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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Review – Conversations (Loopers Delight)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“From the beginning of the first track’s languid fretless, grooving, melodicism it’s a feast of inventive looping. Hey, and it’s so lush and “pretty” that my wife doesn’t even ask me to “please turn it down” — which has got to be some kind of a first for a ‘”looping” CD.

Jez Carr’s spare, pointalistic pianisms are the perfect compliment for what Steve offers. Which is a combination of lyrical bass that reminds me of the best of a Mark Eagan or an Eberhard Weber, with some almost “Frisellian,” skittering loopsterizing weaving in and out from time to time.

Steve’s use of loops are integral, organic, and essential to the proceedings too. They inject a lot of humor into what might have been something more like a chilly, ECM record without them. Not that ECM is a bad thing. Some of my favorite music is on ECM. But most of you may know what I mean.

Examples: after establishing the first track with a loooose and laaaazy fretless groove Steve introduces twittering, backwards (and sped up) chipmunk bass noises in the middle so that it sounds like the duet has been visited (and joined) by a passing band of musical insects on a flyby.

The second starts right out with a rhythmic figure of looped bass harmonic “pops and clicks” that reminds me of either Copland’s “The Grand Canyon Suite” or the fellow with the coconuts who follows King Arthur around in “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” In the middle of the same track, are some wonderfully “loopy” bass glissandi that sound for all the world like a theremin in a ’50s B-horror film (think faux spooky, haunted-house “ghost” sounds). Whacky huh?

This not to say that this isn’t serious music. It’s just that this duo seems to be continually reminding us that they are ALSO having fun and don’t take themselves TOO terribly seriously.

The 3rd track is a brief (1:12) sensitive piano solo . . . no bass, no loops. Just a short interlude of very pretty piano. But, it also underscores the true spontaneousness of the improvisations going on elsewhere on the disc, for these ARE improvisations in the truest sense. No studio editing “trickery.”

I could go on (and on) with each track but I think I’ve given a pretty good “gist” of what this disc is like. There aren’t any cut’s on this CD that are rollicking, uptempo, or show-offy — though they definitely “groove” an percolate at times. The overall mood is a pretty consistent one — of understated and sophisticated interplay — with superb instrumental chops and communication which often verges on the telepathic — with large doses of humor and grace.

Steve Lawson exhibits a very “organic” and creative use of live looping and real-time tweaking of effects that should be an example to any of us “loopfolk” . . . no matter what instrument we play. I can’t say enough to recommend his CD adequately. Just do yourself a favor and get it if you haven’t already.”

– Ted Killian

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Review – Conversations (No Warning e-zine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“A little less than a year ago we looked at the debut album by the talented London-based bassist Steve Lawson, a disc which afforded an amazing variety of perspectives from the instrument of a musician blessed with a keen melodic sense and an innate propensity to experiment. Now Steve has shifted focus, taking on a new challenge, together with pianist Jez Carr, based on a series of spontaneous improvisations which, as the two musicians assure us in the sleeve notes, have not been planned in any way, but were approached as a conversation (hence the album’s title).

And the resulting feeling of looseness is like that of a quiet chat over a coffee in which the most diverse subjects are addressed, wandering from one point to the next following a logical thread that only a dialogue can have. Barely murmured phrases, sounds that rise up to emphasise certain points, whispers and laughter, all skilfully evoked by Lawson’s mellow bass and Carr’s refined jazzy piano, which over the sixty-five minutes bear witness to a rare sensibility, together with an excellent training and a remarkable aptitude for more extreme challenges. How can we extrapolate from these outlines something that stands out against the rest when the whole is so close to perfection and when everything is so magically balanced, so beautifully ethereal?

A disc that reinforces the idea of improvised music as one of the highest musical forms, where the deepest secrets of the human heart surface, allowing a pure approach founded on the innocence of the listener and vulnerability of the musician to create an unrepeatable piece of magic, free from restrictions, expectations and preconceptions. Magnificent! Allow yourself to be involved in Conversations, which will free you from your mortal remains for a little more than an hour and let your mind contemplate the universe from a privileged viewpoint. You will not regret it. Available from Pillow Mountain Records. “

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Review – Conversations (Jazz Dimensions Magazine)

May 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on Review – Conversations (Jazz Dimensions Magazine)

“Is it jazz? Bassist Steve Lawson and pianist Jez Carr indulge in free improvisation on this CD at least: spontaneous and without any prior discussion. Geared to contemplation and harmony, this music does not impose itself aggressively on the listener. Attentive listening pays rewards – and reveals hidden jewels.

Steve Lawson, unusually for a bassist, is known primarily as a solo artist. He and Jez Carr have worked together for some time: Carr was the producer on Lawson’s debut “And nothing but the bass”; here he appears as pianist and duo partner to Lawson. The pieces collected on this CD were deliberately, and bravely, left as first takes, without any subsequent tweaking. It is probably for that reason that they are a little on the long side here and there.

Once again Lawson plays his six-string fretless, with which he covers the entire sonic spectrum and also produces sound effects from the world of electronica. His playing is lyrical, virtuoso and good for a surprise or two. At the same time, he allows his partner Jez Carr the necessary space, which Carr fills with sparing sounds and melodies that are sometimes reminiscent of Erik Satie.

The least important thing about this disc is probably stylistic classification. Call it jazz if you like, call it New Age or acoustic ambient music: it is simply great. Listen up!”

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Review – Conversations (Bass Guitar Magazine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“The sleeve notes to Conversations suggest that the players had no charts, no tunes, no keys, or anything prepared before recording the project. After listening to the album I refused to believe that such melodic and graceful tunes could emerge from so sparse a formula, so a quick call to Mr Lawson was in order…

‘yeah, there were no rehearsals, no duscussion on keys, rhythms or vibes; just hit ‘reocrd’ and play. It was as spontaneous as it could possibly be!’

“Conversations captures all those moments in their glory. It’s far removed from the usual ‘free jazz’ type of fast improvisations with extended soloing or groove sections. Jez Carr is sparse with his lines, leaving Lawson room to explore the upper reaches of his Modulus Custom 6 string fretless. Two of the tracks exceed 14 minutes, and both are happy to heave lots of space during the tunes where the freedom to bounce ideas around never gets out of control. Conversations is extremely laid back conjuring images of dream like open spaces. IF you like your music free of constraints you’ll like the approach of Conversations.”
– Adrian Ashton

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playing for other people

May 5th, 2008 · 1 Comment

As much as I love playing solo, collaborating with other people is a huge part of my musical life. If you’re interested in hiring me for a project, or have a collaboration to suggest, please do get in touch!

-_o_-

people I’ve played with/for – Aaron Gibson, Airstar, Alex Douglas, Alex Legg, Al Swainger, Alvin Stardust, Amy Kohn, Andre LaFosse, Andrea Hazell, Andrew Buckton, Andrew Gouche, Andrew Pask, Andy Edwards, Andy Gangadeen, Andy Hamill, Andy Thornton, Andy Williamson, Artemis, Beardyman, Ben Castle, Ben Okafor, Black Feathers, Boo Hewerdine, Briana Corrigan, Bryan Beller, Bryan Corbett, Calamateur, Carrie Melbourne, Charlie Moreno, Chris Bowater, Claudio Zanghieri, Cleveland Watkiss, Cole Moreton, Commonwealth, Corey Mwamba, Daniel Berkman, Dave Bainbridge, Davey Spillane, David and Carrie Grant, David Lyon, Deborah Jordan, Divinity, Dudley Philips, Duncan Senyatso, Elvin Jones, Emily Baker, Emre Ramazanoglu, Estelle Kokot, Filomena Campus, Fiona Clifton-Welker, Franck Vigroux, Gary Lucas, Geert Doldersum, Guy Jackson, Guy Pratt, Gwyn Jay Allen, Harry Napier, Hossam Ramsay, Howard Jones, Huw Warren, Iain Archer, Ian MacGowan, Ivan Hussey, Jason Carter, Jason Cooper, Jason Rubenstein, Jean Toussaint, Jeff Kaiser, Jem Godfrey, Jerome Cury, Jez Carr, John Lester, John Perry, Johnny Markin, Jonas Hellborg, Jon Thorne, Josh Seurkamp, Jude Simpson, Julie Lee, Julie McKee, Julie Slick, Juliet Turner, Kaffe Matthews, Kerry Getz, Kira Small, Leo Abrahams, Lobelia, Lorenzo Feliciati, Luca Formentini, Luca Sirianni, Mano Ventura, Mark Kelly, Mark Lockheart, Matthew Garrison, Matthias Grob, Michael Manring, Mike Flynn, Mike Haughton, Mike Outram, Mike Sturgis, Miriam Jones, Muriel Anderson, Murphy McCaleb, Neil Alexander, Orphy Robinson, Oteil Burbridge, Otto Fischer, Patrick Wood, Pete Fraser, Peter Chilvers, Peter Katz, Phi Yaan-Zek, Pierce Pettis, Ray Russell, Reeves Gabrels, Ric Hordinski, Richard Lewis, Rick Walker, Rise Kagona, Roger Eno, Robert Logan, Robert Mitchell, Rob Turner, Rowland Sutherland, Roy Dodds, Ruth Goller, Sammy Horner, Sanju Sahai, Sarah Masen, Seb Rochford, Shlomo, She Makes War, Sonya Kaye, Stephen Bingham, Stephenson & Samuel, Steuart Liebig, Steve Apirana, Steve Beresford, Steve Gregory, Steve Jolliffe, Steve Lockwood, Steve Noble, Steve Thompson, Steve Uccello, Stuart Ryan, Susan Enan, Tanya Donelly, Terl Bryant, Theo Travis, Thomas Leeb, Tiger Darrow, Tim Bowness, Tony Buck, Torycore, Trip Wamsley, Todd Reynolds, Tunde Jegede, Vicki Genfan, Yolanda Charles, Yvonne Lyon and more…

discography

2017 – Steve Lawson/Bryan Corbett – Beautifully Disturbed
Steve Lawson/Corey Mwamba – Surprise
Yvonne Lyon – Metanoia
Steve Lawson – Small Is Beautiful
Steve Lawson – PS, You Are Brilliant
Steve Lawson/Poppy Porter – Illuminated Loops
John Lester – Fathers And Sons
Steve Lawson/Andy Edwards – Over Time
Steve Lawson – If They Had Won
Steve Lawson/Pete Fraser – Oven Spring
Steve Lawson/Pete Fraser – Intersect
Lobelia – Love Or Something Like It
Steve Lawson – Towards A Better Question

2016 – Lawson/Edwards/Yaan-Zek – Ley Lines II
Steve Lawson – Hark/Winter
Tanya Donelly – Swan Song Series
Steve Lawson – The Surrender Of Time
Steve Lawson – Colony Collapse Disorder
Steve Lawson – Hands Music
Steve Lawson – Referendum
Steve Lawson – Well Say Hello Then…
Alberto Rigoni – Bassorama
Kiama – Sign Of Four (Bonus CD)
Steve Lawson/Phi Yaan-Zek – The Quiet After The Drums
Steve Lawson and Michael Manring – Language Is A Music

2015 – Steve Lawson – You Guys! Let’s Just Talk About Nail Varnish!
Steve Lawson, Andy Edwards, Bryan Corbett – Winter Song
Steve Lawson, Andy Edwards, Jem Godfrey – Live At Tower Of Song
Steve Lawson – A Crack Where The Light Gets In/The Way Home/Closing In
Airstar – Retrospect
Steve Lawson, Andy Edwards, Phi Yaan-Zek –
Ley Lines
Steve Lawson (with Ruth Goller) – Explore

2014 – Steve Lawson and Julie Slick – Marinate
Steve Lawson with Jon Thorne – Diversion
Steve Lawson – What The Mind Thinks, The Heart Transmits

2013 – Artemis – Triptych II (Nine For A Kiss) (bass and mastering)
Artemis – Triptych I (Eight For A Wish) (bass and mastering)
Artemis, Steve Lawson & Daniel Berkman – For Now
Black Feathers – Strangers We Meet
Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman – FingerPainting Complete (10 albums + 2 album best of)
Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman – Accidentally (On Purpose)

2012 – Steve Lawson and Andy Williamson – Nothing Can Prepare
Steve Lawson and Mike Outram – Invenzioni
Lawson/Alexander – Hidden Windows
Artemis – Sephyra
Steve Uccello  – Fire Times
Steve Lawson – Believe In Peace

2011 -Lobelia – Beautifully Undone (Songs I Wish I’d Written)
Steve Lawson – 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything

2010 – Steve Lawson – Ten Years On – Live In London
Trip Wamsley and Steve Lawson – Infrablab
Steve Lawson and Trip Wamsley – Slow Food
Steve Lawson and Lobelia – Live So Far (featuring Todd Reynolds and Neil Alexander)

2008 -Lawson/Dodds/Wood – Numbers on Better Late records.

2007Luca Formentini; Tacet (bass and loopage on one tune), on Extreme Records.
Calamateur vs Steve Lawson; Calamateur vs Steve Lawson, on Autoclave Records.

2006Steve Lawson; Behind Every Word.
– Steve Lawson; Lessons Learned From The Fairly Aged Felines.

2005Various Artists; European Bass Day 2004 – compilation CD, featuring tracks by John Lester, Lorenzo Feliciati, Jan-Olof Strandberg and others.
Various Artists; As One (charity CD featuring one of Steve’s tracks alongside tracks by Jimmy Haslip, the Poogie Bell Band, Steve Jenkins, Mo Foster, Peter Muller, Janek Gwizdala, Stevie Williams, Lorenzo Feliciati, David Dyson, Laurence Cottle & Dean Brown, in aid of SOS Children‘s work in the aftermath of the Tsunami)

2004Steve Lawson; Grace And Gratitude.
Steve Lawson; Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt II.

2003Steve Lawson; Jaco’s ‘Portrait Of Tracy‘, for Total Guitar Magazine, Bass Special.
– Steve Lawson/Theo Travis; For The Love Of Open Spaces.
– Steve Lawson/Theo Travis; It’s Not Gonna Happen.
Andrew Buckton; Rocket Ship on Blue Carpet Records.
– Chris Bowater; Still on db studios.

2002Steve Lawson; Not Dancing For Chicken.
Steve Lawson; Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt 1 on Pillow Mountain
Susan Enan; Moonlight (EP)
– Commonwealth; That’s the Way It Goes (OD Hunte single remix)
– Steve Lawson/Jez Carr; Conversations.

2001Jason Carter with Ragatal, and Hossam Ramsay; Elements (Fragments Of Grace re-released with some percussion overdubs from Hossam) on ARC
Andrew Buckton; Now… But Not Yet on Bluecarpet Records.
– Pauline Wright; Come Closer (Private Release)

2000Steve Lawson; And Nothing But The Bass, Live @ The Troubadour
Andy Thornton; The Things You Never Say (CD single) on EIS
– Steve Lawson; Guitarist mag cover CD Aug 2000 (1 track – ‘The New Country’)

1999Andy Thornton; The Things You Never Say on EIS
– Chris Bowater; Heritage And Hope on Word

1998 – Various Artists; New Songs for 98 on Word
Jason Carter With Ragatal; Fragments Of Grace on ARC
– Chris Bowater; All About You on Word

1997 – Trish Morgan; Spring Harvest Live Vol 1 & 2 on ICC
– Various Artists; Together For Christmas (live) on dB Studios

1996 – Various Artists; Power Of Your Love (Grapevine Live) on ICC
Johnny Markin; See With Your Eyes on ICC
– Geert Doldersum; With All Of My Heart on Spark
– David Lyon; Precious Little Things(private recording)

1995Johnny Markin; Between Two Worlds on ICC

1994 – Chris Bowater; A New Day on ICC

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Timeline and Trivia

May 3rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Timeline and Trivia

Musical Equipment Used

Elrick Gold Series SLC 6 String fretted and fretless basses, Modulus Basses (6 string fretted and fretless and 4 string fretted), a Rick Turner 5 String Renaissance ‘Amplicoustic’ fretless bass, two Aguilar SL112 cabinets and 2 Aguilar Tonehammer 350 amp heads, A Jule Monique Preampthe Looperlative LP1 for looping, Keith McMillen SoftStep controller and Quneo controller, MODDevices MOD Duo for processing, MXR, Darkglass, and Markbass overdrive pedals, a TC Electronics HOF mini Reverb and Flashback delay, Aguilar Overdrive, Fuzz, Compressor, Octave, Chorus, Filter and Preamp pedals, MXR Reverb, Sub Octave Bass Fuzz, Bass Distortion, Bass Chorus Deluxe, Bass Envelope Filter, Bass Preamp & Bass Fuzz Deluxe, Subdecay Vitruvian Mod ring modulator, Pedal Train pedal board an E-Bow+, Latch Lake and Dunlop slides, Dunlop Super Bright strings, East-UK preamps, Evidence Audio cables, GoGo tuners, 2 Korg Mini Kaoss Pad s and a MOTU Ultralite Mk III Hybrid. And I carry my basses around in SlickBag gig-bags.

Musical History

1986 – got a bass and joined first band
1988 – broke arm, kicked out of first band, formed second band (EARS) – played first gigs
1989 – GCSE Music, Grade C
1991 – AS Level Music, failed – fine at composition, not so hot on history… :o) Somehow got into music college in Perth, Scotland. Teaching as head of bass at West Lothian Rock School.
1993 – left college, moved to Lincoln, tour with Canadian singer/songwriter Johnny Markin. Gigs all over Europe, played on three albums.
1994-96 – working as a pro in Lincoln, teaching, studio and live session work.
1996 – moved to London, more session work, including TV, Radio and theatre work, more teaching.
1997-99 – teaching at Drumtech and Basstech, West London.
1997-2000 – freelance reviewer/interviewer/columnist/gadget guru for Bassist magazine in the UK.
1999 – Toured Europe with Howard Jones. First completely solo gigs in London.
2000 – Released And Nothing But The Bass on Pillow Mountain Records. More solo gigs around England.
2001 – 2 Solo tours of California, including headlining the world’s first solo bass looping festival, and tour with Michael Manring and Rick Walker. Clinics for Ashdown Amps and Modulus Basses. Solo gigs in France.
2002 – Another tour in California, Released Conversations, duo CD with Jez Carr, on Pillow Mountain Records, 2 Major tours of UK Theatres and concert halls supporting first the 21st Century Schizoid Band then Level 42. Two shows at the London Guitar Festival. National TV and local radio appearances in the UK. Featured in the Sunday Times Culture Section. Released second completely solo CD, Not Dancing For Chicken. NDFC picked as one of the best CDs of the year by Aural Innovations
2003 – four week solo tour of California, gigs with Michael Manring and David Friesen, including the Anaheim Bass Bash, featured interview in Euphoria magazine, and review of NDFC in Bass Player (Feb issue). New recordings with Theo Travis, BJ Cole and Patrick Wood for future release. Duo gigs with Theo Travis. Gig at the barbican with orphy robinson. Recording in France with Vigroux/Cury/Rives for upcoming release. first italian solo gig and recording session in august. Duo CD with Theo TravisThe Arts Show, alongside Jenny Eclair and Barry Cryer. Acclaimed appearances at The Detroit Bass Fest and European Bass Day. Gigs in US and UK with Muriel Anderson. A second tour in England with Michael Manring in November.
2005 – another year another NAMM show, followed by a few promo gigs with Michael Manring in California. Dates with pedal steel guitarist, BJ Cole, and recording and gigs with singer Cleveland Watkiss, as well as more UK dates, the Edinburgh Festival and a trip to Italy. Started monthly music night, Recycle Collective.
2006 – back to California, NAMM again and some more dates and another day-long masterclass, Recycle Collective continues to be one of the best live music nights out in London, and features musicians such as BJ Cole, Cleveland Watkiss, Orphy Robinson, Seb Rochford, Todd Reynolds, Jason Yarde, Andy Hamill, Patrick Wood, Leo Abrahams, Julie McKee, Andrea Hazell. UK tours with Theo Travis, Muriel Anderson and Ned Evett. 4th solo album, Behind Every Word, released on Pillow Mountain Records. Recording in Italy with guitarist Luca Formentini. New duo formed with singer Julie McKee, for the Edinburgh Fringe. European tour in October, including EuroBass Day and European Bass Day, as well as an electronica festival in Italy. Behind Every Word makes a number of end of year ‘best of 2006’ lists.
2007 – guess where it started? Yay, NAMM!! Bass-Bash, two days of masterclasses, Modulus clinics and gigs both solo and with Muriel Anderson and Vicki Genfan. Much fun. First New York show too. European tour with Lobelia, including first time visit to Frankfurt Musik Messe and gigs in Italy, Spain, Germany and Denmark, 7 week tour of the US, 24 states, 7000 miles. Gigs at Greenbelt festival with Lobelia, Sarah Masen and Ric Hordinski. Recycle Collective relaunched in September. Playing on one track on Luca Formentini’s album, Tacet. First Amsterdam and Geneva gigs in November. Released live EP with Lobelia in December. Recorded improv album with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds.
2008 – NAMM again, with Lobelia this time, playing the bass-bash and for Looperlative and Modulus. More California shows. Back to England, playing lots of ‘acoustic’ shows with Lobelia, London Solo Bass Night in March with Todd Johnson and Yolanda Charles, . Year ended with Lawson/Wood/Dodds album ‘Numbers’ released, and some LDW gig dates round London, followed by a whole string of house concert shows in England and the US with Lobelia. 2008 was also the year of social media – 10 years of running my music career online turning into a 2nd career teaching and consulting on how it all works, including Nokia flying me to Helsinki for their Open Lab, and working on the launch of Ucreative.tv at UCA in Rochester. Finished the year with a series of house concerts in the UK and the US with Lobelia..
2009 – …which continued into the new year on a trip that included a trip to NAMM, a masterclass at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a series of masterclasses in bass, looping and ‘social media for musicians’ in various people’s houses. But I did miss the bass-bash for the first time ever. Back to the UK for more bass masterclasses and other University-based projects around the future of the internet… look out for a new solo album at some point this year!
2010 – the first half was spent looking after our new born baby, but at the age of 6 months, we took him to the US for a 7 week, 6500 mile tour of house concerts, that took us from Brooklyn to Milwaukee, Massachusetts to Lake Charles Louisiana, via Texas, Tennessee and Ohio. Lo and I recorded a live album on the tour, featuring Todd Reynolds and Neil Alexander, and while in Louisiana I recorded TWO duo albums with Trip Wamsley, released in September. The end of the year featured a sold out London gig with Michael Manring, and speaking engagements in the UK and Berlin at grass roots music industry conferences. I also released another live album, celebrating the 10th anniversary of my debut album coming out.
2011 – first half of the year was focussed on getting my first new studio album in 5 years finished. 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything was released and followed by a 2 month, 8000 mile US tour, which included shows with Julie Slick, Trip Wamsley, Tiger Darrow, Steven Guerrero, Darren Michaels, Neil Alexander, Trevor Exter and Catherine Marie Charlton. The trip also included me guest-performing at Victor Wooten’s Music-Nature Camp, teaching a bass masterclass in Virginia, and Lobelia and I being the only overseas musicians to be booked to play at the first Wild Goose festival. Oh, and  I also co-produced, mixed and mastered Lobelia’s new record, Beautifully Undone. We started selling our music on USB Stick, which has proved v. popular. A move to Birmingham in the late summer promises all kinds of new opportunities.
2012 – the year started with the release of Believe In Peace, an all-improv solo record, recorded in Minneapolis. January continued with a return visit to NAMM, 12 shows in 12 days including duo shows with Julie Slick, Michael Manring and Daniel Berkman, a recording session with Steve Uccello and a playing-and-speaking gig at Stanford uni, as well as a masterclass at LA Music Academy. The shows with Julie, Michael and Daniel were all recorded, so mixing and mastering work on those took up a lot of the following months, as well as recording for Californian singer/songwriter Artemis. May saw the relaunch of Beyond Bass Camp, and the remastering of 11 Reasons… 2012 also saw the formation of #ToryCore – a project that coupled the evil words of the Tory govt with twisted avant garde metal. One of my favourite ever musical projects.
2013 – started with NAMM and another 8 shows with Daniel Berkman, and this time Artemis joined us on vocals at every gig. It was one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life to play with them both. Which is why a large chunk of the year was taken up mixing, mastering and releasing EVERY show we’d done up to that point. All 10 of ‘em. Went out to Frankfurt to the Musikmesse, more ToryCore shows & a few more gigs with Alvin Stardust depping for his regular bassist. Started teaching at Kidderminster College, and ended the year with a lovely joint tour with one of my favourite bassists – Yolanda Charles, and with a duo show with Andy Edwards on drums.
2014 – Another NAMM trip, 11 wonderful shows with Daniel and Artemis (part of a run of 14 shows in 13 days for me!). Just before NAMM I was invited to speak at the Microsoft Social Research Symposium in NYC, which was one of the most brilliant few days of my life. The duo project with Andy Edwards expanded to become ‘Andy, Steve + 1’ and we played a couple of gigs with Julie Slick, made an album with Murphy McCaleb and gigged with Jem Godfrey and Bryan Corbett – we have further projects planned. Played a super-lovely duo show with Briana Corrigan, ex-of The Beautiful South, whose solo work I’ve been a fan of for 20 years. I released a new solo album – What The Mind Thinks, The Heart Transmits. Playing at the London Bass Guitar Show and inviting Jon Thorne to join me on my set led to the release of that as a new album – Diversion. Towards the end of the year, I launched a new subscription service via Bandcamp, with the aim of finding a useful home for the epic amounts of music that I record and want to release…
2015 – NAMM in January, of course, plus a handful of lovely house concert shows with guitar genius Thomas Leeb. Released LEY Lines with Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek, the first new thing that my subscribers got, which Phi released for everyone else. Did the London Bass Guitar Show again, and had another of my bass heroes Ruth Goller agree to play with me. That was fun. Formed a duo with Divinity Roxx – hip hop, improv, songs, stories, all rolled in. We had a week of playing and did a first gig in Kidderminster. The duo with Jon Thorne was expanded to a trio with Rob Turner, of GoGo Penguin, that band sounds amazing! In September, I release two new solo albums – my first proper solo album releases since 11 Reasons in 2011. A Crack Where The Light Gets In and The Way Home were really well recieved, and got played on Late Junction. In October, I was the cover star on Bass Guitar Magazine, almost certainly the only self-managed, self-releasing, self-everything solo bassist to ever get there without an association with any other artist. Still can’t quite believe it. The mag cover coincided with a mini-tour with Jonas Hellborg – we had a wonderful time playing in Birmingham, London and Leeds, and hope to do a bigger tour ASAP. By the end of the year, I’d released 7 albums for Subscribers, all of which I’m immensely proud of! The year ended with the recording of a second album with Phi and Andy, to be released early in 2016. The year also featured a few more Torycore gigs – a thing that gets better every time we do it, and more vital, sadly.

Current Musical Projects

Solo gigs and recording -::- Duo with Divinity -::- trio with Jon Thorne and Rob Turner -::- trio with Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek -::- performance duo with painter Poppy Porter  -::-  Torycore.

trivia

favourite artists. – these days, it’s lots of singer/songwriters, and death metal bands. So, alternately, Bruce Cockburn, Cannibal Corpse, Jonatha Brooke, Cattle Decapitation, Joni Mitchell, Job For A Cowboy, Paul Simon, Entombed, Emily Baker, White Empress, The Blue Nile, Soulfly, Nik Kershaw, Ihsahn…

Along side that, a bunch of other things – Hope & Social, Bill Frisell, D’Angelo, David Torn, Let Spin, Michael Manring, DJ Krush, Throwing Muses, Coltrane, Kristin Hersh, 70s Miles, Beauty Pill, Janet Feder, Jon Gomm, Kenny Wheeler, Trish Clowes, Divinity Roxx, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, J Dilla, De La Soul, Terje Rypdal, KT Tunstall, The Pixies, The Cure…

top 10 (or so) favourite(ish) albums

bass influences – Current favourites are Tony Levin, Ruth Goller, Michael Manring, Julie Slick and Matthew Garrison but there are literally hundreds. I suppose, in roughly chronological order, those players that have influenced me the most would be – John Taylor (Duran), Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo/Iona), Chris Squire (Yes), Simon Gallup (The Cure), Pino Pallidino (everyone, but especially the D’Angelo stuff), Doug Pinnick (King’s X), Ewan Vernal (Deacon Blue), Steve Swallow, Abraham Laboriel, Jaco Pastorius, Scott LaFaro, Freddie Washington, Bernard Edwards (Chic), Ray Brown, Jonas Hellborg, Family Man Barratt (The Wailers), Verdine White (EW & F), Tommy Simms, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, Jimmy Haslip, Danny Thompson, Eberhard Weber, Mike Rivard, Marc Johnson, Kermitt Driscoll, Mo Foster, Todd Johnson, Doug Wimbish, Yolanda Charles, Trip Wamsley, Divinity,  and loads more.

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Reviews

May 2nd, 2008 · No Comments

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I’ve had loads of great press for my solo albums and gigs – have a read of some of it below!

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Behind Every Word CD Reviews –

Grace And Gratitude CD Reviews –

For The Love Of Open Spaces CD Reviews –

Not Dancing For Chicken CD Reviews –

Conversations CD Reviews –

And Nothing But The Bass reviews –

Gig Reviews –

Interviews –

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Thoughts and Questions on Originality.

April 20th, 2008 · Comments Off on Thoughts and Questions on Originality.

Been having some fantastic conversations with creative people of late on the subject of originality. It’s a subject that seems to lead to wildly different comments and responses from creative people, but rather too often seems to become deified or fetishised to the detriment of the resultant art.

With solo bass being such a niche musical pursuit, I often end up with people thinking that what I do is ‘completely original’, in that listeners outside of the solo bass/looping/etc. cognoscenti have probably never heard anyone doing anything quite like what I’m doing before. It would be very easy for me to claim that I came up with the whole idea and convince people – at least in the moment – that I’m some kind of pioneer in a way that I’m not.

But, it’s also worth noting that some of what I do has been described as ‘pioneering’ and even folks within the ‘scenes’ from which I draw most of my influence have recognised bits of it as being in some way ‘original’.

So what is one to do with that? In both situations the result is that the people involved have another level on which to engage with what I do, but it’s one that holds precious little ‘real’ value.

The first question that comes from this is a) ‘how many records have you ever bought just because the artist was flagged up as ‘original’?’ – and part b) of that question is: of those, how many did you stick with just because it was ‘original’?

The answer to the first bit is probably – if you’re an early adopter and enthusiast like me – ‘a few’. There are a few things I’ve checked out (though these days more via downloads/myspace etc.) that I’ve being pointed to because the persons approach to music making was in some way novel. However, it’s the second half that concerns us – Long term engagement with an artist’s output is based on quality, value and integrity, not gimmick.

This is something that we’re all too aware of when it comes to the marketing aspect of what we do – trying to rebrand dogturds as caviar isn’t going to make people enjoy the taste of dogturds – but originality is trickier because it’s a) less easy to quantify and b) it feels like an artistic consideration first and not a marketing gimmick.

So, here’s the question that will help you to gauge your own reaction to concepts of originality – if everyone in the world did things the way you do, would what you do still have value? In otherwords, when your schtick ceases to be a schtick and just becomes a creative model like ‘being in a band’ or ‘taking photographs’, what is the innate value in the way your story informs the output?

For me, it becomes this – if all the world were solo bassists, would my music as a solo bassist still be worth anything? Or, to frame it in now, ‘what’s the value of what I do to an audience saturated with looped solo bassists?’ This last question is a key one when it comes to putting on ‘branded’ gigs – if I put on a solo bass night, does it water down my brand to the detriment of people’s perception of how ‘original’ I am, or does it just remove the ‘originality/novelty’ element from how they engage with it, and cut to the storytelling?

The reality for me is, as I’ve been telling my students for years, it’s way more important to be ‘good’ than it is to be ‘original’ – a whole load of the willfully obscure experiments that one can end up with when looking for a ‘new sound’ are things that other people have tried and dismissed before inflicting them on an audience.

Influence seems to be the dirty word in so many discussions about originality. The equation seems to go thusly –

Being original is key to my success, therefor I mustn’t experience anyone else’s art that may shape what I do in an overt way because if I hear them, I’ll want to sound like them, and that will ruin my USP (unique selling point), and I’ll be finished as an artist. So as a result, I’ll live my life in seclusion from talented people operating in the same field as me.

This, dear bloglings, is what’s known in the trade as UTTER BOLLOCKS. I’ve seen a few people’s musical paths really messed up due to their phobia of influence. I’ve seen people torture themselves when another band came up with a title similar to the one they wanted for their next album! It’s crippling creatively, but more than that it bears no relation at all to how we relate to art on any non-superficial level.

So from my observation of my own and other people’s reactions to these questions, here are a few thoughts on the creative process as it relates to originality and influence:

  • We are all aggregators: or as Bono put it (possibly quoting someone else) ‘Every artist is a cannibal’. Very very little in the development and progress of human existence has appeared in an intellectual vacuum. Our progress on a macro and micro level is way more often than not evolutionary rather than eureka-moment-driven. We take in our observations of what’s going on around us, filter them through eachother, through the world as we see it, through a complex-but-contained set of experiences and ever-growing opinions and tastes, and decide what to do, what to create, how to create, how to tell our story. Those Eureka moments that do happen are too random to be factorable in steering our creative path. What influences we choose to subject ourselves to is something we’re very much in control of.
  • Influence is influence, whether the influence is from within your own discipline or outside: If I stopped listening to all music, I’d still be shaped in my music making by politics, art, comedy, love, life, illness, nature etc… Everything I do as a musician is shaped by influences, millions of them. Influences won’t negatively impact my art, only unhealthy obsessions will.
  • The problem isn’t influence/no influence, it’s self-awareness or the lack-thereof: People who make great music in isolation won’t suddenly start making crap derivative music if they open themselves up to influence, and likewise people who are so unable to figure out what they want that they just ape someone else’s process to the point of plagarism aren’t suddenly going to discover their creative focus by not listening to their main influences. The problem with obsession is bigger and more fundamental than whether or not your music sounds like another band.
  • Influence is like a diet – it’s the mixture and balance that keeps us healthy: Obsession is not a healthy state to be in. Like eating only potato, or drinking nothing but tea, listening to one artist is going to mess you up. I have for a long time viewed my music listening as a diet, and as such cherish my music listening time like a meal. I avoid junk-food, and crave sumptuous filling meals that meet my dietary requirements. I don’t like eating the same thing day after day, and definitely enjoy the effects of seasonal variation.
  • Style is a medium, not a message – how you say something IS important. Vitally so. But talking shit with a soothing voice is still talking shit.
  • Speaking someone else’s language doesn’t make you think like them, it just makes you able to communicate with the same people they communicate with – this blog doesn’t come across as derivative just because it’s in English. None of us trawl the interwebs looking for ‘new languages’ just because they’re new. Language is there to communicate ideas.
  • Storytelling is an artform that exploits shared history and narrative form: If you’re telling your story through music, things that are familiar have a different resonance from things that are completley alien to both artist and listener. This is one of the reasons why so many creative musicians still find so much to stay within the confines of ‘blues’ – despite the restrictions of the form, there’s still so much great original music that’s coming out that is blues-based and blues-influenced. The language, imagery and resonance of the blues still provides a channel for so many people’s unique stories.
  • the quest to be original might actively prevent you from soundtracking your world: If I attempted to do away with my influences, most of the stuff that makes my music important to me would vanish; the melodic forms, the chord progressions derived from folk, pop and jazz idioms, the phrasing that I’ve absorbed from Joni Mitchell, Bill Frisell or Michael Manring, the bass techniques that I’ve nicked from Trip Wamsley or Victor Wooten. What makes me sound like me is the combination of everything that goes into my music. I throw it all into the mixing pot, and out comes my music. I practice to learn more about how to channel the feelings and emotions that those independent influences bring out in me, and look to find the right amount and blend of ingredients to make me feel the way the combination of all of them makes me feel.

So, where does all this leave me? Well, right now, I’m working on a new album, or at least, I’m getting ideas together to start working on a new album. Some of that involves working out what’s physically possible with the Looperlative, but a lot of it is working out what I want to say and how best to say it. So I’m putting myself on a fairly strict diet. A diet that will contain a whole range of music that generates the kind of response in me that I want from my own music. I’ll be listening to a lot of The Blue Nile, Joni Mitchell, Eric Roche, Rosie Thomas, Theo Travis, Alan Pasqua, Nels Cline, Bill Frisell, and then a whole bunch of extreme stuff in as many directions as I can to help me push back the walls that define the stylistic parameters of what I’ve done up until now.

And how I deal with notions of Originality and their value or otherwise impacts every minute of my practice time – do I get frustrated when I play something and it reminds me of some other musician, or do I use that as a model for saying something in their language? Do I get fixated with listening to other solo bassists because I am one, or do I realise that solo bass is in the grand scheme of things nothing to do with whether my music is any good or not, and look at developing the component parts of my musical narrative via influences that are best at those bits – for example, looking to singers for melodic influence, pianists for harmony, and classical guitarists for phrasing and shaping chord/melody ideas?

The end result of this is whether or not you hear those influences, the music is 100% me. It might be a different angle on me that hasn’t come out in other ways before. It might be me as expressed through the playing of other musicians on music that I’ve written for them, but it will be a combination of all the various influences that make me want to do what I do, and will at the same time be both entirely derivative and completely original.

Tags: bass ideas · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

First Podcast recorded… available ASAP.

February 23rd, 2008 · 3 Comments

I’ve just finished my first joint podcast with Jeff Schmidt – we recorded it via Skype, and talked for about an hour about lots of musical things (we both were expecting it to get all political/religous but it didn’t this time – it’s going to be a series, so there’s plenty of time for that!)

Jeff’s the ideal person to do this with, in that he’s a solo bassist and tech-geek, but has enough of a different take on things that we can get our teeth into it without it becoming a podcasted mutual hagiography.

I’m looking forward to listening back to it, and will make it available as soon as possible.

So, bearing in mind that it’s Jeff and I talking nonsense about bass playing, music, marketing, the web, geek-stuff, and will contain rants about religion, politics, philosophy etc… have you got any suggested titles?

If you want to follow the development of the podcast, and any other whacky ideas that Jeff and I may come up with, you can subscribe to our combined twitter feed here – that way you can read our conversations about it in real time… or you can just sign up at twitter.com and join the conversation yourself…

Tags: Geek · Music News · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

Steve Rodby interview from Bassist Mag, Aug 1999

November 5th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Steve Rodby was, without a doubt, one of the nicest people I got to meet when writing for Bassist mag. Along with Michael Manring, Lee Sklar, Jimmy Haslip and a handful of others, he was one of the interviewees that inspired me as much by his personality, grace and enthusiasm as by his wise words and exceptional playing. His thoughts on soloing in this interview were particularly enlightening…

He’s also, bizarrely, one of the most underrated bassists on the planet. I’ve had the ‘who could replace Steve Rodby?’ conversations with loads of great bassists the world over, and no-one has yet suggested another player that does everything that Steve does as well as Steve does it in the Pat Metheny Group. His jazz upright playing is exemplary, his bowing beautiful, his rock and pop electric playing makes him sound like he’s spent the last 40 years studying nothing but great rock/pop bass playing. He’s a proper low-frequency master of all trades. So here’s the interview – again, frustratingly, it’s an edit of a very long and involved conversation that I wish I had transcribed… maybe I’ll have to start an ‘in conversation’ podcast – could be a fun project for NAMM… Anyway, have a read of this, then go and listen to any of the PMG albums that Steve plays on, and be amazed at what a great player he is. One thing to keep in mind is that when Richard Bona joined the PMG, he joined as a singer. That’s how good Steve is :o)


For 20 Years now The Pat Metheny Group has been one of the biggest selling acts on the contemporary jazz scene. It has consistently filled concert halls and arenas the world over, and produced a series of critically acclaimed albums that have touched on almost every imaginable area of contemporary music, from Latin to industrial, drum ‘n’ bass to avante garde and freeform improv.

Since 1982 Steve Rodby’s upright and electric bass grooves have driven the band’s sound, helping to define the style that is now instantly recognisable as the PMG.

Bassist collared Steve for the low down on all things Metheny-esque while they were in London earlier this year for three nights at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

SL – You started out as a Classical bassist, but made the switch to Jazz fairly early on. How did that come about?

‘I always thought I’d be a classical bassist. My father is a classical musician, so that seemed the obvious direction. I went to college to study, but I don’t think I was ever quite at the level where I would have landed a really good orchestral post.

‘Very early on I started playing pop. When I was in college I got a couple of calls for studio work and I took to those sessions extremely well. Because orchestra playing was kinda boring, I played this game with my self when I was a kid where I would imagine that there was a mic in front of my bass recording every note that I played and that someone was going to say “Rodby, come in here!” and then play the tape back and say “What were you doing there”'”

‘So when I finally got in the studio, it was a fairly stress free process as I’d been playing for imaginary tape recorders for years!!

‘I also started to play electric bass, and made the switch to playing pop easily as that’s the music I was listening to all the time.

‘I finished college got my degree in classical bass, but by half way through college I was playing fairly regularly on the Chicago jazz scene.

‘My big break came when the great bass player Rufus Reid, who played in the house band at the Jazz Showcase (prestigious Chicago jazz venue), moved to New York, so the gig was up for grabs. The owner of the club seemed to like the way I played, and I ended up playing five nights, three sets a night with all these amazing visiting musicians like Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt and Joe Henderson. The drummer in the house band had played with Charlie Parker and the pianists were all 30 years older than me and knew so much about music. And here I was this nerdy college kid with a classical background and all I had going for me was my ear and a feel!’

How did you learn all the tunes?

‘When I first started playing bass, my dad bought would play guitar and we would play duets. To teach me a song, he would write the roots notes and bar lines down, with no information about what else to play, so I had to improvise from the very beginning.

‘On the gigs, I was doing the same thing – following roots and knowing instinctively what the rest of the notes were. The piano players would play the first few choruses very clearly until I had it. I learned on the bandstand rather than in the practice room or out of books. I never really studied as much as I wish that I had.’

How did you first hook up with Pat?

‘I’d met Pat at various jazz camps when we were younger, and had stayed in touch. He was looking to add acoustic bass to his band and was auditioning players. My name came up so he called me and I went to NY and auditioned. Shortly after that he offered me the job.

‘When I met Pat I was an unformed nobody from small town Illinois, who didn’t even know what chords were, and he was already the future of music – he was 18 and had it all figured out. He was so far ahead of the game it was unbelievable. But when we played there was something about the style of the music that I felt that I could understand that I couldn’t account for – It may have been similar backgrounds and a shared love of pop music, the Beatles. It just made sense. I used to listen to the first couple of PMG albums and say to myself – ‘that’s my music’. It really was my dream group.’

Was it intimidating to work with Pat after the succession of great bassists that he’d already worked with?

‘Mmm, not really. The only thing that could have freaked me was Pat’s relationship with Jaco. Not only because he played with Jaco, but he REALLY played with Jaco. Bright Sized Life was one of the best records ever made. The next time I saw Pat after he met Jaco he said, “Oh man, I just heard a bass player that is going to change music. He sounds like John McLaughlin and John Coltrane only better – and on bass!!” – Pat doesn’t say stuff like that lightly!

‘Once I heard Jaco I just said “forget it, I’m not even going to try!” I was one of the few bassists on the planet who loved Pat and Weather Report but didn’t get a fretless and transcribe Jaco’s licks. I’ve never transcribed a bass solo in my life! Hearing Jaco also kept me away from playing fretless. So I thought if I’m going to do anything, I’ll play acoustic bass and I’ll play fretted pop style bass. Playing acoustic bass with Pat gave me a lot of freedom because what I was doing was different to what Mark Egan, Jaco or Charlie Haden had done. That’s my way of being able to sleep at night, otherwise I would have shot myself a long time ago!!’

How did the group develop such a distinctive sound?

‘In the early days of the band, I think we had a feeling that we had to do something different from other bands, so we had a load of do’s and don’ts – don’t do fusion, don’t have a back beat. And then we spent a lot of time avoiding music that may have sounded borrowed. But now we’ve finally got to the place were we can play Happy Birthday and it’ll sound like us. So we can now do a tune like the opening track on Imaginary Day that sounds sorta Chinese, maybe a bit like Gamalan Indonesian music, but it still sounds like us.’

Live, on the standard, ‘How Insensitive’, you take the first solo that I’ve heard you play. Is this a new area for you?

‘For years I took some really bad solos, and then we started doing this tune and I began applying myself to soloing again. That’s the next thing to think about. Not just soloing, but maybe making a solo record. I’ve spent so many years not paying any attention to it, but now that I’ve finally started to do my homework, I’ve found a real satisfaction. I’ve managed to get beyond the plateau that I was on. I’m moving forward as a soloist, so maybe now’s the time to do my own record.’

What have you been studying?

‘Well, I’ve finally begun to realise that at the technical level – playing melodies and chord scales, playing faster, higher – that you need to be able to do it 20 times faster than you’ll ever need to in a song! My problem was that the fastest the highest the hardest that I ever played was in this little solo during the gig. I was always trying to reach so far over my head and it didn’t really work.

‘So I realised that I had to put in the time, getting my technique up to speed. Same with the chord scales – there is a set of musical materials that you need to know – with this chord, this set of notes are your primary musical material – you can do other things, but you need that reference point.

‘These are the things that beginning sax or piano players learn very easily, but bass players don’t seem to take to so well. Fancy bass soloists tend to learn a bunch of hot licks but often don’t learn the fundamentals of music. So I’m finally taking the time to learn what the chords are and be able to play them at soloing speed!

‘A great bass solo has to be a high quality melody that would sound like a high quality melody if it was played on another instrument. You’d go, “well, it’s down kinda low on the piano, and he’s playing a little slow, but that’s a great melody!” Most bass solos on any other instrument would sound kinda weak.

‘I have a million miles to go, but that’s what I aspire to, that’s what I’m going to work on for the next 20 years. I’m sat up there playing for myself and for the audience but I’ve also got Pat and Lyle, two of the finest melodic improvisers around, sat right behind me! I’m not going to get a smile out of them by playing fast, but my playing good strong melodies.”

Pat Metheny on Steve Rodby:

When you’ve played with the most highly respected bassists on the planet, the must be something pretty special about the guys that you keep in your band for 15 years. Here’s what Pat has to say about Steve –

‘The kinds of things I need in any musician who is going to be in the group, regardless of their role in the band, is a certain musical insight that includes, but hopefully transcends, a deep sense of what has happened on their respective instrument, particularly over the past 60 or 70 years of popular and improvised music, combined with the musical skill and vocabulary to sonically render their conception of what just what that history implies into a personal sound. Steve Rodby has the ability to do just that and so much more, and that is what makes him the perfect bass player for this band. His background in classical music combined with his extensive jazz playing and studio work has made him an exceptionally well rounded player with a genuine musical curiosity that transcends style. His relentless pursuit of just the right part, played with just the right intonation and sound are well suited for the basic musical aesthetic that our band aspires toward.’

Tags: bass ideas · journalism · tips for musicians