NIKKA COSTA IS ONE OF THE FUNKIEST
divas on the planet, and she’s got a band
rivaling those of mentors Prince and Lenny
Kravitz. Since 2001—the year after Costa’s
breakthrough release Everybody’s Got
Their Something—Shawn Davis has held
onto Nikka’s bass chair with both hands,
all while doing sessions for big shots Beck
and Juanes on the side.
How did you develop such a wicked combination
of groove and growl?
I was a devoted drummer and closet bass
player until I saw Steel Pulse on Bob Marley
Day in 1989. The bass was hypnotic, scary,
and making me paranoid. It was so profound
that I switched my focus. You can groove
on drums, but you can set a mood on bass.
James Brown’s repetitive bass lines are so
hypnotic that they suck you in like some
weird voodoo trance. James Brown and
Black Sabbath are my two main influences.
That’s an unorthodox combination.
Geezer Butler is my man. I first got into
Sabbath when I was a high school stoner.
Butler’s tone was different from other heavy
bassists, and the way he bent his strings was
haunting. He’s got soul. After that I got into
James Brown and Motown.
You play a lot of Jamerson-style, indexfinger-only lines, but once in a while you’ll
rip some blazing two-finger passages.
I can cover a lot of lines flicking my index
finger up and down. I listened to a lot of Jamerson
while I was developing my style, but it didn’t
click that he was using one finger until I saw
footage of him way later—I just heard his tone.
Playing with one finger came naturally. Steve
Harris inspired me to develop my two-finger
technique. I can get down on some rapid-fi re
Iron Maiden-style lines, but we don’t play
much up-tempo stuff with Nikka.
What aspect of your heavy rock background
can you apply to Nikka’s material consistently?
My tone. I like it crunchy, and grinding.
The title track from Can’tneverdidnothin’ is
the best example. I keep my amplifier grungy
and thick. For most of Pro*Whoa! I used
a Sunn 200S through a 1969 Sunn 2x15
cabinet, with Rotosound flatwounds on my
bass. It’s uncommon, but flatwounds sound
great on an old Rick. It’s hard to pick out
my bass tone on this album because there’s
a lot of keyboard bass, as well. You can hear
me best on “Nylons in a Rip.” I played very
aggressively through a 4x10 Sunn cabinet
to get that slightly overdriven tone, and I
incorporated a lot of Geezer Butler-style
string bending—especially on the chorus.
I still love ’70s hard rock like Blue Cheer
and Mountain, and modern-retro bands
like Soundgarden, Lenny Kravitz, and the
Black Crowes. Mars Volta is my current
favorite. A natural-sounding heaviness is
the common denominator.
HEAR HIM ON
Nikka Costa, Pro*Whoa!
Beck, The Information [Interscope,
Un Dia Normal [Universal, 2002]
1976 Rickenbacker 4001,
Fender Precision Bass
Vintage Sunn 2001S or 201S
through vintage Sunn 2x15 or
Fender 4x12 cabinets