new album! new album!

OK, this album has been a VERY long time coming – the Calamateur Vs Steve Lawson album was actually recorded two years ago, and it’s taken this long for us to get round to releasin’ it!

For those of you who haven’t heard about it before, it’s a collaboration between myself and Scottish singer/songwriter/sound experimentalist Calamateur AKA Andrew Howie. Andrew’s music blends gorgeous acoustic singer/songwriter-ness with odd noises and late-era Radiohead squeakiness, and on this project it’s mixed in with my loopy ambient stuffs, some proper bass-playing (including the gorgeous sound of my Rick Turner fretless acoustic) and a load of my programming and tweaking. It’s tough to remember now who did what, cos we’ve nicked enough ideas off each other over the years…

The official release date is October 1st, but it’s actually available to download now via cdbaby (where you can listen to a minute or two of every track and buy it for) and via itunes (where you can listen to 30 second clips.

And of course, it’ll be up in the StevieStore before too long as well.

Please go and have a listen at cdbaby – it’s a project I’m really proud of, and I’ve been a huge fan of Andrew’s stuff for years – we’ve known each other for over 15 years, and he even bought my Fender jazz off me 10 or 11 years ago, and went to college to study bass before finding his own path through lo-fi loveliness.

The end of the hippie dream

Altamont – just the name carries so much resonance. The place where the dreams of flower power and the 60s summer of love, woodstock and hippies all went to shit because The Rolling Stones didn’t realise that – unlike in England where ‘Hell’s Angel’ just meant ‘biker with a beard and a personal hygiene problem’ – American Hell’s Angels were largely racist outlaws, who took great delight in stabbing a black dude to death at the gig.

Anyway, that was a completely different Altamont, given that it was in California, and we’re in Illinois. However, there must be some sort of spiritual link between the two, as the shitty motel we’re in definitely feels like the kind of place where a nasty murder could take place…

Still, cheer yourself up by watching this YouTube vid of me playing at the house concert we did in Dallas – Brian who organised the gig owns a Rick Turner Model 1 bass, which I HAD to play… the improv in question is a variation on the ii-V funk guitar thing that I used for the loop demo vid on YouTube, with a bit of the melody from Chameleon by Herbie Hancock in the middle of it, and lots of gratuitous shredding, but it’s a great sounding bass!

Dallas House concert…

A lovely day in Dallas yesterday – it began late, with a walk up to the Whole Foods market – just under a mile away, in this heat it felt like about three miles, but we made it there and back, and got lots of lovely stuffs for lunch (Jeff Kaiser’s tempe scramble recipe, if you must know, and a delish salad…)

Got back and started setting up for the house concert – because we haven’t been able to fit an AccuGroove rig into the car for this trip, the house concerts have mostly been through various types of Studio monitors (well, Richmond was through a badass Mackie rig with a huge sub, but that was a little out of the ordinary for such things… :o) ) – at Trip’s it was some Tannoy Reveals, i think, which sounded lovely, and last night was a pair of KRKs, which again sounded great. Brian’s house (the host of the gig) is pretty much the ideal house concert venue – plenty of space, good acoustics, and a pool out the back (which we took advantage of in the afternoon before the gig).

One of the fun things about house concerts is chatting to people before the gig starts, or just listening to other people chat, which they do in a friendly ‘having mates over for dinner’ kind of way that doesn’t happen in club gigs, or even coffee shops. All good cultural exchange fun. :o)

The gig itself went v. well – lots of fine playing, another couple of successful improv tunes (I’ve been doing one or two made-up-on-the-spot things on the shows here, and last night did one of them on Brian’s Rick Turner Model 1 bass, which sounded and played beautifully…) L played really well, and the duo stuff was once again my favourite part of the evening.

All good nothing bad.

Of To Austin today, which I hear is a bit of a music town… we’ll see about that…!

How Music Gear Endorsements Work…

It’s one of those perennial questions on bass forums and in emails I get – how do you get an endorsement deal with a bass company? The latest endorsement related discussion revolved around a very friendly chap on on of the bass forums I post on sending me a message to say he was friendly with the owners of a particular company and could put in a word for me for an endorsement deal with them.

