Every band needs a nucleus- a center of gravity- that one component to propel the music to a new level. For most bands it falls on the singer to be that key cog in the machine spinning the gears and pulling you towards them. Other bands in the world of rock, blues or alternative rely heavily on the guitarist to consume the listener with highly combustible (and hopefully) unforgettable hooks.
… And then there’s the drummer. While most bassists are wondering why the diss- why the blow off, I will tell you that we simply need that deep pocket and groove to thrive, and without it we are tapping our foot, counting to ourselves and generally looking awkward.
The drums give us life and that’s a simple fact.
Enter a band where that essential meter and rhythm comes from a guy who has played with some of the best. Thomas Pidgen has played with a veritable “who’s who?” of the most identifiable bass groove masters in the business. Eric Avery of Janes Addiction, Norwood Fisher of Fishbone, Juan Alderete of Racer X and Mars Volta and the always potent dUg Pinnick of King’s X.
So when he formed his own band, The Memorials, it was time to take notice- his own seismic drums relying on jazz, hip-hop and progressive beats unlike most bands could even contemplate. Thomas provides a backdrop for Viveca Hawkins own vocal depth and ballsy delivery, and alongside guitarist Nick Brewer; they provide their own nucleus of a solid groove where anything can happen musically.
The Memorials new release Delirium is for an audience of music savvy listeners, especially bassists who rely on that rhythmic foundation to get our foot tapping again.
Here’s my interview with Thomas and bassist Chris Matthews as they begin their West Coast tour:
The new record Delirium is pretty fierce, not a stretch from the first album but it does seem you have a very cohesive vision, like a comfort level that bands acquire after a time together. Do you feel like there was less pressure to sound a certain way, given there were so many different soundscapes and styles on your debut.
We just wanted to make a record that was a better record than the debut. We also wrote songs with our live show in mind… We want our records to represent where we are at that moment, somewhat like a chapter in a book.
Finding fellow like-minded musicians to play with is often as difficult as it sounds—like-minded implies you should all think the same and have the same influences, which probably wouldn’t work anyway! What is it about you, Viveca (Hawkins- vocalist) and Nick (Brewer- guitarist) that works?
Love and appreciation.
The track “Fluorescents Unforgiving” is a pretty good representation of you guys. It has a very aggressive metal riff and then sort of relaxes towards the end into a jazz-like horn solo, only to further mellow with a Middle Eastern flavor. But the song actually comes roaring back in with the heavy guitar riff and a fusion tinged guitar solo! Talk about not allowing the listener to become passive about the music experience!?
I don’t think we’re thinking about the listener that much while making music. It’s just musically how we’re feeling. I guess to the listener they come up with their own interpolations.
I find it’s also true with a lot of your songs: I’m immediately tapping my feet and bobbing my head, although it is hard to follow you on the snare drum!? What drummers did you want to emulate as a kid?
Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Couliauta, Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, etc… Pretty much everyone.
Was a lot of the music on Delirium improvised during the songwriting process, or are you guys more meticulous with the writing?
Both. We improvise while writing.
When do the vocals come in to play? Is Viveca singing during the writing sessions, or are they added in later?
She’s usually there while we do the music…. So she’s writing and getting stuff together but I would think it’s easier to write after the music’s done and edited.
And what about the bass parts- do you think in terms of “what is the bassist doing… or going to do here?”
I record with just Nick and usually I hear everything: vocals, keyboard parts, bass riffs, guitar solos…
So when tracking I want the bass going crazy, but I also have some thought out parts.
And a lot of bassists (well, all bassists) obsess over the drummer- especially the placement of the kick drum and where the fills are! You’d think we can’t keep time or have never used a click track or metronome!?
Chris, do you think that’s true of bass players in most styles of music, but especially in rock music?
Chris: A lot of thought about the fills and the placement is what will mess u up. And I definitely don’t think about Rock when I’m playing with Thomas- it’s much more than Rock.
Thomas, when you first formed The Memorials, were you looking for a more visceral experience, as opposed to something cerebral… something that could be complex, but was ultimately very straight forward??
I don’t know man, I wanted to play technically challenging music, but I also wanted to show the soul, the funk, the gospel, the hip hop influences- the real.
Chris, did you have to modify your playing style, or more importantly- update your gear to tour with the band?
Chris: I’m constantly modifying my playing style night after night. It’s a new experience w/the Memorials. We take you through the depths of who you are, not just as a musician; but as a person socially let down… And not having gear falling apart in the airport when security has gone on strike is clutch. Or when you land and your tour manager is 4 days late! Extra padded gig bags serve as an airport or hotel lobby’s best friend.
And what kind of basses do you use with The Memorials live?
Chris: Free ones- you got any?!
79′ P-Bass, 75′ Jazz… found them both in Japan on my B-Day
Both of you, what were some of your earlier influences… was there one band or musician that you guys specifically gravitated toward, and still listen to on a regular basis?
Thomas: I don’t listen to anyone on a regular basis… I got Spotify I just load it up with people I never heard of… Earlier I listened to anything I could. I still do but I don’t stay on many things too long.
Chris: I like anything that makes me feel better than what I did before I listened to it.
Thomas, you’ve also have jammed or recorded with so many current artists, including dUg Pinnick of King’s X, who is easily one of my bass idols (and a ton of other bassists!). How was it working with him?
He’s a good dude. I love being around him.
You also worked with bassist Eric Avery, from Jane’s Addiction and Norwood Fisher of Fishbone??? What were those experience’s like?
Is there any other bassist or artist you would like to work with that you haven’t?
I wanna work with everyone!
Chris, what kind of bass cabinet are you using? Do you have a preference in speaker size (10,12 or 15’s) and tube/solid state amps? What works the best alongside Thomas and Nick?
Chris: I like 12’s cause of the booty and 15’s for even more bottom end. Although the response of the 10’s to like “We Go to War” or “So Anti Me” never lets me down.
And Chris, is there any indispensable advice you can give to a bassist who is just starting out?
Learn, although you’re not gonna live forever. Live everyday like your last, there’s no box, there’s no box there’s no box… Oh, make sure the check don’t bounce, pack a lunch; be in it for the right reason. Your fingers are stronger than u think.
This question is for both of you, as I know artists/musicians have a very strong opinion on it…
How do you think bands separate themselves from everybody else?
Thomas: By being original and unique. The industry is so over saturated with cornball shit. That’s my only advice.
Chris: Be true to the identity that you see best for yourself and never limit the possibilities. Is corn ball a genre now?!
And I saw an interview with Ben Folds recently where he said that bands “release” a record so they can tour and build a following. There’s actually no $$ made with regards to a compact disc, because no one is buying and the majority of record companies are now defunct- or bankrupt! The Memorials seem to have a good following- so what’s the next step?
Our next step is to hit up more countries. We wanna be the band that’s played our music all over the world.
How important is YouTube and Facebook/Twitter to the success of an artist??
Thomas: I dunno?
Chris: It’s free, can’t really complain about things that are free. At least that’s how I was raised.
And the DIY approach has its advantages too, yeah?
Yeah, it’s cool to be able to know who your friends and fans are. I think the DIY approach keeps you grounded and keeps your ear to the street, as far as what people want.
Will you guys be touring the remainder of the year?
Yes- in spring we’re working on doing a lot more touring. Right now we’re just doing regional shows.
Thank you both for taking time out of your busy schedules and good luck with the record and the tour!