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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Courting bloggers – grass roots promotion that works.

March 3rd, 2009 · Comments Off on Courting bloggers – grass roots promotion that works.

Watchmen image, by Dane Rot blackThis morning, Lo and I went to a blogger’s viewing of Watchmen, The new Zach Snyder film, based on Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel. The screening was in the viewing cinema at the Paramount offices out towards Richmond, and a beautiful cinema it was (if all cinema experiences were like that, I’d go 5 times as often as I do!)
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Tags: film/tv · tips for musicians

Nokia Open Lab 08. The write-up. part 1

September 15th, 2008 · Comments Off on Nokia Open Lab 08. The write-up. part 1

Nokia Open Lab - photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/ekaiI’ve just spent 3 days geeking out in Helsinki, at the Nokia Open Lab 08. The idea was to bring together 40 social media/mobile tech/blogging geeks in Helsinki for a series of workshops, discussions, talks and brainy mash-ups. The attendees were from all kinds of backgrounds, from corporate bloggers writing about tech stuff or financial markets, to sub-cultural social media conduits, using mobile technology to bring communities together and subvert standard media channels.

The format was really interesting, in that we were kind of thrown together with very little context, and left to work out what people’s areas of expertise were based on what they were willing/pushy enough to say in each of the discussions. So those of us who are extroverts naturally spoke at greater length than our respective knowledge bases necessarily warranted. Still, much value came out of the discussions, and a lot of people seem to have been fired up to use social media applications that they’d signed up for months ago but never really found a use for.

From Nokia’s side, they got

  • a massive amount of internal and external marketing footage from the conference
  • a load of online content bigging up their products
  • some quality, focussed expert product and service feedback
  • a whole bunch of enthusiastic interaction with some of their technology’s most progressive early adopters.

I’ll hopefully write up a lot of what I thought about the conference, but I think I’ll actually start at the end, with what the whole thing meant for musicians:

It was really interesting to be brought in by a mega transnational corporation to discuss mobile technology, given that my focus is largely empowering creatives to create without recourse to the corporate world – I’m not a fan of ad-sponsored music promotion streams and clearly not into the big record label model of yore. So in a sense there was some bravery in Nokia inviting people like me in without any kind of NDA/Contractual obligation not to slam their very existence (like anyone would really give a shit if I did… but anyway…).

As a pragmatist, I liked being in a place where for a weekend, I could largely think about ‘the best we can do within this kind of corporate framework’ – what does a company like Nokia have to offer the world of creativity and progressive political interaction by way of infrastructure and support? How can we as creatives use this technology, and perhaps even work with Nokia, in promoting a culture of un-fettered art. What can they do to help?

In approaching it from that angle, there were quite a few frustrations – the biggest being the session on the ‘future of entertainment’ – the scene was set by Anne Toole, talking from her background as a very experienced ‘old media’ writer (TV/film), now moved into the games industry. She talked a lot about her notion of what ‘film’ is – I think the idea was to get us thinking conceptually about the future of ‘The Industry’ in whatever our group were going to be discussing.

However, for me, the start point would have been the antithesis of what she was saying – I would have blown the doors off any attempt to define ‘film’ beyond it being ‘a series of pictures projected as a fast enough rate as to give the appearance of motion’, and then got people to think about the deep stuff of how we can make the world of film – both that which is designed to ‘entertain’ but also the information/pure art end of the spectrum – more interesting, more engaging, more productive, more subversive, more enjoyable, through social media and mobile technology.

But the big problem wasn’t that I disagreed with what I thought she was saying, it’s that she had no way of knowing I was thinking that and therefor couldn’t clarify whether or not I’d got completely the wrong end of the stick. So problem #1 was the format of the ‘presentation’ part, not the content (disagreement is vital to progressive discussion, but it has to be open and ‘real time’…)

Problem #2 was the way we were divided up. There were four groups – music, film, games and ‘me media’ (me media being cleverly named, given Nokia’s latest ad campaign… 😉 ) – and we were arbitrarily assigned to them. We could have swapped. I could’ve just wandered over to the music camp, but I didn’t. I was stuck in the games group. I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that I effing hate games. Actually no, not games, I hate Games. I play games all the time – twitter, facebook, myspace, who’s going to fill the dishwasher. All fun, exciting, enjoyable games. I just couldn’t give a shit about the Games Industry.

