Jan 24 2012

A New Solo Album You Say??

Hello folks,

Yes indeed. It’s that time of the year again when I venture forth back into the studio to work on some new solo material for your collective listening pleasure. I’ve been tweeting about it over the last few days as work has begun here and I thought it might be a good idea to let you all know what’s happening with the new record.

During my time working on The Comedy of Errors at the National Theatre, I’ve grown rather fond of the acoustic bass guitar. I must admit I never thought this would happen as the instrument, by definition, is physically flawed. Such a small bodied bass instrument can never project like an upright bass, but it turns out that with the right preamp it can produce a fantastic and very individual sound. It took a long time to find the right bass but I eventually settled on a Breedlove acoustic from Guitar Guitar in Epsom.

I did a little test recording about a month ago which I posted to Soundcloud. The bass has a great gnarly sound and the preamp gives me quite a lot of control over how much of the fret noise I want. I want a lot… For those of you that haven’t heard it yet, here’s my demo track.

Breedlove Acoustic Demo #1 by simonlittlebass

So. I wanted this album to be very different to the previous two. By deciding on recording an entirely acoustic album I have intentionally imposed a number of limitations on the way I usually work on the solo project. Most of the effects that characterize Mandala and The Knowledge of Things To Come simply do not work with the Breedlove. I’ve decided to mainly keep the sound of the bass relatively pure (well, it’ll be smothered in reverb and delays) and try to bring out some of the nuances and harmonics that you only get from an acoustic bass guitar. So the Pod X3 Pro will be having an easy time during the sessions. I have set up one patch will I will probably use for the entire album. It has a nice open reverb, some light chorus, delay and an octaver for when I fancy a bit of extra bottom. Gone are the distortions, pitch shifts and backwards delays. For now…

It’s also rather disconcerting going back to four strings after playing all my other solo material on the six. In many ways this is the greatest limitation on the process. A great deal of my solo/live-looping vocabulary is based on the extended range the six string offers. I am having the develop a new approach which relies less on the instrument and more on my own creativity. Which is a good thing.

None of this is to say that I won’t be making full use of the awesome talent-booster that is the Looperlative LP1. Most of the sound manipulation will come from the Looperlative this time rather than banks of guitar effects. Just a few days in and I’m finding out new things about the Breedlove all the time. For example; the best recorded sound comes from playing with a slightly sideways ‘double bass’ style right hand technique rather than proper bass fingerstyle.

This is turning into a bass geek-fest. I do apologize…

So anyway, the new record is going to sound very different to the previous two. I’ve also been listening to a lot of acoustic music of late for inspiration. Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger has proved a big revelation over the last few weeks. Apart from Jonas Hellborg I can’t think of any particular bassist that has fully embraced the acoustic bass guitar, so I’ve been listening to a lot of other instruments with similar characteristics such as the lute, sarod and bass viol. Hopefully some of these influences will filter through into the music.

That’s it for now folks. Here I am typing away when I should be toiling over a hot laptop. I’ll keep tweeting progress reports as I go along. I’m using the tag #soloalbum3 for now. Turns out my intended album title does not work as a hash-tag as it has brackets in it. Bugger. Feel free to use the tag whenever you like and help spread the word.

Until next time…

Mar 24 2011

New Solo Record News…

Hello folks,

Thought it was about time I wrote a short post about this new record I’ve been working on over the last couple of months. It’s only fair…

Most of you have heard Mandala by now. Some of you might have the CD. More of you have probably got the download version from here, Amazon, or iTunes. So you know what it is that I do when playing solo. If you don’t, then click the Music tab at the top and have a listen 🙂

I’ve changed my setup quite a lot since Mandala. Both the live rig and the recording setup. I’ve now moved on to Pro Tools and my trusty Mbox 2 Mini; which has finally decided to start working with my LP1. The recorded sound is infinitely cleaner now and having it in Pro Tools will enable me to do so much more in post-production and will also make life a lot easier going to mastering. Just sold the old Toneport UX2 on eBay 🙂

ps. Geek Alert!! Am gonna talk about gear quite a bit here. Sorry to the Duke and TDC fans who’ve unwittingly stumbled upon a bass geek-fest…

I’ve added a Pod X3 Pro and a FBV Shortboard to the live rig which has, to be perfectly frank, revolutionized the whole process for me. I used my Lexicon MPX G2 for the guitar effects on Mandala and got some great sounds. But I could never get the kind of over-processed synth effects I was really after and the UI was an incredible faff to get around; especially during a live performance. I’m still using the Lexicon in the effects loop of the X3. Couldn’t quite live without the great pitch shift effects (which are the mandolin-esque parts on Mandala) and those strange shimmering sparkly noises, but they’re used sparingly…

The Pod X3 is fantastic. The sounds I’m using now are definitely inspiring me to write new material all the time. The presets are all top notch, easily editable and programming new patches from scratch is actually a pleasurable experience rather than a chore. Adding the FBV shortboard to the mix makes it ideal for what I do with live looping; it’s like having a whole bank of complete pedalboards right in front of me. The amp modeling has also opened up the control I now have over the basic sound of the bass as I write new tunes.

