Bassists are known for being versatile, and Bay Area bassist, Angeline Saris, is no exception.
With an extensive list of credits, Angeline is moving to the front of the band with new project, Angelex.
I got a chance to speak with Angeline about our respective albums, which lead to genres, then to gear, etc. Hey, you know how musicians talk…
With that, here’s the abridged version…
Angeline Saris: I noticed you’re running some phasing on the drums in a tune?
Jon Moody: Yeah, on Mean Streak. It was a suggestion from the producer.
AS: I like that; it doesn’t detract from the bass, but ties it in really well.
JM: Yeah, it took us both (myself and drummer, Jeff Link) a little time to wrap our heads around it. We originally heard it and Jeff said “I don’t like it; it’s not what I asked for!” But I said “Hold on, let’s give it a shot” and sent the track out for critique. I didn’t tell anyone; the first thing they said was “Man, whatever’s going on with the drums is cool, because right when it gets to the chords, that kick drum just punches you in the chest!”
AS: Yep, yep!
JM: And so we said “Cool, let’s keep it.”
AS: I totally agree. That brings me to your tone; I’m curious as to your signal chain. Did you keep it consistent, or change it as you went? It sounds really clean, for the most part.
JM: I dipped my toe into effects for the album; I used distortion on the Soundgarden tune, and a lot of echo and delay on “A Little Insomnia.” But other than that, it’s just my Hilton Workhorse 5-string through a (Pigtronix Bass Station) compressor straight into an Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 and two SL112 cabinets.
AS: So that IS distortion on the end of that! I wasn’t sure if it was just a gain/overdrive, a distortion pedal or what?
JM: It’s a little pedal from Creation Audio, called the Grizzly Bass; it does more than just distortion. It’s got a treble rolloff (like your typical passive tone control), a mid-scoop, and separate distortion and overdrive channels. So you can blend everything together. I’ve used it a lot in theatre pits when you’re playing rock musicals (i.e. Tommy), but you can’t have a wall of amps behind you. I’ll use that and go to the FOH; it sounds like I’ve got an Ampeg fridge in the pit.
What I’ve been using it for lately – and you’d probably dig this – is I’ll scoop the mids and turn up the overdrive a little bit to get this dirty slap sound.
AS: Yeah, I do like that! It was really perfect, and tastefully done at the end of the tune. Sometimes I feel like people tend to be heavy-handed when they go into distortion, and it was perfect for the song.
JM: Since we’re on effects, let’s talk about yours. Because, you use a LOT.
JM: Didn’t you say that the song, “Piggy,” was titled because of the sound you were getting?
AS: Yeah, exactly! I have a Boss Synth pedal. It’s got a bunch of different settings, but one I feel is really useable. When I paired it with my Boss OC-2, it sounded like a piggy snorting. And so we ended up calling the tune “Piggy,” and I think if you listen closely actually, doubling the piano skank we side-chained it with “piggy skank.” *laughs* So there’s like a “snort skank” the entire time! But it was fun!
JM: What are some other effects you’re using, aside from the OC-2?
AS: Yeah, I have the OC-2 and then my favorite is a Watson EFY-6 fuzz. That one has got… I don’t know what he put in there, but it’s just rip-your-face-off. So that one’s in a couple of tracks like “Evolution” and “Maja Raja” when it gets pretty gnarly. But I have the OC-2 with an MXR Envelope Filter that’s your standard, Parliament vibe.
I’ve also got this cool Wren & Cuff fuzz, a phaser, etc.. But that’s the bulk of what makes the mix of all those sounds. And sometimes a sponge on the back pickup.
BASSES AND INFLUENCES
Angeline Saris: Aside from the Hilton Workhorse, you’ve got a fretless in the second track (A Little Insomnia)? What’s up with that?
Jon Moody: That is a Willcox Saber VL fretless; it’s got optical pickups. For the longest time I was so insecure about even playing fretless at all, because there’s so many tracks out there where your ear just screams “Ahhh, intonation!”
JM: So I didn’t want to do that. It also seems like any time someone picks up a fretless and plays anything, people assume you’re Jaco (Pastorius), which is totally not the vibe.
AS: I didn’t get that at all! I hear a lot more (Michael) Manring in it over Jaco.
JM: Yeah, he’s totally a big influence.
AS: Who are some others?
JM: I also like Oteil Burbridge, and Jonas Hellborg…
AS: Oh nice! Are you a Stanley Clarke fan as well?
JM: Yeah, big time! When I started doubling (on electric and upright basses), he was the bassist I latched onto, because he was doing what I was doing.
AS: Right, right. I definitely heard some of that too.
JM: Yeah, you can hear his influence in my tone.
AS: Oh, absolutely!
JM: Speaking of influences, “Top Down” off your album has this really great Larry Graham stamp on it.
AS: *laughs* Yeah, Larry’s probably one of my top three, most favorite bass players of all time. I’ve definitely spent some time shedding on his lines, so that somehow made its way into it.
JM: What I like about that groove too, is that you can sing that slap line.
AS: Wow, really?
