8 months ago

BassPlayer 2017-04

BassPlayer 2017-04


CS STING LISTEN to Brand New Day; Songs from the Labyrinth, his 2006 collaboration with lutenist Edin Karamazov, playing the music of 16th-century English composer John Dowland; his 2008 Christmas album, If on a Winter’s Night, mixing traditional folk songs with several similarly intoned originals; 2010’s Symphonicities, an orchestral take on a dozen Sting standards; and The Last Ship, first a 2013 album and then an all-too-brief-running Broadway musical. While most of these recorded journeys featured upright bassists like Christian McBride or Ira Coleman, Sting—equipped with a new fingerstyle approach to bass from his classical-guitar and lute forays— “returned” to the instrument for live shows, revisiting his 25-year span of hits and even dubbing his three years of road stints “Back to Bass” tours. Now the R-word is being used in conjunction with Sting’s excellent new album, 57th & 9th, named for the Manhattan intersection near the recording studio. While many are labeling 57th & 9th Sting’s “return Sting, 57th & 9th to rock & roll,” the ten-track disc visits all phases of [2016, A&M/Interscope] Sumner (born on October 2, 1951, and raised the musical career of one Gordon Matthew Thomas in i INFO Newcastle, England). The added wrinkle here is that most of the material was spontaneously group-composed with such trusted longtime band members as guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, as well as veteran session guitarist Lyle Workman and drummer Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses, Weezer). That’s where we began our conversation with Mr. Sumner, who was in Los Angeles preparing to tour in support of his latest effort. Is it true you brought in no songs for this album? Yes, I brought in virtually nothing. On the first day, I said, “I have a confession to make: I have no idea why we’re here and what we’re going to do. Let’s just play and ping-pong some ideas,” and something came that very first day. Normally I’ll come into the studio with songs and arrangements and ideas about what should be played. But in this case I thought, Well, my band knows what I like, and I can hear when ideas work, so we can spontaneously compose together, which was very exciting. The music is a product of our long-term relationship. How did having a three-month deadline factor in? I think it helped; the record has an energy that perhaps wouldn’t 28 / april2017

have been there had it been my normal method of simply working until I felt the music was ready. I’ve always said the creative animal we’re trying to capture is very ephemeral. You have to change your method, change your angle and point of view to capture it. It’s like hunting. How did the album’s more immediate nature affect your approach to the bass lines? On previous records I’ve tended to add my bass later in the process. That wasn’t the case here, because we jammed so much of the music. I was playing the whole time and operating on a compositional level as we went. My bass parts were pretty much as they were laid down. As for my approach, it has always been about the same. I regard myself as the engine room of the band. I don’t intend to be flashy; I just function. If that means playing roots two to the bar or one to the bar, I don’t care. Occasionally, I will throw in a 3rd on the bottom just to make things interesting, but I’m there to serve as the bed of the group. And when you’re the singer, as well, it means the band is operating within your own bandwidth. So it’s a good way of being a bandleader without waving a stick around! Bass players often dig that your bass is the only instrument defining what the chord is, as is the case with the opening single, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You.” I always say, It’s not a C chord until I play a C. You can change harmony very subtly but very effectively as a bass player. That’s one of the great privileges of our role and why I love playing bass. I enjoy the sound of it, I enjoy its harmonic power, and it’s a sort of subtle heroism; it’s not the lead guitar part playing lots of hemidemisemiquavers [64th-notes] to the bar. It’s basically solid workman-like effort. Another song totally defined by the bass line is “If You Can’t Love Me.” That’s a descending bass line, and they’ve been around a long time; some bands get sued for them [laughs]. But they work every time. There’s a profundity to them. You’re going down, and the song becomes more intense and profound the deeper the bass line goes. Here, the chords get more dissonant and the tension grows. [Guitarist] Dominic Miller and I cowrote the song. It began as a dominant guitar riff, and then we added the descending scale, and that’s how we found some sense in it. Dominic has been working with me for close to 30 years. We have an intuition and a trust about each other, and he constantly surprises me, too. He’s a terrific musician who loves to explore harmony, as I do. Even going back to your first band, Last Exit, your bass lines had a compositional quality. What do you credit that to? I’ve got good ears. I’m a self-taught musician who never went to music academy. I got gigs not because I was particularly good at reading charts, but because I could hear where the harmony was going. When I would go to auditions and they asked me if I could read, I’d say, Yeah, I read the ad to show up here! Eventually, I taught myself to read. But to me the most important organ in any musician’s arsenal is the ear. It’s more important than your fingers, than the strength in your digits. It’s the first step; the first step to making music is to hear it. Also, I’ve always worked with musicians who are way better than me. It’s the same with sport—if you play tennis with someone who isn’t very good, your game won’t improve. If you are lucky enough, as I have been, to play with some of the best musicians in the world, then you have to raise your game to stay in the game. “One Fine Day” has the same Lydian tonality as your 1994 song “When We Dance.” I have my favorites, for sure—certain things my fingers find on guitar that please me. I’ve always said music is an obsessive-compulsive disorder: The ideas that please you, you keep returning to again and again. In many ways, music is a puzzle; you’re finding your way out of a maze. How to change keys has always intrigued me, and it’s something I’ll use in my songs, how to get from one key center to another without being clumsy. Even just going up a semitone, which is a truck driver’s key change— how do you disguise that and make it mysterious and almost invisible? I’m intrigued by music. I can’t say I’ll ever get to the bottom of it, but I love being in puzzle-solving mode. Your “One Fine Day” bass line has upbeat pushes on the tonic that give it almost a Latin feel. Was that conscious? That was completely unconscious. I’m a total gadfly about styles and influences. I want the songs to reflect that kind of universal interest in music rather than a genre-based interest. I’m really most intrigued by music you can’t label. Even if it’s a standard pop song, it should reflect my entire musical DNA, and I think this song does. I think this album does, actually. People have said this is my return to rock & roll, and I understand the lack of keyboards and the heavier, edgier guitar sounds are a factor / april2017 29 WW_SklarBass_2,375x9,75_USA.indd 1 27.01.17 08:55