In this first interview, the first of several to come in the series, Bass On Broadway, Nashville, TN, we speak with Michael Pisculli about playing bass on Broadway. Michael has been in Nashville since 2011 and is one of many fine and talented bassists working the scene.
What influenced you to choose bass as your main instrument?
After 3 years of acoustic guitar lessons between ages 12-15 and playing lots of John Denver, I was bored and discouraged. I was, and still am, a huge Beatles and Kiss fan growing up. Now you’d think it was Paul McCartney that was my first main influence but it was actually Gene Simmons but totally by accident. I had thought the main riff in God Of Thunder was the bass. I thought it was so cool and heavy sounding I immediately asked my dad for a bass and lucky for me he got me one, a really cool Jazz Bass copy. My finger style acoustic lessons came in super handy cause I took to bass with ease and LOVED it and haven’t looked back since, except maybe liking Paul’s lines a little more than Gene’s.
Do you play any other instruments?
Besides electric bass (fretted and fretless) and upright bass I dabble in acoustic guitar, ukulele and lead and backing vocals, the latter not nearly as proficiently as bass.
The lower Broadway scene in Nashville is very active. How long have you been performing gigs there?
I moved here on April 1st 2011 and landed my first gig on April 30th so nearly 3 years now.
Are you performing with your own groups, subbing, or both?
Both. I co-run 2 bands in town. 1 is a classic rock band and the other is a bluegrass band. I’m a first call bassist for 2 other cover bands ranging from country to rock to soul/funk as well as being on call for a local new country artist. I also pick up sub work here and there to fill in the gaps. This formula keeps me busy to say the least.
How much do you work on lower Broadway compared to other gigs, sessions, etc.?
Live gigs on lower Broadway makes up 95% or more of my work load and income. The occasional road gig (I only travel if the money is right), off Broadway gigs and recording sessions make up the rest. For example, I played 341 gigs in 2013 (mostly 4hr shifts, no breaks with lots of them being doubles and some triples!) and only 2 were recording sessions and 5 were travel dates. I would LOVE to get more recording sessions which is actually this year’s goal.
Any insight on basic etiquette, what to bring to the table?
Wow, I can write a book just on this one question! Well first thing I’d have to say is ‘know how to play your instrument! Study and take lessons. The better you are at speaking the musical language the easier everything becomes. Also, know what kind of player you are. Example, you need electric bass for rock, pop, country, funk, soul, jam band, fusion? I’m your man! Reggae? Jazz? Afro Cuban? Well I have someone I can refer you too. Same with upright, rock, pop, bluegrass? I’m good to go… Jazz? Rockabilly? I don’t think so! It’s way better to say no to a gig then go in and tank it. You’ll never get called again if you say you can pull something off then not deliver. Always be honest!
Next would be gear. One good sounding bass and one good sounding amp will get you through nearly any situation downtown and lots of times an amp isn’t necessary if the venue is backlined. 4 & 5 string basses are the norm with a 6 string guy/gal thrown in here and there. It’s all good if you play it good!
Now all of this is for nothing if you’re not cool. Leave your ego at the door. We’re all here trying to make a living so be a team player professionally and personally. There are HUNDREDS of bassists in this town waiting to take your gig. If you’re not cool EVERYONE will know about it. A good bassist that’s a great person will work way more than a great bassist no one can stand to be around!
I think I’ll leave it at that for now. 🙂
How do you handle gigs when you are called to fill in on short notice?
First is to know the style of music the band plays and get some type of set list. If I feel confident enough with the set or style I’ll take the gig. I always bring my favorite bass that I feel most comfortable playing. I’ll bring a chart or 2 if I really feel the need but try to keep that to a minimum. In most situations there will be a player on the gig that can throw numbers (the live version of the Nashville number system… Learn it if you don’t know it!). While on the gig I stay alert, eyes and ears wide open and keep my head clear. My first gig in Nashville was on 2 days notice, approximately 40+ songs of which I knew maybe 8! I kept my eyes on the guitarist who threw numbers at me for 4 hours and kept my ears open for cues and kept my bass lines simple and as correct as possible. So after 4 hours of sweating, lol, I got through the gig and was even offered the gig full time (once I actually learned the set..haha) and I’m still with that band till this day. Oh yeah… BE COOL! 🙂
Who are some of you influences?
My top 3 influences are Paul McCartney, Jaco Pastorius and Bruce Thomas from Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I can easily add John Paul Jones and James Jamerson as a close 4 & 5. I’m a classic rock junkie. Anything from the mid 60’s to the late 70’s is my thing and what I feel my playing most resembles. I like to think if Paul, Jaco and Bruce had a baby together it would be me! Lol
Nashville is an amazing city… Music City… not country music city but MUSIC City! Country may be prominent and for good reason but there’s tons of diversity here. The caliber of musician here is arguably the best in the world. No matter what bar you walk into here you’re bound to hear an amazing player. Nashville is known as musicians boot camp and rightfully so. Twice the work, half the money and happy to do it. Nashville has a lot to offer musicians not just lower Broadway. I strive to always do my best on my gigs and continuously learn, grow and improve on all aspects that it takes to make a living as a bassist in the most competitive little city in the world! Peace.