Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kevin Chown - 10 Questions

Main Projects:
Chad Smith's Bombastic Meatbats (founding member), Tarja Turunen, Bleeding Harp, Cosmosquad

Tony Macalpine, Full on metal, burlesque upright, Chuck Berry. Lots of progressive rock records.

1.) How did your bass journey start?

I grew up in the UP, in Escanaba. Both my parents were musicians and teachers so I was around music 24/7 since day 1. In junior high, I started listening to The Eagles, Zepplin, watching Don Kirshners Rock and Roll Hour and it was about the time MTV started and the first music videos came out. I knew I wanted to be in rock and roll. I loved the music and the people have always just felt like a natural extension of the environment.

I grew up among the artistic types of the world. Lots of people who are amazing musicians and total cultural misfits. Since there weren’t a lot of bass players, It was easy to find gigs.  I started working as a professional musician when I was 15, in a popular local band called Tyrant. It think I did that for a year, then formed my own band. While I was in high school, I already had my own bands, trucks, light shows, and booked my own gigs at bars all over the UP and Wisconsin. I guess this was back in the day when it was OK for a kid to play at a bar and judge wet t shirt contests in Manitique, but that's how it all began. To be honest, the shit I do today on the road is not a whole lot different than what I did right at the beginning.

My senior year of high school, one of my teachers played me “Some Skunk Funk” (live) by the Brecker Brothers and then decided that I wanted to learn how to play like that……….and after I saw one of the groups from Wayne State perform for a student assembly, I wanted to go to Wayne State. I have met such amazing people like Dan Pliskow and Matt Michaels and had class mates like my good friend Brian Lord, Chris Codish, Dale Grisa and a long list of Detroit music anchors, all still doing it to this day. I had a good generation of talented people around me. I even had THE John Sinclair as a teacher!!

While I was playing jazz in college, I still wanted to rock so I played in a few great bands around Detroit which eventually led me to my first NAMM show which led to my first endorsements, which led me to meet Jeff Kollman, who had a band called Edwin Dare in Toledo that I joined my last few years of college. We had some amazing times, and of course I still work with Jeff to this day. I’ve always had my feet in the world of jazz and metal at the same time. But to be direct….. my bass “journey” started the first time I heard Led Zeppelin.

2.) What was and do you still have your first bass?

I honestly can’t remember the make! I think it was a JC Penny special that I bought for $150 WITH a Kustom Padded Amp (silver), AND a bass balls pedal. I have no idea what ever happened to that stuff and it still makes me mad. Especially the classic bass balls. I used my church confirmation money to buy that bass rig!!!!

My first decent bass was a black Kramer p bass copy, then my first REALLY nice bass was a Spector NS2. I regret selling it. I’ve kind of become a bass hoarder ever since. Had many thru the years. Ken Smith’s, Fender, all of which I still have.

3.) Who influenced you most?

Bass player wise? John Paul Jones, James Jamerson, Geezer Butler, Anthony Jackson, Gary Willis. And early on when I played 6 string maybe John Pattitucci.

Life wise? My dad, who is still a great working musician at age 84 and my mom. My brother Mark is the first one that gave me cassettes when I was REALLY young. My sister Amy took me to my first rock concernt.

4.) What are your favorite recordings?

I like such a diverse question……. hard to answer, but since this related to BASS, lets look at it that way.

My personal favorite bass tracks that really changed my life are simple. Jamerson on “What’s Goin On”, John Paul Jones on “The Lemon Song” and “What Is And Should Never Be”. For a little more obscure stuff, check out Anthony Jackson on Michel Camillo’s recording of “Caravan”. And for you total bass geeks, check out John Patitucci’s “Our Family”. AND, I’ll never forget the first time I heard The Brecker Brothers “Some Skunk Funk” (live). I also think Sinatra/Basie “Live at the Sands” is one of the best of all time, as well as Beatles “Abbey Road”, Donny Hathaway “Live”, Mark Mikel “Idiot Smiles” and AC/DC “Highway to Hell” are a small snippet of the best of the best. I wish I had a recording of the best live CONCERT I ever saw, Brecker-Metheny-Goldings-Stewart, live in Warsaw in the late 90’s. THAT blew my mind.

5.) What do you enjoy most about bass?

I like how its the roots that holds it all together. The punch. The power. The sex. But also the simplicity. The space. You are making the listener FEEL the music, literally. And you hold the whole show in the palm of your hands with a good groove, if you have the patience to stick with it exactly, over and over, making it hypnotic.

I enjoy being an interactive person who focuses not on impressing anyone but on supporting everyone. I recently received one of the greatest compliments of my life which was RIGHT in line with what I shoot for…… Alex, the guitarist in Tarja said that he loved playing with me because “I create a carpet of confidence”. So that is my new motto. I try to “create a carpet of confidence”.

6.) Is there a favorite project you’ve worked on?

Left to right: Chad Smith, Ed Roth, Jeff Kollman, Kevin Chown.
The Bombastic Meatbats
The Meatbats for sure. It’s a band. We’re all friends. Over the course of the band, EACH of us has been through some amazing times, good and bad. We all have done gigs in a gazillion places to bring to it. Its us just having fun, not trying to do anything other than be ourselves. A typical meat bats writing session is show up an hour late from the set time, then eat burritos, tell stories, laugh, then jam hopefully with the tape running, and it just falls out of us. When you are good friends with your creative cast of characters, you just let it happen. Its magic. Had some fun subs for Chad too, among them Kenny Aronoff and Matt Sorum and we did a thing earlier this year with Steve Lukather as a member OF the meat bats. Such a trip to have that happen. He was one of my idols as a kid.

