A Decade In Music – The Solo Bass Years.

First Ever Solo Gig, London, December 1999

My first ever solo gig was at the Troubadour in Earls Court, London, on Dec 15th, 1999 – 10 years ago last week.

The eve of the new millennium, and a gig that started with a lie (the lovely chap who booked the gig asked me if I had a whole set of material after seeing me do one solo tune in a band-gig. I lied and said ‘yes’ 🙂 ). It wasn’t the first time I’d played solo bass in public – that was a product demo at the National Music Show for Bassist Magazine in Nov 97. I also played weird improv noise stuff for a contemporary dance company in Nov 98.
Continue reading “A Decade In Music – The Solo Bass Years.”

Lawson/Dodds/Wood album… release is nigh. :)

Lawson/Dodds/Wood by Helena DornellasI’ve finally heard the proper mixed ‘n’ mastered version of the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album. It sounds amazing – Patrick has done an incredible job both of the editing and mixing mastering.

In case you missed it, Lawson/Dodds/Wood is a trio that came out of my Recycle Collective project (which is currently on a temporary hiatus). I’d played with Patrick a lot over the years, mainly in our respective home studios, and he was one of the musicians that inspired the Recycle Collective – we were making great music behind closed doors, so why not do it on stage?

Anyway, Patrick and I were thinking about doing a Recycle thing with a drummer, and both of us thought of Roy Dodds. Roy’s one of those rare drummers who understands what ‘quiet‘ actually means, but can rock out with the best of ’em. An endlessly creative musician, and perhaps most importantly, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

So we did a Recycle gig at Darbucka, and had a really special show. Some amazing music came out of it, and we decided there and then that this would be ‘a band’ – more than just a one-off collaboration for the RC, we’d do some more shows. And some recording.

We went into the studio for a couple of days in Dec. 07. We did it just like a Recycle gig – set up, play, see what happens. We spent two days doing that, and recorded some amazing beautiful sprawling improvs.

When I got back from a couple of months in the US, Patrick and Roy had already set about editing the big improvs down, distilling them, finding ‘the deeper magic‘ – it’s not the way I usually work, but in this instance, especially due to Patrick’s diligence and focus, the edits were really spotlighting what was best in each tune. We brought in Mark Lockheart to play sax and bass clarinet on a couple of tunes, and Gwyn Jay Allen on one track. The essence of the pieces is improvs – largely the edits were for length. It’s not a ‘remix’ project.

Along the way, each person who’s been involved, from the other musicians to artwork designers, mastering engineers and the like have got as excited about it as we are. Some really amazing music has emerged from a free flowing collaborative project, that is very much the sum of its parts. It made it particularly hard to decide on a name for the band, given that there was no ‘band leader’ in the trad sense. We arranged our names in various orders, and settled on the one that looked least like a firm of chartered accountants. But this is as much a Roy Dodds record as it is a Steve Lawson record. Same for Patrick. Their personality and musical magic is evident in every second of the music. 1+1+1=a very big 1. 🙂

And now the music is finished, and we’ve got a CD release date, vaguely – we’re going for mid October.

But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we’ll have a very special digital version, with some lovely exclusive material, available very soon. You best bet is to sign up for my mailing list on the front page here, or follow @lawsondoddswood on twitter.

You can hear one tune from the album on my Reverb Nation page, and one on Roy’s myspace page. And I’ll post more about it here ASAP.

Design Museum gig last friday…

About two weeks ago, I got an email from electronic drum-monkey extraordinaire, Andrew Booker, asking me to do a gig with his improv collective Improvizone, at the design museum. This appealed on a few different levels – firstly, Andrew’s a fantastic musician and top bloke. Note that the first time I saw Andrew live, I was stood next to Brian Eno who’s comment on Andrew’s playing was ‘have you got his phone number?’… yup, he’s fab. Secondly, I’ve been reading about Improvizone for a long time on his blog, and love the idea – it’s quite Recycle Collective-ish in its concept, but tends to be a little more electronica-led and not quite as structurally defined [Recycle gigs are always 3 sets, 3 musicians, 3 lots of solo/duo/trio performance].

I then find out that while the gig doesn’t pay (I knew that, no problem), the event we were playin at was a ticketed thing, with peoples paying money to be there… uh-oh. That’s not so great: I’m working on a ‘creative commons’ type manifesto for these kind of gigs (more on the blog soon), and that clearly went against that idea – offering my music free to soundtrack someone else’s money-making didn’t sound good at all… Quick chat with Andrew, and it seems there’s some expenses available, so not completely free and that, combined with the enticement of great people to play with and some connections at the venue for further gigs makes me stick with the gig.

