Archive for the Bass players Category

Charlie Haden (1937 – 2014) – A True Legend Has Left Us

Posted in Bass players on July 11, 2014 by Héctor Rodríguez

I just found out about the passing of legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Don’t expect a superbly-written article. I just felt like saying a few things about him.

Charlie Haden was – no, IS – one of my greatest inspirations. Here was a musician who didn’t have astounding technique, who didn’t play a million notes per second, or employ wild changes in time signatures to show how clever he was. He just played from the heart.

His work with Ornette Coleman was a revelation, groundbreaking. Among the many, MANY albums he played on, there’s one with living legend Pat Metheny called “Beyond The Missouri Sky” which is a timeless gem.

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Charlie could play only two notes, but man! Those two notes can make a grown man cry. I sure have.

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I managed to see him in concert once. Unfortunately, it was at the Heineken Jazzfest in Puerto Rico, and the bill that night was mostly hot latin jazz. And there was Charlie Haden, playing his understated, subtle music at an outdoor festival to a crowd who’d had maybe too many beers. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have if it had been in a concert hall, but it was still magical.

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Thank you, Charlie, for the great music. For the inspiration to try to say more with less. For the desire to dig deeper. For enabling me to appreciate subtlety, grace, and poise.

May your legacy live on for as long as there are humans on this Earth, and maybe even beyond that.

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Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny

 

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The Singing Bass: Lloyd Goldstein’s Path of Self-Improvement And Service

Posted in Bass players, Florida (Local Artists) with tags , , on April 24, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

I first met Mr. Lloyd Goldstein at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa about five years ago.  Every so often, the church has what they call a “Music Sunday,” in which the service basically becomes an open mic for all those musically inclined to stand up and perform. At one of these, I performed an original song of mine, death metal growling vocals and all. Mr. Goldstein had performed a beautiful piece on his upright bass minutes earlier, and he was sitting a couple of feet from me in the front row. Performing my crazy stuff in front of such an educated, advanced musician made me nervous. I fully expected him to strongly dislike my song, to put it nicely. To my surprise, he sought me out afterwards to offer unsolicited compliments about my performance.

That’s the kind of person he is.

He’s extremely open-minded, extremely kind, extremely giving, and extremely supportive.  Extremes  can often be a negative, but when it comes to those attributes, the more the better, right?

But there’s a quality that he seems to have maybe a little too much of: humility. After watching him perform several times, and listening to Singing Tree: Folk Music With a Classical Twist (the fantastic album he made with hammered dulcimer player Ray Belanger), I was a bit shocked at certain things he said during the interview. For example, when asked if he’s doing other projects, he replied that he never felt he had the skills to join any other projects. He also referred to his joining the Florida Orchestra as a “miracle or a semi-fluke.”  My jaw felt like dropping, but I think I managed to avoid that. Here is a musician who performs with grace and fluidity, gets a glowing, rich sound that very few ever manage to coax out of their instruments, and he’s taking the time to point out everything that’s wrong about his playing. Too humble? I’d say so.

Lloyd has been volunteering at The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa since 2005, offering the gift of music to all those who could certainly use it to uplift their spirits, and/or take their minds away from their difficult situation.  He played in The Florida Orchestra for 21 years,  in the Fort Lauderdale Symphony, and has taught at the University of Tampa. He’s also an avid practitioner of yoga, and has published a book of meditations called Inside Yoga: The Gift of Practice.

I sat down with Lloyd at a nice little coffee shop in Tampa. He speaks in a very calm tone, but I could feel the simmering passion underneath. The fact that his answers were often very extensive, digressing as he felt necessary to clarify certain details,  also made it clear that he’s immersed in a journey of constant self-improvement, both as a person, and as a musician.

His bass playing is somewhat like the way he speaks. It doesn’t jump at you. It merely offers itself gently, but those who listen closely can feel the burning passion that permeates it.

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How did you get  started in music?

I was in the third grade, when one day they brought in stringed instruments into the classroom, and right away I was interested in the bass for some reason.  I don’t really know why.

I had half-hour lessons with the violin teacher in the school starting in third grade, up until fifth grade. I played all through school. She didn’t really know how to play the bass. And unfortunately, from then until the age of 20 I never owned a bass or had any lessons. It was just kind of about being around music and the orchestra. The love of it seeped in, but at the age of 20 I had to start from scratch.

What did you do then?

I had kind of a “burning bush” experience. I had not been playing for a couple of years, and I had dropped out of college. I was living in a cooperative community for a few months. One day I cut my finger on a table saw. In that moment, I literally heard a voice saying, “you idiot, you’ll never play the bass again.” It was the only time in my life that I’d heard a voice inside that was so…definitive.

I immediately called my father (we’d been estranged for a while), and I told him I wanted to seriously pursue the study of the string bass. He said, “I don’t care what you do, as long as you put one foot in front of the other and walk  straight.”

That was really the true beginning of music for me.

How did the idea and concept of Singing Tree come about?

I met Ray at the Moffitt Cancer Center. I had been working there for a while, as had he. Someone there said, “You guys should try playing together.” So, we said, “ok.” Then we stumbled our way through a song. Everyone realized that it was a really unique sound, something very special. We decided, basically on the spot, to start getting together to work on music. I always knew that, in addition to doing my solo work, I wanted to do a collaboration with somebody. Not a big band – either a duo, or a trio. And that was the answer. It’s been six years now.

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What’s the song selection process like?

Many of the song selections come from Ray. He has a long history in the folk music world. There’s a huge repertoire of songs that he’s played over the years. He brings a lot of that folk history to the table, and I bring my classical background.  So, a lot of the arranging ideas come from my quarter.

We’ve done three of my original compositions. In creating more and more repertoire for myself at Moffitt, I sometimes come across interesting choices. I want to do “This Little Light of Mine” with Ray, which is a bit of a departure. I also want to do the prelude to Bach’s first cello suite, and I want to write an accompaniment for Ray.

Do you have plans to engage in other musical projects aside from Singing Tree?

I never felt that I had the skills to jump into projects. There’s people out there involved in ten different projects and such. Each of our arrangements takes about six to eight weeks of weekly practice. First of all, to come up with the arrangement, and then to teach it to each other, etc., to refine it to the point where we can perform it.  There’s a lot of time invested in this, so I don’t generally venture into other things. We always have several songs lined up to work on. And then, I’m always working on new repertoire for Moffitt, which is my main job, playing solo arrangements. And those are a lot of work, and you always need more of them.

So, the answer is probably not. [Laughs] At least not in the immediate future. But, as my skills grow – especially my improvisational skills – then I might feel more comfortable branching out.

But, there is one project that I was asked to participate to which I said yes. There’s a gentleman that has been named the best mountain dulcimer player in the world. He asked me to participate in his upcoming solo CD.  That’s the one project that I’m going to bend over backwards to be a part of, if he follows through on his offer.

Describe your listening preferences.

My favorite listening experience is NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. It’s a series of concerts recorded at NPR studios with just one microphone – very up-close and personal. There’s a concert with [cellist] Yo Yo Ma, [double bassist] Edgar Meyer, [mandolinist] Chris Thile, and [violinist] Stuart Duncan. They made a CD called The Goat Rodeo Sessions.  It’s just kick-ass, acoustic, virtuoso, crossover, folk, jazzy…all these things woven together. That’s really been my biggest inspiration as of late.

For a while after I left the orchestra, I didn’t listen to a lot of classical music. But recently, I’ve begun to listen to the local classical music station. It’s so refreshing to hear a good orchestral recording. I go to see the Florida Orchestra occasionally. That music is extraordinary. I really think that most of my ideas and the way I feel about music were molded by that music. So, now I revisit it often.

But, to be honest with you, I’m open to almost anything if it’s good. Like Duke Ellington famously said: “There’s only two kinds of music: good and bad.”  Anyone who’s being creative and honest. Even if it’s very basic, but if it comes from the heart, then I enjoy it.

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Lloyd bass

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Walk me through the path that led you to the Moffitt Cancer Center.

It wasn’t quite the “burning bush” experience that I mentioned earlier with the bass. But, it was similar.  Yoga practice was a big thing for me around the same time that I started re-doing my bass technique based on François Rabbath’s,  which was around 14 years ago.  I credit yoga practice with giving me the openness and freedom to make those changes, without letting myself get in the way.  As any experienced musician will tell you, you have to be willing to not be good and make mistakes for a while. And yoga enabled me to remain present enough to do that.

The idea to go to Moffit came out of the meditations I’d do at the end of each yoga practice. I would listen inside for some kind of message from myself to myself. I kept hearing “go do some volunteer work” for over a year. I finally listened to it, and Moffit seemed like a great choice. So, I went over, and I was told I’d be allowed to play in lobbies and waiting rooms, but not at the bedside of patients unless I was certified. I was surprised to hear that there even was a program called “Arts in Medicine” there.

So, I decided to get my feet wet and started playing in the areas they allowed me to. But, eventually I decided to look into the training, which I completed.  One thing led to another, and now I’m actually a staff member there.

It’s the best work I’ve ever done, and I feel blessed to be there. It’s the most inspiring thing.

Could you explain what a certified music practitioner is?

That’s a term that was coined by a particular organization, which was trying to create a training program so that people could do more consistent, appropriate work in hospitals, but not as a music therapist. With music therapy, the practitioner is actually trying to elicit certain responses and outcomes from a patient.

What I do is much less specialized, and it has no expectations of clinical outcomes.  I just offer the gift of appropriate music to a person who is in a challenging situation. Working at a cancer facility, just a cancer diagnosis can cause a tremendous amount of stress. The music that we offer can provide a few moments of relaxation or distraction. Maybe a connection to the outside world which they might’ve lost, or just remembering times that they’ve had in the past.

Music has a powerful effect on a person’s entire mind, body, and spirit. The big deal about being a music practitioner is knowing how to choose appropriate music in the moment to have it be a gift, rather than an invasion of a person’s experience. We’re trained to allow the recipient of the music to be always in control of the situation. They can always say “no” at any time. It’s all about serving them. That’s the big difference it has with a performance on stage – you’re providing a service first and foremost. You’re offering a gift, and hopefully that becomes a bridge to that person having some sort of release from what’s bothering them.

When I play for someone, and I see them with a frown, and then I look up and their eyes are sparkling, they’re forgetting where they are and enjoying it – that’s huge.

Tell us what it was like to study with celebrated bassist and educator François Rabbath.

He’s a very kind man, and not elitist at all. He never discounts anyone. I was not gifted. I was just a moderately talented person. When I first played for him, I played a Vivaldi sonata. And he said, “Well, you have some music in you, but it’s not coming out because you must change…” and then he listed a few things I needed to change. And that was all he said to me, and then moved on to the next person.

When I saw him play at that first workshop, I couldn’t believe it. It was the way I dreamed the bass could be played, but I’d never heard it played that way. And I had to have that. So, I started bothering him, and all the other teachers there. I spent a whole year after that trying to achieve that sound, but I didn’t have a lot of guidance. So then I went back the second year, and I bothered him. He suggested a couple of adjustments, and said, “try that.” But I kept pulling at his coattails, and he said, “I can’t give you the time that you need here. If you want this, you have to come to Paris.”

So, I did. I went five times, two weeks each time to get lessons with him. After the fifth year, he said, “Don’t come back. You have enough to work on. By the way, go get your wife pregnant, because there’s more to life than playing the bass.” At first, I was disappointed, but then I saw him again that summer in Washington, D.C. at a workshop. I was doing performances which included yoga, recitation, and playing some of my own pieces on bass. Rabbath was in the front row, and afterwards, he said, “You see! You played for one hour! I cut, and you grow!” He took credit for cutting me off and making me think for myself. He’s been really supportive ever since. He’s been very interested in my work at Moffitt.

I got one of the biggest thrills of my life this past winter. I called him on the phone – which I’d never done – and I told him I had performed one of his pieces at Moffitt. I told him I had played it a little differently because the patient was very physically uncomfortable. I explained to him what I did with the piece, and he said, “That’s great, you’re putting the color on it” – la palette sonore he called it. Then he said, “By the way, have I given you your diploma yet?” And I said, “No, I never thought I’d get one of those in this lifetime.”  The people that get these diplomas are the big names, the ones that are a big deal in the music world. So, my wife and I went to Paris, and I received my performance diploma, and my teaching diploma.

When he saw me and Ray perform a while ago,  he said to me, “You must keep him.”

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Lloyd and Ray Warming Up at the Springs

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Aside from Rabbath, who are your other major musical inspirations?

Lucas Drew was my main teacher in college. He’s a wonderful musician, and a sweet person. He was the right person for me, because I wasn’t a quick study, and he was very patient and supportive. He was very musical, and he’d share that musicality with me.

He wasn’t spoon-feeding me technique. He allowed each person to play whatever came naturally to them.

When I got my Bachelor’s, Lucas knew I wasn’t ready to survive. So, he came up with an apprenticeship for me, and kept me for a master’s degree. Right at the end of that is when I was able to get into the [Florida] Orchestra. I consider that kind of a miracle or semi-fluke.

There were two other teachers earlier that were both extraordinary. Mik Groninger was a maniac, a wild man. He was teaching at a community college, and I was his only bass student. He was such a virtuoso. The first thing he told me was, “There’s no excuse for faulty intonation.”

Then there was Vince Cantorski. He was the next step. I got a scholarship to FIU (Florida International University), so I went. He helped me get a job in the Fort Lauderdale Symphony, which helped me to quit my job as a security guard.  I used to practice all the time, on the job. I was a terrible security guard.

Each of these people were hugely influential and encouraging to me.

Has your study and practice of yoga influenced your musical self in practical ways? If so, how?

Yoga connects you with more of who you are. A lot of the time, we’re using small parts of ourselves, and often in a disconnected fashion. Yoga means integration. We forget that we have deeper sensibilities, and that it’s all connected. When you do yoga on a regular basis, you’re using more of your faculties, more fully. So, you’re able to be more focused, more open. All these things are huge assets in making music. Because of that openness and integration, I was able to improve my technique following Rabbath’s method. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do so if it wasn’t for yoga.

I still meditate before each concert, trying to be really present. I’ve slacked off on it a little in recent years. But, I can feel myself getting older at the age of 56. I can feel the limitations in range of motion when I don’t keep up with my yoga practice.

You have such a full, rich sound on the bass. Have you had any musical/technical epiphanies that have helped you achieve that sound?

Part of it is the instrument, I have to give credit to it. It’s never stood in my way or let me down. It has a beautiful, rich, multi-layered sound. I also have been fortunate to acquire a really good bow. I think I’ve been spoiled by this instrument.