I am however innately curious, and fairly good at conceptual abstraction, so we managed to have a cool discussion about games, gaming, and game principles abstracted from game culture. But still, there was a discussion about the future of the music industry and its relationship with social media/mob-tech, and I WASN’T IN IT.

W. T. F?

Yup, my fault for not getting up and moving. But their fault for not facilitating a coming together of people with expertise in the area. I would have LOVED to bang heads with the guys from the Nokia music store (not launched yet), to chat with people who see music as part of the ‘entertainment industry’, to people who favour ad-revenue models for ‘feels like free’ music. I’ve got about 150,000 words of stuff written on the subject 🙂

And we did have those conversations – that was the strength of the conference. As with all conferences, the conversations after the sessions were the main course. the sessions were largely high-functioning ice-breakers. The magic of Nokia Open Lab 08 started at 3pm on Saturday after the closing speech.

So post #2 will start to look at what we covered in the rest of the sessions, and where we go from here. Or maybe that’ll be post #3. Or #4… 😉

Tags: Geek · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Interview – from BassRocket.com (Jan 2005)

May 12th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Steve Lawson has been one of the most inspiring and creative solo bassists to come out of the UK in recent years. His solo albums and collaborative projects have been the talk of the world-wide bass community and have drawn enthusiastic reviews in the press. His latest album ‘Grace And Gratitude’ finds him searching a theme in his own enigmatic way. I spoke to Steve recently and began by asking him about this album.

– ‘Grace And Gratitude’ seems to have been given a good reception in the
press. What kind of response have you had from the fans?

“The response has been fantastic, I’ve been really pleased with how well it’s gone down, especially given that it contains some of the most challenging music that I’ve recorded, and is pretty diverse! I was expecting to get a few e-mails of complaint about the second track (Journey Of A Thousand Miles), as it gets very dissonant, and is quite a big leap on from anything I did on ‘Not Dancing For Chicken’, but my audience have surprised me once again with their broadmindedness!”

– What led you to explore a thematic concept for this latest album, and
how do you set about creating a themed album of instrumental music?

“That’s a really good question, and a tough one to answer! The prompting to explore the theme was that it was a continuation of the way I always write – trying to soundtrack whatever is going on in my head at that time – but discovering that my thoughts at that time were a little more focussed and coherent than when I’m usually making a record. The catalyst for that was the European elections here in the UK. I was insensed by the selfishness and ingratitude of so many on the political right-wing who were blaming people fleeing persecution and destitution in their own countries for coming to England to find something better, and attempting to use them as a scapegoat for all of society’s ills and to gain political ground against those who saw the issues in a more complex and grown up way. But instead of doing an angry record, I decided to channel that thought process into looking at the things that I’m most grateful for, and recognising that I haven’t earned any of them – they are all a gift, which is where the ‘grace’ part comes in.

“So ‘Despite my Worst Intentions’ stems for a feeling of gratitude that none of the really stupid things that I did in my teens managed to ruin my life. ‘The Kindness Of Strangers’ is a fairly obvious one – it’s something that all musicians rely on heavily! ‘The Journey Of A Thousand Miles’ is more about recognising the smallness of everything we do, seeing life as a journey comprised of small steps, and we need to tread carefully. And so on…

“It’s pretty much impossible to pin down the connection between the theme and the music beyond some people just getting it! It’s a feeling, an emotion, it’s ephemeral, and I guess it’s something that is going to connect with people on myriad levels. It’s also highly likely that people are going to hear completely different things in there, and that’s fine too.”

– What’s your favourite piece on ‘G&G’ and why?

“Oh boy, it changes from day to day – I think at the moment, it’s ‘What Did I Do To Deserve This?’ – I just really like the melodic line, and the change in texture as the piece goes on. But I’m also particularly proud of ‘You Can’t Throw It Away (There’s No Such Thing As Away)’ – the way the track develops took me by surprise! That’s the joy of improvising music in the studio – you can hear new things in it as you listen back the same way that the audience does. It’s not all planned out, so there are things that you miss the first time round that grow on you as time goes on.”

– Those of us who bought the album shortly after it’s release were
treated to a superb bonus disc. Please tell our readers how they can
now get hold of that CD for themselves?

“That CD was called ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt II’ – each time I do a CD, I release a second bonus CD for people who order the record in advance of the official release date. This works for two reasons – firstly as an insentive to people to order the CD early on, and thus helping me to recoup my costs quicker. But it’s also a way of me getting some of the enormous amount of music out there for people to hear. I tend to record hours and hours of music for each CD before I decide on which tracks to release. Some of it is pretty bad, so that gets scrapped, but for each CD, I end up with at least two albums worth of release-quality material, so this enables to get that out.

“Now that I’ve got a web-shop that can handle download sales, I’ve been able to put ‘Lessons Learned Pt II’ up as a download sale, so people who’ve only discovered what I’m up to since the new album has been released can go back and start to fill in some of the blanks in their CD collections. It’s also meant that I can keep my debut solo album, ‘And Nothing But The Bass’ available, even though it’s sold out. Instead of repressing, I’ve just made it available as a low-cost download.”

– In the past few years you have alternately released solo albums
followed by albums of collaborative duets. Does this mean we are due
another duets album and if so what’s in the pipeline?

“At the moment I’m not certain what I’m going to do next. I do have a lot of duo material recorded with pedal steel guitarist, BJ Cole. BJ and I have been playing together for over a year now, and been experimenting with various approaches to combining out sounds. It’s not been an easy one, given that both of us are capable of making so much noise! But we’re beginning to find the right combination, so that might happen.

“I’m also planning to try some gigs with Theo Travis, but with a drummer added to the mix. We’ve a couple of people in mind, and will be experimenting over the new couple of months. The tracks that we recorded on ‘For The Love Of Open Spaces’ have been evolving on the live gigs that we’ve done, and it’d be great to try taking them to another place with a drummer.

“And work has also begun on Jez Carr’s debut all-solo album – so while I won’t be playing on that, I’ll be helping to produce that with him. Jez is an amazing musician, and looking forward to being able to follow up Conversations within the next couple of years too.

– Have you any plans for making a duets album with another bassist and if
so who?

“I’ve been gigging a lot over the last couple of years with Michael Manring, who is quite simply one of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever heard, let alone shared a stage with, and also one of my favourite people. We’ve made various attempts to record our duo gigs, but so far haven’t had much that’s been release quality, just in terms of the sounds. But we’re both keen to get something happening, so I’d guess that will happen at some point. We’ve even had offers from record labels wanting to fund it, but it’s something that we’re going to take our time with. For starters, Michael’s got a new solo album coming out in the next month or so, so will be promoting that over the next few months.

“But I do love working with other bassists – we think slightly differently from other musicians, and I find that bassists often (not always) make great listeners. I’ve done a few gigs – including the European Bass Day – with John Lester. He’s a singer/songwriter solo bassist from California, now living in Amsterdam, and is a dream to play with – another great musician who’s also a really lovely person.”

– OK, so if you could make a duets album with any musician from history
who would that be?

“To be honest, I feel really fortunate to be working with the people I’m working with. I think the main ones on my ‘wish list’ would be singers like Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn and Jonatha Brooke, but of the three the only one I’ve met is Bruce. I have two main criteria for working on a project like that, there needs to be a musical hook-up, obviously, but it also has to be with someone that I could travel round in a car with for three weeks at a time – life’s too short to work with people you don’t get on with. So once I’ve formed a list of people I’d love to work with, I then have to meet them, and see if I get on with them, as well as there being some mutual musical appreciation!”

– Aside from listening to other musicians, what do you find in life that
inspires the creative process?

“Desperation! I think that when you do music for a living, there’s a fine balance between seeing it as a job and getting tired of it, and feeling liberated by the absence of other things getting in the way. I cross that line fairly regularly. The main thing that keeps me focussed on how lucky I am is practising. I love playing, I love getting together with other musicians to try things out and I love doing gigs. Music is in and of itself inspiring, and not just in a notes and melodies sense. There’s something about being around creative people that makes you pursue creativity.

