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Interview With Bassist Percy Jones

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Interview With Bassist Percy Jones

Bassist Percy Jones… KEEPING UP WITH JONES! PERCY, THAT IS…

By David C. Gross (DG) and Tom Semioli (TS) 

And now this public service announcement from Percy Jones addressing the negative gossip that permeated social media upon his departure from Brand X:  

There were some pretty negative narratives going out when I left Brand X that I’d retired, or that I had stopped playing…that my hands were messed up and I could not play anymore…Those are all rumors! I am in good health…I can play and look forward to doing more recordings and gigs!

Self-taught and greatly inspired by Charles Mingus and British and American rhythm and blues, Percy Jones plies his craft with a repertoire of glissandos, harmonics, and three-finger riffage, among other techniques, in his work as a jazz-fusion prog-rock master. A composer, arranger, sideman, collaborator, multi-instrumentalist, and solo recording artist, Percy has anchored several watershed sides, most notably as a member of Brand X, and with Brian Eno, Roy Harper, Steve Hackett, David Sylvian, and Tunnels to cite a very select few.

From his home somewhere in New York City, Percy ruminated o’er his early years, influences, his gravitation to the fretless bass, Brand X, and Brian Eno’s cake methodology among other topics! 

TS: It’s a sad day Percy; we lost Charlie Watts. Your career as a player commenced in the mid-1960s with The Liverpool Scene, talk about the impact that the Rolling Stones had on your generation of musicians.

PJ: When they started out with Brian Jones, they were much more of a rhythm and blues outfit. And to me, it was a lot edgier than they became later on. I preferred the earlier stuff they were doing. After Brian passed, they took a straighter, more rock and roll path. Which is not to criticize them! But to me, they were more interesting then…

TS: Were you aware at that time that Billy Wyman was playing one of the first fretless basses? 

PJ: Yes, I’d see him on Top of the Pops and other shows and but was playing a fretted instrument. 

TS: Actually Percy, that was a fretless Framus Star bass. Bill pulled the frets out and filled them with putty or a similar substance which gave the appearance of fret lines, but there were no frets!

PJ: Really! I didn’t know that. Kudos to his intonation, he sounded great. 

DG: Rock drummers of that era came from the jazz idiom – after all, there was no ‘rock and roll’ – so bass players had to swing as well.

PJ: Exactly! 

TS: In your formative years you absorbed British rhythm and blues, the aforementioned Stones, Graham Bond, Alexis Korner, Georgie Fame…then you were turned on to American blues such as Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters…what was it about American black music, which was borne of slavery, that appealed to working-class British youth. 

PJ: I don’t know exactly why. British musicians somehow related to it, which does not make much sense! There was no slavery in England at that point. I remember an African American friend of mine, and he was complaining about British musicians stealing from blues guys. And I explained to him ‘no, they’re playing that music because they love it!’ Myself included! Certainly, there have been instances where the blues originators were ripped off…but not from the musicians.  The British bands reintroduced the blues to America. If not, some of those artists would have remained on the ‘chitlin circuit.’ 

TS: My wife is African American…

PJ: So is mine!

TS: …and we watch Later… with Jools Holland and marvel at how British artists play rhythm and blues with more conviction than Americans! They have more soul! 

PJ: Amy Winehouse was a perfect example of that! 

DG: After WWII you had all this American music flowing into Liverpool, London, and the British port cities…. then when the Stones came here, I was twelve. I knew nothing of American blues…but I knew their music because of the British bands. It’s what we refer to as the “big M” – it’s music and either it touches you or not. 

PJ: Also the media, in the first half of the sixties, had a limited number of radio stations. In England, it was really just the BBC. They just played pop. The station that really caught my interest and the attention of my peers was Radio Luxembourg. You couldn’t hear them in the daytime. We had to wait until the sun went down so the signal would bounce off the ionosphere. The signal faded in and out…usually when it came to my favorite part of the tune! (laughter) We’d have to re-tune the radio every fifteen minutes or so. But that just reinforced the fact that we were starving for what Radio Luxembourg was playing …Chuck Berry, Booker T… what an education! And this was before the pirate ships off the coast of Great Britain got started…

TS: Pirate radio was a huge influence on the youth of your generation.

PJ: Which was why the BBC shut them down and confiscated all their equipment! But the BBC also poached a lot of their DJs… including John Peel. At that point, the BBC started to ‘smell the coffee’ and realized that they needed to change their format. 

DG: If you can’t beat them…. hire them!

PJ: Yes! (laughter) But getting back to your point, African American music had such a huge impact on Britain. No question about it. 

