Italian based musician Simone Vignola is growing in popularity fast. He just released his solo CD “Going to the next Level” and is touring around Europe and playing in clubs and bigger Festivals. Between the recording of his “Bonus Track” for the Asian release of his CD, and after a good Italian coffee, we had the time to talk with Simone.
Ciao Simone. Please tell us a little bit about you and how you got started playing Bass?
Actually, my first approach with music happened on guitar. My father was a guitar player and helped me with technique and different styles. When I was twelve I bought a jazzbass copy and loved it. I love the way the bass lets you move, the contact between fingers and strings. The role of the bass suits my personality. The role of the bass is important. Every note counts, and we have to bring everybody else to the groove. A non-musician doesn’t recognize the importance of the bass in a song, but he can feel that’s something wrong without its harmonic and rhythmic support.
Did you take lessons?
I studied bass with a teacher in my town, a dear friend called Enzo di Somma. He has an amazing style, and I tried to copy him a lot in the beginning. Then I understood that my sound was completely different than his, and after a couple of years I started practicing alone. I started playing upright bass at seventeen, studying jazz music with a local teacher Pierluigi Bartolo Gallo. At eighteen, I studied at the Italian Conservatory playing with the bow and studying classical music with the well known Maestro Nicola Buonomo. After six years you start to understand the dedication a classical career demands, and I was still loving the bass. I also studied electric bass for a short period with Antonio de Luise, a great jazz player.
Which bass players have been particularly influential on your playing?
First of all, I grew up with the Police. I consider myself a musician in the style of Sting, from both the singing and playing sides. As a bassist, he showed me the importance of staying underneath the music. I was also influenced by Flea from RHCP. My favourite technical expression is slapping, and I loved Flea’s sound, even though I don’t like MusicMan basses at all. When I was a teenager, I was more into rock and metal music. I was an “up the Irons” guy. Steve Harris influenced me a lot, his power and speed, the cleanest bass sound ever. The bass almost becomes the main instrument in that kind of music. As I got older, I discovered my passion for Les Claypool’s creativity and compositional innovation. I also took from Marcus Miller’s sound, and I studied Victor Wooten’s magical riffs. I also enjoyed Jaco Pastorius, but was starting to discover that I was a different type of player.
I’ve always played every kind of music. At sixteen I was in a rock band called Inseedia. We did something like The Cure’s dark music with Crossover Music influences. It was a cool teen project. We did two albums, received positive feedback, and then we broke up. I then started working as session player, and start touring in 2005 with different Italian well known artists. This allowed me to play music from jazz to pop, and also worked with cover bands as well.
How / what was your first gig?
When I was at medium school I did some shows as “young classic guitarist” and this really makes me laugh. I don’t remember which the first one was, if it was in a church or at a conservatory’s auditorium…for sure it was in my town. The first bass gig was at an 18th birthday party. I was just twelve playing Beatles, Police and Dire Straits.
You continued as a sideman for other bands. Why did you start your own career?
Since I was a child, I had fun composing songs. I started working on music on the computer, recording and working with writing software. I also began writing lyrics and began working on a singer-songwriter approach. I tried recording the vocal part of a song of mine called “Time is Flying Again”, and liked it. Through the years I began to understand that the only one who could best translate my ideas was me. When you write something, you want to communicate that idea. It’s hard to explain to anyone else how to play or sing your songs, so I decided to do it myself. I tried to reach my ideal sound on each instrument I used for my music, and that’s why I played everything myself.
As a sideman for others, how do you find your bass part?
The most important and difficult thing is getting inside the artist’s mind. Playing your own music lets you understand how is important the writer’s point of view is. Sometimes the musician/singer you work for is a good one, other times they’re not. But in each case you must believe in what you’re doing. Moreover, even if you accept a job for several reasons, you can always learn from it. The second someone calls you, it’s good to understand he probably wants your personal vision for his music. As bassist, I try to build a river in which the song sails, trying to consider music as art, not a job. But once you’ve been paid, and you understand that you’ve worked. Sometimes I’ll get called to produce as well. Producing and arranging sound must come from your feelings. We have to produce what we think and hear, and not what everybody already knows.