I’ve put so much emphasis in sound production, it’s been a constant exploration for me. Rabbath calls it “tone research.” A day doesn’t go by in which I don’t do some sort of tone research. Evaluating what’s happening with my sound in all aspects, etc.

I’ve had to place more emphasis on my left hand recently. Rabbath placed emphasis on the bow, so I focused on the right hand. I still feel like I have light years to go with my left hand technique.

But that thought would never cross the mind of anyone who ever watched Lloyd Goldstein play live or listened to him on the Singing Tree album. 

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Visit http://singingtreeduo.com  and http://lloydgoldstein.com  for more information, and to buy the album! I highly recommend it, to say the least.

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Naysayers Be Gone! We Want To Hear The Clatter of Molds Being Broken!

Posted in Bands, Bass players, Interviews with tags , , on January 27, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

“You can’t play rock without guitar!” The members of Clatter have heard that probably more times than they care to count. It’s unfortunate that in the world of music there appears to be so much resistance to new ideas sometimes.
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Clatter is a duo from Lone Elm, Missouri comprised of bassist and singer Amy Humphrey, and her drumming husband Joe Hayes.  But, that wasn’t always the case. They started out as a band called Clatter Bean in the mid 1990’s, which was a quartet. The singer left, and they started performing as a trio, shortening the band’s name to Clatter.  And then, the guitarist split. The idea of forging ahead as a bass/drums duo then entered the picture.  With  encouragement from Joe, a somewhat hesitant Amy finally agreed to be the sole melodic/harmonic element in the band. And so began the quest to make the bass stand on its own in a rock context.
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They have encountered many naysayers (not surprisingly, many of them guitarists) which have told them that you just can’t do rock music without guitar, or at least a keyboard. One would think that, since music is an art form, musicians would be more open to experimentation, to breaking those overused pre-determined molds. After all, if you take even a casual look at the major developments in the history of music, you will find that most are the result of composers and musicians challenging the so-called “rules.”
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Their latest album, Garden of Whatever,  consolidates the path laid out by their previous two releases.  Full-bodied and hard rocking bass grooves, Amy’s sweet-toned voice delivering empowering lyrics, and Joe’s dexterous and seemingly inexhaustibly creative drumming make for quite a unique listening experience. If you go through the whole album and your only thought is  “it needs guitar,” then you’re quite simply missing the point, and missing out on the Clatter experience.
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The band’s a duo, and they’re a married couple. So, even though I’ve had some brilliant ideas in my lifetime, deciding to interview both Amy and Joe is not one of them.  It was simply an obvious choice.
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Joe and Amy from Clatter

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What did the name ‘Clatter Bean’ mean, and why did you drop the second half of the name?

AMY: When we lived in Seattle, I played bass in an all-female band. We were in that phase of band evolution where we had to decide what to call ourselves. One day, Joe and I were driving somewhere and the name “Clatter” just fell out of the sky into my brain (incidentally, this is how a lot of my lyric writing happens). As a linguist, I loved the way the word felt when it was spoken, and that it conjured up a great sonic image. My bandmates, however, thought the name needed a little something extra, so they chose to add the “Bean” part. I can’t really recall the reasoning behind it; I suppose it added a certain quirkiness that reflected the personality of the band. Eventually Joe became the drummer, and when we parted ways with the other two band members, we decided to lose the “Bean” as well.

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What gave you the idea of playing as a duo? And once that idea entered your mind, was it ever scary for you guys to contemplate that uniquely different path that lay before you?

AMY: It was terrifying. For me, anyway. Once we moved to rural Missouri from Seattle, we found a fabulous local guitar player and continued on as Clatter. Eventually he moved on and we were left with just the two of us. Miles from anywhere. Joe proposed that we give it a go as a two-piece; he had tried for ages to get me to play through a guitar rig just to hear what it sounded like. It took a lot of encouragement and arm-twisting by Joe to convince me that I could shoulder the melodic portion of the band single-handedly. It wasn’t that I didn’t think the bass could stand alone as the only melodic instrument in a band, it was that I didn’t have faith enough in my own playing and songwriting that I thought I could pull it off. Once we finally took that leap, though, I realized how fun and freeing it was to be able to play anything I wanted – and as much as I wanted – without stepping on anyone else’s toes. And Joe is such an amazing drummer and has such a melodic approach to the drums that it’s like having another stringed instrument in the band. We decided to record an album (Blinded by Vision) just for our own gratification; we were shocked when so many people embraced it, especially bass players! That gave us the courage to continue.

JOE: When we played with guitar players, often times they would want to double Amy’s parts, because they were so cool. So I thought “Hey, if we just run the bass through a guitar cab we’ll sound like a three piece.”

I never found the path to two piecedom to be very scary, I thought it was exciting. After parting ways with our last bandmate, we felt it was time to forge ahead with just the two of us. It can be really difficult to find musicians who have the same vision as you do. Amy and I are in sync, and maybe even more so than other bandmates we’ve ever had because we’re married. We complement each other on so many levels, and that naturally flows into the interaction of the bass and drums. We are a unified section. So I figured that we should just forge ahead as a two piece, and that would create more harmony in the band.  Of course, it seems that everyone we told about the project said you can’t have a band with just bass and drums, you need guitar or keyboard. This happened repeatedly until we started to believe what we were being told. So we spent a lot of time working with a keyboard and sequencing layered melody lines, which ultimately relegated us to the role of being the “rhythm section,” much more so than any band we’d been in, which was the antithesis of what we had intended. I think that experience was necessary to help us forge ahead to create the sound we had in our collective heads, and not listen to what anyone else thought. And that’s why the first album is called “Blinded By Vision.” We stopped listening to what other people thought and pursued our idea relentlessly – including walking out of two studios and firing a grammy-winning producer, who wanted to layer in a bunch of sequencer stuff because we didn’t have a guitarist. Hell yeah, we were driven by pure idealism, and Amy almost clocked a guy…that was a sight I shan’t forget. Driving away from that experience we realized that we were blinded by our own vision, and others were blinded from seeing it. It also meant that people couldn’t grasp the concept of what we had in mind. It was all we could see, and they couldn’t see it at all.

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Amy

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Amy, here’s a quote by you: “Because that’s what it’s all about–trying to show that the bass can stand on its own as an instrument.” How strongly does that ‘mission statement’ of sorts figure in your musical endeavors?

AMY: As I mentioned before, I never doubted that the bass could stand alone as the primary focus in a rock band. Having grown up listening to a lot of bands with busy bass lines, especially in the New Wave era, I have always felt that the bass guitar is one of the most beautiful-sounding instruments. I thought it would be so cool to really let that beauty shine in a setting where it is usually relegated to the background: hard rock. Once I finally committed to the two-piece band idea, I knew I had a big responsibility to demonstrate that the bass guitar can stand on its own. I tried to think of ways to showcase the unique and powerful sound of the bass, to magnify and diversify its tonal qualities and blend these together for a full, cohesive sound. Multiple amps, effects units, playing styles…all these combined to help establish the bass as a melodic instrument in its own right and to try to fill in the space normally occupied by other band members. Of course, what I do is just a tiny example of what is possible, and my “mission statement” would probably include not only my efforts to show the versatility of the bass, but even more, to encourage and inspire other bassists to explore all the possibilities of our amazing instrument and to have the intrepidity to try something completely new and different. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a supportive, encouraging bandmate!

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Can you tell us about the worst naysayer you ever had insisting that you couldn’t play rock without guitar? How did you handle it?

JOE: There have been comments from guitarists and drummers who think in terms of traditional roles for instruments: bass and drums are rhythm instruments to be in the background. We seem to appeal to more adventurous souls. We know it’s not for everyone, and really don’t get bothered by that attitude. Heck, we made the first album just to do it. We didn’t have any idea if people would like it.

AMY: I never really know quite how to respond to people when they say things like that. There doesn’t seem much point in trying to convince someone to “get” what you’re doing; either it will resonate with them or it won’t. Most of the time I think I just smile politely and back away.

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Joe, do you ever hum out or actually play bass riffs as suggestions for Amy to use in the songs?

JOE: I used to do that in the long, long ago, in the before times when the world was a dark place full of guitars and crazy bandmates. But after the purgatory of the sequencer years, when Amy plugged into a mighty distorted cabinet and found her new voice as THE stringed instrument in the band, I’ve had one “bass line” idea, and that’s the synth stuff I play on the song Powerful, which I never intended to be a part for Amy to play. Anytime Amy noodles on her bass I think it’s a new song idea. She comes up with the coolest stuff.

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Amy, do you ever alter a bass part or a vocal melody in order to be able to perform them both simultaneously?

AMY: I haven’t done so knowingly. I usually don’t have much trouble singing and playing at the same time. If there is a phrase I have trouble with, I will just practice it until I can play and sing both parts properly. I’ve never actually tried to simultaneously sing and play “Trance” from the new album; I think that one could be pretty tricky!

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Amy and Joe live

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On the band bio it says that you worked a lot on your singing. Could you elaborate on that?

AMY: I’ve never really thought of myself as a singer; I’ve always been a bassist first and a singer by default. What’s funny about that is I’ve had a lot of vocal training and zero bass training. My vocal background, though, is more choral and technical, and I have come to realize that that has hindered me as a pop/rock singer. Until recently, I always focused on the technical aspects as I was singing: pitch, vibrato, tone, breath support, etc. I knew I was singing “correctly,” and yet I was constantly criticized for the way I sing, and I found it very frustrating.

I have a fantastic vocal coach out of Boston who explained that when it comes time to record or perform, all those technical nuances need to happen automatically, without thought; the focus needs to be on the meaning of the words, the intention of the song; little mistakes or imperfections are important clues to the listener that the singing is genuine and heart-felt. As self-evident as that may seem, it was a big revelation to me. So when I say I worked on my singing, in some ways, I worked at not working on my singing. As I was recording the vocals for Garden of Whatever I tried to let go of years of constant scrutinizing and analyzing and just put everything into the emotion of the lyric. Listening back, I’m really happy with my progress and am looking forward to continuing to improve that aspect of my musicality.

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On your website, you only list two influences: Rush and Duran Duran. I have a hard time believing there’s only two! Care to share a few more of your influences?

JOE: I have a background of listening to some proggy stuff, metal and some punk. Amy listened to lots of heavy rhythmic pop, alternative / underground and punk. The first summer we were dating, Amy took me to see DOA and I took her to see Iron Maiden. We had a blast at both shows, and became mutual fans immediately. We still rip into “Killers” by Iron Maiden once in a while in the studio. Our latest mutual influence would definitely be Mastodon, with their amazing combination of heavy and melodic. Their new album The Hunter has great harmonies and the coolest grooves. When we put those influences together we get Clatter.

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On your latest album, I’ve noticed more vocal and bass overdubs, and perhaps for the first time some additional sounds beyond those made by bass, drums, or voice. The songs “Strawberry Park,” “At the Gates of…” and “Trance” come to mind, among others. How did these come about, and how do you plan on recreating that live?

AMY: As far as vocal harmonies go, I probably did as much on this album as on the other two; I have absolutely no restraint when it comes to layering harmonies! The extra vocal parts are the one thing that we fly in for our live performances, since Joe doesn’t sing and probably wouldn’t want to tackle something in my range anyway. Since we play to a click track live, we’re able to trigger anything we want, but most of the time it’s just background vocals.

There are only three songs that had bass overdubs: the little ska-like bit at the beginning and middle of “Tree of Secrets”; the outro in “Glowing”; and the middle and end of “Downstream”.  If we were to play “Tree of Secrets” or “Glowing” live, I’d just not worry about recreating those additional parts. The extra parts on “Downstream” were actually written with the looper in mind so that I could play one phrase, loop it, then play the other phrases over the top. The rest of the bass on the album was recorded as one take. If given half a chance, I would go crazy in the recording process layering all manner of bass parts on the songs, but my goal has always been to only record what I could recreate live.

JOE: The songsStrawberry Park,” Powerful” andTrance” all feature melodic parts played on my Roland SPD 20 Electronic Percussion Pad. I’d been messing around attempting to play melody lines on the percussion pad while also playing a drum beat on the acoustic set, and these song ideas just started popping out. I wrote the gist of those parts spontaneously as I was banging around on my drums. I run the signal through a Boss Distortion pedal to give the parts some bite. Sonically it reminds me of what Keane do with their electric piano.

I recorded the electronic parts for “Powerful” and “Trance” live with the drum set. For “Strawberry Park,”  I recorded the drum set first, then layered the electronics as an overdub. Ironically, Strawberry Park”  is the only one of those song we’ve played live so far. It’s actually very natural to play, with the exception of the first half of the bridge, which took me weeks to get together. It was a fun challenge! Plus, it’s cool to play the bass part on parts of Powerful,”  while Amy plays chords on one of her Waterstone twelve-string basses.

“At The Gates Of…” features one of our mixers, Rich Veltrop, playing a Roland SH-101. I thought it would be fun to have some kind of vintage synth sounds on that song, kind of an homage to 70’s prog music, and Rich went nuts with it. I sent him a breakdown of the song sections, as I see them, and he did a fantastic job of interpretation. I think it came out perfectly.

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Amy2

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The song “At the Gates of…” is an instrumental. Would you ever do an entirely instrumental album?

JOE: I could see us doing another instrumental song just for fun, but not a whole album. I really enjoy writing lyrics, and am always eager to hear what Amy will come up with next for her lyrics. She has such a great style of writing- it’s so picturesque. Even if we ran out of lyrics, I’d still want to hear Amy “Ooh” and “Ahh” over the music.

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Joe, I noticed that on the new album you’re credited with electronic percussion for the first time. Could you elaborate?

JOE: Well, that’s a good question. I’ve played electronic and acoustic percussion on all three albums and the live DVD, Blinded in Boonville, but I don’t know why I decided to list it differently this time. The other albums say just “percussion,” so I figured that was all-encompassing.

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Do you ever jam with other people just for fun, such as going to open blues jams or the like?

AMY: I’m just not a jamming type of player, unfortunately. I don’t have the versatility or training on bass to improvise or wing it when playing with other people spontaneously, and I never really learned more than a couple really obscure cover songs. I have a good ear so can pick things up pretty quickly if need be, but I don’t think I would have much to add to an open jam.

JOE: I used to love jamming, and would get together with anyone I could. I also spent hours jamming with different guitarists from bands I was in over the years. Just two guys playing non stop, one idea melding into the next. Looking back, I think that was due to a mutual need to break out of the confines of our defined roles in those bands. As for blues jams, I’ve only played at one. I got on stage with a bass player friend, and we sat in with a keyboardist, a vocalist, and five or six guitar players: yes, they all did solos. I never went back…

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Joe and Amy

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Do you see yourselves ever participating in other projects, perhaps with more conventional instrumentation, whether together or separately?

