Amy Humphrey of Clatter: long liveth the duoeth, part II: Who needs a guitarist anyway?

SingingBassist.com and Amy Humphrey of Clatter met thanks to her comment on a previous article!  Amy is the bass-playing singer in Clatter, a rock DUO from Lone Elm, Missouri, USA.

Clear your agenda this afternoon and grab a tea.  Put in your ear-buds, tell your boss that you are busy and check out the phenomenal Clatter!

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SingingBassist.com: Who are your favorite singing bassists?

Amy Humphrey: My first favorite singing bassist was Mark King, when I was a teenager. Next was Geddy Lee, who is probably my biggest influence. I also appreciate Les Claypool, Doug “dUg” Pinnick, and most recently, Troy Sanders from Mastodon.

SB: Did you know of other bass-playing vocalist-drum duos when starting?  

Amy: I don’t think we knew of any rock duos of any kind when we decided to try being a two-piece! Definitely not bass and drums. Not that they didn’t exist, but we had never heard of anyone doing it before.

SB: What was your most efficient and helpful home recording setup?

Amy: The last album we did, “Garden of Whatever,” was the first album we recorded at home. The other two we recorded and mixed in Nashville, and while they were great experiences, we decided that home recording technology had advanced to such a point that we felt comfortable recording the latest album ourselves. We also learned a lot about recording during our Nashville sessions – things like microphone placement and how to get good sounds – so we wanted to see if we could apply that knowledge on our own. Joe was really the microphone guru and did a lot of research into which microphones would be best for certain applications, while I had a great deal of experience using Logic and doing editing and so on, so we made a good team.

We are fortunate to live in a rural area, so we don’t need to worry about sound dampening, whether it be from the inside, like the volume of the instruments, or external noises, like traffic or neighbors. We converted our dilapidated chicken house into a music studio years ago, and during the renovation we made sure to include spaces that could be used for isolation. Since I use two and sometimes three amplifiers at a time, it was great to be able to put them in their own rooms to avoid any bleed.

We originally thought we would record the bass and drum parts at the same time for maximum efficiency, but then we realized that we could get away with buying fewer mics if we recorded one person at a time. That also gave each of us the freedom to start and stop if we didn’t play something the way we wanted. And since it was just the two of us, one of us really needed to be at the computer to watch levels and make sure everything was operating smoothly.

The downside to living far from town and doing this by ourselves was that we had a multitude of equipment issues which necessitated postponing the recording on several occasions until we were able to replace faulty gear or get something repaired. This was frustrating, especially when we’re all ready to go and excited to record and everything comes to a grinding halt. That’s why it was very important for us to be well-rehearsed before the recording even began, so that when everything was operational and running smoothly we could get good performances quickly with a minimum number of takes. Joe especially was able to get his drum tracks recorded on the first or second take, which was amazing, given the complexity of his parts.

Another pitfall of home recording is that it can be difficult to get away from day-to-day responsibilities and focus solely on the music, like you can when you go out of town to record, but the plus side is that you have complete control over the finished product. There’s also a more relaxed vibe recording at home, which can be nice if you feel more uninhibited without studio staff around, but can work against you if you need motivation to finish by a certain time or want that intensity that an outsider can sometimes provoke. There are definitely pros and cons to both ways of recording, and ultimately it’s up to the musicians to make the most of their opportunities wherever they record. This can be easier said than done!

SB: How many songs have you written and performed as a singing bassist?

Amy: Clatter recorded three official albums as a two-piece, for a total of 34 songs. We also made a five-song demo when we were first starting out, and I made a home recording some years ago of mellower songs that I recorded with my acoustic bass guitar. And there are a variety of songs I’ve written that were never recorded or performed!

SB: Which song was the most difficult to write?

Amy: I can’t think of a song that was difficult to write, bass-wise. Most of the time the bass lines just sort of spontaneously pop out. Sometimes I will have the bass and vocal parts written and I will drive Joe crazy trying to come up with just the right drum part. But he always does, and when it comes together, it’s always worth all that hard work!

SB: Which was the most difficult to learn to perform?

Amy: Since I usually write the bass and vocal lines myself, I think I probably subconsciously write parts that are easy to perform simultaneously. The verse of “House of Trouble” became difficult because I got out of practice singing the vocal rhythm against the rhythm of the bass line, and suddenly my brain didn’t want to make that work anymore. It was a weird mental block! But after practicing it a while I got the hang of it again.

SB: Your interest in Geddy Lee is shared by many of our readers. He mentioned that each new song seems impossible until it suddenly no longer is. You also just mentioned momentarily unlearning and relearning your own piece, which is fascinating too. What proportion of your preparation for new material was, working and writing alone, rehearsing in the duo without an audience, and live performance?

Amy: Each Clatter song is a little different in its incubation, but overall the songs somehow seem to write themselves. I know that sounds strange, and perhaps the exact opposite of what Geddy was talking about, but the way we usually write is very spontaneous. Maybe Joe or I will have an idea for a bass line, vocal melody, or rhythm and suddenly the rest of the song just flows out of that. Typically the whole song comes together very quickly and we don’t belabor a lot of details or second guess what we originally came up with.

This means I don’t tend to write above my playing ability, so it’s not as if I come up with really difficult bass lines in my mind then have to practice for weeks to play them. That said, I do try to make sure my hands are in good shape when I’m writing so that if I do imagine a certain bass part, I’m able to implement it the way I hear it.

Regarding how much time I spend writing and preparing in various settings, that really varies depending on the song. There are a few songs I wrote by myself on my acoustic bass guitar, and some that Joe came up with on his own, but more often we will write songs together. I think we feed off of each other’s ideas and enjoy having that instant feedback when we come up with a part. There’s a certain excitement that comes from the birth of a new song, and it’s more fun when you have someone to share it with. Of course, there have been a few times when a song just won’t come together without a lot of effort and time and patience, but that is the exception rather than the norm.

Once we’ve finished writing the song, we will practice it together to get the mechanical parts down so that by the time we play live we are no longer thinking about the physical aspect of playing, but rather the performance itself: conveying the meaning and emotion of the song while connecting with the audience. We use technology to help us with that – we play to a metronome live and I have a piano reference in my in-ear monitor – and that helps keep us from getting distracted by things like poor monitor mixes or strange stage setups. By the time we get on stage, we want to be able to play the songs effortlessly (or with the illusion that it’s effortless!) because we feel like that’s what the audience deserves.

SB: Your piano reference sounds like a 3rd instrument, but only for the band’s ears.  Could you describe the equipment and required setup for it?

Amy: As Joe and I were experimenting with the concept of a two-piece band, we originally tried incorporating keyboard parts into the songs that we could sequence and play along to, something to help fill out the music sonically. In order to make this work live, we had to play along to a metronome, which was great for me because I tend to be a bit of a stickler about maintaining the proper tempo. Obviously, we had to set up a click track that wasn’t audible to the audience, so we invested in in-ear monitors and had the metronome running through those. A wonderful side benefit to that was that I could also sequence a piano reference part that only I could hear that would help cue me to my vocal pitch, because I was having trouble discerning the proper singing pitch hearing only the bass.

The idea of playing along to keyboard parts live turned out to be a terrible one and we quickly abandoned that plan, but we had grown to love playing to an in-ear metronome and I really found it essential to have the piano reference, too, especially for those shows where the stage monitors were poor or non-existent. That’s when it occurred to us that by playing to a click we could do things like fly in prerecorded vocal harmonies or other cool sounds that could be sent to the front of house. We wanted to keep the sequenced and prerecorded material to a minimum, though, because we decided it would be more fun to rise to the challenge of filling out the sound with whatever we could play ourselves live rather than bring in lots of prerecorded layers. But the harmonies were the one thing we couldn’t recreate ourselves (Joe doesn’t sing), and since they are such an integral part of the songs we thought it would add to the live experience by having them present.

We did a lot of research and experimentation trying to find the best setup to meet our needs, and initially went with an Akai MPC 4000 sampler. Basically we just made samples of the background vocal tracks from the first album and loaded them into the sampler. The unit was clumsy and cumbersome but did what we wanted it to do and got us through many shows.

Later we were able to switch to a laptop-based setup, and after trying a variety of software we went with Digital Performer. That program allowed us to set up songs that contained a click and whatever backing tracks we wanted, then arrange the songs into a setlist so that once one song finished the next was queued up and ready to go. It was easy to add fun sounds or what we called “ear candy” in case we wanted to spice things up, like adding a sound clip from a movie to the beginning of a song or something.

What was really interesting, though, was the audience’s reaction to hearing backup vocals when there was only one person singing. Time and again people would come up to us after a show and ask how we were able to make harmonies happen. So I think it turned out to be a neat addition to our live show and a fun way to incorporate technology into our setup. And, of course, by keeping us on tempo and me on pitch it definitely made our performance better!

SB: Did you ever record singing and playing simultaneously?

Amy: Not for our albums. We did film a live DVD, so of course that was simultaneous!

SB: Do you write all your songs on the bass or if not, on which other instruments?

Amy: I am strictly a bass player. Although I can vaguely play the piano, having had lessons as a child, I really only have interest in writing and playing music on and for the bass.

