Bass triple-threat Eva Gardner unveils an album that reveals the musical mind of someone who’s anchored everyone from Cher to the Mars Volta
For two years straight, Eva Gardner has been out on tour relentlessly traveling the globe to deliver pop star Pink’s larger-than-life acrobatic stage show to the masses, in support of her 2017 release Beautiful Trauma. While television appearances, sold-out arenas, jet-lagged flights, and long bus commutes have been the bulk of Eva’s life for the past 12 years with Pink, today she has a rare day off at home in Los Angeles where she met us at her family’s pub and restaurant, The Cat & Fiddle. Located just blocks from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the British pub has a welcoming and nostalgic feel, which has been preserved by Eva and her family since it resided in its original Laurel Canyon location in the early ’80s. Right on time, Eva appears in the doorway and happily greets us before we post up at a table to talk shop. But her downtime is short-lived, as she hops up to jump behind the bar to pour a couple of beers for some newly arrived patrons before jetting behind the line with her sister, Ashlee, to expedite a pair of tickets ready to go out. Not exactly the kind of behavior you’d expect from a first-call bassist to the stars, but Eva is the furthest thing from a diva.
We sit down and start chatting up bass gear, her current tour, and her new journey into self-recording before taking off to check out her home studio and rare gear collection. Stepping into the parking lot, I scan the area trying to locate the dazzling red or pink convertible sports car that one would imagine a pop figure like her to drive, but instead she walks us over to her 1998 Volvo wagon, which appears to have racked up mileage from multiple treks around the globe. “I love this car,” she smiles. “It’s just so damn reliable.”
A fitting synopsis — given that Eva’s reliability has made her one of the most in-demand players in music. As we weave through the narrow roads of the Hollywood Hills, she tells stories from her childhood about growing up with a rock-bassist father, Kim Gardner, who toured constantly with his bands The Birds, The Creation and Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. Over the years he also worked with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Rod Stewart, Bo Diddley, Deep Purple and many others. She starts pointing out houses that belonged to Madonna and her father’s close friend John Entwistle. We pull up to her home to be greeted by her dogs Willow and Holly, who follow her every step as we make our way to her music room. Posters and memorabilia from her many tours with Pink, Gwen Stefani, Cher, Moby, Tegan And Sara, and Veruca Salt line the walls, along with some of her own impressive paintings that she creates when she has the time. But the real treasures lie in her gear room.
Numerous stacks of Ampeg rigs, including one of the very first SVTs ever made, fill the room along with a stunning collection of basses. Among them are the ones she inherited from her father, her very first bass that went on to become the design for her Fender Signature Series model, and her Pfretzschner upright, built in the 1860s. She picks up her dad’s old Fiesta Red Precision and starts playing licks that even the flashiest of NAMM-boothers would drop their jaw to. But you won’t be hearing any of those chops on an arena stage anytime soon, as Gardner has made a career out of tasteful playing. Having studied music at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and going on to graduate Cum Laude with a degree in ethnomusicology at UCLA, Eva knows that a tight pocket and a solid groove will get you much further than rapid shredding ever will. Then, upon request, she sits at her computer and pulls up the old demos from the Mars Volta’s 2001 debut, Deloused in the Comatorium, that she wrote the bass parts for. It’s quite the contrast to hear her dig into to such frantic parts with a wildly gritty tone, and it’s even crazier to think that Flea ended up recording the exact parts she wrote for the album.
She then puts on her newest creation, her very first release as a solo artist, Chasing Ghosts. The five-song EP is a beautiful mix of pop vocals, catchy hooks, big rock riffs, and naturally, booming bass. Between the charging rhythms of the opening track, “Forever Is Never,” and the instantly singable melodies of her first single, “Dirty Bird,” you can tell that not only is she comfortable in her own skin as a songwriter, but she has all of the makings of being a pop star on her own. It makes sense seeing how she has spent her life supporting the best of the best, while appearing on every late night show, every big awards show, and even gracing the Saturday Night Live stage multiple times. Artists and fellow bass players love Eva for her tireless work ethic, her attention to detail, her loving personality, and her spotless playing on electric, upright, and keybass. She constantly has to turn down landmark gigs, for which she gladly recommends fellow players to fill her shoes.
With an early morning ahead of preparing to head back out on the road for the next leg of the tour, we check out a concert that evening at L.A.’s famous Troubadour and catch up with fellow bassists Stu Brooks (Dub Trio), Dug Pinnick (King’s X), and Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots). As we’re leaving the venue, a few fans catch a glimpse of Eva and try to get her attention. “Ava, Ava!” they shout at her. “It’s Eva,” she replies with a smile. “The name thing happens a lot,” she explains, but she doesn’t seem to mind it at all. That’s all right — they’ll know her name soon enough.
How does it feel to step out from the supportive role and take center stage with your own material?
It wasn’t intuitive, but a lot of my past experiences definitely led up to this. I was in a couple of bands that I co-fronted early on, so I was used to being behind the mic and playing bass. I’ve been singing backup for bands for a long time, so the feeling has gotten more familiar. I’ve written a lot of songs, too. All of that has led up to this, and it feels more natural than I thought it would.
What led to you deciding to release your own album now?
I’ve always written songs with bands and other musicians in a collaborative setting. I would write ideas on my own as well, but I’d record them on tape 4-tracks and would never touch them again. I finally got some proper recording gear, which made it easy for me to write and finish ideas, so that propelled me to start collecting and compiling songs. My setup is also really portable, so I can take it on the road and set it up in hotel rooms and on the bus. Before I knew it, I had a bunch of songs that came together.
What was your writing process like?
It depended on the song. Some of them started out with lyrics, sometimes it would start out with a beat, sometimes with a bass, and even a guitar at different points. Every song came together differently.
You have technical bass chops, but you gravitate toward riffs on this material.
When I write, I feel like the songs that naturally come out are the ones meant to be written at that time, so where I’m at with my writing right now is what produced these songs. Maybe my next record will be more bass-centric or more technical, but for now what needed to come out was more about the riffs and melodies and the lyrics more than any flashy stuff. I actually recorded a lot of my bass parts in a friend’s studio in Joshua Tree [National Park] — I was playing around with the bass parts and branching out and playing some flashy stuff, and I just decided that it didn’t fit as well. It’s fun to go crazy and play tricky, technical stuff on bass, but I went with my gut and kept my parts tight.
You get some big tone, especially on “Forever Is Never” and “Dirty Bird.” How did you dial that in?
I used a lot of layering of tracks to get bigger sounds. I would track a couple of clean takes and then a couple of gritty ones and stack them on top of each other so they would have a bigger presence. Since it was all happening in hotel rooms on my days off on tour instead of at my home where I can get easily distracted, I was just in my own musical world, and it allowed me to really focus and play with sounds. It was a lot of fun and a big learning experience.
Chasing Ghosts definitely has pop elements, but it also has a distinct alternative-rock feel. What was inspiring you when you were writing?
I grew up listening to a lot of guitar rock. I went to countless shows in high school with loud drums, rocking guitars, big rhythm sections, and very riff-driven music. That’s what came through the ether for this, and I grabbed at that and put it to paper.
Do you have plans to play these songs live?
The idea is to play shows for this record, but I haven’t been able to slot anything yet with how full on my touring schedule is right now. Nothing is set in stone, but I will definitely get a band together to play some shows. I’m also continuing my writing, and I have songs that didn’t make it on this EP that will get on the next EP.
You’re in the middle of a two-year tour with Pink. How’s this experience been for you?
It’s been one of the best times I’ve ever had on the road. There have been so many moments when I’ve had to pinch myself, like playing two sold-out nights in a row at [London’s] Wembley Stadium for over 75,000 people each performance. I’ve been playing with this band for over 12 years now, so we’re all such a close family and we have such a blast together. I’m so appreciative to be able to do this and have this supporting cast along for the ride.
Describe the role of bass in Pink’s music.
There’s a rock vibe with this band, where in the studio the production might have more of a pop or dance sound. When we bring this into a stage setting, we give it a genuine live-band feel, and all of that really comes into play with the rhythm section. We have a super hard-hitting drummer in Mark Schulman, and I grew up as a rock bass player, so it turns into a very heavy foundation, and bass has a huge place in that.
How did you first land the gig with her?
It all started out with an audition I did for a reality show called Rock Star: INXSin 2005, when INXS was looking for a new singer. I was auditioning to be in the house band, and I didn’t land that gig, but the musical director remembered me — he also works with Pink and when she was looking for a bassist two years later, I got the call. I auditioned and he called me a few days later saying that I got the gig. He said they’d send me a few albums of material to learn, to pack for a three month run in Europe, and that they’d see me in three days. Before I knew it I was on a plane to Ireland! It all happened so quickly.
The shows are huge spectacles of music and performance art, with aerial acrobatics, dancers, pyrotechnics, and so much going on. What are they like from your perspective?
Even after all this time, I’m still noticing things that are going on with the dancers and screens behind me. When I’m in the show, I’m in it from my position facing the audience and I’m totally locked into the music. When we were in production rehearsals for this stadium run in Europe, it was more casual and I’d turn around and look at everything going on behind me and was often surprised at things I hadn’t noticed before! The video content, the dancers killing it… there’s so much to see, it’s still exciting and so fresh.
You’re the first-call player for many big stars. How do you land all of these gigs?
I think part of it is my work ethic and doing what it takes to make it happen. I like to over-prepare – I learn extra potential songs and the backup vocal parts. I want to be ready to jump in and be able to say yes when the musical director asks me to try something. I prepare the parts on electric, upright, and synth bass depending on the gig. I make sure I have all of the right pedals at rehearsals in case they need a specific sound. That goes a long way in any band, and it makes you invaluable as a player. I’m always open to learning new things and willing to grow and expand my skillset to be more versatile. I make an effort not just to be on time, but early to allow enough time to set up and get comfortable. Being easy to get along with, adaptable, easy going, compassionate, considerate, aware and taking initiative goes so far in this industry. You spend so much time in buses, on airplanes, and in tight spaces, and no one wants to be with doom and gloom all day. Those are all good principles to getting recommended for gigs. Every gig I’ve landed came from a recommendation from someone, and those just become stepping-stones that lead you down your path.
How do you dial in your tone for each individual gig?
I always start with my foundation of a Fender Precision Bass and an Ampeg rig, and that gets you pretty far as is. Part of being a hired gun is providing what the artist needs and wants of you without being asked. If you hear a part that is played with a pick with some fuzz, or a new wave ’80s thing, you do whatever it takes to get that sound. You have to be able to listen and use the tools that you need to mold your sound to fit it.
What about different playing techniques for different gigs?
I’m comfortable playing with both fingers and a pick when needed. I started with a pick when I was in high school. All of the bands I listened to had bass players who used a pick, so I did that. When I got into my performing arts high school I got thrown right into the jazz band, which I had no experience with. On my first day I came in as a little rock chick and I was holding my electric bass with a Fender confetti pick, and the first thing my professor said to me was, “Miss Eva, put down that pick.” Sure enough, I put the pick on my amp, and from that point forward I started playing with my fingers. It was a trial-by-fire thing, but I didn’t argue with him, I just did it. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, because it made me learn a new skill that I hadn’t known before. For most of the things that I did after that, I used my fingers, but recently I’ve taken up a lot of pick work because that’s what the gig calls for. With Pink right now I use a pick a few times throughout our set. We cover Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and I definitely use a pick and crank my tone knob up because that was the way Krist [Novoselic] played it. That’s when I finally get to pull out my confetti pick! [Laughs]
The artists you play with have large catalogs of songs. How do you woodshed for a gig?
The first thing I do is go through each song we’re given and chart it out note-for-note. Then I start chipping away at playing through them. If there’s any research I need to do about how the parts are played, or which pedals the songs need, or if there are any variations in them live, I’ll watch YouTube videos or get my hands on live recordings so I can replicate them. Then I put all of the songs together and play through them over and over. I plan my shedding schedule according to what the schedule is for the gig. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to prepare and you have to cram. But repetition is key to all of it. I play with the songs over and over, and if I have to run errands, I’ll put the songs on in my car and listen to them on repeat to build that recognition on top of the muscle memory.
You play electric, upright, and synth bass. How do you approach each one differently?
