(An acoustic bass version of don’t stop believing sung in a falsetto voice slowly fades in on a surely interesting conversation between two bass players about to discuss effects pedals.)
I had the pleasure to sit down with a long time friend and absolutely killer bass player Jon Coleman from the Philadelphia based group improvisational group, Muscle Tough. Jon is known for not only his playing but his tasteful use of effects.
So Jon, what is your touring schedule like and what is your approach to growing a fanbase for your band?
Jon: Growing a band, if you’re doing it effectively without losing money or your sanity is like spreading a virus. You want to have a really strong membrane for your project to get traction. We are a 5 year old band and Philadelphia is our home base (membrane) So our regional tour is Baltimore, DC, NYC, Vermont, Massachusetts, (is as far as we’re going) maybe Virginia in the future. You want to go to places that you can actually return to. Build relationships with the venues you play regionally so you can return, so it’s slowly progressing. We do way less shows in Philadelphia because the worst thing you can do is over-saturate your home base. You need your shows at your hometown to be events. I see a lot of house bands that will play residencies, which is well and good, but it doesn’t give people a sense of urgency to come see you play because they think they can catch you next week. Don’t lose the “event mentality” in your home town. The last shows we did in Philly was a 4 night New Years Happy Hour run playing before the Disco Biscuits. In an oversaturated and disposable social media culture it’s important to keep that event mentality. The instagram story thing is brilliant and it connects people and it’s gone in 24 hours.
As a bass player you have a really interesting soundscape using effects and add a new dimension into the traditional bass stigma. Why is there this stigma for bass players and how do we break it?
Jon: People are comfortable with tropes, it’s about identity. (Like most guitar players point one of their toes while they’re soloing.) Bassists are supposed to hold it down and not play too many licks or have a pedal. I get a lot of comments because I smile when I play bass which contraindicates the stigma of most basses being statuesque or indifferent. From an energy standpoint I am more charismatic and have always been interested in effects. As soon as I got an electric bass in freshman year of high school I walked out of the store with an RE pro effects that had a distortion, chorus and a delay maybe. As I am learning to play a whole note I am fucking with effects. In previous bands I was able to incorporate a little bit of it here and there but since I’ve moved back to Philly I’ve developed a very colorful palate of effects. I’m very inspired by the Wayne Krantz trio. We are continuing to change our tastes in Muscle Tough and influence each other. When we were starting out I would say to the other guys, “hey I can make a high pitched sound with my bass” and Ross (guitarist of Muscle Tough) would say “Hey I can find a way to go low.” And we would do that with his Fender Deluxe and my Aguilar rig. After a while I felt I wasn’t receiving enough support so I started bringing a bass amp for Ross to use. So for 4 years I would bring a bass amp for him. So we were recording in a studio and I used a Vox AC-15 it was that “a-ha” moment. My bass broke up like a guitar. So I got a guitar amp and a radial ABY switch that was dark and I would forget to switch between amps. Point being when I am doing the whammy-lead stuff I’ll be using the guitar amp and when I am doing the “bass stuff” I’ll be using my Aguilar rig. The cool thing is I can boomerang (which is stereo) I’ll send a loop to the bass amp. So it’s like fluttery, misty shit and when I’m blowing I’ll come out of the guitar amp so they exist out of separate speakers as opposed to setting loops and blowing out of the guitar amp which becomes too crowded and your lead suffers. So if I am diligent and sober enough I sometimes make it go well.
Interviewer: Let’s talk palate for specifics if you want to get into bass effects:
The one pedal you need (even if you are a five string player) is the Boss OC-2 the brown one, if you play a 4 string you can get the low C notes, you can use it in all sort of creative ways anything down to an A. (I don’t go below an A because it gets too washy) After that an overdrive/distortion, mods are cool, I’ve been into phasers, obviously chorus’ are easy to get away with and then maybe a simple delay and that can be your intro board to the world. My philosophy is my gain staging is making sure that the effect is no louder than my dry signal. You lose there because even if it sounds huge in the moment, the sound guy will most likely turn down your signal then when you return to your dry signal it’ll be at a lower volume. The sound guy may not be paying attention and you have just fucked yourself. Also chasing that extra volume is like a tiger chasing its tail.
If you haven’t listened yet, check out Jon’s Band, Muscle Tough you can find their music on Spotify, iTunes, Instagram and Xanga.