Connect with us

Latest

From Amateur to Pro: A Discussion with Steve Lawson by John Kuhlman

Published

on

Photo: Steve Brown / stevebrownphoto.co.uk

The fourth featured artist in this series, “From Amateur to Pro” is solo bassist, looper, improvisor and self-described sound-scapist, Steve Lawson. Primarily known for his solo and duet works on his Pillow Mountain label, he has also toured with groups supporting Level 42 and 21st Century Schizoid Band as a solo artist. He has also shared the stage with other solo artists like Michael Manring and as a duo with the vocalist Lobelia.

Lawson also manages and teaches a master class series in Birmingham, UK, known as Beyond Bass Camp. The camp is an intensive one-day workshop for bass player who want to explore the technical, theoretical and mechanical aspects of making music with a bass.

Bass Musician Magazine: Based on your experience as a working musician, what are the one or two musical skills that you consistently see are lacking in bassists trying to make the transition from playing at home to gigging for pay?

Steve Lawson: I think “trying to make the transition” is perhaps the biggest mistake. Making money from music — the notion of a career in anything is becoming increasingly tenuous — happens because people want to listen to you and are willing to pay money. They are paying that money either to you, or for something else you’re attracting them to where you are being paid to be the bait. For example, if you are playing in a pub, you are the bait for beer.

The skills required to do that are the same as those needed to make meaningful music anywhere else. Specifically, the skills to know what’s required for the music to sound as good as you can make it, and to develop the physical ability to make that happen.

I guess the main thing that people get wrong in relation to it being professional is they get hung up on money and not on respecting music enough to play it with people who care as much about playing great music as you do. So anything that gets in the way of that is a bad thing, whether it’s punctuality or an inappropriate bass tone, getting drunk on the gig, or not being able to work with the drummer to make whatever groove the song requires happen in the best possible way. Whether it’s you or the other guys you’re working with that make those mistakes, it’ll be costly to any future ambitions you might have of working to a high standardpaid or not.

Most of the people I know who play music professionally do so because they were already playing to a very high standard of skill and attentiveness before they started getting paid for it. Do it because the music matters more than the money. If you happen to find that you’re making enough from music to slow down on the day gig, brilliant. But it’s worth remembering that if what you really want to do is play your own music, playing in a wedding band is a day gig.

Photo: Steve Brown / stevebrownphoto.co.uk

BMM: Following that theme, what about personal or business skills that bassists should have, but many don’t bother developing?

Lawson: Personal skills are such a huge area, and are more about being fully human than anything specifically professional. We all like being around people who are nice, keen, excited about music, who know when not to talk, who do their job with a degree of humility, who want the best for everyone involved in whichever one of life’s great projects we happen to be engaged in. No one wants to hang out with someone who thinks they’re a rock star, whether or not they are actually a rock star or a van driver. Either way, being nice is as important as being a musical badass.

Most of the bass skills required for the majority of music gigs that end up with you getting paid are simple, repetitive and focused. They’re the things that make everyone else sound great. If that’s at odds with your personality, it might be worth sticking with the over the top originals band and enjoying whatever non-musical stuff you fill your time without outside of the two hours of bass-shredding on stage each weekend!

BMM: When it comes to gigs, there seem to be two schools of thought: Take every gig you can to build your experience and network; or be very selective and cultivate your music credentials and reputation. What are your thoughts on building a successful gigging resume?

Lawson: I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. I think the key is to act deliberately, with an outcome in mind. Too many people’s musical part seems to be defined by desperation, but with very little idea of what the outcome of that desperation is supposed to be. So they chase whatever vision of success has most recently and forcefully been impressed upon them. Instead, if we think about what we’re interested in, about what kind of music making is important to us, then we can pursue that.

I think taking new gigs is a really good learning path. Every new gig with good musicians is worth roughly 10 lessons of learning if you do it right: new material, new people, new environment, new styles, and new challenges. Wonderful.

