharing the pop-charts with him in the 80s, that they at some point in the past expressed a liking for his music, or just happen to be famous and black) is door-stepped for their comment.

It’s a fairly unpleasant media feeding frenzy, but it’s definitely serving a voracious need amongst a large section of the populus to be handed a secular liturgy for mourning the death of someone that, while insanely significant in the history of popular music, hadn’t made a notable artistic contribution in 20 years, and was written off a few years ago as a freaky paedo that many people (without any real evidence or experience of the case) thought escaped jail on a technicality…

For all those of us who hadn’t seen him live in over a decade, only listened to his older records (or not at all), and whose main month to month awareness of his was the reports of his spectacular and mind-boggling financial collapse, the emotional outpouring seems to be more an expression of 3 things:

  • a desire for some kind of connection with *the thing that’s going on* – get our opinion in, be part of the public conversation, tell everyone you always thought he was a genius/freak/whatever.
  • a sadness – close to grief – for our youth (a deeper expression of the same thing that drives people to watch I Love The 80s)
  • a largely unarticulated – but it appears, deeply felt – sense of loss for the age when musical and media megastars could MEAN something. (Andrew Dubber mused on this on Twitter)

Michael Jackson in his day combined musical genius, innovation and fame-beyond-measure. He was a truly global phenomenon. Massive far beyond the reaches of late 70s Ameri-centric radio and the English-speaking world. Larger than life, weirder that weird, but astoundingly gifted. Ever since Off The Wall came out, generation after generation of kids have connected with his music (there’s something about his music that definitely – and in light of the court case from a few years back, disturbingly – connects with pre-teen kids more than almost any other soul/funk-based music).

His creative partnership with Quincy Jones, producer of Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad, produced some of the most iconic moments in the pop canon, but since Bad, he’s produced little that’s considered musically significant (I saw him live in the late 90s, when I interviewed his bassist, Freddie Washington for Bassist Magazine – outstanding show, but definitely all about the decade-plus old hits).

So what do we get out of grieving?

What are the questions we need to ask about the impression we had of him, the false feeling of connection we had with him as a person through his music and the press, and our complicity as part of a media-hungry world that fueled his madness (largely, it seems attributed to a seriously screwed up relationship with his dad, but made worse by his fame-neccesitated isolation).

Neverland, bubbles, oxygen-tanks, Liz Taylor, plastic surgery, llamas, friendships with kids, that documentary… A life documented like a dystopic flip-side to the Truman Show, but one that destroyed him.

At the recent UnConvention conference in Salford, I was asked at the end of our panel on being ‘outside the box’ what my one piece of advice was for musicians looking at their place in the world of music. My comment was

‘it’s more important to be nice than it is to be talented’

if becoming a ‘great musician’, and more pertinently, a ‘famous musician’ turns you into a reclusive lunatic, your priorities are screwed. Quit music, get a job in a bookshop, and leave fame to those whose narcissism is so overpowering they’ll pursue it to their own death.

Michael was rightly celebrated for his musical contribution, but his fame and its destructive influence on his life was out of all proportion to that (how could any music possibly live up to that??) – his public persona was a media-created 2-headed chimera: musical deity and social demon, invented to seed the front pages with stories between the album releases. If the next album’s a turkey, who cares, we’ve got pics of him in an oxygen tent, kissing a monkey dressed in tiny human clothes! Win!

Fame is the downside to success, and the way it removes the consequences from ones actions means that people like MJ who desperately needed help to recover from his screwed up childhood-in-the-spotlight never got it. If you’re heading towards it, in the words of Monty Python’s Holy Grail, “Run away! Run away!”

Or, indeed, put another way:

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Nothing is worth that.


So, commenters – fame, celebrity, talent… where does it all go from here? What does a tale like this mean for those of us working in music, and using social media to break down the myths around our lives? Is ‘accessibility’ just another myth, once you get beyond a certain as-yet-undefined number of pseudo-personal connections? Have at it!

Tags: Musing on Music · obituaries · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians

How To Respond To A Crisis. A Lesson From Sungard.

June 18th, 2009 · Comments Off on How To Respond To A Crisis. A Lesson From Sungard.

I have a friend who works in Marketing for Sungardthey’re a huge, multi-national, multi-billion dollar IT Services/financial information/Software company. Massive. Bigger than big.

What interesting for us musical types is their response to the financial crisis. A situation which, naturally, they took very seriously indeed, partly because they were deeply affected, but also because it was a time when all the big finance companies were being shaken up, and previously held notions of who were the ‘big players’ could be re-jigged. It was a chance for companies to rebrand, reposition, and use the recession as a chance to do some fairly risky thinking, and ask some massive questions. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

iCould.com Pt 2 – Careers In Music.

May 18th, 2009 · Comments Off on iCould.com Pt 2 – Careers In Music.

So, following on from my first post about careers advice, what are we to do with careers in a music industry that’s entirely in flux? Where no-one can categorically say where the ‘jobs’ will be in a year’s time, let alone 3 or 5 years time.

I think this question needs to be looked at on many levels. The obvious one for me is the thing I say over and over again here – the best you’ll ever be as a musician is when you are pursuing your own vision for what music should be and can be, soundtracking the world as you see it. [Read more →]

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians

iCould.com – Real Life Inspirational Careers Advice. (Pt 1)

May 13th, 2009 · Comments Off on iCould.com – Real Life Inspirational Careers Advice. (Pt 1)

photo of solo bassist Steve Lawson soundchecking at the Royal Albert Hall, opening for Level 42 in 2002How did what you were advised to do at school connect with what you ended up doing?

I don’t know about you, but our careers advisory service back then was woeful to the point of being hilarious. There was a tick-box questionnaire that then made recommendations for what kind of jobs you should do. If you ticked yes to ‘do you like being outside?’, you invariably had ‘forestry commission’ suggested as a potential job on the dot matrix print-out you received. [Read more →]

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians