Interview with Nat Baldwin of Dirty Projectors
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.
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.
Nat – I have even less of an idea of how
to answer this question.
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.
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.
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?
Nat – GO CELTICS!