 

 

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SB: Do you have any recommendations for bass-playing singer-songwriters?

Amy: Enjoy what you do! Do it because it’s something you love and a way to express yourself, your ideas, your feelings, your experiences. Sure, many of us don’t just love practicing repetitively to achieve a motor skill or memorize a part, so practice because you enjoy the sounds you’re making and the abilities you’re creating, or because you know the end result will be so gratifying. If learning music theory or a certain playing style makes you want to pull your hair out and you feel like you don’t need it to accomplish what you want to do musically, then don’t sweat it! There are no rules in musical creativity, and many musicians (including myself) have been discouraged by the thought that they needed to know theory inside and out before they would be considered a “real” musician.

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Conversely, if you struggle to play by ear, or you really want to understand the music theory behind songwriting, or maybe you need to have that knowledge and vocabulary to communicate musical ideas with other bandmates, then by all means delve into that aspect of music. The concept I try to impart to aspiring musicians/songwriters of any age or experience is there is no One Right Way to play music; do whatever works for you to express your musical ideas. That goes for having an unconventional band setup, too; just because there aren’t many singing bassists in the world, that doesn’t mean it can’t work! In fact, as far as I’m concerned, unconventional bands are often the most interesting to listen to.

SB: Your tip to enjoy one’s principal activity is very wise:  Which aspects of your work were most gratifying and rewarding? What are the most appealing aspects to being a bass-playing singer in a rock band?

Amy: Performing, performing, performing. It was my very favorite thing to do, and the best part about being a singer/bassist in a rock band. Even though I did enjoy writing music, and in fact found it to be cathartic to the point of life saving at times, I don’t think I would have done it if there wasn’t the potential to perform the music live at some point. There’s just no substitute for sharing that energy with an audience. Unfortunately, there’s a flip side to that: if playing to an audience is the pinnacle of fulfillment for me as a musician, playing to an empty house or not being able to book shows at all is very discouraging, and that is what eventually led to my decision to stop playing.

Tying in with the performance aspect, the most gratifying work I did in Clatter was with schoolchildren. There is a certain unbridled joy that children exude which is life-affirming, and it was such an honor to have opportunities to speak to children about creating music. We would do workshops for the kids where we described our unusual setup and played them songs to illustrate it, but more importantly talked about how there are no rules when it comes to expressing oneself creatively.

It also has been very important to me to be a positive role model for girls. I welcome any chance I get to impress upon young women the fact that every voice matters, regardless of appearance or background or sex appeal. Gender stereotypes still prevail and it saddens me to think that a young girl might not pursue a dream – musical or otherwise – just because she’s told it’s something females can’t do, or can only do if done in a way that exploits her sexuality. I have taught bass at a couple of Girls Rock! camps and have marveled at how well the students thrive in an environment of acceptance and encouragement. If only all kids had access to such camps!

And finally, I have made so many friends around the world through music that I am constantly humbled and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to connect with so many wonderful people. Even when we’ve been on vacation we’ve had the chance to meet and hang out with fans and fellow musicians whom we never would have known had it not been for music…and the internet! The lasting friendships we have developed through Clatter and the positive influence we have (hopefully) had on children and other musicians are indeed the most gratifying and rewarding aspects of our work and, for me, the most appealing part of being a singer and bassist in a rock band.

SB: Have you considered performing live-streaming, online concerts?  Could that be as invigorating?  

Amy: We actually thought a lot about doing online concerts and discussed a wide variety of options, such as turning one of our barns into a stage setup with permanent cameras and stage lighting so we could just walk in and start recording or streaming. And we’ve enjoyed doing instructional videos in the past and have gotten a lot of great feedback, so we did consider continuing on in that vein. But ultimately, this type of setup lacks that personal connection that I so enjoy when I play live. There’s just something about the energy or vibe of being in the same room with the audience that I find really invigorating. I probably play at a higher level, too, because there’s sort of an accountability that you have to play your best when you are looking straight at the people who are listening to you, rather than trying to imagine an audience out there on their computers.
That said, the friendships I’ve made online with people I may never meet in real life are incredibly rewarding, and the day may come when I feel compelled to play music again and do something like a web cast. It’s entirely possible that, with time and a fresh perspective, the enjoyment of singing and playing bass will return and so will the desire to share our creations with the world, in whatever format is the most logical. To quote from a song I’m singing in “Mary Poppins” right now, “Anything can happen if you let it.” Maybe there’s some truth to that!

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Nalle Pahlsson, the Singing Bassist

Nalle Pahlsson lives the life which many home musicians aspire to: he is a performing, singer songwriter whose principle professional activity is: performing and recording rock music.  Since the early Eighties, he’s been in demand as a bass player in his native Sweden, playing everything from mainstream pop to metal.  He makes powerful, melodic hard rock rooted in the Seventies and Eighties, both as a bass player for many acts, including Therion and Last Autumn’s Dream, as well as under his own moniker, Royal Mess, in which he also takes on lead vocals.  Naturally, the SingingBassist wants to know more.

In this conversation, Nalle illustrates how much customization he has performed to his tool-set, including unique tunings, custom strings and a minimalist approach to amplification.  He also reveals his complete self-reliance on his ears for acquiring music.  No notes, no cheat-sheets.  Purely the senses with which we are all born.

On October 10, 2015, the release of his new solo album, Royal Mess, takes place in Stockholm, at Pub Anchor, Sveavagen 90, at 9 pm.  

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In light of this event, we present here, our recent conversation with Singing Bassist Nalle Pahlsson.  Check out his band at http://www.royalmess.se/.

SingingBassist.com: Thank you Nalle for making time.  Firstly, I am intrigued by some of your quotes.

“I feel just as at home playing the rhythm guitar, which has a similar role.”:

I assume this quote refers to your work collaborating with other songwriters.
What are your preferred ways to differentiate the bass sound from the rhythm guitar sound in your compositions and performances?
Which of your newest songs represent the most distinct bass-line and rhythm-guitar compositions?

Nalle Pahlsson: I really don’t know. It’s hard to tell because I don’t see things in details when it comes to music. I see it as a whole and I sort of ”just do it”. The way I look at it, both bass guitar and rhythm guitar belong to the basics when you’re playing in a band – the foundation of the whole thing. If I had been been a house builder I would probably have the job working with cement, fixing the floor and walls to make it all stable and safe.
For songwriting, I prefer to use my guitars of course, but for example the song ”Breakout” on my album was built on a riff I came up with while playing bass.

SB, quoting NP:  “I get paid for doing my hobby”

In Europe there does seem to be a strict difference between work and hobby. Is this perception also true in Sweden?

NP: I can only speak for myself, and the only thing I know is that I’ve always told myself that if playing and touring ever start to feel more like a job than a hobby and joy, I will quit and do something else. I don’t want to destroy the feelings I’ve had for music since I was in my early teens. To me it’s still more or less the same.

SB: Are there bureaucratic hurdles unique to the career progress of a Scandinavian musician?

NP: Not really, but things were easier in every way in the 80’s and 90’s. The music business is tougher today… It’s harder to make a living from it. And in the 80’s and 90’s you got more financial support by the state here in Sweden because through playing you were ”working” for Swedish culture, as they called it. Today, it’s much harder and you often have to work with other things in between tours and recordings to survive.

SB: Music is still getting consumed, however, so where did all the music revenue disappear to, in your observations?

NP: Hard to say, but for me I guess it started around 2005…. But on the other hand I like the way things have turned out. If music business still would have been the same as it was in the 80’s and early 90’s I would probably not have been able to even record my album. The record companies were full of people who should rather have been working with selling cars or maybe even potatoes!  I’m glad most of them are gone now ! And then we had those people who were “already there”; songwriters, producers etc……they kept everything to themselves and didn’t let anyone else in! You were sort of locked outside……”Catch 22”. Today you do what you want to!

SB: Are there unique opportunities available to upcoming Scandinavian musicians?

NP: Today, in Sweden, we have good music schools where you really can get into all sorts of music. When I started to play, everything was about jazz or classical music when it came to musical education. Today I’m very glad I didn’t get into that at all. To play by ear and be self-taught is great. You sort of make your own rules, instead of doing something you have been taught. I taught myself by just listening to what ”the big boys” did.

SB: How can upcoming Swedish artists bridge the gap from hobbyist to “professional”?

NP: By just believing in yourself. Go straight ahead and move forward with what you do and with what you feel is right. Get in touch with people who already are in the music business and show them what you’re doing and what you stand for. Sooner or later, I believe you will see the results.

SB, quoting NP: “I’ve always preferred the sound of passive mics. It’s really a matter of taste as well, but in my opinion, the active basses often sound “plastic” and are less dynamic. In rock and pop music, the passive sound is more suitable together with the sound of an acoustic drum-set.” : Acoustic drum-sets often determine the performance volume-level for the entire band.  However, most music nowadays is anyway consumed through headphones. Noise restrictions limit rehearsal and performance opportunities everywhere. 

Do you see any appeal in working with drummers playing on non-acoustic drum-sets (such as midi)?