JM: Yeah, it’s like this *sings the groove, poorly* And that’s the kind of slap bass that I like, where it grooves. Not like the stuff where people are like “Look how fast I can play!”
AS: Yeah, for me I like it to be stanky. Especially growing up in the Bay, it’s just the vibe; Oakland, Larry… I mean, this is a different brand of stanky.
JM: Oh, totally!
AS: But that’s the goal, so I appreciate being put in the same category as Larry in that sentence.
JM: The beginning tune (Are You Ready?) also has a nod to Parliament, especially with the deejay intro.
AS: Lex and I (whose project this is) had a hip-hop project about ten years ago; recorded an album that never came to light. Back then, we worked with this amazing vocalist, named Mike Blake. When we wrote the track, we immediately said “We need to get Mike on it!” It wasn’t the intent to make a Parliament tune, but when it was done, its influence was clear. And I’m okay with that!
JM: Yeah, if you’re gonna nod to somebody, might as well be to the Mothership.
AS: EXACTLY! Mike’s got that really deep, deejay voice which helped too.
JM: I know you’re usually a big Fender Jazz player. Did you change up anything else on the tracks? I know there’s a track with an upright on it, which sounded awesome.
AS: Oh thank you, that was “Six Eight.” I originally played the whole thing just on electric. One day, I was doing a hired session on upright at the same studio with the same engineer; he was simultaneously working on this session and my album! Jokingly, as a sound check, I busted into the groove on “Six Eight,” and he laughed but then said “…wait a second” and just hit the record button! We ended up dropping it right in, and he put some nice effects on it, which added a much hipper vibe to that tune.
Jon Moody: You mention in the liner notes about the different genres you touch on that organically weave together. You’re listening to “Top Down,” which moves into some latin grooves and before you know it, “Evolution” leads you into a classic rock anthem.
Angeline Saris: We didn’t go into this album saying “We’re going to make a funk album” or “Let’s make a Parliament-esque album,” or “Let’s make a Zepplin album,” etc.. Lex and I got together for many years just to practice; I’d come in with something I wanted to practice or he’d have something he’d want to work on. We’d get together about twice a month and do it, just to shed.
And then, we just ended up writing. I’d record everything, we’d go back and listen, and I’d say “I think we have some cool stuff!”
“Space Train,” that Herbie (Hancock) meets heavy instrumental track, was the first thing we recorded. We had a bunch of snippets and started going at them, one foot in front of the other without looking at the top of the mountain, you know? It was like “Well, this song feels like it needs this,” and “This song might need this.” And what ended up happening was that each track evolved into its own thing. At the end of the day, I wasn’t sure if we had some level of consistency throughout or not.
JM: Yeah, that was really cool. You’ve got a TON of talented people on this album. My favorite is the vocalist on “Evolution.” The song starts out with this huge rock feel, breaks it down with this nice keyboard part, and then when he comes in, it’s like silk.
AS: Thank you! Eric Smith is a local guitarist/vocalist and singer/songwriter. We just knew he was gonna be the call for this; he has a definite rock vibe but he can be gentle and sweet. I loved the way he approached this; it was one of the easiest recording sessions we had.
When you were in the studio, were you tempted at all to want to add other musicians, or did you know going into it that it was gonna be strictly bass and drums?
JM: No, I knew this was gonna be just bass and drums. My first album (Music for our Hands) was very much in the vein of Victor Wooten’s “A Show of Hands;” just him and his bass. I wanted to do that, but approached it more like a classical cello album.
So for me, going to bass and drums was already stepping out of my comfort zone. I was alright with that addition, but if I could’ve found a keyboard player just for some “color,” like adding some string patches to “A Little Insomnia,” I would’ve entertained that. Something to add a bit more atmosphere, I guess.
But then there’s other times, like the Soundgarden cover, where the sparse arrangement adds a delicateness to that.
AS: Yeah, and I would even agree to that in “Insomnia,” as it highlights the delicateness of the fretless. But with the Soundgarden tune, it brings a much different vibe that was not there when it was originally recorded.
JM: *laughs* That’s been fun to play out live, because I don’t set it up at all; we start into it. It’s fun to watch peoples’ heads turn as they catch the melody. By the end, when the distortion is on and it’s going full bore, everyone’s rocking out.
AS: Yes! Very much so. So then, when you play live, you’re just playing everything as-is then?
JM: We’ve been starting to branch out a little more. I originally wrote a couple of tunes with the intent of triggering a loop in the middle, so I could open it up a little, let the drummer stretch out a bit and then I could solo. We didn’t do that on the album, but we’ve been doing it live.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Angeline Saris: So, do I get to know the meaning behind the titles? Or, would you have to kill me after you tell me?!
Jon Moody: *laughs* No, I can tell you!
AS: Yeah, I’m curious where “Mean Streak” came from?
JM: Okay, there was a wooden roller coaster at Cedar Point amusement park called the Mean Streak. I spent two summers during college playing in the house bands. So, instead of just going home and flipping burgers, I was playing music at a theme park, and the Mean Streak was my backyard.
