Bass 2.0?

The “…2.0” suffix is being widely used to denote a significant leap forward from the first version of something, inspired by the description of changes in the way the web is used and perceived as ‘Web 2.0’. So we now have Media 2.0, Music 2.0 etc… It’s quite a useful shorthand, if a little nebulous, but it did make me wonder if it would work as a way of describing what I’m up to musically – Bass 2.0 – Bass 1.0 being the use of instruments within the bass family as defined by their role as ‘the bass’ within the music, and then the extensions on from that (taking that role and expanding on it, making it more twiddly, but still sitting well within the tradition of what’s expected of a bass instrument.)

Bass 2.0, as I see it, is where the role becomes something entirely separate from the instrument.

Q: What makes the bass an instrument distinct from the guitar, and why is that important?

The instrument is defined by it’s place within the lineage of bass guitar luthiery, the descendants of Leo Fender’s Precision and Jazz, which set the parameters for scale length and string spacing in place, no matter how many strings. String spacing can be tighter or wider, and scale length moves around, but even then it’s defined by it’s relation to the standard – short scale, long scale, etc.

So it’s a different family of instruments, originally designed with a particular role in mind, but now designed to be more of a blank slate, maximising the tone-shaping potential via electronics, and accentuating certain resonant characteristics via advanced building methods.

For quite a while, people playing bass as a solo or melody instrument did so very much within the lineage of the role – there was a continuum between what bass guitarists (instrumentalists) did as ‘bass players’ (music functionalists) – even Jaco stayed largely in that world, in that there’s very little of what he did that is unrecognisable as a bass as we know it (though I can’t even begin to imagine what it must’ve been like to hear ‘Portrait Of Tracey’ when his self-titled debut first came out…!)

The first person that I’m aware of to really take a ‘Bass 2.0’ approach to the instrument was Michael Manring – the redesign of the basic properties of the instrument that he and Joe Zon did to create the hyperbass have yet to be surpassed or even matched in terms of what possible in extending the possibilities of the 4 string bass (interesting the the most radical bass design ever is still a 4-string.)

There’s some stuff on his album ‘Drastic Measures’ that hints at what’s possible, but it’s his next three solo albums – Thonk, Book Of Flame and Soliloquy – that as a trilogy set the standard for Bass 2.0 – music conceived from the mind of someone who is very much a bassist, but who uses the instrument as a tool to create incredible music, rather than turning ‘bass playing’ into a circus trick or parlour game by just doing the same old shit faster and twiddlier than anyone else.

Where does my music fit into this? Well, i was deeply influenced by Michael’s ideas, even before I’d ever heard him, and took ‘Thonk’ as a green light to move away from the slapping and tapping I’d been doing before (even though there’s loads of slapping and tapping on Thonk) and do my own thing. It was a few years before I played a solo show, but as I’ve mentioned here before, the concept for my solo music was in place by the time I did my first gig (the track ‘Chance’ on And Nothing But The Bass is taken from that very first gig.)

And I’ve been trying to build on that ever since, holding in juxtaposition my love of the bass, it’s history, it’s place in the last 50 years of popular music with my desire to make the music i hear in my head. Tellingly, very few of my influences are bassists, because it’s always been about music first. Most of the ideas I take from bassists are physical ideas rather than compositional or emotional ones – the stuff that really counts.

And of course, within Bass 2.0 there’s an even deeper understanding of what the bass does when it’s being ‘the bass’ – I talk about this a lot when I’m doing looping masterclasses etc. – when I started playing solo, there was a fear projected onto me by some ‘older and wiser’ musicians who suggested that it would spoil my ‘normal’ playing, that I’d lose the joy of playing simple lines because i’d always be wanting to take solos and play melodies. In reality that couldn’t be further from the truth – because i spend my days thinking in layers, I’m happier than ever to just be one of those layers, to play the simple bass parts that hold everything else together. I haven’t had that many chances to do it of late, which made last night’s gig with John Lester at the 606 all the more frustrating, as I couldn’t hear John’s guitar at all, so wasn’t able to play with the level of confidence that his music really needs. It wasn’t rubbish by any stretch, just not as on it as it should’ve been… Shame, cos the rest of the gig was amazing.