“Beyond that, I find that most things will feed into my music – politics, relationships, faith, films, art, history, fantasy… Loads of things.

“That said, one of my biggest influences is cats – we’ve recently got two new ones, as the Aged Feline, after whom the two ‘Lessons Learned’ CDs were named, passed away in the summer. The new ones can’t replace him, but they are rescue cats, and needed a home. They’re both lovely, and are now the ‘Fairly Aged Felines’, who will no doubt have their own line of CDs coming out soon!”

– What nifty little toys have you currently got in your arsenal of
effects?

“The current live set up for gigs in the UK is pretty involved – I now have two Lexicon MPX-G2 processors, two Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro + looping devices, a Mackie 1402 desk, and a Korg KP-II Kaoss Pad. It gives me so many great options and allows me to loop and process the musicians I’m working with as well! The move to a stereo set-up, and the switch to AccuGroove speaker cabinets has made my whole sound much clearer and less coloured. I’ve used the PA for voice, sax, piano and classical guitar as well, and it sounds better than any equivalent sized PA that I’ve ever used!

“Throw in three Modulus basses and an E-Bow and you’ve got my live rig.”

– What are the plans for any live dates in the near future?

“At the moment, I’m sorting out some dates for California in late January. For the UK, I’m working on some dates in March with Matthew Garrison, and will hopefully have some dates later on in the year with acoustic guitarist, Eric Roche, as well as a smattering of other solo dates here and there.”

You can check out all of Steve’s albums (and buy them!) at this website www.stevelawson.net, there are some free download tracks there and plenty of interviews and reviews to read.

Andy Long

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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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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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Photos from last Sunday's Milton Keynes Solo Bass Night

March 22nd, 2008 · Comments Off on Photos from last Sunday's Milton Keynes Solo Bass Night




Steve Lawson

Originally uploaded by Documentally

Here’s are some fantastic photos taken at the Solo Bass Night in Milton Keynes last Sunday by Christian Payne.

Christian is a really great photographer, photo journalist, documentary maker and new media junkie. His latest film about displaced Iraqis living in Jordan is vital viewing.

Anyway, enjoy the rest of the photos of me, Lo, Yo and Kev

Tags: cool links · Music News · site updates

futuremusictalk.com launched…

January 30th, 2008 · Comments Off on futuremusictalk.com launched…

A couple of months back, Sarda came up with the idea of an aggregated blog bringing together lots of the different thinkers writing about the future of the music industry. My ‘future of music’ posts are up there alongside fab thinkers and writers like Gerd Leonhard and Andrew Dubber.

…which I guess means I ought to get back to writing about the future of music! Despite not blogging about it as much of late, I’ve been doing lots of thinking about it, from a lot of different angles. Today’s fairly throw-away thought was just that ‘experience is not downloadable’ – I was walking through Time’s Square in NYC, and wondering how the big theatrical shows can afford to keep running at the level they do, here and in London. And part of it is that they offer an experience that can’t be downloaded – ACTUALLY going to the show is central to any kind of engagement with it. You could download the soundtrack, even a live video of the show, look at pics online, download and print out the sheet music, but none of that is going to mean much if you haven’t experienced it.

I’ll have to have a look and see if there are stats anywhere on how much of the income from shows is in the merchandising and licensing aspects, over and above ticket sales…

Here’s another related though slightly tangental thought – I have a friend who used to manage a cinema in London. He said that ALL the money they made was over the concession stand. The actually films were roughly a break-even venture, when the running of the place was taken into consideration, the cost of the films, against the ticket price. The real money was in selling a bucket of Coke big enough to drown Vern Troyer in – made from syrup that cost 4p – for £2.50, and a pig’s trough-sized pail of popcorn for £4, when their total outlay for the stuff was about 2% of that…

Anyway, the point is, that’s the way the entertainment industry funds itself – merchandising, adverts, providing overpriced McSwill to the McHogs that turn up to watch and gorge…

One of the big questions, and the hardest part of this whole thing is still – what do you do as a musician if you don’t want to make the majority of your money in advertising or running a snack bar at your gigs?