TS: Among your early bass mentors was Danny Thompson…

PJ: Yes I was still living in Wales at the time…and me and a couple of mates went to a gig in Hereford to hear Alexis Korner. The rhythm section was Danny Thompson and Terry Cox…which would later go on to Pentangle. The show really caught my attention. Alexis was really a blues guy…yet Danny Thompson was a hybrid of jazz, blues and folk. There was all this fantastic syncopation going on which I hadn’t heard before. I’ll never forget that gig…it started steering me more towards jazz. 

DG: I always felt that at a certain point when your playing matures – you just can’t keep doing what you used to do. As Oliver Wendell Holmes says ‘your mind stretches and you can’t go back!’

PJ: Absolutely. You cannot go back… 

TS: Tell us about meeting one of your heroes when The Liverpool Scene first came to America. 

PJ: I first came to New York in 1969 with The Liverpool Scene and we played at Ungano’s. That’s when I met Charles Mingus. We did a set for the press…and after we finished playing Mike Evans, the saxophone player, said to me ‘Mingus is here!!!!’ We were both huge fans. I look over at the buffet and there was Charles, filling his plate up with food! He certainly didn’t come here to see us. We went over and talked to him. He was playing at the Vanguard and invited us. We arrived and the place was almost empty. Of course, we sat upfront and it was pretty much just the Mingus band and us! 

We had just finished a British tour opening for Led Zeppelin. Our first gig in the U.S. was at Kent State opening for Sly & The Family Stone. A total mismatch. When we walked on stage the audience started laughing at us before we played a note. They sat through our set with ‘polite toleration.’ Sly comes on and the place goes berserk! We also did some dates with the Steve Miller Band, The Who, The Kinks…

When we were in New York, there was a bar on 48th Street called The Haymarket which had Red Barrell, a British beer. All the bands from England would hang out at this place. 

TS: Did that plant the seed for your emigrating to New York City?

PJ: I did start thinking about it…all the possibilities. After all, New York was exciting, there was the jazz scene… 

TS: Let’s discuss the fretless bass…how did you gravitate to the instrument?

PJ: All the players I was listening to and admired were playing upright. There were a few electric players that I liked…there was a guy with George Fame, Cliff Barton, who played fretted bass who I thought was quite good. I had a hollow-body fretted Gretsch bass   – I can’t remember the model number, but it had a spike at the bottom so you could position it like an upright. I filed the frets down. In 1974 I saw an ad in the back of Melody Maker for a fretless Fender Precision bass for only 200 quid. I had just received a publishing advance the week before. I met this guy in North London and it was “in good nick” (British slang for great condition) so I purchased it. 

I immediately felt comfortable on it. I started doing things that I could not do on a fretted bass. Of course, my intonation needed work, among other things.    

DG: Was it a lined fretless?

PJ: No but it had dots….

TS: That must’ve been rare to find a Fretless P bass in 1974…especially in the UK. 

PJ: Absolutely, I had never seen one. It was fortuitous timing…

DG: I paid $160.00 in 1969 in New York City for a fretless P bass… those old P basses had lovely rosewood necks….

PJ: Yes they did. I built a pre-amp and put it in the bass, as the basses had low output in those days. Back then with a passive P bass, the longer the chord you used, the more you lost the high end. My preamp had no EQ, it was just to boost the gain. It still had that classic P bass sound. Brand X didn’t have a record deal at the time. We used to jam in a studio in South London just for fun. Then we got a deal from Island. We had six weeks before our first recording and I made the determination to really learn how to play this bass. I really crammed, practicing for hours every day. 

TS: How did playing fretless alter your technique in that now with no metal strips on the neck, it’s all about intonation, intonation, and intonation!

PJ:  Intonation was my biggest challenge. But luckily, my left and right-hand techniques didn’t need to change much… 

I found that I could express myself much more. I could play quarter notes and deliberately slide into the note, as a singer does. To me, fretless is much more expressive, like the human voice. And you don’t have to worry about fret noise. 

TS: You have to be a more deliberate player on fretless. Every note has to mean something.

PJ: Yes. I once had a bad experience right after I moved to New York. I got on this session and the producer took one look at my fretless, and said ‘we don’t need that!” He went in the closet and brought out a fretted Fender P bass, and ordered me to use it. I wasn’t used to it, and I’m not a great reader. I think this was a chord chart. I was totally uncomfortable with frets by then. This producer guy stood over me – he was about six-foot-six and three hundred pounds! I got through it. But I’d realized how far I’d come with the fretless…

TS: In 1976 another fretless player burst upon the scene – Jaco Pastorius. And by ’77, when Brand X did its first album, the sound of the fretless was becoming popular.

PJ: Exactly. Back then there was hardly anyone I knew that played fretless. I think the guy in Canned Heat, Larry Taylor, played fretless. 

DG: And let’s not forget Freebo with Bonnie Raitt! What I find interesting about your playing is that you carved an interesting niche – we can hear one phrase and we know it’s Percy! However, there are thousands of Jaco imitators! Were you conscious of him which made you more conscious of where you were headed? Or were you headed there anyway and that guy from Florida was just playing the same instrument?   

PJ: I first heard Jaco’s solo record when it came out…with stuff like “Donna Lee.” I thought ‘wow this guy is pretty good!’ You really have to give him the credit for introducing the fretless to the bass community. Certainly, more than I did. Then, later on, I started getting critiques from some people saying that ‘Percy is a Jaco rip-off!’ That was rather disappointing. Of course, I have the utmost respect for Jaco. He was a great, great bass player. 

TS: Getting to Brand X, how did Phil Collins have time for the band given that he was busy with Genesis? 

PJ: He didn’t! Like I said earlier, we used to get together every week and jam for fun. And there was this guy who used to help us with equipment and somehow he hooked up an audition with Island Records. The A & R guys would listen to us while we were just making stuff up. And loved us and we got signed. We started rehearsing at Island studios and did a record for them with vocals – sort of like Average White Band. We didn’t like the record, so we asked Chris Blackwell if we could do another. We changed the lineup in the band, the original drummer stepped out, he was more of a groove drummer and we needed something different. Danny Wilding, one of the A & R guys suggested we ‘try the guy in Genesis!’ I didn’t know much about them at the time. Bill Bruford came down first, and he turned it down.  But Phil liked it and joined the band and we did an all-instrumental album, but Island did not like it. They did not want to put it out. But the Charisma label picked it up, with help from Phil… and that was Unorthodox Behavior (1977). So that record, which broke us, almost never came out! 

At that time, we were mostly doing one-nighters in the UK, punk clubs in London, sometimes we’d drive up to Manchester. Phil did a lot of those. When we started getting US tours, he could not do them because of Genesis. At one point Phil said ‘if you guys could hang out for a couple of years, I might leave Genesis…and play with you guys full time’ And I responded, ‘no you can’t do that! It would be totally impractical’  

I called up Alphonso Johnson in Los Angeles, then I called Kenwood Dennard in New York. I came over a couple of weeks earlier to rehearse with Kenwood. The rest of the guys came over and we had more rehearsals and it shaped out good enough to do the gigs. From then on we used several drummers; Kenwood, Mike Clark, Chuck Burgi, Pierre Moerlen…all great players. 

TS: I recall hearing Brand X on FM radio – it was an amazing era in that we had such a wide array of genres in the mainstream. Prog rock, jazz fusion, punk, hard rock, pop, electronic music…

PJ: It was a good period in time. I remember towards the late 70s we started getting a bit of flack from the British press…I remember we played at Knebworth Festival and there was a review in Melody Maker that read ‘Brand X sounded like pebbles on a tin roof!’ Of course, that was when punk was coming on strong. And that was supposed to be the new ‘working class’ music! 

I remember going into the Marquee Club where we used to play a lot in the 1970s, and I stuck my head in and the place was jam-packed. A punk band was playing – all fast tempo three-minute songs. Everybody was jumping up and down, beer flying everywhere, sweat… I immediately left and never returned!

DG: And then you move to New York City in the 1980s. 

PJ: At the time we were playing here frequently. In fact, we were doing more gigs in the US than Europe. Then I met my wife, who is a New Yorker….so it made more sense to live here.

DG: You were teaching as well.

PJ: Yes, for a while at Drummers Collective. Though I never felt that I was very successful at it. I’m not an academic player. I studied at University of Liverpool – but that was electronic engineering! In terms of music, I am an autodidact. What I know of music I picked up from being around people who know music more than I did…and I’d ask a lot of questions. In a recent version of Brand X I’d been hanging around with Kenny Grohowski and he’d be discussing all sorts of topics such as metric modulations. I had no idea what he was talking about. But if I hear it, I can try and play it! 

DG: Your education in electrical engineering intertwined with your bass playing in terms of creating effects, pedals. 

PJ: Yes, that was very useful as I built many of my own effects. I don’t use them much now thanks to digital technology. But I’d have two ninety-inch racks…I have yet to find commercial versions of some of the effects I used, so I may have to construct a few more. I kind of miss that ‘analog’ sound I used to get. 

DG: Your pull-offs of the G string off the fingerboard, was that a calculated thing or did you just do it one day and think ‘wow this is great!’ 

PJ: I was actually trying to get a sitar-type sound. I pulled the string until it’s almost off the fingerboard. And it starts ‘buzzing.’ Sometimes I’ll pull it right off the fingerboard – 

DG: Right, there is no pitch when you pull it off the fingerboard, but it is an ‘effect.’ 