So, what’s the new material like? Well, most of the tunes are more organic and less ‘written’ than those on Mandala. I’ve revisited a couple of tunes that didn’t make the last album including Baliset and Go Quietly Now (you can hear the previous ditched incarnations on my Soundcloud page). I wanted this album to be very different sonically to Mandala. I’ve used a lot more ‘guitar’ effects and synth sounds than previously, and I’ve been more precious making any actual ‘bass’ parts sound more punchy and distinct. I’ve also been a lot more experimental with the recording/performance process. I’ve been looping more glitchy sounds, crackling cables and detuned effects to further remove the music from what would obviously be solo bass.

I’ve posted it before on the blog, but here’s one of the early demos again so you have some idea (sorry about the hiss)…

Glitch #1 by simonlittlebass

So far I have ten tracks completed that I’m really happy with. I’m going to continue spending time working on new material until the tunes gel as an album. I might even release the rest of the tracks as an EP around the same time. I’m finding this new looping rig really inspiring and the recording ‘hit rate’ has been much higher than with my previous setup. I’m probably going to release this record just as a download via Bandcamp, maybe adding it to iTunes etc later on. I might be tempted into doing a very short run of limited edition CD copies (100?), but I need to find a way of making it cost effective first.

I’m really excited about this new project. It’s been great working on this alongside the Little Alex material. Having the possibility of using live drums with my looped bass in a separate project has really helped concentrate my solo writing.

Exciting times 🙂

Jul 29 2010

Album Progress Report #1

Hello folks,

I’ve just got back from playing the Dublin Olympia with the Duckworth Lewis Method, and thought it would be a good time to update you all on what’s going on with the solo project. I’ve mentioned it in a few blog posts previously, but primarily I’ve been using Twitter to keep people up to date with progress.

But first thing’s first… welcome to my new site at simonlittlebass.com!! I’ve been meaning to put a proper website together for such a long time, having spent the last few years scattering myself across the internet. It’s still under construction and I’ll be adding various photo and video galleries once I gather everything in one place, but until then I hope you at least like the design of it. When I moved the blog from it’s old home at Blogger I had a few teething problems with Feedburner but rest assured it all works fine now.

Back to the story…

Last year I went out and bought a little M-box mini and Pro Tools LE with the intention of using this to record the album, but to be perfectly frank all I actually achieved was grinding the whole project to a halt. For some reason I just couldn’t get on with the software, or indeed the interface. Having been recording all my demos and sketches for the podcast using Garageband and my trusty Toneport UX2 (which I’ve just discovered is no longer in production!), the myriad possibilities of Pro Tools wound up making the simplest things incredibly tedious.

So I ditched it all. I decided that recording with Garageband suited the project and I always liked the earthy sound of some of the demos I put out.

I fact, it was at this point that I decided to keep the technology behind project as straight forward as possible. I decided quite early on to record the whole album using only one bass; my Warwick Thumb VI. Having recorded several of the demos using my fretless bass, the Stick and the Triumph I decided that the six string just records better; sonically and dynamically.

I currently have ten tracks I am happy with ready for the album, with two more in the pipeline. The intention is to take the finished twelve tracks (fingers crossed!) to my good friend Joe Leach at The Cowshed, where he’ll sprinkle some fairy dust over it and then we’ll master it to tape. Oh yes indeed folks; we’re going old-school. And I have a deadline now as the studio is very busy. We’ll be beavering away on the 14th August so theoretically the album could be online for download by the 15th. Crikey..

Now, I am a perfectionist. I don’t mind admitting it folks. And it’s been really hard coming up with tracks I am entirely happy with with a live looping setup. If I make one tiny mistake it’ll come back and torment me countless times throughout the whole track as it repeats over and over. I’ve lost count of the number of abandoned takes over the last few months. I can spend a whole day playing and not produce anything I’m happy with. Interestingly, it’s the tracks developed directly from the podcast demos that have proved the trickiest to finish. I’m still working on Calling Out. Some of the new tunes are completely improvised and I’m really pleased with the way they came out.

I posted an alternate take of West of Eden on my Soundcloud page tonight. Mainly to give you some idea of the way the album is shaping up. I ditched this take for some timing issues. The finished album version has a much better solo too, but I thought you might like to hear this one as I personally really like the way it hangs together. Here it is..

West of Eden #3 by simonlittlebass

I’ll definitely be posting again before the album’s finished. It has been pretty tricky finding the time to dedicate to the solo project. Between Clare Teal, Duke Special, Maggie Reilly and The Duckworth Lewis Method I’ve been all over the place, but having this new deadline means I’ll have to just let go and get on with the process of putting the album out.

Until next time. Wish me luck…