iamtheelvy

Generally bass-based activities… More info at iamtheelvy.wix.com/iamtheelvy

Getting going 

Ergh… this week, it’s been back to work time, but also time to start getting going with rehearsals and prepping for gigs etc for the year. That means early alarm calls and late night practices… Feeling it a bit tbh…

Anyway, there’s lots of exciting things on the horizon. Some good gigs, recording, radio shows. All good. On the other side, I’ve had various bits of kit start showing their age a little, not least my venerable Boss OC-2 that’s been on my board for ages. Slight switching issues means it’s not as reliable… Still, I’ve got a backup for now, and just means I need to go pedal shopping again! A bit of a risk when a favourite pedal is a discontinued model!

Away from bass, guitar practices are going well, and essential to learn riffs are slowly going in. That is, bar one annoyingly simple one in 6/8 that just isn’t working for me right now. More work to do…

After last year’s string testing, my basses are slowly changing over to the Dunlop Super Brights. Cannot recommend them enough! 

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Varied styles

I’ve been listening to a lot of varied styles of music this week. Further to my Christmas selection last time, a lot of ambient, jazz and world music has been added to the mix. I like getting a broad range to styles to listen to, as it all feeds into what I do. I don’t necessarily want to play those styles alone, but their influences can feed into what I want to play at any given time and make it that little bit different…

That’s it really for this time. I’ve got to betray my bass roots and focus on guitar a bit right now!

New music

My family are very good at writing Christmas lists. Rather than leaving it to chance, a few choice items that we would like helps everyone’s shopping trips prior to the big day! For me, this inevitably means having to trim down a spectacularly long list of albums that I’m wanting to a more sensible suggestion. That and replacing the various home appliances that have exploded during the year…

This year is no exception, and has been a particularly good one for a wide range of musical styles. Having had an initial listen through, here’s what’s been on the playlist this week!

Jaco Pastorius – Word of Mouth

This is actually a fairly mellow jazz album, but kicks of with ‘Crisis’, a crazy fest of energetic free-flowing improvisations. It features some excellent bass moments, but is a far wider reaching album that shows off Jaco’s skill as a composer also. (Complimented with the Jaco autobiography).

Muse – Live at Rome Olympic Stadium

I haven’t listened too much to Muse’s recent material, but appreciate that live is where they really shine. A must for any bass distortion fanatics.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Getaway

I’ve been a fan of the RHCP for a long time, and still enjoy their music, but must say that the band are sounding a little tired nowadays. There are still good tracks on here though and anyone that just knows them particularly for their ‘pop’ era music (By The Way onwards), will enjoy this.

The Claypool Lennon Delirium – Monolith of Phobos

Ok, this is a weird album. However, anyone well-versed in Les Claypool’s music will be surprised at the lack of trademark slapping/tapping/strumming styles.

Music from Twin Peaks

This is actually quite nice mellow background music, mostly. Parts of it, maybe not so much. Don’t listen to it by yourself in a darkened house…

Newton Faulkner – Human Love

Did this the wrong way round and heard the songs live before getting the album. However, they stand up in both contexts. A slight change from his previous albums, bringing in more electric instrumentation. Watch live performances for a guitar that controls all things…

The Boxer Rebellion – Ocean by Ocean

Was keen to hear this album having gone to college with half the band. Surprisingly more mellow than I thought it would be.

Bellowhead – Live – The Farewell Tour

Bellowhead were consistently vying for the top spot in my favourite bands to see live. Unfortunately, if you haven’t done so already, you now can’t, as the title of this album may suggest… This is a good album, compiling a ‘best-of’ of their work, but there is a sense that the band are going through the motions.

Rush – R40 Live (DVD)

It doesn’t seem that long since I bought R30… This is Rush’s 40th anniversary tour, and they decided to do things differently for it. Having been going for so long, obviously the band have changed how they do things a lot over time. For this tour, the band use period-correct gear for each set, changing equipment as the concert moves along to match the era of music.

That’s it for now, though my birthday is not far off, so will have to see what comes up next!

Simple setup? Complicated setup?

I don’t play guitar very often, but have been asked to play at an event in the new year. I tinker with my guitar setup once in a while, but don’t spend too long on it as it’s only likely to come out once or twice a year. Nevertheless, this event is going to be quite a big one, and I want to make sure I get the right balance of having lots of tonal options, but also minimising the risk of anything failing…

The simplest setup would be a guitar straight into an amp, of course. Or even an amp modeller… However, this doesn’t leave much room for bringing a variety of sounds to the mix, so we get into the setting up of a pedalboard (again). I do get a bit carried away when setting up a board, and tend to end up with a load of pedals I don’t actually ever use. While not a problem as such, this does mean that there’s more to go wrong, and my board is now more cramped, increasing the chance of stamping on the wrong thing at the wrong time…

Also, considering that I will be playing with a largish band, I don’t need to create a lot of weird and wonderful sounds (boo!), as there’s not as much space that needs filling…

Shall have to ponder this carefully, go against instincts and trim some things down.

Maybe.

Christmas bass.

Yes, it’s that time of the year! Get out the old dusty Christmas CD that’s come out every year since forever. Only once a year, so it’s not worth replacing too regularly right? As such, the same songs have been going round and round in the car for a while now…

…Bit sick of some of them tbh…

Still, it’s given a chance to listen to what bass players do this time of year! Not a lot really, by the number of super-simple lines or pre-programmed synth tracks behind old favourites. Hmm. 

However, there are a few good ones out there, so here’s a shout out to couple of excellent Christmas bass moments!

Elton John – Step Into Christmas – Nice driving line on this track, with the bass quite prominent in the mix. Think there’s a couple of versions of this out there, but certainly on at least one mix the bass actually stays a little louder at the end as the other instruments fade out…

The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping – All bassists should check out Tracy Wormworth’s bass line on this check. A super-slinky, melodic line with a slightly gritty tone, pushing it forward in the mix. It’s just a really cool bass line, and you can’t say that for many Christmas songs!

I do start to struggle after that, without going a bit off the beaten track (we could look up Bootsy Collins’ Christmas album, for instance). Still love Christmas songs though!

Competing with Santa…

A good opportunity is not to be missed, so being offered a headlining slot at a Christmas lights switch on couldn’t be turned down. Nevertheless, an outdoor gig in the winter does require some preparation! I’ve experienced this before, having played a carol concert in freezing temperatures to the point of barely being able to move… Thick, warm layers were called for (though, do need to remind the rest of the band…).

You do have to play your part in a big public event, and certain comprises may need to be met. In this case, quick turnover times meant very little in terms of setup or soundcheck. Set times may be reduced because of this. Nevertheless, you do your best to stay warm and play well!

At the end of the day, accept that most people are there to see Santa, not listen to you…

Holding onto simplicity…

Over the weekend, I sat in a seminar regarding bass playing (specifically in church, but relevant to all players). For a one-off session designed to cover all that may turn up, this was aimed at those just starting out, or just starting to work on improving their playing. It addressed the basic fundamentals of bass playing and what it took to be part of a wider band. I’d like to think, after many years of playing, that most of this would come fairly naturally nowadays, but nevertheless I was keen to see if there was anything I could feed into my own playing…

A common argument for learning advanced theory and techniques is ‘if you learn it you don’t have to play it’. Nevertheless, knowing players of many different levels of playing, I’m aware that learning more and progressing your playing can easily lead to overplaying way too much! 

Now, I’m guilty of this as much as any, but it is important to address. It’s a great thing to advance your playing, improve and push yourself, but it’s also important to have a respect for, and play for the song. Some do just need a very simple line underneath, and pulling out all your fancy tricks are not going to show you off in a good light! Save it for when it’s relevant and it’ll be all the better!

