Interview with: Matt Siffert


                                  Photo credit: Elyssa Goodman

Matt Siffert is a bassist, composer and music director of a group that I have vested interest in. It features the talents of my music making & horn playing girlfriend. Aside from that, Matt is a bassist, composer, and songwriter from New York City. He is interested in combining his varied artistic interests into a unique and personalized musical vocabulary. He has worked in various contexts: with jazz musicians such as Jean-Michel Pilc, classical ensembles such as the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), as well as in his own groups as a bandleader. He has performed locally and internationally, from Le Poisson Rouge in New York City to the Siena Jazz Festival in Italy. He studied composition at The Juilliard School evening division, and earned his Bachelor’s degree in music and psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. Visit him online.

I recently caught his group in action at Le Poisson Rouge. They were the opening act for Sasha Siem; another song writer who utilizes more instruments than just the traditional rock band to create music. Matt is able to harness the sound of french horn, drums, piano, electric bass, cello and percussion by way of stomping feet and snapping fingers to create sonorities that serve his songs aesthetics. Lyrically, he is just as acrobatic and incisive. Throughout his set you are presented with a mind that expresses motifs of introspection and irreverence. It is obvious that he goes beyond the calling of bassist and meets the title of musician.  

1. What were some of the first gigs you played as a professional bassist?

My first gigs were a smorgasbord of backing singer-songwriters, playing in theater pits, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, and rock shows, etc. I enjoyed the variety, and still play in most of these contexts. The different elements all find their way into my music in positive ways.

2. Can you give us some insight on your practice routine?

Since my creative output is divided between bass playing, singing, and songwriting/composing, I end up prioritizing based on what my schedule demands. If I’m gigging heavily as a bassist, then I drill my technical chops, parts for the shows I’m playing in, etc. If my performance schedule is light on bass but heavy as a singer-songwriter, I’ll practice voice. If I’m busy with commissions and personal projects then I’ll be focused on writing, which, like bass playing and singing, requires daily work.

At the moment my schedule is a mix of all three, so I do my best to play bass, sing, and write every day. I also have mandatory daily ‘listening’ time where I explore and listen to new music the importance of which I cannot possibly overstate.

3. Who have been some of your major influences throughout your musical career?

There are so many! I guess I’ll talk about bass, since that’s why we’re here. My first influences were Matt Freeman of Rancid, Cliff Burton of Metallica, and Flea of the Chili Peppers, who played heavily and melodically. That then carried over to Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead), Oteil Burbridge (Allman Bros), and Mike Gordon (Phish), who had the same sense of melody with a lighter, looser style. Then came Jaco Pastorius, who showed me that the bass is charismatic enough of an instrument to carry a group.

As I grew into songwriting I found players like James Jamerson and Ray Brown, who showed me that a tight, un-flashy bass line could propel and energize a song. Then there’s Paul McCartney, who turned the bass into an instrument that could contribute counter melodies, much in a way that resembled a high string, wind, or brass instrument.

4. What kind of gear are you using? What gear do you recommend for a player who is playing a lot around the city?

My rig is simple. I use a 5-string Music Man Stingray with a 10-inch Gallien-Kreuger amp. My recommendation for gear depends on what styles you play. The Stingray and GK have a smoothness and warmth, which makes me feel at home in folk/jazz/hip-hop/R&B gigs. I’d recommend both of them for people living in these worlds. (GK’s also work beautifully with upright basses.) Rock players usually opt for Fender basses and SWR or Ampeg amps, both of which pack more of a punch. They make for a great sound too, just one that’s different from my own style of playing and musical personality.

5. You are also a composer. When approaching bass lines what is your process? How has being a composer influenced your career? Do you ever compose starting with the bass?

That’s a great question. My approach to writing bass lines is two-fold. I have to serve the character of the song/composition, and then give shape to the overarching musical narrative. So, firstly, I have to be aware of the nature of the piece I’m playing: is it a song that’s written from the perspective of an angry person? Is it a peppy swing tune? Once I figure this out I need to align my style of playing so it’s helping to bring that character to life. Then I need to figure out the overall structure of the piece; does it start quietly and get crazy at the end? Does it coast softly from start to finish, but change texturally? Once I understand this general shape I craft my lines accordingly.

My life as a composer has helped immensely with this approach to bass playing. Through composition I’ve developed a more heightened sensitivity to the character of a given composition, and a more intuitive ability to make a piece of music compelling to listen to from start to finish. So, when I pick up a bass, I can take these skills I’ve learned and channel them through my instrument. It’s a thrill to learn these musical techniques and be able to realize them through writing and performance.

