Spacehog is an English rock band active in the USA (particularly in New York) since the 1990’s. Spacehog is one of the ever-increasingly rare bands led by multiple band-members who write songs, as the Langdon brothers Antony and Royston share songwriting, and Spacehog is one of the even more rare bands (co-) led by a true Singing-Bassist, Royston Langdon. SB had the fortune to talk with Royston via Skype on two occasions. The first occasion was unfortunately not recordable due to technical issues, but some still images were salvageable, and the audio was salvaged and the dictation has been transcribed. Here, the first conversation between SingingBassist.com and Spacehog’s Royston Langdon.
This interview was recorded on June 17, 2009.
|Royston Langdon, L.A.||Will Anderson, CH|
Singing Bassist: So, you are recording at the moment with the band. Do you record as a band in the same room together live?
Royston Langdon: Preferably, yes we do.
SB: Do you sing and play at the same time when you’re recording? I.e. you’ve already practiced the songs enough to sing and play bass together?
RL: Yep. Sometimes I do.
SB: Do you have to practice a lot at home first, with a metronome, to get that steady first, before bringing it to the band?
RL: I don’t really. I guess for me its a bit like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. I like to imagine the music in my mind first and then just recreate it with my voice and the bass, in terms of my part. Playing with Johnny (Cragg, Drummer) in Spacehog is pretty crucial to figuring all that out.
SB: When you bring a new demo to the band, are you already able to play it and sing it?
RL: Yeah, to some extent. Its probably not fully formulated, but for the most part, yeah, I think I do. I think the bass-line, depending on the song, is obviously really important. Even if (the bassist) is not really doing very much, its an important part of the song for sure, and I think that’s particularly true for Spacehog.
SB: It’s however not very intuitive to play some of those bass-lines and sing at the same time. Like you said, its like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach. I imagine that it is important to hear yourself well. When you’re performing, what do you have in your monitors?
RL: (That) depends on the room. If its a small club, probably not a lot. I prefer to turn up my amplifier and hear that from way back there, just because it sounds better. If we’re playing on a big stage, its impossible to hear (my amplifier), so then I have a bit in the monitors. It really depends on the place. Our tours like the one with Oasis, big shows, necessitated quite a lot in the monitors, pretty much everything. But if I’m playing a little club I’ll probably just have a little bit of Rich (Richard Steel, Guitarist), his guitar, that would be about it, to keep it to the minimum. Usually because playing in a small club, its usually not good anyway, so I prefer to just listen to it. I have a pretty good sense of pitch, so I can hear myself. It would be nice to get to a place whereby, it all sounded great. But I never really had much choice with that.
SB: Alright. Do you always play with a pick?
RL: No, I play some songs with my fingers. Those songs are usually more laid back. For the most part I play with a pick. I was never really a bass-player. I never really wanted to play the bass. Nobody else wanted to do it in the band, in Spacehog, and so I ended up doing it out of necessity. I never played bass until I was 21 or 22.
SB: Was it possible for you to play and sing simultaneously right from the start?
RL: No, its never not a problem. It always requires practice, quite a lot of practice. What is particularly difficult for me is that my main bass, the Rickenbacher, is quite a heavy one. I’m not a big guy. Physically its always been a challenge for me to sing, the way that I sing, and to play the instrument the way i play it, for an hour and a half a night. That has been as much of a reason to rehearse as anything else, to build up stamina while playing. That’s a bit dull, but that’s the reality. Its quite a difficult thing to do, both physically and mentally. (Mentally, ) I break it all down into bars and beats, and (find) where the voice and the bass connect with each other. Once I have that map figured out, and then coordinate with the drums, then I’m pretty good to go. It becomes instinctive. I don’t need to think about it any longer.
SB: Do you slow down the parts where the overlaps exist, and you work on those individually, until it becomes automatic in your head?
RL: Possibly, yeah. If it is really difficult, then yeah. But for me as a bass-player, it is important not to always do too much. For me, its about dancing around the beat, holding out at times, leaving it bare, leaving space, because that gives the groove of the song. So it is kind of important for me to do that.
SB: Its surprising that you say that you hold back a bit on the bass-lines, because, if i may go back to the song, ‘In the Meantime’, its like a constant solo in the verse, its a lot of notes for a verse progression.
RL: That’s just the way that song went in my mind. Figuring out how to do that was a necessity. That comes first. Its more important for me to have it right in my head as a songwriter, than it is to be brilliant as a bass-player. I happened to have had a conversation with Paul McCartney and he was the same way, he didn’t want to play bass at the beginning in the Beatles. It was the same deal, that nobody else wanted to do it. But, having said that, I love the bass now as an instrument. Particularly for me, because I always think of all the parts in a piece of music. Its all happening at the same time for me. Its not that difficult, and its not that unnatural for me, its quite natural.
SB: Do you write songs on the bass?
RL: I wouldn’t write a song on the bass, I’ve never written a song on the bass. I normally write on the guitar or the piano.
SB: Since the Rickenbacker is so heavy, do you ever consider changing to a hohner violin bass?
RL: No. i’ve tried other basses, but I can’t get the sound that I like, other than from my Rickenbacker bass. I’ve played a hohner, those tend to feedback a bit, and feel like they’re going to explode in your hands.
SB: You often play very close to the bridge, is there a reason for that? Is playing down there a monitoring measure that you take? Is playing down there to avoid muting the strings with the cusp of your palm?
RL: I like that sound. I like to get the high-end frequencies from the bass itself, and playing that way allows me to get those. When I play with my fingers, I play nearer to the pickups. Playing with the pick feels better near the end, I prefer the tension of the strings there, it just feels comfortable. It allows me to get more bass out of the bass and still have more definition. No (it is not a monitoring measure), but from that position I can dampen the strings easier, to provide small gaps where needed.
SB: Is the action of your bass-strings set really low?
RL: (My strings’ action) is set pretty low, yes. The low action makes its easier to play my Rickenbacker. I tend to do a lot of sliding around, which is also further enabled by the low action of my strings. I’ll take any measure to reduce the physical burden of playing the bass. I have other basses, for instance, a Gibson EB-O, which is easy to play. But the Rickenbacker for me is quite a hand-full.
SB: Do you have any recommendations for bass-playing singer-songwriters?
RL: If you’re just starting off, just keep it simple, until you have a better understanding. I highly recommend it, I think it can be really rewarding. I don’t have many specifics I can give, other than, that singing-bassplaying comes from the desire to achieve the end result. My choosing the bass was driven by the desire to convey my song ideas to the band. The most important thing is to really listen to music and visualize the direction in which its going. Often, the bass and the tune can go in opposite directions. I mentioned this project last night, and I ended up doing something I don’t do very often, (that being,) I ended up playing my bass and just singing, and I ended up getting really into it. Bass affords a large amount of creativity for inclusion into the band. You can create a whole other tune or a groove for the song. The grooves of the bass-lines for some of our new material has been very important.
SB: Do you consider the bass-guitar to be a good instrument to control the way in which the band is going, to be sort of the ringleader of the circus of the band?
RL: I don’t think (the bassist) is the ringleader, no, though I wish it were. The drums have much more of a controlling role, and the bass is the foundation of the tune. More chordal instruments such as guitars and pianos can have more influence on the performance. The bassist can control the completion of the song, by suspending his playing and resuming (completing the sound).
SB: Thanks a lot, Royston, have a good morning!
RL: Thank you for the interview, Will, and Good morning!
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Theda Drake says
Utterly composed content, Really enjoyed looking through.