Hadrien Feraud Revisits His Formative Years on 'Born in the '80s'

May 3, 2016

Harkening back to his mid-2000s emergence with John McLaughlin and Chick Corea, Hadrien Feraud has likely elicited more jaw-drops and head-shakes than any of his contemporaries. Indeed, the Paris-born prodigy’s free-flowing fingerboard exploits and ultra-relaxed technique on his standard-tuned 5-strings (BEADG) have earned him lofty status in bass-hero circles. A decade of growth and reflection later, Feraud is seeking to reach a similar plateau as a musician and composer, making a firm grab with his sophomore solo effort, Born in the ’80s. Summoning the music he grew up on and casting it in the light of the talent-rich modern Los Angeles music scene, the 11-track effort erupts with a flood of bass-guided soundscapes rife with vocal-laden crossover potential. A corps of over 40 musicians from L.A., Paris, and New York includes Corea, drummer Ronald Bruner, rapper Chris Clarke (son of Stanley), and ten outstanding vocalists, including an unexpected contribution from Marcus Miller. The most pleasant surprise, however, is that Feraud has such a musical range surging within him.

Hadrien Feraud was born on August 16, 1984, to musician parents (his dad is a guitarist and his mom is a vocalist). He was raised on classic rock and R&B—the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Motown, Aretha Franklin—and film music, to which he was especially receptive. Following brief flirtations with the guitar and drums, Feraud picked up his dad’s Fender Precision at age 11 in an effort to reproduce the bass lines his ear was drawn to on his parents’ records. His interest noted, his dad bought him a 50th Anniversary Japanese Fender Jazz Bass, and soon afterward brought home Jaco Pastorius’ The Birthday Concert [1981, Warner Bros.]. “That was a life-changing moment of clarity,” enthuses Hadrien. “Everything I had heard to that point—rock, pop, R&B, jazz, and film music—was refined in his style, because he had listened to the same records I grew up on, and had processed it into this incredible voice. He had it all: the writing, the soloing, the technique. But most of all, for me, was the tone. His version of ‘Continuum’ in The Birthday Concert is still my favorite Jaco track.” Feraud added a fretless ’75 P-Bass to his arsenal and expanded his influences to include Christian McBride, Anthony Jackson, Marcus Miller, and Victor Bailey. Dominique Di Piazza, Matt Garrison, John Patitucci, and Jeff Berlin provided additional inspiration.

At age 18, through John McLaughlin’s manager (who knew a friend of Hadrien’s dad), Feraud was invited to be part of a bill on a local bass night that included DiPiazza, Richard Bona, and guitarist Birelli Legrene (on bass). He admits, “For six years, I had copied all of my idols, so I had good technique, good tone, good time, and a good feel, but I didn’t know how to improvise or create. I was more of a mimic. I played ‘Black Market’ with a prelearned solo that night, but seeing the rest of those guys improvise so freely was a real wake-up call.” Feraud went into what he calls word-of-mouth study mode, asking every musician he met about harmony and improvisation, and transcribing pianists and horn players. He laughs, “I can describe the method I used in three words: play, pause, rewind. I used to record everything off the radio on my little Nokia tape recorder and play along with it, often learning stuff without knowing who the artist was. Ultimately, [saxophonist] Michael Brecker had the biggest impact on my phrasing and the way I think when I improvise.”

In 2005, McLaughlin’s manager urged Hadrien, who had continued to climb the local ranks, to send a tape to the guitarist, who was looking for a bassist. McLaughlin called two days later, leading to a tour and culminating in three album appearances. Inbetween, Feraud released his debut solo effort in 2007, and was sought out by Chick Corea for a tour and trio recording. Firmly established by then as a fusion flamekeeper, Hadrien began a regular run of road and record appearances with such artists as Billy Cobham, Lagrene, Jean-Luc Ponty, Dean Brown, Gary Husband, and fellow bassists Di Piazza, Garrison, and Thundercat. In 2013, he signed on for Corea’s Vigil band album and tours and the bass chair in the Zawinul Legacy Band. It was right around 2010, when he moved from Paris to Los Angeles, that Feraud began thinking about playing and writing more accessible kinds of music. The road to Born in the ’80s had begun.

What was your concept for the album?

I had two thoughts in mind. One was to pay homage to the music I grew up listening to—which is actually from the late ’60s to the early ’90s—and do my own modern interpretation. The title is a take on the Police song “Born in the ’50s.” More important was to try to create an album that was both musically sophisticated and accessible. My role model for it is Stevie Wonder, who touches everyone with his music, from musicians to casual listeners. A more specific example of what I was going for is Quincy Jones albums like The Dude [1981, A&M], where he had different styles and singers, with amazing songs and musicians.