PJ: Yes, and the bottom string rattles. For me – all the things I do are trying to express something. I’ve tried putting washers, matchsticks under the strings which would slide down the fretboard… to make different sounds. 

DG: John Cage would love that! 

PJ: Ah, it was too unpredictable! 

TS: PAKT – your latest project features guitarists Alex Skolnick and Tim Motzer and drummer Kenny Grohowski. Your music is available for streaming and download. With digital distribution – is it ‘the best of times or the worst of times in that artist such as yourself, who are ‘out’ of the mainstream, can go directly to your audience rather than submit your work to a record label and hope that they put it out and promote it?

PJ:  I have two thoughts about that. On the one hand, it’s good because it makes it easier for artists to get their music out there. In the 60s, 70s, you could get a record out unless a record company behind you. But now you can do it, and control the business side of it as well and not get ripped off by a record company. 

Maybe the negative side of it is that there is such a huge volume of music out there that a lot of good-quality stuff gets buried.  

DG: How did PAKT come together? 

PJ: I stopped playing with Brand X – I could not stand the management anymore. I could not stand the way they were doing business. 

We’d reformed in 2016 and I could never get a proper accounting of how much money we earned; how much was spent. It’s important to talk about this – even though it’s negative. In March or April of 2019, I said that I’d give them until October to come up with the accounting, if you don’t I’m not going to continue. October comes, and still nothing. I said to them ‘do you remember our conversation?’ The response was ‘no.’ How could they not remember a discussion like that? I waited a few weeks – nothing. I had spreadsheets – 116 gigs, gas tolls, everything – I never got them back. One of the guys lived in Florida and told me that lightning had struck a tree outside his house and fried his computer that had all the Brand X financial information on it. One conversation it was a laptop, another conversation it was a desktop…and then I just said ‘f’ this – but I still consider myself an owner of the band with John Godsall. And I expect to get royalties. So that was a sad ending for Brand X. 

PAKT came together since I was looking to do something after Brand X. Of course, I had played with Kenny in Brand X but never with Alex or Tim. We played our first ‘gig’ in Brooklyn not knowing if it was going to be successful or not. There was no one in the audience because of COVID restrictions – we were all wearing masks. It was recorded and made it available immediately for download, and it came out pretty good. It’s the first time I’d ever done anything like this. I’m okay with this way of doing things as long as the audio quality is good. (Available on BandCamp.com on MoonJune Records)

I don’t like music that’s heavily compressed.  

DG: Are you planning any solo shows in the future?

PJ: Not really, I also have my MJ12 band with Chris Bacas on saxophone, Steven Moses on drums, and Alex on guitars. We have shows coming up… 

DG: When are we going to see a reissue of Paranoise  “Start A New Race” (1993) which also featured Antony Jackson on contrabass? 

PJ: When I first moved to New York City, I had a job moving furniture. Brand X lost our record deal, I was out of work… And I was in the vegetable section of my local supermarket and this guy came up to me and said ‘are you Percy?’ I said ‘yeah…’ ‘Well I’ve got a band, do you want to come down and jam?’ And I went down and played and they were called ‘Noise Are Us.’ And it was good stuff so I started playing with them. Interesting compositions. They had a horn section and a vocalist, doing all sorts of odd time signatures…very adventurous, we used to play CBGBs a lot, which had a fantastic sound system… I played with them for about eighteen months, then Toys Are Us threatened to sue them. Which prompted the name change to Paranoise. They got signed to Island and I played on one album, and Anthony Jackson did some of the tracks. Those were great memories….

TS: What are some of the records that you are most fond of and represent your best performances? 

PJ: All the Brand X records, the albums I made with Brian Eno… there’s the title track of Masques (1978) which is just bass and prepared piano…

TS: When you work with someone such as Eno, what do you learn from him that you apply to your role as a bandleader?

PJ:  Brian is a very smart individual. What he did with me and the musicians he worked with was to give us slack. He allowed us to be ourselves and to play our own styles. He has a way of directing you to make a contribution to the music that he wanted to hear. He never asked me to play something I was uncomfortable with. 

TS: Eno strikes me as a bandleader akin to Miles Davis, wherein he has a knack for bringing people together. Again, I’ll reference Before And After Science (1977) – a bona fide masterpiece is that it’s great to hear your personality in the context of Eno’s artistry. And the musicians don’t overshadow him, they enhance what he was doing. The same goes for Another Green World (1975). 

PJ: Agreed! And he recorded a lot of stuff which was not used. I would overdub on electric…upright. It was experimental and a lot of fun. 