AMY: I enjoy working with other musicians from time to time and have contributed bass tracks to friends’ projects, which was fun. I recorded a vocal album of traditional Christmas carols with my mom and sister several years ago and would enjoy doing something similar with them again. I even performed in a locally written and produced musical, including out-of-town shows. Even though the internet facilitates musical collaborations to some extent, the fact that we live so far from anywhere makes it difficult for us to explore other musical projects. The advantage to that, of course, is that it forces us to be more creative and try new things with just the two of us.

JOE: At the moment that is an area I’m considering with a very long pole. The idea of playing with other people isn’t really all that appealing, as I get to express myself without restraint in Clatter. There are no rules and anything goes. That being said, if a situation presented itself that would be a fun challenge (and offer another revenue stream) I would consider it.

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My most important question of all is this: Vinyl, CDs, or downloads?

AMY: Definitely downloads. I always enjoyed the photos and artwork on vinyl albums in my youth, but now I appreciate the portability and accessibility of a digital music library. Any lack of fidelity in the digital realm is lost on me anyway because I tend to listen to music in noisy environments, especially the car. And physical copies just occupy so much space and require storage!

JOE: Definitely downloads. I’d just as soon download music – with proper compensation to the artist – than have to mess with a disc. We sold our entire collection of CDs a few year ago, because once we loaded the music into our computer library we just didn’t use the discs. Well, I couldn’t part with my Judas Priest Painkiller CD, but that’s a completely different deal.

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P.S.  I want to thank Amy and Joe for inspiring me in pursuing a similar path.  When I started writing songs in 2009, the idea of a guitar-less line-up crossed my mind, but I was a bit hesitant.  After all, my songs are more in the heavy metal realm, which is even more guitar-driven.  But when I heard Clatter, the sky opened up. Their bravery and originality emboldened me, and I haven’t looked back.

Clatter Garden of Whatever

Clatter on the web:

Band website:  Clatter.com

Facebook:  CLICK HERE

Twitter: CLICK HERE

Bandcamp: CLICK HERE

Forget Not The Bass: Cygnus Establishes a Strong Presence in Ne Obliviscaris

Posted in Bass players, International, Interviews with tags , , on January 20, 2013 by Héctor Rodríguez

Every so often (but less and less frequently as time goes by), I come across music that is truly Earth-shattering. Music  so unique, so powerful, so brilliant that as I listen, I feel like time has stopped, and I have entered another dimension. This happened recently when I discovered a band from Australia called Ne Obliviscaris.

Formed in 2003, Ne Obliviscaris (Latin for “lest we forget” or “forget not”)  incorporates influences as varied as death and black metal, flamenco, and jazz.  Their line-up includes the dual guitars of Matt Klavins and Benjamin Baret,  the harsh vocals of Xenoyr, and the dynamic drumming of Dan Presland – all elements which are the bread and butter of extreme metal. But it also includes the clean vocals and violin playing of Tim Charles, and the endlessly creative bass lines of  Cygnus, Brendan Brown.

It would be easy for the average bassist to become a mere footnote in a band like this. The sheer intensity and complexity of the music, and the strong musical personalities involved  turn the idea of  fulfilling the bass role convincingly into an overwhelming proposition.  To say that Cygnus more than holds his own in such a challenging setting would be a huge understatement. Instead of laying back and playing basic root notes to anchor the swirling kaleidoscopes of sound, he jumps right in, delivering nuanced, elaborate  lines that are so well-crafted that they could almost stand as musical works of their own.

I haven’t had the pleasure of witnessing Ne Obliviscaris live, as they haven’t toured in the United States yet.   Perhaps if more people over here become fans and supporters, we’ll be fortunate enough to receive a visit from them. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the interview, and more importantly,  their music.

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Cygnus 4

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 It’s no secret that your real name is Brendan Brown. Where did the moniker of Cygnus come from and why?

When Ne Obliviscaris were flourishing, we were young and adventurous and there was a point in time we decided we should have stage names such as bands we aspired to like Dimmu Borgir (Shagrath, Vortex etc.)  I chose the name Cygnus from an Alarum song (amazing jazz-metal band from Australia).  A dear friend of mine who is the ex-guitarist in the band wrote a song on their Eventuality record called Cygnus X-1. The name seemed fitting for two reasons:  my love for astronomy and cosmology and that it is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.  NeO dropped the use of using stage names shortly thereafter, but I kept mine as a musical alias, as I wish to release my own bass solo music and simply label it Cygnus.

 Guitarist Matt Klavins said this about you in an interview: “Brendan had once told me that he used to play simple bass lines and then one day everything just clicked and he understood the bass.” Can you elaborate on that? 

Well, music is all patterns. I don’t know a great deal of theory, just some basic principles:  Minor and major arpeggios and scales. The compositions in NeO are very chordal based.  So if the guitarist is playing an E minor chord (which we often do) I realized that I can play the entire E minor scale over that chord and anything I construct will work musically. It’s when I came to that simple realization that a fundamental group of notes can be used to create a pleasant melody over the most basic of chords. Music then became so much easier to express. So a lot of my bass lines incorporate scale runs, high melodies (above the 12th fret) and lots of octave funk/groove work. I always wanted to be a drummer but my mum wouldn’t allow that because of the noise, so she bought me my first bass when I was 14. The rest is history and finger callouses.

The music of Ne Obliviscaris seems to be orchestrated to the last note. Am I correct, or is there any wiggle room on live shows for any of you to alter your parts at least slightly?

The only people in Neo that improvise ever so slightly would be myself and Dan our drummer. Obviously it’s impossible to hit every single cymbal the same way it was hit on the recording (there were more cymbals and extra toms on the album as Dan put everything he had to make up a mammoth kit in the studio.) I would not improvise a whole new bass line, but maybe add certain accents or certain styles of playing. For example if I am feeling aggressive on stage I might slap/pop some of the notes to accentuate them where as I did not do that exact technique on the album. I think little tiny things like that work well live. When you are a vocalist you can’t just change lyrics or vocal patterns because everyone will notice! I minimally change specific parts to enhance the music to cut through or just reflect the way I am feeling on stage, most people would not notice. I think it was only once my bass student said after a show “you did some cool runs on the end of that riff.”

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NeO Band

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 The band’s bio says you incorporate influences “from progressive to black, thrash, death and melodic metal, and even western art music, jazz and flamenco.”  Can you name any specific artists that stand out for you and your bandmates as important influences?

We all have very different musical backgrounds, but we all clearly share a love for extreme Metal! There is no argument there. Tim [violin/clean vocals]  has a strict classical upbringing,  but he listens to absolutely everything. He is probably the most open-minded out of all of us. He even appreciates some pop, which is something the other guys don’t feel so strongly about! Xenoyr [harsh vocals]  listens to predominately black metal and I grew up with a brutal death metal background. My heart lies with death metal, I listen to it every day. I love all styles of music; as long as it conveys emotion I will like it.
I can tell in 30 seconds if I like a band or not. I love nonmetal bands such as Sigur Ros, Lamb, Bjork, Aesop Rock, The Gregorian Brothers and Portishead. The list is endless. I know Benji [guitar] has a strong love for flamenco and traditional Gypsy music and bands such as Death and Psycroptic. All these elements and influences are absorbed into the entity that is Ne Obliviscaris. Bands that have influenced us would be Opeth, Emperor, Immortal, Satyricon, and Disillusion to name a few, but our music collections are quite extensive.