I’m rather glad I did, as it was musically a hugely satisfying experience – the line-up was completed by laptop twiddler Os, who, as well as triggering and manipulating samples of guitarist Michael Bearpark (some great sounds there!), would be processing and looping me, in Ableton Live.

Now, after a chat a few years ago with David Torn about group loop-infected improv, I generally take Torn’s view that it makes most sense to have a ‘master looper’ in a band, and have them take the most responsibility for that side of things. This doesn’t preclude other looping, it’s just like having a producer on a record… the Recycle Collective usually works like this, even with all the other musicians looping and processing up a storm…

The nice thing about Os looping me is that a) he’s very experienced with looping ideas b) he had headphones available for previewing stuff rather than just randomly processing things that may or may not work and c) Ableton Live is a pretty versatile platform on which to loop things.

So the upshot was that I played less than usual, often tossed a bassline and some ambience in Os’ direction at the beginning of a tune and then had him grabbing snippets of melody as we went on. If I was playing a ‘normal’ bassline, he’d quite often tell me he’d grabbed that, and I could move on and do all kinds of interesting Looperlative mangling of my own, while he looped and processed what was coming out… All kinds of fun. And his Ableton set up was sending a click track to Andrew on drums…

All lots of fun, and it made for some fabulous, enjoyable, freewheeling and at times downright funky improv!

And, what’s more, the venue loved it, and want us back. We’ll have to negotiate on money, clearly, as their expectations may well be tainted by the ‘freeness’ of the first gig, but they know what we do, how well it works in that setting so we have known skillz to bargain with. Hurrah!

And, once again, I’ve got another gallery show experience to throw into the pot for the new album ideas, to combine with all the twisted country stuff that came from the Rob Pepper Gallery show… twisted country electronica, anyone?

Getting the ingredients right: thoughts on Improvisation

Sunday’s gig with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds went very well – thanks to those of you who came along. The venue, The Brickhouse on Brick Lane in East London, was suitably strange – on three levels (ground floor and two balconies, the top one had beds on it!) and amazing food, and we had to get them to move the stage away so we’d have room to set up all our toys.

For those of you just catching up, the Dodds/Lawson/Wood trio is a project spawned by my Recycle Collective venture – when it’s running, it’s a monthly music night, featuring amazing improvising musicians spontaneously composing in different combinations. Quite a few of the combinations I assembled for it are planned to become ‘bands’ of one sort or another, but many of the musicians involved are so busy that it’ll be years before it happens.

However, the trio with Roy and Patrick is one that was so good we’ve all made it our priority. I’ve been playing with Patrick for years (he played at the first ever ‘proto-recycle’ improv gig at Greenbelt in 2005), and have been listening to Roy play with other people for just as long, particularly in Theo Travis’ band.

We did a Recycle gig at Darbucka in October last year, and then went into the studio in early December to record in the same way – just set up and start playing. Since then we’ve been mixing and editing the improvs (which has been interesting for me, as I usually don’t edit) and have come up with a record that we’re all really proud of (more news on that ASAP).

So Sunday was only the third time we’ve all played together, but the musical chemistry is amazing.

And that, for me, is what improv is all about – the ‘composition’ part is just choosing the right players. At its best it’s about getting musicians together who respect each other so much that they never feel like going with someone else’s idea is a bad thing. Musician who listen more than they shred, whose default position is deferential. It means that the music tends to evolve slowly as each new ingredient is added and the the others react to it.

So I may start with a groove, or some spacey ambience, or patrick may lay out some kind of harmonic territory on guitar or keys, and then the others react to it and the initial idea is modified, developed, morphed into a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Every time I sit down at the start of an all improv gig I wonder if we’ll have run out of ideas, if we’ll get 20 mins into the gig and just start playing a 12-bar blues or something.

One of the things on Sunday that triggered these thoughts was when the DJ who was hosting the day said he’d play a few more record and then we could ‘get up and jam’ – I was really taken aback, as I’ve never thought of this as ‘jamming’ at all.. it’s a whole other headspace to the ‘lowest common denominator’ approach that defines most ‘jamming’. It’s spontaneous composition, acknowledging that each of us as an acutely refined sense of what’s ‘good’ even when nothing is laid down to define what’s ‘right’. It’s not about finding some simple changes we can stumble through to make ourselves feel better, it’s about exploring our shared music worlds to find music that otherwise wouldn’t exisit, about listening, reacting and trying to add to what the others are bringing. This is 300% music – it’s 100% Patrick, 100% Roy and 100% me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt, playing with these guys, that my own musical vision is in anyway compromised or stunted, but I frequently feel my own playing elevated by the genius, sensitivity and creativity of the other two. We never have to ask the others to do something specific, as we each recognise that we are the masters or our own musical discipline – I know what ‘steve lawson music’ should sound like better than anyone else on the planet, and likewise Roy and Patrick. If I start telling Patrick what to play, it assumes that I know more about what he does that he knows. That’s insane.

