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An Interview With Bassist Stuart Zender: Progressive Rock Update With Brad Houser


An Interview With Bassist Stuart Zender: Progressive Rock Update With Brad Houser

Meet Brad Houser –

Here are excerpts from an hour long free ranging conversation between myself and Stuart Zender. This guy is extremely cool. He is very warm and engaging and really funny. I hope to meet him some day over coffee, tea, or whatever.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Stuart is the original bass player for the British pop/funk band Jamiroquai. Formed in/around 1992, the band has sold 21 million records to date with their third “Travelling Without Moving” selling 11.5 million, and according to Guinness World Records, the best selling funk record of all time. “Traveling Without Moving” was SZ’s last record with the band. He played on/co-wrote the first two “Emergency on Planet Earth” and “The Return of The Space Cowboy”. “Traveling Without Moving” was the first Jamiroquai record to sell well in the U.S., but the band was huge in the U.K. before that.

A long time Warwick endorser is the proud co-father of the Stuart Zender Signature Bass, which premiered this year.

Upon perusing Stuart’s MySpace page, I found a reference to a film series called “Zeitgeist”. These films definitely pass along some very non-mainstream political information, often relegated to “conspiracy theorists” and “nut jobs”. You can find them on YouTube. Suffice to say that these films and lots of others like it, point to some Extremely Scary potential scenarios on planet Earth. I found it very interesting that a guy from Austin and a dude from London would see eye to eye on such matters.

Thus starts the conversation…

BH: From seeing your MySpace page, there was a link to a film there, about the political emergency situation going on, things that are really scary…

SZ: I mean, it really is scary, and sometimes I think, is it better not to know these things? When you get to the bottom of it, it’s really sordid, the way that life is, but you realize that it all stems from yourself, it comes from us, I mean, we allow these things to be bad…

BH: I know, I’ve often wished I could not know all this stuff and go back to sleep, but it seems it’s a little too late for that.

SZ: I had a mind altering experience when I was 11 years old, and I pretty much grew up really quickly. I mean I’ve always been turned on to my environment, humanity, and the Earth, and our connection with it. It pretty much opened my eyes up, and I’ve always been searching for the truth, basically since I was a kid.

BH: Is the surveillance thing in England as heavy duty as I’ve been hearing about?

SZ: It’s ridiculous… If you were to go from North to South London, you would be filmed at least 336 times, you’d be caught on CCTV (closed circuit television). It all happened from the IRA stuff, back in the day and, you know, it’s just that whole Orwellian “scare people and they’ll give up all their liberties”, basically. When I speak to some people, they just take this stance like it’s just a conspiracy theory and only “mad people” think that way. The thing is, people DO know the truth inside, and it’s just horrific for them, so they have this wall inside and it’s a very safe wall. I realized at a very early age that life isn’t that safe, and, and, this comfort zone that people put themselves in is to not feel change. I mean, life IS change, it’s changing every micro-second, and people want to not embrace the change. I mean I’m not so arrogant as to say that we’re the only things in this universe, I mean that’s got to be the most arrogant thing to think in the world. There’s definitely other places, parallel universes, a lot of stuff out there and I think that our brains, if we were to actually use them to our full potential, there is so much more we could be doing. We only use a tiny bit of them, and I believe that the other parts of our brains are there for amazing things.

BH: Your new thing is called “Running Out of Heroes”… Who are some of your heroes that you can think of?

SZ: (laughs) Goodness… Let’s see… Well, the truth is my hero… It’s always been a big hero of mine, love is always been a big hero of mine, as well. Love and the Truth, I think, are my big heroes.

BH: Did you ever hear of Bill Hicks?

SZ: Yeah, I love Bill Hicks. He was absolutely amazing, genius. I try and turn as many people on to him as possible. It’s really a great way of learning things, as well, through comedy. I think it’s a real subtle way of teaching people. There’s that bit of his-“In the news today, the leaders of the world all took acid and realized that we are all one, that we’re all part of each other, there’s a string that connects us all…” (Laughter from BH and SZ)

SZ: Yeah, it feels like it’s going to take some kind of catastrophe of global proportions for everyone to realize we’re actually all in the same boat, that we all bleed and cry and shit and piss, we’re all the same, and if word were to get out that there was contact with other life forms out there, it would bring us a lot closer. It’s the one thing that these elites absolutely do not want; we’re supposed to be tearing each other to bits right now. I mean, you know, when you reach the last dying embers, as you take your last breath, at the last second it’ll be like-“Oh my God, I figured it out!” That last second, to feel the connection that we all have, it will have all been worth it.

BH: (chuckles)… Wow! Ok…

SZ: Yeah, “Running Out of Heroes”, I haven’t done any funky music for about ten years, I’ve been doing my indie thing, producing, and being a dad, as well. I’ve got a soft spot for ballads and songs and all that, and then I realized that I haven’t made a funky song for ten years. That’s ridiculous. I was watching this film “The Insider” with Russell Crowe, it’s about this whistle blower regarding the tobacco industry and all their practices, and there is a part where everyone’s bailed out on him, and he’s all alone in the fight, and Al Pacino is telling him over the phone, “You have to do it, man. We’re running out of heroes.” (Laughs) It just stuck in my head.

BH: So that’s the band name.

SZ: Yeah, I’m doing all the music and everything myself here at my home studio setup here in London. I can do drum tracks, and then with Logic, you don’t have to worry about two inch tape. I remember sitting there with the razor blade, listening to fwoop-fwoop-fwoop, finding the edit points…

BH: Aye, the old razor blade…

SZ: The good old days, the bad old days! It all came about when we were writing the third album, I got computer savvy because we were always squabbling over who did what, and all these grey areas. You’d be sitting there playing some chords on the guitar, then the keyboard player would pop up two days later, playing those same chords, going, “They’re mine. I wrote those.” So I got a computer, learned Logic Audio around ’97, basically learned how to make a track myself and present it to people. So, from that point I became more of a loner with the computer… I sort of miss having a band around, that jamming kind of thing. Now I basically think of the idea, and I have to see the whole thing through, rather than it being spontaneous, having a jam, going “Oh yeah, put that with that…” For this one I wanted to focus on funky songs. But for number two, I’ll maybe be able to afford to have musicians around and pay them decently, but this one’s all me by myself. I have some people guesting; I have Toby Smith on keys for some stuff, and Bluey, from Incognito, and various singers…

BH: So it’s you playing most of the instruments…

SZ: Yeah. Drums, bass, guitar, keyboards… I can’t really do horns. (Laughs) I have a friend who plays strings, The Haggis Horns, well, Malcolm from The Haggis Horns; he’s playing as well… It’s weird, he actually got called to do Jay’s (Kay, Jamiroquai vox) new album as well… He must of heard through the grapevine “He’s doing horns? I haven’t done horns in ages, shit, I better get some horns in there!”

BH: Gotta get some horns… (Laughter) Oh, I saw your signature bass. It looks pretty cool.

SZ: You’ve got a bass as well, haven’t you?

BH: Yeah, it was in production for about three years. They (Reverend) made about 100 of them, and then they stopped basses and just did guitars and amps… They weren’t making any money on basses…

SZ: Oh, really, goodness… It’s a huge market. I’ve been with Warwick for ages, I initially was with Gibson and I got put back in contact with Warwick, they were just so… I mean they couldn’t jump high enough, so… it’s not that huge of a company, so you don’t get lost in the woodwork, pardon the pun. I must have sold them a gripload of basses, because hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t say, “Oh, I play a Warwick because of you.” I never got any deals out of it; I just got free basses and stuff like that. This one was a bit of a labor of love, we eventually got it out, and we’re bringing out a more affordable version next year. They’ve got a division in Shanghai…

BH: Yeah, the Rockbass…

SZ: So we can actually make a quality affordable bass. Warwick’s factory is amazing, there’s a lot of time taken on each instrument. The guy that owns it, he pretty much knows every bass that’s come out of there. We’re coming out with the other one next year, it will be 5-600 dollars instead of like, and 4000 pounds this one is quite expensive. I once spent 2 grand on a bass one time, my mom gave me a check when I left home, and instead of doing something good with the money or investing it or something, I just blew the lot on a bass and an amp… I had nowhere to live but I had a really good bass and an amp. (Laughter)

BH: I think it worked out.

SZ: Yeah, it did.

BH: Pretty damn good investment and it was a Warwick, right?

SZ: Yeah it was a Streamer…

BH: THAT paid off!

SZ: Yeah, it (SZ bass) is basically a modified Streamer. I cut out the bottom bit so I could get my hand up to the 24th fret, I couldn’t get it up there before because there was a piece of wood in the way. I looked at it and thought “I might as well use this in the design…”

BH: I noticed on “Travelling Without Moving”, you’ve got a real P-bass kind of tone going, which I dug.

