As the world continues to recover from the Coronavirus, we're all finding ourselves in unfamiliar territory given the subsequent lockdown that is keeping us off of stages and confined to our homes. Luckily, there's comfort in the fact that we're all in this together, and that there are still many outlets for us musicians to keep us active and sane throughout this quarantine. We're checking in with bass players from all over the world to see what they're doing to stay entertained, healthy, productive, and safe during this trying time.
Bass Player: Michael League
Bands & Artists: Snarky Puppy, David Crosby, Bokanté
Home: Catalonia, Spain
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
I’ve I spent the lockdown doing some things that I love to do but almost never have time for—cooking and practicing—as well as writing a solo album that I've wanted to make for a half a decade now. I had a solid routine for the first time in my life, probably. I was practicing guimbre [Moroccan bass lute] and doholla [Egyptian bass darbuka] in the mornings, cooking lunch, writing the music for my record in the afternoon and evening, and cooking dinner at night. Now that things have more or less returned to normal where I live in Spain, the routine is out the window and I miss it quite a bit.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
I was working on guimbre more than electric bass, but as they serve similar functions, what you do on one rolls over to the other. I was mostly working on right-hand technique—it's very different on guimbre than on bass, you play with a long nail on your index finger—and transcription. I got deeply into learning exact transcriptions of entire songs, primarily by the great Maalem Hamid El Kasri. For anyone out there with an interest in Gnawa music, Hamid's music is a fantastic place to start.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
I dug a little bit deeper into the bass playing of Louis Jordan and Shuggie Otis during the lockdown. I had always been a fan, but I had some time to get in there and learn some old bass lines that were new to me. They're such different players but still very connected in many ways.
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
Three new basses arrived in my life over the past year. One is a red, semi-hollow bass by the great German maker Nik Huber. It's a beautiful middle-ground between a Hofner Violin bass and a Fender Precision, so I've been having a lot of fun with that—with a pick, especially. He makes great guitars as well. I was given a beautiful 5-string bass by Miroslav Vlček that I just played for the first time last month and it sounded juicy. It's not my normal sound, but I love having instruments available that break you out of your sonic box. They push you in different directions and expand what you thought you were capable of. And finally, Fender sent me a gorgeous gold/maple Precision from their American Original series. It's far and away the best non-vintage Fender I've played.
What non-music activities, books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?
Man, Rick and Morty saved my life this quarantine. If you haven't seen it, just binge the whole thing. It's the smartest show I think I've ever seen. I'm also enjoying The Last Dance, on Netflix. Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, is a fantastic book about sleep and health. It sounds boring, but it's anything but. Movie-wise, I'd recommend Frank and Shame to anyone looking for very different Michael Fassbender experiences.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
The first thing on my plate is the recording of the solo album I mentioned earlier. It's my first time doing everything—minus the engineering, which Nic Hard will do—so it will probably take the better part of two months. I’m producing a record for the Grammy-winning Attacca Quartet, as they explore adaptations of pieces by electronic music composers for strings. One of my bands, Bokanté, will return to the studio to make our third record. I'm producing a very interesting collaborative album with the great Becca Stevens and Secret Trio—they’re a clarinet, kanun, and oud trio from Macedonia, Turkey, and New Jersey, respectively. We're almost done with that and I'm so happy with how it's going. Aside from records, I'm hoping to finish writing a book I've been working on for a while now alongside my friends in Snarky Puppy. I'm trying my best to get stuff done while the world is shut down so that I’m ready for it when it opens.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
One thing that kept me feeling positive and productive during the lockdown was having a consistent and well-balanced routine. Within it, there was super creative stuff—like composition—and super brainless stuff—like technique reinforcement, so I think it's important to think about when you're best at what. For me, for example, I really have to do the more tedious, less creative stuff early in the day or it won't get done. I started every day off with 20 minutes of Duolingo, then straight into practicing. Each practice session started with technique exercises, saving the transcription and improvisation practice for the end. I know myself, and as the day goes on, I become less excited about—and less likely to do—things that don't seem interesting or exciting. So if you’re the same as I am, put the stuff you don't get excited about—but need to get done—first.
Read all 150+ Bass Magazine Check-in Features: Here
All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi