The first time I met Steve Jenkins I was 14 and up in Boston for a weekend bass clinic. In a room, for a class, with 10 other 9th grade kids who all sucked, we were in for a reality check in abilities. It was our technique lab and we were about to be shown how much further we actually had to go. Steve is one of the best of the new generation of electric virtuosos. One of the new breed of the best that have become the trendsetters for up and coming bass players and those who set the standard for technical and musical virtuosity.
His first release in 8 years is Steve Jenkins and the Coaxial Flutter. A collection of 8 eclectic and experimental pieces that run the gamut from progressive rock to ambient electronic vibes, a journey that has taken Steve several years to write and complete. I had the pleasure of reviewing the album over here (insert link), where you can learn more about the release track per track. We were also lucky enough to have Steve himself take some time and answer some questions about the new record.
What was the inspiration to begin writing “Steve Jenkins And The Coaxial Flutter”?
Basically, I wanted to record something that the 18 year old version of myself would have been excited about and inspired by. I thought about all of my different influences that I keep referring back to that have affected my overall musical perspective: Miles Davis, RUSH, Jimi Hendrix, KISS, Van Halen, Bad Brains, Living Colour, Prince, Meshuggah, Yes, Pink Floyd, Zappa, etc. That was the stuff that inspired me when I was younger. The jazz/fusion influences came a bit later and even though some people want to classify me in that realm, rock, funk and metal are a big part of my musical world as well. It was just time to let those gates down and not stifle any ideas that might result in a cool riff, bass line, or composition.
What was the writing process like?
The writing process was fragmented and it took place gradually over several months. I used the voice memo app on my iPhone and the webcam on my MacBook Pro extensively to document ideas as they would come out during practice sessions or just while randomly noodling. Eventually, as my ideas started forming I had a better idea of how to fit these fragments together. Some of the tunes were also in some kind of existing form. For example, “Leave This City Before You Can’t” had more of a modern jazz vibe at one point and I played an early version of it live with Mark Guiliana & Nir Felder at one of my own gigs at the Blue Note back in 2009. Both of those guys are tremendous players and it worked well that way, but ultimately I decided it’s more of a prog-metal tune and I revamped it.
Another major difference between how I approached the writing of my first album “mad science” versus this new album is that I demo’d pretty much all the tunes in Logic. There was nothing left to chance as far as the track lengths were concerned. Everything was arranged and pretty much set by the time tracking started. I wanted the tunes to be concise and shorter in length. Just like all the great instrumentals we all know and love like “YYZ” or even an album like Weather Report’s “Heavy Weather”. Essentially five minute instrumentals with short but powerful solos and great arrangements.
What made you choose the players you had featured on this record?
Vernon Reid is someone I’ve worked with in some capacity since 2004. He’s become one of my dearest friends and mentors in this business and he’s an amazing guitarist so I HAD to have him on a couple of tracks. John Shannon and Chris Buono are also stellar guitar players who have an amazing sonic presence and they absolutely were key to making those tracks what they are. As far as drummers go, Adam Deitch and I go back 20 years. We both met at the 5-week program at Berklee and he remains one of my favorite drummers ever! Gene Lake and I originally worked together with Screaming Headless Torsos and I also played on his record “Here And Now” and have played some of his music around NYC. He’s just a monster player with a lot of range and power. And he’s really fun to play music with.
I also played many other instruments besides bass and did all of the programming. Having these guys come in was awesome because I can’t do what they do (even though I’m a pretty good multi-instrumentalist/programmer.)
Also, I need to mention Jamie Siegel who produced the record along with me. Besides being a good friend, he’s just one of the greatest engineers/producers and he was the one who is responsible for getting the sounds just right (although, he did compliment my home recording efforts when I brought in my tracks from home). I did most of the tracking at his JRock Studios in Manhattan.
This record was an amalgamation of many styles, what did you do to go about trying to blend these elements in a fluid fashion?
You know, I’m not really sure if it was something I was all that conscious of. I just kind of used trial and error and would listen back and see how it made me feel as the sections changed and depending on how that went, I’d make adjustments. When I was working with David Fiuczynski in both KIF and Screaming Headless Torsos, there was lot’s of genre-shifting within songs. He’s really good at conceptualizing that kind of stuff from an arranger’s perspective and I stole those techniques and made it my own for this music.
Could you go over the gear you utilized on this record?
For basses, I used a Brubaker custom KXB-5, a modified Geddy Lee Jazz Bass with Nordstrand Big Singles, and my 2 custom First Act basses. (I didn’t get my awesome Callow Hill OBS 5 until after the tracking was done) I used an Apogee One interface running through an Aguilar ToneHammer for my bass sound. All bass sounds were direct and I used Logic as well as Pro-Tools. My guitar is a PRS Custom 24 and I used an M-Audio Axiom 25 for MIDI stuff.
Also, for effects I used pedals such as a vintage Big Muff (thats the ‘synth’ bass sound on “Leave This City”), a Boss OC-2, a ElectroHarmonix microPOG (for the lead and solo sounds on “Parallax” and the melody on “How About Never”). I also used plug-ins such as Amplitube for certain lead sounds and the distorted bass sound on “Sphere”.
