Interview with Trevor Dunn of Fantomas
Name: Trevor Dunn
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