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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Masterclass tour finished – some thoughts on teaching…

March 21st, 2008 · 5 Comments

So the last four days have been spent touring the south of England giving masterclasses at branches of the The Academy Of Music And Sound – a chain of music schools that stretches the length of the UK, but is focussed around the south west and midlands.

Once a year they do a masterclass week, where they book two or three teachers in each of the instrumental disciplines they teach (bass, guitar, drums and vocals) to go round to the various centres and teach the students. I did it last year, they liked it, and so I was back doing it again this year.

I really love the masterclass format for teaching – being given a couple of hours in which to impart something of value to the students, hopefully something that’s different yet complimentary to what they are studying.

One thing that I decided years ago was that the ‘here’s how to play this song’ or ‘here’s how to do this technical thing’ approach was a bit of a waste of time, as it gave them one thing to learn, but because the situation is pretty much ‘hit and run’ it was a rather closed way to teach, as there’s no follow up.

So instead I look to help shape the way they think about the process of learning. How we learn is at least as important as what we learn, and I’m fascinated by what it is that makes a student want to teach them self. I try to impart a love of learning to my students, so that the question of ‘motivation’ is dealt with in their own practice room, rather than being something that is imposed in a lesson… Making people feel guilty for not practicing seems to be entirely counter-productive to me, given that a) there are loads of great reasons not to have practiced in any given week, b) it’s my job to inspire them to WANT to practice, not berate them when my ability to inspire falls short, and c) the consequences of not practicing are felt in the frustration of not improving, and the guilt of disappointing ME by not practicing is just a red herring…

So what do I talk about? Well, in this series of classes I started out be defining what I mean by ‘Bass 2.0’ in describing what I do – the idea that for much of the history of the instrument, the bass guitar has been defined by the role it takes in pop music, limiting it to what it ‘should’ do, rather than allowing your imagination to explore what’s possible. That’s Bass 1.0. Bass 2.0 detaches the lump of wood and magnets and graphite and strings that is ‘the bass guitar’ from any preconceptions about what it ‘should’ do and instead explores what’s possible with it, just thinking of it as a sound-source, albeit one where the craftsmen making a lot of basses have maximised its physical properties to emphasise that low end function…

The reason for that as a starting point is that it gets us thinking about music first – the instrument becomes a vehicle, a voice, a medium for channeling the music we hear in our heads.

And where does that music come from? What is it about the music that we love, that we’re proper FANS of, that amazes us, wows us, makes us buy t-shirts and posters, makes us dress like the band and pay lots of extra cash for the limited edition boxed set, rather than putting up with the phone-cam footage on youtube?

Thinking about music from that point of view causes us to consider the importance of music and to readjust our sights: It makes us want our music to have that significance. To write music that changes the world. Whether or not your music actually changes the world is moot, and certainly no concern of anyone else but you. The point is to aim to be to our audience what the music that changed our life is to us. To write and play music that makes them feel the way we feel when we’re willing to travel a hundred miles and pay £50 a ticket to see the band.

Why? Because anything short of that is selling ourselves short, and that kind of impact doesn’t happen by accident. You can’t MAKE it happen, any more than you can make yourself successful, but showing up is vital, being on the right journey, aiming in the right direction, focussing on the things that matter – it may well not happen even if you do all that, but it’ll definitely not happen if you don’t, and for us as musicians the journey is the goal. We can only influence the journey not the destination.

So we aim to change the world. We aim to soundtrack the lives of our audience. How on earth do we do that, given that it’s impossible to second-guess what our audiences want or need or will ‘get’. We soundtrack our own world and invite people to share the soundtrack. The only person in the entire world whose feelings I can assess with any level of accuracy or intimacy are my own. So my process for writing music is to write the music that I want to hear, that I need to hear, that soundtracks the world in a way that helps me make sense of it. And I then invite people to share in that.

Lots of people won’t get it, won’t like it, and that’s fine – I’m not really concerned with whether or not they like it. Marketing this stuff is about giving people an opportunity to hear it and an entry point to understanding where it’s coming from. Beyond that, you let go.