SZ: Well I play quite hard, a lot of those amazing technical bassists play quite light, I really dig in, and my basses were never set up properly, so there’s a lot of fret buzz, and stuff like that. You get that growly, honky tone… So it’s all basically accidents, rather than being studious about the whole artistry of the instrument. I just grabbed it and played it, I can’t read, it’s all by ear, if you were to point at a fret, I can’t tell you what note it was.

BH: Really!!! You wouldn’t think from-

SZ: But I can play “Teen Town!”

BH: That’s crazy! Yeah, I… (Laughing) Wow!!! \

SZ: I’ve talked to a lot of people that study and go to music colleges, there’s something amazing about being able to read music, it’s easier to communicate with other people, but, but, I think if you focus too much on that, you tend to lose a bit of the feel, and somewhere along the line it can get a bit too clinical… I went to do a Warwick thing at a music convention in Frankfurt… man, I was like a fish out of water there. I’m too shy to sit up there and wank on stage… there was some guy a couple of booths down playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” at like a 120,000,000 BPM on his guitar… I was like “Oh God, where has it gone?”… It was just… vibeless, no vibe whatsoever. There’s some amazing technical players out there, but where’s the feel? [More James Brown please, everyone-BH] If you can shred and got feel, wow, that’s great… but they usually don’t have both.

BH: the folks who have both…

SZ: Your feel is really good…

BH: Thanks. It’s been good… This decade, I switched over to a Lakeland hollowbody and flatwounds, it became my sound.

SZ: Those are really cool.

BH: It’s the shit! That Warwick hollow one looks really cool.

SZ: Yeah, the Star bass. I took it to a gig in Chicago with Mark Ronson. I’m his MD (musical director), when we did Lollapalooza, and I’d never played it through a big PA before and it started feeding back, and I’m like “Bass feedback! Oh no!” but I got to grips with it in a few seconds, dampen the strings a bit more… It was a quick lesson, though. (Laughs)

BH: I love hollowbodies.

SZ: I got to check out your new stuff, man. I live under A ROCK that has MOSS on it, so it doesn’t even LOOK like a rock any more… (Laughs)…

BH: Yeah, me too, the last few years has been like Miles and Coltrane and shit… I have to get turned on to new stuff by other people.

SZ: It’s the same as well, but there’s some REALLY cool new stuff happening.

BH: There is!

SZ: There’s this weird band I heard called “Passion Pit”, I just saw this late night MTV thing, really awesome chord sequences… And this Scottish band called “Marmaduke Duke”, they’re cool, they’ve got a nice… I just, I love chords, CHORDS!

BH: Have you heard “Brazilian Girls”?

SZ: I’ve got a friend who knows them, we were going to see them, but didn’t make it…
He’s like, “We’re going to see Brazilian girls.” And I’m, “Well, I’ve got a girlfriend, and… Bro, I don’t know…” (Laughs) What a great name for a band, you’re guaranteed to sell seats!

BH: Yeah, the name supposedly started as a joke, but the bass player isn’t in the band anymore. [Sob… lamenting…] Jesse Murphy, he’s like my favorite bass player, good god… their second record “Talk to La Bomb”

SZ: That’s a cool title, man… BOMB!

BH: It’s wicked, bass playing is just stupendous… oh my god.

SZ: I’m doing the iTunes thing right now. Brazilian Girls, right?

BH: The title track is this bass tour-de-force, it’s-

SZ: Are you into all that—bass solos—

BH: Nah, not so much-

SZ: I never got into that all that much… I was forced into it in Jamiroquai; Jay would put me on the spot. He knew I could play a little, he’d be “Here’s my man on the bass.” And I’d be “Awww…” I remember I’d just turned 18, and the first gig I did was in front of like, 2000 people.

BH: On my god!

SZ: In France, a mini festival, and he put me on the spot, I mean I’d just come off the streets from being homeless, you know? (Laughter) Before that, I was in my sister’s band; three people would come to the gig. You know, my mom, my sister, and some tramp in the corner form the night before… then to get thrown into THAT, I got thrown into the Deep End, I got thrown into the Marianas Trench of bass… (More laughs)

BH: That’s terrifying! F&ckin’ A. Sounds like we’re in similar places, I don’t go buy bass player solo records—shit drives me crazy…

SZ: But like Jaco… what an innovator, he changed electric bass forever into what it is today, but it’s like there seems to be terminal velocity with that kind of thing. To be honest with you, most of my tricky, flashy stuff has happened by accident.

BH: What do you look for in musicians that you play with?