DG: Brian intended to create background music with such albums as Music For Airports (1978) which was anything but background music!

PJ: I’m still looking for Music For Washing Dishers! (laughter) I was at a session with guitarist Fred Firth and Phil Collins and Brian handed us a piece of paper and instructed us to write down the numbers 1 to 100. The he went: #1 – Percy you play an F#. #2 Phil you hit whatever note you want…. #3 had rhythmic instructions. Then he’d switch on a metronome …and Phil threw water bottles across the room! He was trying to hit a bicycle parked in the studio in time with the click!  

Another cool thing about Brian is that he is always open to suggestions. You can’t do that with many bandleaders… On a session, he’d say ‘let’s have some cake.’ And he’d get paper plates from under the desk and bring in a cake and then we’d stand around eating and we’d forget what we were talking about. I wonder if that was a deliberate technique! 

Features

Bergantino Welcomes Michael Byrnes to Their Family of Artists

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Bergantino Welcomes Michael Byrnes to Their Family of Artists

Interview and photo courtesy of Holly Bergantino of Bergantino Audio Systems

With an expansive live show and touring, Mt. Joy bassist Michael Byrnes shares his experiences with the joyful, high-energy band!

Michael Byrnes has kept quite a busy touring schedule for the past few years with his band, Mt. Joy. With a philosophy of trial and error, he’s developed quite the routines for touring, learning musical instruments, and finding the right sound. While on the road, we were fortunate to have him share his thoughts on his music, history, and path as a musician/composer. 

Let’s start from the very beginning, like all good stories. What first drew
you to music as well as the bass? 

My parents required my sister and I to play an instrument.  I started on piano and really didn’t like it so when I wanted to quit my parents made me switch to another instrument and I chose drums.  Then as I got older and started forming bands there were never any bass players.  When I turned 17 I bought a bass and started getting lessons.  I think with drums I loved music and I loved the idea of playing music but when I started playing bass I really got lost in it.  I was completely hooked.

Can you tell us where you learned about music, singing, and composing?

A bit from teachers and school but honestly I learned the most from just going out and trying it.  I still feel like most of the time I don’t know what I am doing but I do know that if I try things I will learn.  

What other instruments do you play?

A bit of drums but that’s it.  For composing I play a lot of things but I fake it till I make and what I can’t fake I will ask a friend! 

I know you are also a composer for film and video. Can you share more
about this with us?

Pretty new to it at the moment.  It is weirdly similar to the role of a bass player in the band.  You are using music to emphasize and lift up the storyline.  Which I feel I do with the bass in a band setting.  Kind of putting my efforts into lifting the song and the other musicians on it.

Everybody loves talking about gear. How do you achieve your “fat” sound?

I just tinker till it’s fat lol.  Right now solid-state amps have been helping me get there a little quicker than tube amps.  That’s why I have been using the Bergantino Forté HP2 –  Otherwise I have to say the cliche because it is true…. It’s in the hands.  

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that you’d like
to explore on the bass.

I like to think of myself as a pretty catchy bass player.  I need to ask my bandmates to confirm!  But I think when improvising and writing bass parts I always am trying to sneak little earworms into the music.   I want to explore 5-string more!

Who are your influences?

I can’t not mention James Jamerson.  Where would any of us be if it wasn’t for him?  A lesser-known bassist who had a huge effect on me is Ben Kenney.  He is the second bassist in the band Incubus and his playing on the Crow Left the Murder album completely opened me up to the type of bass playing I aspire towards.  When I first started playing I was really just listening to a lot of virtuosic bassists.  I was loving that but I couldn’t see myself realistically playing like that.  It wasn’t from a place of self-doubt I just deep down knew that wasn’t me.  Ben has no problem shredding but I was struck by how much he would influence the song through smaller movements and reharmonizing underneath the band.  His playing isn’t really in your face but from within the music, he could move mountains.   That’s how I want to play.    

What was the first bass you had? Do you still have it?

A MIM Fender Jazz and I do still have it.  It’s in my studio as we speak.  I rarely use it these days but I would never get rid of it.  


(Every bass player’s favorite part of an interview and a read!) Tell us about
your favorite bass or basses. 🙂

I guess I would need to say that MIM Jazz bass even though I don’t play it much.  I feel connected to that one.  Otherwise, I have been playing lots of great amazing basses through the years.  I have a Serek that I always have with me on the road (shout out Jake).   Also have a 70’s Mustang that 8 times out of 10 times is what I use on recordings.  Otherwise, I am always switching it up.  I find that after a while the road I just cycle basses in and out.  Even if I cycle out a P bass for another P bass.  

What led you to Bergantino Audio Systems?

