Dismiss Notice

Psst... Ready to join TalkBass and start posting, make new friends, sell your gear, and more?  Register your free account in 30 seconds.

Feature Interview: Steve Lawson (by Max Valentino)

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, Aug 3, 2004.


Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p align="center"><strong><font size="+2">Steve Lawson: Grace and Gratitude </font></strong></p>
    <p align="center"><em><strong>New Solo CD to be Released August 4 2004: <a href="http://www.stevelawson.net">www.stevelawson.net</a> </strong></em></p><p align="center"><strong><em>- Feature Interview for TalkBass.com by Max Valentino - </em></strong></p><p><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/stevelawson/cover.jpg" width="350" height="263" align="left">Solo bass recordings are a hard sell. From a marketing point there seems to be only a small audience for these, and the concept of “solo bass” so challenges the preconceptions of what the instrument is that interest is only left to a few handfuls of other bassists and those particularly inclined to “challenging” music.</p><p>In the whole world there are but a few true “solo-bassists”; those who bravely push the boundaries and concepts of the instrument developing new sounds, techniques (in both performance and composition) and paradigms for the bass guitar.</p><p>Steve Lawson is one of the vanguards of this movement. A player of exceptional clarity, talent and imagination, Steve has been pushing the envelope and altering the definition of bass since the release of his first solo CD, “..and nothing but the bass” in 2000. He followed that with another solo disc, “not dancing for chicken”, in 2002, and demonstrated not only his extraordinary compositional skills, but a virtuosic display of the use of digital looping to arrange and orchestrate his cinematic and lyrical bass works. </p>
     
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p>With these releases, Steve garnered much acclaim as a unique and original voice on the bass. Several heralded tours of the West Coast, an opening slot for a British tour with Level 42, and duets with players such as Michael Manring, percussionist Rick Walker and guitarist/uber-looper Andre LaFosse cemented his reputation as a consummate musician</p> <p>Briefly parting from completely solo works, he released two CDs of duets; 2002's brilliant improvisational collaboration with pianist Jez Carr, “Conversations”, and last years' collaboration with multi-reed player, and fellow loopiest, Theo Travis, “for The Love Of Open Spaces”.</p> <p>Combining composed pieces with freely improvised parts, Steve's music possesses that rare quality of inviting the listener into the music and making their listening experience an integral part of the performance. Blessed with a remarkable sense of melody, wit and imagination, Steve's music, while certainly virtusoic, never succumbs to becoming a mere display of technical prowess.</p> <p>Now Steve moves back to the solo bass work with the release of his new solo disc, “Grace and Gratitude”, which is set for release on August 6,2004, and available through Pillow Mountain Records ( <a href="http://www.pillowmountainrecords.co.uk/">www.pillowmountainrecords.co.uk </a>) as well as through Steve's website, <a href="http://www.stevelawson.net/">www.stevelawson.net </a></p> <p>I spoke with Steve at his home in London about playing solo bass, his ingenious and brilliant work with loops and processing and the new CD.</p> <p><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/stevelawson/lawson2.jpg" width="400" height="300" align="right"></p> <p> <strong>The past year or so has proved to be quite prolific for you. A new bass, new looping tools, several new CD releases and even your own signature line of speaker enclosures from AccuGroove. Care to give us a brief run-down of the past 12 months in your career?</strong></p> <p>Blimey, that's a lot to remember! Well, most of the last 18 months has been focused on collaborations – I'd spent most of the previous three years playing solo, working on the ideas, sounds and approach to playing completely on my own, culminating in a bit of a solo gig frenzy at the end of 2002 into 2003. So from spring 2003 onwards I started to explore the possibilities for more collaborative projects, wondering how my looping and processing ideas would work with other musicians. The list of musicians I was working with included quite a few musicians gigging and working on the UK jazz and improv scene. It resulted in some gigs with vibraphonist Orphy Robinson and my last duo CD with saxophonist Theo Travis, as well as gigs and recordings with pedal steel, voice, piano, keyboards, acoustic and electric guitar, often with me running the other instrumentalist (most of them were duos) into my loop setup. The most valuable aspect of it is that it gave me time to work on textures, atmospheres and sounds while leaving someone else to play the melodies – it seems kind of weird to be a bassist relieved not to have to play the tune!</p> <p>Anyway, the album with Theo came out at the tail-end of 2003 and was really, really well received, with a lot of radio airplay and some great reviews.</p> <p>Into 2004, I started the year gigging in California with Michael Manring and Trip Wamsley, and then did a tour over here with Michael Manring and John Lester, followed by a tour with Muriel Anderson. So it's been a hugely busy time.</p> <p>On the gear front, one of the things that showed up through these collaborations was that my sound was getting more and more hi-fi, more full range. Not to mention the issue of running voice or acoustic guitar through my rig if I was looping them. So after some talks with various people, I started using AccuGroove cabinets, and we started to plan a signature powered cabinet. At the moment I'm using two of their Tri 110 cabs with a QSC power amp, and my sound is the best it's ever been. It's amazing, though the downside is that now even more people think I'm just miming to a CD… haha!</p> <p>&nbsp; </p> <p><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/stevelawson/lawson3.jpg" width="400" height="336" align="left"></p> <p><strong>Your music is also taking a rather evolutionary course. From what I have heard from the new CD, it shows a lot of compositional depth mixed the usual Lawson flights of daring improvisations and odd sounds. How do manage to achieve a balance between composed or “written” parts” with the freer improvised parts?</strong></p> <p>The balance is pretty organic – all of the new tunes started as improvisations, in that I write while playing ‘tunes' – I tend not to put things together piece-meal. I will get a loop up and running and start to play a melody over it – my melodic invention is, I think, getting stronger and a bit more sophisticated – it has to, just from years of playing tunes! So the ratio of discarded stuff to keepable music tips further and further in favour of releasing things just as they are. I've always gone with an approach of wanting what as on the albums to be ‘live' tracks, even if that was live in the studio. So again, with this one, each track is a single take with no extra overdubs. The recording process was more sophisticated this time, so I was able to balance the various tracks once I'd recorded them, which makes for a stronger overall sound and I also edited out a couple of sections from a tune or two, more for brevity than anything else – the album is already 75 minutes long!! </p> <p><strong>How much of the new CD is “written” and how much is improvised? </strong></p> <p>Probably a third of it is ‘pure' improv – that is, first takes on ideas that I'd never played before, or at least different enough from what I'd played before not to be basing it on a fixed idea. The rest are chord progressions and melodies that I'd come up with and then kept playing until I got a take I liked. The only track that could be classed as ‘written' before I recorded it is the title track, ‘Grace And Gratitude' – that's because I had a perfect take that was just not up to the recording quality of the rest of the album, so I re-did it, with the opening melody as close to the original version as I could get. </p> <p><strong>In regards to sounds, you are one of the few bassists who use sometimes-radical amounts and types of effects processing. Yet, your “sound” never loses its' organic quality, nor does it ever become a servant to the effects. Rather the effects serve the music. Do you have any philosophies or tactics to your rather elegant and yet subversive use of effects on bass? </strong></p> <p><strong><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/stevelawson/lawson4.jpg" width="340" height="600" align="left"></strong></p> <p>It varies – I'm into both the extremes – the ‘pure' tone of the bass and the ‘pure' tone of the processing! So a lot of this album features my basses with one pickup on in passive mode, going through nothing but a delay and very slight mid cut – not compression, no heavy EQ. Just focusing on the purity of the sound. Then there are other tracks where I've gone for as heavily processed as sound as I've ever used, that sound nothing like the expected sound of a bass. I use two Lexicon MPX-G2 processors, which are about as good as it gets for this kind of thing, so even the really heavily processed stuff still sounds ‘right' rather than lost in the flurry of effects. I also try to learn each sound as a new instrument – like playing fretless or piccolo bass – a new sound often requires a different touch, so I don't expect the unit to adapt to my touch, it has to be the other way round.</p> <p>A lot of this record was about reveling in the sound of my new Modulus fretted 6 string – I got it just before Christmas, and it just has the most amazing sort of jazz guitar tone. I've put Bass Centre Elites flatwounds on it, and it just sings. I'm so happy with my sound at the moment – every aspect of it – all the way down the signal chain – bass, preamp, processing, looping, poweramp, speakers – I wouldn't change any of it! </p> <p> <strong>Which, of course, brings us to the issue of looping. You are one of the leading proponents of both solo bass and the use of looping devices. Loops are in fact so much a part of your music it is as if the looping devices are another instrument, which you play. Can you walk us through your setup?</strong></p> <p>The Gibson Echoplex is definitely another instrument, and one that takes as long to get comfortable with as another other instrument. And also one that has different stylistic approaches. I tend to use fairly long loops, and on this album, I've got into synchronising my two EDPs – something I've never done before. Whereas a player like Andre LaFosse works primarily with loops of well under a second long, and makes this amazing glitchy electronica with them. Same box, totally different end result.