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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 Trevor Dunn of Fantomas
October 2010

Name: Trevor Dunn
Bands: Fantomas
Websites: www.trevordunn.net, www.myspace.com/convulsivebeauty

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

Trevor – My first bass was a Hondo (?).  Dark brown, double cut-away.  I sold it to a piano player in college.

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

Trevor – I usually prefer to play bass without any effects.  However, when needed I run a couple stomp boxes (Line6 distortion, Rat, Boss Reverb/Delay, volume pedal).

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

Trevor – That is a complicated question.  I can usually make due with any amp, but it depends on if I’m playing upright or electric.  The combination can be critical so I try to use my own gear when possible.  These days I haven’t been traveling with my upright, so I bring my own strings & pickup just in case.  Electric is a lot easier to deal with as I have a tendency to use a pretty flat EQ when using my P-bass.  In that regard I have a lot of room to adjust.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Trevor – For upright I use an Acoustic Image Focus 1.  It is super light & sounds very natural with some capacity to tweak the midrange depending on room sounds.  For electric I prefer Ampeg tube amps, GK, SWR, Aguilar…..

QRD – Do you prefer upright or electric bass?

Trevor – I prefer being able to choose between the two.

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

Trevor – I prefer having a wide range of tone in order to achieve what the music requires.  I also use mallets, clothespins, & a triangle beater.

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

Trevor – For me, four works, although on occasion I use a 5-string with a low B.  I’m not into the sound of anything higher than concert middle C on bass.  At that point you might as well be playing guitar.

QRD – Why do you play bass instead of guitar?

Trevor – My older brother played guitar & got me into rock music.  For whatever reason, although inspired by him, I decided to be a little different, having no idea what the difference really was.  I also play some guitar.

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

Trevor – Keep in mind that “bass” means bass guitar.  The difference in pitch dictates, in essence, the difference in role. 

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

Trevor – My main electric is a ‘75 Fender Precision.  I find it simple & very versatile.

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

Trevor – I don’t use them.

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

Trevor – It would probably be modeled after a vintage Fender or Guild & would have a centipede on it.

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

Trevor – Probably some type of fuzz/synth/octaver with programmable settings.  It would also be very small.

QRD – How many basses do you own?

Trevor – I own six electrics & one upright.

QRD – How & where do you store your basses?

Trevor – They are mostly just lying around my room.  Some in their cases in the closet.  Some lying on the bed.

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

Trevor – If I’m looking for a bass to buy, I probably have the sound & model already figured out, so ultimately I look for a good physical feel.

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

Trevor – Whatever it is worth.

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

Trevor – I’ve done some minor renovating, i.e. new bridge, nut, etc.  But for the most part I keep it simple.

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

Trevor – I try to adjust to my surroundings.  Obviously metal is going to need a different tone than exotica.  That said, I prefer a dark, round tone.

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

Trevor – I’ve been lusting after a ‘60s Fender Jazz for many years.

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

Trevor – Less is more.  Getting a good sound & making good music with just volume & one tone knob is a lesson in itself.

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

Trevor – My ‘65 Guild Starfire is one of those fantasy stories.  A friend’s neighbor sold it to me for about $100.  It had no tuning pegs & the input jack was destroyed.  After a couple hundred bucks to my repair guy she soars like an eagle.  I’m guessing that my custom 5-string fretless purchased in the early ‘90s is my least used instrument.

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

Trevor – Usually a Carol Kaye line or something off a Sly Stone record.

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

Trevor – Thirteen.

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

Trevor – I’m still trying to get there.  Every gig & every session makes an improvement.

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

Trevor – It completely depends on the situation.  I would never be so dogmatic as to say a line should always play the same role.

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

Trevor – Though I chose it by chance - or so I think - I like being in the background, being in a rhythm section, searching for, or dwelling on, the perfect groove.  I think that describes my life in a nutshell.

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

Trevor – I used to have this theory that our instruments were prisons for the song trapped inside & it was our duty to wrestle (practice) & overcome this cumbersome entombment.  But now I think that’s kind of a dark analogy.  I love my bass.  Some of them have traveled the world with me & they are always there for me.  Without that ally I would be nothing.

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

Trevor – Bobby Vega, Rusty Allen, Carol Kaye, Jaco Pastorius, Jerry Jemmont, Charlie Haden, Jimmy Garrison, Charles Mingus, Scott Lafaro.

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

Trevor – I don’t think it’s silly.  There is a lot of emotion that travels through the fingers.  I haven’t named any of mine, but I do feel the spirit in them. 

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

Trevor – I knocked over my first bass when I was a teenager talking to a girl on the phone.  I’ll never forget that.  I put a big chip in the back of the neck.  Aside from that, when I first moved to NYC & had no clue about winterizing my bass the front cracked open one December.

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

Trevor – Mostly very traditional standard exercises.  Pretty much all my upright practicing is long tones, scales, arpeggios, & classical etudes.  Other than that I practice whatever music I need to be learning.

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

Trevor – I would like to practice 8 hours a day like the old days.  When I can, I would say about four a day.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Trevor – For upright I use standard Tomastik orchestral.  Electric I use D’Addario regular gauge - either .45 or .50.  After years of experimenting these are simply the strings that suit me best.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Trevor – Upright, probably once a year.  Electric, very rarely.  On a tour with, say, Fantomas I would change them every couple of shows.  But for the other things I do I prefer that greasy dander-infused tone that James Jameson championed.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Trevor – Almost never.

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

Trevor – It is important that both hands be agile & dexterous.  Coordinating them is crucial.  In general, I’d say tone probably comes more from the left hand in upright playing & the right hand in electric.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Trevor – Mostly standard cuz I’m a simple guy.  Occasionally drop-D, & sometimes I tune my electric B-E-A-D.

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

Trevor – I can’t stand tablature.  I find it annoying & useless.  I use standard notation & read bass, treble, & tenor clefs.

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

Trevor – Not warming up.

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

Trevor – Piano/keyboard.

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

Trevor – Authentic salsa.

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

Trevor – Perfect technique.

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

Trevor – The Italian hairless bow.

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

Trevor – I’ve taken many bass lessons. Initially I took lessons for a couple years.  Then I studied privately in college.  & occasionally I still take lessons from a classical player.  I could write an entire book on what I’ve learned.  Probably the most important thing, however, is slowing down & listening.

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

Trevor – The ability to explore their own technique.

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

Trevor – Be in my brain.

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

Trevor – Sure, but you can do that with any instrument.  That doesn’t mean you will have an enjoyable listening experience.