My friend and former roommate Edison is a monster bassist and he would gig with a cab of yours all the time years ago.  Then when I was shopping for a solid state amp the Bergantino Forté HP2 kept popping up.  Then I saw Justin Meldal Johnsen using it on tour with St. Vincent and I thought alright I’ll give it a try!

Can you share a little bit with us about your experience with the Bergantino
forte HP amplifier? I know you had this out on tour in 2023 and I am pretty
certain the forte HP has been to more countries than I have.

It has been great!   I had been touring with a 70’s SVT which was great but from room to room, it was a little inconsistent.  I really was picky with the type of power that we had on stage.  After a while, I thought maybe it is time to just retire this to the studio.  So I got that Forte because I had heard that it isn’t too far of a leap from a tube amp tone-wise.  Plus I knew our crew would be much happier loading a small solid state amp over against the 60 lbs of SVT.  It has sounded great and has really remained pretty much the same from night to night.  Sometimes I catch myself hitting the bright switch depending on the room and occasionally I will use the drive on it.

You have recently added the new Berg NXT410-C speaker cabinet to your
arsenal. Thoughts so far?

It has sounded great in the studio.  I haven’t gotten a chance to take it on the road with us but I am excited to put it through the paces!

You have been touring like a madman all over the world for the past few
years. Any touring advice for other musicians/bass players? And can I go to Dublin, Ireland with you all??

Exercise!  That’s probably the number one thing I can say.  Exercise is what keeps me sane on the road and helps me regulate the ups and downs of it.  Please come to Dublin! I can put you on the guest list! 

It’s a cool story on how the Mt. Joy band has grown so quickly! Tell us
more about Mt. Joy, how it started, where the name comes from, who the
members are and a little bit about this great group?

Our singer and guitarist knew each other in high school and have made music together off and on since.  Once they both found themselves living in LA they decided to record a couple songs and put out a Craigslist ad looking for a bassist.  At the time I had just moved to LA and was looking for anyone to play with.  We linked up and we recorded what would become the first Mt. Joy songs in my house with my friend Caleb producing.  Caleb has since produced our third album and is working on our fourth with us now. Once those songs came out we needed to form a full band to be able to do live shows.  I knew our drummer from gigging around LA and a mutual friend of all of us recommended Jackie.  From then on we’ve been on the road and in the studio.  Even through Covid.

Describe the music style of Mt. Joy for me.

Folk Rock with Jam influences

What are your favorite songs to perform?

Always changing but right now it is ‘Let Loose’

What else do you love to do besides bass?

Exercise!

I always throw in a question about food. What is your favorite food?

I love a good chocolate croissant.

Follow Michael Byrnes:
Instagram: @mikeyblaster

Follow Mt. Joy Band:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mtjoyband
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mtjoyband

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Bass Videos

Artist Update With Mark Egan, Cross Currents

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Artist Update With Mark Egan, Cross Currents

I am sure many of you are very familiar with Mark Egan as we have been following him and his music for many years now. The last time we chatted was in 2020.

Mark teamed up with drummer Shawn Pelton and guitarist Shane Theriot to produce a new album, “Cross Currents” released on March 8th, 2024. I have been listening to this album in its entirety and it is simply superb (See my review).

Now, I am excited to hear about this project from Mark himself and share this conversation with our bass community in Bass Musician Magazine.

Photo courtesy of Mark Egan

Visit Online:

markegan.com
markegan.bandcamp.com
Apple Music
Amazon Music

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Bass Videos

Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

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Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

Bassist Adam Sullivan…

Hailing from Minnesota since 2012, By the Thousands has produced some serious Technical Metal/Deathcore music. Following their recent EP “The Decent”s release, I have the great opportunity to chat with bassist Adam Sullivan.

Join me as we hear about Adam’s musical Journey, his Influences, how he gets his sound, and the band’s plans for the future

Photo, Laura Baker

Follow On Social

IG &FB @bythethousands
YTB @BytheThousands

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Features

Gear News: Bergantino Welcomes Marc Brownstein to Their Family of Artists

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bassist marc browstein

Bergantino Welcomes Marc Brownstein to Their Family of Artists

Bergantino Shares: The innovative bassist/sonic explorer/DJ Marc Brownstein discusses his life of touring with Disco Biscuits, the current tour with the new album “Revolution in Motion, and more!

By Holly Bergantino

Marc Brownstein is the king of “Trance-Fusion” – a subgenre that his band Disco Biscuits has been in the center of for the past two decades. As a founding member of the band from their days at UPenn, Marc has quite the experience under his belt, and each tour has gotten more and more exciting. Disco Biscuits is currently on tour with their new album Revolution in Motion, a full multimedia experience accompanied by a 25-minute animated film that tells a story of intergalactic travelers finding their way on Earth. 