Clearly, the band’s music transcends the standard structures of verse/chorus/bridge. Where did the impulse to write such expansive musical pieces come from, and what is the songwriting process like?

It can be challenging at times. We don’t intend to write such lengthy songs,  but once we all have our input the musical journey always seems to be around 10 minutes in length. Often a member will come up with some riffs or bulk of a song in their own time and bring it into the rehearsal room and we all jam it out and discuss repetitions, solos, who takes turns,  whether the vibe feels like harsh vocals or clean vocals or even both! It’s a long process most of the time because there are six entities that all have different opinions and may not all agree on the same thing. There have been times where five members loved a part but one did not, we don’t take majority vote, so the part was changed until all six members are happy. It always works out for the best in the end. We transcribe our songs in Guitar Pro so they are easy for each member to learn and add their parts. I find it a useful tool to create interesting bass lines because I have a terrible memory and I need to write down everything. If something isn’t working I can simply delete and start again. Most of my bass lines come from spontaneity and just playing in the moment. There are infinite possibilities. You have to tap into the right one. Let your heart guide you, and write it down as you’re going.

 On a band with two guitars, two voices, a violin, and a drummer playing such complex compositions, most would expect the bassist to play very simple parts, yet that’s not the case in Ne Obliviscaris.   On the quieter passages, you’re playing a very contrapuntal role, but even on most of the heavier passages, you often do not mimic the guitars, but rather remain in that contrapuntal mindset. In my opinion, the fact that you don’t “dumb it down” when the music gets really heavy gives the somewhat abrupt changes continuity. What are your thoughts on this, and how did that approach come about?

I guess it’s just my style.  I may have a bad memory but I have a chaotic mind! I like busy complex things. My mind is always racing and everything I do in life has some form of complexity about it. When I first picked up the bass all I did was play as fast as I could. It was sloppy, it was chromatic, I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I wanted to make fast, aggressive music. So I did that for years. Over time,  I became more mature and my active mind started slowing down and I began to understand melody and holding back on the bass. I am self-taught and I learned some basic theory, minor and major scales and arpeggios. It opened up a massive doorway. I have always played in death bands where I just follow the guitars note for note. NeO allows me to explore the bass and I love it. Playing with NeO is the best feeling on Earth, and I love how challenging each song can be.

 The band goes from the quietest whispers to aggressive blast beats, which are used rather often in your songs.  Who in the band is the most into extreme metal, or do you all have relatively similar influences?

We all listen to similar bands and are very open minded individuals but we all have genres which we learn towards more. I for one have a huge passion for brutal death metal, where as our vocalist Xen leans towards raw black metal. But we all listen to similar bands such as Cynic, Emperor, Katatonia, and Opeth – the list goes on. We regularly show each other bands we have discovered. A band some of the guys are into lately is called Thank You Scientist. They are far from metal. They can be described as technical groovy funk. They also have a violinist and are phenomenal players. I can’t get enough!

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Cygnus 2

  Describe your gear, and please elaborate on your preference for headless bass guitars.

At the moment I use the Eden Navigator WP100 World Tour Class Bass Preamp, Matrix 800 Power amp, Fractal Axe FX Ultra guitar Preamp, Furman PL-8CE Power Conditioner all inside one rack (so I don’t have a separate unit for guitar and bass, I keep it all together for convenience.)  I run it through an Eden XST 4OHM cab for bass or a Mesa 4×12 cab for guitar.

I prefer headless instruments. I like the visual aspect of it. I feel it gives you a creative edge and something to be remembered by. I could not tell you the amount of times I hear people say “Oh you’re that guy that plays the headless bass.”  I was first introduced to Steinberger guitars by  Alarum guitarist Mark Evans. Not only is he one of the best guitarists in Australia, but having this guitar just made him rise above the rest. It was something I could not get out of my mind since I was 16 and first saw them perform their incredible metal-jazz fusion. I bought a Steinberger bass and recorded the demo and album with that. Now I use a custom made Status m2 headless mahogany bass with gold hardware and a graphite neck.  It’s my dream instrument and I could not play any other bass. I have 9 guitars and basses of different varieties. Two 8 string Agile guitars and a 5 string custom Belman fretless bass to name a few.

 I hear you doing chords sometimes, and tapping. How do you pick your spots? Do you gravitate towards certain chord shapes or voicings?

That would all come from the heart. A good musician must know when to not overplay. When I am shown a riff I learn the root notes to get my positioning on the fret board and from there I hear piano-like melodies that enhance the melodies that are already present. I just play these lines on the bass, if there is something that isn’t working we will communicate it, but it is rare as we all trust each other’s judgment. Obviously I would not do a bass solo under a violin solo, so I will hold back and keep it direct and interesting until the time is right. Generally I find bassists that play very simple bass lines are just musicians that aren’t very skilled or creative. It’s not that the part always requires one simple long drawn out root note; it’s that they can’t think of anything else to play or they’re just following the basic root of the guitar chord which does not enhance the music at all.  It’s a shame because there is unlimited potential there and I don’t believe the bass is there to be a simple backseat instrument. In old Funk and R&B music the bass often takes the forefront with quite complex, chromatic walking bass lines, dead notes and running arpeggios and extremely interesting pulses. I draw a lot of inspiration from those players even though I don’t necessarily like those genres.  I believe that the best use of bass I have ever heard is Spiral Architect’s A Sceptic’s Universe, and Cynic’s  Focus. They are by far my biggest inspirations and still to this day I cannot understand how they came up with those bass lines. They inspire me daily and forever will.

 On one of the videos in which you appear doing bass tracks at the studio, your bass is shown to have a curious pin attached to the strap. It’s a guitar pick crossed out, as if to say ‘No picks allowed.’ Is that just purely in jest, or do you in fact feel very strongly against using a pick to play bass?

I got that badge when I bought an Ebow (an electronic sustain device).  I don’t play with a pick and never will, I am against picks on bass. In my opinion if you play with a pick because you like the “sound it creates” – well, you can use your fingers to sound like a plectrum by angling your nails onto the string. People who play bass with plectrums are guitarists in my eyes, or just plain lazy. Every bass player I look up to plays with their fingers. Although an honorable mention would be my friend Cameron Grant from Psycroptic. He plays with a plectrum but I respect him because he keeps up with their guitarist Joe with some of most blistering fast and complex guitar riffs I have ever seen.  So I forgive him. (Laughs)

 On an interview with vocalist Xenoyr he mentioned that the band changed drummers at one point (from Dan Presland to Nelson Barnes), then went back to Dan.   How was that transition for you, and are there any noticeable differences in their styles?

The band was on hiatus for almost 2 years, with [guitarist] Benji’s Visa problems and personal issues in the band, money, and loss of loved ones etc.  It was a very tough time for all and Dan is someone who has a huge drive and must keep busy whether it be drumming or working. He lost interest in the band because it seemed we were going nowhere and he decided it would be best to step aside and focus on other things. It was very hard to deal with as we believe he is one of the best metal drummers out there, and there is a big shortage of phenomenal drummers. Our dear friend Nelson put his hand up to try out and claim the throne. He did a fantastic job. He really understands the drum kit. He learned the entire album in a couple of months. However, Australia is a very big place and Nelson had to fly down from Brisbane to Melbourne for every rehearsal and gig. It was just not a viable option, but it was the only option we had and did not want to delay the release of the album as we had already been waiting two years. We toured Australia for the Portal of I  album launch and went back to our jobs. We discussed the future of the band, if this is a long term commitment or if it would be best to part ways with Nelson due to the distance between states. NeO need to rehearse weekly to write such intricate music and there was no way we could fly Nelson down weekly,  or even fortnightly at best so we approached Dan again. We informed him that the band was back up and running and we have been touring and playing in front of large audiences and his interest was ignited.  Dan is now a permanent member of NeO again and we could not be happier as he is family to us and so easy to work with. He is the human metronome. As for Nelson, he is busy with his own band The Schoenberg Automaton and they have just released their debut album Vela. It will put Australia on the map because it is absolutely groundbreaking technical metal. They will be huge!