NP: The latest album with Therion ”Fleur des mal” was recorded with a digital drumkit. I think it can be OK for recordings sometimes. But, to me, nothing can beat the real thing.

SB, quoting NP: “TO PLAY-BY-EAR has been the only thing for me while learning my parts for tours and recordings. I can’t read music and my theoretical knowledge in music is limited. I have “educated” myself just by listening to records to learn how my idols did it.”

With no way to write them down, how do you keep track of compositions?

NP: I have good memory when it comes to music, so I rely on that!
My memory in ordinary daily life is awfully bad, though, sometimes I don’t even remember what happened yesterday! (ha!)

SB: How do you make sure your musical self-education is competitive with that of note/tab-readers?

NP: I am aware I could have many more ”jobs” or gigs if I were a note and tab-reader as well. But the fact is that I don’t want those kind of gigs. To me it’s all about hearing and feeling, to get into the songs and then go out there and blast them out. To sit there and read from a paper, playing for a musical, theatre or whatever…that’s not my cup of tea. It’s the same with the recordings; mostly I listen to a demo of the song I’m gonna record, then I learn it and play it through a couple of times and then I make my own interpretation of the song.


SB: And now for some additional questions:

As a songwriting-bass playing-singer you represent a rarity in the rock and pop domain.
How do you communicate new compositions to (potential) collaborators?

NP: I usually play my ideas on guitar. Quite often I have something pre-recorded with programmed drums, bass and guitar.

SB: Do you ever begin the songwriting process by composing the bass and vocal melodies?

NP: As mentioned earlier, one example is the song ”Breakout” which is all built on a bass riff. Sometimes it comes out that way, or maybe just by a groove you’ve got in your head.

SB: What is for you the preferred or typical recording strategy ?

NP: To me, as a bass player or rhythm guitar player it’s very important to start with the drums. That’s where it all begins. It’s just like building a house. You don’t start with the roof, do you? Then the bass, rhythm guitars and keyboards. But it depends on the circumstances, of course.

SB: For you as a music consumer, what have been the most inspiring singing-bassist performances?

NP: One of my biggest inspirations comes from the album ”Burn” by Deep Purple. Glenn Hughes had such a huge impact on me, both as a singer and bass player. Hughes and another singing bassist, Steve Priest from The Sweet, were actually the guys who made me take the decision to become a bass player. Both of them had that great combination of being both singers and bassists. Later on, I also started to listen a lot to the band Rush, with Geddy Lee, who also had the same talents and skills. Gene Simmons of KISS is also one of my favourites. John Wetton from the band U.K. as well. And Phil Lynott of course deserves a mentioning!

SB: Which song on your upcoming album “Royal Mess” was the most difficult to complete writing?

NP: I don’t think any of the songs were ”difficult” in any way, but I guess the ballad ”The pieces of my heart” took a bit longer to finish with the string arrangements, fret-less bass and effects etc. I did everything except the drums on that song, including programming the keyboards.

SB: Which song on Royal Mess is likely the most difficult to learn to perform?

NP: I really don’t know, since we haven’t tried them out live yet… We will do a release gig at October 10th in Stockholm. We’ll see how it will work out a couple of days before at the rehearsals. I usually stick to what is pretty basic and simple when it comes to playing. My motto is ”Power & Simplicity”.

SB: Do you ever record singing and playing simultaneously?

NP: So far, I haven’t. For the recordings, I think it’s best to focus on one thing at a time.

SB: What are your touring plans for Royal Mess?

NP: Too early to say, really. The only thing I know so far, is that we will play a couple of festivals in Sweden next summer.

SB: Who will be your performance band for Royal Mess?

NP: If possible, my band will be my friends you can see in the band picture in the album booklet: Stefan Bergström (Skintrade) Johan Koleberg (Therion) Chris Laney (who mixed my album) and Pontus Larsson (Vindictiv)

SB: Please describe your planned performance equipment for Royal Mess, including pedals, amps, guitars.

NP: Many people ask me how I get my bass sound. The secret (which is no secret) is that I only play through a Tech 21 SansAmp straight in to an interface for the recordings. And I do the same when I play live!

I play basses from Yamaha: A BB1600 from 1986 and a new one – BB1024X.

I’ve been using Yamaha basses from the BB-series since 1986. In 2004 I got endorsed by them, almost “by accident”!  I just wanted a spare bass for a tour I was gonna go on, then coincidentally I got to know that “a friend of one of my friends” was working at Yamaha, and he offered me this endorsement……after I had been using their basses for about 18 years!

I guess the rest comes from my hands. I can use almost any equipment for monitoring, but I prefer Marshall for bass.

Already in 1989 I was tuning my bass from D to B. So I actually don’t have a G-string on most of my basses. The reason is that when the 5-string basses came out in the 80’s, I always thought they felt uncomfortable to play. Either the necks were too wide or if you wanted a more slim neck, the strings were too tight together.. So I just thought, “If it’s bass – it should be BASS! Who needs those high tones anyway? For the kind of music that I play the most, it’s not very often necessary”. But of course I also play ordinary bass tuned from G to E.

…..What many people don’t know is that I started my professional career as a Slap and Funk bassist. And I can still play some of it.  Maybe I’ll come up with some of that in the future. We’ll see.

SB: Will you play fret-less bass when performing “The pieces of my heart”?

NP: No, if we’re gonna play that song live I will stick to my ordinary bass. On the album the song contains both ordinary bass and fret-less bass. The fret-less I used there was only as “an added effect”.

SB: Plectrum, or finger plucking?

NP: Ninety-nine percent of the time I play with a plectrum (1mm Dunlop Super Grip).  I also use my index finger together with the pick like guitar players often do to get that extra crunch. So very often after a few gigs on a tour, my nail on my index finger is already pretty damaged.

SB: Do you plan acoustic concerts or acoustic portions of your concert?

NP: My plans for the live gigs haven’t really started yet except for the line-up. We will play at the release gig in Stockholm on October 10th, and that will be sort of a try-out to see where to go from there.

SB: Where and when was the album Royal Mess recorded?

NP: The recordings began in Polar Studios, Stockholm with Ian Haugland and Chris Laney as early as 2011. Then we continued in XTC-Studios, Stockholm. All the bass, guitars and vocals, I recorded in my home studio.

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SB: Please describe your home studio.

NP: (Laughing) I don’t even show pictures of it! My home studio where I lay down most of my tracks for recordings is actually 11 years old!  I’m totally “Stonehenge”!  On the other hand I have many friends who constantly have problems and troubles with their equipment – and they have the latest stuff there is! My stuff goes on like clockwork – since 2004!

But I only use it like a digital “tape recorder”. Then Chris Laney puts my files in his modern computer for mixing. My music is just straight forward rock and doesn’t need very much technical stuff for recording.

SB: The upcoming album is the first album on which you sing lead-vocals on every song.  Which song was the first to be written, when was the first song written, and which song was the most recently written?

NP: “See You In My Dreams” is definitely the oldest song of the album but is also sort of an “outsider”.  I wrote it in 1986 to my brother Benny who died July 1st the same year. It was recorded several times by other bands and artists, but for some reason it was never released. None of those versions were ever released…… Now it’s finally out!

The most recently written song was “Mr Freedom” I think.

SB: Do you have any special advice for bass-playing singer-songwriters?

NP: To me it’s all about the music, not the playing itself. I see the bass as a tool to make and express the music you have inside of you. An important thing is to practise coordination. Sometimes it can be pretty hard to sing and play at the same time, but all you need to do is keep on practicing. In the end you’ll get there!

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Reverse Strung Bass Guitars and Supine Practicing

Thanks to Dennis Alstrand for his helpful discussion and feedback for this article.

Two years ago I restrung my bass-guitar as should be for left-handed players. I am right-handed. But now I play with the E-string towards my feet and my G-string towards my head.

I was inspired by one of my favourite mavericks, Jimi Goodwin, then lead-singer and bass-guitarist of the Doves, now a solo-artist who still plays the backwards bass guitar. Jimi is a left-handed bassist playing a right-hand strung bass-guitar. View a stillframe at second 28 of the following film.

While left-handed musicians are motivated to play reverse-strung instruments in order to be able to share guitars and use more mainstream instruments, I have discovered some advantages of playing upside down.

  1. The lowest frequencies which carry the furthest are muted when higher notes on the thinner strings are played, because the patches on my fingers below the fingertips on my left hand mute the unplayed, lower-pitched strings.
  2. Playing bass with fingertips rather than pick is encouraged because with the reverse string arrangement I do not need to hoist up the wrist of my right hand like a post-Chernobyl waterfowl, or as some refer to him, Geddie Lee.
  3. Because I am now playing with fingers rather than picks – why use only one pick when you are born with 4-5? – the right hand also serves to mute unplayed strings, because the right hand often covers all strings. In fact, the left and right hands on a reverse stringed bass-guitar permit no string to inadvertently freely resonate. I play bass in order to control the lowest frequencies, and having these located nearest to my feet feels more intuitive.
  4. The room is quite crowded with conventional players. Reversing the strings makes the bass into a new instrument. Yes, it required relearning my instrument, but that also opens up pathways to new songs and newer songwriting.
  5. It means that my right-handed guitarist friends do not even try to play on my bass.

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This playing choice is enhanced by a few additional hacks.
One such hack is that I always play using drop tuning, specifically, I detune the E to a D. This locates the octave of the note played on the lowest string on the same fret on the third string. Basically this is a reduction in finger acrobatics necessary to play conventional riffs in covers.

One last recommendation which I have for today is to practice playing your guitar supine. This means laying on your back and playing the bass resting on your torso.
supine
This practice technique requires you to play without looking at the fretboard, which is a must if you later want to direct your vocal instrument into a microphone.
Secondly, because you cannot rely on sight to control your bass, you learn to play more often using the higher-pitched strings. Your bass has at least 4 strings, so all of them should be used. In my view of music, music is heard, played, sung, but never necessarily seen nor written. Practicing supine reinforces this notion.

Long liveth the duoeth : The sun sets on the rhythm guitarist.

What is even harder work than performing as a Singing Bassist? Performing as the vocalist and instrumentalist in a rock duo! These singers have to do a lot more than does a Singing Bassist. They have to fill the entire musical end of the sound, sing, and be the only front man.
Challenging the conventional rock band structure requires reduction and elimination. No configuration is more reduced than that of a drummer plus singer-instrumentalist. This article describes performing rock bands consisting of two members. Four recently successful rock-duos are examined: White Stripes, Two Gallants, Local H and Royal Blood. In addition to that, we include an intermezzo describing Chuck Berry’s preference for having no fixed performing band.
Written by Will Anderson. Thanks to Dennis Alstrand for his review of this article.

White Stripes is the duo which everyone loves to pour hatred on, most likely due to the vast difference in quality between their recordings and performances, and probably in part due to the ambiguous nature of the intra-band relationship. A fact which can not be denied is that the White Stripes did legitimize the duo as a mainstream act. Jack White was originally a drummer, but he played guitar and sang in the band which made his name known to millions. Being in a duo means that the singer-instrumentalist cannot lean on an additional instrumentalist while generating vocals. Alternating between instrument and vocals would be quite boring, so the leader of a rock-duo must be better prepared than a simple singer. The fewer the band-members, the smaller is the acceptable margin for error. The upside is that the need for group rehearsal for a duo must be very low. Each member individually learns their parts and then probably meets once to confirm that they have the same references. For a duo, just as for the singing bassist, the practice and preparation are integral parts of the artform.

Two Gallants is an exciting duo from San Francisco consisting of two friends who have performed together since the age of twelve. They describe the experience of being in a duo as a “wall that they continually bump up against and every time it repels them in a new direction“. The most exciting aspect of their configuration in my perspective is the fact that one member plays drums mostly, but also guitar occasionally. And of course, both sing, which is a great resource to have in any band, but even more essential when the number of members is two.

While the Two Gallants are pushing the boundaries of the possibilities with drums, guitars and voices, the meteoric rise of Royal Blood provides strong evidence that reduction and simplification to the essentials leads to stronger songwriting and more rivetting performances. Mike Kerr of Royal Blood is a singing bassist, but he treats his bass sound like a guitar using an octave pedal. In fact, he uses two duplicate signals, treated individually through individual amps. One signal leads to a bass amp, occasionally interrupted by a tuning pedal in order to enhance dynamics, and one signal leads through an octave pedal and to a more guitar-oriented amplification.

Royal Blood demonstrate that there are really only abstract, artificial differences between bass-guitar and guitar-guitar. This was however previously demonstrated in the mainstream by a grunge-duo, debuting in the late nineties under the name of Local H. Scott Lucas originally fronted a four-piece band, but with the erosion of daily life this band became two and they decided that comradery cannot be manufactured by relentless recruitment. Their performances are enhanced with the inclusion of one stage-hand who steps in to provide percussion and background vocals. The guitars in Local H are all upgraded with bass pick-ups and additional parallel amplifiers. Enjoy the collision between small town innocence and rock and roll front man in the following clip.

One remaining maverick deserving mention in this stream is Chuck Berry. No, he did not work in a duo. He was even more audacious, touring 70-100 nights a year in the 1970’s and 1980’s carrying nothing but his guitar with him on the road. He hired local musicians to be his band at each of these tour dates. This is incredibly exciting because each performance was totally unique, uncomparable with any recordings or even any other tour dates. While some observers claim that these performances were erratic and damaging to his reputation, I contend that this experimental approach cements Chuck Berry as a true rock and roll singer-songwriter.

The biggest lesson to be learned from these brave performers is that a rock singer-songwriter sole-proprietorship is quite attainable. Taking the examples of Royal Blood, a singing bassist with no guitarist, and of Chuck Berry, singing lead-guitarist with no long-term band, combining the advantages of singing and playing bass for songwriting with the flexibility of touring with local bands, the performing singer songwriter is empowered to quickly implement his or her vision of music, but without the drama and expense of a permanent band.

Matt Sharp Chanteur Bassiste Internationale Part 2

Rentals_BigRSmall_BrantleyGutierrez

This is Part 2 of a multipart interview series started here.

Frontman and Songwriter of The Rentals, Founding Member of Weezer, Matt Sharp has seen and lives the dream of many musicians around the world, myself included. It was very gracious of him and his team to give an hour of direct access and multiple exchanges before and after to make this series of interviews for SingingBassist.com. You will find out about his peculiar methods of album composition, his self-constructed bass guitar, his collaboration style, and much more. But for now, enjoy the entire text, in which Matt tells us, among other things:

  1. Which musicians or bands does Matt see presently as influences? 3:30
  2. Why have Europe and Europeans figured so prominently in his career? 7:30
  3. When was the first time he played bass and sang? 14:08
  4. Which important advice or tips does he have for aspiring singing bassists? 17:53!!

Enjoy firsthand their newest album, Lost in Alphaville.

Also, their complete discography is useful reference material for aspiring Singing Bassists. Including their first album, Return of the Rentals, and second album Seven More Minutes.

Many thanks to Brendan Bourke from Canvas Media and Tanya Korzun for the transcription.

Singing Bassist: What’s your main drive right now, after playing a first mini-tour for your new album Lost In Alphaville?

Matthew Sharp: We had just a handful of shows that were just to promote the beginning of the release but hopefully we’ll be promoting it for a while. Em, that’s a, essentially that’s what my drive is now. It’s just trying to figure out, you know, in a kind of a little bit more complicated world, how to get people to actually get a chance to hear it. you know, so that’s it. We are basically just focusing on that and how to share it with people and figure out what’s the best way to do that.

SB: Will you be playing in Europe in the near future?

MS: I would love to. It’s just, the issue with us is this record isn’t really properly released in Europe. At least not in the traditional way that I’m used to. I mean it’s basically a digital release over there. And, so that makes me skeptical about having like the right people on the ground that are there to support you, and there to make sure that you’re playing the best places and getting on the right radio-stations, or speaking to the right blogs. So that’s kind of holding us back from doing anything (in Europe). So essentially we’re concentrating on in the US right now. And, and then, we’ll see, I would really like to… That’s one of the bigger disappointments of this album… is that I was really hoping that there would be welcoming arms in Europe going, you know…(laughs)….”We’re here for you”, and that kinda stuff. So we need to find that at some point, you know, if it is not for this album and then for the next album.

SB: Do you always play bass on your recordings?

MS: Yeah, I guess so. I rarely play anymore really, except when it comes time to do the records. And then it is sort of a mad scramble to get some very basic level of technique back, you know. I’m always doing that… For the most part, the thing that I focus on is for the lack of the better word more like being director on an album, you know, when I’m bringing people together and trying to figure out the right, you know, the right tones and how they work together and how the voices work with synthesizers, and how they, you know, and figuring out who should play drums and who should sing and who should… There are always different groups of people that I work with on each record. And so that’s like the thing I probably, I don’t know, if it gets the most joy out of, but (that’s) the thing I put the most energy into.

So it’s like, oh, like, try to like, with this record… With Lost in Alphaville it was really a case of, um, doing one thing at a time, you know, like it was really just focusing completely on one-on-one relationships. So it’s like, at first it was just myself, just trying to figure out, like, before we even started recording before any tracks were done, like I just figured out a kind of, you know a layout of the whole record so I had a big whiteboard over here in the corner and just kind of sat there and wrote out the song titles in different orders until I figured out one in my head the one that seemed like, ‘ok, that makes sense’. It makes… you know, that there’s a story here when it’s kind of “Come Home” starts see album and “The Future” and then this song comes second, this song comes third, and all of them like. So I figure it, all that, and worked from that first, before we even recorded and figured it out… Essentially like a movie, figured out like how you going to open, where are you… what’s the next scene, and that kind of thing. And then, sort of, recording and then…

It’s the first time I ever recorded that way. And most bands that I’ve been in or worked with or whatever, usually just record a bunch of songs together in a room and then once the recording is done you kind of go, you know, go through everything and just see, oh, what songs sound like opening songs, what songs sound like a closer, you sort of do it, what songs sound like a single.

And you kind of order it after the fact, and in this case we did the exact opposite of that. And it was more like, well, if “Time To Come Home” is the opening song then what should it sound like, you know. And if “Traces of our Tears” is going to be the second song, what kind of energy should it have, or how should the drum sound and… You know, it was totally serving… it was more like serving the album instead of serving the song. So it was cool, it was really cool, that part of it.

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Ryen Slegr Recording on Lost in Alphaville, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp

MS: After that I started working one-on-one with Ryen Slegr the guitar payer on the album, it was just two of us in a room together for quite a long time and then once we kind of… Ryen has some very unique qualities that I really like just wanted to… tap into… (and which) I felt like had never been…what, the thing that I love about what he does is something that had never really been shown on an album to its best, thing, so we went and tried to find that together and then it’s like ‘ok, we’re done on this, now, where are we going?’ and then we like go to the next thing, and to the next relationship, and the next person. You know at some point it that it was just Patrick Carney and I in a room together.

Rentals_Carney_RecordingPic

Patrick Carney Recording on Lost In Alphaville, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp

SB: Did you enter this storyboard phase armed with demos and if so, from where?

MS: I’d done this big arts project with a ton of different people in 2009 and it was, you know, short films and photography and music and all this different stuff. Into this I kind of self-indulgent sort of arts project that we did, that we self-released. And the songs were recorded originally in that, within that project, except for they were done, they weren’t done necessarily to be a Rentals’ album even though we kind of used that name to bring the attention to it, it was more, those versions were more to serve like an arts project so they sounded much lighter and much… had a completely different tone to them and so I already had realized at some point that like those 10 songs that are on Lost in Alphaville kind of belong together, needed to be together, and that’s why that approach was done, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a ‘concept album’, but they really do, they are songs that are kind of dependent on each other in some way I think.

Songs About Time - Limited Edition - Holiday Sale

Songs About Time Arts Exhibition, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp

 

SB: You perform on acoustic guitars, synthesizers and percussion, and what percentage on bass guitar?

MS: As for, you keep calling it a tour, it so weird to call something a tour when you only do 6 shows.

You know, my thoughts about touring is like during the Weezer days when we toured something like 2.5 years straight, something like that, and then you play like a bazillion, playing like the entire United States 8 times in a row and then going to Europe or whatever.

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Weezer Pinkerton Tour, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp

MS: So these last shows that we did recently, I played bass probably on like 4 songs, a couple, a couple of the older songs from the first Rentals’ album, and then couple of songs from the new record and then that was it. That’s all I played besides singing, you know for the most part. It’s like… You know I really enjoy playing bass on the shows because for the rest of the concert I kind of moving around a lot. I’ve always sort of been that way… Just like a lot of whatever, a lot of excess energy that I need to get out. And so it sometimes is really hard to do that and kind of share your like whatever your enthusiasm for being where you’re at, and being with the audience and having all that crazy frenetic energy with them and that’s swirling around it is really hard to do for me sometimes and play bass. But at the same time it’s kind of cool because we, I did 2 songs of the at the front of the set, 2 songs towards the back half of the set where I played bass, and it was cool because it helped me through like to regain my composure, something like that, like calm down, center yourself, and that was cool. I liked it a lot, and as I played bass like I think on the songs like Stardust and then on Seven Years, and then, I can’t remember what song out of the first album I think, “Love I’m Searching For” and “These Days”. All the songs were like the easiest songs to play and whatever, they are slightly mellower songs too.

Rentals_BassSmall_BrantleyGutierrez

The Rentals Lost In Alphaville, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp

SB: Tell us about your bass guitars.

MS: Well…I have played the same bass since basically, since like 92 or something. I was playing, when Weezer started, I was playing sort of a bunch of different basses that I, like, you know…basses that were not particularly cool or whatever, you know. Something, some different things I remember playing, like this metal kind of Hamer bass that I had from when I was like a little kid and some other ones.

Sharp_Christmas_VirginiaMatt Sharp, Christmas in Virginia, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp

MS: And then I bought a Jerry Jones bass at some point. It was a Danelectro copy, a Longhorn type of thing. There was like a little group of bass players from bands that Weezer was playing with, local bands in LA. And those guys would all give me a little bit of a hell for the Jerry Jones bass cause they would go like ‘ Oh, that’s not a man’s bass!’. You know, it’s a teal-looking, very fragile kind of thing. It sounded really cool but it didn’t take a lot of abuse, you know. And so they would stand right in front of me when Weezer was playing and they were like, kind of like, back when 10 or 15 people that would come out, and they would just stand right in front of us and go, ‘Come on!’ And kind of challenge your manhood or your something, or whatever. And there was always this kind of an inside joke about taming the instrument, you know, kind of doing that Mike Watt kind of style of just being really… just really, taking that bass, and taming it, and all that kind of stuff. Cause we were all just a bunch of barbaric sort of, you know, cavemen-like bass players. And so those guys, those bass players from different bands basically gave me different parts of the, what became my main bass. They like, one guy gave me the body, another guy gave me the neck, somebody else, you know, like, gave me the pickups to it, and whatever it was. That was really a mutt of a bass. So, and… so each of them would tell now ‘This is a man’s bass, here’s a 70s Fender jazz body. This is what a man should play’. So that was that kind of thing. And it was like ‘This is a neck you could never break, you could never break this neck. This was like Telecaster style neck’ or whatever, and that kind of thing. And they all threw it together and it just taken so much punishment.

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Matt Sharp’s Primary Bass Guitar, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp

MS: And has been something I used on pretty much, I used it on all the Weezer records, I used it on all the Rentals’ records, I did a little of a bass-playing on a Tegan and Sara record called ‘The Con’, I used it for that. And I played a little bit on (the release by) Ronnie from The Killers, he has a band called Big Talk, an I played on a couple of the songs on their first record, and used it as well. But you know, on this, I pretty much played only that… that… I have that one and I sort of some copies of it, as a backup.

On this tour we were playing with this bass player who was playing with us when I wasn’t playing, Shawn from the band Starfucker. And he just bought one of the like Jaguar basses, one of those cream-colored, you know, whatever. And it was so… And I played that on a couple of songs and I ended up playing it on all the shows that we did on the East Coast. It was so cool to finally play something different, because I’ve just been playing that one thing forever. It was cool to finally not actually play my black bass.

SB: Who are the artists who nowadays have the biggest impact or influence on your work?

MS: You know, I guess you know the band that challenged me the most I think was, when we were doing this arts project in 09, like I said, the whole thing was like much more of a lighter affair. The songs were meant to serve as soundtracks to these little artsy-fartsy movies that I was making. And so when in the middle of making that music I guess it kind of leans towards like, that stuff that we did lean more towards, I don’t know, Belle and Sebastian, or something like that. Not quite that light but sort of something in that world. And in the middle of doing that a friend of mine said, ‘Hey, I’m producing this band, and they’re really, like ‘Pinkerton’ to them is like their bible. And it’d be really cool if you came in and just listened to their new album that I’m working on and just sit in and like, you know, hear what they doing and I’m sure they’d be like real into it you know.” And that would give this producer some street cred or something, but he’s a friend of mine, So I was like ‘Yeah, sure, of course, whenever you want’. And I went in and the band was Manchester Orchestra. And the album they were working on was just, like, blew my head off, straight off, and I was so knocked sideways by the record and it seemed like, like a challenge to me. ‘Ok, you have to make better records now’. You know, because the things they were doing were so just epic, you know. Just beautiful and emotional and really just like moving and that really, that was … One of the things for this record that certainly I felt like ‘Ok, it’s time, time to step up your game’. That kind of thing. And the other one, I would say, would be the girls that sing on the record, their group is called Lucius, and I know that they are doing well in Europe now, it seems, at least following their Instagram, everything seems to be going really well. They’re amazing singers, but lost in the fact that they are just these great vocalists, is the fact that they write incredible songs. And their whole band, their guitar players, the guys that kind of pull out all the rest of the music are just like incredible musicians. So like they’ve been a big inspiration for me for sure. Just seeing them perform and wanting to make same thing. It’s the groups that make you want to make better records. Or you’re, you know, you’re embarrassed about the fact that (the track on which) you’re headed, is just not good enough. It was something like that, you know.

SB: Speaking of Europe… Your career has seemed to include a lot of transatlanticism. Recording, or collaborating with British musicians, living in Barcelona. What is it about Europe or Europeans that keeps drawing your attention?

Rentals_Barcelona with Rod Cervera

Matt Sharp and Rod Cervera in Barcelona, courtesy Archives Matt Sharp.

