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Feature Interview: Steve Lawson

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, Mar 23, 2004.


  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    This feature was published on TalkBass.com in December of 2000

    <p align="center"><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/featureindex_lawson.jpg" align="left" border="0"><b>Steve Lawson</b> </p> <p align="center"><i>By John C. Smith</i></p> <p align="center">Photos courtesy of Edward Eldon</p> <p>Most TalkBassers know Steve from the <a href="http://www.talkbass.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?forumid=42&daysprune=1000">Outer Limits forum</a>, where he gives articulate, accurate and fascinating responses to your questions. And if you haven't heard his new CD "and nothing but the bass", do not pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to <a href="http://www.steve-lawson.co.uk">http://www.steve-lawson.co.uk/</a> and listen to a download or three. I bought the CD, of course, and am daily seduced by it's haunting melodies and textures. And it seems I hear new sonic aspects each day..........</p>
     
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Steve is the kind of person I could assemble a hundred questions for, but these few will have to suffice for now...</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Do your songs tell stories?</b> </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Mmm, I think that on the whole, a gig tells a story about how I'm feeling - if I'm having a great day, it's likely to have a fairly up feel, but if things aren't going to well, it can get pretty dark! I guess there's also a sense of wanting to go on a journey - if I am feeling a bit down, the music might be my way of lifting myself, so there are a lot of emotions at work. That's the great thing with most of my gigs being largely improvised. The tracks on the CD often form the basis of a tune, just as the initial loop, but then my state of mind, the audience, the venue and other things come into play and it ends up wherever it ends up.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The only tune on the CD that has a 'proper' story is 'Bittersweet', which was a chord progression I'd be playing with for months but with no real direction. It wasn't until the death of my second cousin, and playing through it with him in mind that it somehow took on a new resonance. When I recorded it, I'd been thinking about his life a lot and I can hear that reflected in the music somewhat. It's not a tangible thing - no-one's going to hear it and go 'ah, that'll be about death then!', but it was important to me at the time to contextualise the relationship between the music and my thoughts. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Do you compose on the bass guitar?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Totally - even if I think of a melodic idea while I'm on the bus or wherever, I still only really get it together with the instrument in my hands. I've got great respect for musicians who write away from an instrument, but it's just not something that works for me. And besides, the 6 string fretless is still such a new tool for me, that I'm finding out new sounds every day. Often an effect can trigger a tune - there'll be something inherent in the sound that takes it in a certain direction. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Your songs evoke a sense of place as well as emotions; have you ever considered writing/playing movie scores?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>I would LOVE to write a movie score. The nearest I've come to that was working with a contemporary dance group, which was rather abstract and fun, but I'd love to have a go at music for TV or film. I think documentary work would be cool - the subjects often have very definite musical concepts attached to them, so I could explore that... </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:The songs are very melodic, and deceptively complex……..how do you go about structuring them?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Mmm, that's a tricky one - it varies from tune to tune, and depends a lot on how much technology is in play at the time. I try to work through the process of getting from one section to another, and trying to get the loops to cross over without the cleverness of it becoming the focus. I hope that when people are listening to the CD or seeing me live, the fact that I'm noodling away on a bass is not foremost in their thinking. I hope that the music and textures take them on a journey beyond the novelty of how I perform. When I'm improvising, the structure is partly a matter of direction - back to the journey thing - and partly directed by technology; if all three of my loop devices are in play, then I've got to get rid of one loop before I can move on somewhere else, if that makes any sense! </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:During that process, do you consider that you're going to have to perform them live?</b></font></p> <table width="100" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" align="right"> <tr> <td><img src="../images/lawsonfeature/lawson4.jpg" width="180" height="305"></td> </tr> <tr> <td> <center> <font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="1"><b>Lawson at The Troubadour</b></font> </center> </td> </tr> </table> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>So far none of what I've done has been developed any other way! 90% of the inspiration for the tunes comes from gigging - I find it really hard to practice a whole performance because two thirds of the equation are missing - audience and venue. Without context, I find it really hard to go anywhere. It's like practicing driving in a stationary vehicle - you can get the mechanics of your body movements in order, like changing gear or pushing the break pedal, but you can't interact with the road and other drivers. So the music is never not live. I may at some point do a non-live recording, but at the moment, my whole musical world is live! </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:And is the writing process fun for you, or is it a chore?