D. J. Brownie! What made you want to be a musician and start playing bass and who drew you to it? 

I was drawn to music after John Lennon was assassinated. I was raised in NYC and the city was just going crazy. I was 7 years old at the time and my thought was, wow why is everyone freaking out so much, this guy must be really special. And so I started to check the Beatles out and that was the beginning of my journey with music.  

A question from one of your fans and fellow bass players Karina Rykman: “How do you keep your bubble of positivity intact and thriving”?

Well it’s funny she should ask. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the run of positivity we are experiencing now began right at the beginning of tour at the beginning of January 2023 when we had Karina opening for us for a week. I can say that her positive energy on tour definitely left its mark on the rest of our tour. Some people are so naturally happy and positive that it leaves you feeling that way, sometimes permanently! 

Besides the bass guitar, what other instruments do you play? 

I dabble with piano, guitar, and I can make my way around a drum kit if I get into it for a few weeks. I’ve played flute and saxophone as well at different times. I also play the double bass. But I would say Piano is my second instrument at this point. I play everyday. 

What is your favorite (and least favorite) thing about touring? 

The best part of touring is the 4 hours on stage with the band. But also getting to visit so many great places all of the time. That’s the silver lining.  The only thing I don’t love about touring is missing my family. 

Tell us about your first music teacher. What lesson did you learn from this person and still use today? 

My first music teacher, Mrs. Koslov, 2nd grade, I just was at her funeral a few weeks ago. I eventually became best friends with Mrs Koslov’s son and we stayed in touch for my whole life. She taught me a lot but really she was the one who gave me the courage to perform. My first public performance ever was a piano version of Eleanor Rigby. 

What was the first bass you had? 

This is tough. I think I had a standard Ibanez jazz style bass first. Within a year or two I got an American Fender Jazz bass. 

What are the basses you have and use now? 

My main bass is an Elrick 5 string by Rob Elrick. I also have a Q5 Modulus and an Alembic 5 as well. Oteil (Burbridge) sent me a Roscoe custom 6 during the Pandemic that I like to play. I also have a Sire Marcus Miller, a newer American Fender Jazz bass, a custom Ibanez SDGR, an Ibanez BTB and an Elrick 5 string Fretless bass which is my main bass at home. 

Who were the musicians who inspired you and what qualities do you admire about them? 

I was deeply influenced by Phish when I discovered them in college. I admired their ability to mesh jazz, classical and rock Improvisational styles. I was very inspired by classic jazz musicians. Miles. Monk. Coltrane. Dexter Gordon. Cannonball Adderly. Mingus. This is the generation of musicians that laid the groundwork for what we do now. 

You studied and started the band Disco Biscuits at UPenn. Tell us more about the origins. 

The band just sort of linked up in the quad (dormitory) and we started to set up our gear and jam for fun. Within a short time I realized the guys I was playing with were really talented and so I applied to the New School for jazz and went and spent a year crash coursing music at a high level so I could return to Penn and start a band with them. 

You have a new album “Revolution in Motion,” that you’re currently touring on. How is it going? 

The tour has been amazing. It’s one of the best tours we ever had in our career. We sold out more than half of the shows and are receiving really great feedback across the country. 

I watched the video on YT for Revolution in Motion. The Choreography, production, color, cartoon characters, and theme were so much fun. Space aliens and psychedelic art, pop ups like a comic book, and you in your alien jump suit with your baseball cap were amazing. Loved! How was this collaborated?  

We have a co-writer on this project named Joey friedman. He conceived of the concept for the album and he had a very specific vision for what the visuals would look like. He spent hours and hours with the animators (Blunt Action) and the AI animator (Todd Kushnir) working through each iteration to make it come to life in the way that it was conceived. 

How would you describe the music you create for Disco Biscuits? 

We always hoped that the music we created would be the weirdest and craziest music of all time but we describe it as Trance-Fusion, which was a name that was drawn from jazz-fusion, the mixing of jazz with rock and roll instruments. We found our own sound by mixing trance music with rock and roll instruments, hence the genre title. It was renamed jamtronica many years later by the folks over at SiriusXM who started a radio show called the Jamtronica show to highlight acts from our scene. I was the host of that show for the first 3 years. 

Describe the creative process when you write new music. 

These days the creative process is a team effort. Usually we start by combing through improvisational sections of music from the tours to see if we can find any melodies or chord structures that are song worthy. When we find it we bring it into our DAW (ableton) and creating a grid. This is easy for us because we often play to a time clock on stage. From there we start building out the structures of the new piece of music while Joey and maybe me or Aron or Jon will start working on some lyrical concepts. Within an hour or two we start to record some of these initial lyrics and melodies and Jon usually starts to adapt them and tweak them to make them comfortable for him to sing. Usually within a few hours we are able to walk away with a very advanced demo of a new song. It’s been an extremely fruitful experience that has left us with albums worth of the best material we’ve had in decades. 