So given that as an aim, our approach to learning the instrument is two fold – we’re developing AWARENESS and CONTROL. An awareness of what music can do, how it makes us feel, how it relates to our world, and then the control to make that happen, to produce that music. To have an awareness of the nuance of a particular style/song/instrument/amplifier etc, and to develop the technical ability to utilise that nuance to make you feel the way that music should make you feel.. The sound with which we make music is like our language and accent – if I screw up the grammar when I’m speaking, it obscures the thought I’m trying to communicate. If my accent is so thick that native speakers struggle to understand me, they’re not going to be drawn in by my thoughts as easily as if I spoke in a clear and compelling style.

So our technical instrumental ability is about developing that clarity, skill, breadth and depth. About learning how to be compelling, convincing, and emotive. Impressing people with instrumental skill isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not everything, any more than long words carry any intrinsic importance. Great orators are wonderful to listen to, but stand or fall on the ideas they are communicating. Same with musicians – great technicians are a joy to hear, but if the music itself isn’t there, we’re going to switch off.

And our technical practice becomes more important, not less, it’s just no longer an end in itself. Context becomes paramount, dexterity and speed become subservient to nuance, control and expressive articulation. New technical ideas stand or fall on their ability to add to your sonic palette in a meaningful way.

Of course, none of this means anything – nor should it – to the people listening to what you do. They’re either going to dig it or not dig it. It doesn’t mean you’re a genius if they do dig it, and it doesn’t mean your shit if they don’t. It’s all about the journey not the destination, and you’re inviting listeners to share in that, to take from it that which makes sense to them, that which enhances the sound-world they live in.

So in a masterclass situation, I encourage the students to want to change the world, to love their instrument and its history but to remember that that’s vital to them but not to the people they’re playing to. I exhort them to listen and learn and play and improvise and write as though their life depended on it. To be mindful of what they want from music, what they want it to do for them, and to work towards that. To see the world of music as a big sand-pit to play in rather than a business venture to succeed in or a body of knowledge that needs ‘conquering’ before their contribution is validated.

What does music mean to you when you’re not playing it? How can you make music that makes you feel the way that music makes you feel? There’s a process in there, a journey, a whole load of exploration and mistakes and discovery and joy and frustration and great gigs and crap gigs and hours on your own in a room practicing and days spent wrestling with ideas in a band. Do it because you love it, because it’s too important to ignore, and don’t listen to the voices of those who WANT to dislike it. Screw ’em.

And somewhere in all that I demonstrate a load of right hand tonal variations, play a couple of tunes – on this trip, having Lobelia with me made SUCH a difference, being able to demo some of the concepts in a song rather than an instrumental. We played Black Hole Sun, looped the vocals, and I then talked about how we listen to music when we can’t see it – on the radio nobody cares that I’m playing a fretless bass. they’re only going to notice if I go out of tune. It just has to be ‘good’ – and make them laugh, answer questions and invariably explain how an ebow works.

And all that in two hours. :o)

Is there any of this you’d like me to expand on? Add it in the comments below. And if you were at one of the classes, feel free to contribute here, or over in the forum.

Tags: bass ideas · Music News · Musing on Music · teaching news · tips for musicians

Michael Manring and I on video…

February 16th, 2008 · Comments Off on Michael Manring and I on video…

Here’s another video from the gig in Santa Cruz – this one is of Michael Manring and I. It’s the second half of a REALLY long improv, and goes through about 5 or 6 big changes of direction, all seemlessly transitioned, thanks to the magic of the Looperlative.