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Oh it's a dream - I love it. I'm still really excited about where my current crop of compositions take me whenever I play them, so I'm miles away from any sense of blockage. If I'm trying to come up with new stuff and it not coming, I just re-explore my current tunes and see where I end up. The writing process is very much a matter of finding musical 'cells' or 'building blocks' that can then be taken elsewhere. It's not the usual compositional process of writing verses and choruses and coming up with big arrangements. The arrangement is often thinking of what order I'm going to change effects in, and then how they sound affects where I go next. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">On a slightly deeper and more fundamental level, I think that my Christian faith and my general approach to life influence greatly the overall direction of my music. I gave up worrying about commercial considerations when I realized that for me, music is about expressing God-given creativity. The bottom line is that I've got to be true to where my state of mind takes me. There are loads of other factors that influence the sound, and I don't think there's such a thing as 'pure creativity', but the fact that audience reaction is not my number one concern is down to my faith, and that has an immeasurable effect on what I play. If I was worried about people thinking it was weird, half the effects would go, and I'd start slapping and tapping again at the speed I did at college. At that time, it was about impressing other bassists, and I got really fast, but it had no context, it was without purpose, and although I still use those techniques if the song is going there, there's no slapping or tapping on the CD - it's just not where the music was heading. It's not a mega 'chops' album, it's about music... does that sound pretentious?? [laughs]</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The almost Zen spin-off of that, is that when you forget about the audience, it allows you to be truer to yourself, and audiences connect with that on a whole different level - I think the kind of people who listen to my music can spot music that's contrived, and that would put them off. Because I'm playing for myself, there's an authenticity to it that seems to connect with the listeners. I have a lot of respect and appreciation for anyone who takes the time to listen to my music, live or on CD, and I hope their effort is rewarded.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Tell me about the reactions you're getting to the CD……..<img src="../images/lawsonfeature/lawson2.jpg" width="195" height="278" align="right"></b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>It's been great - I've not yet had any negative feedback, though I can't see many people e-mailing me to say 'got your album, it's crap'! The best part has been that it's not just selling to bassists and people who know me. There are other people who've heard it on the radio or via a friend who have really got into the vibe of what I'm doing, seem to appreciate the live sound, and the 'visual' element that you mentioned earlier. Bassists seem to be into it as well, and I've had quite a few technical emails from people who have no idea how I get certain sounds, of play certain parts, but the bottom line has been the music. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Reviews are just starting to come back in now, and the first one in Bass Frontiers was hugely positive, so I'm really grateful for that. Bass Player have got one coming up, as have New Age Voice magazine... The radio airplay has been a real surprise - quite a few ambient and experimental shows on US college radio have been playing tracks - mainly the last one, 'Pillow Mountain'. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Your website is one of the most impressive I've seen ……..how important is the internet to you in terms of profile and marketing?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Thanks! The internet is both a business tool for me, and a way of staying in touch with friends all over the world. I'm on a couple of fantastic bass related discussion lists - The Bottom Line, and Churchbass - both of which provide me with a lot of bass related inspiration and have lead to some really good friendships, particularly with the students that have come to study with me via both those lists. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">From a CD sales and gigs point of view, the web-site is vital. Everyone wants to 'try before they buy' these days, so the sound clips on the site are there for people to see if they like what I'm doing. I'm glad of that, because I really wouldn't want to sell someone a CD they didn't want. I hope that all the marketing and comments about the album on my site paint an honest picture about the music - there's so much BS around music marketing - such and such is the greatest thing ever, their music takes you to a higher place, or whatever - I don't really think that my music is going to change anyone's life, beyond my own. If it does, then I'm flattered and humbled that it should have that effect, but it's not likely, as there are about three musicians that have ever picked up an instrument that have had that effect on me, so it's probably in global terms a rather elite grouping. I guess the rather left field nature of the music, coupled with the fact that I'm playing solo bass means that I'd struggle to find a recording deal that was satisfactory, which is why I've done it myself. It will probably sell slower than it would with the clout that a record label would have, but I own it, I did everything on it, the artwork is mine and I just love looking at it! I hate it when I buy a great CD that has rubbish packaging - the whole thing should be a work of art, and I think 'And Nothing But The Bass' is really well packaged. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The net has also allowed me to sell all over the world without having to approach shops, which is great. I've sold CDs in about 14 or 15 countries - places where I'd really struggle to get shop distribution. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">It's safe to say that without the net, I'd probably have not done a CD. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Are you encountering difficulty convincing venues/promoters of the viability of a solo bass show?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Yes! It's still a bit odd. I have a few guys who have heard the music, ignored the fact that it's bass and just booked me because they like what I do, but the rest of the time, I do the same with gigs as I did with the CD and organize it myself. I could really do with an agent though, and am open to playing anywhere if people are up for organizing a concert... </font></p>
     