When I started writing that song, it was going to be an ode to Cedar Point (and my time there), but that’s when I found out that summer was when they were retiring the Mean Streak and taking it down.
JM: It was one of those old wooden ones, so you always came off of it with at least one bruise. So it’s probably fitting that that song is a monster to play.
AS: That makes sense. You end up with a bruise or two after you’re done playing it.
JM: Right, right!
AS: Could be! What about “Viva la Bull?”
JM: Hahaha, that one was just a product of screwing around; it’s my tongue-in-cheek nod to NAMM chops. It’s in “Open E,” but it’s in 12/8 and has a lot of little bends and things, and right in the middle it has just three quarter notes, kind of like you’re sticking your tongue out as you’re playing.
I originally told Jeff that we were gonna record it; sent him a scratch track and a chart to practice. The week prior to the session, I decided against it.
But at the studio, we kicked out the first four recordings so fast, we had around 3 hours left. The engineer said we could just jam for a bit; he’d hit the record button and whatever happens, happens. I looked at Jeff and said “Hey, you wanna do that funk tune I was originally gonna do, and then changed my mind?”
At the end of it, the engineer commented that it sounded like a bull in a china shop, which I replied “Viva la Bull!” And it stuck.
AS: There you go! I love that impromptu, just hit record and go, vibe. I feel that’s where some of the best magic happens. It’s fun!
JM: Yeah, and that came through in the end, where we’re holding it off for so long, and Jeff does that last drum hit.
AS: Haha yeah, that little tag, or exclamation point?
JM: We got the original mixes back, and they took that off the track. We both said “Put it back. It HAS to be in there!”
AS: Those are the “Easter Eggs” on the album!
JM: Exactly! Okay, your turn. I’m dying to hear the background behind the song, “Up to Froth.”
AS: *laughs* Okay, this one’s good. I have a very close friend, Bianca Volente, who’s a professional big wave surfer. She surfs Mavericks and Peyahe; all the biggest waves in the world. She’s also on this Commission for Women’s Equality in Surfing, to propose that women get the same payment as men. They surf the same waves, but for some reason the pot isn’t as big; it’s usually a third. They just got it passed in California, which is really great. Unfortunately, it’s not the same in Hawaii or other states. But simply, she’s a total badass.
She’s part owner of a restaurant that’s just by my house, and there frequently. Lex and I would go in, kick it with her and her friend Joe Moe (who’s also a great surfer), and listen to them just talk in such surf-lingo. They’re like “Ah bro, just like, catching this brawls and got so pitted.”
We recorded their phone conversation once. Joe Moe had been talking about how he dressed up as a Merman to go to this party, and the party wasn’t that cool, but then he got it “up to froth.”
And that was the whole lingo behind it.
And that’s one of those things that Lex and I feel, is that this album is very California in a lot of ways.
JM: I was going to say that it feels like a love letter to the state.
AS: Yeah, thank you! I haven’t heard it put quite like that, but I guess it sort of is. Surfing is obviously a big part of California. I suck at surfing, but I can certainly appreciate it, especially the big wave surfers who have to be pretty much insane to surf those building-sized waves.
JM: The other one that was interesting is “Dirty Cycle.” It’s very dance, very modern, etc..
AS: That’s kind of what we were going for, but perhaps not in those exact terms. “Dirty Cycle” felt like a big diversion from everything else on the album, and it was also more upbeat. So we were like “Maybe we should warm people up to this and then sneak it in at the end!” *laughs*
JM: That works!
AS: But it’s definitely the pop track. We didn’t intend for it to be that, but it kept morphing into it.
JM: Seems like too, as songs start to move into a direction, you can either fight it (and it’ll get there quicker) or you can just let it do its thing.
AS: Yeah, we had nothing to gain or lose; we weren’t bound to putting out an album to millions of fans. I’m a solo bass artist who works as a hired gun who wants to release some art. I might as well do what I want to do, and let things be what they want to be.
JM: You bring up a good point, with being a solo bass artist. Your album is not what I would consider a stereotypical solo bass album. This is for someone that just likes music, period. You might realize it’s a bass/drums duo, you might not.
AS: It definitely doesn’t fit that prerequisite. Lex and I like being the rhythm section for people. We just did a show the other night, which was killer. We had an 11-piece band in front; I don’t think you could see us the whole night! We were okay with it, you know? Our job is to be felt AND to be heard, but really to drive that pulse to get people dancing, or get people grooving.
Maybe at some point I’ll do something more bass solo oriented, but I like this. It’s got a more mainstream, pop appeal. And that felt right at this moment.
JM: Right. And you’re gigging out with this regularly too?
AS: We are! We spent so much time in the studio on this. We put it out in June (2018) and were like “Okay! Let’s book some shows!” We booked a couple shows the year prior to the album release, but there’s only so many hours in the day. So we’ve been able to focus just on that. We had two shows this past weekend, and did a really great one a couple weeks earlier.
And next year (2019) we’re hoping to push this a little more. Our live sound is evolving and so different, I feel that maybe we should do a live album; it’s more dance and funk driven, and more cohesive. But it’s great! We’re playing out; it’s kind of amazing!