Anyway, so, Bass 2.0 seems to be a nice way of categorising a desire to take the bass instrument to new places musically – there are certain tonal things that the physical size, shape and string length of the instrument allow that mean that even things that ‘sound like guitar’ or ‘sound like a synth’ have a unique quality to them…

Loop-Fests and non-music-specific music communities

It’s Loop Fest season again – firstly the daddy of them all, the Y2KLoopFest in Santa Cruz (Y2K7 this year). But this year, Andy Butler is doing a low-key thing in Norwich, which looks like fun. There have been others in Germany and other places in the states – generally smaller affairs, but seemingly most enjoyable.

Rick Walker, the organiser of the Santa Cruz fest, has done an amazing job of turning it into An Event – taking what was originally a way for he and I to do a show in Santa Cruz back in 2000 (with Michael Manring, Max Valentino, Scott Drengen and another guy who’s name completely escapes me, sadly…) and turning it into an annual event that this year has big name headliners in the form of Arild Andersen and Henry Kaiser.

A lot of the momentum for this came out of the rather-wonderful-and-at-times-all-too-serious Looper’s Delight community; a mailing list of people using looping in their music. Lots of great friendships have come from the list, and some fab collaborations (for me, I doubt I’d ever have played in California outside of the NAMM show if it wasn’t for the connection with Rick, and I also met the fabulous Luca Formentini on there too, with whom I’ve recorded a duet album that should be out some time next year).

I’ve always been a little uneasy about the idea that looping is its own genre – it clearly isn’t, any more than ‘repetitive music’ is a genre, or ‘german music’ or ‘music by freakishly tall people’. It has certain characteristics, but those are more to do with the limitations in the imagination of the user rather than any stylistic quality inbuilt in the technology. (though, thanks to the ever-wonderful Robert Fripp’s role as part-pioneer part-populariser of looping as a performance medium, a HUGE number of the loopers around are guitarists doing soundscapes, to varying degrees of success)

But that’s no bad thing – what Rick understood years ago is that audiences like a peg to hang their hat on – it doesn’t matter if it’s a loop fest or an acoustic music fest or a celebration of the music of italy or an electronic music fest – it gives the person marketing it an angle. My own hyper-sensitivity to being pigeonholed means that I bristle at the idea that what I do is defined by the technology, or that there’s some style attached to the instrument (as though solo bass is also a style or genre), but for the audience, it’s just an in road, an opening, a narrowing of focus that allows them engage with what we do, and crucially gives the media something to grab hold of.

Rick has managed to get press coverage for some pretty esoteric music, and even get the clearly-mad-mayor-of-Santa-Cruz to declare each festival day as ‘international live looping day’ (I have a mayoral proclamation hanging on my wall from the inaugural one, that most people think is some kind of weird ironic home-made christmas present. :o)

The point being, these are good things. The role of the curator is to make sure that whatever weird set of assumptions people come to these events with, the music they hear is great. There’s no such style as ‘loop music’ but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put together a coherent program of excellent music featuring looping musicians. The line up at Rick’s fests has gone from being a bunch of bassists who loop at the first one, though a period when it was largely about loopists getting together to ogle each other’s gear, to a place where he’s booking internationally known musicians (albeit from pretty esoteric scenes) for a festival of quality music. Hat’s off to his tenacity, long may it continue.

As I said a couple of weeks ago here looping is no longer a gimmick that will cover the lameness of your music but it can still work as a hook to get people through the door to hear great music.