With regard to composing on the bass, it’s funny; I almost never use the instrument as a springboard for composing. I either write in my head usually in weird places like subways or showers, where there are no instruments or on chordal instruments like a piano or guitar, where I can hear a broader spectrum of material. I’ve been playing bass much longer than piano, guitar, and voice, and when I write on it I gravitate toward old patterns and licks that are unconnected to what I’m trying to say musically.

6. What are some of the aspects of your playing that have made you successful?

I always do my best to have a strong and clear artistic vision for my projects, and be mindful of how the bass (and other instruments) fits into each of these projects. When I’m hired by someone else to play bass I’m equally mindful of how my instrument fits into the instrumentation of the group they’ve assembled, and, more generally, how my musical approach fits in to and can facilitate what the artist is trying to accomplish.

7. Where do you go to hear live music when you aren’t playing it in New York?

The Village Vanguard has always been my favorite room in the city. It’s one of the few places that are small, cozy, great sounding, un-flashy, and wonderfully curated. My second and more recent favorite is Carnegie Hall. It’s elegant and tasteful in design, and, despite being large in size, acoustically impeccable. Roulette, Le Poisson Rouge, and The Stone all have exciting and innovative programming, and Rockwood Music Hall and Caffe Vivaldi are great places to see songwriters. I also love house concerts!

8. Outside of being a musician, what are some of your favorite pastimes? What has been one of your most memorable moments living in New York that hasn’t involved music?

Another great question. I have to say, I love going to museums. I learn so much about texture, character, emotion, and storytelling from visual art. I also love reading. As a songwriter, it’s tempting to use other songwriters as primary sources of inspiration. But at the end of the day, you’re dealing largely with language, and most of the masters of language are writers. It is from poetry, short stories, novels, non-fiction, and transcribed interviews that I get a majority of my inspiration for how to use text.

Other than these “artsy-fartsy” activities, my most memorable moments are definitely hanging out with friends and family. Having friends who love me and will jump on my back in the freezing cold and refuse to let go until I fall my face into the snow, or a sibling (in my case older brother) who while dressed as ‘Death’ on Halloween when I am dressed as a ‘Pumpkin Rights Advocate’  will dance with me at a rock show until we sweat so hard we can barely see, it’s these absurd and goofy moments that make me happy and want to get up the next day and keep doing what I do.

9. Who are you currently listening to?

I’ve been listening to Messiaen’s piano music. As I develop a musical vocabulary that borrows from different genres, I’m constantly trying to balance consonant, tuneful melodic and harmonic content with more dissonant, colorful sound worlds. Messiaen has this breathtaking harmonic palette that takes dissonance and makes it heart wrenching and beautiful.

I’m learning that harmony is as much a horizontal craft as it is vertical, which is to say that our emotional response to a certain chord is not just based on that fragment, but everything that comes before and after it. If you took some of Messiaen’s chords out of context, they’d be brash and unsettling. But he places his musical materials so intelligently on a temporal plane that you feel invited into his world, rather than pushed away.

10. Any words of wisdom for younger/aspiring musicians who may or may not be reading this?

Be mindful of what you like and don’t like, and be specific about why you do and don’t like these things. If you hear a song and hate it, figure out what caused the reaction. Were the lyrics cheesy? Was the drumbeat too cluttered? Or if a composition really moves you, what about it did that? You may find that you actually hated the brass arrangement, and never ever want to hear a trombone ever again, but that modulating from A major to F minor pulls your heartstrings inexplicably.

You may also discover larger-scale insights about yourself as an artist; you may find that instrumental music just doesn’t connect to you as much as vocal music does, or that you always need to play your instrument really loudly to feel like you are authentically expressing yourself. Regardless of what you uncover, as a musician you live in the world of details, and the more articulate you can be about the things that move and don’t move you, the more self-awareness you have, and therefore the more in control over your creativity you are.

Interview with: Nathaniel Chase


                                        Photo by: Jose Pagan

The next interview of the year is with Nathaniel Chase. I met Nathaniel (Nate) through a gig with Mimesis Ensemble performing an opera by Mohammad Fairouz titled “Sumeida’s Song”. We performed the piece at the Ethical Culture Center and Carnegie. The two of us were also part of the bass section for the initial recording on Bridge Records.

Nathaniel is a graduate of the Yale School of Music, is active as a freelancer throughout the Tri-state area. His performances range from early music and the standard orchestral repertoire with Ensemble 212 and the Metro Chamber Orchestra, to chamber and contemporary music with the Lucerne Festival and the Mimesis Ensemble. Mr. Chase is the conductor of the Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester, a White Plains based community orchestra, and has appeared as a conductor with the Mimesis Ensemble and on the New England Conservatory Composers’ Series. He is a graduate of the New England Conservatory and was a winner of the 2010 Yale School of Music Concerto Competition.

1. What were some of the first gigs when you first started here? What do you recommend to new players on the scene in regards to getting work in the city?

My first gig in New York was with Ensemble 212, a chamber orchestra on the Upper West Side. Pretty soon I picked up work with a group in Westchester and as a ringer with community orchestra. I found each of those gigs through someone I knew before moving to New York. Everything spread out through networking from there.

Since I’ve received almost all of my work because someone I played with needed a bassist or recommended me to someone who did, I would say the most important thing for players entering the freelance scene is to always play your best. At nearly every gig, even the bad ones, there is someone who can give you work if they like your playing. Understand that it will take time to build a network, and go to lots of shows. Hearing others will help your playing and being around the scene will remind people that you exist. Not to mention that hearing music is fun. If it isn’t, you might want to find another line of work.

2. What are some of the aspects of your playing that have made you successful?

I think I’ve had some success because I know the rep. If you’re playing a Brahms symphony and someone in the section doesn’t know how it goes, it’s a problem. Everyone notices, and that person is probably not getting called back. I show up to play music, not just lay down the notes, and I understand that the way you play Bach is not the way you play Bruckner. I think these aspects of my playing have helped me get noticed, which has led to those precious recommendations.

3. Can you give us some insight on your practice routine?

My first principle of practicing is that you have to be analytical if you want to improve. Playing something incorrectly fifty times doesn’t help you play it better, it just makes you really good at playing it poorly. When I encounter a problem, I look for the root causes and try to address those. I ask questions like: Am I breathing? Am I using my weight? How is my tracking? Does the shape of my left hand allow for reliable shifts? Is upper body movement helping or hindering me? Once I’ve addressed these sorts of issues, I come back to the difficult passage and it’s usually better immediately. It’s also important to develop a concept of how you want something to sound before you begin to work on it. Otherwise, your technical limitations will influence your artistic decisions.

Analytical work is crucial, but you also need to play a lot of notes. The method described above can lead to 90 minutes spent on 8 bars, which is sometimes necessary but often counterproductive. I like to read through etude books like Storch-Hrabe and Findeisen just to keep my chops/endurance up, especially when I’m going through a period with few concerts. The point isn’t to get everything absolutely perfect, but rather to work on the problems presented in an etude and then keep moving. This is good for sight reading skills as well.

4. Who have been some of your major influences throughout your musical career?

My teachers Don Palma, Ken Harper, and Sue Cahill have had a huge influence on me. Sue’s influence was very important, as she was my first teacher and got me off on the right foot. Ken taught me a lot about analytical thinking, and Don helped me grow into a more mature musician. Jacqueline du Pre’s playing inspired me a lot when I was starting out, and Edgar Meyer was an absolute revelation when I discovered him. Other muscians that come to mind are: Francois Rabbath, Paul Ellison, Ed Barker, Anner Bylsma, Pieter Wispelwey, Itzhak Perlman, Jascha Heifetz, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Emma Kirkby, Ian Bostridge, Carlos Kleiber, Claudio Abbado, Ton Koopman, and John Eliot Gardiner.

5. What kind of gear are you using? What gear do you recommend for a player who is playing a lot around the city?

I play a German bass, made by Johannes Rubner in 1988. It has an excellent C-extension by Roberson and Sons in Albuquerque. That shop did most of the set up as well. I use a Marco Raposo bow. No matter what kind of gear you have, getting around the city is a pain. I highly recommend a solid rubber (not inflatable) wheel. I’ve had mine over ten years and it’s still going strong. A thoroughly waterproof case (I have a Mooradian) is important, too.

6. Your primary focus is classical music, what insight can you give into the current state of the classical scene in New York City? Is it thriving, in transition or completely irrelevant?

That’s a hard to question to answer, because New York doesn’t have just one classical music scene. I can think of at least three, and they’re all doing differently. The biggest scene is the major institutions like the Met, Phil, Ballet,and Carnegie Hall. No other city in the country has so many, and on the whole these organizations are doing relatively well at the moment, although the financial difficulties of New York City Opera have been hard to watch. In the long term, I think the other big organizations need to be concerned they don’t go down that path as well.

