Exclusive track on Reverb Nation + gig news…

I’ve FINALLY got round to adding the latest bunch of gigs to Reverb Nation. The first of which is this sunday, at the Brickhouse, on Brick Lane in London (deets below in the gig cal widget).

The gig’s with my new trio with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds – two of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever had the privilege to play with. I’ve just added a fan-exclusive track to the Reverb Nation page, which you can play from from the widget below if you’re already on the mailing list, or you can just sign up! Enjoy…


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More amazing free music

Right, I’ve got loads of fascinating stuff to blog about (no, really), but that can wait, cos right now, I’ve got loads of great free music to tell you about. First up, Lobelia is giving away a whole album of voice ‘n’ piano stuff on Reverb Nation. The album, called 040515 (the date it was recorded, in Canadian apparently), was recorded live at Power Base Studio in Nebraska, which is where she and I recorded our fantastic live E.P last summer.

It’s a really beautiful record, and was the first thing I heard from her ages ago. The track ‘Wake Up And Lose You’ is particularly amazing. Some of the songs you might recognise if you’ve seen us live over the last year and a half, but perhaps not in this format…

Anway, downloading it is v. easy, either via her Reverb Nation page or via the widget embedded below – just click on ‘songs’, and the downloadable ones start with Wake Up And Lose You… You’ll have to sign up to her mailing list, if you’re not already, but you’ll want to anyway, cos she’s amazing. :o)


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For more on Lo and her music, see her website, or add her as a friend on her Facebook musician page or via MySpace page.

Go! download! download like the wind!!

Topping the Charts…

Much to blog about, but real life getting in the way of cyber-time at the moment. All good (if you want to keep track of that stuff, sign up for Twitter and follow me.

Anyway, what is worth mentioning just now is that all the recent activity on my Reverb Nation page, with the free album and the mailing list migration, has sent me to the top of the Reverb Nation jazz charts!

It’s a little surprising, and largely to do with the fact that Reverb Nation, as yet, as precious little internal traffic, and I’m therefor doing a better job of actively sending traffic to my page than, say, Jamie Cullum or Will Calhoun, despite them in any measurable real terms being massively more successful than me. But I guess that’s the advantage of being a social media early adopter. :o)

Still, it is nice, and you can keep it going if you want to by downloading the free album on there after signing up for the mailing list! How cool is that – a completely free kick-ass album in exchange for an email address that I promise not to ever pass on to anyone else, and only to email you when I’ve got something useful to tell you…? Sounds great, I know. So, using the widget below, go get the freebies!


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How to 'Stumble' without the Stumble Upon toolbar.

Right, I’ve just made a ‘stumble this!’ toolbar link, for those of you that want to stumble stuff but don’t want to use Firefox or IE to get the stumbleupon tool bar –

Stumble This! – drag this link to your toolbar and you should be, as the americans say ‘Good to go’.

Please experiment with it by first logging into Stumble Upon, then coming back and stumbling a few of my blog pages. You can do this anyway without my wikkid new stumble button by clicking the Stumble Upon icon at the bottom of any post –

But this trick means you can stumble anything, from any browswer, not just by using embedded buttons or the SU toolbar – try it, it’s fab! (obviously, again, you have to be logged into Stumble Upon for it to work… oh, and don’t forget to marvel at my wikkid javascript skillz… :o)

Downloading made easy, the Reverb Nation Widget way!

Not sure why I didn’t think of this before, but you can download all of Lessons Learned from An Aged Feline Pt II from the widget below. It’s a four step process, as follows:

1. click the word ‘songs’ at the top of the widget.
2. click on ‘What Was Going On’
3. put your email address into the box that appears (you have to sign up for my mailing list to get the download)
4. while the track is playing, click the little download arrow to the right of the play-timeline, underneath the tracklist.

Then repeat steps 2 and 4 – click on each song and click download. And you’ll have a shiny digital loveliness copy of LLfaAF Pt II.


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One of the fun things about doing this experiment with the free downloads has been listening back to two albums I’ve not listened to of mine for a long time. LLfaAF Pt II is the record where I fell in love with my fretted 6 string bass – The majority of the tracks on it are recorded with that bass. Melodically, it’s probably the most ‘jazz’ thing I’ve done, as I was quite consciously experimenting with more ‘outside’ lines and some bigger intervals in the melodies. It was nice to go back and rediscover a few things I was doing then that I haven’t done since, and am now wanting to reincorporate into my playing.

For those of you who are musicians wanting to make your music available in different places, Reverb Nation widgets are a great way to do it – if you go to my page and click on the widgets tab, you’ll see all the ones available. You can even make the one above the main music interface on your blog.

It’s a good way to manage collecting mailing list subscriptions in exchange for the free stuff, rather than just giving it away AND having to play for the bandwidth from your own server.

