Back in 2011, Alex Stiff and his friends were relaxing at his home enjoying the the John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat album Hooker ’n Heat [1971, Elektra] over a few beers when they decided that they should form their own band. The trio, which also includes guitarist/vocalist Chris Vos and drummer Marc Cazorla, met the following week and immediately began recording riffs in Stiff’s living room, and kept going until they had compiled enough blues-rock songs for a full album, Give It Back to You. Never did they imagine that their humble LP would lead to tours with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Social Distortion, and Grace Potter, or that they would receive a 2017 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album—but that’s exactly what happened.
The Record Company’s debut is deserving of all the praise it has received. The main reason? Stiff’s bass-driven songwriting and vintage sound. His feel-good riffs on “Off the Ground,” “Don’t Let Me Get Lonely,” and “On the Move” honor his bass heroes Carl Radle and James Jamerson in the most soulful, toe-tapping way possible. Skipping the honeymoon period, Alex and his bandmates are already hard at work writing their sophomore album. But instead of renting a fancy studio, they’re going right back into the living room where it all started.
Did you anticipate that this was going to be a bass-heavy album?
Our mindset was to do something that felt unique for each song, and a lot of times we would focus on bass more than guitar. I feel like there are a finite amount of ways you can go with a guitar, whereas the bass is more of a blank canvas. Our songs are usually driven by a riff, which leans on the bass a lot, so it’s fun for me. We like to keep it pretty high in the mix, too.
How much of the writing were you responsible for?
We all played big roles. If a song on the album is very bass heavy, then I probably came up with the riff and groove. But it always morphs into a full collaboration. The three of us combined probably equals one good songwriter, but none of us is a genius who just writes everything alone. I love that, because when one person does everything, the other band members will feel left out. This way, the whole group is responsible for the material.
How did you cop your great vintage tone?
One of the key ingredients for me is using very old strings. I’ve never liked the brightness that comes from putting a new set on my bass. I’ll even go into Guitar Center to play all their basses and find the deadest strings, and then I’ll make a deal with the manager to take those strings and buy new ones for the bass. I love flatwounds too, and I use those occasionally in the studio, but for my live sound I use roundwounds to get that nice bounce.
How does being a multi-instrumentalist influence your bass playing?
I love to play the drums, piano, and guitar, and being well-rounded from spending time on multiple instruments has helped me broaden my writing and my playing ability on bass. I see bass players on YouTube who can play a million miles an hour and pull off insane techniques, and I’m always in awe, but I would much rather do what I do and try to write good, simple songs. You can approach the bass in so many different ways, and there’s never one path that everyone has to take.
The Record Company, Give It Back to You [2016, Concord]
Bass Fender ’62 Reissue Jazz Bass, 1978 Fender Precision Bass
Rig Ampeg SVT AV, Acoustic Amplification B300HD, Ampeg SVT-410
Pedals MXR Ten Band Graphic EQ, Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer, Boss DD6 Delay