Simplicity doesn’t have to be boring. Focus on getting involved in the overall arrangement of the song and the band. Get your timing just right. Learn simple, tasteful changes between notes that serve the song and improve it, rather than overpower it!

Stepping back, not stepping down…

I’ve enjoyed playing bass in a variety of environments over the years, and one of the big mainstays has been playing in my local church’s worship team. My old home church was the first place I played in public, very shortly after picking up the instrument for the first time in fact, and was a safe environment to slowly learn the basics. Now, many years later, I’ve decided to step back from the team, and I thought I’d note down a few points as to why…

Having played in a huge variety of different genres, playing bass in a worship team is not challenging. The role of the bass in such a band is essentially stripped down to its core supportive purpose. I’m okay with that, it’s part of the role of the instrument that I love playing and I respect that. Yes, I’ve personally pushed the boundaries of this at times in church (heavily distorted, tapped harmonics being a particular highlight!), but always going back to the supportive role after.  The position isn’t boring though as, being the worship team, our focus is not necessarily on the complexity of the music at hand. If done right, our focus should really be elsewhere…

Now, I’m not going to get preachy or ‘religious’. It’s not really my thing. I believe in God and love worshipping him. If you do too, great, but if not, that’s ok too… I have many friends outside of my little church bubble! What I want to do is explain how the pressures on a worship band are different to those on a performing band, and what’s really led to me needing some time away from it.

When performing to an audience, the pressures are obvious. You have to play well, you have to perform well and you have to entertain people. It helps if you come across as enjoying yourself (even if you’re faking it…), but can also do the moody musician thing too… playing in a worship team is different. Yes, you still need to aim to play the best you can, but you are more likely to be in a group of mixed abilities. Much like myself, many musicians who grow up in such an environment will have their first playing experience in church. As such, more experienced players will naturally adopt a pseudo-pastoral role over them to help nurture them in their playing.

Secondly, these teams will tend to change over time. Yes, performing bands will add or lose members, but church bands tend to be more consistently fluid. Younger people will grow up and leave, students may come to town and go again after a few years. The bands themselves may get a shakeup every now and then. We’ve had more of an aim recently to keep to consistent bands, but still you are likely to find yourself playing with quite a wide group of different people (proving your church is lucky enough to have such a group!), so very rarely get the same type of musician interaction as you do with a performing band.

Most importantly is your personal spiritual health and wellbeing. I don’t want to end up sounding too floaty here, so will try to explain this as best I can! The primary focus of the band in a church is to facilitate the congregation in worshipping God, i.e. singing songs in praise of Him. It’s not about us, it’s about Him. Therefore, the better we are the more ‘transparent’ we can be, allowing the congregation to focus on God alone. 

Outside of actual musicianship, the most important thing for a worship team to maintain is a healthy focus on God themselves. As well as serving, i.e. playing, on a Sunday, it’s an important thing to allow time to just be in the congregation having your own time to worship. And here’s where I freely admit that I’ve fallen down… 

I’ve been playing bass for about 18 years now. In that time I’ve been playing in one worship team or another for… nearly 18 years… I didn’t pick up on it straight away, but over the last year or so, little niggles have been creeping in when I’ve been playing in the team. As I’ve said before, worship bass playing is not about complexity, so I ignored frustrations with what I was playing being a little boring to me, and ended up throughly un-enthused about what I was doing. This all came to a head one Sunday when I suddenly and unexpectedly reached a point of really wanting to swear at and hit those around me. Not my usual temperament…

It took a couple of days to cool down, but in reflecting upon it, I realised that I was no longer in the right place to be undertaking this role. How can I stand at the front of our congregation as part of the team leading in worship, if I was feeling this way? It was unhealthy for me, but also inappropriate for our church…

I must say thank you here for the church and team leaders for their support and understanding in this. I needed time out quite some time ago, but didn’t notice or realise it, but I’m now doing what I need for my own spiritual/physical/mental health. It’s not a final thing. As per my title, I’m stepping back for an undefined season, but I’m not stepping down. I love the music I play, and worship is part of that in or outside of church. So I will be back up there, but in the meantime I’m just going to take some time to be in the congregation.