Which was very nice buy wholly unnecessary, given that

  • a) I knew the company owner already,
  • b) don’t really like what they make b) wouldn’t switch from what I’m using now just because I was offered lots of money (something that’s really not going to happen to a player in my position) and
  • c) LOVE the stuff I’m using.

Let’s make it clear, getting paid to play someone’s particular product is very rare indeed. Becoming a demonstrator happens occasionally to lesser known players, but that’s just a job like any other – it’s not really a perk, more a cool job. It involves a lot of work, and usually pretty grueling sessions at trade shows. There’s rarely a retainer, and the rate of pay is pretty good, usually, but certainly not something most people could live on…

The Big Boys (probably about 5-10 of them in the world) are on a retainer – signature product sales often incur a royalty for the person whose name is on the front, and there are all kinds of deals struck to get HUGE name players using the gear, which range from split ad campaigns (promoting the gear and the artist’s new album) through to high profile clinic tours that follow the band’s tour, and even stands at arena shows for the company.

Next down are those that get instruments – these are rarely ‘free’, even if you don’t pay for them. They are in exchange for promotional services. They are usually there because the company in question can’t really afford to pay what you’re worth for clinics and appearances and being in ads, so instead they give you gear, which is worth a lot more in hard cash terms to you than it is to them. So I’ve had a few bits of free gear, and in exchange they get the exposure for me using the gear on clinics and masterclasses… it’s more of an acknowledgement thing for what actually happens – my students get to see the gear cos it’s what I play through…

When I left my previous amp deal, and started using AccuGroove, I was offered ‘deals’ of sorts with a host of companies. It was rather nice being courted (no one actually phoned me to schmooze me, but it happened to be around the time of a couple of trade shows and at those trade shows, word got round that I was no longer using the amp I had been using, and I was told by the owners and A & R people from about 6 companies that they would like to ‘work with me’. One of them offered a paid position as demo guy as well. Most of them were much higher profile than AccuGroove, but all had one thing in common – they didn’t get close to the sound I was looking for in my new rig. I knew it had to be stereo and MUCH higher fidelity than it was before. Add to that that I already knew the AccuGroove guys and was friends with them, knew what their speakers could do, I decided to go with quality and friendship over (potential) money and exposure.

Is this because I’m some kind of puritan? No, it’s as much a longer term commercial decision as it is one of ‘integrity’. The guys on the high dollar deals with companies that mass produce cheap crap in China tend to switch fairly often – when someone comes along offering more money, they jump ship, and every time they do, their reputation slides just that little bit further. If I was play in a Nu Metal band to 10s of thousands of people a night, that wouldn’t really filter through, the kidz would just go out and buy the new signature bass and all would be happy.

However, if you’re a solo bassist, you tend to be scrutinised more by the tech-heads. I got loads of emails when I changed my amp set up, asking me what was wrong with the old one, people who’d bought the old one because of me, and wondering if they’d make a mistake etc. The geeks were watching, and I realised that if I was changing every 18 months or so, my credibility was going to disappear pretty damn quick.

So I went with the one that offered me the best possible sound. To get any better, I’d have to go to the pro audio world, and start using studio monitors on stage. Problem with that is, they’d be WAY too heavy, and far too fragile. There genuinely is nothing that could do what I’m doing with these speakers. The nearest direct comparison would be PA companies like Mackie and JBL, but they both tend to optimise their speakers for vocal projection, sacrificing low end and tonal sweetness. They work fine as PAs, not so great as bass amps.

Same with Modulus – I’ve been playing a Modulus bass for over 13 years, the only non-Modulus bass I’ve owned (still own) in that time is my Rick Turner, and their instruments do just about everything I need them to do. They like what I do, I love what they do, and the relationship is mutually agreeable. Add to that that Modulus are, as far as I’m aware, the only bass building company who are striving to use 100% independently certified eco-friendly wood, and you’ve got yourself a match made in bass heaven. it’s the same all the way round.

So if you’re thinking about such things, have a bit of a profile and something to offer a company, my advice would be to forge a friendship with the people who make the gear that you LOVE, rather than just trying to schmooze the A and R people at companies that take out huge ads in magazines.