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Cygnus 1

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You mentioned earlier that you intended to do a solo project. Can you please elaborate on that, and if you’re involved in any other projects outside Ne Obliviscaris?

I am in a few projects. There was a point in time I was in 3 full-time bands at once: Aphotic Dawn, Primordial Space and NeO. Aphotic Dawn is no longer around, they also featured Dan Presland on drums. We supported Morbid Angel and Kataklysm but did not release anything. I stepped aside from Primordial Space to focus more on NeO and my other projects. It was a hard decision because I love that band so much and have been part of it for 6 years. We rehearsed regularly but did not get anywhere – just a handful of gigs, no official releases. The band is still together and features Benji from Neo on lead guitar.

As of now NeO is my main focus and always will be. I play in a band called Vipassi with Dan on drums, and Ben from A Million Dead Birds Laughing on guitar. He is an absolute genius, and although the band is moving very slowly, once it hits the live circuit I think people will be quite surprised. It’s definitely the most challenging work I have been involved in. It can be described as a mix of Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega and Gorguts.

And lastly,  I have been working on a solo death metal project called Infinite Density for the last 4 years. I have 22 songs and have been recording them at home over and over,  getting better at producing,  but I am a finally at a stage where I am happy with my guitar playing and producing abilities and will release a demo/EP containing 8 tracks this year.  So keep an eye out and follow me at www.facebook.com/infinitedensity.

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NeO Portal of I

Check out Ne Obliviscaris on the web:

https://www.facebook.com/NeObliviscarisBand

https://twitter.com/NeObliviscaris_

More Than a Bass Wizard: The Restless Creativity of Oz.

Posted in Bass players, Interviews with tags , , , on December 15, 2012 by Héctor Rodríguez

Overwhelming. Terrifying. Exhilarating. Mind-bending.  If you had to verbally describe a live performance by extreme metal band Prophecy Z14,  it’s almost certain that you’d use some of those words, or some of their synonyms.  Formed in 2008 under the initial moniker of Algorithm in Melbourne, Florida, the band plays music that’s as furious as it is complex. Seven-string guitarists Tommy Marshall and Dan Cannon (who also handles lead vocals) deliver heavily distorted,  pounding riffs that both mesmerize you with their complexity, and pummel you silly with their utter savagery. Drummer Damien Elder’s dexterous yet hard-hitting attack behind the drumkit is like a freight train gone off the rails, brutally carving its own path, but still able to  retain almost-metronomic precision. And underneath it all, the truly astounding 7-string bass virtuosity of a man known simply as Oz.

Their show at the Brass Mug in Tampa was nothing short of stellar. I went right up to the front of the stage, literally inches from Mr. Oz, and I just could not believe what I was witnessing. He was masterfully employing a vast array of techniques, many of them still unorthodox in the death metal realm. If you’re a bass player, his speed, dexterity, and sheer stamina might either make you want to practice more, or quit playing altogether.

Oz is a true connoisseur of music, and appears to be a huge bass geek.  He dropped so many names I had to edit a few out just to avoid feeling like you’re reading a directory of bass greats, instead of an interview.  He’s got so many favorite bass players, I stopped counting!

Some of his musings on metal,  his apparent indecision regarding how many strings his bass should have, his love of both extremely complex and extremely simple music and his struggle to express both in his playing might make him look like a conflicted person. This is not a negative, by any means, but rather the sign of a restlessly creative soul which seeks total freedom of expression. The creative mind itself has no such limits. Those limits are inherent qualities of the physical and conceptual vehicles used to deliver what an artist’s creativity conceives. Musical genres and the number of strings on a bass guitar are simply elements to contend with in the journey toward self-expression.

And, as the saying goes, the greatest art comes from conflict.

Oz

What does the “Z14” in Prophecy Z14 stand for?

It’s [Bible chapter] Zacharias 14. Either Damian and/or Justin came up with that name. It’s based off of that, but they’re not religious whatsoever. Everybody in the band is atheist, except for me.  I’m a deist, and I’m a Freemason and Esotericist.

Are Dan and Damien the only original members of Prophecy Z14?

Damien [current drummer] and a guitarist by the name of Justin, who’s with the Marines, were the founding members.  He’s not in the band anymore, Tommy Marshall replaced him. I met him once, he wrote some of the material, and I wrote bass lines for it.  He’s an awesome guy.

How did you join the band?

I came from California. I lived in Las Vegas for about 4 years. After that I moved to San Diego for about 2 years. I played in a band there called In Perfect Agony. It was more thrash-based.  Before that, I was playing more jazz-type stuff. I was playing in a rock band called Stocklan in Boston. I’ve played all kinds of styles.

When I came here [to FL], it was just to visit my parents. I was going to go back to Vegas. But my parents had some health issues, and issues with their house,  and I decided to help them. So, I decided to stay in Florida. I looked on craigslist, and I saw a death metal band with 7-string guitar players looking for a bass player. So, I thought, “Hey, I play 7-string bass.” So, I called Dan Cannon, the singer.

I sent him some of my own recordings, which are more jazz-oriented, and some solo stuff. He liked it. So, they asked me to come down. I ended up joining and writing bass lines for their songs.

Is there a main songwriter in the band, or is it a completely democratic process?

It’s very democratic. At first, the main songwriter was Justin. Even though he’s no longer in the band, he wrote a good portion of the material we still play. Dan wrote some of the songs, too. My job is similar to Obscura’s bass player. They wanted something a little different. Counterpoint, using more of a Bach-type thing. I play a lot of chords, which you saw me play tonight. Jeff Hughell from Brain Drill [now with Six Feet Under] and Dan Hauser from Veil of Maya play 7-string basses, they’re both amazing players.  But, there aren’t really that many 7-string players in metal.

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What inspired you to become a musician?

My father’s a piano player. I grew up listening to Bach, Vivaldi, Rachmaninoff and such.  Mostly piano music. My dad wanted me to play piano, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to play electric guitar. Then my uncle brought me a bass. I went, “What’s this?  I don’t want a bass, I want a guitar.” My father basically slapped me upside the head and told me, “You take what you’re given. It’s a gift.” So, that’s how I started playing bass.

My biggest inspiration on bass is Sting. That’s why I started playing bass. Him and Paul McCartney.

Sting’s style is extremely simple compared to the music you play.

Yes, but he’s an amazing musician. He’s a real bass player, because he plays upright, and is jazz-trained. He’s a real musician.

You can do all this flashy stuff on the bass, but a real musician can do the vocals, and do everything. It’s the whole package. That’s what makes Sting and McCartney so incredible, and among the best bass players in the world.

What led you to the 7-string bass guitar?