If you gig, it has to be an event. This new focus on musicians trying to monetize gigging again could actually be a really good thing – fewer doleful perfunctory performances, fewer tours where every night is identical. For those of us doing the indie thing, we need to be creative in making our gigs a proper night out – house concerts are great for this. A house concert has the potential to be a really special event. Lo. and I have done a number of them over the last year where the hosts have told us that months later people still ask them every time they see them when they are next going to have us back. I’m guessing that hasn’t been happening quite so much at the clubs we’ve played at (though you never know, we are rather good. ;o)

That said, I’m still loathe to let go of the wonder of recorded music, resigning it to being a give-away to entice people to shows or to get clicks on google ads, even though increasingly it seems that’s the way we’re being lead…

This became a reality for me a couple of days ago when I signed up for the new Last.fm venture to give free music to their subscribers and pay the artists in ad-sharing – it’s the first time I’m accepted an advertising revenue sharing deal… Why? Cos I’m making money for them via ads whether I take it or not. I either have my share, or they do, or I remove my music. That doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do with a site as cool as last.fm, so I’m in. But it does feel a bit weird. I guess I can console myself with the thought that unless you lovely readers all head over there and listen to loads of my streamed from their site I’m going to be making about 10c a year…

One last thing for now – for us indies, Cds aren’t going anywhere while we’re still playin live shows. People want to buy music, take a piece of it home – like the fluffy indonesian Simba that the peeps here in NYC pick up for $15 after seeing the Lion King, folks want to get some discs to listen to in the car on the way home. I wonder what the first technology that allows for the easy buying of downloads at gigs will be? a USB still is just a posh CD – what about actual transfer to iPod/phone/whatever?

In other news, I just extended my stay in NYC due to me feeling a bit too ill to fly back to London tomorrow, so I’ll be back early next week…

(Oh, Jeff Schmidt, you need to email James at futuremusictalk and get your blog on the list…)

Tags: cool links · Geek · New Music Strategies

Early Christmas presents – your virtual gifts here…

November 20th, 2007 · Comments Off on Early Christmas presents – your virtual gifts here…

It’s something we’ve done in a small way over in the forum for a couple of years, but I thought I’d copy it over here as a comment thread this year – giving Christmas presents is often expensive and perhaps almost as often, pointless. You spend ages trying to find something that is adequate as a gift, not that is either useful or of benefit, or something where the purchasing in the first place is for the greater good…

We can talk about fair trade presents (and beautiful solo bass cds) later but for now, we’re looking for free online pressies. They can be as simple as recommendations for cool websites, or links to sites with free (legal) MP3s, or cartoons, films. Please don’t post links to anything where the legality or morality of the derivation is questionable, like MP3 blogs not sanctioned by the artists etc. but links to last.fm pages with free mp3s are good, or even last.fm pages where albums are streamable if not downloadable.

This is your chance to offer a free gift of something fun and useful and artsy and cool to all the readers of this ‘ere blog…

So here are my three for you – one or two of which I may have mentioned before –

The End of Control – on ongoing ebook, readable as a blog or downloadable as PDF chapters, on the changes in the music industry.
Free Culture – another e-book about the nature of copyright, ownership and the proliferation of ideas and content in a digital age.
New Music Strategies – a third e-book about the changes in the music industry. More deeply thought out stuff on where it’s all going.

So there you go, three books for Christmas (or for you Americans, you can see them as a Thanksgiving present too, should you wish to, along with this thought and this thought about what Thanksgiving is).

So post away, comments are open – give a freebie web-gift for Christmas! :o)

Tags: cool links · New Music Strategies · Random Catchup · tips for musicians · website recommendations

Mike Watt gets it right (or why Econo-touring is the way to go!)

November 8th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Punk bass Godfather Mike Watt has an expression for low-budget touring – he calls it ‘jamming econo’ (the recent film on the history of his seminal band The Minutemen is called We Jam Econo).

As a solo bassist, I don’t really have much choice but to jam econo – it’s not like I’m at the big budget tours end of the gigging spectrum, so it’s low cost all the way. But it would be a mistake to feel short changed and to aspire to the hotels ‘n’ limos end of things, as the econo-life brings with it a whole host of adventures that you just don’t find in hotels.