You are playing so many different projects…Pop, Alternative Rock, Fusion. What kind of style do you feel most at home with?
I really like the way pop music communicates to people. It is fast and short. One word means a lot of them…one note is not enough…two notes are too much, so you have to be the perfect speaker. I enjoy trying to be perfect. It makes me a better player, and a better man.
Now I’ll try to explain what I think about playing different styles. In our real life, as in music, we are always looking for our place; the place in which we feel right and people seems like us. It is difficult for me to find my place because I’m the kind of person who likes all situations and their different feelings. So I find a direction, a way, and I walk down a street and it is my place in that moment. I’m always trying to go to the next level. Sometimes you feel the electric side, and sometimes you feel acoustic side, or one-man-band; other times you feel another artist’s shadow. By expressing all of yourself, you can give something to the world. If a piece is lost, your musical puzzle isn’t complete.
You completed your first CD called “Going to the Next Level” in 2010. It was well received, as it was very musical and had a great flair. You composed and arranged all of the tracks. Why did you want to make this CD?
As I said, I played with several artists and bands, and I grew up as session player in the so called “musical scene” in Italy. After I won the EuroBassDay Contest in 2008, I decided to seriously believe in myself as both bassist and composer. It was a strange period. I was looking for something, didn’t know exactly what, but I was sure I had to find it in the music. I was 21. I wrote a lot of songs like “Love Song” and “Still Life”, and I took an old one like “Time is Flying Again”. It was an important moment, and I totally changed my vision of the art. I was really lucky in finding a record label who believed in this project. This made me feel stronger, and I started working on my first single “Love Song”. After a good reaction, and an offer out of Europe, I started work on the full CD. This is the story. “Going to the Next Level” put order into my life. As the title says, I was looking to start a new life. “Going to” represents my dynamic on a way to live, “the Next Level” is what I have built through the experience. Sometimes I consider this CD “The best of an unknown artist”. I’m still waiting for the next level, I really don’t know how many CDs I’ll have to release before finding it.
How do you write/compose your compositions, do you play them on Bass?
At home I always have a bass and an acoustic guitar ready to play. I play both of them everyday. Sometimes I need to practice, other times I need to jam. There is a moment in which I feel the song is coming out, and I quickly and easily understand which instrument I need. Most of the songs of “Going to the Next Level” are focused around the bass, and you can definitely hear it. While I’m composing, I really like the possibilities the bass give me. Overtones, slapping, and tapping are the main components I use to make my riffs.
How do you get your ideas for the compositions?
Moment by moment my mind fixes ideas on different things, and I just develop them. For example in “Going o the Next Level”, the G was tuned to A (tracks 8,13), A tuned to Bb on track 11, tapping riffs on tracks 5 and 12, 7/8 implied on a 4/4 groove on track 6, and passing through different tonalities with the same rhythmical and harmonic loops. Obviously, I always write from feeling, and use what I’ve discovered before, ideas and techniques that better suite the song.
I record it as soon as I can, even if I’m with a girl, or a president 🙂
How do you start your recordings?
Talking in terms of a pop song, the first part I address is the chorus. It is the main part of the song, and I’m able to understand what that feeling was. After this, I start building the groove, and I always begin with the kick on the beat. As long as I’m conscious of the groove, I can put my notes anywhere I want. After the groove, I need the theme (mainly electric bass) and the guitar concepts. I often jam on the whole song with my acoustic guitar and then I search for the communicative parts. I try to capture the good moments. I compose the scheme with pieces of music and I have separate parts built by the loops. With the bass I can drive the loops. For example, if I have a guitar loop playing modal on a C major scale, I can decide which chord suites it better, and then create the bass line to fit the harmonic movement. Then I sing. I think the bass is the most important element in my music.
Do you have any recording recommendations for getting a great bass sound?
I find my dynamics to be a very important point of the final bass sound. Each note in a bass riff musts be on the same dynamic level, with the same volume and the same interpretation. Remember that each finger has a different sound. Rock style music could actually be recorded with one finger. With this work on finger control, we can obtain something like a build-in compressor in the hands. We will not need a lot of external compression or volume cuts on the bass track, creating a natural bass sound. It’s also important to watch which pick-up your right hand plays over. Play softly on the neck one for a round sound, and harder on the bridge pick-up for more attack.
