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Seth Horan: Singer, Songwriter & Solo Bassist by John Kuhlman

Meet John Kuhlman

Seth Horan is not what one would consider a typical solo bass artist. There’s no ethereal finger-dancing on a six-string bass nor is there any frenzied thumping while he’s on stage. He doesn’t treat the bass as rhythm guitar either. He combines the elements of everything known about the music-making abilities of the electric bass to coax a rich orchestra out of one instrument while adding melody from another: his voice. In fact, he prefers to be identified as a singer-songwriter. One who just happens to play the electric bass.

Originally from Buffalo, New York, Horan began his professional career in Florida in 1993, handling bass and backing vocals for various college bands in Miami. In 1995, he helped form the rap/rock band Darwin’s Waiting Room, but two years later found himself playing the role of bassist/backing vocalist for Vertical Horizon. Horan toured with the band for a year and recorded a round of major label demos with them before calling it quits (three years prior to the band’s hit single “Everything You Want”).

His true passion, however, lay in creating music, not just playing it. In 2000, Horan released his first solo album, “…this is the session”, and moved to Los Angeles. Totally immersing himself in the West Coast music scene, Horan worked as a session bassist and hit just about every open mic night in the city on a regular basis. In 2002 he packed his touring gear and a handful of his lyrical creations and started making the rounds across the country, living in his car for three and a half years straight.

Fast forward nearly a decade later through four more albums, a two-year stint as Warwick’s international bass clinician, and multiple awards, to Horan’s latest full-length album “Clang & Chime.” Released in October 2009, ” Clang & Chime” was produced by Horan and 69 of his fans over the course of six months in 2008.

Currently based in Reno, Nevada, Horan splits his time between teaching and touring. He’s again on the road, promoting the album in listening rooms and more notably, at house concerts, where he can showcase his musicianship and remarkable sense of humor. I had the good fortune to break bread with him the morning after one of his Las Vegas performances.

Bass Musician Magazine: Your show last night was amazing. To be blunt, I wasn’t expecting to see that much musical versatility and rapport with the audience. In talking with some of the attendees after the show, we realized we didn’t just watch a performance; we were part of an entertainment event.

Seth Horan: That’s the challenge with what I do – because people seem to have a need to pigeonhole everyone. Yes, I am a singer who plays bass. I am also a bass player who sings. If I wasn’t a songwriter, I would still be a bass player who sings… probably in someone else’s band. What happens is the vocals will always be perceived first, so that’s how non-bassists will define me.

The other thing is that nobody associates being entertained with bass playing. (laughs) People simply aren’t expecting to enjoy the show. Everyone thinks they are going to spend so much time trying to like the performance.

Let me put it another way. Think about what most bass players have to say about country music; they hate it. If you’re only listening to it as a bass player, it can be painful. But if you’re listening to it as music, well, that’s different. I could listen to Patsy Cline all day and not care at all about criticizing the bass part. It’s all part of the whole.

A problem with a lot of solo bass music is that there is no melody. A lot of guys seem to try to get by without it. And they wonder why nobody buys their album.

BMM: Then what accounts for the popularity of your albums?

Horan: I think it’s because people don’t see me as “just” a solo bass artist. They like my songs. People often ask me what kind of solo bass players I listen to… It’s very rare that I listen to any solo bass player. Most solo bass records are just intolerable; I can’t stand most of them for longer than a song or two.

Having said that, I love Michael Manring. Here’s a clue: Non-bass players like Michael Manring. Why? He has beautiful melodic pieces of music that happen to be incredibly articulate and amazing. Anyone can be moved to tears listening to the man perform. But, most solo bassists just don’t make that correlation.

Have you ever been to the NAMM show? There’s a bunch of people standing around saying, “Look what I can do!”, and imitating machine guns with their basses. There’s a disconnect. Nobody wants to hear it, but you can’t sell amps and you can’t sell strings without it. People want you to believe that you need those amps and strings to play like that.

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