For the record, the companies that I have some kind of ‘deal’ with [as of Oct 7 2006] are:
AccuGroove Speakers
Modulus Basses
Looperlative
East UK Preamps
Bass Centre Elites Strings
Evidence Audio cables

OK, The Recording Really Is Finished…

Yup, this time I’ve finished. Got a great version of the title track, Behind Every Word, that co-pilot Shark agrees is marvellous. So now I’m back to mixing. Have been mixing some of the tracks this evening, and they’re sounded great, in my humble opinion.

Currently listening to my tune ‘Scott Peck’, which features BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar. He sounds so great, it’s amazing. It’s tough to pick favourites on the album so far, but the two tracks with special guests – that one and ‘One Step’ with Julie McKee are both pretty special. Though so is the opening track, ‘Blue Planet’, which was the first thing I recorded for this album, and features a bass line loop played on my Rick Turner Renaissance fretless that sounds beautiful. Sod it, they’re all great. ;o)

Gorgeous Guitars on Video

Rick Turner just sent me a link to this video clip – it’s a trailer to a film called ‘Gourmet Guitars’ – it’s vol 2 in a DVD series looking at great guitar makers, and of course Rick’s in there. The clip itself makes for interesting viewing, but is even more interesting for the inclusion of Bill Walker demoing one of Rick’s guitars through the Mama Bear processor. Bill’s a fantastic guitar player, lovely bloke, and really ought to be a big star.

It’s also nice to see Rick and his son Elias on the video – the transition back to London life is made easier by seeing my friends on film when I get back here.

Soundtrack – right now I’m listing to an NPR recording of an interview/performance by KT Tunstall – KT’s just about the best thing to happen to pop music in the UK in years – in a year that gave us the rancid whinging loser that is James Blunt and a load more Pop Idol one hit wonders, KT has the skills and the songs to be in it for the long haul. Hurrah!

Postcard from SF Airport

I’m officially on my way home, sat in San Francisco airport, waiting for my flight.

The last few days have been fantastic – catching up with friends around the bay area, and then Saturday’s masterclass and gig.

Friday night was spent firstly having dinner with Rick Turner and with two lovely new friends from Third World Guitars in the Dominican Republic. I also got to try out Rick’s brand new 6 string Renaissance bass, which was just as fantastic as you’d imagine (John Lester is going to be wanting one of these, for sure…)

Then it was out to see another friend’s band play – a rock/metal covers band called Mr Meanor – great players, who’ve clearly put a heck of a lot of time, energy and skill into what they do – it’s great to see a bar band that plays with such conviction. The weird thing was how few of the songs I knew – the US and UK rock charts in the 70s and 80s were clearly very different!

Onto Saturday – It’s the third time I’ve taught a masterclass here, and the biggest so far – I set a limit of 20 people and we had 20 people, which was good – two long sessions of almost three hours each with an hour off for lunch and trying eachother’s basses etc. it was, as is my usual teaching approach, a lot more about the mental approach to playing than it was about ‘licks to play over a D minor chord’ – I probably only played for about 15 minutes total in the class, but spent most of the time answering questions, and dealing with a lot of the misconceptions that we’ve all grown up with about the music making process. the feedback thus far from the people who came along has been great, and hopefully the discussions will continue on the forum.

From the masterclass, we headed over to the espresso garden – this was my fifth gig at the Espresso Garden, and possibly, sadly, my last, as the venue is being sold, but doesn’t have a buyer as yet. It’s a great venue that has hosted gigs by some of my favourite musicians – John Lester, Kris Delmhorst, Muriel Anderson, Martyn Joseph – a great listening room for acoustic music. It’s the fourth time that Michael and I had played there together, and the second time that we filled it, which felt good. We also had Jeff Schmidt along with us, who played a lovely opening set, and joined us for a cool improv at the end of the gig.

I think the most startling thing about the gig was Michael’s sound – due to the logistics of the gig, he had Mark Wright from Accugroove bring him a couple of speakers to use, which meant that all three of us were going through Accugroove stereo rigs – I’ve NEVER heard Michael’s bass sound that clear or focussed. It was incredible.

It was also a lot of fun for me to be using the Looperlative on a solo gig – it’s the first time I’ve done it, and it sounded great – I even tried a version of ‘Despite My Worst Intentions’, which I’ve never played with that box (and it has some pretty complex looping stuff going on with it) and it worked a treat, it made sense, and felt good.

All in, a marvellous day!

Yesterday was another magical day – the morning spent with Mark Wright, the afternoon with Michael Manring, the early evening teaching a great bassist called Arianne Cap, then dinner with Arianne, her husband Wolfgang, and with Jeff Schmidt and his wife Valerie, followed by late evening with Anderson Page from Modulus and his wife Laura – a day chock full of encounters with fantastic inspiring lovely friends. California is like that for me – I get to see so many great people, who energise me, inspire me musically, politically, spiritually… I really don’t think I could ever live out here (maybe that’ll change), but some of my favourite people in the whole world are here. Thanks to all of you for what you feed into my life.

CD piracy…

So, 1 in 3 CDs sold worldwide is a pirate copy. I wonder how that stacks up against the percentages of money made by record companies vs artists. Are the pirates ripping off the labels more than the labels are ripping off the artists? I suspect not.

From the article –

“Jorgen Larsen, president of music producer Universal Music International, said the livelihood of the artists and music industry workers was at risk if piracy continued to rise.”

I think the livelihood of the artists is put more at risk by signing to Universal than it is from piracy. I very much doubt anyone is bootlegging my CDs. In fact, I’d be slightly flattered if they were. I’m sure there are some CDR copies kicking around, and I hope that they inspire the owners to turn up to gigs. There’s certainly enough MP3 material of mine around to make up a whole CD of extras (moreso if you’re in the street team), but people still buy the CDs, come to the gigs, and everything’s ticking along quite nicely. I’m certainly more scared of one day having a breakdown and accidentally signing a record deal than I am of discovering 100,000 copies of Grace And Gratitude for sale in a Delhi street market – in fact, if they did, I’d probably just go and do a gig there!

Perhaps the markup on CDs is to blaim? If the labels are still trying to charge £16 a CD to music buyers in India/China/Mexico etc, how on earth do they expect them to come up with that kind of money? Maybe they should look at ways of making it more attractive to buy the real thing, rather than just blaiming the pirates for filling a gap in the market. If the record companies weren’t so obviously rapacious in their dealings with artists, and such a rip-off in terms of what they charge the end user, then people might feel more generously disposed towards them. How about if they started to give away 20% of their profits to arts projects in developing countries?

No, instead they blame ‘organised crime’ – I’d be interested to see the evidence for this. It’s quite possible that ‘organised crime’ units are somehow involved, but it’s equally possible that there are a bunch of opportunists who see a gap in the market created by the greed of the majors.

It’s like the Metallica/Napster debacle – I, along with 10 million other people, found it very hard to feel much sympathy for the multi-millionaire Lars Ulrich in his claims that he was being ripped off by Napster. If every single item of Metallica merch was fair trade, if they were pressuring their record company to encourage staff to unionise and putting pressure on for fairer wages around the world, if they implimented a scheme in Metallica PLC where the top paid person could only earn 9 times what the lowest paid person could earn, I’d be feeling a little more generous towards his claims that kids in colleges downloading Metallica albums were destroying his livelihood.

SoundtrackAli Farka Toure with Ry Cooder, ‘Talking Timbuktu’ (heard a piece on Radio 4 last night about Ali, and dug out this CD again – fantastic stuff – brings back marvellous memories of sitting at Rick Turner‘s house in Santa Cruz, discovering amazing new music from around the world, and listening to Rick’s remarkable stories.)

There's no place like home…

So, I’m home, safe and as sound as I’ll ever be… Jetlag got me bad though – this is the longest trip I’ve had to the states, and after four weeks over there, my body had adjusted rather well to the time difference, so now my body clock is screwed up. So I slept a bit yesterday afternoon, then went to bed at 12 last night, woke up at 5.30, awake til 8.15, then was asleep on and off til 6.30pm!!!! Am up again now, ploughing through email and trying to rebuild some semblace of a life… Fortunately I don’t start teaching again til next week, So I’ve got time to sort through the mountain of post and email… Fortunately both the small person and the aged feline seemed to recognise me when I arrived home, so nothing to drastic can have happened. Still haven’t unpacked yet though… need to get some washing done…

So what happened while I was in the states? Really sorry for not keeping this thing up to speed – hopefully next year I’ll have a lap top with me and will be more concientious (spelling, harv?).

