FROM THE INSTANT HE FIRST PICKED UP THE BASS AT THE AGE OF 10, Jamareo Artis spent every bit of his youth gigging his way through the churches and music venues of North Carolina, all while studying music theory and everything from jazz to bluegrass. “I got my first bass for Christmas,” says the Bruno Mars bass man, “and in that moment I stopped riding bikes and playing video games and sports— I just played bass all day. It became everything to me, but I never thought it would lead me to this.” Artis’ hard word and practice paid off as he went on to win P Diddy’s MTV Making His Band competition in 2009 at the age of 20. From there it was a chance meeting outside of a recording studio that introduced him to a budding singer named Bruno Mars who instantly recruited him to join his band. Nowadays Artis can be found playing his collection of P-Basses on the biggest stages in the world, finessing in Jacoinspired runs to the retro music of Mars and all while keeping perfectly in step with Soul Train-esque choreographed moves and never skipping a beat.
What is your approach on bass when you’re writing with Bruno?
Bruno plays simple chords and writes simple songs, but he’s very musical and a smart songwriter. I really didn’t know what to play over the basic changes at first, but then I realized that he’s all about melodic and simple bass lines. It can be just three notes, but those three notes better make an impact on the song in a big way. He always brings up the bass line for “Billie Jean” to me. It’s simple, but almost everybody in the world can hum it.
So you’ve become much more of a selective player recently?
Only four or five years ago I learned that you don’t have to impress people and get your point across by just playing endless licks or overplaying. Now I’ve learned how to pick my spots and know where to fit in the good stuff. You got to choose your licks wisely— like Jamerson used to do. He’d sit in the pocket a full song and then throw in two notes in the third verse that would change everything.
What’s the secret behind your booming vintage tone?
Aside from all the gear I use, it’s all about finger technique. Everybody’s fingers sound different, and I manipulate my sound from my finger work differently for different songs. I always play P-Basses, and that really helps me get my ideal, warm Motown sound. My sound is a mix between the tone of my heroes James Jamerson, Pino Palladino and Jaco Pastorius. I love the round, warm old school tone that’s thick but that also cuts through.
You guys put on a very energetic live show.
The most difficult thing is to dance and play in this band. We do some Jackson 5 choreographed stuff on stage, and it’s not as easy as you think. We get down every moment of an hour and forty-five minute set and you have to make sure your dancing is in sync with your playing. I try not to let that effect what I’m playing, because that’s the most important thing.
What’s your most memorable performance to date?
That’s easy. We got to perform with Sting on the Grammy Awards this year. We rehearsed everyday the week leading up to it and Sting came to every rehearsal and he definitely didn’t have to. He’s a legend and you just don’t know how certain people are going to be, but he took me right under his wing and has been a mentor to me ever since.
Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox [Atlantic, 2012]
Basses Fender Pino Palladino Signature Precision Bass, Fender Road Worn ’50s Precision Bass, Fender Deluxe Active Precision Bass Custom
Rig 2 Mesa Boogie M9 Carbine heads, 2 Mesa Boogie LTD 8x10 Powerhouse cabinets
Effects EBS DPhaser, EBS OctaBass
Strings DR Strings Hi-Beams (.045–.105), DR Strings Legend Flatwounds