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Thomas Wictor: Interviewing A Bass Journalist Story

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Thomas Wictor: Interviewing A Bass Journalist Story

wic250An odd, curious thing occurred in our little world of bass about a year and a half ago. As most of you know, the popular website Talkbass.com is a hot spot for low-enders to visit and write about what they do, who they like, and talk shop. One day in March 2012 I happened to stop in there for a look around and noticed an interesting thread started by someone with the forum name “Arthritic_Tom”. It was titled “Interviewing Bassist Stories”, and that was enough of an attention grabber to reel me in.

Though only a few days old, the thread had already become several pages long with responses from intrigued readers. Perusing the posts, it became apparent that Arthritic Tom was actually former music journalist Thomas Wictor, who wrote for Bass Player magazine for nearly a decade beginning in the mid 90’s. His posts on Talkbass  were stories about the odd characters and frequently bizarre situations he encountered while interviewing bassists, both famous and otherwise, for BP. Wictor was sharing a fascinating inside peak at his wild ride as a writer in Los Angeles during the music industry’s bloated heyday. Cleverly, he didn’t reveal the names of any of the industry people or bass players on the forum (well, except for a few of his heroes) — thereby fueling an instant guessing game among visitors as to who his stories were referring to.

Wictor’s own personal story unfolded as well within the thread. We learned that his life at Bass Player ended on such a sour note that he quit the business altogether, and many of the interviews he wrote during his last years at the magazine were never even published. Tom was quick to identify and compliment the BP editors who helped him on his way up (specifically Jim Roberts and Karl Coryat), but made no secret about his contempt for those who he felt caused his demise– most notably the third and fourth editors he worked under during his tenure. Again, he didn’t name names.

His health had fallen apart in the years since quitting the magazine, as he struggled with a rare condition called Meniere’s disease, likely triggered in part by years of pent-up rage and stress. The disease, which compromised his hearing and balance, kept him from living any real kind of normal life. To make matters worse, due to osteoarthritis he could no longer play bass without unbearable pain, and had to put his instrument down permanently. Yet, there was not an ounce of self-pity to be found in his posts. Arthritic Tom caught the attention of many, but it was more than just the interview stories that brought repeat visitors. Wictor’s brilliant writing style and outlandish sense of humor kept the ball rolling. In a single month, after nearly 140,000 views, the hyperactive thread was bursting data at the seams and was forced closed after a thousand reader posts. It gave way to “Interviewing Bassist Stories” parts 2 and 3 on the Talkbass forum– which pulled in another 100,000 views.

In the course of the year-long back and forth between Tom and his newly found audience, it was suggested by several forum members that he should write a book about his whole music journalism ordeal. “I would buy a magazine that was nothing but your stories axed from Bass Player,” Ghosts And Ballyhoowrote one reader. “That is, without question, the best thing anyone has ever said to me,” responded Tom. “Bless you.” After some initial hesitation, he took their advice, and with the help of his Talkbass popularity he landed a book deal. In less than a year after he first appeared from out of nowhere on the forum, Wictor’s book Ghosts And Balyhoo: Memoirs Of A Failed L.A. Music Journalist was released. It seemed that Tom’s fateful career at BP would actually have a fairy tale ending, that his work as a music journalist would finally be recognized by the public, and that his readers would get a whole bookful more of juicy stories about bass-playing characters and music industry zombies. A win-win for all. Well… not so fast.

“I was the most haunted person you could ever meet,” writes Tom in the first line of his book. “This memoir is about my ten years as a music journalist in Los Angeles, my obsessive quest to ‘help’ one of the finest musicians I’ve ever met, and my inability to move beyond a failed relationship with a woman I’ll call Carmen.” And so began Thomas Wictor’s tale of his own life. Did the book fall into the “too much info” category? It was certainly more than his Talkbass audience had expected. Why should we care about the life story of an unknown music journalist? Why was Wictor even telling it to us? To make matters even stranger, a full seven chapters of the book contained nothing but words spoken by former Frank Zappa bassist Scott Thunes, whose path in life Tom seemed to view as a reflection of his own.

Not one to pass up an opportunity, I read the book and asked Tom for an interview. He was quick to oblige, and offered a great little bit of advice: “Take off the kid gloves. Let’s have fun with it.” And so I did, and just as quickly I offered him my opinion of Ghosts: brilliantly written, hilarious, entertaining, intriguing, sad, enlightening, creepy, insightful, self-serving. The kid gloves were off. Tom was great throughout, giving me honest and thoughtful answers, allowing me to poke away at the surface. He re-thought several of his answers, but suggested I feel free to use what want. I also needed to address one particularly disturbing section of the book with him; it was the one instance in our interview in which he was evasive, offering metaphor rather than a direct answer to a direct question. Still, I figured, he didn’t have to give me an interview at all, and so I accepted his response on its own terms and didn’t challenge him on his response. I’ll leave it to those who read this to decide for themselves.

Which finally brings me to my own little bit of advice to all who are within eyeshot: read Ghosts And Ballyhoo. It just may be one of the best books you’ve ever read. If you allow Tom’s world into your world, his words will linger in your consciousness long after you’ve finished his memoir, and you’ll be treated to a 280-page adventure with one of the funniest motherfuckers you’ll ever encounter. Yes, he’s a controlling guy, at times annoyingly so; you’ll occasionally feel that you’ve been kidnapped and forced to watch Wictor get the final word with some of those he has battled with along the way. But the book will suck you into his stranger-in-a-strange-land journey, replete with Stephen Crane poetry, Scott Thunes unedited, brushes with death, a reincarnated cat, a stalker, enough dysfunctional characters to fill a couple of lifetimes, and certainly a bunch of life lessons learned the hard way. Oh, and by the way you’ll discover why he’s the world’s only expert on World War I flamethrowers.

As you find yourself laughing out loud on one page and getting a lump in your throat on the next, you’ll come to the same conclusion I did: Thomas Wictor is a great writer. Calling Wictor a bass journalist is kind of like calling Picasso a cartoonist; Tom was once, and Pablo was once, but of course that was never their real calling.

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In your book you refer to yourself not only as “a failed music journalist”, but also a failure in more than twenty other fields. What is your definition of a success?

These days I think of success purely in terms of being the best person you can possibly be, meaning you have empathy for others and you try to keep growing, learning, and bettering yourself. For me, learning is the key. Learning seems to automatically improve you as a person, so I try to go to bed knowing more each night than I knew in the morning. For example, RSS feeds. I just learned about them a couple days ago. Website-wise, I was stuck in 2003. Learning about RSS feeds allowed me to understand that I’d been unfair to my Website designers out of ignorance, so I apologized to them.

Has your health improved or worsened since the completion of the book? What is your current prognosis?