There is, however, a deeply psychological streak running through all this, in that it takes a while to develop that kind of deep trust, to develop the ‘abandonment to the moment’ and to foster to confidence required to take the music where YOU feel it should go. With Patrick, this is part of a 6 or 7 year improvising relationship – when we first got together to play, he was rather puzzled by the idea that I didn’t want to play written songs, that I didn’t want to discuss keys and stuff, but just wanted to play. But the fruits of it is where we are now, exploring this unique shared musical space that the three of us occupy.

I’m really excited about the future of this trio, and the record release. With this, my solo stuff, the duo with Lobelia and Open Sky, I feel like I’ve got such a rich portfolio of music to work on, and feel really blessed to have the opportunity to explore the respective styles and approaches of the projects.

Etiquette for soliciting press-quotes from people…

I’ve been asked a few times lately to give quotes to people to use for promo purposes, so I thought it would be a good time to offer some thoughts on the process. Largely because it’s something I’ve done myself from time to time, and continue to do when the conditions are right…

Firstly, it’s worth thinking about why we do this, and what value it carries as a promotional tool. Like most promo ideas, it has nowhere near as much influence as we’d like to think, but it can provide context for people who have found our websites or press-packs via other routes, and can also be good for putting on posters and flyers. The value lies in a few different areas –

  • firstly in the quote itself; having anyone say that you’re a badass is helpful, especially if it provides some context as to how they think you’re a badass – some kind of stylistic reference, a particular skill they are into etc.
  • Secondly, there’s the association with that artist – if fans of artist [a] see that they are a fan of you, they may well be inspired to check you out. More often than not they won’t, unless artist [a] is actively promoting what you do, but a few will…
  • and Thirdly, quotes are most useful en masse – have a body of evidence from different sources provides people with a framework for understanding your place in the scheme of things.

OK, so that’s why they are useful – what of how to get them? Here’s my rules that I work by –

  • I never ask anyone for a quote who hasn’t already expressed – privately or publicly – a positive opinion about what I do. Cold-calling someone you’ve never had any contact with is not only bad manners, it’s a recipe for getting either criticism or worse, a lame half-quote that will ultimately make you look like an amateur (no one wants to read a lame quote about you, no matter who said it – you’d be better off getting one from your high-school music teacher or your mum than that).
  • I never quote anything said to me in a conversation, without getting permission in writing, and offering the person a chance to write something else instead.
  • if I’m re-quoting what someone has said about me elsewhere, I try and give context for it.
  • When asking someone who has previously liked what I do for a quote about a new product, I explicitly let them know that I’m totally fine with them not saying anything if they don’t like it, or don’t want to say anything about it.
  • My default is to expect to not get a quote. If I do, and all the conditions are right I’ll use it.
  • I never push people on it – I have a fair few musician friends who’ve expressed a liking for what I do in person, some of whom have offered to give me a quote, who I never pressure for them. They may happen in time, but if they don’t, my career isn’t built or crushed on whether or not some bassist or whatever says what I do is cool….

OK, that’s how I go about getting them, what about what I do about giving them – here’s the list:

  • If I really like what you do, I’ve probably sent you one already – I spend a large amount of my online time putting the word out about music I love. And by love I mean ‘love’, not ‘music by people who might be able to do favours or who are just mates of mine but aren’t very good’.
  • As a recommender of music, I’m building a brand, a brand that I actively protect from the accusation that I’ll give a quote to anything. So my default for people who ask is ‘no’, just because I only push things I think are fantastic. It’s like my policy for inviting people to play at Recycle Collective gigs – only my most favouritest musicians are in there. I might like what you do, but just not be into it enough to put my weight behind it (and, to be honest, a quote from me REALLY isn’t worth that much…)
  • That said, I’m very much aware that there are a growing number of people who DO buy albums that I recommend (most of my recommendations are made either here, on my forum or via my Twitter music recommendation feed, To The Left Of The Mainstream – if you find your music on TTLOTM, I REALLY like it, and am willing to put whatever reputation and credibility I may have behind it.
  • Getting a random email out of the blue asking me ‘for a quote’ that you can use, without having any idea whether I’m remotely into what you do puts me in an awkward position. I’m left with four options – I can lie and say I love it, I can give you a weedy quote that means nothing, I can email you and tell you I don’t like it, or I can ignore it and not reply. None of those are ideal, and certainly none of those are likely to get me to do what you want, even if I like what you’re doing. A little interaction first, and maybe even asking for my honest opinion privately might make more sense than a ‘hey’ gimme a quote. I’m well aware that a lot of people aren’t going to like what I do. Same goes for what you do. I may not like it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, and it doesn’t mean you’re rubbish, it just means it’s not my kind of thing, and would be misleading for me to be pointing people towards what you do.

