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: Stefan Lessard
Bands & Artists: Dave Matthews Band
Home: Laguna Beach, CA
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
I have a four-year-old and two teenage girls at home with my wife and me, so family time has increased a lot, which I enjoy from years and years of touring. I’ve been doing a lot of housework though! I started boxing workouts and have been trying to stay fit, to feel good physically and mentally during these challenging times. I’ve been working on original music. I started off trying to write a song on every instrument in the house, then I wrote song stems for a hard rock-style pandemic record. I wrote six songs in the first two weeks of the lockdown. I’ve gotten back on the double bass and bow, as well as working on my jazz chops, electric bass soloing, slap technique, Bach, and whatever R&B or funk bass line I can learn. I’ve been diving into my pedalboard and working on videos to share on social media of songs, loops, and grooves. And I’ve been staring at space through my telescope in the evenings. Venus and the star Arcturus have caught my wonder this past week. I could stare into the universe all night.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
I’ve been working on the type of techniques I don’t use much on my main gig—stuff like slap technique, double thumbing, soloing, reading music, looping pedalboard techniques. I’m not practicing my band’s massive catalog of songs, which I usually would be doing at this point of the year. I’m working more in the mindset of a solo bassist during this time. I’ve also done some bass tracks for different people from my home studio, which I love doing.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
Recently I’ve been enjoying Bill Withers, Esperanza Splading’s 12 Little Spells, Gary Willis, Bob Marley, Tinariwen’s Aman Iman: Water is Life, Peter Tosh, Pearl Jam’s Gigitron, MonoNeon, Brady Watts, Michael Kiwanuka, Hallucination Engineby Material with Bill Laswell—one my favorite albums, Pat Metheny, the Bill Evans Trio, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding, Oregon, Eli Filosov, Opeth, Pixies, Blut Aus Nord, and Jacob Collier.
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
I got a custom Dingwall 6-string built at the end of last year, so I’ve been on that bass a lot. My newest favorite piece of gear is my Aeros Loop Studio. It will be a game-changer when I dial it all in. I’ve been messing around with some Darkglass preamps, their Microtubes B7K Ultra and Vintage Ultra. I’ve also been getting sounds and ideas from my Source Audio Spectrum Intelligent Filter pedal and DigiTech Bass Whammy.
What non-music activities books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?
I’m listening to the audiobook of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom. His writing and stories have been inspiring to me not only during this lockdown but in life. I remember listening on repeat to The Specials’ song, “Nelson Mandela,” as a teenager, during South Africa’s imprisonment of him. I’ve been re-watching the Marvel movies with my 16-year-old daughter, which is fun. As for shows, Curb Your Enthusiasm, For All Mankind, Ozark, SNL, Westworld, and of course, Tiger King. Funny aside about Tiger King, Dr. Bhagavan Antle was at my sister’s home birth when I was like eight! That’s a story for a rainy day, though. For workouts, I have a heavy bag, so I've been boxing and kickboxing. It's a great stress release, but more importantly, it’s helping keep my arms strong and in shape while not gigging.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
DMB is planning to hit the road next year for our 30th-Anniversary tour. Hopefully we will find some time after this lockdown to get into the studio, as well. I have a feeling we will be busier than ever when this is all over.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
First would be, please be safe and stay healthy. With today’s technology, music is a great friend in keeping you engaged on a social level and mental level. My advice is to stay active learning and discovering your instrument, and the music inside you yet to be free. Learn new songs, a new technique, and dive into areas you might not have if you had been gigging like normal. Put your heart on your sleeve and be true to what you want to say and play with your instrument. Going with the flow can be easier said than done right now, but mentally resisting change can get in the way of your ultimate growth and progress. The world is still your oyster during the lockdown. With that in mind, if you are a working musician living in California and find yourself unemployed because of this pandemic, you might be eligible for unemployment. I want to make other musicians aware that even though they are self-employed, they likely are still be able to apply for benefits. I’m only aware of California, but check out your state. Here are some links to find out more information:
This last one is for the Recording Academy Covid-19 relief question center: Here
Follow Stefan: Here
All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi