Jake: I can’t comprehend, and it’s an extreme compliment, how you could be in standard tuning doing a tune and then switch over to an altered tuning and continue on in that tune with the ease that you do—I can’t grasp that one.
Michael: It’s a bit of a trick. Part of it is that you can use that to work in your favor. It’s sort of like a karate idea where you use someone’s weight against them and try to turn it into an advantage as opposed to a disadvantage. The fact that you’re lost can be helpful to you, as it allows you to generate new ideas. Of course you have to watch the timing of being lost; you don’t want to do that on the big gig. But there are times when you can jump into a different tuning and it makes you think so differently that it might help spur your creativity a little. You know, the four string bass is a pretty simple instrument, especially with the fact that the strings are tuned to the same interval. It’s a pretty simple instrument to grock compared to a lot of other instruments where every key has a different kind of shape or pattern you have to adjust to. It’s really a matter of making the transpositions between the strings. The patterns can’t remain the same, and you need to kind of orient yourself around those patterns. If you’re used to working with a lot of different types of scales, it’s the same process…. it’s just like a learning to play a new scale.
Jake: I know you’re on the road quite a lot. Do you feel there is a bigger audience these days for I guess I’ll say, more creative music, music outside what’s driven by the industry?
Michael: I guess it kind of depends on what your frame of reference is, what you’re comparing it to. I think the audience “is” out there. It’s not a huge, but it never has been. It is tough, and always has been tough, but things are always changing. What wasn’t tough a few years ago may be tougher now, but then again things kind of open up in different ways. I do have the feeling that people are at a place now where there is this small interest in as you say creative music. I think maybe that has been generated by the fact that folks have been exposed to a lot of commercial music, and the average person can buy a computer program now which allows them to make some sort of commercial music on. But to see somebody that’s dedicated a lifetime to an instrument, and be able to watch them play live is coming back a bit. I think there’s a small group of people that are starting to rediscover the value in that. And I think there is some awareness now that a lot of the big pop shows that people are going to see are an awful lot of smoke and mirrors. A lot of these shows have it setup where the musician’s seem to be playing live, but all your hearing are samples from the records. So I think that there “are” a certain amount of people out there who are appreciating seeing someone who is actually playing live and witness that first hand.
Jake: You’ve done a fair amount of projects with one or two other bassists’ and quite a few with acoustic guitarists as well. Do you ever have the desire to put a larger ensemble together, and if you did, who are some of the players you’d enjoy working with?
Michael: These days I just don’t have much interest. I’m mostly interested in composing for solo bass. I know some people will be disappointed by that, but I’m just very fascinated with what’s possible as far as solo bass is concerned. It just feels like an important thing to do. I’ve written a lot of music for all kinds of ensembles over the years, including some symphonic stuff. I just got a request from a symphony to compose something for bass and orchestra, but I turned it down. That’s just not something I want to do right now. In the future, that’s definitely a possibility. There are several types of projects I might be interested in doing in the future with larger groups, but at the moment, I’m just really enjoying focusing on solo bass.
Jake: Let me throw you into teacher mode here if I may. I think all of us as we gain experience tend to shift our teaching methods a bit. If a young and talented student came on board with you at this point in time, where might you take him as an instructor?
Michael: The more teaching I do, the more I feel my role is to work with that person and understand what it is that they want to accomplish, and then try to help them accomplish that. That’s the primary thing that I try to do. There are some skills that I think any bass player can benefit from. So if I’m working with a group of students, I’m usually trying to show them those things that have been most helpful to me. But if I’m working with somebody privately, it’s mostly a matter of once again trying to figure out what they want to accomplish that gives them the most fulfillment in music, and then I try to help them get there and lead them along their path.