But the preparation for gigs playing music that you have no interest in or attachment to can sometimes act as a huge distraction from the music you feel called to make. So a balance needs to be struck between the value of learning and the dangers of distraction.

BMM: Based on your experience as a solo artist, what are some of the challenges facing the soloist vs the band member or studio musician and is there a particular skill set that you were surprised was required of you?

Lawson: As a solo artist you’re in charge of everything. You own the success. You own the failure. You’re the draw at the show, the name on the poster, the entertainer, the between-song talker. Most of the time you’re also the sound guy, roadie and manager. That’s a lot of responsibility to carry!

It’s both lonely and liberating. You have no one to fall out with musically, but also no one on stage to bounce ideas off of defer to when you run out of inspiration. So it’s a particular kind of enterprise with a unique set of musical and organizational challenges. It’s less of a party, generally, but the connections you can make are deeper because your music is you. There’s no aggregate message from the combined personalities in the band. It’s just you and the audience, and your music is doing the talking. That’s a massive privilege but also a responsibility. You either relish it or you don’t do it!

The skills I struggle with more than any are organizational. Whether its booking shows, following up on logistical stuff, or chasing contacts. I’m terrible at that stuff, and sometimes wish I could afford to have someone else help me with it. But if I did, I’d probably end up telling them what I wanted them to do, which wouldn’t be any fun for them. So perhaps I need a co-worker that I can split tasks with!

BMM: With your experience leading Beyond Bass Camp, let’s ratchet that experience up a bit, cross mediums and several million light years and put you in the role of Yoda teaching a young Luke Skywalker the way of the bass and what it takes to survive as a gigging musician. What would you teach him?

Lawson: I’d tell him that surviving as a gigging musician was overrated as a pursuit in its own right. I’d tell him that being fully human, doing a good job, and making art that represents you well in the world are all deeply valuable pursuits with lessons attached, whether your succeed or fail in economic terms.

I’d suggest that sustainability is to be found in playing deliberately, spending as little money as possible, (though that may still require you to spend more on a bass than you would on a car) surrounding yourself with people who are open to the possibility that art is more important than commerce, and that money is just a pragmatic part of being able to do the things we love. It’s not an end in itself or a measure of anything meaningful.

It may be that failure as a gigging musician, in whatever terms you approach it at the start of your journey, may end up being success on a deeper more meaningful level. I’d share my own story of having my solo career quite effectively kill my session career, but open me up to a whole other way of thinking about and playing music that, while never making me rich, has put me in a pretty unique place in the musical landscape. And that is worth a thousand times more than a whole load of pro gigs as a sideman.

Bass CDs

New Album: Jake Leckie, Planter of Seeds

Published

on

Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

Bassist Jake Leckie and The Guide Trio Unveil New Album Planter of Seeds,
to be released on June 7, 2024

Planter of Seeds is bassist/composer Jake Leckie’s third release as a bandleader and explores what beauty can come tomorrow from the seeds we plant today. 

What are we putting in the ground? What are we building? What is the village we want to bring our children up in? At the core of the ensemble is The Guide Trio, his working band with guitarist Nadav Peled and drummer Beth Goodfellow, who played on Leckie’s second album, The Guide, a rootsy funky acoustic analog folk-jazz recording released on Ropeadope records in 2022. For Planter of Seeds, the ensemble is augmented by Cathlene Pineda (piano), Randal Fisher (tenor saxophone), and Darius Christian (trombone), who infuse freedom and soul into the already tightly established ensemble.

Eight original compositions were pristinely recorded live off the floor of Studio 3 at East West Studios in Hollywood CA, and mastered by A.T. Michael MacDonald. The cover art is by internationally acclaimed visual artist Wayne White. Whereas his previous work has been compared to Charles Mingus, and Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet with Charlie Haden, Leckie’s new collection sits comfortably between the funky odd time signatures of the Dave Holland Quintet and the modern folk-jazz of the Brian Blade Fellowship Band with a respectful nod towards the late 1950s classic recordings of Ahmad Jamal and Miles Davis.

The title track, “Planter of Seeds,” is dedicated to a close family friend, who was originally from Trinidad, and whenever she visited family or friends at their homes, without anyone knowing, she would plant seeds she kept in her pocket in their gardens, so the next season beautiful flowers would pop up. It was a small altruistic anonymous act of kindness that brought just a little more beauty into the world. The rhythm is a tribute to Ahmad Jamal, who we also lost around the same time, and whose theme song Poinciana is about a tree from the Caribbean.

“Big Sur Jade” was written on a trip Leckie took with his wife to Big Sur, CA, and is a celebration of his family and community. This swinging 5/4 blues opens with an unaccompanied bass solo, and gives an opportunity for each of the musicians to share their improvisational voices. “Clear Skies” is a cathartic up-tempo release of collective creative energies in fiery improvisational freedom. “The Aquatic Uncle” features Randal Fisher’s saxophone and is named after an Italo Calvino short story which contemplates if one can embrace the new ways while being in tune with tradition. In ancient times, before a rudder, the Starboard side of the ship was where it was steered from with a steering oar. In this meditative quartet performance, the bass is like the steering oar of the ensemble: it can control the direction of the music, and when things begin to unravel or become unhinged, a simple pedal note keeps everything grounded.

The two trio tunes on the album are proof that the establishment of his consistent working band The Guide Trio has been a fruitful collaboration. “Santa Teresa”, a bouncy samba-blues in ? time, embodies the winding streets and stairways of the bohemian neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro it is named for. The swampy drum feel on “String Song” pays homage to Levon Helm of The Band, a group where you can’t always tell who wrote the song or who the bandleader is, proving that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Early jazz reflected egalitarianism in collective improvisation, and this group dynamic is an expression of that kind of inclusivity and democracy.

“The Daughters of the Moon” rounds out the album, putting book ends on the naturalist themes. This composition is named after magical surrealist Italo Calvino’s short story about consumerism, in which a mythical modern society that values only buying shiny new things throws away the moon like it is a piece of garbage and the daughters of the moon save it and resurrect it. It’s an eco-feminist take on how women are going to save the world. Pineda’s piano outro is a hauntingly beautiful lunar voyage, blinding us with love. Leckie dedicates this song to his daughter: “My hope is that my daughter becomes a daughter of the moon, helping to make the world a more beautiful and verdant place to live.”

Continue Reading

Bass CDs

Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

Published

on

Debut Album: Nate Sabat, Bass Fiddler

In a thrilling solo debut, bassist Nate Sabat combines instrumental virtuosity with a songwriter’s heart on Bass Fiddler

The upright bass and the human voice. Two essential musical instruments, one with roots in 15th century Europe, the other as old as humanity itself. 

On Bass Fiddler (Adhyâropa Records ÂR00057), the debut album from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and bass virtuoso Nate Sabat, the scope is narrowed down a bit. Drawing from the rich and thriving tradition of American folk music, Sabat delivers expertly crafted original songs and choice covers with the upright bass as his lone tool for accompaniment. 

The concept was born a decade ago when Sabat began studying with the legendary old-time fiddler Bruce Molsky at Berklee College of Music. “One of Bruce’s specialties is singing and playing fiddle at the same time. The second I heard it I was hooked,” recalls Sabat. “I thought, how can I do this on the bass?” From there, he was off to the races, arranging original and traditional material with Molsky as his guide. “Fast forward to 2020, and I — like so many other musicians — was thinking of how to best spend my time. I sat down with the goal of writing some new songs and arranging some new covers, and an entire record came out.” When the time came to make the album, it was evident that Molsky would be the ideal producer. Sabat asked him if he’d be interested, and luckily he was. “What an inspiration to work with an artist like Nate,” says Molsky. “Right at the beginning, he came to this project with a strong, personal and unique vision. Plus he had the guts to try for a complete and compelling cycle of music with nothing but a bass and a voice. You’ll hear right away that it’s engaging, sometimes serious, sometimes fun, and beautifully thought out from top to bottom.” 