Another scene consists of smaller organizations like chamber orchestras, both in and around the city. This is where I have most of my work. Many these groups are are struggling to find and retain audiences, but they are surviving. In general they are doing fewer concerts with fewer players than they used to, but I don’t want to paint too dark a picture. Some groups are doing well, and there will always be a place for classical music beyond Lincoln Center and Carnegie. The third scene is built around new music, and it’s thriving, with lots of excellent performances at places like Roulette, Spectrum and Le Poisson Rouge.

Classical music in general could be much more relevant to popular culture, but most of the attempts I see to ‘open up the concert hall’ or ‘find new audiences’ are ineffective. It is not enough to do a few kids concerts, or hire a ‘Director of Outreach’ to solve the problem from behind a desk. There needs to be a radical and probably uncomfortable change in the environment around classical music, both for it’s artistic health and it’s financial sustainability. It’s not just the environment: the way the music is performed needs to change as well, starting with the banishment of artless, audition mentality playing.

Musicians, especially in orchestras, need to start thinking of ourselves as artists, not worker drones, and consider the aesthetic, moral, economic, and political consequences of our performances. It is increasingly clear that these questions cannot be outsourced to administrators, conductors, or star soloists. We have to take full ownership of, and responsibility for the music we create. I could go on, but I guess I’d have to start my own blog for that. 

7. Where do you go to hear live music when you aren’t playing it in New York?

I often find myself at Spectrum, The Stone, or Roulette. The Dimenna Center has interesting concerts. Sometimes I’ll go to Smalls, Rockwood, or The Bitter End. There’s always Lincoln Center and Carnegie. I recently discovered DROM, which is starting a classical series directed by Ransom Wilson. Ok, maybe that last one is a bit of a plug.

8. Outside of being a musician, what are some of your favorite pass times? What has been one of your most memorable moments living in New York that hasn’t involved music?

I enjoy reading and discovering hidden corners of the city, both in person and on the map. Pablo Casals supposedly said something like “I’m a human first, a musician second, and a cellist third”. Real or not, it’s a good quote, and with that in mind, I should probably get out more. My most memorable non-musical moment in New York is definitely taking part in the Occupy Wall Street protests. They were the sort of thing I know I’ll look back on in forty years and say “I was there”, even if they were in many ways ultimately disappointing.

9. Who are you currently listening to?

I’ve gotten back into Webern recently, and I’m always listening to Bach, especially Ton Koopman’s recordings. A friend turned me on to Gardiner’s recordings of Brahms. I’ve always liked his recordings of the Beethoven symphonies. I’m a big fan of Schubert and Schumann Lieder- the human voice is the ultimate musical instrument and the best model for instrumentalists. My favorite singers for that rep are Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Ian Bostridge. Verdi, Berg, and Stravinsky have grabbed my attention lately. For newer stuff, I’m really liking Thomas Ades, although I haven’t heard the opera of his New York City Opera is putting on. Can’t forget Miles Davis and Mingus.

10. Any words of wisdom for younger/aspiring players who may or may not be reading this?

If you’re not putting your heart and soul into your music, you’re not doing it right. Play scales to give your heart and soul the means to reach your audience. Don’t let the pressure of success, jaded colleagues, or the insular atmosphere of a conservatory crush your artistic spirit. Have a life beyond music, so you have something to say with it.

Catch Nathaniel at these upcoming live performances in 2013:

3/23 Ensemble 212 @ Good Shepherd-Faith Church, 8pm. Music by Felsenfeld, Schubert, Hummel, and Haydn. More info: here

4/12 Yale in New York @ Zankel Hall, 7:30pm. Music by Strauss, Barnson and Tchaikovsky. More info: here

4/27 Metro Chamber Orchestra @ St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, 8pm. Beethoven 9. More info: here

Interview with: Justin Goldner


The first interview of the year is with a bassist who is beyond up and coming but a full blown professional in the New York music scene. Justin Goldner‘s musical explorations have taken him to 25 countries as a bassist, guitarist, producer, songwriter, language junkie and lover of culture in all its manifestations. Working as a session musician and sideman in New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville he has been privileged to make music with the likes of Paul Shaffer, Lenny Pickett, John Scofield, Chris Potter, Wayne Krantz, Richard Bona and Mark O’Connor.

As the founder of Funky Butter Productions, he has produced albums and/or written for Grace McLean, Carrie Manolakos, Abby Bernstein and others. As an educator, he has conducted music master classes in English and Spanish, in Latin America and Asia through the U.S. State Department’s “American Music Abroad” program and writes regularly for the Subdiversity Blog with tips for professional and touring musicians. He hurls consistently snarky remarks into the Twitter-void via @JusBass.

