Jennifer Young is bass player extraordinaire for the Travis Larson Band – an award winning progressive rock trio that hails from the central coast of California. TLB is a group that always seems to be in motion, whether they are touring nationally in support of their six records and two full-length performance DVD’s or working in the studio often alongside such luminaries as Steve Lukather, Victor Wooten, Dave LaRue, and Vinx; they have also shared billings with Ted Nugent, UFO, Steve Morse, and Ronnie Montrose, to name a few.
When you think back on all your recorded tracks – which bass parts are you particularly proud of?
I’m pretty happy with all of my bass tracks these days and I can appreciate the art of “playing for the song”, even if it’s a little ordinary. There’s a slap section and solo on “Hell’s Half Acre” from the Rate of Change record that I think kicks some ass, but I’m no music critic.
I’ve gone through a lot of growing pains during my career so there’s definitely bits on the first couple of records that make me cringe. But those were different days, raw and unleashed. And I’m still growing; I think I’ve finally reached five-foot, three-inches.
What are your favorite tunes to play live…. why?
Generally speaking, my favorite tunes to play live are the ones I don’t screw up. I do enjoy the heavy, groovier stuff like “Down on Victory” and “Dirty Magic” because I get to stomp around. ”Fuzzy” has become a favorite; it’s challenging and I generally pull it off. The ballads like “Dreamcatcher” or “Would You Believe” are a nice contrast and I love watching people in the audience with their eyes closed and a little smile on their lips.
How does your studio rig/sound differ from your live rig/sound?
In the studio, I ran direct for the first four records. For the latest record, Soundmind, I tracked with the Markbass Compressore. I prefer to track sans ambient effects so I can decide later what the mix requires.
We perform live in a lot of different scenarios so I have several rig and effect setups. I use Markbass 410 cabs, but depending on the gig will use the Markbass F500 or MoMark heads. For clinics and one-offs, I will sometimes run direct to the PA. I use Digitech multi-effect processors, either the GNX4 or the BP355, which have amp and speaker simulators for the PA scenario. My whole rig varies considerably, depending on the tour, but the perfect rig? Four Markbass 410s, two MoMark heads, stereo. In the studio and live, I never play a note on anything but my MusicMan basses.
So… what led you to the Bass Guitar? Can you talk about some of your musical influences?
I picked up the bass around the age of 15 after a year or so of tinkering on an acoustic guitar, unaware there was such a thing as bass guitar. I found my brother’s Moving Pictures cassette and it was like the skies ripped open. Rush was my universe for most of my early musical development, along with Led Zeppelin. Travis and I started playing together around that time so I was influenced by his tastes in fusion and jazz.
Influences can be found in everything and everywhere. When you catch that little spark of inspiration, go create and find happiness in that creative process.
Do you read music? Any studio/Live work outside of TLB?
I don’t read music with any efficiency. I find blues jams and open mic nights unpleasant, maybe that sums it up?
OK – Your right hand technique using the thumb – how did you come up with that?
That came from having to translate recorded guitar overdubs to live bass parts. So, while playing the bass line with my thumb, I will use my other fingers to play chordal or melodic lines that were originally guitar parts. I don’t think it’s anything original that I “came up with”, but merely happened out of necessity.
I’ve been criticized for having generally poor technique and I tend to agree. Necessity tends to dictate my technique, so I’m not concerned with the rules as long as it gets done, sounds good and works for me.
How has your view/opinion of the role of the bass changed/progressed through the years?
I am amazed at the way the bass guitar has progressed over the years with players reaching such heights of proficiency. But in a group or ensemble situation, I think it’s important to be mindful of the fundamental role of bass guitar, to lay it down and to groove. It’s not a lead instrument, it’s not the beat, it’s the bass. My view of its role in music has matured in that way, where I’m a lot more aware of the groove, not just the notes.
Not a lot of girl bass players – particularly kick-ass bass players, like you! – how did that happen?
Two X chromosomes and a lot of practice.
Any advice for aspiring bass players, anything particularly for girls?
Travis Larson Band does a lot of clinics and I get approached with this question quite often. My first bit of advice, as basic as it may seem, is to get yourself a good instrument. I spent years struggling with more advanced techniques, only to realize that my bass sucked.
Secondly, play live, anywhere and everywhere. Performing in front of an audience with all the different variables of sound, lighting, and other distractions can add up to a lot of pressure. The more you do it, the better prepared you are for any situation. Rehearsing in the same comfortable environment with no variables is great for getting and staying in shape, but it’s not realistic.