While this record is, at its core, a folk music album, Sabat uses the term broadly. Some tracks lean more rock (‘In the Shade’), some more pop (‘White Marble’, ‘Rabid Thoughts’), some more jazz (‘Fade Away’), but the setting ties them all together. “There’s something inherently folksy about a musician singing songs with their instrument, no matter the influences behind the compositions themselves,” Sabat notes. To be sure, there are plenty of folk songs (‘Louise’ ‘Sometimes’, ‘Eli’) and fiddling (‘Year of the Ox’) to be had here — the folk music fan won’t go hungry. There’s a healthy dose of bluegrass too (‘Orphan Annie’, ‘Lonesome Night’), clean and simple, the way Mr. Bill Monroe intended. 

All in all, this album shines a light on an instrument that often goes overlooked in the folk music world, enveloping the listener in its myriad sounds, textures, and colors. “There’s nothing I love more than playing the upright bass,” exclaims Sabat. “My hope is that listeners take the time to sit with this album front to back — I want them to take in the full scope of the work. I have a feeling they’ll hear something they haven’t heard before.”

Available online at natesabat.bandcamp.com/album/walking-away

Continue Reading

Gear News

New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

Published

on

New Gear: Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass

Esopus Guitars Launches New Acoustic/Electric Bass…

Esopus Guitars is proud to announce the new “Tailwater” bass guitar, from legendary bass luthier Stuart Spector. This 32” scale bass is handcrafted by Stuart using the only finest woods and components at the Esopus Guitar workshop located near Woodstock NY in the Catskill Mountains. 

From its fully carved spruce top (the top is carved on both its exterior and interior surfaces) with a thumb rest that is elegantly carved into the top, to its custom-made Fishman piezo pickup and super hard Carnauba wax finish, every detail of the Tailwater is part of creating the ultimate playing experience.

The Tailwater bass features a fully chambered spruce over alder body (15.5″ lower body bout width, 2.25″ body thickness measuring from the peak of the carved top) that delivers a super comfortable tonal tool for all your low-end needs.

Each Tailwater bass is hand-signed and numbered on the back of the peghead by Stuart Spector. A very limited number of Tailwater basses are handcrafted each year at the Esopus workshop. 

“I am proud to present the Tailwater bass, a bass that I have spent the last three years perfecting. The Tailwater is a culmination of all of my 45 years of experience, knowledge, and passion for bass guitar crafting. I am so eager to hear what fellow musicians create with this exciting new instrument.” -Stuart Spector

Direct Pricing : $4995.00 plus options. 

For more information about Esopus Guitars and Stuart Spector’s handcrafted instruments, visit www.EsopusGuitars.com.  

Continue Reading

Bass Videos

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Published

on

Tour Touch Base (Bass) with Ian Allison

Ian Allison Bassist extreme

Most recently Ian has spent the last seven years touring nationally as part of Eric Hutchinson and The Believers, sharing stages with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Rachel Platten, Matt Nathanson, Phillip Phillips, and Cory Wong playing venues such as Radio City Music Hall, The Staples Center and The Xcel Center in St. Paul, MN.

I had a chance to meet up with him at the Sellersville Theater in Eastern Pennsylvania to catch up on everything bass. Visit online at ianmartinallison.com/

Continue Reading

Latest

This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

Published

on

TOP 10 Basses of the week

Check out our top 10 favorite basses on Instagram this week…

Click to follow Bass Musician on Instagram @bassmusicianmag

FEATURED @officialspector @bqwbassguitar @brute_bass_guitars @phdbassguitars @ramabass.ok @tribe_guitars @woodguerilla_instruments @mikelullcustomguitars @jcrluthier @elegeecustom

View More Bass Gear News

Continue Reading