Interview with Bassist Bruce Baldwin
ASNT Bassist Bruce Baldwin…
We chatted with multi-instrumentalist, Bruce Baldwin of husband-wife duo, ASNT about his approach to bass on the band’s recently released record, “Bleed Like Us: The Evolution of Sorrow.” A dark hard rock duo hailing from Orange County, CA, ASNT takes cues from rock giants Heart, Led Zeppelin, Tool, Rush, and King Crimson for their self-produced LP, which was a 4-year labor of love that the two obsessed over absolutely every detail of. Bruce is, for all intents and purposes a one-man band on the record–assuming guitar, bass, drum, and piano duties–and vocalist, Christina Baldwin interweaves her hauntingly sweet vocals and probing lyrics (ranging from science fiction to murder) in between Robert Fripp-reminiscent riffs.
I hear a lot of King Crimson influence in your playing, especially in your guitar and bass riffs. Who else did you listen to growing up?
You’re absolutely right. Robert Fripp and King Crimson affected the way I think about music in a big way, all the way down to the tonalities and textures. I grew up loving all the classic progressive rock stuff, including Yes, Rush and Genesis. There’s an attitude in that music that says, “let’s try to be the best players we can be and make complex music with a big structure.” I love that. Then, of course players like Geddy Lee and Tony Levin set a very high bar for musicianship. I also grew up on a steady diet of classic metal like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.
You do all the instrumentation on the new record. Which instrument do you normally start with when you sit down to write a new tune?
It’s not always the same, but I wrote many of the songs on this record on the piano, even the big heavy songs. I think it’s because the keyboard lets you visualize the harmony and melody so easily. I come up with a lot of the melodies in my head when I’m not at an instrument, and then sit down at the piano to figure out what the chords should be. A great song should be able to be played on almost any instrument, so after that it’s just arranging. “Beacon Eleven” is one where I wrote the main riff as a bass riff, then switched it to guitar to make it crunchier. When it comes to recording, I’ll start with the drums, and layer on parts from there.
How do you and your wife Christina collaborate? Do you write in the same room together, or do you record some ideas for her to work on independently?
Christina writes her lyrics independently and gives them to me. Sometimes I’ll read through the lyrics and I’ll think of a melody right away, and other times I have to wait a long time for that flash of inspiration. I usually have a bunch of different guitar riffs and ideas I don’t know what to do with, and I try to see if the lyrics and melody can be applied to any of them. Our songs “In Summation” and “Don’t Make Me” both happened that way. I generally record a demo and give that to Christina. Since I write the melodies and I’m not a singer, I trust Christina to interpret those melodies and add the little details and flourishes that make them come alive. She’ll work on it for a while on her own before we try playing it. She tells me if some part of the melody just isn’t working, and I’ll go back and change it.
Which bass(es) did you use on “Bleed Like Us”?
My main bass now is a PRS Kestrel. It’s capable of a wide range of tones like a Fender Jazz bass. It’s got a lovely rich low end without being muddy. That bass is on about half the album. The other half is a cheap old Ibanez bass that has a bit more twang to it. The interesting thing about playing bass for ASNT is I try hard to keep the bass lines in a purely supportive low-end role, and out of the way of the other instruments. That goes against my instinct as a bass player, which is to be more melodic and play with a trebly tone higher up on the neck. My bass heroes are Chris Squire and Paul McCartney. But with this band I need to have bass lines I can replicate with my live looping set up They can’t be missed too terribly if they are replaced with something simpler, I can play with a foot pedal. If you walk away humming the bass line after listening to the album, then I’ve failed, but I still enjoy putting a lot of little details and accents into the bass parts, which many listeners may not even notice.
You do a lot of live looping when you perform with ASNT. Can you tell us a bit about your live rig?
I believe live music should be performed live, so I hold myself accountable to playing and looping all the parts onstage, with nothing prerecorded. It keeps me running around, to be sure! I use a Boss RC-300 looper pedal, which lets you record and control three independent loops on the fly. Absolutely everything else in my rig plugs into that. I use a Boss GT-100 for all my amp sounds and effects. I play drum kit sounds and samples on a Roland HandSonic. I use a Studiologic bass pedalboard to play Taurus-style bass notes on the AniMoog app on my iPad through MIDI. At home, I also have a Korg Opsix in my signal chain, but that’s one too many things to bring to live gigs!
Which pedals and tones do you normally gravitate toward for bass specifically?
Over time, I’ve discovered that clean bass tones work best for me on recordings, especially if the instrument itself has a balanced tone like the Kestrel. The GT-100 works great to dial in an effective bass sound. I’ll apply just a little bit of chorus and compression. There are a couple of tracks on the album where I added a touch of distortion to give the part a little more energy.
The pandemic has been so hard on all of us creatives for a myriad of reasons. Have you found this to be the case as far as inspiration is concerned, or has it granted you more time to create music and content?
The pandemic gave me a lot more time to play music at home, although not all that time was especially productive. It fortunately gave us the time to finish up the album, and to go back and make updates or improvements to songs we’d recorded over the past few years. The lyrics to “The Inside” were at least partially inspired the fear people were feeling early in the pandemic. I probably have a dozen unfinished songs from the past year. I also spent a significant amount of time doing improvised and looped “drone” music, which is almost of form of meditation for me.
Things are finally starting to open a bit! Do you have any shows or tours on the docket for later this year or early next?
We’ve been very conservative about getting back onstage. We want to make sure when we come back that there’s a crowd and everybody feels good about it. I think that time is coming very soon! We’ll have live dates on our website as soon as they are announced.
Where can we find and/or listen to the new record?
It’s available for streaming just about everywhere – Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, IHeartRadio, and so on. You buy physical copies of the CD directly from us on BandCamp. All the links are at asnt.hearnow.com.