Michael and I have been playing together for about 7 years, touring in England or California. We’ve never played together not on stage, and have only once or twice even vaguely discussed what we were going to do before a song, and that was usually because there was some hidden comedy element that one of us had come up with… We just get on stage, smile and start playing, and see where the muse takes us. It’s proper ‘pan-idiomatic’ improv (thanks to David Torn for the description) – it goes through any genre or idiom of music that we choose to steer it, from folk to metal, avante garde to funk, minimalist to contrapuntal neo-fugues…

Anway, here’s the video – it’s a lot of fun, but sounds pretty muddled on laptop speakers. Break out the headphones, or plug into a hifi to get some idea of what we were actually doing!

Tags: cool links · Music News

Traveling with music gear – prepare for the worst!

February 3rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Traveling with music gear – prepare for the worst!

One of the favourite points of discussion amongst touring musicians is the whole twisted world of planes and instruments. From baggage limits to carry-on details, plane-side checking of bags, to buying extra seats for cellos, there are a million different takes on it, thanks to airline policy being so utterly baffling most of the time.

For years, I travelled everywhere with my bass in a standard lightweight gig-bag, and took it onto the plane. I even managed to get my bass onto Ryanair flights, but smiling, looking horrified if they suggested checking it, and in one instance, having a friend hold it while I checked in my luggage, but then taking it with me through the screening thing…

then a couple of years ago things started to tighten up, initially, i think, due to fuel price increases (and the ensuing panick about plane weight) and then it all went nuts after the london bombing (it had actually settled down a lot after Sept 11th, only to be reignited by London).

At that point, I switched to a foam bass case – I serendipitously lucked into a really nice lightweight case when a student of mine wanted me to help him sell his bass, which I did on the condition that I could keep the foam case and sell it with a gig bag instead… So I had that for a couple of years, and a great case it was too.

Then last year at NAMM, I picked up an InCase gig-bag – it’s a backpack style gig-bag, with shoulder and waist straps, but is more than padded enough to go in the hold. Since then I’ve been checking my bass in the hold, but carrying my rack-gear in a carry-on suitcase, and it’s proved to be pretty effective – no damage at all to my bass since I started doing it, and the case itself is holding up really well too.

Effective, that is, until flying back from California to Ohio, and the plane being completely full, so they checked my carry-on suitcase in the hold, and not via the usual ‘pick it up on the gangway’ method, but actually sending it through via checked baggage to my destination.

Because it was intended as hand luggage, I hadn’t packed the stuff in it all that well, and was pretty horrified by the idea of them checking it. I kicked up a fuss, told them what the contents were worth, but after a half-hearted attempt to find space in the plane, my bag was taken and checked.

I got off lightly, really – at the other end there were some marks on the faceplates of both the Looperlatives, but all the gear in it works fine.

It could’ve been a lot worse. A LOT worse. So what’s the moral of the story? Prepare for the worst. That’s part of the reason I started checking my basses in the first place – just couldn’t risk them putting a gig bag in the hold again. But now I need to do the same with my carry-on bag. Wrap the gear in clothes or towels, pack everything tight so it doesn’t rattle, and make sure that your travel gear is as SMALL AS IT CAN BE. I have a friend from California who toured Europe a couple of years ago, and got stung with a MASSIVE baggage overweight fee on the way from Sweden to Scotland… The worst I’ve had is about £30 on the way from London to Italy, back when I was trying to carry two Echoplexes in my bag (those things weighed a tonne!)… There are loads of bits of gear I’d dearly love to check out and use, but I stay away from as I don’t want my rig to become non-portable. and portable means ‘can fly with it on a cheap-ass airline’.

Anyway, for reference, if you’re flying in Europe, Easyjet have a ‘no weight limit on hand baggage within reason’ thing going on – if your bag fits the size restriction, they let you take it on. I think it’s because it saves them money on ground staff dealing with checked luggage, but it’s great for us, as you can pack the heavy fragile shit into your hand luggage. No such generosities from Ryanair, who have very tight weight limits.

Within the US, limits are generally much more generous than in Europe, but it’s definitely worth checking on policies, and PREPARE FOR THE WORST.

Also, for the americans reading this, you may well find that trains in Europe work out cheaper and easier than planes – there are no baggage weight limits (though if you turned up with 15 basses and a couple of ampeg stacks, you’ll probably get stopped!), and your gear stays near you. Look into Eurail passes for touring – it’s a great way to get to see the continent, and you aren’t penalised for changing your travel plans if a gig gets cancelled or swapped like you would be if you’d booked it all by plane…

Tags: tips for musicians · travel

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

web ubiquity – web 2.0 smarts for musicians

October 22nd, 2007 · Comments Off on web ubiquity – web 2.0 smarts for musicians

I don’t know if you ever look at the stats for your website, but a HUGE amount of the traffic that my site and my blog get are from search engines. Google is the heart of the way most people use the web. This is no bad thing, but it does mean that presenting a website that’s designed to trap information within it in the vain hope that people will love you enough to type your URL into their address bar every morning only to find that you’ve added nothing, or maybe one gig on another continent to them isn’t going to work.

No, one of the most important aspects of the shift from scarcity to ubiquity is that it’s not just about proliferation of recorded music. In fact, i’d go s far as to say that information about you, and the proliferation of your brand over and above the music is even more important, as it generates interest in the music before people have even iistened, and helps to frame their listening in some way.

This is why being everywhere is vital in web-world. So here’s vol. I of a short list of tasks you can do yourselves, without needing a webmaster to sort it out for you:

  • Get a Flickr account – free photohosting and a whole lot more. Flickr is a huge community of visually minded web people, who love seeing well-taken pictures of bands and gigs and touring and all the interesting stuff in your life. Start a second unpaid career as a photojournalist, link to it from your website, and let your audience into a little of the visual side of your world.
  • Sign up for a last.fm user account – your music is already on there, right? Well, there are two ways to use last.fm – one is uploading music, the other is logging what you listen to. it’s a great way to give your audience a handle on the music that makes you tick, and also to give props and some publicity to the great stuff that you’re listening to. Add one of the last.fm widgets to your site so people can see at a glance what you’re listening to this week. Last.fm also has a journal section, so you can post reviews of what your friends and heroes are up to – share the love!
  • Youtube – start your own channel, and get some videos up on there. Don’t just leave it to people with phone-cams to post crap, get some footage up there, and preferably something of you talking too. For some reason people are fascinated by what musicians’ voices sound like when they talk. Weird, but true.
  • Sign up for facebook – yeah, I know, it’s for college kids trying to pick up hotties and tragic 30 somethings who think it’s the cooler version of friends reunited for hooking up with your childhood sweetheart. Right, but it’s also got a whole shedload of useful things for connecting with your friends, peers and audience who are also probably on there. You can put your myspace player on there, your last.fm profile, your reverb nation widget so people can listen to you, and RSS feeds of whatever other information you are generating. Which brings us to our last one…
  • start a blog! You’re reading this, that proves they work. You can blog about all kinds of things – when you’re working a lot, just short updates on tour highlights, or excitement in the studio – post links to your flickr pics and youtube vids for the full interactive experience. When you’re not so busy, or have a little bit of time, use it to big up the people you play with. Musicians can be so damned self-obsessed that they never bother to give back the kind of recognition they so readily crave and grasp at for themselves. Come on, if you’ve got a platform, use it to help everyone out. It’s good for all of us.

when you do, make sure you get accurate stats about what’s going on with your blog and site, and do the same for any RSS feeds you’ve got going on. And don’t be disheartened if you have 10 readers a week for the first while. Blog proliferation is often slow and steady, just keep blogging about interesting stuff, get it registered with Technorati so that they get updates from it and people can find you on searches, add social bookmarking tags (pretty easy to do in Moveable Type and WordPress at least, or addable to your feed via Feedburner), so people can share the love, and link back to all your favourite reads, so they get some of the love too…