</p> <p>The other major change to my setup of late is that I can now post-process the loops. So I have a Lexicon MPX-G2 before and after the loopers. The chain goes Bass into G2 #1 into mixing desk, with both Echoplexes in FX send 1 (sent to both with a Y cable) and G2 #2 in effects send number 2. They all come back on separate channels so can be routed anywhere. I've also got a Korg KP II Kaoss Pad in the FX loop on the second Lexicon, so I can bring that in whenever I need it too!</p> <p>The AccuGroove set up has also allowed me to start running in stereo, so I can pan the various signals to anywhere in the stereo field. It's musical megalomania, and I love it!</p> <p> <strong>Looping is becoming, ironically, more and more popular with bassists. Everywhere I am seeing, or hearing, bass players with EDPs, Boss RC20's, Boomerrangs, DL4s and even that archaic JamMan thingy (snicker). And in addition to yourself, a number of “name” players are using loops in their performances; Victor Wooten, Michael Manring, Mike Dimin, Stu Hamm, to name a few. When I hear your music, the loops are so integrated into the entire concept of both the piece and the performance that it seems to be integral, if not essential to each. How do you approach the concept of looping in regards to both composition and performance? </strong></p> <p>The main thing for me is that I ‘hear' in layers – I don't see musical composition or improvisation as a linear process as much as that of creating a sound-world. So looping is utterly integral and vital to being able to create that sound world. Right now, playing completely solo and unlooped would feel like cooking with one ingredient. I just don't hear like that when I'm writing and improvising. I love playing bass in band settings where I get to do that, but it's not what I think of when I come to write music. So I'd be pretty much screwed without looping! </p> <p> <strong><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/stevelawson/lawson1.jpg" width="400" height="409" align="left">The new CD ‘Grace And Gratitude' is a bit of a departure from your most recent releases both of which were improvised duets with pianist Jez Carr (”conversations”) and multi-reeds player Theo Travis (“for the love of open spaces”)………..Your playing on both of those albums revealed an incredible level of listening and sensivity both in yourself and your partners. How do you approach working in duets or small group situations as opposed to the solo setting </strong>?</p> <p>The first smart move comes in choosing your musical co-conspirators! I've worked recently with both Jez and Theo, but also with Michael Manring, Muriel Anderson, BJ Cole, Orphy Robinson, Luca Formentini – all of whom are fantastic listeners. They also all have an ability to hear where a piece of music wants to go. It's weird, improv has a tendency to take on a life of its own, and guide you into places you wouldn't otherwise end up. I've played things that afterwards I don't recognise as me because I've gone where the music seems to be leading. All those players can do that, so it's the choice of partner that is key. Beyond that, you need to listen, react, enjoy and smile at each other – you both have to feel free to play what YOU think is right – it won't work if you're trying to impress your improv partner. It just doesn't. I've tried and it falls apart. I've heard it on gigs and wanted to leave. There's an integrity to it that has to be submitted to. But it also, for me, has to be fun, and they have to be people I get on with. I can think of no more enjoyable way to spend my time than driving round the world doing gigs with Michael Manring – we play some amazing music, laugh pretty much continuously, talk about anything and everything – it's all consuming in its enjoyment, and that feeds back into the music. That wouldn't happen if I found him impossible to deal with.</p> <p><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/stevelawson/lawson5.jpg" width="400" height="421" align="right"></p> <p> <strong>Who, or what, inspired you to be a solo bassist? </strong></p> <p>A few things – a sense of adventure, partly – never asking ‘why', but always asking ‘why not'. I couldn't see any reason not to I just really like the idea of making MY music.</p> <p>The impetus to get on and do it came from listening to Michael. I'd heard a lot of solo bass music, some of which has impressed me but not fulfilled me. Reading an interview with Michael seemed to bring a lot of the thoughts I'd had together – he talked about looping, he talked about music as an end in itself beyond chops. Stuff that few solo bassists were really stressing.