The lighting for your shows is amazing. Who does the lighting design work and choreography for the tours? 

Our new LD is known as Herm, but his name is Alex. We know him as Herm though. He came to us from the band Twiddle at the beginning of this year and has totally revitalized the visual elements of the stage show. He’s a really great fit and we feel grateful to have been linked up with such a massive talent. It was luck and timing and some might call it fate. 

How would your bandmates describe you? 

My bandmates would probably describe me as energetic and talkative and headstrong but also they might notice that I’ve become really good at going with the flow and backing their creative instincts. They may further describe me as anxious and nervous but may also notice that these elements have been remediated of recent. Mostly I think they would describe me as loyal and dedicated. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio systems? 

I was first introduced to it by Ed Grasmeyer who I know as Mike Gordon’s tech in Burlington. I was playing a show at Nectars and needed a backline and Ed came and set me up with the ForteHP2 and I was blown away by the tone. I then noticed Karina Rykman was using Bergantino as well and that’s when I started to think I needed to get in contact with the company. Karina was opening for the Biscuits on Boston and that’s where I had the chance to demo the forte hp2 in the context of the biscuits stage show. I haven’t looked back since that night. 

Tell us about your experience with the Forté HP2 on the tour? 

There are so many things that I can say about it but the most notable is that I’m not struggling to hear the frequencies that I want to hear on stage anymore. I used to have to boost the bass everywhere. In an EQ pedal, on the preamp on the actual bass. But every time you add a little of those low frequencies in those other places you risk degrading the tone of the signal. With the Forte HP2 there is a punch button that gives me exactly the frequency I’m looking for. 100 hz. 4 db. It’s perfect. 

Did you think Jim talked too much when you met him in Boston? 

I will never notice when someone talks too much because chances are I’m out talking them. 

What’s your process for dealing with performance anxiety? 

I used to self-medicate for this purpose but I was recently in touch with a psychiatrist who has helped me regulate my own chemical imbalances and I have found that my performance anxiety isn’t really an issue when I have the proper amount of dopamine in the system! 

Imagine that you’re at a party and it’s a little stale. What’s the “party trick” (or hidden talent) that you’d bust out to liven the place up? 

Before the app existed I was known as a real life fruit ninja. I take a big knife and people throw fruit from across the room and I chop it in half in mid-air. It’s not the safest party trick anymore because I lost vision in my right eye a few years ago and I’m not as accurate as I used to be! 

What hobbies do you have outside of music? 

I love sports. I love reading. I love word games. I love gardening. I love hiking/running/moving. My biggest hobby was snowboarding for many years but I’ve grown injury prone and stay off the mountain these days. 

What is the most trouble you ever got into? 

Well, I managed to stay out of trouble until college. But before weed was legalized I had a series of run-ins with the law and spent a night in the clink in Amherst Mass during my freshman year fraternity pledge trip. Luckily this isn’t an issue anymore for those of us who don’t drink or smoke cigarettes but prefer a little of the wacky tabacky to cool down. 

What is the message you would give to your fans? 

Well I give them so many messages all the time but the most important one that I try to remember to keep constant is a message of gratitude. Thank you so much for sticking with us through thick and thin, through ups and downs, for decades now you have allowed us to live our dreams and have the most blessed lives possible. 

How do you feel social media has impacted your music? 

Social media is a double edged sword. It has allowed us to create a strong community where everyone feels like a family but for someone like me who gets addicted to things easily, I really have to be vigilant with practice and writing and other aspects of my life not to spend the whole day scrolling and wasting the time away. 

What is your favorite song of all time? 

Right now my favorite song of all time is probably a short and beautiful little ditty by Labi Siffre called Bless the Telephone. I would suggest everyone take the 1:29 to listen to it and feel the bliss. 

What did I miss for a question that you would like to share? 

Bass players don’t really get to play solo shows, at least not my style of bass, so I’ve had to learn how to DJ in order to perform by myself at times and I would suggest coming out to see a DJ Brownie show at some point. 

Last one! Describe your perfect meal! 

I love to eat great meals. I’m partial to Asian foods but the perfect meal to me is one slice of pizza from Freddie and Peppers on 72nd and Amsterdam in NYC. PERFECTION. 

Follow Marc Brownstein:
Instagram: @marcbrownstein
X (formerly Twitter): @marc_brownstein
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marcbrownstein4
www.discobiscuits.com

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