1. What were some of the first gigs when you first started here? What do you recommend to new players on the scene in regards to getting work in the city?

For a few years when I first got to town, I was mostly playing with my college band at Village spots like The Lion’s Den, The Bitter End, etc. At a certain point, I started scouring Craigslist to see what else was out there, and that experience— of playing with groups that ran the gamut as far as styles, expectations, skill level (and quality!)— was really instructional in getting my skills together both as a player and as a professional. I would take any and every gig I could find, more for the variety and experience that to make a buck because I was in school at the time. I was really lucky too in that I pretty much enjoyed it all, from the dive bar cover gig to the jazz brunch and everything in between.

For players who are new in town, getting yourself out there is really critical as far as meeting people and networking, but ALSO for learning what’s expected of pro musicians. Being an excellent player is the prerequisite; maintaining high professional standards, reliability, and just being a good person are what get you hired (and re-hired).

2. What are some of the aspects of your playing that have made you successful?

I was a really obsessive listener as a kid, and so I think having that wide musical vocabulary has given me a broad palette for different musical situations. At a certain point, I had to “unlearn” some of the chopsier aesthetic I had once gravitated towards, so I think learning to “dial it back” and to listen to other musicians while I’m playing has really helped me as well. Attention to detail (sometimes bordering on obsessive!) has also been a boon- focusing on what note is most effective, where to place that note against the drums (pocket), and when to cut that note off lets me make informed choices when writing and playing parts.

3. Can you give us some insight on your practice routine?

Nowadays, my practice is most often focused on listening, pocket, and tone. I’ll sometimes learn the bass part from a record I’m inspired by, and then play along to it (with my volume down) and try and learn the other instrumental parts while I’m playing the bass part. This takes my focus away from my own playing and really trains me to be conscious of what everyone else is doing, making my own choices more supportive.

I also love playing along to a metronome and varying my placement— locked in, ahead of or behind the beat. Wayne Krantz once advised me, “When you’re playing to a drum machine or a loop, it does all the grooving for you. Making a groove sit well against just a click is the real challenge.” I’m still working on that one!

4. Who have been some of your major influences throughout your musical career?

My influences— the lasting, recurrent ones— seem to be artists whose music changed repeatedly throughout their careers. Time and again I’ve rediscovered Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell, both of whom changed direction over and over, along with Meshell Ndegeocello, who was effectively the reason I picked up the bass. J.S. Bach has also marked several really formative periods in my musical growth. His melodies, his intervals and inversions are all unmatched and inspire me to try new things, whether I’m playing pop music, jazz, or anything in between.

As far as other bassists: Paul McCartney, Sting, Aston “Familyman” Barrett (of Bob Marley fame). Meshell Ndegeocello once told me, “Every one of Familyman’s bass lines is like a complete song in itself”. David Hood (of the Muscle Shoals Swampers).

5. What kind of gear are you using? What gear do you recommend for a player who is playing a lot around the city?

Portability is absolutely key in New York- my gear seems to get lighter and lighter each year! I end up using my ‘66 Precision and a Hofner Club reissue quite a lot, and I have a ‘67 Vox Sidewinder that is just dripping vibe. (I coveted Dave Dawda’s Sidewinder for ages before finding my own!)

For years, though, my only gigging axe was a Modulus VJ that Meshell Ndegeocello was kind enough to give me. It’s a great instrument, but a modern active bass with a graphite neck is a far cry from most of the tones I was after, and as a result, I found that there’s a huge range of tonal flexibility in your fingers alone. I’m not too picky about amps, or even really about basses, so if you find an instrument that inspires you to pick it up in the first place, I think the rest is about what your hands do with it.

I also have a habit of acquiring random shit on Craigslist that makes weird sounds. I figure if I use an instrument on 2 tracks, it’s more or less paid for itself. I have big Mexican bass guitarron that has way more than filled its quota, and a banjo that I bought off my friend in high school for $50. The pickup that I put in it a couple years ago cost more than the banjo did!

If you’re really curious about some other gear I try and maintain a list here.

6. You also run a production company and are a musical director. Do you feel musicians need to broaden their horizons in our new market place or is there still room for a typical “sideman”?

I got into producing and MD’ing because I kept meeting artists that I was especially inspired to work with, and those sorts of collaborations soon proved to be incredibly fulfilling creatively. It’s always a great idea to expand your skill set partially because it opens new opportunities for work but also, because it can open up new perspectives on your playing. At the same time, knowing when to step back and let someone else take the reigns is the mark of a mature musician.