SZ: All about the feel. I can pretty much jell with just about anyone, I can mold into most drummer’s feel, but there’s some drummers you play with, it’s just like putting a glove on, you know? It’s about the groove and the feel, with anyone……..guitarists, I like to have a bit of Hendrix in there somewhere, but you’ve got to have an ear for melody, and “out there” chords, and not to be ‘box standard’ musicians, like drummers who listen to Dave Weckl or something like that, I like the Headhunters and stuff like that. Feel players. It’s all well and good to be able to hit the drums at like 3,000,000 miles an hour, but, slow it down, let’s see how you FEEL……

BH: Yeah, exactly.

SZ: But, like, Toby, Jamiroquai’s old keyboard player, it was simple, yet ‘out there’, he and I would come up with something quirky, he’d do some chords, and they would sound like Stevie Wonder chords, but there would be something different about them. It’s the X-factor, I suppose……..I like quirkiness, quirkiness of character, people that have passion about what they do. If they have passion about life, it will come through in their playing. There’s a Latin word for it – Duende – the fire from within. Certain people have it.
You can’t make it. You can’t learn it at MIT. Some people have it in music; others might have it in economics…it’s like a silent fire from within. Sounds really weird, maybe….

BH: Not to me, it doesn’t! Well, let’s see, I had some more questions……

SZ: How did you get started writing for the magazine?

BH: The Editor, Jake Kot, had seen this pissed-off rant I wrote on MySpace (MySpace/basshouser) called “Open Letter to All Rhythm Sections” and suggested that I write a column called “Progressive Rock Update”, which I’m hardly qualified for, but I said, “sure!” …

SZ: Who’ve you written about?

BH: So far, Brazilian Girls, Deerhoof, Radiohead, MUSE-

SZ: Wow, how did you feel about Radiohead?

BH: Completely into it.

SZ: So much. I did a gig supporting them when I had just left home, I was in this really horrible punk band, it was so Shit, I mean it was the worst f&ckin’ band in the world, we did this Shit Tour of England in this little white transit van, I was 17. The singer was this wannabe pop star, and the manager was this guy named James Brown, who used to the editor of NME [think Rolling Stone] and the guitarist was an NME photographer………one gig the guy came skidding out, onto the monitor, the monitor went off the stage, he went with it, broke his arm…..GIG OVER. Must have been about two minutes of a song we played…….I remember we supported Radiohead at “King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut” in Glasgow, around ’91. I remember that had just done that “I’m a Creep, I’m a weirdo” and I thought,” God, this band is SHIT, it is so horrible, God this is a pile of shit…..”And, watching them progress, they’ve done the most amazing thing; they’ve done the cocoon, turned into a butterfly, and not let any of the industry mess with them. The kind of pressure they put on each other is ridiculous, though, every record they do almost kills them. Nigel [Goodrich, producer] is a friend of ours, and he really helps bring their stuff together. They do their records in these residences, together, all the time, so they’re up each other’s noses all the time….. I got off on a tangent, what was the question?

BH: You asked me about the writing thing, I had mentioned MUSE…

SZ: MUSE!!!! Aw, they’re brilliant, man. He…..their singer, he’s really into that stuff we talked about earlier……

BH: I thought so!

SZ: Completely.

BH: I got that DVD, HAARP, live from Wembley, with the antenna array on stage…..pretty much anyone who knows about HAARP probably knows about that other stuff……and their song titles kind of give it away…

SZ: (cryptically)…..Supermassive Black Hole…….. (Laughs)

At this point SZ’s daughter comes cruising in with a minor injury………hearing their interchange, SZ sounds like…an Amazing Dad, and…hilarious.

BH: If you can, what are some of your goals for this thing?

SZ: To get back out there with the funky thing, lots of gigs to play for as many people as possible. For people to like it… Obviously, I’d like to………’cause music is a healer, you can heal so much…in music, in harmonics, it’s a healer, not so much to ‘heal the world’, but to be a good, positive vibration in this world. To be able to send my daughter to college!! To get out on the road without all the crazy bull. When I was in Jamiroquai, I was so young, and it was a crazy, crazy, ride for me. I’d been nothing, I was on the street, and to this day, I have to pinch myself, I can’t believe some of the things people say to me, it’s been really humbling. I would have never expected it. I totally lived beyond my dreams. When I left home at 16, my big dream was to get a Council Flat….

BH: Government housing.

SZ; Yeah, it was my big goal. (Laughs) The goal post changes…

BH: !!!!!!!

SZ: Well, it’s been amazing, lovely to speak to you…and, don’t worry…humanity- we’ll get there.

BH: We will!

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