MS: Well, you know, at the time like that, where that’s, I guess, where that stuff’s started from is, you know… When I was in a Weezer we essentially for a number of reasons… We basically, we won the lottery, right? Like, I mean, we were, we had a lot of good fortune, very quickly. At that time it might not have seemed it, you know, in the day to day life . It might not have seemed that quick to us but it was, it was really, in a retrospect this, you know, just like explosion of good fortune. And, so, in a midst of all that, not everybody involved was, all that happy, you know, and not, and not… they not… there wasn’t…it.. our circumstances didn’t, you know, reflect in our attitudes like that or something… there wasn’t this… we didn’t feel that, that… we weren’t popping champagne bottles, you know. We were not celebrating, really, that thing. And I had, at some point… Weezer are gone over to do a show in Barcelona. And it was just like a real, like a really short thing, like a 15 minute show or 30 minute show, something like that. And I just fell in love with the city, and then I ended up going on all our little breaks in between, you know, we had a couple days off here, a couple days off there. I would just go back to Barcelona, I just fell in love with it, as a city, and a culture. And I ended up falling in love with a woman there, and just adoring all her friends. You know, the people that I knew there really took me in. And here were a group of people that I met who, for the most part, you know, didn’t have a lot of money to their name, were celebrating the hell out of life, you know. And just.. and that thing of just being with them and seeing people who just loved each other’s company and loved… all of the, I guess all of the stereotypes of now we think of just sort of like, beautiful long dinners at midnight, they go till 2 in the morning, and then going out for your first bar at 2, and then going to the disco after 4, and then going into the after-hours at like 7 am, and doing all those kinds of things. It was just something I’ve never experienced before, and it was such a revelation to me, that I just couldn’t help it to write about it and want to a… you know, whatever… just stay in that world as much as possible, so I did, I went back over and over and over again. And you know, so that’s it, essentially. That’s where that comes from. At that time that was the biggest inspiration in my life… not just… not just the city of Barcelona, but just, the people, you know… The people there, the friends, the friends of friends, the family members, and all that kind of stuff. It was just really a very special time of my life.

SB: Nice. You were born in Asia and grew up in Arlington, in Northern Virginia. Are you inclined to painting in the details of how it came to be that you were born in Thailand?

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Matt Sharp in Arlington, Virginia (USA), Courtesy Archives Matt Sharp

MS: Yeah, I was born in Thailand. My family was there for 4 years towards the very end of the Vietnam. So they didn’t.. My family is not a military family, but my father was working for the government essentially at that time.

And he was there just like, from what I know, and I don’t know a ton about it, he was just interviewing insurgents and figuring out why they were in a war and these kinds of things, and then reporting back to the government, ‘This is why the people are fighting.’ ‘So why are they fighting?’ – ‘Because they are bored, and they want to. I don’t know’ (laughs). So basically, I was there for the last year of that. And I was only there a year and then went straight from Thailand where you have all these incredibly exotic beautiful stories, that when they recall them, you are like ‘agh, why didn’t we stay longer?’, into Virginia, which was kind of… couldn’t have been… you know, especially at that time, couldn’t have been less exotic.You know…Or less like worldly in a way, Virginia was just a little… my part of Virginia was in Arlington. And Arlington now has expanded quite a bit, like most, I think, like most of the cities. There’s, you know, there is that gentrification of the entire world sort of thing, where we’re getting a lot of the same things. And so, you know. But at that time, I think, like, the most like worldly thing was like Chinese take-out. Something like that, “Oh, we get fortune cookies!” It’s funny, I really went from, from very polar opposites. So when I was… I can’t remember what age… it must have been like 16 or something like that, we got a letter from the government of Thailand saying if I wanted to retain my Thai citizenship I had to go over and serve a year in their army. And at that time, as a 16-years old kid, who basically only knew like suburban Virginia, I could not even, I couldn’t even fathom what the world was, let alone understanding what Barcelona would be, or London, or Paris or whatever. I couldn’t even understand the idea of…I mean I could barely think outside of Virginia, you know. So the furthest place I could dream about, was like, within the continental United States. That’s probably why I ended up in Los Angeles. That was the furthest place which I could think of, getting away from Virginia and dreaming of another place. So when I was asked to go back and serve in Thai army, I don’t think I even understood what that meant, but now in retrospect, like, you know, that would be a great… I wish I had that in my belt, that I spent a year over there (laughs)… Alone, like a 17 year old kid, you know, whatever. Trying to learn Thai, and whatever, doing whatever was going on at the time. Marching and all that.

I think everything is kind of getting different, you know it’s like, it’s like now… like when Weezer was on the road in the beginning and we toured the US over and over again and most of us were vegetarians. So, you know, when you’re travelling, it was really, really difficult to get something that wasn’t like a meat-based dinner or lunch or whatever. I mean basically you could go to like, like, you know, Subway, and get like a cheese sandwich or something like that, so like the monotony of like what you could eat was really rough, like so you just know, there were no choices. And now you, no matter where you travel, it seems like you have, just a sort of, all of kinds of different restaurants from different cultures, different things from all the parts of the world. And I think that’s definitely a good thing.

SB: In the promotional material for Lost in Alphaville you are quoting as saying that “if you can’t whip yourself up into a state of full-blown rapture while creating, then you really don’t see the point of making music. That must be a quite demanding lion to feed. What non-music sources of inspiration do you look to?

MS: Well, I mean , as far as what that was specifically speaking about is just in the midst of the process of like just, of… It’s not in every step or every moment like you ‘Oh My God! I can’t believe we’re taking over the world!’ But at some point you are taking a road to somewhere. You’re on that journey. At some point… you… like there’s some launch-off point where you just get delusional about things, and where it feels like, you know, what you’re doing is the most important thing in the world, then like, what you, what you’re doing is going to… You just get into a place where all, you know, is just limitless.

I remember on Seven More Minutes I remember thinking ‘You now have…’ Because that record was written in a way to be like a European record. I thought of it as sort of… having that… you know, the probably most delusional… I’ve just like, you know… Billboards of, within Barcelona, of pictures from Barcelona that I took, and something like that, and people in pubs and discos all singing those songs, you know or whatever. And that’s very unrealistic. I thought of my girlfriend of that time being very embarrassed because she had to live with this fact that this monolith of an album was just in the public consciousness of every citizen of Spain. Of course, nobody even really realized the record was released, I think. (laughs)

But at that point you’re kind of getting into this, kind of really funny, you know, way of thinking, of grandeur, and all that kind of stuff. And I love getting to that place, you know, and I hate to be like where… It’s such a… like a… It’s really a wonderful place to be, you know, for… Even if it’s not based on reality, even nobody is going to hear the record or whatever. And I think after every record is… when it comes to an end of its cycle there’s probably a point where it’s like ‘wow, you didn’t even get close to there!’. So you have to like to pick up the pieces of that and kind of like find a way to like get back to that joyous place. Or get back to that delusion and I definitely did it on this album for sure, and I feel like, the one thing that’s cool about this record…

Maybe it’s because I am still in the midst of the promoting it. But I feel that this record is the closest I’ve ever came to having that feeling, and then, at the end of it, sort of, having if feel like its not too far away… I mean… what happens with it is its own thing, but not too far away from your personal dreams were about how it could sound and how, you know, all those things. But I definitely got to that place with this record for sure. And, you know, you’re just… I, I, it’s, it’s hard to even put into words but you sort of, you just kind of… You playing things back so loud, and it just seems so glorious or something like that.

I guess, there’s just this massive sort of understanding in it…acceptance that people would have like ‘Yes, I like this! This makes you feel the way it makes me feel’. And then you know, you get a call from president of the United States, saying, ‘Thank you for making this record.’.

SB: Describe the first time you sang and played bass simultaneously?

MS: Besides like a few tiny things when I was really quite young, the first band I was in was Weezer. So up to that time, I never like… I’d done little things like when you have an idea, with some plans, and you get into a rehearsal space, but the first professional show, meaning we probably got paid like 15 bucks or something was with Weezer and it was a pretty unforgettable thing because we were trying to get a show somewhere in LA. And we could… nobody would take us… when we had…we had no following… we had no… we didn’t come from bands that had previously… had followings or anything like that, so nobody would let us play in their clubs. So when you do that… I’m sure it’s still the same way now… you kind of go on, like, sort of a waiting list, where, if somebody drops out, you’ll sub, you know. And like, you know, so ‘oh, this band fell off the bill in last the minute, and you just need somebody to close the night or whatever. And that’s what happened with us, we had this… we played in this club called Raji’s which was famous for like Jane’s Addiction doing their (debut) live album and something, like, before they, kind of, broke.

And, the club doesn’t exist anymore, the band that was playing was Keanu Reeves’ band.

