Lisa Mann by Brent-Anthony Johnson
When I listen to Lisa Mann, I’m reminded of how fleeting and yet beautiful life can be. Her song “Someday” from her most recent release, 2008’s “Chop Water”, was my theme song as I ran through one of the craziest month’s I’ve ever experienced during December 2008! Thank you, Lisa!
The fourteen deftly written tunes featured on the disc run the gamut from grinding blues to 8th note-driven rockers like “Wake Me”, to thoughtful ballads like “Dance A Little Closer”… and each song is driven by Lisa’s bad ass bass playing! This diminutive groove machine and two-time winner of the Cascade Blues Association’s Muddy Waters Award (for Bass Player of the Year); 2008
Vocalist of the Year and 2007 Famecast Band Competition finalist (2nd Place) is someone everyone should hear from much more often than we do! You can learn more at www.lisamannmusic.com and www.myspace.com/lisamannmusic
AJ: Hi “Li”! Thank you for the warmth and humorous grit of “Chop Water”, and thank you for joining us here at Bass Musician Magazine! I wanted to begin by chatting about your response to our interview request, “I’m just ameat & potatoes bass player!” You’re hardly a pedestrian bassist. Also, let’s talk about your choice to employ the 6-string bass guitar… that isn’t the choice of the average bassist! Let alone the choice of many bassist/lead vocalists! What is the basis of your Instrumental choice, and in what ways does the 6-string support you – as you support your “Really Good Band”?
LM: First I’ll say, thanks so much for the interview and the kind words! Well, I guess the 6-string thing started when I was in my late teens… I was a fan of classical music and started playing Paganini and Bach on my 4-string bass and I guess I just ran out of frets. The very first 6-string I laid eyes on, I bought- that was my Warwick Thumb. I think it was a good investment. Since then I branched out into many styles of music including blues and R&B, and I find that having a 6-string allows for fat deep notes as well as double-stops to accentuate the chord progressions. I play a lot of trio shows, and when the guitarist begins to solo, it’s nice to keep those chords alive underneath him as the rhythm guitar drops out. I also have the opportunity to play solo shows with a 6-string (“At Last” being a good example), although the chord voicings can be a little limiting based on tuning and the size of the fretboard.
BAJ: While we’re “here”, let’s talk about your gear, in general… What areyou playing, and how did your tone come together?
LM: I have the Warwick I mentioned before, it’s a neck through body 1989 Thumb with big flat frets, so it almost has a fretless flavor to it. It has a great mid-range response that some soundmen find unnerving, but I love the way it grunts. I mainly save that bass for shorter performances and for the studio, as a solid bubinga body makes it a full 14 pounds. My main working axe is an early 90’s Tobias Killer B 6-string. It plays very smooth, although I wish the upper horn was further over that 12th fret so I wouldn’t have to stretch for my F and low C frets. I play through a Gallien-Krueger RB 800 bass head; I’ve used them for years, and have a Genz Benz four ten with big fat ports in the bottom.
I guess my sound still holds a lot of leftovers from my early heavy metal days; I like a tone with lots of bite and high-end basses that can respond well with a boosted mid-range without sounding twanky. I really like the mid-range sound the GK head gives me. I’m no gear head, so my sound hasn’t changed much over the years, but I will dial things in differently if I’m playing a traditional blues or a reggae, etc.
BAJ: You seem to draw from a lot of different sources, musically! Would you take our readers through your compositional approach? Also, when does the bass enter the mix, in your songs?
LM: Most of my songs start in my head as a lyrical melody, usually pretty fully formed, and then typically everything else has to find its place around it, including the bass. For instance, “Koan Song”, which is in 5/4 and 6/4 time, had to be that way because that’s how the lyrics came out. So my brain had the melody and time constraints as a matrix to culture a bass line, which also kind of appeared just as it is. That song has a special meaning to me, it shows my Zen roots. It’s probably my favorite composition.
Sometimes I have a cool bass line I’ve been noodling around with, and then lyrics appear on top of that, but that’s an exception. Silver Cup was like that… the bass line and bizarre arrangement I came up with demanded lyrics that were as twisted as the music, so the music drove the lyrics in that case. In one case, I put a lyric together with a totally unrelated bass line when it occurred to me that they might fit- but I still can’t sing that damn song and play it at the same time very well!
BAJ: How do you approach singing and playing at the same time? Do you have any cool exercises for our aspiring bassist/vocalists to attempt – on their quest to becoming as able as you are in this regard?
LM: If I recall, I used to learn a bass line and vocal line separately, and then play through the song slowly until I could sing and play at the same time fluidly. This is great for someone just beginning to add singing into their playing, and many working bassists can make themselves more valuable by singing. Mainly what I do now, though, is to sing and play something new live on stage, even poorly, over and over until I get it right or right enough! I’ve done it enough years that for the most part, the two are completely unrelated, and I can fool around with my vocal phrasing while keeping the bass solid.
BAJ: Your chordal bass arrangement of “At Last” is really wonderful, Lisa! Are there other tunes you’ve treated in this manner? Also, please describe the technique you employed here… and your technique, in general?
