The second conversation between Spacehog’s Royston Langdon and The Singing Bassist was a better match in terms of Skype Connectivity and accommodating Time-Zone Difference.
This interview was recorded on June 25, 2009.
Singing Bassist: Tell us about your recording setup at home.
Royston Langdon: I use Logic. I just use my laptop,. I have a mic-pre and a compressor. I don’t do anything seriously at home, but sometimes things come out pretty well and I end up using bits and bobs end up on the final recording. This time Richard has come in with quite a few things, little demos, and bits and bobs which we might use.
SB: Do you ever play on a fretless bass?
RL: I don’t have a fretless bass, I remember going into the music stores, and trying them out, I never really got my head around them, as a kid, they always seemed interesting, in some ways because you can slide around, but no, I don’t think so, it’s kind of weird, never came across the need to do it. I played the double bass recently, also fretless, which was enjoyable. My brother Antony took up the double-bass for a while, while we were at school, so I remember having one for a while, its obviously a very impractical instrument, being very large, can’t even fit it into a taxi in NY.
SB: When did you first start playing bass in a band setting?
RL: In NY when we used to live on 2nd avenue in my friend’s place. I seem to remember playing one at his house. We had some of our first rehearsals in the apartment, that my brother and myself and Bob, who was the original guitar player, used to live in, and Johnny would come over, then it became a bit difficult because it was a bit loud. so we had to knock that on the head. That was first time I remember picking up the bass, in that room, and it was literally like everything else with Ant and I, I think i tried to get him to do it for a while and he wasn’t backing down he wanted to play the guitar, and that was that. It made sense that I did it.
SB: Was it always clear that you would be singing, at first rehearsals?
RL: I don’t sing all the songs in Spacehog, my brother sings some too. But yeah, I didn’t really have a problem with that. It was something I had to practice. It took a while to get my head around, but it became quite fun, trying to figure it out.
SB: What techniques would you use for practicing that? Did you intensely use a metronome?
RL: I didn’t really, we used to practice together, I’ve never really practiced my own on my bass, I like to feel it a bit more than that. And also the drums, the drummer, the way he was playing, back then, when I first started, was really important to how I ended up playing the bass guitar.
SB: In which way?
RL: I think before I met johnny and started to play with Johnny, I hadn’t really played with anybody who was any good really, to that extent, I found it quite inspiring to have that, and obviously the bass and the drums go together, usually, often, in the standard format of playing a rock and roll song anyway they do, so that was kind of crucial for me.
SB: I’ve always wondered about the alone part of practicing bass and singing, because if you want to start a band, and you’re not known already, then you have to already have a level which you can show to other musicians, and if you can’t play bass and sing at the same time then you’re stuck.
RL: I think its just practice man really. like anything else, I think if there’s a will and a desire to do it then you’ll find a way, whatever that is. You know, I did play the guitar before I played the bass, its the same four strings, in some ways it seemed easier, you didn’t have to worry about chords and all of that, anyway. I never really thought about it that much, once we got the band going, that was my role, I suppose, and I enjoy it, I really enjoy the challenge of trying to keep it interesting, keeping it weird.
SB: How do you introduce demos into the band setting?
RL: Quite often i bring in demos, the basis for the song’s there, i can do whatever i want to it in order to make it feel how i want to make it feel. But really I think, when we record now, with the band, we’re just looking for the feeling of what the song;s trying to put across, more than anything. So it can certainly help having a demo, i guess, but there again there’s also something nice about leaving that bit open, and capturing it, if you’re lucky, when you’re recording, sometimes it takes a while, certainly for us because we don’t always get it right, we know when we don’t get it right and we have to do it again.
SB: Why do you play the bass with your hand so far down near the bridge?