In terms of measurable value, I find that the support, encouragement and advice of musician friends is infinitely more value than a public quote from them – I have an unofficial ‘council of reference’ of older experienced musicians who seem to get what I do, and are willing to offer support, advice and encouragement. Most of them haven’t ever said anything publicly about what I do, although one or two of them have got me gigs, and in one case taken a whole pile of my CDs out to Japan to get me some radio play and work on gig promo…

Of the quotes that I do have on my quotes page – all of the non-printed media ones are from people who had said either to me or elsewhere that they like what I do. I then dropped them an email thanking them for the encouragement and asked if they wouldn’t mind giving me something that I can use publicly, always with the caveat that I’m fine with it if they don’t want to.

As I said before, you put people in a tricky spot asking stuff like this, so choose your people well, and start with some normal polite human interaction before asking for a press quote… …I don’t mean to come off like a curmudgeon, and it’s always nice to get a message from someone who wants to know what I think of what they do, but spam and marketing BS definitely trigger the red flag with me.

…and if you want to know what I’m digging right now, do check out To The Left Of The Mainstream and comment on the artists there my forum…

London Solo Bass Night – March 4th!

I’ve just booked a really amazing gig for March 4th at Darbucka World Music Bar in Clerkenwell (the venue home of the Recycle Collective).

The line up will feature a really diverse range of solo bassists –

TODD JOHNSON – Todd is one of the finest electric jazz bassists on the planet, and is known to many via his amazing DVD tuitional series, his loads of youtube clips and his amazing playing with the Ron Eschete Trio. Not to be missed!

YOLANDA CHARLES – playing her [b]first ever all solo show[/b] (!!) Yolanda is one of the most instantly recognisable bassists in the country, thanks to her work with Robbie Williams and Paul Weller. She’s also front woman for her own amazing funk band, MamaYo, who some of you will have seen at Bass Day 2006. Her songs are great, her bass playing’s funky, and this is one debut you really don’t want to miss!

and ME – this’ll be my first solo gig in London for MONTHS, and hopefully there’ll be some new material on display… 🙂

There’ll also be time for some Q and A with all three performers.

Tickets will be £6 in advance or £7 on the door – advance tickets will be available ASAP from the online shop at

Forgotten Gems…

Was just browsing around the pages of my ‘top friends’ on Myspace, and on a whim started playing the tunes that are on the Recycle Collective page – just in case you’ve only just found this site, the Recycle Collective is a semi-regular improv night that I run in London with a revolving cast of characters that has produced some of the most incredible music I’ve ever had the fortune to be a part of…

Anyway, I’d forgotten just how lovely the tunes are that are up on the RC page – go here to have a listen – the first one, Dido’s Lament is with Andrea Hazell, and is particularly interesting as for big chunks of it when I tried to loop her voice, all I managed to loop was the reverb on her voice, which makes it all the more ghostly…

The second track is an improv duet with Cleveland Watkiss, the first thing we ever played together, and has a sort of Gregorian chant-ish harmony to it.

Track three is with Theo Travis, and is an improv track from a gig we did in Cambridge, that will eventually end up on a live album somewhere!

The last track features Cleveland again, and Julie McKee – all good stuff!

So head over there, enjoy, and look out for more RC gigs coming up soon!

London Jazz Festival fun

Yesterday’s gig at the Barbican with Corey Mwamba was all kinds of fun. As I’ve mentioned before, this was definitely the most difficult music I’ve ever had to play, and I was still a little under-prepared given that we’d had only two rehearsals as a band – there were a couple of the lines that I could play fine on my own, without the distractions of other musicians, but in the context of the gorgeous improv soup going on around me, I got a little lost. However, one of the very useful skills I’ve picked up from all the improvised music settings that I’ve played in is how to get lost in interesting ways. Learning what to do in a situation like that is your most important tool when it comes to winging it. If you’re underprepared, you’re very likely to screw up, and no amount of bravado or talking yourself up is going to make your playing any better. So instead, you try and give yourself markers through the tune to find your way again when you’ve lost it, and in between playing things that sound GOOD even if they aren’t RIGHT – after all, the audience don’t know the music. There were VERY few of the mistakes I made in the gig that anyone who was intimately acquainted with the music would have been able to spot at all…