Anyway – first up was the NAMM show – huge great music gear trade show – equal parts hideous schmooze-fest, and great chance to catch up with musical chums I’ve not seen in ages…

Good people I saw who I already knew – Peter Murray, Geoff Gould, the Modulus and Ashdown people, Ed Friedland, Lee Sklar, Joe Zon, Matt Garrison, Doug Wimbish, Michael Manring, David Torn, Doug Lunn, Vida Vierra, Steve Rabe, Steve and Jill Azola, Mike Tobias, Norm Stockton, Adrian Ashton, Dan Knowlton, Mark Wright, Frank Gambale, Rufus Philpot, Pete McCann, Mike Roe, Dave Pomeroy, Trip Wamsley, Lenny Jordon, Bill Leigh, Jamie Faletti, Dale Titus, Kerry Getz, Rick Turner, Clive Roberts, John Ferrante, Kim Flint, Richard Zvonar…

And Fine people I met for the first time – Elijah Torn, Will Calhoun, Daniella Sheppard, Derry Daugherty, Mike Dimin, Mike Watt, Kira Roessler, Charles Normal and Softcore (his band), Tedd Killian, Chris Tarry, Greg Heet, Dan and Laurie Schinder, Kevin Van Pamel… and lots more in both groups that I can’t remember in my near comatose jetlagged state…

Playing-wise, I was playing at the Ashdown Booth each day at 3pm, doing my solo stuff, and also hanging around a bit chatting to people there… Also played a little on the Modulus stand, with Leo Nobre and then with Bill Walker. Spent a lot of my time at the show just catching up with friends, putting the word around about the gigs and clinics, and checking out new stuff, of which there wasn’t all that much (though Ashdown did have a couple of gorgeous fake-suede bass cabs – very sexy indeed…)

Music at the show that was worth watching was pretty scarce – Ed Friedland was playing some great stuff at the Carvin Booth, and Michael Manring was doing his solo bass twiddling for Zon and SWR and astounding everyone as always. Bill Walker was making a fine noise at the Duncan-Turner Research booth, and that was Matt Garrison spent plenty of time playing at the Fodera booth, playing beautifully. That’s about all I saw…

Evenings were taken up with going to or playing gigs and eating dinner – Thursday was Frank Gambale at The Baked Potato (a bit of a NAMM ritual for me, catching Frank at least once during the weekend), Friday was the bass bash, organised by Dan Elliott who booked my tour, and acted as road manager for me. That was a great event – a few technical hitches (the venue wouldn’t let them start setting up the stage area til gone 7!), and the whole thing over-ran (bit of a NAMM tradition there…) but all in all it was a great night’s bassic entertainment – have a look at some of the pictures from the event at www.bassically.net. I did a couple of long solo numbers (No More Us And Them and MMFSOG) and the Michael Manring joined me for an improv thing that I’ve got on CD, so will hopefully post here before too long…

Anyway, Saturday night was dinner with David and Elijah Torn, Dani, Doug and Vida, and then Sunday was the first gig of the tour at Roccos in Hollywood.

The gig went really well, though the turnout was low (if everyone else was feeling the way I did after four days of NAMM, it’s not that surprising) – we didn’t start til late… musically, we had no idea how Rick Walker Andre LaFosse and I were going to gel, but the trio stuff turned out great. We all did solo sets (the running order was a bit of a shambles but it sort of worked out) then Michael Manring did some marvellous solo tunes, and all of us played together… The nicest thing about it was how inconspicuous the looping element of it all was – last time we did a loop tour, partly due to the limitations of the jamman, the looping defined the music in a very strong way. This time, with the extra subtleties available with the echoplex, we were able to loop in a music more transparent way – bringing loops in and out to allow ourselves to mutitrack, but without having to just build a loop then stop…

A couple of days off on Monday and Tuesday were spent visiting Ashdown, and Dan was chasing up last minute stuff for the tour (he worked really hard and did a great job…), then Wednesday we left SoCal and headed for San Luis Obispo for the second trio gig…

…and I’m going to stop there for a while, or my arms will fall off, or I’ll fall asleep, or my arms will fall off in my sleep, or something equally bad.

anyway, the rest of the story will follow ASAP…