</p> <p>Beyond that, it was just opportunity. If I hadn't written for Bassist magazine, I doubt I'd have ended up releasing solo albums – that gave me a platform and an audience. </p> <p> <strong>Your music, from “…and nothing but the bass” through the collaborative duets and to your newest solo disc continues to grow in multiple dimensions. Although certainly played at a vitusosic level, it never becomes an excuse for a display of chops or techniques, and often takes on bold, almost cinematic emotional depth. From where do you draw inspirations? </strong></p> <p>From music rather than musicians. The things I draw on are people who conjure up images, either with words or music. Musicians who see the whole as bigger than whether they are tapping or playing fast or doing whatever. From Talk Talk to David Sylvian, Joni Mitchell to David Torn, Bill Frisell to Jonatha Brooke – it's all about people who tell stories with their music as well as their words, who paint pictures and who I connect with on an emotional level before the intellectual one. They all happen to be incredible musicians, but it's there to serve their musical vision, rather than their compositions being a vehicle for dexterity. It has to be that way. I couldn't go the circus bass route; it just doesn't do it for me. </p> <p> <strong>How do you perceive your role as a musician, an artist, and a bassist? </strong></p> <p>I just soundtrack the inside of my head. I find a lot of what I do very funny, given the absurdity of playing solo bass, and I love that perplexed reaction people have when they are trying to work out where all the sounds are coming from! I see it as a way to connect with an audience and with other musicians, and a way to tell my story. It's also therapeutic – I'm a teacher at heart, and as a teacher, I am by definition still a student, learning music and learning abut myself through it.</p> <p>The specific roles of musician, artist and bassist are interesting – the first two are pretty much the same for me, unless you count designing the album artwork as part of being an artist but not a musician. Being a bassist is often about doing a job – bass is the voice I use on my solo stuff, and on collaborative projects. But on sessions, I'm there to serve someone else's vision, and I LOVE doing that. There's an incredible satisfaction in doing a good job, in grooving, locking in with a drummer or coming up with a part that lifts a song. That's the real deal. </p> <p><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/stevelawson/lawson6.jpg" width="400" height="272" align="left"></p> <p> <strong>Is there anything you wish to achieve with your music? That is to say what goals do you have for your music on both a personal and/or artistic or spiritual level? </strong></p> <p>I feel very, very blessed to be doing what I'm doing – the album title stems from that – Grace and Gratitude. I'm grateful and I know it's not that I deserve to be doing it more than anyone else, it's a position of great grace to get to play music for a living, and to have found and audience who connect with it. There really is nothing like it. So I just want to do more of it. More teaching, more playing, more collaborating, more solo playing. I'm thinking of doing a quartet record next, but we'll see how that pans out!</p> <p>I'm also hoping to get into doing some soundtrack work – what I do works so well hooked up to images, it's just finding the right place to present it.</p> <p><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/stevelawson/lawson7.jpg" width="400" height="264" align="right"></p> <p> <strong>What is next for you? What does the rest of this year, and even the next, hold for Steve Lawson?</strong></p> <p>Lots of gigs. Hopefully a proper tour of the States – until now, all my visits are sponsored by manufacturers, so my appearances are either as a guest of someone else or a clinic. It'd be great to come and do a proper tour. More gigs here, and hopefully selling a few of the new album… </p> <p> <strong>In closing, let me ask you both a musician and an artist what you feel about the sate of music and art here at the dawn of 21 st century, and what do you see in the future both for music and for bassists? </strong></p> <p>It's clear that the ‘mainstream' is becoming less and less relevant to people who love music. It's all about clothing, money, sponsorship and teen girls not wearing many clothes. It's pretty sickening really, but has nothing at all to do with the art, industry or community I inhabit. It's utterly irrelevant to my world. So, outside of that, things are really looking up. The ‘net continues to grow as a place to find, buy, listen to and support great music. Sites like cdbaby.com are making some incredible music available in a way that was unthinkable 10 years ago. Stylistic boundaries are breaking down, technology is moving forward and audiences are realizing that Karaoke doesn't work if you're sober, so live music is back on the agenda.</p> <p>Bass-wise, there's an incredible amount of great bass gear out there, of great bassists, and great bass resources. The only problem is that all that can mask the need to put in the hours on the instrument if you want be able to say something of substance. I really really hope that it spills over into more and more bassists making Music Of Consequence. There are quite a few around that are – Michael Manring, obviously, but also John Lester, Mo Foster, Matthew Garrison, Andy Hamill, Trip Wamsley, Tony Levin, Mick Karn and no doubt a host of others are releasing incredible music where they are using their bass as the primary expressive voice. It's not done in some weird self-conscious ‘check out my chops' bass-porn kind of way; it's just their art. That's great news for all of us!</p> <br><center><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/stevelawson/lawson8.jpg" width="393" height="380"></center>
     



Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.