Lastly, I used Toontrack’s Superior Drummer 2.0 for “Sphere” and “Postlude”. I programmed the drums on both of those tunes. Prior to this album I had never really used Superior and hadn’t gotten so deep into programming but I wanted to try something new. “Sphere” took about 3 weeks to program because I wanted all the velocities to be right. I’m pretty happy with how it came out.
It has been 8 years since your first record, what has been the reason for the gap in releases?
This is a tough question because it’s a complicated and personal answer but I’m going to be honest about it because it might be helpful to someone.
The short answer was that I was “lost”.
My dad died a year before “mad science” was released and I never dealt with it. I just pressed on and was touring and playing gigs. Eventually, the weight of that grew too heavy to bear and I knew I’d finally have to confront it. Also, I wasn’t totally happy playing some of the music I was playing and wanted to make changes but wasn’t sure “how” because I had lost some focus. For a time, life was bleak.
I wanted to ‘fix myself’ so I started going to therapy to deal with my problems and fight my demons. It was the best thing I could have done and I wish I had done it sooner. And now, I’m a much more balanced person. I’m happier. And I feel like music and I couldn’t be in a better place. That plus time made everything better.
I want to talk about this because depression and mental health are not publicly talked about enough and it’s time to end that. People see it as a weakness but it’s not. Therapy has worked wonders for me. All of the personal growth only enhances the music. To a certain extent, this album is about me fighting my way back. Those fighting hawks on the album cover are basically the visual representation of me versus my own mind.
Could you go over some of the influences that you drew upon for this record?
Well, as I was saying earlier, I sort of looked at all the music that made a real impact on me. You can hear little bits of RUSH, Weather Report, Meshuggah, Radiohead, J Dilla, in the writing and production. When the recording began, I didn’t really know how it was going to turn out, but somehow it all works.
Also, I was checking out lots of classic albums like: ‘Purple Rain’, ‘Kid A’, ‘Moving Pictures’, ‘Heavy Weather’, etc. and the idea was to make something where you can hit ‘play’ and be engaged from start to finish. It’s 40 minutes long. It’s not a bloated 74 minutes. People have short attention spans so I really worked on concise arrangements. I didn’t have parameters past that although it turned out to be more or less a progressive rock direction this time around which I’m quite happy with.
Your slap technique on this record is flawless in execution, Could you talk about what you are doing technically to have it come out so precise and clear at the high speeds you are playing at?
Thanks! As far as slapping goes, I have some really unorthodox techniques that I use and then there are other techniques I use that are fairly common. I also use my index and middle fingers for popping the strings and my thumb goes back and forth. I also can get many different rhythmic grouping combinations like groups of 5’s, 6’s, and 7’s.
The key to executing it at a high level is being relaxed, and taking things very slow at first. That’s what makes lots of the multi-fingered approaches difficult. People really need to practice that stuff slowly. Unfortunately, many people don’t do this last step, which is probably the most important part: Practice all the different techniques in a groove context. It sounds awful when people are slapping or doing intricate stuff and it rushes. Most of this stuff has to sit in the middle of the pulse otherwise it doesn’t sound solid. And in many cases, if someone elects to work on this type of stuff, they have to have to do it on their own time because most gigs will never require anyone to play like that.
That never stopped me, though. Half of these things came from experimentation.
This album has some pretty intricate and well-mixed production. How was the process of mixing and putting the finishing touches on “Steve Jenkins And The Coaxial Flutter”?
I had Jamie Siegel mix it who’s a great friend from my Berklee days. He’s made records with all kinds of people: Taking Back Sunday, Smashing Pumpkins, Elton John, Sting, TV On The Radio, etc. I wanted this album to sound monstrous and I wanted it to be headphone-friendly with lots of ear candy that you’ll only get if you are listening to it through headphones.
I left him to his own devices, but I offered notes here and there as the mixing process was going on. He’d send me mixes and I’d listen to them and tell him what I liked and didn’t like. And when the mixing was done, the legendary Scott Hull mastered it at Masterdisk.
The bass tones on this album range from beautiful to enormous and distorted, how did you go about choosing the right tones for the record?
The short answer is that I wanted everything to sound epic and huge.
The longer answer would be that I was just into the idea of trying stuff out. My sonic palette has grown so much as a bassist that I knew this album would be a virtual encyclopedia of all my bass tones (up to now). There weren’t any real parameters although I tried to avoid the “back pickup bass sound”. In fact, I only use that one time and thats on the solo of “How About Never”.
Some tonal decisions were based on practicality. I let my friend Javier Reyes from Animals As Leaders hear an early version of “Sphere” and he told me to duplicate the bass tracks so that one was distorted and the other one would be clean. The blend of those 2 tracks is how I got that sound. It ended up sitting in the track a little better and retained the punch and clarity.
What does the near future for Steve Jenkins and the Coaxial Flutter? Any plans on live performances?
The near future involves getting a band ready for some shows in the fall. I am planning on taking this out on the road and building it from there. It might take some time, but that’s the idea.
Also, people will not have to wait another 8 years for new music from me.
I’m back and this is the best music I’ve made yet. There is plenty more on the way also!
Go check out Steve at www.stevejenkinsbass.com, and pick up The Coaxial Flutter today!