For example, recording and mixing has given me new respect and understanding for what engineers do, as well as given me ears to fine-tune my bass playing (and tone) to sit better with the other musical elements on a track or in a band. But when I’m producing, I always prefer to have an engineer on hand whose job it is to look after the sonic elements so that I can focus on musical texture, arrangement, and getting memorable performances. In fact, I think my best moments as a producer or music director have been when I’ve had the freedom to step back and put the bass in another person’s hands. It’s important to take on a single role at a time so you can best fulfill that role.

7. Where do you go to hear live music when you aren’t playing it in New York?

Rockwood Music Hall is kind of the center of the universe for me these days. To have a place where you can go 7 nights a week and see free music on 2 stages from 6pm to 2am and have it be consistently GOOD music, whether or not you know who you’re seeing is damn near close to magical. I could go on for ages about how Ken Rockwood stepped up and filled a sorely needed gap in the New York music scene, or about how inspiring it is to step off of stage after a gig at Rockwood only to have the best musicians in the world playing before and/or after you. The fact is, I feel lucky to be in NYC with the scene existing there the way it does.

Besides that, I love catching world and groove music at places like Bembe in Williamsburg, and some friends of mine have a hip-hop/soul jam called “The Lesson” on Thursdays at Arelene’s Grocery. Those are consistent stops during my late-night wanderings.

8. Outside of being a musician, what are some of your favorite pastimes? What has been one of your most memorable moments living in New York that hasn’t involved music?

I have a strange hobby of dabbling with foreign languages. It’s proven to be a really incredible window into getting to know people from other places and cultures, in a similar way that music can be. I’m also trying to get my dancing chops together that is, to get my feet and hips working as well as my fingers do, since movement is a completely fundamental part of music that I dismissed for way too long.

I think the most thrilling thing about New York in the almost 9 years that I’ve lived here is the unexpected day to day collisions as people stream through their lives. Random encounters, either with people you knew long ago and never expected to see, or with people you never knew who then become significant parts of your life… that’s what keeps me absolutely addicted to New York City. And that moment in the train, when some crazy dude is making a fuss so you share a frighteningly amused moment of eye contact with the stranger across the subway car. Those times when the fourth wall of New York insulation is broken those are the most memorable for me.

9. Who are you currently listening to?

Florence & The Machine: I love the unconventional arrangements and textures and (producer) Paul Epworth is brilliant. Della Mae: a fantastic bluegrass band that I met on a (wild) gig in Turkmenistan Salsa, merengue and bachata. I fell in love with this stuff during a tour in the Domincan Republic! A surprising amount of country pop (Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum) Crooked Still: Traditional blues and bluegrass songs with a contemporary but organic spin. J.S. Bach: particularly, the cello suites, French Suites, and a disc of oboe concerti

10. Any words of wisdom for younger/aspiring players who may or may not be reading this?

If you’re going to put any time into a project, you might as well give it 200% in every regard. There are a million amazing musicians in New York City, and there is always going to be someone out there who’s better than you. That can be utterly intimidating, but I find it really motivating as well, to hold yourself to the highest standards. You CAN be really fucking good at what you do, and you should. Once you’ve achieved that once or twice, it’s no longer something you have to take on faith- it becomes a reliable part of your work ethic.

I also think it’s important to do some leveling with yourself and figure out what your lowest common denominator is. You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing, or you’ll burn out quick! That doesn’t mean every gig is going to be a breeze; in fact, it’s unlikely that you’re going to waltz into anything comfortable until you’ve cut your teeth a bit. But that experience is invaluable, and the truth is, the sideman/hired-gun route is not right for everyone, and is not the only career path in music. It’s important to take stock of what you want to be doing musically and creatively 5, 10, 30 years down the road, and steer your course accordingly.

And in case it didn’t come through above- enjoy every moment. That’s why we got into music in the first place, right?

Want to see Justin live? Check out some of his upcoming gigs in 2013.

3/8 Meaghan Farrell @ Tammany Hall, 8pm

3/9 Del Exilio CD Release @ Joe’s Pub, 11pm

3/18 Jenn Bostic @ Rockwood Music Hall, 8pm

3/19 Alice Lee @ Rockwood Music Hall, 6pm

3/20 Grace Weber @ Rockwood 2, 7pm

Interview with: Bryan Percivall


After quite a hiatus, we’re finally back with a new interview. This newest interview is with a player that keeps busy performing on double and electric bass. Bryan Percivall is a professional bassist, musical director and teacher. His 10 year professional career has seen tours from Athens, Greece to Los Angeles and studios from Avatar and Legacy in NYC to Ocean Way of Nashville and Q Division of Boston. In addition to session work in New York he is currently touring with his own rock band, Romans, with singer Jeremy Lublin (We Are the Fury) and guitarist Craig Bonich (Head Automatica). Bryin is also directing the band of country singer Emily Earle.

