Playing Bass For The Creature

Jordan Brown, bassist extraordinaire for the the band The Rube Goldberg Machine played bass on a couple of tracks from my new album. Here’a blog post he wrote about the experience.

The world of prog music is an interesting ecosystem.

By definition progressive rock grants total freedom to the musicians to create (hopefully) interesting musical concoctions aimed at stimulating the cochleas and subsequently the synapses of the listener For my tastes a lot of stuff out there is a bit too abstract, formulaic or cringe – worthy. Or a combination of the three.
Tom is a very interesting artist. It seems to me that he has a very developed vision of who he is as a musician: A sci-fi storyteller with a penchant for odd time signatures and soundscapes.
Those of you who are not in the know might be already rolling their eyes – what pretentiousness!
To those people I say Mr. Slatter pulls it off like a boss and then some.
He can write great melodies, has a fine ear for arrangement, knows how to employ the principles of functional harmony (gasp!) and can capture the imagination of us prog – heads and geeks with his words.
Dude’s tres cool. The only way he could be any cooler would be if he wrote a concept album about William Adama riding a Shai – Hulud to Rapture. If you got all three references you need to get out more.

When I’ve heard he was recording his new album “Fit The Fourth” I contacted him on Facebook and asked if he could please consider having me as a guest on his album; he gracefully accepted and sent me the demos of “Some Of The Creatures Have Broken The Locks On The Door To Lab 558” (the title is so long that Bandcamp charges him double) and “Far From The Shore”. He also sent me some instructions that I can’t help but quote:

“Lab 558: This one’s a straight rocker for the most part, but have fun with it and don’t feel confined to root notes except in the middle 4/4 chorus where it probably needs ’em. That counter melody in the intro that I currently have on electric guitar might work on higher register bass. There’s also room for twiddliness on the melodic figure that precedes the drums coming in. The middle section (That’s why the sky’s falling down’) can also be more free”

“Far from the Shore: Imagine that you are adrift on the salt baked remains of what used to be your ship. The last fresh water ran out days ago and there’s no land in site. You started hallucinating at some point in the last few hours. The sun has beaten and burned away what’s left of your reason, but you’re happy because you know at some point soon you will slip beneath the waves and breathe through the new gills you have grown”

Now that’s the kinda stuff that really gets me going.

True artists don’t waste any time with technicalities. They want emotion and it was my plan to provide meister Slatter with some bass action he’d be proud to hear on his songs.

For all you audio nerds out there: I recorded my basses through my trusty NEVE 1076 straight into my Focusrite Forte and did all the editing in Studio One V2. If memory doesn’t fail me I also provided a parallel distorted track made with Guitar Rig.

So I receive the bassless demos and think: “Now what?”

Things look nebulous from here. Not the songs, there is enough there to have a clear idea of all the movements and parts in the composition.
As a guest bassist, my main aim is to enhance what’s there and make sure I don’t play against anything else. Writing a bassline at this stage of the production is like a game of chess. Most of the stuff is already there, so you kinda know the coordinates, but it’s possible that some of the stuff in there could be a place-holder that will be re recorded differently.
It’s also probable that parts of the arrangements will be developed texturally (spoiler alert – they did), the only thing is I don’t know how.
That’s where you start projecting in the future. Bass frequencies carry a lot of weight both from the sonic side of things and the harmonic too. If I play something that implies a different chord, I will ruin the harmonic motion that Tom expects; that could be a calculated risk, but it’s the first time we work together and I have to play nice.
If I play too much it’ll sound a mess. If I play too little I fail to meet the guidelines dictated by the XIX century book “De Res Progressivae” by R. Wakemanious.

This prog, for Chris’ sake. Chris is Chris Squire BTW.

I decide to follow my instinct. I shall remain glued to the drum pattern when Tom sings and alternate between counterpoint and unison with some of the lead voices during the instrumental parts, while remaining reasonably solid. May Geddy Lee smile on me.

LAB 558

For this tale of things gone incredibly wrong in an underground scientific facility, I decided to play my fretless, because, why not? It worked for Mick Karn and Colin Edwin. I too want to join the club. Being a rocky, groovy tune, the key there is being tight; there is a lot of back and forth between legato and staccato. The guitars have hidden motions that derail ever so slightly form the drum pattern – how cool! I shall underline that. Oh also let me say with a bit of pride that I don’t time quantize my takes. What’s in there is what came out of my fingers. The unison at 4:05 took me a bit to learn and play but I think it sounds really cool.
In the coda there is a little fretless melody that makes texture with the reverse guitars. The inspiration for it is worth a mention.
I was wrapping up the recording when I had this sudden realization: probably the creatures were subjected to unethical experiments – that’s my animal right advocacy talking to my subconscious right there. Probably somewhere in the devastation of the uprising of the creatures there was a young one, scared to death and suffering. That was the inspiration for my part in the coda.
I also must admit that the young creature in my head looked suspiciously similar to Stitch from Lilo & Stitch. I am a weakling and I’d probably be one of the first to die in the event of a monster invasion.

FAR FROM THE SHORE

A delightful story that seems to have stemmed from the pen of the best Lovecraft.
For this one I broke out my beloved Daphne, a P – bass / Music man crossover handbuilt by Rufini guitars. My soul mate, the apple of my eye, the cream in my coffee. Well, you got the point.
Recording this one took some time, it’s a multi part juggernaut that required different approaches. One of my favourite things is the metric modulation in the chorus where the pulse shifts from a 3 / 4 to a full on 12 / 8. That’s the good stuff in my book.
The verses are where I chose to be less conservative and basically barge my way in, playing the answering lines after the vocals. I thought if he didn’t like them I can still re record a tamer part. Looks like Meister Slatter loved them,tho, because there they are!
As a parting gift I decided to play double stops in the coda of the tune which blended nicely with the guitar voicing, giving the impression of a single big string instrument.

Thank you all for reading and thank you Tom for letting me be a part of your wonderful music; I surely enjoyed myself and I hope I did your songs justice.

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