My advice to girls is to be yourself, don’t get hung up on people treating you differently. Our society is conditioned to focus on the differences in people, whether it’s gender, color, age… that’s just the way it is, it’s usually not personal. And just like anything in life, if you love doing it, then do it.
Second, if you ever do tour in a rock band with a bunch of boys, invest in a good set of noise-canceling headphones, an iPad and a PillowPet.
You’ve been on the road a lot in support of the latest TLB CD SoundMind – Can you tell us about the new CD and any great road stories you’d care to share?
Soundmind is a great record, and I don’t mind saying so. The writing and recording process was intense, the universe was turbulent and I wasn’t sure I would come out sane on the other side. I did, but I was quite happy to hit the road when the record was finished.
TLB is a non-reckless rock band and our tours are usually planned around eateries and tourist attractions. Having said that, we don’t really have any great road stories but I can tell you that the Cleveland Museum of Art is closed on Mondays, the Artopolis Bakery in Chicago makes the best cannoli and playing “School Days” as a duet with Dave LaRue was inconceivably cool.
TLB has some great tunes – I’ve listed a few of my favorites. Would you care to comment on any of these songs?
Good and the Bad –
The duets are usually an opportunity for the bass to take on a little more motion and melody with the drum-free space. “Good and the Bad” is a bit of a glimpse into the Wild West, or so it sounds that way to me. The bass melody feels poised, on the verge of discovery, while the rhythmic guitar gallops and moves you through the tune.
Sticks and Stones –
I love the bass solo in this tune. The recorded version almost sounds like it’s effected with a vocal pitch corrector, but I remember the final mix being pretty dry, maybe some verb and a touch of chorus. Sticks and Stones was our show opener for all of the Rate of Change touring so it still gets a great response from the fans, even if I don’t nail the solo!
Burn Season –
Burn Season is a “classic” Travis Larson Band song. I was inspired by a Tony Levin vibe for this bass line, simple but elegant and yes, slanky. It was written during one of California’s worst fire seasons, so we tried to emulate that smoldering intensity.
Barrage A Trois –
I generally start to get in shape before and during the record, ramp it up before touring starts, then hopefully maintain during the season. One of the toughest things about touring is that you rarely get to play your instrument, so keeping your chops up can be an issue. Also, our shows are pretty quick and dirty without much time for rehearsing a part or even warming up. We tend to put Barrage early in the set because it is a great warm-up and workout tune.
Ol’ Gus –
Ol’ Gus is one of my favorites on the new record. It was written in homage to a loveable, magic dog. The ascending and descending lines are reminiscent of the way Gus would tear through the house in his own version of figure-eights. For hours.
I used a MusicMan Bongo on this track, with a little of the high end rolled off, a little low-mids rolled in and a touch of the piezo and single-coil pickups to blend. I wanted a bit of a fretless vibe and buzz but with more precision than a true fretless sound.
I had been working on a looped solo piece for our live show mostly in an effort to break up the set as it can be tiresome to hear hours of instrumental guitar tunes. As the piece came together, I thought it might make a cool album closer with its simplicity and lullaby vibe.
Fuzzy – Featuring a Dave Larue fretless solo
Dave has been a great friend and supporter of TLB for awhile and we had talked for years about getting him on a record. The schedules finally came together, the tune Fuzzy seemed like the perfect song and he nailed it. When I heard his solo I was practically depressed about it. The vibe of his solo was important to the song, I knew I couldn’t execute THAT solo live, but I also didn’t want to mess with the vibe by just doing my own thing. So I jen-etically altered it with some tapping and carefully deconstructed chords. It’s not Dave’s solo by any means, but it does the trick under smoke and lights.
Georgia on My Mind –
Victor Wooten performed the recorded version of Georgia on My Mind, and if an instrumental guitar trio can have a “hit”, Georgia would be our hit. Expressive, yes. He’s Victor, what more can I say?
Axe to Grind –
The chorus is one of those thumb-played pedal notes with the bass version of rhythm guitar parts played on top. I alternate using chorus, reverb or delay to make the part more ambient live, but it depends on the room and my mood. There is a lot of tasty bass on this tune, unison lines, slap and tap solo… one of my favorites to play live when I’m in decent shape.
Is there anything else you would like to discuss in this interview?
It’s important for me to express gratitude to our friends and fans who have long supported Travis Larson Band. I think a lot of artists put themselves in a place of entitlement, where their focus is on themselves when it should be on their audience. Art is something to be shared and appreciated by both the creator and the consumer; one cannot exist without the other. When you stop to think that the moments you create are not just about “you”, it’s a pretty humbling and cool thing.
Oh, and check out www.travislarsonband.com. Wink!