Writing stuff…

Sooo… trying to get on with this writing thing. So far I’ve tried to be fairly regimented with what I’ve been writing on here, but have fallen out of the habit. So, have decided decided to just write periodically about what I’m doing! Mostly, that’ll still be gigging and trying out random bits of gear, but it’ll offer a bit more variation…

So, what is going on? Well, things are fairly quiet, but that’s because things are bubbling under the surface. Gigs are a little slim (though some more are being added to the diary), which is a bit frustrating, but I’m trying to just focus and improve my playing in the meantime.

I’ve a number of regular bands I play with, which I’ll write about independently or interchangeably depending on how I feel. Things is where they’re at:
Southerlies – Americana-infused original music. Currently in a quiet period. Planning some gigs, but also planning to record, so hopefully get some music out there soon! 

Christ Central Church Worship Team – My Sunday mornings! Actually taking a bit of a break from this soon. No big faith crisis or anything, but had a think and 18+ years nearly straight playing in a church band is a fair bit. Good to have a break every now and then and refresh..

(Unnamed) – new project started up recently. Bit of jazz, bit of improvisation. Still trying to find our voice, but hopefully get something out to you soon!

So, things are quiet, but still busy! Hope to be motivated to write more regularly on here in the meantime, I’m active on my Twitter account @iamtheelvy daily!

String Shootout – The End!

Ahhh, we’re finally here! After months of testing, it’s finally the end though, let’s face it, it could have been much longer – far too many strings to choose from!

So, who wins? Well, patience, patience… Let us have a quick recap of where we’ve been:

D’Addario XL Nickel Wound

My starting point. These were good strings, but certainly lacking a certain something. Smooth feel, medium tension, balanced tone.

D’Addario. XL ProSteels

These stepped things up on the tone front, fuller, though seemed a little more muted with finger style. Rougher feel.

D’Addario NYXL

Definitely stepping things up. Much lighter tension, more balanced feel and tone. Tuning stability hugely superior.

D’Addario FlexSteels

Slightly less flexible, but a much punchier tone. Back to a rougher feel. Very good sustain.

Dunlop Super Bright Nickels

Very light tension took some getting used to, but very comfortable once there. Harmonics not as strong. 

Dunlop Super Bright Steels

Very similar feel to the nickels, but a stronger tone and better harmonics. Slightly rougher feel.

At the end of the day, this all comes down to personal preference, so this was all subjective, but by far my favourite sets in this test had been the D’Addario NYXLs and the Dunlop Super Bright Steels. A final shootout was in order…


Running through an Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 and SL 112 cab, I tested the two sets out on my preferred guitar-store test tune, a version of Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Amerika’. This throws in root notes, chords and natural and pinched harmonics, so really tests things out with the full range of the instrument. 

Both sets performed very, very well, and I really cannot criticise either, and wouldn’t want to put anyone off trying either of these strings… However, I do need to finish this thing off! Being super-critical, and working towards what works best for me personally, I really scrutinised each set intently. Both were bright, rich in tone and had brilliant harmonics. Sustain was also good in both sets. 

Throughout this whole test, I have noted a preference for the tone of steel over nickel, and in the very end, though still hard pushed to choose, I felt that this continued in the final test. The Dunlops just had the edge over the D’Addarios for me and, coupled with an ever so slightly lighter tension, came out on top overall.


I shall look forward to trying these out on my other basses (and giving the Jazz a bit of a break!). All the strings on this test were well worth trying out, and may well suit other people better, but I feel that I’ve been successful in finding a new standard in tone and comfort. 

I’ll stop writing about strings for a bit now…