And of course, your legions of fans can include your widgets on their myspace page, blog, facebook page, bebo page. etc etc.

As the user-base of Reverb Nation grows, it may increase in native currency. For now, it’s largely about traffic you send to your page, and the widgets it makes available.

Though the nice thing about it being pretty small right now is that I’m at Number 2 in their jazz charts! – that’s 2nd out of 1789 ‘jazz’ artists. And that’s without even being proper jazz. Good work.

Two jobs in one – the perils of being artist and label.

OK, for one moment, I’m going to think about what record companies did well when they were functioning (very few people that I know who were ever signed to labels had this experience, but it’s what in an ideal world labels offered artists):

1. A Label Let an Artist be An Artist – those of you reading this who are trying to run your careers as booking agent, publicist, record label, distributor, web master, etc. will know that the most scarce commodity in the midst of all that isn’t money, it’s time. Money’s hard to come by too, but the reason for the lack of money is a lack of time to do things properly, not the other way round. And what’s the first thing that disappears in this new multi-tasking time-economy? Creativity time.

Why is that? Because it’s very difficult to be unfettered in your creativity but it’s pretty much vital if your music is to really mean anything. If you’ve just been designing posters, on the phone trying to book shows (usually targeting a particular kind of venue), and on MySpace dealing with add-requests, comments and feedback, sitting down with your instrument and trying to empty your mind of all that nonsense and JUST PLAY is damned near impossible. It takes time to create that kind of headspace, and it takes frustrating hours of working all the hackneyed tired cliched nonsense out of your system before the magic starts to flow. In terms of pure instrumental technique, if your music is in any way challenging, it may require a whole load of ‘maintenance’ before you’re in any position to really get ‘in the zone’.

A functioning label gives you time to do that. Just imagine if you even had a web administrator, how much extra time you’d have to practice? Imagine if someone else was dealing with your press, how much less you’d be thinking about labeling what you do, about niche marketing, about whatever – that’s the stuff that labels are supposed to do, while we’re busy creating genre-busting epoch-defining life-changing music.

2. They allow us to get our creative priorities straight – one thing I decided very early on in my career – and that I still say out loud to other people as often as I can just to remind myself of it – is that my number one aim in making a record is to make the record that I want to hear, that soundtracks the world as I see it. AND THEN – once it’s done – start thinking about the best way to market it. Music that sounds like it’s been dreamt up by marketeers is horrible. No-one wants to be listening to music that’s been decided on by a committee. Actually, that’s not strictly true – a heck of a lot of music that sounds like that sells a lot, but doesn’t really have that much significance in the lives of the people who buy it and then forget about it.

No, we should be making the music we love. That doesn’t mean that outside influence isn’t important – it can be vital to stop us from becoming completely self-indulgent, or lost in our own creative mire. What it means is that the influence has to be from people who know what we’re trying to do, people who’ve earned the right to critique it by understanding what the end result is trying to be. I get less of them now, but I used to get a lot of emails from bass players telling me that I should write more uptempo music, to which my response was usually ‘No, YOU should write more uptempo music, cos it’s you that wants to hear it!’ – the assumption that I’m some kind of music producing automaton trying to meet the listening requirements of a bunch of faceless bass-monkeys sat at their computers across the world critiquing what everyone else does is utter bollocks. With the best will in the world, I’m really not interested in the opinions of people who have no idea why I do what I do.

I have a very valuable ‘council of reference’ – a range of musicians, listeners, fans, friends and people who have proved that they ‘get’ what I do – not by being super-fans, but by demonstrating an understanding of where I’m coming from. Record Label people are very rarely qualified to understand that stuff – not always, but almost everyone I’ve ever met who had record company interference in their project has ended up being deeply unhappy with it. Even some records that I love are the product of undue RC influence, and I can only imagine how great the record would have been if the artist had been able to choose their own sounding boards.

Here’s one of the bits of the entertainment industry-end of the Record business that is most horrible and that we don’t distance ourself from enough – that a label’s job is to sign ‘raw talent’ and then manage the career of the artist, handing them a producer, band, designer, etc. etc. etc. and then paying them a pittance for the privilege.

What would be a far more useful and productive way to operate if we’re interested in letting musicians be the ones who make music would be to look for the music that is already there. If musicians and writers forged relationships with producers, arrangers and ideas people for creative reasons rather than having those people foisted on them by labels as a matter of expediency, labels could concentrate on finding great music that they have a hunch they know how to market, and producers could be shopping for work based on creative understanding…

3. Labels built a reputation based on quality within a field – are there any labels that you trust? Chances are if you’re into old school jazz, there are quite a few records on Prestige, Blue Note and Verve in your collection. If you’re into more modern progressive jazz, ECM and Nonsuch may feature more highly. For free music, Cryptogramaphone may be up there. For extreme metal see Earache and Metal Blade, neo prog see Magna Carta… Do all the artists on ECM sound the same? Not at all. There are actually a few different ‘ECM sounds’, but there’s definitely a feeling of quality, and as a listener you kinda know that some thought has gone into the stuff that gets signed. Labels at their best are enthusiasts as much as they are business people. Why? All the business planning in the world can’t pick our exciting music. Great music is great music is great music – finding it is step one, working out how to market it is step two. Get those two round the wrong way and you’re screwed. Any deal that gets a so-so artist and tries to drop them into a marketing formula is back to front.

