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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 Phillip Palmer of Port City Music
October 2010

Name: Phillip Palmer
Bands: Port City Music
Websites: www.myspace.com/sauriandream

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

Phillip – It was an old bass from the sixties made by a company called Audition. It had a three quarter scale & flat wound strings. I think it was stolen, but I really can’t remember.

QRD – What’s your typical set-up from bass to effects to amplifier?

Phillip – Currently I am running my bass through a 100 watt Ampeg & then I run the line out to a Marshall tremelo pedal, & then into my Epiphone tube amp. This way I have a my fat, warm bass sound & on top of that I can layer other sounds like the tremelo, which I can employ for an organ like sound & spring reverb, gain, etc.

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

Phillip – My bass.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why? 

Phillip – A 100 watt Ampeg Rocket Bass amp with a fifteen inch speaker, which has been discontinued. It has a nice full sound & has plenty of punch to handle any club that I play.

QRD – Do you prefer upright or electric bass?

Phillip – Well, if I were stranded on an island I guess I’d have to go for the upright, due to a lack of power. Tough question... uprights have a beautiful sound that cannot be matched by electric, but overall an electric is more versatile.

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

Phillip – I pretty much split it up 50/50 between pick & fingers, depending on what the song is calling for.

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

Phillip – 4 is plenty for me.

QRD – Why do you play bass instead of guitar?

Phillip – For me it just feels natural. I like the feeling of the fat strings & the low earthy tone.

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

Phillip – Well, the bass is usually mistakenly called a bass guitar, but my Fender is actually an electric bass violin & I think this is key. Though most guitarists can play the bass, I think many of them actually approach it like a guitar... I’m not saying there is a right or wrong here, but my approach is to generally treat it as completely different than a guitar, even though I do dabble with effects, etc.

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

Phillip – It’s a Fender Jazz bass, which has a narrower neck than a Precision. It has two pickups & I use the neck pickup. It’s sound is a bit brighter than a Precision, but it has more variety & can easily get the classic, fat, warm tone.

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

Phillip – I’ve tried them before but never warmed up to them, but usually when I’m on the A, D or G string, I use the next string down as a thumb rest... go figure.

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

Phillip – Never thought about it.

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

Phillip – See above answer.

QRD – How many basses do you own?

Phillip – Right now just the Fender.

QRD – How & where do you store your basses?

Phillip – Usually in my case, but sometimes I keep it on a stand for quick access.

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

Phillip – Well, we could get into things like the various woods, the pickup configuration etc., but the two most important things are that it has to feel right to your hands, like two cogs working in harmony, & it has to sound great, which is of course subjective.

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

Phillip – Should cost? Hmmmmm. I don’t know. But I’ve had a couple of nice used basses that were under two hundred dollars.

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

Phillip – Pretty much just stick with it... so far. Who knows about the future?

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

Phillip – I like to have the ability to change it, but 95% of the time I’m after a fat, warm tone, not much treble. I use a pick sometimes to get that clicky sound, but the strings almost have to have a dead sound for me... pick plus treble equals fingernails on a chalkboard.

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

Phillip – Well, other than Fenders, I’ve always wanted a Gibson Ripper... I just think they look cool. & I really love those Pignose tube amps, which I believe have been discontinued.

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

Phillip – Well, It’s something I think shouldn’t be there... fret markers, cause they encourage us to look at the neck.

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

Phillip – I bought an Ibanez Road Star just because of how light it was...bad, bad. My best purchase was my Fender Jazz.

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

Phillip – Well, based on the Ibanez basses I’ve played, including the one I owned, I just think they lack depth. Never really had a bad amp. I love my Marshall tremelo pedal... best pedal I’ve ever owned.

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

Phillip – For a long time it was the G major scale... now I typically do bluesy riffs, starting with the third note of the pentatonic scale.

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

Phillip – 15, I think.

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

Phillip – Well, as far as manual ability goes, probably around 18 or 19, cause I was practicing by learning Rush songs, plus I played in the high school jazz band. But my interest in technicality dropped off commensurate with my interest in songwriting & what I might call musical texture.

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

Phillip – Well, that is a case by case matter, but I think for the bass to work in concert with the drums is of utmost importance & most of the time, but not all, it should have something different to offer from the guitar.

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

Phillip – Given a choice of only one, hearing it.

QRD – Do you see your bass as your ally or adversary in making music?

Phillip – It is one of my handiest tools.

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

Phillip – Roger Waters, Steve Kilbey, Mark Sandman.

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

Phillip – I won’t be the judge on that one... suffice it to say, I have never named an instrument.

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

Phillip – Well, I owned a Peavey Unity, which was neck through body construction. One time as I was breaking from practice, I leaned it against a swivel chair...the chair swiveled. It broke the neck up by the headstock. Amazingly, some crazy glue & a C clamp did the trick.

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

Phillip – I don’t practice much anymore, unless I make up a part for a song which I cannot play well. Then I knuckle down.

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

Phillip – Probably between 5 & 10, unless I’m recording, & that’s fine.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Phillip – Light gauge. I once tried heavy gauge, thinking it would naturally fit with my desire for a fat bottom end, but it was just all wrong. Also, I have recently switched back to flat wound strings.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Phillip – Once a year maybe... I like ‘em dead... generally only change them if one breaks.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Phillip – Obviously not often, but I have broken about 4 E strings.

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

Phillip – Probably my fretting hand, because I used to practice my scales like mad, but, ironically, that has probably had little effect on my style because it has become much more of a minimalist approach.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Phillip – Don’t mess with tunings much, except on guitars. Back when I owned two Jazz basses, I kept one strung with a 5 string set minus the G, so B, E, A, D. That low B can be a nice secret weapon.

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

Phillip – Just the letters, plus any pertinent numbers, i.e. A 7 Gm6 F M7 etc.

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

Phillip – At the risk of sounding pompous, I can’t think of any.

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

Phillip – A piano.

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

Phillip – Well, I have thought about being able to play pinch harmonics very rapidly... something to strive for when I get back to practicing one day.

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

Phillip – See above... just not very well.

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

Phillip – Yes I did. I learned scales, theory, various techniques, including slap, which I haven’t used in years.

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

Phillip – That underplaying is preferable to overplaying.

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

Phillip – They would need to study keys & chords & learn to create motifs, or certain notes that resonate well through much of a song.

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

Phillip – No.

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

Phillip – Mark Sandman’s two string bass. It has an absolutely beautiful body style... almost baroque.

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

Phillip – I couldn’t say.

QRD – Where can people hear your best bass work?

Phillip – Well they can’t, because my best work is not recorded...yet. But they can hear examples at www.myspace.com/sauriandream particularly “Eyes On The Road” & “Sunday Best”

QRD – Anything else?

Phillip – Remember the old saying, less is more... not always true, but most of the time it is.