I’m just back from a less-than-two-day jaunt to Madrid, to play a show and a masterclass with Spanish bassist Charlie Moreno – Charlie’s an excellent bassist and has become a good friend over the times we’ve met on shows, and he helped Lo. and I to find a couple of shows in Madrid back in March.

He booked a show for the two of us at a cool venue in Madrid, on Tuesday. We had planned to do three or four shows, but the vagaries of concert booking took over and it became one show. So econo was clearly the only way to go. It meant that I couldn’t afford to get the train there, so I had to opt for a short-haul flight – something I’m generally loath to do, but was kinda stuck… So I flew into Madrid, got the metro to Dani’s house (Dani is the singer in Nonno), hung out, got lunch, and then Charlie arrived and we headed to the venue. The masterclass shifted emphasis as a fair few of the people there weren’t bassists, so I got to talk a bit more about what looping allows a performer to do, and how it changes the relationship between performer and audience as compared to using a backing track or triggered samples. Charlie did an amazing job of translating some pretty deep concepts,all of which contained myriad layers of metaphor that relied heavily on the words themselves to make sense, requiring him to work out the meaning and translate the intention into Spanish – a tough gig, but one he handled like a pro!

After the gig, Charlie had arranged for me to stay with a friend of his, who lived about a 10 Euro cab ride away (actually, I think I was stung by the cabbie, as from Carlos’ description the next day, his house was only 15 minutes walk from the club, so not the 15-20 minutes the cabbie took to get there.)

In the morning, I had breakfast and spent some time sorting out email things (my first time using a Linux Ubuntu instillation – wow! I need to get me an Ubuntu partition on one of my machines!), I also got to watch a cool Niacin live DVD, and hang out with Carlos, a sound-engineering lecturer, and badass live and recording sound-monkey, much in demand in Madrid. We went for lunch, went shopping for jeans (my fave cheapie jeans shop in the world is in Madrid) and he then came out to the airport to help me carry my bass….

…the point of all the trivial nonsense detail is that most of that is stuff I’d have had to pay some anonymous person for if I’d been flying in, staying in a hotel, eating in restaurants, travellin in a tour bus, whatever… as it was, I got to hang out with some fascinating locals, eat cheaply in cool real spanish places (not the touristy stuff on the high streets), find out more about the local scene, and get to know bunch of lovely people. AND I came home having netted a sensible amount of money on a gig that grossed less than €400. So I had a better time AND spent less money. It really was, as the saying goes ‘all good’.

It’s easy to be seduced by the BS of the industry, to be taken in by some lame record deal just cos they send a limmo to pick you up, or offered to put you up in a hotel after a showcase gig (you’ll have paid for it out of the record advance anyway…) – there is definitely something about having someone else pay for your hotel that for some weird reason makes it feel like you’ve acheived something. But it spoils the fun of touring. It really does. I’ve had so many great experiences by living the econo-life on tour, have met so many cool people, played loads of shows that I could never have played had I been demanding hotels and taxis everywhere. Instead, I keep it minimal, flexible, mobile and exciting. And everybody wins. :o)

Tags: Gig stuff · Musing on Music · tips for musicians · travel

'Too much music' – further thoughts on filters.

November 4th, 2007 · 1 Comment

As I’ve said here recently, part of the problem with the notion of limitless downloads is the basic flaw in thinking it to be a good thing.

There’s never been an easier time to record and release music as a band or solo artist – anyone and her mum can get Garage Band or Audacity and record their songs. Then via the wonders of the web, you can even do one CDR, and then get it onto iTunes etc. via the internet miracle that is CD Baby.

This is, obviously, largely a really really good thing. The problem is that of filtering, and the part of that task that both cost and record labels used to play.

See, back in the day, you recorded a demo – it was probably live in a rehearsal room. You sent it, or took it to someone at a label, and asked them to come to your gig. If they bothered to turn up, they then acted as the first filter, but were obviously also influenced by audience reaction – same as it ever was, getting your mates out to a gig can really help…

Anyway, what this meant was that little labels sprang up all over the place, specialising in different kinds of music, and acting as enthusiastic ambasadors and as filters for what was good in that scene.