BTW, It’s also Bass-fest season, though thus far, for the first time in years, I’ve not been invited to play at any of them… we’ll see if that changes, but it might make a nice change to be doing normal gigs at this time of year rather than playing to rooms full of bassists… They are generally enjoyable events, though meeting the people involved is mostly more interesting that listening to a lot of the music…

more on indie-musicians and the web

Spent a lovely couple of hours yesterday with Jonatha Brooke – aside from being one of the finest singer/songwriters ever to pick up a guitar, she’s also been running her own label, Bad Dog Records for most of this millennium thus far… So it was great to get to chat about what works, the frustrations and challenges of file-sharing, user-generated content, download sales, gig booking and web promotion. Apparently, a lot of this stuff is being discussed right now at CMJ, so the list of resources I gave J were all the things her lovely people were finding out in New York (only my version didn’t involve wandering around a convention centre listening to sales pitch, and did involve a particularly delicious glass of wine – must find out what it was…)

Given that myspace is fast becoming a time-vortex – where musicians can spend ages getting nowhere fast, just sending out bulletins and invites to other musicians, who in turn send invites and bulletins back, with no intention whatsoever of ever buying eachother’s CDs or turning up at shows – it’s becoming all the more important to highlight the areas that are working, or at least have the kind of infrastructure that means they should work, and are worth getting in on at ground level.

  • last.fm has a proven track record, 10s of millions of users, and is becoming a reference point in the industry for what music listeners are ACTUALLY listening to… It’s pretty much a must to get your stuff up on there, they have good sales links, and the radio stations are fab.
  • Reverbnation looks like the best of the new breed – lots of ways of getting the information out, and ways of your fan-base proliferating it via their networks etc. It’ll be even better when they support information ‘pushed’ into the site rather than just ‘pulled’ from it – I’ve already emailed about them, and had a ‘thanks, that’s a great idea, we’ll see what happens’ email back…
  • Facebook is an interesting one – important if only because of its size. Reverbnation have a great facebook plugin so you can put your favourite artist’s music on your page, or your own music. The other great use of facebook is that it’s all set up for people who already know eachother, or have a connection, so the social capital of telling your friends about great music is perhaps more valuable on there. There are also facebook groups, which some musicians start for themselves, and others that are fan generated… all good stuff to mull over…
  • Cdbaby – of course, the finest resource for indie musicians anywhere in the webz. Very well implemented, hugely popular, and constantly innovative. Cdbaby acts like an unofficial global trade union for musicians, campaigning and lobbying big business on our behalf, and negotiating deals with the likes of Tower Records and iTunes on behalf of its artists, and still giving a vast proportion of its revenue back to the musicians. Truly wonderful.

on top of that, if my Google analytics stats are to be believed, the social bookmarks at the bottom of each entry on this blog work – I’m getting quite a few visits from stumbleupon and del.icio.us after people have book marked the pages, or ‘stumbled’ on them. Need to check and see how that’s working out on my main site. (and if you get a minute, and you use stumbleupon, digg, reddit, del.icio.us, etc. PLEASE bookmark some of the site, or forward interesting posts to your facebook chums etc…)

There are loads of others – pandora, iSound, Mog, Bebo, friendster, garageband yadda-yadda-yadda… some more worth investigating than others… Damn, this stuff was easy back in the days when all there was mp3.com (where Lobelia racked up over a million plays, was getting paid sensible money for those downloads, and signed all kinds of endorsement deals etc…!)

Staying on top of all this stuff is a full time job, but right now I’ve got to go and tidy up, then practice! Do you think I could convince some kids to do all the webstuff for me as work-experience? :o)

Oh, and while we’re on the topic, this post on the mediafuturist.com is vital viewing – a discussion/presentation about media mega-trends. Gerd’s point about the shift from scarcity to ubiquity is definitely one to spend some quality time considering…

It's ain't what you say, it's the way that you say it…

There’s been a fairly long discussion on one of the bass-geek e-lists I’m on of late about phrasing and patterns and such – it started out with a guy who was feeling stuck in the patterns that he played, and was asking for a way out.

My answer to that is always the same – learn more patterns. Not wanting to use any patterns in music is like not wanting to use grammar when talking – it inhibits your ability to communicate (non-idiomatic free-improv notwithstanding). The problem – as with language – comes when you know so few patterns (or expressions) that their repetition reveals your lack of familiarity with the subject (style/tune/key/chord progression) – in Italian, I know about 6 phrases, which I repeat ad nauseum in an attempt to sound slightly less like a typical doesn’t-speak-any-other-languages Brit. But it’s clear from my limited range that I really don’t know the language. My accent isn’t bad (especially not when I’ve been there a while), but I still don’t have the vocab to sound even like an ex-pat, let alone a local.