Bryan will be performing with Emily Earle at 11st Bar on March 21st at 10 P.M. and will also be performing with his band Romans as a headliner at Bowery Electric on April 28th. You can access their music and other projects Bryan has been involved with via this link. Brian can also be contact directly at his email address

1. What were some of the first gigs when you first started here? What do you recommend to new players on the scene in regards to getting work in the city?

Just some of the worst things you would never want to hear, haha. I took anything and everything from everyone. Lots of craigslist gigs and random people from open jams, even a few gigs from a guy I met in a Sam Ash. I’ve come to realize that its not about what you’re necessarily qualified for, but telling someone you can do it and figuring it out. I talked myself into a musical theater recording session with an orchestra on bowed upright. Not something for which I was particularly qualified, but I practiced the hell out of if for a month, made it happen, and they loved me.
I’ve made several thousand off of craigslist gigs in the couple years I’ve been here. While many of these were not the greatest gigs themselves, the connections I made led me to some of the best musicians I now know in some of the most bewildering and unexpected ways.

Networking is huge obviously. It’s surprising how many gigs you get from talking to someone at a bar without them ever having heard you, you might just be in the right place at the right time. That being said, remember theres a fine line between being an awesome networker and being obnoxious. Make connections and be friendly but don’t be a creepy stalker.

In general: be on time, look awesome, be professional, rock out, be easy to work with, be fun to hang out with, and be a killer player. It’s all of these things equally that make someone remember your name when they’re looking for a bassist for their next awesome $1000 gig.

2. What are some of the aspects of your playing that have made you successful?

Pocket, versatility and enthusiasm. Give me anything from a country gig to a musical theater gig and I’ll be doing everything I can to make some butts wiggle, haha. I’ve figured out that what’s served me best is doing as many different things as possible but still sounding like me when I do them. I’m doing a jazz fusion gig later and I know I’m not going to be a Patitucci and I’ll probably sound more like a Paul Jackson but they hired me because they know that that’s what they’re going to get.

3. On a typical day what is your practice routine like?

Recently, I’ve been learning guitar and key bass to try some different things and that’s taken up a lot of the practice time that is not spent specifically learning songs for artists. I feel that learning something like guitar is important for us lowend-ers because it shifts your ear to hearing some of the upper structure of chords. Its amazing how hard it is to pick those things out if you’re used to playing root-5 in the lower octaves all day long. I got a Roland Gaia recently to learn some key bass parts for a singer songwriter I play for and have been really running with it. I’m going to do some insane, brutal, saw-tooth synth, Presets/Rapture type group by the end of the summer and we’ll wear insane costumes and every gig will be a huge mess of a party. Just wait and see, haha.

4. Who have been some of your major influences throughout your musical career?

As far as bass: Meshelle Ndegeocello, Raphael Saadiq, ‘Family Man’ Barret, James Jamerson, Pino Palladino and Justin Meldal-Johnsen, amongst all the others. Pino and Justin’s careers really inspire me to be constantly evolving, searching for something new, even if that isn’t just playing bass. Justin was Beck’s bassist and MD for 11 years, then did Nine Inch Nails last tour, played with everyone from Black Eyed Peas to Bird and the Bee and has a ridiculous film session discography as well. As if that wasn’t enough, he also produces; he did M83’s last album and is finishing the Neon Trees. If I can have 1% that hip of a career, I’ll die happy. Still, he finds time to have a great forum on and answer on a daily basis.

5. What kind of gear are you using? What gear do you recommend for a player who is playing a lot around the city?

Mainly I use a Jazz bass that I got on eBay for 80% of everything I do. Its a ‘69 body with original pick ups and a replacement ESP neck from the 80s. It was all painted this horrid black and I sanded and refinished the body in my bath tub. I was going to put a ‘74 neck on it but ended up just going with the one that was on it. In addition to the Jazz I also have a Ken Smith 5 string MW, a hollow body ‘69 Vox Sidewinder that I got from my uncle, and a ’50s reissue P that has 7 year old flats on it. I’m looking for a good 70’s P with a J bass pick up in the bridge spot now.