SB: Dogstar

MS: Yeah, Dogstar. And, he had a couple of bands after that I think, but that was his band at the time. And they were basically like a drunken frat band. You know, like, I don’t even remember them having vocals, they probably did. But they were just like a 3-piece band. And they… And so we’d get to the club and they needed a band, the band that was sort of going after them, after Dogstar had cancelled the show. We were the substitutes… and, so we get to the club, and it was just like… this must have been… like, I guess like this was pre-Matrix or something, but he was like an absolute… a huge celebrity at that time. And, so the club was just packed with all these like really like young attractive girls, right? Like, almost like exclusively (laughs) how many people could fit in the club, there was like almost entirely, like just these really hot women. So we were going like ‘Wow, this is our first show. We like, we hit a jack-pot, this is amazing’. So, you know, they play, and it’s just a big sloppy mess of whatever from what I remember. And we were just so anxious to get on stage ‘Oh my God, can’t wait!’ And when they ended he left their stuff on stage and it took him a while to like sort of break down and get his… he played bass, so get his like… he had this Trace Elliot Bass, brand new body bass amp thing, and , you know, whatever, and we trying to help him to figure it out, and things kind of falls over… some big mess… And we were just scrambling to get our shit up on stage. And like, and… the main thing is that we didn’t have any fans so we just wanted to get up stage and play, you know, and try to hold people there. And by the time we got on every single one of those women were gone. I remember there was not a single person left in the club, except for our, like, 5 friends. And there was that thing of…and the sound… I really began to dislike, that sound of, like, just your closest friends watching your band play. And then like these, like occasional people, like 2 people clapping and all your friends. And it was like you know the sound of their clapping ‘oh, you know, that’s Jacks clap, so whatever’, you know. And I really, there was really like, you feel bad for them. Like, you don’t want to be there, you don’t have to be here. Let us just die a lonely death, you know. And so that was the first show I’ve ever played, like, bass and sang and did whatever. I mean, I probably sang, if I sang at all, I sang a very limited amount, but a… and then like… and I definitely was like, still, even though there were those 5 people, I was still terrified, that this was like playing in a stadium or something. I definitely remember specifically, like… not knowing how to, you know, carry yourself on stage and kind of moving in circles a lot and trying just nervously moving around. And I would look at my feet and realize that my cable, my guitar cable was wrapped around my legs, so I couldn’t move, you know, and stuff like that. Like really… it’s just funny… just nervous, geeky, nervous stuff, you know. And then the first, sort of, Rentals thing, where I was playing bass the whole time, and singing lead the whole time was… we did one show where it was Pat Wilson playing drums, and I played bass and sang and couple of other friends of ours played guitar. And we were playing like very rough rough version of what was going to become Return of the Rentals. And I just remember Pat going absolutely ballistic at the end of the, one of the last songs. He had a, he had a, like, a really cool way of being able to, like, kind of not containing himself, you know, like, when he was peaking out on something, like on a drum part or whatever, and he could, better than any other drummer, I think, work with that, he could express that feeling of just ‘Aaah, fuck it’, you know. And he didn’t always do that with Weezer, but he could really, like, he could really get to a really funny place in those kinds of shows.

SB: Was it daunting to play the first time lead and bass, without an issue, or you just did it?

Rentals_FirstGig_SanDiego_Casbah_1995

The First Gig of The Rentals in San Diego at the Casbah, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp

MS: Ah, Well, I think less so at that point because like, I was doing back-ups and I have vivid memories of that show, but I don’t have any sort of vivid nervous memories of that show though I’m sure I must have had some. But I had already been playing with Weezer, and, I was already singing back-ups and honestly, past a few kind of weird little moments in the beginning of performing, I’ve never been somebody to get nervous when performing. And no matter what stage really. And even in 2006, when we did the first Rentals’ shows in a very long time, and it had been… God knows, it had been like 10 years or something… and one of the first shows, maybe the second show we played was in Japan, and it was in this big stadium, for my friends’ festival. You know, it was probably 12-15 thousand of people, something like that. And it was the second show we played was so long, and I just remember that feeling of like walking out just… feeling like yeah… I know exactly where we were. Like, I hadn’t performed in forever in that kind of environment, not since like Weezer times or whatever and just felt, I don’t know, natural, and like… as far as… I think just once you’re up there, whoa, whatever happens, it’s just too late, and you know, so that, I mean as far as how prepared you are not… I can be more nervous probably about preparation and about… you know… I mean, the Rentals always work with new people. Almost every single time it’s a different group of people, and, so there’s the thing of learning and relearning the stuff you a learned million times before and that kind of stuff and trying to figure it out who’s going to play what or sing what. So there is some sense that like we could easily crash and burn like at any moment, like all the time, like it’s always a possibility. So there’s… you know. But once you’re out there like that terror like really subsides. There’s just, like, nope, whatever we got just let’s go. And there’s some joy in that to me as well of, like, whatever happens, we’ll fix it, or something goes wrong, we’ll figure it out, you know.

SB: Which are the most intricate or challenging songs of yours or of your previous bands on which you performed on bass and sang?

Sharp_RecordingPinkerton

Matt Sharp, recording Weezer Album Pinkerton, Courtesy Archive Matt Sharp.

MS: Well, you know, I guess the main thing, for me, and this goes for just playing bass in general is… well (A), I don’t play that often, but when I do… I’m left-handed but I play righty… So, and I don’t know if it has anything to do with that, but I have never been particularly good, especially when not playing a lot, and I don’t practice, I have never practiced bass really. So the practice that I get would be just from being in a band, and being in rehearsals, playing shows. And if you’re doing a ton of those, then you get… then I… those are the times when I would actually get somewhere, get better. But as far as like locking myself in a room with a metronome, that basically never happened, and when it has, I have not been terribly good at knowing how to study and knowing … you know I can’t keep my interest. So, but what happens for me this is… that with some of the Weezer songs and some other songs on the first couple of Rentals’ albums, that are faster… all those…like one of our…one of the things that I grew up with in general was that like pretty much as much as possible you do not play up-strokes, and I play with a pick, so you play all down strokes and in any of the faster songs we’re doing really quick eighth-notes… and singing at the same time, that was always a real struggle for me because both things have to sound, like, exciting and relaxed, you know. So your voice has to be relaxed, but you have to, you know, have people’s interest and your playing has to be aggressive, but you have to be relaxed and yet, physically, like, I don’t… like, I tire out too quick, you know, all that kind of stuff. So like, in the Weezer days like Surf Wax America was a nightmare for me because it’s one of the quicker songs that we had. And just doing… I mean some of the songs are… like, Return to the Rentals, are just like that. And on Seven More Minutes I like started to listen to Alex James a lot, you know, from Blur, and those kind of bass players who are doing a lot more movement. And I just thought he’s such an underrated bass player. And a lot of those Brits have that a sort of swing to them, the way that they play and so… I‘d started to incorporate that in a lot of Seven More Minutes, and a lot of Pinkerton actually. It’s like I got some of that, a little more of that thing going on in it, and that’s not so square and so straight. And that stuff really is a little easier to… with like movement… it’s actually easier to sing and just playing like basic stuff. There’s a song on Seven More Minutes called “Getting By” which has a lot of movement in it and the bass line… is just a… it’s very much like an Alex sort of inspired bass line. It’s got all of that kind of swing movement into it, walking bass line style and its… On the surface it would seem like it would be a harder one to sing and play at the same time but it’s actually easier for me to get this. It’s not just going da-da-da-da-da-da-da you know or whatever. And then trying to keep that really even, you know, and you have a lot more, like, leeway, you know. Places you can pick up and even if you miss a little something, you kind of being in a different groove or whatever.

SB: Sure. Do you… Have you ever courted the notion of going actually to a left handed bass or guitar, whatever the scenario is?

MS: Oh… I would… no, I would have had done this when I was like a kid, you know.

SB: It is hard to imagine playing for my entire life on the opposite hand.

MS: You know, I mean.. the only time I’ve ever thought about that is like when I’m sitting there and like, you know, like I told you about, like, when Weezer was starting, we had like… my friends in these different bands, they’d be like ‘Come on, whatever it’s a part of it’. Part of it was that… part of it was,

When we would play the shows… Like, I had this friend of mine who actually brought Weezer together. His name’s Pat Finn. And he would… he knew that I struggled with that eighth-note thing and with the quick eighth notes. And so, when like those moments would come in the show, or when like doing some faster songs, he would go right up to the stage and just go like ‘Come on!’ Whatever. At those points like there was a thing… like, if you saw, if you saw me kind of … like, switched to, like, up and down picking, he would…I would have failed, right? You know, so that was just like… and like when those moments would happen… like.. where.. you know, you like, you turn around, and sort of like trying to face Pat or whatever and then trying to, like, you know, get in a couple non-downstrokes.

Yeah, very funny. But I think only in those moments where I though ‘oh, shit, maybe, maybe there’s something better I, like, played, because maybe it’s just a…like literally just a muscle thing, it’s just like ‘Oh, you’re just not as strong, and that hand, and that’s why you…’ You know. But I mean, all that… there’s nothing really complicated or particularly, like, interesting on… on what’s going on with those, like, the first Weezer records or the first Rentals’ records bass-wise really, you know. And I think Pinkerton has some cool moments that I really like because, that’s like… essentially that stuff was just an engineer and I in a room together. And he… the engineer of that record that we worked with the most was our friend Joe Barresi who had done all of these big heavy albums… like, I don’t think he did Kyuss, but he did, like, that kind of stuff, like Queens of the Stone Age kind of stuff, just heavier sort of desert-rock kind of stuff, Black Sabbath sort of stuff. And so… so it was a really cool thing of like just, like being left alone and just trying to figure it out if we could get somewhere interesting. And, you know, we would kind of like dig into that, that way. That was a… There were some of the cool moments on that album.

SB: If you knew of a person starting off as being a singing bassist, do you have some particular advice from your vast career of being exactly that?

MS: Oh, I don’t know… Like, with advice for anybody on it… I don’t really… and probably nobody should be taking it from me, like, even if I did, you know (laughs). That’s the main thing. It’s like, you really want to take advice from a guy who never practices? You know. I don’t know, that’s so wise.

SB: You’re too modest… Getting to your level without lots of practice is already huge.

MS: I’d just say I’m not going to inspire you with good habits. It’s like, you can’t go like ‘Oh, yeah, well, that’s the way you do it’. Just never practice, then like… then panic like hell before you need to do whatever. I mean that’s literally like, before going on the road going like, ‘Oh hell, I’ve got to… get into like a work-out shape… you know, I‘ve got to get back up to speed really quick. Or like when recording Lost in Alphaville… It’s like I’m really into exploring with like Patrick Carney how his drums are, you know, how they changed the album and like, you know, trying to figure it out, like the things he does with the Black Keys and is there something in there that we’d be interested in, and how it would, you know, come together in the Rentals, and then figuring out like how the Lucius girls sing… There was a particular part of their voice that I am crazy about. But the songs aren’t written in the right key for them to get to that place. We kind of figured out how we could get that special thing that I’m so crazy about onto the record. And then all of a sudden comes time for you to do your thing, and you like ‘Oh, sh…’, you know. Hell! And you just have to go like ‘Oh my God, alright…’ So then like you know you like lock yourself away for a couple of weeks and just sit there and play bass 8 hours a day. And when you did not play at all, and then all of a sudden you have blisters in a day. And then you like ‘Oh God now I have got to recover from that.’ And you don’t want to drop the ball on your own thing. And on this album, I really like… the way I approached the bass for Alphaville was really… I was really particular about the sound which is always is kind of a dumb thing to get with bass, because you are so particular about it, but nobody ever really hears it, you know. And if you strip away everything, it’s just like bass and drums, I’m really psyched about the bass sound on this album. But you can’t really hear it, and there’re so many things on the album you never… you don’t really hear the tone of it, and… But you hope that in some way it’s contributing… So I was really into having the bass… be on this album… be really almost like The Blue Album, almost like on Return of the Rentals, like really super eighth note oriented in which I was doing very little colorful things that kind of like an AC/DC thing, you know, of just bass being like that. And because the arrangements are pretty crazy on this album and they move around a lot. It’s just like this swirling vocals, and strings, and synthesizers, and all of other stuff, and the guitars are actually quite colorful on this album. So my main thought was, like, the bass and drums have to be this super simple, so all those other things could move around it without bringing too much attention to it. So, but you still want it to sound, you know, bad-ass, and you wanted it to sound nasty and mean. And when… when Patrick Carney started playing drums on the album, and I had already done a lot of bass on the album, before he started playing drums on it, which is very weird to do, recording drums after the bass. But we did that and then some of that stuff… he just changed the aggression on the album so I had to come back and really record stuff and make it a little more nasty or something.

SB: Thanks very much Matt Sharp!

Matt Sharp Chanteur Bassiste Internationale Part 1

The Rentals Lost In Alphaville

Frontman and Songwriter of The Rentals, Founding Member of Weezer, Matt Sharp has seen and lives the dream of many musicians around the world, myself included. It was very gracious of him and his team to give an hour of direct access and multiple exchanges before and after to make this series of interviews for SingingBassist.com. You will find out about his peculiar methods of album composition, his self-constructed bass guitar, his collaboration style, and much more. But for now, enjoy the video, in which Matt tells us:

  1. What his main drive is now?
  2. What his plans are for promoting in Europe?
  3. Does he play bass guitar on all of his recordings?
  4. Did he enter the planning phase of his new Album armed with demos and if so from where?
  5. How much of his performance consists of him playing bass guitar?
  6. How would he describe his bass guitars?

Enjoy firsthand their newest album, Lost in Alphaville.

Also, their complete discography is useful reference material for aspiring Singing Bassists. Including their first album, Return of the Rentals.

Their second album will be discussed in more detail in the subsequent posts: Seven More Minutes.

Many thanks to Brendan Bourke from Canvas Media, HoJun Yu at Departure Lounge Music for the helpful photograph, and Tanya Korzun for the transcription.

Henny Vrienten The Singing Bassist Part 2

Remember that there are subtitles!
In this episode 2 of 2, Henny actually plays some bass and sings in the interview. I really appreciated his mentioning a band colleague as “his friend”, which I had never heard before in a band context. It really reinforces Henny’s notion of reggae music being a very social music. Henny is a very sociable individual, as his generosity with participating in this interview demonstrates.
We also hear about Henny’s musical family, his work/life balance with regard to music, and his very intriguing Dingwall and De Giers bass guitars. Finally, we get some sage advice for being a successful and integrated band member.

Thank you Henny, Roxana, Tanya and Tessa for your participation!

Enjoy!

Henny Vrienten The Singing Bassist

Check out the subtitles on this video.
Henny Vrienten has been performing and composing music since the 1960’s. The band in which he performs as bassist and singer called “Doe Maar” is one of the most popular live pop phenomenons in Dutch music history.

Surprisingly, not only was Henny willing to do an interview, but he suggested to do it in his studio, demonstrating his bass playing and singing and entertaining all sorts of questions about his music past, present and future. A very enjoyable and enlightening time.

Thank you Tessa for translations and Tanya for coordination and transcription.

SingingBassist Essential Equipment

Very soon there will be a new video interview posted right here at this address. While editing that video, I began wondering what types of equipment would be interesting only for singing bassists? What types of gear sets apart a singing bassist from a singer, or from a bassist? I asked my subscribers and got some very useful information which I share here.

JV wrote:

…you can’t sing through a bass amp. You could but it would sound very bad. So for not much more then a decent bass amp I could get a set of good powered speakers, 2×8″ DXR and 1×12″ DXS subwoofer. Very loud and never sounds bad no matter how loud I turn it up. I play bass through a Digitech BP355 multi-effect pedal and output that to a small mixer and output that to the sub-woofer and through to the left and right power speakers. I can sing through a multi-effects pedal too and use the same mixer and speakers. They are able to handle both bass and voice no problem.

That set-up was the first ever specific singing bassist rig that I ever heard of. It is great to combine the PA and the bass amp into one single group of equipment, letting you practice at home on the same equipment that would work at a concert. Great ideas JV!

Another subscriber, Anton Harridial, has the following preferences:

  1. …I need a versatile tone. I bought a Boss GT-10B effects processor, and I used to change TONES between songs regularly in the set, but I have narrowed down to a single tone with a bit of distortion, flange, delay, and chorus, which I find, works for everything.
  2. …..as for the SINGING, years ago I got a SETH RIGGS singing course. Although I never went through the whole course, I use a couple EXERCISES which I find work sometimes miraculously for me
  3. …..SEEING THE FRET BOARD is critical. I try to use ONLY MAPLE fret boarded basses, as I find it is easier to see my fingers at a glance when I need to. I could also do it with ROSEWOOD, or EBONY ‘boards, but I am always one for taking the easiest road.
  4. The gigs I play are usually small club-type things, and so I use a Roland DBass 2 X 10 combo ( amp/speaker ). In cases where there is a lot of resonance at the venue, I try to use a hard foam board made by Auralex. The process is simple, just put the combo on it, and it negates a good bit of bad resonance from the bass sound.
  5. ….I currently use Planet Waves USA Made cables, and I use a SADOWSKY bass (I mainly use the 5, since I like the low B option). The Boss GT-10B rounds off my gear list ( The ROLAND has a Line Out port that takes the EFFECTED sound to the mixer, and also a Direct Out which is the pure AMP SOUND – I ask the engineer to take the two lines, and combine them to taste ).

Thank you Anton, for all the great tips. Particularly the one about being able to quickly see the fretboard. Classic!

Forensic Song Reconstruction and other goodies, performed by Dennis Alstrand in “The Beatles And Their Revolutionary Bass Player”, reviewed

faithful travel companion

Many readers know how it is to be strapped into an airplane, ready for takeoff, and deprived of their tunes due to airline safety rules. Luckily, reading books is not yet deemed unsafe for airline travel. And if you’re really fortunate, you will happen to be reading a book like:

The Beatles And Their Revolutionary Bass Player, by Dennis Alstrand

Yes we are lucky that its Dennis Alstrand at the helm of this fantastic submarine through the history of the Beatles with focus on the most well known of their bassists. Lucky because certain readers are often unable to identify all songs by the mention of their frequently unsung titles, and Dennis graciously reminds them of the arrangements and melodies using nothing but delightful prose!

Thanks to his precise and inviting writing, the reader is reminded of the melodies of even the most obscure songs by the least obscure band in the world. And so, while sitting in your garden, on your balcony, in your local pub or on the runway ready to fly around the world, you are well advised to be equipped with the picturesque writing of mr. Alstrand!

Another outstanding feature of this volume is the familiar tone with which the narrative is set forth. It is a pleasant, conversational style, reminiscent of a DJ, or of a knowledgeable guru in the seat next to you.

Captivating, meticulous and humorous prose is what I always seek in writing. Dennis provides this with aplomb, and that is why his first book “The Beatles And Their Revolutionary Bass Player” should be firmly placed on the bookshelves of all fans of SingingBassists.