It’s worsened. Meniere’s disease can either spontaneously disappear or continue to erode you. Stress is a major factor. The death of my father and my mother’s battle with cancer have taken their toll. But I’m still happy, and I still look forward to each day. I wouldn’t wish Meniere’s on anyone. (Who am I kidding? Lots of people deserve Meniere’s disease). But contracting it was the only way I could stop being angry and learn to appreciate the worthwhile things in life. Meniere’s made me grateful for what’s good, so in my case getting the disease was worth it.

During your tenure at Bass Player, were writers privy to the politics of the mag regarding the frequent changing of editors? For example, had you heard about any particular reason why Richard Johnston took over as editor in the late 90’s, or why Bill Leigh replaced him in 2001?

Oh, yes! We were all a bunch of sneaky little gossips. I was privy to a heck of a lot that I can’t disclose because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. I also happened to be sitting in offices when important phone calls were received, illustrating just how political the entire process was and how I was utterly unsuited for the job. But I was too thickheaded to realize it at the time. My main weakness has been denial. I no longer suffer from it, but that’s only because my existence is now extremely Spartan. I write, talk to my brother Tim, help Mom when I can, engage in e-mail conversations with friends, and go to doctors. And watch DVDs! Not much to deny about any of that.

Is there a list available anywhere of all the articles you had published in BP? If not, will you make one available?

wicbass2I don’t have such a list. In fact, I’d blocked out so much of that period that I’d forgotten who I’d interviewed and in which issue the interview appeared. For example, I was absolutely positive that my Curt Smith interview had been published, but it wasn’t. I also couldn’t remember when my Geezer Butler interview appeared. That was because they took two years to publish it. The original interview was about Geezer’s brilliant solo album Black Science, but they used it when Black Sabbath reunited. The article had nothing to do with Black Sabbath. I still feel sick about that.

I’d tucked away all the paper correspondence from that period, but–having once been a very histrionic person–I’d deleted all the e-mails. Brian Fox has a database of all my articles.  He helped me reconstruct my years at Bass Player. I never asked him for the list, though. In fact, now that you mention it, I realize that it didn’t even occur to me. Strange. But as I write this, I’m still not interested in seeing a list. It seems like three hundred years ago. I’m so different from the person who did those interviews that I don’t know him at all. He sort of grosses me out, to be frank.

Were you a regular visitor to Talkbass.com before you registered and began posting last year? What drew you to the site?

No. I signed up specifically to post stories of my failed career. I thought I’d post about eight, and I’d get a feeble cheer, like in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail when Terry Gilliam’s knights eat Robin’s minstrels: “And there was much rejoicing.”   The site was great and it had a section where I could tell my handful of stories, so I signed up and intended to just post a couple of times and then… do something.  I had no idea.  But I never planned to write a book about my failed career. It literally never entered my mind.

The Talkbass reaction to your “Interviewing Bassist Stories” thread was obviously incredible. Folks everywhere flocked to it– for the bassist stories, the guessing games, your insightful writing and your wonderfully detached take on it all.

It was a total shock.  I honestly had no idea that this would happen. I still can’t quite believe it. I’m deeply grateful that so many people were able to see the potential that I couldn’t.  Like my brother Tim, they convinced me that there was value in my work. I didn’t see it at all, so I grudgingly did what Tim and the Talkbass readers asked me to do.  It’s all their idea. I can’t take credit for any of it.

It was suggested, in the course of those threads, that you should write a book so that Talkbass readers could get more of all of that. You did, and they did get more. Not so expected was a writer seemingly looking to communicate with the love of his life, and needing her (and others) to read his perspective on their failed love affair. At what point did you make the decision to make the book a memoir, with the “Carmen” relationship as a main theme? Was she your primary reason for writing the book?

Yes. The main theme is my relationship with Carmen. Although the book is ostensibly about my failed career in music journalism, I had to write about Carmen in order to banish the pain I still felt twenty years after our relationship ended. I tried multiple times to move beyond that relationship, but eventually I had to admit to myself that it wasn’t possible. By articulating such deeply personal thoughts–which I’d never really done before–I was able to finally accept that she wasn’t coming back.

Part of me always thought that someday we’d get back together. Contacting her, getting her blessings, and writing the book allowed me to finally exorcise the Cardinal Ghost, the one that haunted me without letup. I thought of her literally all the time because being with her was the only period of my life during which I was happy, until October 7, 2011, when I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease. Writing the book ended the pain I felt over losing her, so it served its purpose. The three themes of the memoir–my failed career, Carmen, and how I overcame my chronic rage–can’t be separated. They’re three parts of a whole.

wic-bookYou’ve stated that Ghosts is the first part of a trilogy. What themes and/or characters are you looking to connect over the span of three books?

The companion volumes are a novel titled Chasing the Last Whale and Hallucinabulia: the Dream Diary of an Unintended Solitarian.  Both share the theme of the memoir: overcoming a deeply traumatic past by transforming rage over loss into gratitude for what once was. The novel is fiction, and the diary is based on flights of fancy: dreams. Therefore, I have absolute freedom to write whatever I want and I have plausible deniability.

The comedian Jon Stewart is famous for his “clown nose on, clown nose off” routine. If he says something deeply felt that angers others, his reply is, “Hey, I’m just a comedian!”  But he’s still managed to make points about things he finds important.  By writing a novel and publishing a dream diary, I can say, “Hey, it’s just fiction and dreams!”  The best way to describe Whale and Hallucinabulia is that they’re supercharged sequels to the memoir.  Although all three volumes of the trilogy can stand on their own, each complements the other two in terms of character development and back-story. Or maybe not. Hey, it’s just fiction and dreams!

Regarding the events in your life: is your ability for recall as astonishing as it seems, or you have been keeping a diary for most of your life? Or both?

I’ve been blessed-cursed with near perfect recall. I remember events as though they happened yesterday. With the Internet, I can check dates, and I’ve learned that I remember conversations I had with my parents when I was three. In the case of Ghosts and Ballyhoo, I’d written a huge, pathetic, monstrously amateurish novel that was laughed out of every literary agent’s office in the nation. Being a drama queen, I was going to throw away the 200,000-word behemoth, along with the tapes and notes I made. Tim bluntly told me that doing so would be stupid. Since I don’t want to disappoint him, I saved it all for fourteen years, and when I decided to write the memoir, most of it was already on paper. I filled in the blanks from memory.

In the section “Forbidden Knowledge” you write, “I had a conversation with Carmen that destroyed my relationship,” and you tell her of a formative experience you had. Based on what you’ve written, including the mention of your interest in Alice Miller’s books in a later chapter, I’m sensing– perhaps incorrectly– that you told Carmen of some form of child abuse experience you suffered early in life. You consider this experience, whatever it was, to be “central to your character”. Can you reveal more about this experience that “defines you”?