We’re blessed to live in a city where a backline is pretty regular, so take advantage of that. The only down side of that is you never know what you’re going to get. Some rooms have great amps, like Rockwood and Living Room with their Aguilar rigs, and other times you’ll have trash, (we wont name names…). I always bring a preamp/DI pedal to plug through so I can send something I know I like to the front of house and also try to mold the amp a little bit. I use the SansAmp bass driver for the DI or the VT Bass pedal to start with something I know I like. A bunch of companies like Mark Bass, Eden, Aguilar and others make some great options for relatively low cost, so try a few out.

As far as amps go, it’s nice to have something on a little cart that you can carry around on the subway and not have to spend $50 of the $75 you’re making on a gig on the cab. I have a Aguilar ToneHammer 500 powering a DNS-112N cab that Jaxon over at Rudy’s Music helped me pick out. It sounds great, loud enough to play weddings or even venues like Glasslands, and it weighs nothing. The head is 4 lbs and the cab is 30lb, not my definition of fun to carry but sure beats spending the cash. Gallien-Krueger and Genz Benz make some great light amps as well.
For larger gigs, I have a SVT-3 driving an Ampeg 4x10 hlf or I have access to a Ampeg VR-4 with an 80’s 8x10 if I really need it. Pedals I’m using include: VT Bass Driver, Sans Amp Bass Driver, Rat Fuzz, T-Rex Bass Juice, EHX Bass Synth and Frequency Analyzer, Boss CEB-3 and OC-2, Ernie Ball Volume Pedal and the EBS Multi Comp.

6. When recording bass, what are some essential tools you like to use? (Plugins, DI boxes, etc.) What do you feel is key to laying down the right take?

When I record from home I just go from direct out from my SVT-3 into an M Box and into Logic. Recording from home is something that is a definite possibility for just about anyone and can be a quick and easy way to make some cash. It saves the artist money and enables you to advertise to people that are anywhere in the world. Anyone with a computer can get a DI, go through an audio interface and into whatever program you choose. In the end, you’re just sending them the .wav files. It’s not hard and you have all the time in the world to fiddle with your gear and get a good sound.

If I record at a studio, I take a listen to what their style is and try to have some options when I walk in. Maybe a couple basses that fit the artists sound? Do they want some effects? How bout a couple fuzz pedals? Usually I cruise in with my Jazz bass and one other, a SansAmp, and a couple pedals I think might be fun. I haven’t recorded at a legitimate studio that didn’t have an amp and DI that I didn’t enjoy, if I’m lucky I get a Avalon U5 and a crusty old SVT. Most of the fun of recording is being able to go through the studios toy chest and tinker about.

Getting the right take is about talking to the artist or producer to see where they’re coming from and then giving them as many ideas as you can to fit the song. That could mean the part is simple and bassy, maybe they need a bright pick bass sound or a Jamiroquai modern funk line. Go with your instinct and make something you can sing. All of my best takes are when I’m tired, don’t know the song and am just scrambling to catch up and put it down. Take 1 or 2 is always the best.

7. Where do you go to hear live music when you aren’t playing it in New York?

Rockwood Music Hall always has good music and it’s usually free so it’s fun to drop in there. There’s a great community of musicians that hangs out there on any given night. One time I saw Tim Lefebvre and a drummer I didn’t recognize until I saw him playing on a DVD of the Allman Brothers the next day, crazy. You can wander the Lower East Side and hit that, Pianos upstairs, and Living Room for nothing. Pianos also has the best margaritas for $4 before 8 pm.

8. Outside of being a musician, what are some of your favorite pass times? What has been one of your most memorable moments living in New York that hasn’t involved music?

I used to love video games, but COD ate too much of my life so I had to get rid of that, haha. I really love food and just exploring the city. Planning out a trip with a couple plans to eat brains at this Egyptian place in Astoria, have to try everything once…

9. Who are you currently listening to?

Allison Moorer, Blondie, always have Bowie in rotation, Feist’s last album Metals is awesome, Iceage, James Blake, Miike Snow, Foreign Exchange, Warm Ghost, NIN and Q-Tip are some of my recent favorites. Waiting on the new Santigold album…

10. Any words of wisdom for younger/aspiring players who may or may not be reading this?

Have fun; no one gets good at an instrument if they hate it. And if you’re planning on making music your full time career, make sure you’re putting in the time. Fill your schedule with as many gigs as you can and if you’re not gigging then go see someone else’s gig. Some of my friends work 70 hours with more regular jobs, make sure you’re doing the same.