If I could even vary the phrases I knew slightly, it’d make for a broader base from which to converse. Same with music – start by mixing up what you already know. Change one element – could be the last note, or the first note, or putting a rest in the middle, or starting the phrase in a different part of the bar… It really doesn’t matter, the point is to get away from the tried and tested, and start to branch out into newer areas.

Anyway, the discussion on the list moved away from that to what ‘phrasing’ is all about, and why (in the opinion of some of us) bassists are particularly bad at expressive, fluid phrasing. Here’s what I wrote in response, with particular reference to the quote from Stig at the top (he’s wise, very wise)


>>”also in my view, this is something that most ebass players do not do.
they tend to favor the instrument’s percussive or shreddable qualities,
and neglect the more “expressive” aspects. << Which is utterly baffling given what a phenomenally expressive instrument the bass - and particularly the fretless bass - can be... I guess that the tendency towards metric subdivision and testosterone-driven displays of dexterity is somehow related to the requirement in so much rock music to play things in a consistent, steady, non-varying way. Multiply that up to a solo and it becomes the same thing at 2, 4 or 8 times the speed one or two octaves higher... Easier to do that than to move away from seeing rhythmic 'correctness' as being about a dualist 'in time/out of time' binary equation, and instead see the emergence of a rhythmic or textural, um, gestalt (?) as a consequence of observation and awareness of what makes music connect, and then working on developing the control to execute that, based on what it is you want to play in relation to what your awareness tells you should be happening, however seemingly complex, random, a-rhythmic, poly-rhythmic or whatever that may be. There aren’t many rock/pop basslines that require you to change the tone-shaping effect of your right hand technique from one note to the next, whereas expressive shaping of a melodic line often demands that in order to set up the kind of question/answer phrase-logic that Stig alluded to.

It’s clearly a much bigger issue for improvising musicians and solo musicians than it is for bands operating solely within an idiom that has readily defined parameters – if I suddenly got the gig playing bass in Green Day, I wouldn’t be quite so aware of the benefits of understanding the influence of fluctuations in the rhythm of a loop on the listener, or how palm muting a single note in the middle of an improvised melodic phrase might make it sound more like a question than a statement, and would be far more concerned about where to place the bass notes on the beat in order to produce the kind of urgency required by the music. (something that would be much better learnt by playing lots of punk music, going to punk shows and listening to punk records than my studying rhythmic placement in any other context…)


there you go. :o) Any of this stuff could be equally applicable to any musician, it’s just that bass players are particularly geared to not play tunes well (in the same way that guitarists from a blues background often struggle with anything that needs to be rhythmically precise – their training just hasn’t focussed on those elements). Ultimately, it’s all about control and awareness, but that’s a whole other book.

Studying music

I spent a really enjoyable day today giving a couple of masterclasses at the ACM in Guildford. They invite me down there a couple of times a year to speak to the students, play a bit, and hopefully inspire them. The ACM is a fantastically well resourced college, and they spend a lot of time and effort finding cool clinicians to come in and talk to the students. What amazes me is how blasé the students are about having the access to information and experience in that way…

When I was studying we hardly ever had anyone come and visit the college – a couple of ex-students came back who’d done a few minor things, but it was before the college was really in a position to book proper visiting celebs to come and speak. But I lapped up whatever information I could get my hands on, going so far as to blag my way into a midi class from the second year of the course when I was still in the first year – it was during a free period of mine, so I asked the tutor if I could sit in. I used to practice a crazy amount of time (sporadically, not consistently, sadly), and spent just about all my time talking about music. I still wasted a lot of my time (though I realised fairly quickly that the time I spent going clubbing when I was a student did wonders for my sense of rhythm – nothing beats dancing for internalising rhythm!)

Anyway, back to the ACM – both the groups I had seemed like nice people, and there were some cool questions that came out of the sessions that sprung off into some good topics. As usual 2 hours wasn’t nearly long enough (given my dispensation towards tangentalism when I’m speaking in that kind of setting…) but I was still at least able to plant a few mental seeds.

Anyway, given that I know at least a few full time music students read this blog, here are a few tips that you REALLY ought to take on board, and I write these as both a teacher and a former music college student who got lots out of it, but could’ve got more…

  • all music is worth learning – there’s a tendency amongst students to specialise way to early. i don’t really give a shit whether all you listen to is punk, you’re doing a full time music course, and the opportunity is there to become a great all-round musician, to learn the nuance of a whole range of styles… which brings me to point 2:
  • never underestimate the difficulty of lines without many notes – obviously that’s worded for bassits, but it’s the same for simple guitar or drum parts. Country, Reggae, Bossa Nova, Stadium Rock – all are about so much more than just getting the notes in the right order. Don’t expect to be convincing as a country bassist without having emmersed yourself in country music. Go and see as many different kinds of music played live as you can, and use the radio!
  • You will never have access to that many other people wanting to learn music again – don’t waste it – being surrounded by keen music students is a fantastic experience, so form as many bands as you can, rehearse, jam, improvise, write, learn covers. just play as much as you can, you won’t ever be in that situation again.
  • Use your teachers – they are there to help you learn as much about music as you can, so quiz them, remember there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. If you don’t know something, ask. NEVER EVER pretend to know something you don’t. You’re there to learn, there shouldn’t be any pressure at all to already know…
  • Buy music – call it Karma, call it sowing to reap, call it whatever you want, but if you want to make a living selling music at some point, it’s probably best that you promote the culture of still paying for music. If you haven’t got much money, use a subscription service like emusic or Napster. Remember, if you’re spending more on booze than you are on music, you’re actively wrecking your own music education.
  • while the qualification may be a waste of paper, the information needed to get it isn’t – we all know that there are very few situations where actually having a music degree is of any importance at all. Great musician trumps degree certificate every time. BUT the course modules you’re having to learn stuff for are indicative of how well you’ve absorbed the information presented to you, so do the work. It also gets you used to the discipline of deadlines and playing what someone else wants you to play the way they want you to play it…
  • Make friends with everyone – the industry is all about contacts, and there’s no reason why being a student should stop you from building those contacts now, and even starting to get work while you’re still a student. Students, teachers, visiting musicians, college staff, venue owners, bookers… everyone, just be nice, you’ll be amazed at how much more likely you are to get work by being nice than by being a surly bastard. Smile, all time time. :o)
  • Play. All the time – lunchtime, breaktime, over breakast, evenings, weekends, on your own, with mates, in bands, orchestras, whatever and wherever – there’s no substitute for just playing music, so do it. DON’T WASTE THE OPPORTUNITY YOU HAVE!! Studying music is one of the best things in the world to do – I’m still doing it, every day, I’m still trying to get better. Segovia, just before he died in his mid-90s, was asked if he had any unfullfilled ambitions. His answer? ‘i wish I knew more about the guitar’ – none of us have any right to think that we’ve done enough after that.

Enjoy it, work hard, play constantly, surround yourself with people who encourage you to play, not people who distract you, make friends, teach your peers, learn from them too, listen to every pro musician who steps through the door of the college, ask questions and do as many gigs as you can.

Now, off you go, quit reading this, and practice!

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.’

This week in review

So, we’ve done the Stop the War march… What was next? Ah yes, Stars at Scala – one of those bands that the kids listen to that Catster has made me aware of. The album is rather lovely, equal parts bleepy and electronic, huge and anthemic. It’s bleepy to the degree that I had no idea whether on stage they’d be a band or three peoples with laptops. As it was, they were a classic Rock 6 piece – guitar bass drums keys, and two singers who also played guitar and keys.

stars at Scala

What was sad is that they pretty much removed everything from the live sound that made the record interesting. They transformed from electronic rock pioneers into an early 90s stage-2-at-greenbelt fairly dull-sounding rock band. I stayed for about 6 song – apparently they got better after that point…

Tuesday was a lotsa fun – the evening started with Douglas Coupland at the Bloomsbury, with Sarda and Kari. We three Coupland geeks, all v. excited to hear this king of zeitgeisty cool speak. And what did we discover? That he’s a proper geek, talking in half finished phrases, jumping from topic to tangental topic, and reading extracts from his book, or rather from the book within his book, and then from the book within the book within his new book, The Gum Thief. And he was fab. I like geeks, a lot – I like being around them, finding their absence of concern for what’s cool or not comforting (as a solo bassist, one has to gravitate to places were Cool is not a Concern :o) and I found him witty and charming.

douglas coupland

The event ended slightly oddly, with Douglas looking slight uncomfortable, perhaps like he was about to cry, saying something to the effect of ‘you do know this is the last one of these I’m ever going to do. My book reading days are over, thanks, goodnight.’ He did a signing after this, but we were onto new things.

julie mckee

New Things being Julie McKee and Beth Rowley at the Troubadour (a club with which I have a long history, having recorded my first album there). Was great to see both of them play, with their lovely respective bands. All in a lovely night out (though £17 for three drinks and a two bowls of chips was insane! )

beth rowley

Wednesday night I went out to Pizza Express on Dean Street to see Robert Mitchell’s Panacea, featuring Robert on keys alongside Richard Spaven on drums, Tom Mason on bass and Deborah Jordan on vocals. ‘Twas a sublime gig, and Robert’s choice of Deborah as vocalist is inspired – the tunes are really complex jazz melodies, with big intervals and weird rhythmic twists, which in the hands of ‘normal’ jazz singer would end up sounding like Manhattan Transfer does the Elektric Band, but with the superb funky rhythm section of Richard and Tom, and Deborah transforming the jazz into soulful songs, it becomes something entirely different, and beautiful. A very fine gig.

Thursday – a me-gig, another one of these acoustic singer/songwriter nights I’ve been doing, just seeing how what I do works to an audience of acoustic music fans who have no idea who I am. Once again, it was fun and well received, but I’m probably going to knock these on the head for a while, as the way the venues are set up is to get as many acts through as possible in the hope that a) the performers themselves will drink and that b) they’ll bring friends to watch them. There’s very little concern for quality control (last night was a fairly even split between pretty good and Godawful), and a big focus on turnover at the bar. Which is understandable – with property prices being what they are in London, nowhere can really afford to have a half-empty night just for the sake of putting on a cool gig, and none of the venues have got the balls – or capital – to book only great acts, charge and entrance fee, let the bands play for longer, and wait for the night to gain a reputation… Instead they are either 20 min sets, free to get in, happy for the audience to talk, or pay to play band-gets-a-pound-back-for-each-punter-they-bring deals. Total bollocks for musicians, but fairly intractable for venue owners.

it’s why I’m so grateful to have found Darbucka, though I appreciate that I’ll not be able to book there if it gets busier during the week – they can’t afford to have music to the detriment of their business any more than any other venue…

But it’s been fun doing the acoustic nights, wowing a few people and no doubt boring the arse off a few others. :o)

"this is grate!! I'v Never herd enyting this good!!"

The title of this blog post (and the idiosyncratic spelling therein) is taken from a note that was given to me at the end of my gig in Hounslow on Friday night by a young kid – a girl of about 7 or 8, I guess. It’s pretty remarkable for a girl of that age (or boy) to think, even fleetingly, that a solo bass gig is the best thing she’s ever heard. Her mother’s a very creative musician, but it’s still pretty remarkable, and delighted me.

