Bass Frontiers Staff Writer
Where were you born and raised to where you got to where you are today ?
I was born in Melbourne, Australia, but I have lived just north of London, England for most of my life, although I like to get around and see places, travel was a big part of the attraction of being a full time musician for me. I was surrounded by all kinds of different music from birth, my father was a big Joe Pass/Barney Kessel fan and played jazz guitar, my sisters and my brother all learned music formally form a young age, with my brother studying classical guitar at university to quite a high level. Consequently, growing up I used to hear my father’s Oscar Peterson albums, my sister’s late punk and disco records while my brother would be listening to Bach, and meanwhile my mother would have the radio on all day, listening mainly to straight pop stuff.
Being the youngest, I messed about a lot and was never encouraged to take up an instrument, but by the time I was about 15, I’d become an avid listener, so I really wanted to learn to play something. My mother suggested the bass, and reluctantly my father went and bought me a cheap second hand Fender Jazz copy. Years later my mother told me I always used to gravitate to the bass whenever my father had musician friends around to jam.
Incredibly, within about a month of owning a bass, and never having done anything musical before, I met a fantastic session bass player called Martin Elliott – (his long running gig has been for the composer Micheal Nyman, but Martin has also done a lot of different session, TV and theatre work) – who ended up teaching me, very informally, a lot of the necessary working skills, like good technique, reading notation, following chord charts and playing to a metronome. So I was very lucky to get great advice and guidance really early on.
My first playing experiences were with a band of school friends, we played together for a few years and got as far as doing some reasonable support slots, before one of the guys moved away to a socialist commune in Wales and we all went our separate ways.
By this time I’d left school and knew that I wanted to be a full time musician, so I worked various awful jobs, practiced a lot in my spare time and then got in with a local rehearsal and recording studio so as to play with anyone that I could. I remember doing a lot of late night jams and then trying to learn about the recording process in the studio’s downtime.
Eventually, I got into a few different working bands around London, basically playing anything necessary in order to be able to give up the dead end jobs, being able to double on the upright became very useful.
I joined Porcupine Tree in late 1993 for the very first gigs, and it has grown slowly from there. At the time, I certainly had no expectations it would go on to be any kind of success, it was initially just an opportunity to play something musically more interesting than what I was involved with at the time. Porcupine Tree quite early on was doing some large gigs in places like Greece, Italy and Poland, and that interest definitely sustained us and made the long haul possible.
Can you tell us a little bit about your current live release with Porcupine Tree “Octane Twisted” ?
“Octane Twisted” is really a document of the long touring period we undertook to promote the “Incident” album, and as such it has a great live version of the “Incident” song cycle, performed in front of one of our favourite crowds, Chicago. There are as well a few old lesser played fan favourites on the album, like the full length “Even Less” taken from the last gig of the tour, a sold out Royal Albert Hall in London.
Any tour plans in the near future ?
Porcupine Tree is currently in hiatus, but I’ll be playing live a little later this year with Metallic Taste of Blood (my collaboration with Italian musician Eraldo Bernocchi), we’ve just confirmed our first show at the Asymmetry Festival in Wroclaw, Poland.
Just recently, you joined forces with Jon Durant to release “Burnt Belief”. How did you hook up with Jon on this project, and can you enlighten us on the recording process you went through ?
I met Jon a few times whilst touring the US with Porcupine Tree, in 2011 he invited me to work on his album, “Dance of the Shadow Planets” which was recorded live in the studio. I remember sitting on the plane to Boston thinking, why is Jon flying me all the way from the UK to play bass on his album when he lives in a city full of great musicians? We’d met a few times, but had never played together before. However, the whole thing went really well, I understood Jon’s approach immediately, and I found my place in his music quite naturally, we got on really well and the album came together very quickly, with a lot of the finished tracks being first or second takes with minimal overdubs.
Earlier in 2012, Jon told me he’d like have my involvement on his next album, but said he didn’t really have much written or prepared, so I suggested that I do some audio manipulations of his “cloud guitar ” soundscapes to get us started. I worked on creating rhythmic ideas by slicing the audio and feeding it through delays and various filters and then sending them to Jon, who was immediately enthusiastic about what I gave him, so it all flowed from there, with my role naturally growing from being the bass player to being co-leader and co-composer as well.
“Burnt Belief” is in some senses, the total opposite of “Dance of the Shadow Planets” with Jon and I developing the material by exchanging audio files across the Atlantic rather than playing live together, but I would say that the experience we had previously gave us the confidence to know we’d get a good result, as I guess we’d already established the musical chemistry.
Once we had the material fairly solid, we had the input of the amazing Jerry Leake on percussion who really added a lot of warmth and depth to the programmed rhythmic elements, and I got my Ex-Wise Heads partner Geoff Leigh to play some of his intense flute on one track too.
What was the reasoning behind timing this with the end of the Mayan Calendar ?
Outside of music Jon Durant and I both share a fascination with the madness that passes for consensus reality. I had been reading a fascinating book about a 1950’s UFO cult (for anyone interested it’s called “When Prophecy Fails”) and what happened to the believers when a foretold UFO evacuation of the cult followers failed to materialize. Seeing as the Mayan Prophecy has been doing the rounds recently, it seemed appropriate to release the album at the “End of the World”, to coincide with all the people whose belief in the impending apocalypse was going to be shaken when they woke up on December 22nd with their beliefs proved wrong.
If we really think about it, most of us have beliefs that we accept without thinking and perhaps should question a bit more, I am no exception, so it wasn’t meant to poke fun at anyone. Ultimately, “what do you believe and why?” is a question more people should ask themselves, it certainly fascinates and inspires me.
Any other new projects in the works with Ex-Wise Heads or Random Noise Generator or possibly another solo release?
Ex-Wise Heads is still ongoing, Geoff Leigh and I played a few live gigs last year and are slowly working towards another album. Random Noise Generator is on ice, but R.J., the vocalist is a good mate of mine, and has recorded vocals and helped me develop a whole bunch of new solo material, so I am currently getting a plan together to release it in some form later this year. I also have an ongoing project with a couple of fantastic female folk singers from Ukraine who are updating traditional old folk songs from Russia and Ukraine with more contemporary elements. ( NB. you can hear some here: http://astartaedwin.bandcamp.com) I know next to nothing about Eastern European folk music, but it’s fascinating stuff, the songs often conceal odd rhythmic patterns, and I find the harmonies very compelling, so it’s a great thing to be involved in. Jon Durant loved it so much he contributed guitar as soon as he heard it, and Pat Mastelotto has just recorded drum performances on some of the material as well, I am looking to get it finished soon, as we’ve just had an offer to play live as well, we’ll see….
Who has been some of your biggest influences in your music ?
I have a big record collection and enjoy all sorts of music, I had a few lightbulb moments though: John Martyn’s early ’70’s acoustic albums Solid Air and Bless the Weather with Danny Thompson’s beautiful upright bass playing, The Police, post punk band Magazine, my older sisters Sister Sledge albums with Bernard Edwards, Robbie Shakespeare on the Grace Jones albums, hearing Me’Shell N’Degeocello and then discovering the raw and funky Gnawa music of North Africa whilst travelling around Morocco. I also absorbed a lot of the unique and expressive fretless bass playing of both Mick Karn and Percy Jones, two completely original voices.
I’ve always considered it important to listen to a really wide variety of things, and I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious, but I get a lot of inspiration outside of music. It’s an abstract thing, but if you imagine transposing some music to another art form, like sculpture or painting, you can see how it might work, or not.
My two other greatest passions are photography and travel, so they are also both important to me as well, and I find cinema as an artform very inspiring, you can learn a lot about space and form from the shots of masterful directors like Francis Ford Coppola.
What gear are you currently using ? Endorsements ?
I’ve been using and endorsing EBS amps and pedals for years, I have a TD650 and also a Fafner II which I use with 4 x 10″ Neodymium cabinets.
I use a Gigrig Pro switching system for my effects, with a collection of EBS pedals: a Multidrive, an Octabass, a Multicomp, a Multichorus, a Dphaser, a Valvedrive. a BassIQ and a Tremolo. I also have an EBS MicroBass II which I use as a DI box and Amp simulator.
I love the Digitech Timebender for delay, and I use a Boss RC-20 Looper sometimes, although I am now going the laptop route with looping, having just bought a Keith McMillen Softstep to use with Mainstage, which I use for Ex-Wise Heads gigs.
As for basses, mainly because of my interest in recording and search for different sounds, I now have a fairly large collection, I have three Wal basses: one fretless, two fretted, three Spector Euro 435LX’s, one of which is modified for downtuning, a USA Spector fretless (which I used all over “Burnt Belief”), a Basslab Soul IV, a Basslab Soul IV fretless with a 35″ scale, a Rob Allen 5 string fretless (my only 5 string), and a Musicman Stealth Bongo. I have great relationships with Wal (who never do endorsements) Basslab and especially Spector, who really look after me.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting a lot with a couple of old Ovation Magnum basses, I have both an active Magnum II, and the earlier passive Ovation Magnum I, both strung with flatwounds. I find the sonic possibilities of the foam mute quite interesting, especially when you play with a pick and use delay effects.
For strings, I’ve been using D’addario’s for a few years and really like them, and I have the support of Hipshot too, most of my basses have been fitted with the D Tuner keys, which I find incredibly useful as I’m really a four string player.
Any advice to share with the readers ?
I remember that more than once I joined bands replacing a previous bassist, and about whom the other band members often said “yeah………(insert name here)….was a great soloist” I used to think, “well, I hope they don’t expect me to solo”, until I realised that in fact they didn’t want anything even resembling a solo, but a solid, supportive low end. Accordingly, I think a good piece of advice to offer is never to feel that playing simple basslines is in any way beneath you, as it’s most often what an ensemble requires, and if you think creatively, you can still add a lot of interest, character and depth without filling up all the space. There’s room for anything in the right context of course, but the bass in most group situations has a big responsibility to glue everything together, and you need to exercise care in stepping too far from that role.
I would also say that for anyone contemplating a musical career, it’s important to realise that very few of us arrive fully formed, and that learning and musical growth is all part of a long process. So it’s important to get out of your bedroom, stop watching youtube and go and play with some real human beings, don’t wait until you are “good enough”, life is too short. You might experience some growing pains in finding your path of course, but there’s no substitute for taking those steps.
What are you currently listening too ?
Burnt Friedman and Jaki Leibezeit – Secret Rhythms 4, fascinating, hypnotic German minimalism with no bass, great to play along with though!
Final thoughts ?
A few other bits of advice I’ve found to be useful: don’t neglect the basics, be prepared, look after your hearing, listen, be open and don’t overplay.