Bassist Carter Lee – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson…
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Carter Lee and I am a musician. Specifically I play bass, produce music and I am currently developing an outreach program in Los Angeles to teach under-served youth. You can find me online at www.carterleemusic.com
Who are your primary musical influences, and at what age did you begin pursuing music as a vocation?
My influences seem to change every couple of years! But, hearing Jaco’s first record really swayed me into a life-long musical pursuit… I was 19 at the time. I am currently really into Thundercat, Pino Palladino, Tim Lefebvre, Derrick Hodge, Chet Faker and James Blake
Can you tell us about your earliest musical listening and performance experiences? Also, what projects are you participating in most recently?
I remember the first concert I saw was Harry Connick Jr. I think I was 8-years-old and I’m fairly sure I fell asleep! I actually really dig him now… but, at the time, I was probably just out past my bedtime. I didn’t really perform at all until I got to college, and then I did all the time. I started studying music at a small school and was one of only a handful of bass players – which put me into a ton of playing situations, most of which I wasn’t ready for! This was, by far, the most progression I had in my education. Having just moved to LA, I’m still sorting out the playing side of things. Back on the East Coast I was working with Shea Rose, Moruf, Rhys Tivey and Joe Marson to name a few.
What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?
The past year has been incredible for records that place the onus on musicians’ performances! In particular, Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”, and David Bowies “Blackstar”, are two records that really allow the musicians to shine! It’s been really exciting to listen to and to feel that artists and producers are really coming back to experimenting, and allowing performers do what they do best!
How would you describe your perfect tone for the instruments your regularly record and perform on? Also, are there any particular gear choices you’ve made along the way that has enhanced your tone for the better?
My perfect tone would be mellow, dark, warm and of course first and foremost, supportive. I was extremely lucky in that the first bass I owned was a vintage Fender Jazz Bass that my father had purchased years before I was born. I haven’t found anything that comes close to the way it plays and sounds. There’s just something about the way the wood dries out over time that gives the bass some clarity that new instruments don’t have. As far as gear choices… a couple years ago I started using flat wound strings (D’Addario Chromes to be exact) on the J. They fit more of the situations I find myself in, musically – especially when I’m supporting a vocalist! There is only a subtle difference. But, there’s more soul in those flat wounds than any other string I’ve used!
If we wanted to listen to you, which recordings would you suggest? Along with that, which recordings are your proudest of, and why?
I’m very proud of the Tiger Speak material that’s out there. I wrote the majority of the songs for those records. I’m also very excited about upcoming releases by Rhys Tivey and Moruf that I played on. Rhys’ record will be out shortly, and I can say that it is some of the most challenging and exciting music I have ever played.
Are you involved in educating others? What is your teaching philosophy? Also, if you could change one thing about the way music students learn, what would that be?
I have always loved teaching and I am very fortunate to be on the development side of the Loud Program here in LA. In addition to teaching privately, I also developed a course on band leading that you can find at soundfly.com. My ideal as a teacher centers around putting the students on a path toward finding their own voice. It’s easy to teach by the book, and, of course, there are a lot of fundamental elements that every student needs. But if you can get a student to realize that the goal is individualism (and a sound you can call your own) they will never tire of trying to find those qualities. I would change post-secondary schools’ approach to music education. I’ve gone to small schools, and big schools, and there seems to be something very impersonal about a music education at large institutions.
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?
I love being able to change the harmony or rhythmic content of a tune on the fly, and the bass allows me to do that!
The ‘63 Fender is my main bass, and I also love my Micro-Korg for synth work. I also have a 1990 Fender J 62’ reissue that sees some time.
Describe your musical composition process.
It usually starts with a melody that I sing into my phone, that I will, later, sit at the piano and build around. Other times, I will start by building a groove in LOGIC and then add harmonies. I’ve been writing with just the bass more frequently, as well. Wherever I am when an idea hits me will most often dictate how I start to piece it together.
How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?
The majority of my friends are musicians, my wife is a musician, and my entire life is surrounded by music. I find that since I am so involved in music I need to try to find things that can take me out of it in order to balance my life.
What would you be, if not a professional musician?
I’d probably be involved in golf in some way.
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?
Moving away from my family and friends. I am, originally, from Canada and miss it for sure. Being in California has allowed me to meet and work with some incredible musicians.
Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?
This changes a lot, depending on the time I have… But, I try to read a lot! I read the Bach cello suites or James Jamerson transcriptions, and I definitely transcribe as a regular practice element. Then, of course, there is the practice of playing along to records! I’m always just trying to refine my sound and trying to develop my own identity in that respect.
What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?
It means everything to me! It’s given me almost everything I have in my life over the past ten plus years.
How important is it to understand the Language of music?
If you want to be a musician, reading is huge! It goes so much deeper than just being able to read music… A musician needs to have a wealth of knowledge of albums, grooves, and musical textures that you can access at any time. I think that anyone trying to better understand the language of music should try to produce more. That will get you thinking about music in a way you never thought you could and as bass players it will allow you play in a way that serves the song.
How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?
I don’t actively think about what is influencing me. I know I’m aware of what I want to put into my music, but I try to let it happen as naturally as possible.
Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?
I think we’re always going to have musicians who make music primarily for commercial gain, and those who make music only because they want to share their art. Then, there are those who are fortunate enough to be some form of both musician types. The Internet really fractured the ability of some musicians to make money, while it also gave a huge platform for those that just want to create and present their music to the world. I’m holding out hope that we will find more stability for selling music in the future. As always, no matter what the landscape is, there will be room for those musicians making great music.