Peter Boskovich is the delightfully profound “evil” composer/bassist behind the instrumental power trio BISONwar, which combines a unique blend of bone crunching unison lines and sublime chordal interplay that stretches the staunch and closed definition of any single genre.
In short, BISONwar is doing well to establish its own voice into the lexicon of music: played well.
At the core of the band’s two releases is Peter’s churning plectrum driven 5-string (with High C-string). So… Thanks to the accessibility of the band via the inter-webs, I decided to ask him about his utterly cool approach to the bass guitar. My very first conversation with Peter yielded this response to playing with “the pick”.
“Picking is a relatively new technique for me! I started using a pick when I first started writing music for my own projects, around 3 years ago. I was inspired by Chris Thile’s mandolin playing — because his technique is unbelievable! I still enjoy playing pizzicato, but the plectrum world has been such a new sensation, including completely new physicality and challenges! I’m trying to improve constantly, and I enjoy the idea that playing with a pick changes the way I write music. I have to physically pick each note, which forces me to choose and decide upon certain patterns — so as to make each phrase feasible.”
Naturally, my response was, “People need to know more about this player!” So… here we are! This summer sees the release of BISONwar’s second release, Tribes. Once again, Peter, (Guitarist) Joe Gamble, and (Drummer) Nate Taitano grind and dance through a series of very well-written tunes that are played with a seamlessness rarely heard within the idea of “rock music”. That may be because none of the three players in this band are “average”. Each musician engages in this amazing conversation.
See BISONwar here:
BAJ: Hey man! Thank you for taking a moment to chat with Bass Musician Magazine. I am honored to hang out! Let’s get started… Tell us about your childhood! (Laughter)
Actually, tell us about your earliest forays into music.
You have a very good sense of harmony. Have you studied other instruments that have helped develop you musicality?
PB: I took piano lessons from the age of 8 for four years, as well as played Cello for a few years before taking up Bass. Played drums when I was a kid too. My siblings all played piano as well and my Mother played a lot of Classical and Opera music in the house.
BAJ: What is your overall concept for composition? Do you hear the entire piece in your head? Or, do compositions “come together” over a period of time?
PB: I don’t really have one… other than stumbling on an initial idea, and then seeing how my ear wants to develop it and try my best to have it flow and develop into the various sections of the piece. I’m still learning about my own musical instincts, but the more I write I find I’m getting better at paying attention to any suggestions my ear might be giving me. Sometimes the music will flow very logically and easily, other times I’ll intentionally try to make the music take an unexpected turn.
BAJ: What “story” are you trying to tell to your listeners?
PB: No story as such. The listener is free to interpret the music in any way they see fit. I’d be content if the listener had any range of emotion, anything from enjoying it to being completely confused.
BAJ: Do you have a particular favorite piece from either of the releases? Or, does that matter change from time-to-time?
PB: ”Seasons” from our first record is a strong candidate for being a favorite. ‘Misery’ from Tribes is a fun one to play. “Void” from Tribes is a great one to end a set with, its pretty rocking.
BAJ: You recorded the tunes for both the eponymous BISONwar release, and Tribes, at the Los Angeles College of Music, where you teach. How long have you been there, and what is your role there?
PB: I’m lucky enough to be Faculty in the Bass Department for about 5 years now. The Department Head, Jerry Watts Jr., is one of the deepest musicians I’ve ever seen. It’s an incredible program with amazing faculty members like Tim Landers, Steve Billman, John Avila, Mark Browne, just to mention a few.
BAJ: How many students have “converted” to plectrum playing since you began working your ideas through that medium?
Your playing incorporates a lot of polyphony — which is very cool! You also killed the introduction of the tune “Wolfpack”! Can you take us through a couple different “pick techniques” you are use to define your sound?
PB: The simplest way I could describe it is not much different from how a rhythm guitarist might approach playing, which is essentially what I’m doing. Mostly alternate picking, some sweep picking if needed. The “Wolfpack” riff involves some hammer-ons happening just after the pick has struck the string. Not dissimilar to a ‘double-thumb’ technique.
BAJ: Since we mentioned teaching earlier, what is something you wished every student understood when they begin studying with you?
PB: Great question, not one I spend enough time considering with each student. I’ve always loved practicing, and really trying to explore where I can take my musical vocabulary to new areas. I’m not a fast study, so I’ve always had to work at it consistently. Some students have a natural musicality and talent that is a challenge to try and teach.
Others need to really put in the time like I had to in order to be able to really navigate changes. If that’s the case, I would only say put in the work. Prepare as much as you can on your own, and then get out there and play with different people in different settings. Also, don’t be afraid to ask other players how they approach certain harmonic structures that you might be struggling with. I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas and advice by just asking players how they were approaching a certain section of a tune while on the gig.
BAJ: What other gigs are you playing beside BISONwar? How is the gigging world in the Los Angeles area, these days?
PB: Aside from all the different bands I’ve played in over the years, the most gigging I’ve done and still do is straight-ahead jazz stuff. LA is full of top-notch players many of whom are doing their own music and writing really great music.
BAJ: What are your current musical goals? Also, are you practicing anything that’s punishing you, lately?
PB: At this point, I really want to continue writing as much as possible. I have another band called Volpi with whom I’m finishing our first record. I’ve got about 20 new songs that I’ll be splitting up between both Volpi and of course BISONwar.
BAJ: Let’s also talk about your interests, outside of music!
PB: Um…I like food a lot!
BAJ: Is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview?
PB: I’d just like to say thanks to you for this great opportunity, and thanks to anyone who checks out our music. We hope you enjoy it!
Peter, thank you for taking a moment to talk with me! I can’t wait to hear more music!
Opening Photo Courtesy of Florian Borgeat Photography