  3. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:And what do you say to other musicians who see the bass as purely a support role?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Not much - that's such a bizarre and insupportable position to hold that I'd find it difficult to rationalize it enough to respond to. Within a certain band, or even genre, the music might lend itself to the bass guitar playing low notes, as that the range it's built to play in, but to suggest that any instrument is purely for one register is nonsense - if it sounds good, it doesn't matter whether I'm playing a bass or a 1980s Casio home keyboard - it's music! </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:For most musicians, their instruments are precious items. How do you feel about your basses?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>I'm very attached to them, each has a specific role - my Modulus Q4 has been with me ever since I left college and despite changing from a hideous porno red colour to the gorgeous maple top that's on it now, and having the pickups switched to Lane Poors, it still feels like MY bass - it's the extension of my hands. My Modulus OB6 fretless is my current 'voice' - it's the sound that I've always wanted, a fretless sound without that growl that everyone else loves. It's sweet in the high register but can go really dubby down low - I did a tour recently with Howard Jones and the sound of this bass was perfect for Howard's reggae influenced grooves. It's as close to the perfect bass for me as I can ever imagine, honestly. It took me ages to save up for, but I specified everything I wanted, from the body wood to the Celtic Goose inlay. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I've also got a Rick Turner Renaissance 5 fretless, which has a unique sound - no other bass sounds like that, and it's a sound I had to have when I was sent the bass to review, so I sent Rick a cheque back instead of the bass! </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">And finally, I have a Modulus VJazz fretless - everyone's got to have a Fender sound, and this is the Fender sound without the dead spots...</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I also think that amps are greatly overlooked in people's thinking about sound - all these basses will only sound as good as the amp they are played through, and if someone wanted to know what my sound is, bottom line it's my hands, my Modulus OB6 fretless and my Ashdown 1x10 combo - I've played through other great amps - SWR, Euphonic and others, which have amazing sounds, but don't have 'my sound' - the 1x10, I always run flat - EQ bypassed, pre-shape off, and it's there, the sound in my head. It rocks harder than a hard rocking thing, no matter what style. I've use this set up for everything from my solo stuff, to Howard Jones to teaching school kids how to play Offspring and Limp Bizkit lines, and for all of them I've been able to get just the right sound. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Danny Thompson has said "all we need is a Steve Lawson that plays double bass". What are your thoughts on double bass, Steve? Ever played one?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>I'd love to play double bass, and if I did, I'd get Danny to teach me! He's a genius, and has a tone that few other musicians will ever get. At the moment though, I just don't have the time to devote to it. I've got this far down the road with bass, and with so much more that I can see that I want to explore on this instrument, switching to the doghouse would hinder me somewhat. I'd like to get an electric upright to play around on, but would consider it a bit of an insult to musical geniuses like Danny who've spent their lives building a relationship with the double bass to pick one up and not give it the time and respect it deserves. As a side note, everyone should go out and buy Danny's solo CDs - 'Whatever' and 'Whatever Next' - his music has been a huge inspiration to me, and he was combining music from different cultures before the term world music was even thought of! </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Your reviews of gear in Bassist, and now, Guitarist are really helpful to players. How do you approach the review?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>I try to think in terms of who the gear is aimed at, what it's designed to do, and what else there is that does the same thing. It would be easy to dis anything that I wouldn't want myself, but I'm only representative of a small number of players in my personal preferences - there's a whole world of gear out there that isn't aimed at me. So if I get a bass that's priced at £200 and has a sparkle finish and pointy head-stock I'm not going to take it on a jazz gig and then say it was crap - that's not what it's for. I'm going to check the sound, the construction, the feel, and make comments about how well it measures up to the rest of the market and the expectations in that price range. I'm very lucky that in my students I have a ready made testing group - they often try things out in lessons and feed back their thoughts to me about what they like and dislike. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I do love getting to review toys though, and rather too often I end up buying gear! </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Like the Ashdown amp and the Rick Turner bass that you ended up keeping…….any other pieces of gear you've wished you'd kept?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>I've got loads of stuff that has been left with me, because it's as cheap for them to let me keep it as it is for them to pick it up by courier. I've had a few great basses to try - Lakland, Marleaux, Yamaha... but if I was to buy them all I'd be writing articles at a loss - spending 10 times as much as I'm earning!! I've bought a few other things that I discovered in reviews- The Lexicon JamMan and MPX-G2 are both now firmly part of my solo set up and came first through review. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Do you have a favourite effect?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>I think the JamMan is still number 1, though the Line6 DL4 which I have at the moment is brilliant - some of the coolest looping possibilities I've ever come across. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">And of course the <a href="http://www.e-bow.com/">E-Bow</a>, which I'd be lost without. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:You've interviewed many of the greats…….do you have a favourite interview?</b></font></p> <table width="100" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" align="left"> <tr> <td><img src="../images/lawsonfeature/lawson3.jpg" width="150" height="231"></td> </tr> <tr> <td height="2"> <center> <font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="1"><b>Steve Lawson & Tony Levin</b></font> </center> </td> </tr> </table> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Probably top of the list would be Doug Pinnick from King's X - we really clicked and talked for hours most of it was unusable for the article! But I've never interviewed anyone horrible - meeting players like Lee Sklar, Marcus Miller, John Patitucci, Steve Rodby, Michael Manring, Jimmy Haslip, Carol Kaye, Joe Osborn, Tony Levin... they're all really friendly, interesting people. Their music is a reflection of their personalities and it's a huge privilege to interview them and hear their stories. Some end up friends, others are people I now say hi to at trade shows, others I may end up working with at some point. That's the strange thing with being a player as well - I'm there as a journo, but my interest is as a fellow pro; I'm not putting myself on the same level professionally as these guys with decades of experience, but I am a pro musician first and a journo second. I write because I enjoy it, not because it's my career. Maybe that's why I connect so well with many of these people. <br> <br> <b>TB:Turning now to other players, is there anyone you really want to perform with, either in duo or as part of an ensemble?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Oh hundreds - a few off the top of my head would include Bill Frisell, Bruce Cockburn, Michael Manring, Jimmy Haslip, Joni Mitchell. Nik Kershaw Jonatha Brooke, Martyn Joseph, and I'd love to work some more with Howard Jones. I love playing for singer/songwriters and have recently done albums with a couple of great ones - Andy Thornton and Andrew Buckton. Both write great songs, from the heart, and are aware of how music and lyrics have to connect. I think I have a good ear for that kind of situation, probably due to the narrative nature of my own performance. I also love duets and small group improv - working with bassists is always fun as you can see what they are doing and work off it on a different level to that with an instrument that you don't fully understand.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:Any international gigs coming up?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>It looks like there'll be a few Californian dates in early 2001 - watch this space, and also a festival or two in Europe. My website is always being updated with info on things like that, so check there. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>TB:And finally, for all the bassists who frequent TalkBass, any advice on how to keep focus when practicing?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>S.L:</b>Stop when you're bored! If you need motivation, sometimes it's necessary to get that away from the bass, so go and read a book or watch a film. If you've got to learn tunes for a gig, that's different - self-discipline is required and there's no substitute for just accepting that there are responsibilities attached to taking on a gig and you've now got to deal with that. If you get frustrated, look for inspiration in other players - go and buy a CD by someone you're not familiar with and have a go at working things out. Try transferring music from another instrument onto bass and see what comes out. Transcribe, improvise, retune, use an effect - there are loads of things you can do, and boredom usually stems from not having taken a step back and weighed up the options. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I also have to stress the importance of getting a good teacher early on. You'll save yourself a heck of a lot of heartache and hassle if you get the foundations right as soon as possible! </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Most of all, play what you'd like to listen to - don't play to impress, play to express - there, how's that for a signature line on an e-mail??? </font></p><br><br> <font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">While you're at <a href="http://www.steve-lawson.co.uk">Steve's site</a>, allow yourself a few hours to wander through it all.......it's a rewarding experience. Don't forget to check out the <a href="http://www.solobassnetwork.org.uk">http://www.solobassnetwork.org.uk/</a> site, too.......and the fine pics by Edward Eldon (<a href="edward@eldn.freeserve.co.uk">edward@eldn.freeserve.co.uk</a>) . And there are some mighty interesting links there, too. </font>