I often get asked how it is that i seem to be everywhere in the online bass and looping world, and the truth is that it’s just been through constant involvement in those online communities for over 10 years. For a couple of years, I was the only bass teacher in europe with his own website, was one of the first solo bassists to get music up online, was one of the first featured pros on talkbass, a regular contributor to loopers-delight, and crucially, had some fine music for people to check out when they cam back to my site… i was a little late in the game on MySpace, pretty early at last.fm, very slow to get with flickr and stumbleupon… I also for years kept an archive of all the articles i’d written for bassist magazine on my site, which brings us full circle back to Google at the heart of the web – I used to get SOOO much traffic via that. I only took it down cos I changed servers and the Database that it was running in was incompatible with the new server. That’s why I’m reposting the best of the interviews here…

Regardless on your feelings about the proliferation of digital recordings, ubiquity online is unquestionably a good thing for a musician. But it takes time and effort, and isn’t the kind of thing that happens over night. If you’re savvy, it shouldn’t take 10 years of online geeking like it did for me, but it will take some time. The alternative is to pay some web designer somewhere £25 an hour to do it all for you, and if that’s your preferred route, I know a couple of lovely friendly geeks who will happily take your money from you. :o)

Tags: cool links · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Doug Pinnick interview from March 1999

October 16th, 2007 · Comments Off on Doug Pinnick interview from March 1999

I’ve just been listening to King’s X, which reminded me I’ve yet to re-post my interview with Doug Pinnick. Doug has been one of my biggest bass heroes since I first heard Out Of The Silent Planet back in the late 80s – I was and still am a massive King’s X fan, so interviewing him was a bit of a dream come true. And it was made all the more enjoyable and memorable by the kind of conversation we had – he’d just come out as gay, which had massively upset the conservative end of their christian fanbase in the US, but on the upside had inspired an amazing album in Dogman… So we talked about all kinds of stuff – american culture, theology, bigotry, etc. etc. for hours. And with about half an hour to go i remembered that i was supposed to be getting a load of information for bass geeks, and that’s what this bit is! I’ve probably got the tape somewhere with the rest of it on, and maybe one day I’ll get round to typing it up, will run it by Doug and put it up somewhere if he’s OK with it… But for now, here’s the bassy bit of the interview, which is still pretty interesting! :o)


At the tail end of the 80s, the rock world underwent a bit of a shake up, as a handful of groups arrived on the scene, combining hard rocking guitars with such disparate elements as soulful vocal harmonies, funky bass lines and a sharp line in observational lyrics that were a far cry from the sword ‘n’ sorcery stuff that most of the HM fraternity were prone to churning out.

Bands such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Living Colour, Faith No More and, of course, Kings X, took over the pages of both the metal mags and the ‘serious’ music weeklies, hailed as the saviours of hard rock, and, for the most part, made a sizeable dent in the charts.

However, despite combining crushingly heavy guitar riffs with radio-friendly three-part harmony vocals, and enjoying some very favourable reviews, Kings X have so far managed to skirt round the edge of the mainstream without yet finding that elusive crossover hit.

Now, with a new King’s X album, ‘Tape Head’, in the shops and ‘Massive Grooves” by Doug’s solo project, Poundhound available, Kings X are finally coming back to the UK.

‘I always wanted to play bass, for as long as I can remember,’ begins Doug. ‘Eventually, I got lucky – a friend of mine gave me a bass. I grew up in the ghetto, and we were pretty poor. I never even thought I’d be able to play but this friend of mine loaned it to me and I wouldn’t give it back to him! I started playing and I was so happy! I mean, just one note made me ecstatic, and from that day on I’ve just played and I love it! I don’t remember learning how or really working at it because, even though I did, it was so much fun. Every new lick, every new note, was like “yeah!”‘

Thus begins the tale. But what kind of things were you playing along to back then?

‘It was the early 70s when I started playing bass, so I jammed along with records by Led Zeppelin, Sly And The Family Stone, Deep Purple, Yes, Kansas – that kind of stuff. I was a music-aholic! Anything I bought I would put on and play along and try to learn the licks. I did that for about two years and then started playing in bands. After that I never tried to copy anybody else – I was too busy having fun, writing music and stuff.’

What were those first bands like?

‘They were all pretty much garage bands. I wanted to just play bass but ended up singing in all of them. I thought each band was going to make it, but they all sucked! It was a good learning experience!’

How did you make the jump from garage band to Kings X?

‘I moved to Springfield, Missouri, to look for work and I met Jerry (Gaskill: KX drummer), and Ty (Tabor: KX guitarist). We formed a four piece with another guitarist for a couple of years, but it soon became evident that we were meant to be a trio!

‘After that, we played cover tunes for about five years, and then moved to Texas. We had dealings with a couple of small Christian labels before signing to MegaForce/Atlantic and releasing the first Kings X album. Since then we’ve been making records, doing gigs and going through everything everybody else goes through.’

That is, if “everything everybody else goes through” is releasing seven critically acclaimed albums, and doing regular arena tours both as headline act and as support act to some of the biggest names in rock!

There was a big change in the Kings X sound with 1994’s “Dogman” album. What happened?

‘Sam Taylor, who produced our first four albums, had a big influence on our sound, but he never managed to capture on record how heavy we are live. When he left us after “Kings X”, we got Brendan O’Brien in to do “Dogman”. He’s one of my favourite producers. He gets a really dry mix, and that’s what I wanted to go for. There’s one song on “Dogman” called Black The Sky, that is now my standard to mix to. That’s the sound on the Poundhound album – big and fat – more like our live sound’huge!’

Anyone doubting just how huge the Kings X live sound is should take a quick look at Doug’s live rig. Any queries will soon be laid to rest:

‘I use 6 Ampeg SVT 8×10 cabinets and I’ve got two double stereo Ampeg power amps – you can hook eight speakers up to each amp. They’re split in half with two electrical plugs on each amp, to cope with the power! I use an SVT pre-amp for my low end and a Fender Dual Showman for the high end, then run them both into a little mixer, through an EQ and into the power amps. Then I turn it up!!

‘People ask why I use so many cabs. It’s mainly because I like to get 40Hz and lower, to get that church organ kind of sound, so that when I hit a low note there’s that rumble that just shakes the building!’

You’ve been long associated with Hamer basses, and particularly with their 12-strings. I guess you were a Cheap Trick fan?

‘Yes, Cheap Trick was one of my favourite bands, and Tom Pederson is still one of my favourite bassists. We opened for them when “Out Of The Silent Planet” came out, and he let me play one of his 12-strings. Even though it was right-handed, it felt and sounded amazing, and he said, ‘just call Hamer up and get one.’

‘Hamer wanted to work with (King’s X guitarist) Ty’ and I said ‘What about me?!’. They replied, ‘We’ll make you some basses too, Doug!’, so I started using the 12-strings. The company started getting calls from people saying they’d see us play and were interested in them, so Hamer were quite happy to keep the thing going.

‘Ever since then, I’ve been using Hamers. They’ve made me about 12 basses, all of which have been custom-built for me. I have really long hands so I go for wide but shallow necks. I also have Seymour Duncan pickups with a power booster inside, so anything I plug into distorts. It’s my sound. The bass, the amp, the strings – which are DRs – and my hands’that’s my sound.’

Recently though, you’ve reverted to four stings’

‘On the last two Kings X albums, and even the Poundhound album, I’ve used predominantly a four-string. The 12-string is a weird animal to play, it didn’t quite fit with some of the Kings X stuff. Ty felt that it weakened the sound of his guitar, and I finally got tired of the power struggle and gave in for the sake of the overall sound. If I write a song on the 12-string then I can work the rest of the sound around it. Like Jeff Ament did on Jeremy with Pearl Jam – the 12-string carries the whole song. Human Behaviour on “Dogman” and Faith Hope Love were both written and recorded on the 12-string. I can actually play the whole of Faith Hope Love with the harmonics and arpeggios and everything on the 12-string, I don’t even need the guitar!!’

Kings X have always been known as a musicians’ band, and have been more influential than your record sales might suggest. Is that frustrating?

‘Not really. It’s great to be recognised by other musicians and we’ll always go down as the musicians’ band. It’s amazing how our name comes up in the strangest places. All across the board – jazz musicians, pop musicians and everything. But we’ve still never sold that many records. I think that was down to bad promotion. When ‘Dogman’ was released, New York radio stations were playing the title track all the time and we sold more records there than anywhere, but there still wasn’t a major single release of any of the tracks.

‘Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam was quoted on MTV as saying that as far as he’s concerned, King’s X invented grunge! When “Out Of The Silent Planet” came out, no-one else seemed to be doing D-tuned riffing like that. Then we went away for 18 months touring, got home and everyone was D-tuning, which was weird. We’re just one of those quirky weird bands, like Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Faith No More that were around in the late 80s, so I feel we were inspirational somewhere along the line.

‘As far as influencing bassists is concerned, I think my tone is what I’m known for, which is fine by me. Chris Squire from Yes is my hero, and he had such a great tone. Roundabout and America were two of the first tunes I ever really sat down to work out all the way through.

‘I’m not really impressed by fast players any more. I don’t cut them down, because that takes a lot of work. I admire someone like Yngwie Malmsteen who can sit and play like that, but I’ve stopped writing to be clever, the gigs were ending up too much like hard work!’

With Kings X signed to a new label and things looking rosy for the band, why choose now to start a solo project?

‘I’ve written about 100 songs in the last two years, and when I write for Kings X there are usually a few songs that don’t work in that format, so as an outlet I decided to do my own record. The album is out on Metal Blade, with me playing bass and guitar and do all the vocals with a few different drummers. It’s the dark side of King’s X.

‘Most of the material is real heavy but melodic as well. I’ve gone for something between Sly Stone and Hendrix, using the C-tuned/B-tuned Kings X style riffs, but with a kind of Neil Young approach too, sometimes. I’m making it real rootsy. I’ve got all the guitars tuned down to C, so it’s real low but with my usual Gospel-y vocals. It’s completely me, this is my record. I’m a control freak and this is my way of doing everything.’

Tags: journalism

Todd Reynolds' EP…

September 19th, 2007 · 3 Comments

Those of you who saw Todd Reynolds play at the Recycle Collective last year already know what a genius he is, but for those of you who don’t, you owe it to yourselves to head over to the CDbaby page for his new EP and have a listen to the previews – layer upon layer of beautiful violin playing, looped and processed into a gorgeous soundtrack, bearing the influence of both his many years in Steve Reich’s ensemble and his time with Bang On A Can.

More recently, Todd’s been touring with the cooler-than-cool The Books, both opening the shows on his own, and playing with them in their set. He’s all set to become huge, and you’ve got the chance to get his EP now ($6 – that’s £3, for 3 really great tracks, which are a lot longer than your average pop single too) – go over to the CDbaby page, have a listen, but it, then come back and thank me… :o)

Tags: music reviews

new track up on Myspace page… finally!

July 16th, 2007 · Comments Off on new track up on Myspace page… finally!

I know, I know – with all this talk of us touring and gigging across Europe and the US, y’all have been wanting to hear some of the duo-loveliness with Lobelia – well, there are now two tracks for you to listen to. Firstly on my myspace page there’s a track of L’s called ‘Happy’, which has been given the Stevie-loopage makeover. It’s a great song anyway, and suits my tinkering rather well..

The other is on L’s myspace page and is a version of Black Hole Sun – it’s the arrangement that Cleveland Watkiss and I first came up with ages ago, that Julie and I used at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest last year, and which L adds her own lovely flava to… Good work, fiddy!