That’s now gone – the labels are still there, it’s just that a lot of people (like me) don’t even bother to contact them, and lots more contact them, and after endless rejections, they convince themselves they are misunderstood geniuses and release it themselves. And some times they are right.

However, a lot of the time, it’s that the music is substandard. And, back to the point about ‘value’ having a cost, when the recording hasn’t cost you anything to make, you’re automatically going to be less disposed towards making sure that it’s the VERY best you can do before releasing it. If putting a record out was going to cost you 6 months wages, you’d make pretty damned sure that it was the best possible representation of what you can do. You’d probably make sure that some of that spending went on getting an engineer who knows what he’s doing, maybe even a proper producer to oversee the project. You get outside help to make sure that you were fooling yourselves into thinking that you’re legends when in fact you’re substandard MySpace-filling nonsense.

So where does that leave artists. It leaves us needing to be mindful – mindful of the pitfalls, of the potential to overestimate how good we are, mindful of the things that we’ve overlooked because we live in an immediate culture that is all about cheapness masquerading as ‘value’. We need to make sure that the record we’re putting out there is one that we believe can become the soundtrack to people’s lives.

Why? Because if we don’t, we’ve lost. We’ve lost the battle with those who are trying to reduce the place of music in our lives to something that is measured not by its quality, integrity and creativity, but by it’s all encompassing availabilty and usefullness as an advert for some other commercial process – ours or someone else’s. We abandon ourselves to a world where we don’t get the music we want or need.

That’s why I make the music I make – I make it because it’s the music I want to hear, it’s part of a way of making music that I value hugely as a listener. It’s not fundamentally about it being marketable or popular or radio friendly. It’s about me believing that I am my own target market. What kind of music do I love most? How do I go about making that music?

That’s it, that’s what I do, and that’s what the feedback I get suggests is what my audience connects with. They’re a bunch of people who have similar taste to me, and thus click with the music that I’ve made for myself.

Of course once it’s recorded I then market it, promote it, advertise it, hope it gets radio airplay, hope it makes its way onto TV and film and into the iPods and CD players of the world’s music lovers.

And what does it mean for us as fans? It means that we need filters, we need both practical filters and abstract ones. Having to go out and buy a CD is a practical filter that stops us from wasting time on music with no pedigree. It means that we tend to buy things we’ve discovered somehow via a trusted source, be that friend, radio, review, TV, whatever…

But it also limits us to that. The digital realm, at it’s best, allows us to dip in and out of the filtered world – we can listen to a radio show, hear some great new music, then immediately get onto our music buying site of choice and buy the download, if we want to hear more at higher resolution. If we want to gift that music in a nice package, or we just like having physical product, we can order the CD.

Having access to all the music in the world doesn’t help anyone, because there’s too much of it. In the same way that very few people trawl wikipedia for news – it’s almost entirely search driven, so people find info about a subject they are already interested in – but still read random news from trusted sources (I read stories about all kinds of things in The New Statesman, just because they are in there – I don’t go searching for stories on the potential for civil war in far flung places, or the plight of migrant workers in the Caribbean… I read them because the New Statesman is my filter – if they deem it important, so do I) – we need ways of filtering for QUALITY, not just STYLE. you can search on myspace or wherever for funk bands with loads of plays, and that has some kind of popularity-related filter, but that kind of interest is driven by the degree of geekiness of the band and their ability to mobilize a an e-team, not just the quality of the music…

No, we need to be mindful of how valuable our listening time is, what a great addition truly great music can make to our lives. And artists need to think about that as an aspiration – not just putting it out cos it’s cheap and easy, but genuinely writing world-beatingly great music.

It brings me back to one of the many great points in Hugh McLeod’s How To Be Creative post – “The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.” – I want to write music that changes the world. It probably won’t change all of it, but I aim to make music that is significant, of value, and that represents everything I have to say in music, and hopefully becomes part of the soundtrack to the lives of the people who hear it. Whether I’m successful in that or not is almost moot… That’s not really anything I have control over beyond aiming for it.

The important thing is the intention. Be mindful of your intentions.

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians