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QRD #44 - Bass Player Special
about this issue
Bassist Interviews with:
CJ Boyd
Monte Allen of Rollerball
Nicholas Slaton of slicnaton
Trevor Dunn of Fantomas
Jeffrey Roden
Phillip Palmer of Port City Music
Nat Baldwin of Dirty Projectors
Frank Alexander of Triplicity
Brian Preston
Jason Ajemian
Darin Depaolo
Jill Palumbo of The Torches
Jon Case of Irata
James Newman of Plumerai
Matteo Bennici
Tim Dahl of Child Abuse
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Bassist Interview with Nat Baldwin of Dirty Projectors 
October 2010

Name: Nat Baldwin
Bands: Nat Baldwin, Dirty Projectors
Websites: www.myspace.com/natbaldwin, www.myspace.com/dirtyprojectors
Listen to “Lifted”

QRD – What was your first bass & what happened to it?  

Nat – My first bass is in my room now.  It’s the only bass I’ve owned.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from bass to effects to amplifier?

Nat – No effects for upright.  A Big Muff & some equalizer thing for the electric.

QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – bass, amplifier, or effects?

Nat – Bass. 

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Nat – I liked the GK I had but it broke.  It was one of the few amps I’ve been able to figure out a great sound for both the upright & electric. 

QRD – Do you prefer upright or electric bass?

Nat – Depends on the musical situation, but upright is my main instrument.  The only time I’ve ever played electric bass is in Dirty Projectors, & for a few months when I was 23 with bands called “Bangs”’ & “Speedbeef.”

QRD – Do you prefer to use a pick, fingers, or a bow?

Nat – Bow. 

QRD – How many strings do you think a bass should have?

Nat – I play basses with 4 strings, but have nothing against people who need another string or two.

QRD – Why do you play bass instead of guitar?

Nat – When I decided I wanted to play music I was just more attracted to the bass.  I never thought about playing the guitar.  I guess I liked the idea of being such an essential part of the music, without being in the spotlight.  A lot of reasons you start playing an instrument are hard to explain.  I never really thought about it, my ears just naturally gravitated towards the low end & rhythm section when I became interested in music.  Maybe I have certain personality traits that make me a more likely candidate to be interested in the bass, but someone else would probably do a better job describing that.

QRD – How is a bass different than a guitar other than being lower in pitch?

Nat – It’s a different instrument.  That’s like saying, “What’s the difference between a trumpet & an alto sax?”  There’re plenty of differences & there are plenty of similarities.  I don’t really care to explain the differences. They are both capable of making a variety of sounds.

QRD – What’s your main bass & what are the features that make it such?

Nat – My main & only upright bass I’ve had my whole musical life.  My main & only electric that I use is a Rickenbacker.  I don’t know much about it other than how to play it.

QRD – What do you think of the thumb rests on some basses?

Nat – I have never thought of them.

QRD – If you had a signature bass, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?

Nat – I have no idea.  I love the basses I play now, so I guess they would be like them.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?

Nat – I have even less of an idea of how to answer this question. 
QRD – How many basses do you own?

Nat – As previously stated, 2 hundred & 17.

QRD – How & where do you store your basses?

Nat – In a case, indoors.

QRD – What features do you look for when buying a bass?

Nat – Good looks, charming, funny.  I just wanna be comfortable being around it.

QRD – How much do you think a good bass should cost?

Nat – An intimate relationship or two.

QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your bass or just stick with what you get?

Nat – So far I’ve just been sticking.  If I’m ever in the position to do otherwise I suppose I would consider.

QRD – Are you after one particular bass tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?

Nat – I like to lock in.  Sometimes I like to change, but when I change I like to lock into that change, before I change it again & lock into that.

QRD – What are some basses, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?

Nat – Oh my god, too many to list!  Just kidding, I think I’ve displayed my lack of care/knowledge about these types of things in previous answers.  I love what I use, but if I start using something else I will probably love that, too.

QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first bass that aren’t always there?

Nat – Natural skills.  Work ethic.

QRD – What have been the best & worst bass related purchases you’ve made?

Nat – Best was the Walter Woods bass head I had when I first started out.  Worst was selling the Walter Woods when I was 23 & thought I wasn’t gonna play upright anymore & was just gonna play punk or any music that was loud.

QRD – What are some effect, amp, & bass brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?

Nat – I like Walter Woods, Gallien-Krueger, & SWR because that’s all I’ve used for a significant amount of time.  Anything I’ve disliked I only blame on my own lack of knowledge

QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a bass?

Nat – The theme from SportsCenter, or the scat solo in that Jason Mraz song, “I’m Yours.”

QRD – How old were you when you started playing bass?

Nat – 18.

QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best bass playing?

Nat – Technically, I was at my best when I was 22, by far.

QRD – Do you feel bass lines should echo & emphasize guitar & drum parts or be their own distinct elements?

Nat – It would be ridiculous to feel one way over the other.  It depends on the music. 

QRD – Would you rather people hear or feel your bass?

Nat – I want them to hear my bass while I’m feeling it.

QRD – Why do you think a bass fits you more so than other instruments?

Nat – Because I love John Stockton.
QRD – Do you see your bass as your ally or adversary in making music?

Nat – Both.  For writing my own music, I feel it limits me to a certain style, at least in what I can do or how I can do it to create a song. But I feel like those limitations placed on me by the instrument, or by me playing the instrument, are the very things that make the music unique.

QRD – Who are the bassists that most influenced your playing & sound?

Nat – Most of the influences I have are not very apparent in my playing now, but I like Charles Mingus, Jimmy Garrison, Charlie Haden, Mark Dresser, Joelle Leandre, Peter Kowald, Rick Danko.  Peter Kowald is the one whose playing I still think about as a direct influence to some things that I do now.  Everyone else its more of a vibe thing & less of a musical thing.

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their bass is natural or silly (e.g. naming their bass)?

Nat – I think doing that & not thinking it’s silly is unnatural.  

QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a bass & how did you do it?

Nat – I busted through a string, which proceeded to coil sharply & bust through all of my bow hairs, one by one.  I was playing a physically & emotionally intense piece at a high school reunion & it was awkward.

QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?

Nat – Now, because I write my own music, I don’t do as much technical practice as I’d like.  I always get distracted by writing music & that’s why I don’t think I’ve developed technically in quite a long time.  Sometimes I get dark about that, but ultimately I am psyched to be creating my own music & it certainly keeps my chops up enough to play what I’ve been playing.  I think if I get back into playing more improvised music I will have to get into practicing more technical stuff, just to be able to sustain the necessary energy.

QRD – How many hours a week do you play bass & how many hours would you like to?

Nat – I played about 4-8 hours a day for the first 4 years I played but I haven’t had anything that consistent since.  After those first 4 years, I quit for a year or two, then I started writing my own music.  Because my practicing is so much less regimented now & more based on motivation at a specific time, my time really varies.  If I’m writing a bunch of stuff, I might play all day for 2 weeks, but when those 2 weeks are done I might have an album or two & then the following 2 weeks wont be as productive.  Or I might be preparing for a tour so I practice all day & when I get back I might chill things out or maybe I’ll be psyched to get back into writing new stuff.  It’s all over the place ever since I stopped playing scales all day.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Nat – I have no idea.
QRD – How often do you change strings?

Nat – Upright strings every year or so.  Electric I haven’t changed yet.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Nat – I broke that one on the upright that time I described.  I think I might have broke an electric one once, but I can’t remember the details.

QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming/bowing hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?

Nat – My fretting hand moves a bit faster & I have some bad habits or just lack of skills in the bow hand.  It might just effect my writing style more than anything else; like I’m not gonna write a passage with a ton of slow legato phrases.  I end up writing things that just focus on the good, while hopefully hiding the bad

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Nat – Standard tuning because it’s what I’ve always done & I like it just fine.  If I used another one maybe it would be cool, too.

QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?

Nat – The things that I write now I don’t notate. 

QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?

Nat – Sometimes I forget to really breathe & keep my arms loose, which can create tightening up, especially in my bow arm.  I need to keep that right hand loose & think about the power of the movement coming from my back.  Sometimes after a solo show my right arm works so hard it feels like it wants to fall off.

QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s bass playing?

Nat – Probably piano, for more harmonic knowledge; but also drums, as it’s your partner in the rhythm section in most traditional musical situations.

QRD – What’s a type of bass playing you wish you could do that you can’t?

Nat – I wish I could slap so I could make my friends laugh.

QRD – What’s a bass goal you’ve never accomplished?

Nat – I don’t really believe in goals anymore, but when I did I probably wanted to learn some classical piece that ended up not coming together.  Some of those Dragonetti waltzes come to mind.

QRD – What’s the last bass trick you learned?

Nat – I don’t know, but my favorite one was learning how to balance the upright on your body with no hands.  My most significant teacher in college couldn’t believe I was never taught that & when he showed me in our first lesson I couldn’t believe I would ever do it.  It took me about a week of nearly dropping my bass.

QRD – Did you ever take bass lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?

Nat – Rick Rozie was my teacher in college for the year & a half I was there.  He taught me plenty about technique, but the best thing he taught me was that I was my best teacher.  He could certainly give me some tools to become a better player, but he made me realize that I was gonna be the one alone in a room for hours everyday, & I needed to figure out how to best use that time.

QRD – What would you teach someone in a bass lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a bass teacher?

Nat – How to dance

QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?

Nat – Harmonics, double stops, looking cool.

QRD – If a band has good bass work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?

Nat – You can’t ignore them, but only acknowledge them as a shitty band with a good bass player.

QRD – What famous musician’s bass would you like to own & why?

Nat – Charles Mingus.  Because he is the definition of a “bad ass.”

QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative bass player & why?

Nat – I have no idea.  I like Adam Pumilia from Delicate Steve, Josh Leblanc from Givers, Nate Brenner from Tune-Yards, Ira Tuton from Yeasayer, Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, Kyle Field from Little Wings, & plenty more.

QRD – Where can people hear your best bass work?

Nat – My best upright work can be heard on my album “Most Valuable Player” & an earlier more experimental album called “Solo Contrabass.”  My best electric work is on “Rise Above” with Dirty Projectors & also this split 10” we did with Castanets on a song called “Silence in the Land,” which is hard to find but is actually my favorite.

QRD – Anything else?