As I’ve said before, impressing bass players is pretty simple in the moment. Youtube is full of videos of bassists who can impress other bassists with their speedy circus tricks but who aren’t selling any records because watching a low res vid online is all you need to take all there is from that kind of thing. It’s telling that two of the three videos of mine on there that have got the most views (here and here) are the ones that are ‘funky’, instant, poppy… Youtube isn’t much of a medium for moody introspective ambient stuff (for one thing, the file quality is so low that the lushness of big ambient stuff really doesn’t come across). This isn’t to dis bassists as an audience, (or indeed to dis technically difficult high energy music just because it has those qualities) just that impressing bassists with solo bass stuff is definitely going to be easier than a non-bass audience.

But anyway, I digress… The point was, it’s great to have kids connecting with what I do. I remember receiving an email years ago from a guy who said that mine was the only one of his CDs that his kids would let him play in the car… again, rather nice validation. I’ve had a week of playing to non-bass-playing audiences, and it’s been really nice. Sharing the bill with mainly acoustic acts of varying quality from the very good to the very poor indeed (particularly the one guy in Reading trying desperately to be funny by just swearing loads and writing hideously tasteless pastiche pieces about Diana’s death… total shit.) And getting a mixture of reactions from ‘wow, love what you do, will you come and open for my band?’ to people for whom it just really wasn’t their kind of thing, which is also fine (like I could change it even if I thought it wasn’t?)

Where does this tie in with the current stuff on file-sharing/musician’s revenue etc? Well, tonight’s gig was a jazz trio gig, with Luca Sirianni on guitar and Davide Giovannini on drums. Davide is a really really great drummer, such a joy to play with, and very generous in his playing. There were certain things I would go for in some of the tunes that I’d miss, and Davide was always there to make my screwing up sound intentional. We got into some really lovely grooves and ideas, but it was half way through the second set that I really hit my stride. Which got me thinking about two things – practice and the value of full time musicians. One of the possible outcomes of the file-sharing/free downloads etc. scenario is that a lot of musicians who currently make enough to live on through the recorded music sales combined with live stuff etc. are going to have to get day gigs because that revenue stream will be cut. If that happens, the world will be a poorer place, because there are some musical skills – and certain musical minds that require full time dedication to come to fruition. I’d be a much more accurate groove player if I was doing it every day, if I was in a place to practice it and gig that stuff every day. As it is, I’m good at it anyway, but that extra 5 or 10% that most of the audience wouldn’t know is missing, would make the different between me being a very good groove player and a great groove player.

As a side point – one of the things I was scared of when I started playing solo bass was that it would ruin my ability to play in bands, that somehow my normal bass playing would fall apart, when actually, quite the opposite is true. My relationship with sound is so much more advanced now than it was before I started playing solo, my appreciation for simple lines doing their job, the nuance with which I can hear and employ tiny variations in technique to make a line head in the direction I want it to go in… all of those things are better because I’ve spent years focusing on playing the best music I can possibly play on bass. The things above aren’t things that are spoiled by solo bass, they’re just dexterity things that it takes one a few songs to fall into comfortably…

But anyway, the point was, there are a lot of musicians on the edge of being able to pay the bills right now, for whom the time and head-space they have to devote to music making as full time musicians is vital to their music making process. It’s not that anyone has the right to make money through music – the selling of music is a commercial business after all, and subject to the same degree of liberalisation as any other sales business – but it’s just another factor that’s worth considering when thinking about where music and musicians go from here.

For me personally, I’ve never made enough from just gigging to live on. Never made enough from just teaching to live on. Never made enough from just writing to live on. Never made enough from just CDs/Downloads to live on. All of those combined have meant that thus far I’ve been able to pay my way, keep a roof over my head, and stay fed and clothed. If the recorded music revenue vanishes, I’d have to think where else that short-fall might be made up… It’s quite possible that the increased exposure one would receive from giving music away would result in an increase in gigs (and quite possibly an increase in teaching work, given that I do occasionally get people who’ve heard the records first and then come for lessons…) I’ve yet to see any evidence that that’s true, but I’m open to the possibility…

Whatever, these are all just musings and ponderings in uncertain times. Potentially exciting times – I likes me some progress, I do – but I’m just not convinced that that discussion is currently factoring in much other than ‘people are already downloading music for free, deal with it’, which just seems a bit clumsy to me…