The problem with all this in terms of discerning what’s important is that getting it very wrong can be very profitable. I’m not talking about what’s ‘successful’ on a business level here. I don’t think that’s what being an artist is about. It’s important, but it’s ancillary to the job of creating great music. A good label lets musicians make music. A good manager does the liason, and anyone worth their salt will delegate the stuff they can’t do. Most of my headaches in negotiating my way through the future-is-now new media revolution are from trying to keep my creative energy at the forefront of what I do. I’m deeply passionate about finding new ways to market what I do, to communicate, to monetize, to get the music out there, but the music has to be what it is, not an attempt to second-guess an imagined potential market. That’s bound to fail.

This imaginary great label all in an ideal world. It didn’t happen much before. It happens even less now. So why bother writing about it? Because all those things still need to happen – you still need time to make music, you still need to think about how to market it, you need to find your audience, you need to build credibility with the people who are spending money on what you do. All those things that good labels have built in, YOU STILL NEED THEM. They’re just harder to find.

What we need to do is to abstract them as principles for making art happen then making it available, then finding a way to pay the bills while we do it. That’s the three steps. I’ll try and address the questions more as we go on…

Reverb Nation picking up a head of steam…

I’ve blogged about Reverb Nation quite a few times, but it’s always worth another heads up as the user base is growing, and people’s familiarity with the two Facebook plug-ins (My Band for musicians and Reverb Nation for fans) is also growing.

The widgets on their site are a great way of compiling players for all your favourite artists onto one page, as Kev Cooke has done on his myspace page.

They still don’t accept information ‘pushed’ to the site, and don’t allow all that much tweaking and customisation of the widgets themselves, but the range of sizes available is a great idea, and the basic design is pretty cool looking…

Here are a few of the widgets for me, for playing music, adding to the mailing list, and showing your gigs…


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Oh, and if you go to my reverb nation page and click on the ‘favourites’ tab, you’ll see all the fantastic musicians I know that are on there, with more stuff being added all the time!

New EP! New EP!

Right, with no advance notice at all, Lobelia and I have a new live EP available. It’s a pre-release of some of the tracks that will be on our live album, coming out towards the middle of next year, and features three bass ‘n’ voice duo tunes and two solo tunes of mine. Track list is –

Happy (7:34)
MMFSOG (4:09)
I’m Lost (5:11)
Rain (9:14)
Jimmy James (6:51)

The version of MMFSOG is by far the best take of that tune I’ve ever recorded, and the version of Jimmy James is an all-fretless one. The tracks were all recorded live at Power Base Studio in Nebraska earlier in the year.

“So how do we get one of these lovely very limited edition discs?” I hear you cry… All you have to do is send £5 via paypal or nochex, which includes WORLDWIDE POSTAGE AND PACKING. (send it to steve[at]steve[dash]lawson[dot]co[dot]uk please)

What’s more, if you buy this disc now, it’ll save you £2 when the album comes out.

The CD itself is a CDR with all the info printed on the disc, and comes in a pretty plastic clam-shell case, like these –

To make it easy, here’s a paypal button which goes straight to the ‘pay Steve £5 for his and Lo’s delicious new CD’ page –















and in the player below, you can listen to the first track from it – ‘Happy’. It’s fab! :o)


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Enjoy…

Gig dates RSS feed development…

As you’ll have seen yesterday, I’ve started posting my upcoming gig dates as entries on the blog – this puts them on the front page of the website, means that you get to read about them here, and also it means I can generate a separate gigs RSS feed direct from here, that contains all the microformat data (the bit that means it’ll add to a calendar apps).

….except it doesn’t… because the tag-specific pages here (here’s the one for stuff tagged as gig dates) strip out all the formatting, so you don’t get the weblinks, you don’t get the hcal mark-up, and you don’t even get the line-breaks that stop it from just looking like a jumble of text.

So, for now, it’s back to the iChat drawing board with the lovely Sarda to see if he knows how to make it work the way I want it to work. :o)

The eventual idea is that this will be the feed that is directly linked from my gig calendar page on my site, and it’ll contain the hcal information so that clever readers can extract the information and you’ll be able to add individual gigs to your calendar if you want to go to them and need a reminder.

stevelawson.net – providing for all your bassgeek needs since 1997… :o)

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.’