How do you capture your bass tone in the studio?
I’m happy to be using a TC Electronic amp composed of one head and two cabs, a 2×10 and a 2×12. I use these to record three separated tracks per bass part, the amp’s direct output, a SM57 for the 2×10 speaker, and a kick microphone for the 2×12 speaker.
On your CD as well as your live gigs, you are both singing and playing…not many bass players are able to do this. Do you have any (practise) tips?
I consider singing and playing a default human ability. First of all you need freedom and conviction. Actually, bass parts are often very different from the vocal, and sometimes you have to play against the voice rhythm. When I find I can’t sing while I’m playing, I used to create an imaginary scheme (you can write it too) dividing, for example, a 4/4 bar into 16th’s with both vocal and bass parts on different lines. You can easily understand which note is before and which later, and then start. I interchange bass notes, vocal notes, and pauses.
You are touring now with your so called “Live-Solo-Set”. Why did you decide to tour solo?
First of all I like the one-man-band concept. Everything depends on you. You must learn and improve your relationship with the music. You must understand every note you play. Actually, you’re able to express yourself better. I believe that an artist’s musical speech must deliver his point of view. I think of myself as a DJ who doesn’t mix, he just creates his own vinyl. Every time is different, every show is a new one and, through the experience, it becomes better then the day before. This is “Live-Solo-Set”. It’s the world from the artist’s point of view in different moments, and who describes it better then him? I need just me. I enjoy touring alone. I have more time to experience new landscapes and new places.
What kind of Clubs/Venues are you playing?
It changes with what I’m playing. With my show, I can play in a small club or on a big festival stage during summer tours. Now I’m using a two cabs system, so I can bring one for small situations or both in bigger venues. By the way, you need a wide frequency balanced quality amp to hear the instrument in each kind of gig. I’m often playing at Bass Festivals in which I’m introducing the “Live-Solo-Set”. The bass role in my shows is considered strong, but different. Attention is given to the one-man-band and song-writer side. I’m also in a lot of exhibitions as a demonstrator, and endorser.
You won the Italian “BOSS Loop Contest” and now you will be at NAMM for the International Final. What do you think of using loop stations in your music?
The use of the loop station totally changed my perspective, especially the live one. It’s nice to build the song. The audience can follow you and understand exactly what you’re doing and how you’re making music. I look at the loop station as the “colour machine” I use in my songs. I have different light options ready to use driving the song with my voice and my bass. Of course this concept needs imagination and practice. By the way, the exercise that a loop station offers is great from a musical perspective as well. I’m doing some clinics centered around my live-looping method, mostly based on the bass role, explaining how I do loops and in which direction the looping goes. The “BOSS Loop Contest” was a great time, and I’m really happy about the confirmation of what I’m considering as the future of artistic expression.
What are your future musical projects?
I’m very happy about what’s happening right now. I hope in the next year to discover some new and different musical approaches, and to continue with new recordings, videos and live shows for my solo project. Actually, I’m curious to see what will happen in a “Next Level” way.
-Going to the Next Level (Japan Edition) [King Records – 2011]
-Going to the Next Level [Schoots Records – 2010]
-Love Song (Single) [Schoots Records – 2009]
LOVE SONG: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZQaKMo_soQ
Loop Contest: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqDpnwyq0Q0
Windmill J-Modern 5 string
Windmill P-Bass 4 string
Fender Roscoe Beck 5 string
Ibanez SR505bm 5 string
Head: TC Electronic Classic 450
Cabinets: TC Electronic 2×10
TC Electronic 4×10
TC Electronic 2×12
Vocals FX: TC Helicon VoiceLice2
Loop Station: BOSS RC-50
Tuner: TC Electronic Polytune
Bass Delay: TC Electronic NovaDelay
Bass Synth: BOSS SYB-5
Bass Flanger: BOSS FL-3
Bass Filter: EH BassBalls Nano
Drum machines: BOSS DR-760