Although I understand the desire of people to know more and I’m not in the least offended by the question, I’ll have to gracefully decline to say anything else about it. Discussing my past has brought me nothing but grief, including stalkers, psychos, and disgust from people I thought were my friends. It presses buttons that people don’t even know they have. Only one layperson–in this case meaning someone not in the psychiatric or ecclesiastic fields–didn’t change after I described my formative experiences. That person is Scott Thunes.  He thanked me for confiding in him, and our relationship remained as bawdy, bizarre, and irreverent as before. He didn’t treat me any differently. The letter he wrote in response allowed me to see things in a way I never had before, despite the fact that I’ve been studying this for over twenty years. Scott is a man of phenomenal character and insight. But as you pointed out, discussing my past cost me the relationship that meant the world to me. I don’t blame Carmen for driving me away, because she didn’t sign up for what she got. I’ve learned the hard way that some things are better left unsaid.

Why do you suppose that people tend to repeat destructive patterns of behavior?

Two reasons: Orientation and denial. You do what you were trained to do, and then you deny the disastrous outcomes. That was why I stayed at Bass Player long after my editor made it as clear as he could that my services were no longer required. There’s a great scene in the TV show Wings, in which a psychiatrist is talking to one of the characters about how one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different response each time. In the background, the mechanic Lowell is working on something and he gets an electric shock. “Ow!” he says. “Let’s try that again.”  Zap. “Ow! Let’s try that again.”  Zap. “Ow!  Let’s try that again.”  Though I’ve made gigantic strides, I’ll never fully overcome my orientation. What normal people do is react.  What I have to do is first think and then adapt my initial reaction. I can do it really fast now, and–most importantly–I’m fully aware that my instinct is garbage. I have no problem admitting that I’m a wreck. Once you can make that admission, you can take the steps needed to try and fix the problem.

On February 23, 2013, my father died of bone cancer that he knew about for almost two years but denied. He didn’t tell us about the gigantic mass in his abdomen and he didn’t do anything about it. We learned of it on January 16, 2013, when he admitted that he was in a lot of pain. They did a biopsy and found that the mass was malignant. We took him to City of Hope for tests, and when they showed him that the cancer had spread to his spine, kidneys, and colon, he lost his mind in less than a day. He went crazy from terror. He’d told me that until he was seventy-five, he honestly thought he’d live forever. When he was eighty-two, he had to have an operation on a tendon in his hand, and he was worried about blood loss. He asked me if I could donate blood for him, and I told him that I’m permanently barred from donating blood because I lived in Europe for six years in the 1980s. I’m a risk for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent of mad cow disease. Dad got very agitated and started worrying that he’d get Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease if they gave him a transfusion. I said, “Well, you don’t need to worry, because it has a forty-year incubation period.” Mom–who was also eighty-two at the time–laughed, but Dad’s face fell and he said, “Are you saying I won’t be here in forty years?” I’d tried to make a joke, but I upset him, because he expected to live to be 122 years old and just keep going. He smoked five packs of cigarettes and drank up to two fifths of scotch a day, lived on a diet of cheese and bacon, and never exercised, not once giving a moment’s thought to what it might be doing to him. When he ended up in a hospice with terminal cancer, he couldn’t believe it was actually happening. To escape it, he went into a coma and died in a matter hours. The hospice staff had never seen anybody die so quickly. I think he died of shock.

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Back to the Bass Player days: When you use the term “killed articles”, I assume that means you wrote entire pieces that were not published, and you were not paid for. Is that correct?

Yes. More importantly, I asked musicians to give me irreplaceable moments of their lives, and then the articles were simply thrown away without explanation. It was a completely inhumane thing to do to busy artists, and it eroded the magazine’s credibility. Why talk to a publication if you can’t be sure the article will even be published? It also destroyed my own credibility. I was given a sort of Opposite Midas Touch: Everything I did turned to crap. I was the guy whose pieces never got published.

When interviewing bassists, how did you find the balance between what you wanted to know about that person, and what you thought BP readers would want to know about them?

When Jim Roberts and Karl Coryat were the editors, there was no distinction between what I wanted to know and what the readers would want to know. Jim and Karl understood that most people didn’t just want to read about strings and amp settings. After Karl was replaced, my pieces were edited so that anything that wasn’t about the bass was removed. I still asked what I wanted to ask, but it never made it into print.

Would you happen to know how big a circulation BP had during its heyday?

I think I heard that the number of subscribers was in the mid tens of thousands. Total circulation was much larger, though.

Were there other BP writers whose work you admired while you were there?

Karl Coryat, Jim Roberts, Chris Jisi, Scott Malandrone, Greg Isola, and Bill Leigh. Bryan Beller is my favorite, though. He’s my official hands, you know.

For you, what is the most satisfying part of the writing process–whether it be books, articles, etc?

Finding the perfect phrase to express deeply complex thoughts. And trying to make people laugh. The doctor who diagnosed me with Meniere’s disease told me that he felt bad laughing when he read Ghosts, so I had to reassure him that the point of the book was to entertain. Chasing the Last Whale is a novel about love and suicide, but it’s very, very funny. Though Hallucinabulia is mostly filled with nightmares, most of them are really funny. It’s possible to write about pain–even tragedy–and make it funny. The secret is to poke fun at your own pain and tragedy, not others’.

Did you have other working titles for Ghosts And Ballyhoo?

Yes, but they’re too embarrassing to mention.

Let’s take money out of the equation, and say you were wealthy enough to have never needed to work. Would you have pursued music journalism as a hobby?

Absolutely!  I loved it. I’d still rather do it than write books. I’m not a natural writer, but I was a natural interviewer. It was performance art, and the smartest interview subjects–Gene Simmons, Scott Thunes, Bryan Beller, Andy West, John Taylor–got it.  What we did was both real and contrived. It wasn’t fake, but it wasn’t this heavy, important, thudding ego contest where each side is trying to somehow get the better of the other. It was cooperation. I loved the moment when they caught on, and then we could talk about anything without it being dangerous for either of us. They knew I wouldn’t screw them, and I knew they’d give me a good interview. It was great.

Let’s discuss Scott Thunes. You wrote that you weren’t much of a Zappa fan prior to the Thunes era; did your initial impression of his ability as a bassist come more from his own originality as a player, or more from his ability to perform Zappa’s complex music (which was new to you at the time)?

Scott’s great skillthunes is his ability to accompany. He’s by no means a technical player, as he himself will be the first to admit. I’d never heard such emotion coming out of a bass. Don’t get me wrong: He’s got chops. But what drew me to him was the feeling he put into it. He’s like Suzanne Vega, Dianna Krall, and Rósín Murphy. You couldn’t call them “great” singers, but they’re brilliant singers. They express so much with their instruments. I’d never heard anyone play the bass like Scott. I was hooked from the first time I heard him.