My first bass instructor was Beaver Felton, who inspired me big time. He was the one that inspired me to get into chordal theory and the tapping stuff. I don’t do much tapping anymore, because it seems everybody’s doing it. So, I try to do more chords. I try to take the Jeff Berlin approach. He’s probably my favorite bass player, even though he probably wouldn’t be into what I do, because he doesn’t like multi-string basses  from what I’ve seen. But yeah, Beaver Felton, and Wally Voss were huge inspirations on my approach.

So, it was basically your desire to explore more chordal possibilities that led you down the extended range path.

Yeah. The whole chordal stuff started with the piano. So, I wanted that spectrum of being able to do more chords.

I practiced certain Czerny and Hannon piano exercises with each finger for speed and agility.

Did you play on all the songs that are currently posted on the band’s websites?

Yes, I played on all that stuff.

Tommy Marshall (guitar) is the Guitar Pro genius. He tabs everything out. So, when it comes to working on the music, I sit down with him.

Can you give me a rundown of all the techniques you use?

I use Matthew Garrison’s and Gary Willis’ style. I use my thumb, index and middle finger for the chordal stuff, sometimes throwing in the ring finger. If I’m playing hypersonic, super-fast chordal picking style, kind of like Béla Fleck, I use a banjo technique – the forward roll/backward roll, which was taught to me by a banjo player who I used to work for. I’m very grateful to him for that. I use it on the song “Fragments.”

I also use the Alex Webster/John Myung/Steve DiGiorgio technique of plucking with three fingers. On the super-fast stuff I throw in the fourth finger, similar to Stephan [Fimmers] from Necrophagist. I don’t use the four-finger technique very much. When I solo, I use two fingers, very similar to Stanley Clarke. On the song “Diplomatic Breakdown,” which is really fast, I use that technique, in which I angle my hand over the strings, like Stanley, to pick really fast. I can hit 280bpm with two fingers. I try to use all my fingers, I don’t play with a pick.  Nothing against that, though.

I saw you using a technique in which you basically rotate your wrist back and forth really fast, and it looks like you’re hitting the string as it moves in either direction: with your thumb, and with the side of your third or fourth finger.

I do a weird slap, similar to the Victor Wooten double-thumping. On the song “Letting Go” I’m using that technique to play sliding double-stops. I’m using the thumb to hit the lowest strings, and my third and fourth fingers to hit the chords above. I’m just trying to be original.

When creating your bass lines, how do you decide when to add something “extra,” and when to stick to following the guitar riff as is?

It depends on the song, and what the drummer’s doing. I’m trying to follow the drums more, and hold back a little bit. Death metal is getting to the point where you have to have the separation between the guitars and the bass. I double the guitars on certain parts, but I chord over a lot of stuff. I have to do a lot of muting, it’s pretty hard. And, a lot of extended-range bassists have a scrunchie over the headstock, but I don’t use that. So, I use a lot of left hand muting with the tips of my fingers. People complain that I don’t move around much onstage, I’m like, “Dude, I’m trying to focus! It’s very hard, man!”  When I first got the 7-string, I almost sent it back, it was so intimidating. And yet, I’m thinking of getting an 8-string, like the bass player from Borknagar, who plays an 8-string fretless.

Prophecy band

Do you think going lower (in pitch) is always heavier? Or do you think it’s possible to play brutally heavy and complex music on a 4-string using standard tuning?

Yes, it is. It would take a lot of creativity. Billy Sheehan plays a four, and he could play circles around most death metal bass players, because he’s the master! Sheehan to me is the bible of death metal bass.

Even though he’s never played death metal, to my knowledge.

Well, he could definitely play death metal. He might have to do some gear adjustments and such, but he definitely could.

Here’s something that really bothers me, as a bass player myself: When I go to rock or metal  live shows – big or small – I often can’t hear the bass very well, if at all. Even tonight, I was standing inches from you, your rig was directly ahead of me, and I had trouble hearing you most of the time. The guitars and drums were drowning you out almost entirely.  Thoughts?

This is a major point of contention I have with metal, and one of the major reasons I didn’t want to play metal. One of the reasons I didn’t play metal for years was because the bass is drowned out. On the CD you can year it very well, though. I love the Brass Mug, and I don’t mean to say anything bad about them. But, there’s other venues I’ve played at in which my bass cuts right through.

I could easily turn my bass rig up. I have 1,800 watts of power. I could turn it up to 4 and it would blow up the room. I did turn up a little a bit later in the show, because people were telling me to, they said they couldn’t hear me. I don’t really like to do that, though.

When you’re playing metal, you’re dealing with a lot of distortion, usually two guitars, so the bass gets left behind. Unless you really, really fight for your frequencies. I did with this band. I told them I wouldn’t join unless my bass is heard.

I have a love/hate relationship with metal. I love it, but then it becomes just drums and guitar.

Describe your gear.

If you hear my bass, there’s a lot of midrange frequencies. The gear I use is SWR. I use 2 SM 900 watt heads and two 4×10 goliath speakers. I also use a Sonic Maximizer, a Boss rackmount stereo chorus unit, and a Rockman stereo chorus unit, as well as a Dunlop switchless wah pedal for solos, and a specially modified by Analog Man, Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer.

My bass was designed by Fred Bolton, who owns Bee Basses. I was playing Modulus Quantum 6-strings. I love the graphite necks. So, I called Fred. He mentioned a bassist by the name of Edo Castro. He’s an amazing bass player who was playing the original prototype which became the basis for my bass. I talked to Edo, and he was really nice, and he recommended the bass. Mine has a different wood configuration. I went with a bloodwood top and fretboard. It’s a very heavy bass. It has Delano pickups, with an 18-volt preamp.

I use D’Addario Pro Steels strings, I have a partial endorsement with them. I hope D’Addario reads this, because I’m upset with them. Please make a wound .20 (high F) string! That’s what I use, but I have to get that one string from S.I.T.  So, I buy a 6-string set from D’Addario, and then have to buy that extra string from S.I.T.

PROPHECY Z14

What is the most non-metal music in your collection?

That would probably be [flamenco/world music acoustic guitar duo] Strunz & Farah.

What are Prophecy Z14’s short- and long-term goals?

Our goal is to get a big following in Europe and South America. Those seem to be the big markets for death metal. America right now seems to be kind of bleh. Unless you’re playing Ozzfest and all that.

If I ever stopped playing death metal, I’d probably go back to playing Latin Jazz. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. Or, I might end up playing country…it pays well.

You won’t need your 7-string to play country music, I think.

Listen to this: I had a big audition at the Bellagio a while back.  I brought a 6-string bass to the audition. There were about 10 other bass players, all four-stringers. I did some bass solo stuff, because they asked me to show them what I could do. The guitarist and drummer loved me, but the singer did not, so I didn’t get the gig. The lesson is this: If you really want a gig, do NOT bring your extended-range bass.

I love the technical stuff, but I also want to capture the dynamics, the beauty in a simple piece of music. It’s like I have to live in two worlds, man.

I think, eventually, I’ll probably end up going back to the four string bass. I’m a very spiritual person, and since I like Afro-Cuban and Bossa Nova music so much…

I want to say this, though. A lot of guys tell me how I’m such an amazing bass player, how I shine,  etc. But, if I do shine, it’s because of the musicians I play with. Dan, Tommy, and Damien are probably the best, most technical musicians I’ve ever played with. All three of them are extremely talented.

Prophecy Z14 band pages:

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-Héctor Rodz for Eclectic Listener

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