RL: On the rickenbacher if you play above where the metal pickguard thing is, the strings are really a lot looser, and not quite as active as they are back down by the bridge there, and thus the combination of the two, and also i can control how long i want the note to last, with this part of my hand (motions to the Hypothenar Muscles of his left hand), because its really important to leave some air in there, that’s what that enables me to do, and i think its a better groove, that’s really what we’re usually looking for, i suppose, if its a song with drums in it, and a beat. to be honest i never really think about it, i’m really intrigued, its a really great thing you’re doing, i really wish you all the best of luck, but until you contacted me, nobody’s really ever asked me, i think i did one interview for a bass magazine, “bass guitar weekly” or “monthly” or something, but apart from that, nobody’s ever really asked me about it, really, the whole thing of singing and playing at the same time, and if i did think about it, probably too much, i probably wouldn’t be able to do it.
SB: Do you consider it more difficult to sing and play with your fingers than play with a pick?
RL: No, but again its a different thing, and its probably a little bit trickier for me, because, as I said, I can do it now, because its usually about the sound, the frequency and the sound of the bass, its so important, its such an emotive frequency, the low-end, without people even being aware of it often, but all of the great bands that I’ve seen, and still see, its a really important part of it for me.
SB: Do you have any recommendations for songwriters who want to take up the bass, but don’t know where to start, or do you have any recommendations for bass-players who are challenged by the notion of singing while playing bass?
RL: Don’t give up, never give in. Take it simple to start with, is the key, and often, the greatest bass-lines are some of the simplest ones, certainly like “walking on the moon” by the Police. Its pretty straightforward, and you listen to the song and what he’s singing, the tune over the top, its great, and its not very difficult, most bass-players and singers could probably do that. its a little bit of coordination. And for me, dividing up the words and tune, the structure and the phrase of the melody, in my mind, the way i do it, is to think of where they meet, all the points where they meet together, in harmony, and if you break it down in each beat and bar, its not too difficult. Funnily enough I think, with something like “Walking on the Moon”, the great thing is the way the tune and the bass work together, its just incredible, and its not a lot, but it is the whole song! Its not complicated, for me its never about that, although I do have great regard for people like Flea who can play (complicated slap bass), its brilliant, I think its great, I don’t know how he does it, its great. But again, it depends on what you want to do, on what you want to achieve, in the songwriting, in your bass-playing and in your singing. For me its always been about putting the idea across, when it comes to a song, the feeling and the idea of the song is really what I am trying to emote, I am not really thinking about the intricacies of what I’ve got to play. (I am thinking about the intracacies of what i’ve got) to sing, to a certain extent, because my voice can only do certain things, and I think also the way that my voice works in relation to not just the bass but every instrument.
SB: Do you have any plans for playing in mainland europe in the next year or two?
RL: Yeah, we’re getting a few offers here and there to play in this country, we don’t want to do anything too soon, because we’re still figuring it out. We want to do this thing right, rather than just do the same thing again. It’s very difficult to not repeat yourself. And at the same time we don’t want to get away too much from what the band, and we can’t, because we’re the same people, but we’ve been through a lot, mutually and collectively, and we’ve come to this place which is definitely a lot deeper than where we were when we were younger. Because of that there is more of a sense of wanting to get it right, we have to be honest with ourselves, which is not always easy, its sometimes difficult and painful, but it is also joyous, when we figure out, roughly where we’re going, in terms of this record, we will start to play some shows and start to get some of the music out again, which is what we’ve already done here in LA. I think we’re going to do a show in New York, and maybe a bunch of shows up and down the eastern seaboard, and then do the same thing here on the west coast, and then see what happens as far as England goes, and Europe. We have to have a reason to play, something new to put out there, we want to get it right. I really feel great about everything we’ve done, especially the first two records, which are really good today, still. I’m really keen to give this record the best shot that we can, and take it from there, see what happens after that. This is where we’re at right now. Its important not to get ahead of ourselves. Its going really well, I think. We’re well on course, we probably have about a third of the music we need, so we’re doing pretty good.
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