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Assorted questions and meditations ...

Discussion in 'Ask Mike Watt [Archived]' started by FretGrinder, Mar 14, 2003.

  1. From: David Lee <david@maxco.com.au>
    Date: Fri Mar 14, 2003 6:15:40 PM Australia/Sydney
    To: mike watt

    Heya Mike,

    my name's David Lee.

    i didnt really know about you till i saw you supporting the Fog here at the Sydney metro, and i immediately thought to myself "****. that guy's pretty crazed!" ... i don't think i'd ever seen a bass player spitting foam and playing a million notes at the same time.

    Anyway, that was pretty cool, and I found your big Bottom Pow Wow CD second hand .. made more sense the second time around, and some good offbeat observations there, and some killer playing.

    Right now I'm reading 'our band could be your life', and looking forward to the minutemen bit ... and finding a couple of albums. Got a lot of leads to follow up on at the moment for inspirational bass stuff, and I'm really hooking into playing of the thing, like i should (have been).

    So I'm self-taught, like i suppose you were too to begin with ... and like you i didn't really know about the bass much before I got myself in to a band. A guitarist friend said, "wanna play bass," and i said ... "well, i got no inborn talent for the thing, don't even really know what it's supposed to do, but i learn stuff pretty fast. Sure." ... it's been five years with the band now, and it's defined a good part of who i am.

    I'm only just now starting to find stuff i really like thats actually got a lot going on. I sorta came from a rock / artwank / post-punk kinda background in music, and really dug (still dig) a really simple, driving bass thats a repetitious counterpoint to what else is going on ... and I've had the (excellent) guitarists in my band expect a sort of martyrlike simplicity to prop up their fancy **** from day one .

    Anyway now I'm realising there are still a lot of places to go that Im excited about, that are gonna challenge me technically as well as musically. I play pick and fingers, and now I'm even working on my slap form just for giggles. And practicing more than i have - starting to notice real improvements, and it's enough to keep me going.

    My traditional way of 'practicing' by myself has been to just sorta .. **** around i guess. I'm not one of the guys who learn their instrument by copping other people's stuff (which would have been probably a faster way to get good) or diving neck-deep into theory. I just noodle, make **** up, forget it ... though i'm trying to get more focused, and more out of my practice these days ...

    So my questions for you Mike are, as a self-taught (presumably) bassist of great technical ability and musicality (and i've always attached more weight to the latter there):

    - what are the ways you've found to practice, and push your envelope, which did the most for you ?
    - how do you, if you do, incorporate theory into your playing. What place does theory have in the way you've learned to play, and what importance do you attach to it ?
    - what are some things you find helpful in writing lines, or approaches? What technology do you use (4 track, etc) and how do you use it?
    - any other observations you wanna share?

    'scuse the barrage, I expect you'll answer as you see fit and skip the things you're sick of answering ...

    David Lee
  2. ok then, let me ask an opinion youre less likely to have answered a thousand times ..

    I play bass in a band with 2 really dense guitars - dense in terms of both sound (hollowbody jazz guitars with a lot of bottom and thickness) and musicality (lots of thick chords and arpeggiations, generally way busy and interesting). The songs usually come from the guitarists' bedrooms to the band, where we write our parts.

    I have the difficult responsibility of trying not to overcomplicate an already complicated space, but just fill it out and hold it down. Within that, somehow, i have to try to find room for my own expression and whatnot....

    So does the esteemed M Watt, or other cats reading, have any observations or advice on how to do this? Like i mentioned earlier, a repetitive bassline that's sorta running counter to the other stuff going on, that's one way and it can work really well .. any other ideas?

  3. by the way dude, I've got a lot of respect for your playing, your various ethics and your involvement in this community. Reading about the minutemen and the climate you guys had happening with the other bands, this tight circle of guys all digging each others music ... i'm kinda jealous, because we really don't have that.

    We have that within the band when it's good, and we have a couple of friendly bands, but we can't really point to many local (Sydney) bands and say "here are some cats that we're perfect to play with on a bill" or, "wow, this great band thinks we're great too. Lets drink up and piss in each others pockets" ... could be something to do with our clannishness and music and on-stage reserve making us look snooty .. i guess we should probably try to come out of our shells more and 'network' actively ..

    ah look at me rant ... mmm . to much coffee .

    - D
  4. watt

    watt the man in the van w/a bass in his hand Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2001
    san pedro, california

    you mention the guitars but not the drums. one job for the bass is to glue the drums to the guitars so I would work w/the drummer alone and get parts going tight w/him. counterpoint w/the guitar can work but I think it should be still relative of what the drummer's got going - like w/joe in fugazi. then the guitars turn into more like textures rather than competition. it's hard to cut through two guitarists w/a bass - hardly any holes to play! mesh w/the drummer!

    on bass, watt

  5. i gotta agree with watt. you have to lock up with the drummer most importantly. with my band my bass lines dont really take shape until i hear what the drummer is putting down. if i'm just coming up with stuff with the guitarists in the band i'll have my melody stated but rythmically i'll wait to hear what the drummer is gonna do w/it. you gotta keep it locked with the man on the kit!


  6. watt

    watt the man in the van w/a bass in his hand Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2001
    san pedro, california

    that's my thinking too. you still have plenty of chances to be creative though. good luck!

    on bass, watt

  7. totally. as a matter of fact i think it allows you more room to stretch out and be creative b/c you arent locked into just "root-noting" what the guitarist is doing. gotta grab those chances to color outside of the lines whenever u can!

  8. watt

    watt the man in the van w/a bass in his hand Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2001
    san pedro, california

    grab the chance but remember to aid and abet too!

    on bass, watt

  9. bassguild


    Jun 27, 2003
    use the broom to sweep up the little nuggets that slip away through the holes in the guitars. you got alot of power in that little broom and when done well it can make all the difference in gluing everything together (to borrow a term from watt). luckily i play in a trio so i can really stretch around the drums to highlight the geetar. try to listen to some "denser" bands like old chicago or zappa andn definitely some coltrane to see how their ideas worked..sometimes they do and sometimes they don't, but thats what's great about music..what works for you might not work for someone else but there's enough people to appreciate all of it...

    good luck,
  10. watt

    watt the man in the van w/a bass in his hand Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2001
    san pedro, california

    good thoughts here:

    "what works for you might not work for someone else..."

    that's where the art of creativity and personal vision comes in! essential!

    on bass, watt


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