LM: “At Last” started when I was learning that tune for another singer for Sonny Hess’s Northwest Women’s Rhythm and Blues Revue. I was writing a chart for the other musicians and used the bass to pick out the chords. Then it occurred to me… “Hey I can just play this song by myself now! ” I just pluck the strings a bit like an acoustic guitar and make rudimentary chords, trying to keep the voices that give the chords in question the most flavor while keeping a bass line moving too. I substitute chords when the fingers begin to play Twister on the fretboard. The limitations of small hands on a big fretboard really do come into effect.
I also do “Summertime”, “Gimme One Reason” and a lovely Carol Bayer Sager song called “Alone” in this fashion. Around St Patty’s Day I do an Irish folk song called “The Blacksmith” with a capo on the four highest strings.
BAJ: Who are your primary bass influences, and let’s talk about your introduction to the bass guitar?! When did you begin walking down this interesting musical path – as bassist?
LM: I always loved bass lines when I was a kid, they stuck in my head… I remember being fascinated with the Imperial Theme in Star Wars, and I learned it on my parents’ clunky old piano. I also learned “Smoke on the Water” on my mom’s old acoustic guitar. When I was a pre-teen, I thought Gene Simmons of KISS was so cool, and that’s what sold me on bass guitar. I walked home every day from school and ate a can of beans for lunch, saving my lunch money to buy my first bass when I was 11 and 12 years old. I was probably malnourished!
My earliest bass heroes were Roger Glover, Jack Bruce and Geezer Butler. As a teen I became a big “metal head” and I loved bass players like Steve Harris, Geddy Lee and Billy Sheehan, and loved neo-classical metal like Yngwie Malmsteen. Later I became a big fan of Flea and Mark King, and branched out into many styles. My long experience as a top-40 player and hired gun exposed me to every style of music; pop, disco, reggae, country, even Irish music.
Today my bass heroes are local Portland blues players like Marco Savo, Jim Miller, Dave Kahl and the late Phil Haxton. My sweetheart and fellow bassist Allen Markel is a really solid player, and a source of inspiration for me. Recording artists can inspire you, but can only learn so much from recordings- you’ve really got to experience people live and up-close to learn from them.
BAJ: How is the support of “Chop Water” going, and where are you playing these days? Also, how long does it take to put such a varied release together?
LM: Since I don’t have “people” I think the CD is doing pretty well! I sell a few at some local stores… I sell a few on CD Baby, and I sell the majority of them at my shows. I perform at a lot of nightclubs here in the Northwest, as well as regional festivals during the summer. If anyone wants to know where I’ll be next, they can go to lisamannmusic.com and click on my calendar.
The CD took about a year and a half, and it pieced itself together through multi-tracking. Guitarist and engineer Jeff Knudson of Primordial Soup Recording did some amazing work, and we feel like co-parents of the project. We argued over it as much as parents argue over their kids, I’m sure, but we ended up with something we are both proud of. My stepfather Jim funded a big chuck of the project- it couldn’t have happened without his support, and it allowed me to retain control over the recording and final product.
BAJ: Do you maintain time in your schedule to record with other artists? Also, do you have any advice for up-and-coming bandleaders?
LM: I’ve done some recording for Rhythm and Blues guitarist Sonny “Smokin'” Hess; blues belter Karen Dumont, Texas roots rocker Jeff Boortz and others. I’ve also provided vocals for some local songwriters who are shopping their songs around and need a solid demo. I just squeeze those kinds of things in when I get a call for it.
I have some advice for band-leaders, especially solo artists… when you aren’t writing with a band, there are times they will feel like hired guns and you need to be flexible about that. There may be a few songs you want to have just so, but I find it best to be willing to let them arrange their own parts, besides, they have expertise in their instruments that you don’t have. Also, take care of them financially and be willing to take the hit when a promoter or club owner rips you off. Always ask for those extras on behalf of your gang when booking gigs- a room, a meal, a few more bucks- the worst they can do is say no. Don’t take any crap, but don’t burn bridges- be polite when saying no. Don’t undercut other bands by saying yes to low pay and poor treatment, but also keep in mind the hard times club owners are facing as well. Look out for others in your field. Always remember, your reputation is your only currency.
BAJ: What are a few of your musical goals for 2009? Also, is there any place in particular you would like to travel to (and/or tour) in the coming months?
LM: I’d like to do more showcases of the original music, and I love festival gigs. I hope to get a pile of those this summer. I mainly plan to plug along the way I have, just keep working hard and making friends along the way. As for travel, I’d love to spread out along the west coast, make my way down to California. I’ve been doing many solo shows on acoustic guitar and bass that might be a nice way to travel light.
BAJ: What are 3 things that you take with you that make touring just a little more tolerable?
LM: My own pillow, a book on Zen Buddhism and chewable Pepto-Bismol.
BAJ: What are 3 of your favorite things in life? Also, what is your favorite mode of “thanksgiving”, and how often do you make time to simply be thankful?
LM: My three favorite things? Only three? OK, well, my fiancée Allen, my family (biological and not!) and music. For these, and more, I am grateful. I do remind myself on a regular basis to touch that place of gratitude, even when the tip jar is empty… I have what I call a “Gratitudometer” that I check every once in a while. It’s a test of my spiritual fitness. Every breath is a blessing, and I remind myself of that by focusing on the breath in regular meditation.
BAJ: Any closing thoughts for our readers?
LM: Never sacrifice the groove upon the altar of chops!
Thank you, Lisa! Be sure to hit Lisa’s sites and check her out! She’s incredible!
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