The music is reminiscent of artists like Steely Dan, where singable melodies sit atop more complex structures.

That’s precisely what I was going for, because I believe when the average listener can sing or whistle a melody and it gets in their heads, it draws them in to what’s going on behind the melody. At the same time you have something for musicians and more advanced listeners to sink their teeth into. This is my first attempt in this direction, so admittedly, there’s a lot going on in the music, but I’ll keep refining it as I learn and go.

The title-track opener contains all your references, from film music to a blazing horn section.

Yeah, everything is in there, my three main influences: Stevie, Steely Dan, and Weather Report, as well as Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, and Prince. The way this and most of the songs came together was, I would play the melodies on bass and send them to the vocalists, which was an interesting process because often they would have to modify them a bit to better fit vocal phrasing. Also, because my English is not the best, I would collaborate with the vocalists on the lyrics. Here, my friends guitarist Joel Whiteley and vocalist Jessica Vautor wrote the lyrics. I gave them my concept of a nostalgic look back at a fun time and how it will never quite be the same.

The other interesting component on this and other tracks is the blending of bass and keyboard bass.

I wanted to have keyboard bass because that was part of the sound of that era, and I’ve always liked blending and having multiple basses on tracks, like Marcus Miller does. The problem is my keyboard bass chops are lacking. So what I did was come up with and record the bass lines on bass, and then I learned and ’shedded them on my keyboard bass, which is a Korg Triton Extreme. Then I overdubbed the Triton parts. On other songs, I just used octave and chorus pedals on my basses to get a keyboard bass sound.

“Underneath the Golden Moon” and “Satisfying” add elements of electronica and rap, respectively.

I was going for an electronica vibe on “Moon,” and I relied on [drummer] Damien Schmitt, who’s way into the genre both technically and musically. Jason Joseph, the vocalist, wrote the lyrics and came up with the title. “Satisfying” was inspired by some very dark, underground hip-hop an ex-girlfriend used to listen to. The track vocalist, Jasmine Mitchell, provided very poetic lyrics, and Chris Clarke wrote and performed the rap. That’s my Ken Smith 5 and the overdubbed Triton on “Moon”; “Satisfying” is a Ken Smith 5 with octaver and some boosted lows on the board EQ for a deep, Moog-like sound.

“Gotta Go” is the jazziest track.

I wanted to have a track that captured the jazz vibe of New York City. [Pianist] Gerald Clayton, [drummer] Justin Brown, [guitarist] Manu Codjia, and I recorded this live. I envisioned Gretchen Parlato singing on it, but when the scheduling didn’t work out, I figured I’d sing it on fretless, which would give me at least one song on the album where I play the melody. I used a fretless Fender Victor Bailey Jazz Bass I found in Paris, in 2007.

What’s the story behind your expanded version of Chick Corea’s “India Town,” with Marcus Miller on vocals?

I used to play along with that track on the first Elektric Band album [1986, GRP], and I always felt it would make a great verse for a song. [The piece is essentially a two-chord vamp: Ebm11 to B13(#11).] I wrote additional sections and added a Steely Danish vibe, with doubled drums; then I asked Chick to play on it, and he liked what I did with it. As for Marcus, I asked him to sing on it because I love his voice, like the way he sings “Funny” from his Live & More album [1998, GRP]. As amazing as he is as a slapper and a composer, I think he’s undersung as a fretless player and a vocalist. We know each other from playing at NAMM shows and bass events, so I texted him that I had a song I wanted him to write lyrics for and sing on, and to my surprise he said yes immediately. I sent him the tracks, and he sent them back with all the vocal parts and lyrics within two weeks; I was completely blown away!

“Music, Thank You” and “Ingrid P” are both tribute tracks.

“Music” is a tribute to Joe Zawinul. Although I only met him briefly a few times, he’s a very important influence for the beautiful, strong pictures and feelings his music would evoke in my mind. The track begins with samples from a 1985 Zawinul documentary, and I have a string section, which was fun to write for. I later realized with [alto saxophonist] Stephane Guillaume on the song, we’re paying tribute to Wayne Shorter, as well. I played my Fodera Beeze Elite 5 and my fretless Godin 5.

“Ingrid P” is dedicated to Jaco’s second wife. In 2009 I went to Deerfield Beach to visit Felix Pastorius, and Ingrid treated me like a son, putting me up and caring for me. We talked for hours and she showed me Jaco’s hand-written music. She is truly missed by everyone who knew her. The track incorporates a few elements. In the opening, I quote Jaco’s brief solo from the end of the live version of Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote”; the overall groove is borrowed from a 1983 live version of “Coyote” with Vinnie Colaiuta and Larry Klein. Then as the piece moves on, you can hear the influence of Matt Garrison in my writing. I used the Beeze Elite 5.