Edwin Dare was an amazing band. I love working with Tarja and everyone in her band a GREAT deal. They have all become good friends of mine. Im a lucky man to have worked with so many amazing people.
Tarja Turunen and Kevin Chown

7.) Do you have a “go to” bass for recording or live use?

My main bass for years has been my Red late 90’s Ernie Ball Music Man 5 string. A few years ago, picked up a 76 original year pre Ernie Ball 4 string that completely RULES and its kind of becoming my monster, beside it. I have some early 60’s Fenders, a 62 Hagstrom, the flat black Ernie Ball Music Man is my raised “night wish tuning” metal bass and sounds killer. I have a blond 5 EB/MM with flats that I use with Bleeding Harp. The flats on the EBMM are really, really cool for the blues tone. All cobalts for rock, standard EB’s for the Meatbats.

Kevin's late 90's Stingray 5

8.) What effects do you use?

Line 6 G50 wireless, Cheap ass Digitech bass overdrive, all the Markbass pedals, Boss octave, Digitech synth bass, Boss EQ, Ernie Ball volume.

I keep it pretty simple. If I don’t need it, its not used. typically live, only distortion and an octave pedal.

9.) What is your signal chain, from the bass to the board (live and recording)?

I split the signal chain up to create two different tones. My signal chain would be:

A good power source. (Please throw away the radio shack adapters)
G50 wireless, into the tuner. (I use that as my mute for bass changes).
Tuner (mute output) to Countryman DI (this sends constant clean tone to front of house but allows me to mute it)
Countryman output to Distortion first always
Distortion out to octave and then anything else in line, etc…..
Final signal sent to amp on high quality cable for second tone……..either mic the amp or use a radial box from the speaker output.

I hate the sound of right off the distortion box bass into a DI. I’d rather send clean tone for my main tone thru a good DI. FOH needs your core tone to not change to keep the mix together. This is for all styles of music. You are the glue and can’t be changing your tone all the time and expect the band to sound good. The B-A-S-S needs to be the B-A-S-E. Sometimes I hear a show, and I see a guy step on a pedal and they get lost in the mix. OR they get so loud that the bass is turned down, then the whole show sounds like shit. Keep this simple. Admit that your main tone should simply be into a DI. The pedals are to create a second tone thru the amp to bring it up a notch that builds on the solid clean tone you already are sending, not takes away. And most importantly, it creates a consistent tone for FOH to mix. That is the SAME for every show. (this is important if you are playing on an in ear monitors based tour. Your tone is being pumped into others heads.)

Also, big trick for me is to use the EQ on your bass itself wisely. On my MM, I usually run Bass-mid-Treble flat….. maybe kick up some lows, to get my basic tone. I try to leave myself some room so that during the show, I can make some adjustments EQ - wise, right on the bass. If I don’t think its booming, I turn up my lows, not cutting, the mids, etc…… don’t make the mistake of always having everything on the bass turned all the way up. This all has only been figured out with a few years of doing this!!

It’s the same principles apply to studio recording. Always get a solid DI tone. The amp tone is the flavor. I do a lot of re-amping, for sessions, but that's a whole other conversation, as is performing with passive, not active basses. If you start a conversation of how to create a tone, there are so many things to consider I can’t really say I always do it one way or another.

If I only have one channel however, I do exactly what I said above, only NO DI, and I take the signal from the DI out on my Markbass head. If you are running distortion on a single send, don’t overdo it. My goal is ALWAYS to make my tone EASY TO MIX. If you want to do yourself a favor, just take a simple mixer, take the DI out of your amp with no speakers so you hear what you are SENDING. Your tone could be perfect on stage but absolute crap direct. Do you know? So many dudes overlook this!! Have some knowledge of your tone as its being sent, not just whats coming out of your speakers. This is what will make you get better recording tones as well. And DO NOT be cheap on the cables. REAL good Mogami style cables do sound better. The G50 Line 6 wireless that I have is by far the best. I was at their factory last week and lets just say the next generation will blow you away even more.  And, do the basic maintenance on your basses, clean the pots, etc…… a little goes a long way. Don’t show up with broken gear. Its like going out on a date without showering.

10.) Do you have any advice for young players?

My advice? GIG. Play with people MUCH older than you are. Let them pull you up a notch. Become friends with someone that you know that has a band that plays gigs where you can go sit in and learn and also meet people. Learn the catalog of songs that is rock and roll. The Beatles, The Stones, Sabbath, Santana, Metallica, but also Chuck Berry!! The real roots. Then learn all music, right up to the present. Learn more every day. Whatever genre you are attracted to, become an expert at it. Learn about tone. But above all, don’t play too many notes. Take a simple bass line. “Skin Tight” by Ohio Players. Repeat it over and over with a metronome and make it sound better and better without changing a note, just make it feel better. Don’t make your limited practice be wasted working on things that will never make you a better player. In your free time, talk about music. Listen to music. Play with dynamics.

I don’t know what else there is to say!! Other than have fun!!! And if you have an audition, show up like you already have the gig, the parts perfected. And if you are serious about this, know that you are about to enter a life that is of amazing fun and insanity that you will have fun but its more work than you can ever imagine. And always will be.

Chad Smith and Kevin.  The Bombastic Meatbats

Jeff Kollman and Kevin with The Bombastic Meatbats

On tour with Tarja Turunen

Thank you Kevin, for taking some time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions!

Look for Kevin on tour with The Bombastic Meatbats or with Tarja Turunen.

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