Electric is the most comfortable, but depending on what I’m doing and how much the songs have gotten in my body, it’s not hard to get to a good place on any of those instruments. When I shed, I really shed. I’ll even take lessons before hopping on a gig if I need to. I’m always learning, and if there’s a song on an instrument that needs a specific technique, I’ll study that technique and absorb it.
How much does growing up playing music in high school and college still inform your playing today?
I’m super grateful that I have that education, because it’s a language I have that I can use when I’m in situations that warrant it. In the studio setting it’s helpful to be able to sight-read and chart music, or to know how to dial in tones in very specific ways. It can be an amazing skill set and vocabulary to have. A lot of these pop/rock gigs don’t involve talking about counterpoint and stuff, but there are times when it can help to have that foundation. My high school jazz band was very focused on Latin jazz, which immersed me into those grooves and rhythms. During the lunch hour I would sit with the drummers and learn the conga patterns and Afro-Cuban rhythms. There were like 3 or 4 of us bass players in the jazz band so we rotated songs. If I wasn’t playing bass I was playing percussion. I also played in the African percussion ensemble so I had my hands on drums a lot. Looking back, I really think that helped me develop my pocket. In college I studied ethnomusicology, which introduced me to all types of music from around the world. It was great to take the focus away from Western music and hear what the rest of the world was doing; it opened my eyes and added so many dimensions to my musical knowledge. My focus in college became Balinese gamelan. My introduction to upright bass was playing in the Middle Eastern ensemble in college. Those were crazy time signatures and super dense charts with half flats and such, so that threw me into so many other textures, timbres and musicalities. But all through college I was still playing bass in rock/jam/prog bands so that’s always been there as well.
What is it like playing with Cher?
Cher is awesome. She’s just super cool and down to earth. When I first met her, she gave me a huge hug. She’s so witty and fun to be around. I started with Cher two weeks after I finished a long Pink tour, so it was a quick transition, but because so many of the band and crew were coming over with me for that gig, it was a pretty smooth. That gig definitely has a ton of pinch-me moments, because I’m playing songs like “I Got You Babe” and “Turn Back Time,” so that was pretty surreal in itself. She has a 50-plus-year career, so playing so many songs that I grew up listening to and that my parents grew up listening to was special.
What about playing with Gwen Stefani?
I was brought into her band by the musical director in the Cher camp, so I knew a few people there, which was nice in easing me into it. That was such a fun gig because I love her music, and it was great to play those songs live. It was a lot of keyboard bass for those sets. Her stuff is really upbeat and poppy, with a lot of cool grooves. The MD was a keyboardist, so he helped with me programming all of the songs and getting my sounds just right. I learned so much about software on that gig. I was singing on that material quite a bit, which was awesome, because Gwen’s choruses are really big, and it was cool to belt those onstage with her. Those shows definitely had a serious party vibe.
What was it like writing the original material for the first Mars Volta album?
That was an incredibly creative time. I started playing with them when I was still in college, which was so refreshing, because all of a sudden I was in a room with these guys where the rules I had just learned didn’t matter. I could let all of that go and be free and just write and play whatever came from the heart. I remember sitting with Omar (Rodriguez Lopez) and Cedric (Bixler-Zivala) in their rehearsal space and going through parts we were coming up with and feeling an incredible connection. It was a really special process.
Was it surreal to have Flea go on to play your parts on the album?
It couldn’t have been more of a compliment or an honor. He and I actually talked about that several years later, and he said the parts didn’t need to be changed and he loved them the way they were. That guy is such a monster player and has influenced so many bassists. It meant the world to me.
What was it like having Fender make your own signature line of basses?
That still feels surreal to me. Having grown up with Fender being a household name as far back as I can remember, to have my name on one is unbelievable. I still can’t believe that happened, even after all of this time. As a second-generation bass player who grew up playing Fenders, that’s an absolute pinnacle for me.
You have an amazing collection of vintage gear from your father. What are your prized bass possessions?
The basses that I inherited from my dad mean so much to me. His ’62 Precision in Fiesta Red is my absolute prized possession. He tore the frets off it in the mid ’60s and claimed that he was the first one to create a fretless electric bass. It has such a special and unique sound. My first bass is also my favorite. I got it under the Christmas tree at the age of 15, and I eventually modeled my signature bass after it. I also inherited a beautiful Pfretzschner upright from my dad that was built in the 1860s which I love to play. I toured with it for a little while, but then stopped because I got too nervous that something would happen to it. I took it out to Vegas for the Cher residency because it didn’t have to travel much, but right now I use a 1950’s Kay for the Pink tour. It’s a total workhorse and can take a good beating on the road.
What was it like having a bass-playing father growing up?
He was such a good storyteller, so I grew up hearing all of these amazing stories about what his life was like on the road throughout the ’60s and ‘70s. He played in a lot of different bands and had so many adventures, so at a young age I knew what I wanted to do with my life, even before I ever played bass. I was in second grade and I had a slumber party at my house, and I took the girls into my dad’s studio and told them I was a bass player. I grabbed one of my dad’s basses, but it was so heavy that I just kind of dragged it across the floor. My dad just came to life when he talked about music and his adventures playing bass, so I always knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
He was friends with famous bass players of that era. Which ones were around you when you were growing up?
John Entwistle was one of my father’s best friends, so I spent some time with him as a kid. I remember when my family was staying in his house in England — it was right when I first started learning bass, and he took me aside and said he was happy to hear I was playing, and he told me to follow him. He took me to a door that opened up into this huge hallway-type closet just lined with basses. He told me to pick a bass and it would be mine for the time I was staying there. I picked an old Fender Precision because that was my dream bass of course! I just sat and played and played that thing. At one point he invited me into his home studio where he and my dad were hanging out. He handed me his famous Buzzard bass and put it on my shoulders. It was huge and hung super low on me and had eyes that illuminated on the headstock. He said, “Look!! Even the eyes light up!” Looking back now, those moments were so special to me because he made me feel included. He didn’t have to do that – I was just one of his buddies’ kids! But that encouragement and inclusion really was important. I wasn’t even at a place where I could appreciate who he was at the time. He was just John, another one of my dad’s eccentric friends! Later in life I realized his impact on the bass world and the music world in general.
Roger Waters was also around – he was even at my first birthday party. Andy Johns [engineer/producer for Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Jack Bruce] was another person in my life at a young age who was very supportive of me. He started out as a bass player and actually gave me my first bass lesson. He would always put on records that he worked on and talk about various sessions, such how he miked the drums for Led Zepplin IV, and about fading in the mandolin intro that “Pagey” played on “The Battle of Evermore.” Having these people pay attention to me at a young age was really vital to my development as a musician. That support was everything. I never realized how successful they were in the business until much later. It was crazy growing up in my household. Ron Wood was over, Dad sponsored Rod Stewart’s soccer team, Julian Lennon would hang, Mick Taylor would come over and play guitar in my living room. Looking back, that was just normal life for us kids. I realize now that it’s not so normal! [Laughs]
So, bass has always been deeply embedded in your DNA.
From an early age that’s just what I heard. Those low frequencies always stuck out to me. It was just something that I gravitated toward. I’m grateful for the blaring mixes coming out of Andy Johns’ stereo system and in my own bass-centric household – and I took to it like a fish to water. I didn’t really choose the bass; the bass chose me. -BM
Watch the music video for “Dirty Bird.”
See Pink Performing “Barbies” Live at the 2018 CMAs.
See Eva with Gwen Stefani Performing “Misery” on SNL.
Eva with Moby performing “The Perfect Life” on Conan.
Eva Gardner, Chasing Ghosts 
Bass Fender Squier Eva Gardner Signature Precision, Fender American Vintage ’62 Reissue Precision, Fender American Professional Precision, Pfretzschner double bass, 1965 Kay double bass, Moog synth basses
Rig Ampeg SVT-2PRO, Ampeg SVT-VR, Ampeg Early ’70s SVT, Ampeg Heritage B-15, Ampeg PF-50T, Ampeg SVT-810AV, Ampeg SCR-DI
Pedals Ampeg SCR-DI, Pro Co Turbo Rat Distortion, MXR Bass Fuzz Deluxe, MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay, MXR Bass Compressor, Mu-Tron Octave Divider, Mu-Tron III Envelope Filter
Strings Rotosound Swing Bass 66, Rotosound Jazz Bass 77 Flatwounds, Rotosound Nexus Bass