I do not understand your years-long need for Thunes to know the giant pedestal you put him on. Does that need have more to do with you or him?

Me. Entirely me. By “saving” Scott–getting him back into music–I’d be saving a whole bunch of other people. Not really, of course. It took me years to realize that he doesn’t need saving. Mostly it was my obsession with righting wrongs and fighting injustice that compelled me to try and “help” him. One bedrock principle of my life now is that I must accept people on their terms, not mine. If it bothers me too much that a giant like Scott Thunes chooses not to play, I must either accept it or walk away. I have no right to try and force him to do something that is actually for my benefit, not his. It’s funny that you ask that question, because I had a dream about Scott that is in Hallucinabulia. It addresses this precise issue, of putting him on a pedestal. My friend Joe Cady–one of the smartest people in the world–interpreted the dream for me. It has probably the most embarrassing imagery I’ll ever publish about myself. Here’s a teaser: In the dream, I was Jennifer Love Hewitt, the young, totally hot version.

What are your thoughts on this Frank Zappa quote: “Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.”

Obviously that’s a nonsensical sentiment. Zappa talked to music journalists nonstop. All music journalists can write, and people buying the magazines or now going to the Websites can read. Zappa and I just have different approaches. I don’t read reviews of my work, and I won’t read any interview I give or articles about me. The way I look at it, this is your art project, so you’re free to do with it what you want. What interests me is the interviewing process, the performance-art aspect.  I never reread the interviews I did of others, so I won’t be reading any interviews I give.  Also, it’s embarrassing. My perfect solution would be to write books and have Scott Thunes promote them for me.  He loves giving interviews.  precision2

Today, Sandpiper Publicity accepted me as a client after the president did something unheard of in the publicity world: He read my book.  The campaign they have planned is daunting and ambitious, requiring me to talk about myself for at least three months. I wish I could have Scott do it for me. But me having to do this is part of the game, so I would never say the sort of thing Zappa said about music journalists. My sense is he just didn’t like the loss of control. I’m not interested in controlling how you or anybody else presents me. And if you read my dream diary, you’ll see that I don’t even care how I present myself. This is all just a blast for me. Getting angry at interviewers would be monumentally ungrateful. The only reason you’re interviewing me is because of what I did, not who I am. So thanks for your interest.

What does it feel like to have written your memoir? It’s something most people will obviously never experience.

Weird! Who the heck am I to have written a memoir? It’s like they went out on the street and handed a publishing contract to the first person they met. My goal was to be a music journalist and maybe–just maybe–a novelist. Mom always used to say, “You should write your life story,” and I’d say, “What on earth for?”  And then she’d get mad at me. This is freaky to the point of being scary, like it’s a breakdown of the natural order. It was utterly unplanned and accidental. All my life, I’ve been plagued by a sense of illegitimacy and fraudulence. I still have it, but it no longer bothers me. It’s how codeine works: It doesn’t make you not feel the pain. Instead, it makes you not care about the pain. I still have a sense of illegitimacy and fraudulence. I keep expecting e-mails from my publisher or now my publicist telling me they’ve changed their minds and are dumping me. I’ll give you a preview of Hallucinabulia. These are the sorts of dreams I have:

March 15, 2013
As I stood at a podium and gave a reading for Ghosts and Ballyhoo, I broke wind continually and deafeningly. It sounded like a string of cannon shots in the large auditorium. I knew I should leave the stage, but I couldn’t. Flop sweat poured out of me, and the audience laughed, groaned, or palmed their faces.
When each trembling, rumbling eruption built in my gut, I tried desperately to hold it in. This seemed to make the explosion even more violent. Some of my discharges went on for twenty seconds. I shouted to make myself heard over my own rear end.
People in the audience were hysterical–weeping and breathless, holding their middles, begging me to stop.
In reply, I blew off seat of my pants. It flew across the stage and hit the wall behind me, leaving my buttocks exposed. I felt cool air wafting over them as I thought of the lyrics to the song “The Music Goes Round and Round.”

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 What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Jettisoning the rage that crippled me for my entire life. No question. Also learning to be grateful for every dollop, jot, tittle, and microsecond of beauty.

Excuse my ignorance: tell me more about the poetry in the book. When were these verses written? How did you pick the ones to include in the book?

All the poetry is the work of Stephen Crane (1871-1900). Nobody knows when Crane wrote the poems, but they were first published in 1926, in two anthologies titled The Black Riders and Other Lines and War is Kind. Don’t feel ignorant; Crane’s poetry has received almost no scholarly attention. I didn’t know about his poems until I accidentally ran across them on a Website and was gobsmacked. The poems I chose are each chapter of the memoir distilled down into one short, brilliant burst of art. Reading the poems at the beginning of each chapter will tell you what the chapter is about.

Name a few of your favorite authors, and why.

The best novel ever written is The Far Arena, by Richard Ben Sapir. He’s my favorite author for that one work. Barbara Tuchman is my favorite nonfiction writer, even though there may be problems with her scholarship. Her style is incredible. P.J. O’Rourke, because he makes me laugh until I’m crying. His turn of phrase is phenomenal, as is his humor. John Gardner wrote an unbelievably disturbing novel called Mickelsson’s Ghosts that I’ve never been able to get out of my mind. E.L. Doctorow is another novelist who plays with the language in a way that I always envied. I love Frederick Forsyth because The Day of the Jackal is the first novel I read. I was seven and didn’t understand most of it, but I re-read it every year. Also, his novel The Fist of God is arguably the best military thriller of all time. Tim O’Brien for Going After Cacciato, a surreal, dreamlike masterpiece. Tom Wolfe for his unbelievable humor and completely unfettered style. David Westheimer for his genius novel Lighter Than a Feather, about how the invasion of the Japanese home islands would’ve gone if we hadn’t dropped the atom bombs. It’s amazing because it’s a novel that’s made up of hundreds of unrelated vignettes with hundreds of characters. It’s not a continuous narrative at all, yet somehow it works. And for all budding novelists, see if you can find a copy of John Godey’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. It’s a manual for how to write the perfect novel.

Your final chapter, “Things Just Might Turn Out All Right”. How can an event like that not permanently change your life? How could you have forgotten it? Not having had this experience myself, I would have thought something like that would change a person’s perspective on everything that comes after. Seems like it could have eliminated much stress, rage, obsession, etc.

tom-wictorTrauma, depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, endless failure, and rage can make a person lose sight of something as reassuring as that experience. What happened was that my life got so horrible that I no longer believed in anything except pain. Also, people laugh at such experiences, and they point to scientific explanations and the work of neuroscientists like Michael A. Persinger to debunk what I felt at the time was real. The short answer is I lost my faith in what I now believe–believe, not know–to have been a genuine experience. For a long time I thought I’d just fooled myself. I’ve had many other similar experiences that I choose to keep to myself, but maybe someday I’ll put them all into a book titled “Really Weird Stuff That’s Happened to Me That Makes People Think I’m Insane”.

The section “The Family That Set A Trap For Me”: You describe a nine-year relationship with another family– two parents and their daughter, during her age from three through eleven. To me, this chapter reeks of inappropriate behavior on your part, no matter how you explain it away, and is made worse by your placing blame on the parents. What is the purpose of your inclusion of this section? Who is it intended for?

Roméo Antonius Dallaire was the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda.  He tried unsuccessfully to stop the Hutu massacre of nearly a million Tutsis in 1994. Most of the victims were killed with machetes. For years Dallaire couldn’t go to supermarkets because of the meat departments.  No amount of therapy or medication could overcome his inability to go into supermarkets. What he experienced made him unable to do the things that others do. He knew rationally that the meat on display bore no relation to what he saw, but post-traumatic stress disorder robs you of your volition and causes you to re-experience the same emotions–in the same intensity–as you did during the original trauma.  It’s as though you’re there in the middle of it again. It hits you like a sledgehammer. Telling a person with PTSD that he’s weak, sick, perverted, or irresponsible has no impact whatsoever on his reaction to the stressors that trigger an episode. Having PTSD is a sign that what you went through ruined you. As Dallaire said about himself, “I’ll never again be the man I once was.”

After a guy tried to murder me on December 28, 1995, I’d run blindly into the street when I heard a certain kind of voice or saw a young man walking toward me with a certain bouncy step. One time I dove into bushes. My reaction was entirely involuntary.  It was beyond my control.  Another form of PTSD is disassociation. You become completely detached. You go outside of yourself until it’s safe to come back.

The purpose of including this section is to bear witness to the fate of “Leni,” a lost soul. It’s intended for those who understand why I would write about such a thing.

One of the blessings of Meniere’s disease was clarity. A blessing in disguise is that it keeps me housebound, which is good because I’m oriented toward dysfunction. That was the reason I was never able to get over Carmen.  She gave me three years of perfect happiness, a respite from the chaos, fear, and anger that characterized my existence. I stopped keeping my dream diary in 1997, when my life became indistinguishable from my nightmares. But not all my dreams were nightmares. This is the final entry of the dream diary.

November 26, 1997
As I lay in my bed at night, a fissure opened up in the wooden floor. It simply appeared; one second it wasn’t there, and the next it was. Shaped roughly like a diamond, it released a cool, blue light that filled the room and awed me with its beauty. I got out of bed and cautiously approached. The hole revealed a vast underground city–skyscrapers, monorails, elevated freeways, and flying machines like ornithopters. The blue light came from the sky, which was below my floor.
Two women appeared on either side of the fissure, gazing up at me. I saw solid ground beneath their feet, and I realized that they stood on a mountaintop. It was as though my house floated above their heads. They were dressed in sleeveless, thigh-length white tunics, with cloth belts and leather sandals, the straps of which criss-crossed all the way up their calves to their knees. Both women had long, dark hair and dark-brown eyes, and they smiled at me the way Carmen did when I told her I loved her. It took me a second to recognize their outfits: They looked like Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, and wild animals.
“Come on down, Tom,” one called, holding out her hand.
I sat on the edge of the hole, nearly passing out from happiness. When I turned over onto my stomach and lowered myself, the women grabbed my legs. I dropped down, holding on until I hung about two feet above the mountaintop, and then I let go. The women caught me in their powerful arms.
Standing on the mountain, I looked out across the beautiful city, a gentle breeze ruffling my hair.
“Are you ready?” one of the women asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Where are we going?”
She pointed to the city. “Down there. We’ve been waiting for you.”
“Are there any men there?” I asked.
The other woman touched my forearm. Her hand was hard with callus built up from extensive training with swords and quarterstaffs.
“Yes,” she said, “but we won’t let them hurt you.”
I was home. When they set off down the mountain, I followed.

__________________________________________

Visit Tom at his website: thomaswictor.com

Ghosts And Ballyhoo on Amazon

 

Bass Edu

Walking The Bass

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Walking The Bass

I first started playing an acoustic guitar in my band but now find myself working as the custodian of the groove in the bass department, plus keyboards, amplifiers and effects pedals akin to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. What happened?

When I started off playing musical instruments as a child, life was simple.

There was the harmonica, my favourite sound to inspire random dogs to ‘howl’ along with a simple tune. Then followed descant and treble recorders, my friend Jill’s piano (and anybody else’s come to think of it), the school organ at lunchtimes and a brief awkward dalliance with a cheap violin. Finally, through Hobson’s choice, I settled on the last instrument standing in the school’s musical armoury – an old, unwanted and completely battered French horn. C’est la vie!

I really enjoyed this unusual curly-belled instrument and had lots of fun playing in the school orchestra and brass band, learning a lot about parts and how all the other instruments wove in and out of each other and the incredible melodies and emotions that followed. I was also a member of the school choir in the ‘alto’ department and fell in love with harmonies – it’s just the best!!

Sadly my dalliance with the world of brass had to stop with the installation of fixed ‘cheese-grater’ dental braces. Subsequently, I moved on to the acoustic guitar which allowed me a good deal of independence enabling me to sing and accompany myself with some cool chords. It also ignited my passion for songwriting. 

Being heard

In the early 90s I moved to the north of England to study Media & Performance at Salford University and after singing some of my original songs in a lunchtime concert under the moniker of a band called I Never Used To Like Brussel Sprouts I ended up as one of the founding members of a contemporary folk band called Megiddo with some great guys off the degree course in Popular Music and Recording – namely John Smith, Tim Allen and Alan Lowles.

We wrote and performed all our original songs, self-recorded and released an album called On The Outside and toured the UK folk circuit. In those days if you wanted to test out new songs, a good place to go was our local folk club which was based in a pub in a slightly dodgy area in Higher Broughton.

There were no microphones or amplification of any kind – nothing electronic. Everything was acoustic and au natural. You listened to everyone else playing and when it was your turn – you stood up where you were sat – that was your stage.

Of course when we were booked for the bigger gigs we needed amplification for the instruments and vocals to be heard in these vast spaces – but we didn’t use any overt effects or added jiggery pokery with our instruments (two acoustic guitars and a fretless bass – we sounded natural – like us, but louder.

Credit: Steph Magenta ©1995
Megiddo (L-R Suzy Starlite, Tim Allen, John Smith, Alan Lowles)

A few years later, touched by the hand of fate – in a happy, groove-laden serendipitous happening – everything changed and I accidentally got hooked on playing the bass guitar.

I hadn’t been playing that long before my first professional gig, which happened to be with my husband Simon when we toured the UK to promote his second solo album, The Knife.

Credit: Stuart Bebb, Oxford Camera ©2023
Myself and Simon onstage at the Ramsbottom Festival 2015

Simon is a pro and I was in the band because he loved my playing.  

As you know I didn’t start out playing bass as my first instrument and the funny thing is, a lot of other bass players didn’t either…

  • Lemmy had just joined Hawkwind as a guitar player when he found out he was surplus to requirements due to Dave Brock deciding he was going to play lead guitar instead. But when the band’s bass player didn’t show up for one of their free gigs because he wasn’t getting paid, he had also inadvertently left his bass and amp in their van. So, Lemmy stepped in, and played bass for the first time live on stage at a gig! (That does make me laugh…)
  • Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers started out playing the trumpet and was pretty good at it too by all accounts.
  • The Who’s thunderous John Entwistle started out on piano, then moved onto trumpet and French horn before he picked up a bass guitar. (Yey I played French Horn at school)
  • Jaco Pastorius was first and foremost a drummer and only stopped playing after a wrist injury on the soccer field made it more difficult to play – that, and a better drummer had rocked up on the scene, so he stepped aside for this guy to take his place in the band. It was only because the bass player left at the same time that he picked up the bass!
  • Carol Kaye played jazz guitar and by the knock of opportunity, moved onto bass when she filled in for a recording session when another musician didn’t show up!
  • Tina Weymouth – who provided the bass-bedrock of Talking Heads signature sound, started out playing handbells – which has slightly freaked me out as I used to play them when I was a teenager too. Apparently, she taught herself guitar before picking up the bass when she formed the band with David Byrne and her now-husband, drummer Chris Frantz.

It’s all about the sound

Moving forward to today – music is not just about being heard anymore. I’m on a new and exciting trajectory, this time experimenting with my bass guitar making different sounds. From pedals to amplifiers to the big cabinets that house the speakers – you could say I’ve become a ‘cosmic explorer of the sonic palette’!

It sounds extra-terrestrial / inter-dimensional – and sometimes feels just like that!

In the beginning

My first bass guitar set up for the tour with Simon back in 2016 was simple: Mike Lull M4V bass guitar – plugged directly into my Sonic Research ST-300 TurboTuner (a guitar tuner) using the Supertone Mincap ‘A’ guitar cable then with a second cable to the back of the stage where it was plugged straight into an amplifier and speaker cabinet provided for me by the gigs/venues.

Since then I have had two different setups and have gradually added a few more bass guitars to my stable… Oh, and some stunning keyboards too.

What’s all the fuss about pedals?

What are guitar pedals and why use them?

This whole saga began in 2018 when we were touring our debut Starlite & Campbell album ‘Blueberry Pie’. Simon and I had formed a new band and had co-written and produced our first album together.

During the recording process, I played two different bass guitars. A Mike Lull M4V and a black Gretsch ThunderJet, both fitted with flat-wound strings.

You may not be familiar with these two beauties (check out the photos below) but as you would expect they have different sounds (aka tonal characteristics) and volumes (output levels), one being lower (quieter) than the other.

In the studio, you have time to set up each sound and when recording our first album together, Blueberry Pie, I needed a gritty, dirty, fuzzy sound for the solo section of You’re So Good For Me.

For this purpose, I employed the kickass assistance of the Supertone Custom Bass FUZZ by DWJ pedal – which I’ll explain more later – just know that I love it!!

FUZZ!!!!!!!

DWJ Supertone Bass FUZZ pedal
Photo credit: Simon Campbell 

On tour, however, I needed to use this fuzz and swap between two different bass guitars for certain songs. This is where the wonders of technology, pedals and effects start to help you out.

Watch this video of our Starlite Campbell Band concert at The Met in Bury, Manchester to hear the ThunderJet in action. Geek alert: bass solo at 01:56 minutes.

Bass guitars

It’s probably a good place to give you some information on the two basses in question.

Gretsch ThunderJet

This was my first ever bass, chosen because I’ve got really small hands and it has a shorter neck – hence the term short-scale (shorter scale = smaller distance between the frets). I also wanted to have that short thumpy 60s sound, similar to Jack Bruce (Cream), Andy Fraser (Free) and Paul McCartney – (I think you may know which band).

The ThunderJet has a semi-hollow body so it’s not too heavy and has a big fat distinctive and punchy sound.

It’s also one of the best-looking sexy basses Gretsch has ever produced with a throwback to their vintage models and often people will ask me about it after gigs… upstaged or what?

Technical stuff

  • Mahogany body with arched maple top
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Semi-hollow body
  • Dual TV Jones® Thunder’Tron™ pickups
  • Space Control™ bass bridge
  • 30.3-inch scale
  • Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Bass – JF324 – flat wound strings

Gretch ThunderJet bass guitar
Photo credit: Simon Campbell 

Mike Lull M4V

This guitar is ultra-special to me. Not only was it my wedding present from Simon but it was also made by the late great Mike Lull himself.

This is my old friend, the guitar I had imagined, which has been with me from almost the beginning, through endless hours of learning, making mistakes, jumping around with me when the music takes you high. We recorded most of the songs on Blueberry Pie with this bass and have played many a festival stage together, flown on planes and travelled around the world and back again.

The low end has a big attitude for rock and an elegant versatility that lets you slide up the neck as if you were on your knees sliding across a well-oiled floor! Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine it’s an upright double bass too, the sound and thud of the strings taking me to that smoky downtown bar.

The M4V evokes a fantastic classic vintage vibe with all the wonderful attributes of a 60/70s Jazz bass combined with passive electronics, all in a slightly downsized body shape.

Technical stuff

  • Fitted with Hipshot Ultralite tuners with drop D
  • Custom Wound Lindy Fralin Single Coil Pickups
  • Hipshot Aluminium Bridge
  • Mahogany Body
  • Graphite Reinforced Maple Neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Bass – JF344 – flat wound strings

Mike Lull M4V bass guitar
Photo credit: Simon Campbell 

Technical terminology/gear

At this juncture, I also needed to get my head around a few basic technical terms and learn about how things work.

What is that saying: It’s not easy because I haven’t learned it yet.

The guitar pick-up

Have you ever wondered how electric basses make sounds in the first place? It’s a fascinating process and the most important part of your electric guitar’s plugged-in tone. Below is a simple explanation:

  • Guitar strings are made out of a magnetic metal.
  • Underneath the strings sits the ‘pick up’ which is fitted into the body of the guitar.
  • The pick up consists of a coil of wire wrapped around a magnetic pole piece (or pieces).
  • When you pluck/hit a string – it vibrates which generates a voltage in the coil.
  • In a passive bass (more of this later), the pickup(s) are directly connected to volume and tone controls which are then sent to the output of the instrument.

The signal chain

The signal chain is the order in which you place any effects/pedals. At first, I put my tuner first in the chain after the bass guitar the signal can be easily muted for silent tuning.

The pre-amp

This electronic device amplifies a weak signal, such as that from a passive bass.

These are found in bass/guitar amplifiers, studio mixing consoles, domestic HiFis, sometimes within the bass itself (referred to as an active bass) and as external units in the format of a pedal.

There are many different specifications but some are capable of driving a power amplifier (the second stage which amplifies this intermediate signal level to one which can drive a loudspeaker) and/or can be used before the amplifier to modify the sound, volume and tone of the instrument – I will explain more about this in the next instalment.

This brings me to the third pedal I owned.

Lehle RMI BassSwitch IQ DI

Photo credit: Simon Campbell 

The Lehle RMI BassSwitch IQ DI was the centrepiece of my first pedalboard (a metal frame where all the pedals are organised). It was exactly what I needed at the time to help me sort out the technical challenges of playing two different basses with different sounds and volumes

The unit had two channels with separate volume controls enabling me to set the level for each bass by using a foot switch to select channel A or B.

Channel B also has very natural sounding tone controls (or equalisation – EQ) which allowed me to change the tone of the bass in channel B to complement the bass in channel A.

Two effects loops

The unit also has two effects (FX) loops, one switchable and one in all the time for both channels. In the switchable loop, I placed the FUZZ (so I could switch it in and out using the button on the Lehle) and my rarely used Ernie Ball volume pedal in the unswitched.

If you want to see the possibilities of routing and an explanation of FX loops, check out the manual.

The all-important mute switch

My tuner is connected to a dedicated ‘tuner output’ and the Lehle’s output can be muted via another footswitch.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, this mute is critical which enables me to tune up between songs silently as there’s nothing worse than someone audibly tuning up on stage – it’s messy and unprofessional.

The Direct Inject output

There are two outputs from the Lehle, one for the amplifier plus a very high-quality Direct Inject (DI) output which is compatible with mixing consoles, allowing the sound engineer to take the signals right from your pedals before they get to the amplifier.

My bass tone comes from the amplifier and speaker cabinet combination and I always insist it’s miked up for a performance.

There are some instances however that you need the signal to be sent to the live sound system (PA). For example, my Fylde King John acoustic bass is better using this direct method rather than going through the stage amplifier and again, more of this in the next edition!

It is a high-quality piece of kit that you come to expect from Lehle (although now sadly discontinued) and has never let me down. The only thing I have to watch out for is operator error when I’m wearing my big kickass ‘Boots of Rock’.

And finally…

I hope you enjoyed this article – if you have any questions or feedback, it would be cool to hear from you. 

Next up in Walking the Bass Line – I’ll talk a little more about the role of the bass guitar, amplifiers, cabinets and another pedal.

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Bass Books

Ultimate Look at Electric Basses from 1930 to Today

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The Bass Space: Profiles of Classic Electric Basses.

The definitive book for lovers of the low-end. Willie G. Moseley, Senior Writer for Vintage Guitar Magazine, profiles more than 100 historic and unique electric bass models from such makers as Alembic, Danelectro, Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Guild, Hamer, Kramer, Rickenbacker, and many others.

Rare and legendary instruments, from the earliest attempts at amplified basses in the mid-1930s to the cutting-edge instruments of today, are presented in more than 250 color and period photos.

The main feature of this book is the exclusive coverage of historic and one-of-a-kind basses owned and played by such famed musicians as: Bill Black (Elvis Presley), Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge), Mark Egan (Pat Metheny Group), John Entwistle (The Who), Paul Goddard (Atlanta Rhythm Section), Bruce Hall (REO Speedwagon), Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Benjamin Orr (The Cars), Tom Petersson (Cheap Trick), Carl Radle (Derek and the Dominos), Gene Simmons (Kiss), Steve Wariner, and others.

The Bass Space: Profiles of Classic Electric Basses is available online at Amazon.com

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June 24 – This Week’s Top 10 Basses on Instagram

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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 @sargs_guitars @adamovicbasses @jermsbass @overwaterbasses @ramabass.ok @chris_seldon_guitars @mauriziouberbasses @mikelullcustomguitars @boyarskycg @insidehofnerguitars

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Bass Videos

Gear News: Ibanez & Graph Tech Launch Multi-Scale Bass with Cutting-Edge Tuning

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Gear News: Ibanez & Graph Tech Launch Multi-Scale Bass with Cutting-Edge Tuning

Ibanez & Graph Tech Launch Revolutionary Multi-Scale Bass with Cutting-Edge Tuning Technology.

Ibanez Bass, renowned for pushing the boundaries of innovation in the music industry, is proud to announce an exciting collaboration with Graph Tech Guitar Labs, pioneers in instrument technology. Together, they introduce the revolutionary SRMS725 5-string Multi-scale Electric Bass and SRMS720 4-string Multi-scale Electric Bass featuring Graph Tech’s cutting-edge Ratio® Machine Heads.

The SRMS725 & SRMS720, part of the esteemed Bass Workshop series, represent a fusion of unparalleled craftsmanship and state-of-the-art engineering. Boasting a mesmerizing Blue Chameleon finish, this instrument embodies elegance and performance.

At the heart of this collaboration lies Graph Tech’s Ratio Machine Heads – a game-changer in the world of bass tuning. Unlike traditional machine heads, (which use a single gear ratio for all strings, such as 20:1) Ratio® Machine Heads employ a calibrated gear ratio for each string position. Why? Every string reacts differently to tuning adjustments, making the Low E or B on a bass hard to dial in the tuning because they are so sensitive to any adjustment. Fine-tuning where you need it. With every string having the same feel and response, players experience unparalleled control over their instrument’s tuning, resulting in a predictable, precise tuning experience with the musician in total control. 1 turn = 1 tone on every string. This same feel and response carries over to ratio-equipped electric and acoustic guitars.

We found RATIO® machine heads to be extraordinarily accurate, and we were particularly impressed with how easy drop tuning is with them, especially when dropping to D on the fourth string and to A on the fifth.,” says Ibanez. “This characteristic makes RATIO® tuners incredibly well suited for hard rock and other heavier sounds, so we thought they’d be a perfect match for our SRMS720 and SRMS725 basses. We’re also aware that Graph Tech is entirely committed to continuous product innovation, which fully aligns with our philosophy at Ibanez. .”

Innovation has always been at the core of Graph Tech’s philosophy,” says Dave Dunwoodie, President at Graph Tech Guitar Labs. “With Ratio® Machine Heads, we’ve reimagined the tuning experience, providing musicians with a tool that enhances their creativity and expression. Teaming up with Ibanez to bring this technology to the SRMS725 & SRMS720 represents a milestone in our journey to redefine industry standards.

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Features

Bergantino Welcomes Michael Byrnes to Their Family of Artists

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Bergantino Welcomes Michael Byrnes to Their Family of Artists

Interview and photo courtesy of Holly Bergantino of Bergantino Audio Systems

With an expansive live show and touring, Mt. Joy bassist Michael Byrnes shares his experiences with the joyful, high-energy band!

Michael Byrnes has kept quite a busy touring schedule for the past few years with his band, Mt. Joy. With a philosophy of trial and error, he’s developed quite the routines for touring, learning musical instruments, and finding the right sound. While on the road, we were fortunate to have him share his thoughts on his music, history, and path as a musician/composer. 

Let’s start from the very beginning, like all good stories. What first drew
you to music as well as the bass? 

My parents required my sister and I to play an instrument.  I started on piano and really didn’t like it so when I wanted to quit my parents made me switch to another instrument and I chose drums.  Then as I got older and started forming bands there were never any bass players.  When I turned 17 I bought a bass and started getting lessons.  I think with drums I loved music and I loved the idea of playing music but when I started playing bass I really got lost in it.  I was completely hooked.

Can you tell us where you learned about music, singing, and composing?

A bit from teachers and school but honestly I learned the most from just going out and trying it.  I still feel like most of the time I don’t know what I am doing but I do know that if I try things I will learn.  

What other instruments do you play?

A bit of drums but that’s it.  For composing I play a lot of things but I fake it till I make and what I can’t fake I will ask a friend! 

I know you are also a composer for film and video. Can you share more
about this with us?

Pretty new to it at the moment.  It is weirdly similar to the role of a bass player in the band.  You are using music to emphasize and lift up the storyline.  Which I feel I do with the bass in a band setting.  Kind of putting my efforts into lifting the song and the other musicians on it.

Everybody loves talking about gear. How do you achieve your “fat” sound?

I just tinker till it’s fat lol.  Right now solid-state amps have been helping me get there a little quicker than tube amps.  That’s why I have been using the Bergantino Forté HP2 –  Otherwise I have to say the cliche because it is true…. It’s in the hands.  

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that you’d like
to explore on the bass.

I like to think of myself as a pretty catchy bass player.  I need to ask my bandmates to confirm!  But I think when improvising and writing bass parts I always am trying to sneak little earworms into the music.   I want to explore 5-string more!

Who are your influences?

I can’t not mention James Jamerson.  Where would any of us be if it wasn’t for him?  A lesser-known bassist who had a huge effect on me is Ben Kenney.  He is the second bassist in the band Incubus and his playing on the Crow Left the Murder album completely opened me up to the type of bass playing I aspire towards.  When I first started playing I was really just listening to a lot of virtuosic bassists.  I was loving that but I couldn’t see myself realistically playing like that.  It wasn’t from a place of self-doubt I just deep down knew that wasn’t me.  Ben has no problem shredding but I was struck by how much he would influence the song through smaller movements and reharmonizing underneath the band.  His playing isn’t really in your face but from within the music, he could move mountains.   That’s how I want to play.    

What was the first bass you had? Do you still have it?

A MIM Fender Jazz and I do still have it.  It’s in my studio as we speak.  I rarely use it these days but I would never get rid of it.  


(Every bass player’s favorite part of an interview and a read!) Tell us about
your favorite bass or basses. 🙂

I guess I would need to say that MIM Jazz bass even though I don’t play it much.  I feel connected to that one.  Otherwise, I have been playing lots of great amazing basses through the years.  I have a Serek that I always have with me on the road (shout out Jake).   Also have a 70’s Mustang that 8 times out of 10 times is what I use on recordings.  Otherwise, I am always switching it up.  I find that after a while the road I just cycle basses in and out.  Even if I cycle out a P bass for another P bass.  

What led you to Bergantino Audio Systems?

My friend and former roommate Edison is a monster bassist and he would gig with a cab of yours all the time years ago.  Then when I was shopping for a solid state amp the Bergantino Forté HP2 kept popping up.  Then I saw Justin Meldal Johnsen using it on tour with St. Vincent and I thought alright I’ll give it a try!

Can you share a little bit with us about your experience with the Bergantino
forte HP amplifier? I know you had this out on tour in 2023 and I am pretty
certain the forte HP has been to more countries than I have.

It has been great!   I had been touring with a 70’s SVT which was great but from room to room, it was a little inconsistent.  I really was picky with the type of power that we had on stage.  After a while, I thought maybe it is time to just retire this to the studio.  So I got that Forte because I had heard that it isn’t too far of a leap from a tube amp tone-wise.  Plus I knew our crew would be much happier loading a small solid state amp over against the 60 lbs of SVT.  It has sounded great and has really remained pretty much the same from night to night.  Sometimes I catch myself hitting the bright switch depending on the room and occasionally I will use the drive on it.

You have recently added the new Berg NXT410-C speaker cabinet to your
arsenal. Thoughts so far?

It has sounded great in the studio.  I haven’t gotten a chance to take it on the road with us but I am excited to put it through the paces!

You have been touring like a madman all over the world for the past few
years. Any touring advice for other musicians/bass players? And can I go to Dublin, Ireland with you all??

Exercise!  That’s probably the number one thing I can say.  Exercise is what keeps me sane on the road and helps me regulate the ups and downs of it.  Please come to Dublin! I can put you on the guest list! 

It’s a cool story on how the Mt. Joy band has grown so quickly! Tell us
more about Mt. Joy, how it started, where the name comes from, who the
members are and a little bit about this great group?

Our singer and guitarist knew each other in high school and have made music together off and on since.  Once they both found themselves living in LA they decided to record a couple songs and put out a Craigslist ad looking for a bassist.  At the time I had just moved to LA and was looking for anyone to play with.  We linked up and we recorded what would become the first Mt. Joy songs in my house with my friend Caleb producing.  Caleb has since produced our third album and is working on our fourth with us now. Once those songs came out we needed to form a full band to be able to do live shows.  I knew our drummer from gigging around LA and a mutual friend of all of us recommended Jackie.  From then on we’ve been on the road and in the studio.  Even through Covid.

Describe the music style of Mt. Joy for me.

Folk Rock with Jam influences

What are your favorite songs to perform?

Always changing but right now it is ‘Let Loose’

What else do you love to do besides bass?

Exercise!

I always throw in a question about food. What is your favorite food?

I love a good chocolate croissant.

Follow Michael Byrnes:
Instagram: @mikeyblaster

Follow Mt. Joy Band:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mtjoyband
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mtjoyband

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