Which all means we’ve got work to do on getting this live album together in the next couple of months…

Tags: Music News

John Lester at the 606

December 5th, 2006 · Comments Off on John Lester at the 606

Fine gig last night – John Lester was launching his new album, So Many Reasons, last night at the 606 in Chelsea. His band was him, Theo Travis on sax, flutes and marvellousness, Andy Hamill on bass and magicalness and Roy Dodds on drums, percussion and groove-based tremendousness. And then, in the second set, me for two tunes. No looping, no Ebow, no fretless, no big delays… just my 6 string fretted and some rather fun jazz guitar parts. I played on Union Street (which is one of my favourite songs of John’s – no mean feat in a set packed with favourite songs of mine) and Good Intentions, another great song off the new album.

Ever since I started playing solo I’ve wanted to be in a position to give other people a leg up. It’s what I want people to do for me, and in the spirit of ‘do unto others as you’d have them do unto you’ (what wise-ass came up with that? pretty simple formula for changing the world, huh?) I have always wanted to use whatever meagre platform I have to give other musicians a boost. And John is probably the best example of that, even though it was through a tour with Michael Manring that the push came about (and I always pull much bigger crowds when I tour with Michael, for some inexplicable reason… ;o) – anyway, John came out and opened for Michael and I on a bunch of gigs, and was quite frankly awesome. Awesometacular, if you will. He sold a shedload of CDs, won himself an army of new fans, and it helped to establish him in some way in London. Since then – with no help from me at all! – he’s been touring and playing bass for Gretchen Peters, where he plays in her band and opens the show, blowing away audiences night after night, and winning himself so many new fans along the way. He’s a great performer and great songwriter, and last night he had the cream of London’s musicians playing with him – Andy’s one of my favourite bassists in the world, Theo’s, well Theo, i don’t think he’s ever played a bit of music I didn’t think was outstanding, and Roy’s the perfect sensitive groovy player to be in that band. A magical evening all round.

So, now go and get John’s CD, from his website, or at least have a listen to some tracks on his myspace page.

Finally, a blog post that doesn’t feature a video from the 80s… hang on, gimme a minute here, I’ll find one for you…

Tags: Musing on Music

How tired am I???

November 2nd, 2006 · Comments Off on How tired am I???

Well, two days of doing not much since getting back, and I’m still exhausted! I’d forgotten just how tiring this kind of touring is, especially carrying all the stuff on trains… I’m recovering, but slowly.

So not much to blog about in my life, so i thought I’d rant about Trick Or Treat. Is it really wise to teach kids that threatening people who don’t give you sweets is a good thing?? Or that going round door to door asking for sweets is a good thing anyway?

As a kid I was told that Halloween was evil because of the association with the occult and all that stuff – not something I’m all that bothered by now. But giving kids a reason to go round demanding stuff on pain of some kind of ‘trick’ has to be a bad idea, given that number of rather more harmful parallel activities too many kids are already getting into.

In the US, according to TAFKASJ, kids of ‘no concept of the “Trick” part of it’ – they just go round the houses collecting sweets (or ‘candy’, I guess with it being america). So it’s about gluttony rather than the threatening part of it, the expectation that the fun neighbours are the ones who give you sweets, and only a miserable bastard would withhold candy from the kids.

As someone who would seriously not want my kids (were I to have any) to be given sweets by anyone, let alone strangers, the idea of a national holiday built around the idea that the best halloween you can have is one where you get loads of sweets doesn’t work for me at all. Dressing up is great fun, parties are cool – it’s not that I’m anti-fun, far from it. It’s just a shame that the fun seems to revolve around filling kids’ stomachs with borderline inedible sugar and chemical concoctions in vast quantities. No wonder there’s a childhood obesity crisis in the US and the UK.

So whether it’s threatening people who don’t give you sweets, judging neighbours by how much candy they produce or filling your face with millions of nasty sweets, it just doesn’t work for me on any level, and certainly doesn’t seem to be setting up these kids for any kind of positive view of anything. I’ve come full circle from when I was a kid – we’d do none of the ghost stuff and all of the sweets and toffee apples… now, I’ve got no problem with the ghost stories, but will avoid the gluttony at all costs…

…maybe we should all just celebrate samhain instead?

Tags: Random Catchup