At one point in the title track of the set – Argentum – the twinned power of Robert Mitchell on piano and Shaney Forbes on drums just blew over me like an unexpected storm. It was amazing, and beautiful, and a little scary, and I just tried to hang on to my bassline, listening for some clues in Shaney’s drumming for where the hell I was meant to be, but really just enjoying the ride. It’s a healthy feeling to be out of one’s depth with musicians who do their thing with a lot more confidence than you do their thing… I was off of home territory, but as a result was able to take something different to the gig… I don’t carry any of the machismo so often attached to anything possibly describable as ‘fusion’, and I think Corey was drawn to that – both in terms of my ‘sound’ and my approach to improvised stuff… I don’t/cant’ do twiddly clever solos over complex changes, so when I get in that situation, I tend to play atmospherically, shaping a sparse melody through the harmony, looking at it as a composition exercise – much the way I approach the Recycle Collective, just with a little more pre-ordained structure. And to my ears, it worked beautifully…

…there was a lovely moment at the end of the second last tune, where it had slimmed down to a drum solo, and we were all creeping back in to an improv section – I was using the ‘woodblock’ sound that I get by fretting the strings with my nails up near the bridge, and you could see the audience craning their necks to see where the additional percussion was coming from…. I like moments like that. :o)

It was a privilege to play with musicians that good – Corey, Robert, Shaney and Deborah are all incredible players, and delightful people, and I hope I get to play with all of them again v. soon!

Today I will mostly be…

Busy day today – got a remote recording session to finish up for a studio in Nebraska, need to listen through and read through Corey Mwamba’s tunes for a rehearsal tomorrow for the London Jazz Fest gig in November, need to chase up the peoples who said they ‘might’ be coming to tonight’s Recycle Collective gig and confirm as many of them as possible, and then pack up my stuff, get down to the gig, and play! Then tomorrow is the rehearsal with Corey (assuming it’s still going ahead – no confirmation as yet)…

So Thursday may be the next time I get to blog properly, sadly – I’ve got lots of thoughts about all this ‘future of music’ stuff that I need to get down; I might see if I can grab 20 minutes this afternoon to get some of it written up.

Last night’s Musician’s Union session on gigging and getting gigs was very good – lots of interesting info, support and pointers to places for funding and contacts. The panellists were all very approachable, helpful, and well chosen for the event. The gigs and the money the do them are there if you have the get-up-and-go to get out and get them! Time to get motivated…

Recycle Collective gig, Tuesday 30th…

(this is cross-posted from my mailing list – thanks to the lap-top problems I’ve been really slow to send out info about tomorrow night’s Recycle Collective gig, so am putting the word around as much as I can today, giving you the chance to make a last minute decision to come and spend the evening listening to marvellous music in the gorgeous surroundings of Darbucka…)

Sorry for lack of communication over recent gigs (if you have a look at www.stevelawson.net/gigdiary.shtml you might see some stuff that you’ve missed) – broken laptop has messed up my web-life all round… all the more reason to subscribe to the gig RSS Feed on that page… :o)

But anyway, this is really a reminder about tomorrow night’s Recycle Collective gig at Darbucka in Clerkenwell, London – www.darbucka.com is their website.

The line-up is me on bass and loopage, Patrick Wood on keys and Roy Dodds on drums. This is a bit of a dream line-up for me, as I’ve been a fan of Roy’s drumming since his days with Fairground Attraction (yup, that was him on ‘Perfect’) through to his beautiful playing on Theo Travis‘ new ‘Double Talk’ album. And Patrick is a regular at Recycle gigs, having played with us at Greenbelt this year, and is never less than amazing – melodic, funky, inventive; the ideal improvised music collaborator! :o)

So PLEASE come down – it’s only £6 to get in, and Darbucka does fabulous food either upstairs in the restaurant beforehand, or while you’re sitting listening to gorgeous music!

Music starts at 8pm – www.stevelawson.net/gigdiary.shtml – head there for a link to a map for where Darbucka is. The address is 182 St John Street, London EC1V 4JZ and the nearest tube is Farringdon, and we’ll aim to finish in time for you to get the last tube home! Music starts at 8pm.

thanks – please check out the gig calendar for more dates and my blog for more on what I’ve been up to. Hope to see you soon,

take care

Steve
www.stevelawson.net
www.recyclecollective.com
steve.anthropiccollective.org
www.last.fm/music/Steve+Lawson