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BassPlayer 2017-04

BassPlayer 2017-04

CS STING philosophies of

CS STING philosophies of music. The song is not for any political solution— I don’t have one—but it’s an exercise in empathy for people who are running from terrible violence and cruelty. I think it’s important for all of us to imagine ourselves in that position. It could happen to us one day; who knows? On “50,000” and “Petrol Head” I’m hearing low D’s and C#’s on the bass. That’s me detuning my E string, as I occasionally do. I rarely use a 5-string—it confuses me! Beginning with your Back to Bass tours a few years back, you’ve been playing bass lines from your entire career. Would you say you’re playing any of them differently, or that your style has evolved? I’m always looking for innovation when revisiting songs. The main difference is I’m using my thumb and two fingers [index and middle] tucked underneath, in a sort of apoyando style, which not many bass players use. That began in the ’90s, from having played guitar all my life and being interested in classical guitar technique, and then playing the lute, which had six bass strings and 26 strings in all. I became intrigued by righthand technique and how much choice you have. My thumb is forward and the two fingers are behind that, which I’ll use to get a tremolo effect. I worked opposite Tony Levin on tour with Peter Gabriel last year; he was watching me and he said, “Wow, I’ve never seen that before.” Then I saw him trying it [laughs]. Back with the Police I was playing bass with a pick, and I often doubled bass lines on guitar, which gave a very pointed, precise tone. Now I’m into a rounder, warmer sound. You play a lot of chugging eighth-notes on the album. Are you using your thumb for that? Yes, I use thumb downstrokes with lots of damping with my palm and left hand. I think eighth-notes are very powerful. Also, I tend to push the tempo against the backbeat when I play them; I think that tension, with the drummer sitting back, is what gives the music its excitement—just like harmonic tension can create. Has playing with Vinnie Colaiuta for many years had an effect on your style? There’s no doubt. Vinnie and I have a great relationship, one of trust. The only thing I’ll tease him about is the double bass drum. I’ll say, “Hey, where am I in this equation?” And he’ll crack up laughing. There has to be a tradeoff, as the bass and the bass drum are very important as partners. Vinnie is an extraordinary musician who has been with me for almost 30 years, on and off, and I appreciate all that he adds to my music. I’ve been blessed to work with the best drummers in the world: Stewart Copeland, Omar Hakim, Keith Carlock; I’ve got Josh Freese on this tour, while Vinnie is working with Herbie Hancock. Let’s face it, a band is only as good as the drummer. Let’s talk about some of the top bassists you’ve hired over the years. Sure, like the Munch Man [Darryl Jones], Christian McBride, Ira Coleman, Will Lee. I have a tremendous respect for bass players; I understand the lineage they come from. And it’s great to have a holiday some nights so you can just sing. People like Will or Ira or Nathan East will come to my aid and give me that holiday. I do listen, though, and if I don’t agree with something, I’ll let them know [laughs]. I’m also very sensitive to bass volume, because bass frequencies are everywhere; they’re multi-directional. You don’t need to be that loud. I’d rather the volume came from the actual playing than from an amplifier. If you’re playing behind the volume of an amp, you can really play. But if the volume of the amp is playing you, that’s different. I prefer a quieter bass, a felt bass, rather than something that’s overbearing. Early on, I played bass guitar in a big band, and I learned very quickly how to blend using an amplified instrument rather than overpowering the horn section. That was a great lesson for me. Have any bassists caught your ear these days? I love Metallica’s Robert Trujillo. He’s not only a great bass player, it’s the drama of how he plays, and he’s a showman, which I think is fantastic. I’m also impressed with the emergence of excellent female bassists. I’ve played with both Tal Wilkenfeld and Esperanza Spalding. With Tal it was very funny; we were doing an event in Las Vegas, and we were playing an Aerosmith song—I forget the song—and it was kind of a complicated bass line. And Tal came over and said, “Sting, it’s not quite the way you’re playing it” [laughs]. I really respected her courage to come up to me and teach me the right way to play the part, and I was very grateful. She’s an amazing bassist with great ears. And Esperanza, my god, she’s a triple threat—she writes, she’s a fantastic singer, and she’s an incredible bass player. There’s a trend in younger bands across the musical spectrum of having no bass player. Do you have any concerns? It doesn’t worry me. Various types of instrumentation go in and out of fashion, but the Fender bass will be with us forever. My daughter plays bass and sings in her own band. I gave her one of my signature Fender Precisions, which are lovely instruments. She’s very good and a great singer, too. What lies ahead? I’ll tour most of the year, and Peter Gabriel and I would like to go out again, maybe in 2018—we had a great time. My work is kind of seasonal: I have a season when I’m thinking, a season when I’m writing, a season when I’m recording, and a season when I’m playing. They rarely coincide; I don’t think much about composing when I’m on tour. Right now I’m solely looking forward to playing these songs onstage every night. There are very few studio tricks on the record, so it will be fairly easy to reproduce and enhance. Then it’s up to us to incrementally change the arrangements. Something will occur every night as we play them, sometimes by accident, sometimes by design. Songs are meant to evolve—they’re living, breathing, organic things. That’s why I love touring: You rediscover the songs. BP 34 bassplayer.com / april2017

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