You also cover Jaco’s “Punk Jazz, ”which includes your longest solo.

I always loved that song and wanted to do my own take on it. I omitted his free-form solo upfront and after the ballad opening, we go into a straight funk feel with background vocals, to give it more of an R&B flavor. For the B section, I figured out a way to make the melody fit the 15/8 meter, which carries through the solos. I thought my bass solo was too long to fit the concept of the album, but enough people persuaded me to keep it in. That’s my Ken Smith 5.

What’s the story behind the pop-power ballad, “Circles”?

I had a trio in Paris with the guys on the track, [keyboardist] Michael LeCoq and [drummer] Frederic Lopez, and we wrote this for a singer who had given us a melody. Originally, it had a Zawinul vibe, like the song Richard Page sang on Joe’s Face & Places album [2002, ESC], “Familiar to Me.” When we parted ways with the singer, I wrote a new melody for it. [Keyboardist] Ruslan Sirota heard it and loved it, and recommended doing a Celine Dion/Whitney Houston-type production. I asked the vocalist, Maiya Sikes, to rewrite the lyrics, and [keyboardist] Eddie Brown and I arranged the strings. I played my fretless F Bass 5—with my Ken Smith 5 for the solo.

How do you reflect on your key early stints with John McLaughlin and Chick Corea?

Having grown up loving and studying their work, I was totally prepared on the music side. The big learning curve was the other side. I was a kid with no road experience and my English was poor; so, for example, I took luggage that was too heavy, and although John speaks French, he wanted me to speak English to the rest of the band. The difference between playing along with John and Chick’s records and actually playing with them was getting to know them as people. Hearing all their great stories and soaking up the wisdom. They’re both very straightforward, so they’ll tell you what’s on their minds. They make sure to hire musicians who have it together, because they don’t have time to keep telling you what they need. The key to playing with artists at that level is to have giant ears so you can hear what they’re doing and how the band is responding. They won’t play with you if you don’t listen.

You’ve forged a groove approach that incorporates bass lines, melodies, and chords, all within the given space.

The bass line is supposed to carry and support the music, but I think it can also go to other places in 2016, thanks to the previous efforts of people like Jaco, Stanley, Anthony Jackson, Victor Bailey, Gary Willis, and others. For me it starts with trying to always create and be improvisational within the repetitive groove-and-bass-line context. I react to what everyone else is playing, and I try to go where I feel the music wants to go. There’s the stock upper-register bass fill approach, but I’m trying to avoid that; my improvised ideas are going to be lines that mark the chords and flow with the music, not isolated licks. I’m trying to be bold and adventurous in a musical way. It’s not something that works in every style, and it’s difficult to fit it in tastefully and not get in the way.

I spent years being called out for overplaying while I tried to hone and develop it. Now, at 31, I think I have a stronger sense of what’s necessary and what’s not. My goal is to make this concept something that can fit with all musical styles and bass tones, so you’d only be able to recognize it’s me because of my approach.

What’s your soloing concept?

To play what the music calls for. If the situation requires me to play fast from the jump I’ll do that, but I prefer to start slowly and build. And I always aim to play inside the chords before I take it outside; I try to respect the harmony and the melody and make the listener hear the chord changes within my phrases. A lot of players now go straight to taking it out in their solos. Or they learn some interesting shapes and rely solely on those. But to my ears, if your soloing hasn’t developed through having a strong harmonic foundation, it shows.

Any other recent developments in your playing?

I’ve been trying some new slapping ideas, with thumb up- and downstrokes, and muting techniques. And I’m always working on my phrasing and line structure. But my growth has been as a musician, and that’s what has improved my bass playing. To be a good bassist, you have to be a good musician—with a producer mindset in a sense, because you have to know how to fit into the context of the music you’re playing. For example, many of my heroes coming up had one tone. Nowadays, it’s not enough just to be versatile, you have to have more than one sound, from an old Fender tone to keyboard bass-type sounds. It’s all about being open to what the artist wants and your own creativity; otherwise you close doors on yourself. I want to keep opening new doors.

Feraud Forays

Hadrien Feraud’s basses emanate from every corner of Born in the’80s, delivering propulsive grooves, explosive solos, keyboard bass-like fills, ear-grabbing step-outs between vocals, cluster-rich chords, and overdubbed and panned tonal colors. Example 1 contains the main four-bar groove of “Satisfying,” which opens the track. Explains Feraud, “I’m always working on shapes and patterns to challenge myself, and this is something I came up with. I used it for the track and then Ruslan Sirota added some killer chords behind it.” See if you can find any melodic or rhythmic patterns to accompany it.

Example 2 has the typical opening (and verse) groove of “Open Up,” for which Feraud used an octave pedal. Sit back in the pocket, and mind your intervals and string skips. Finally, Ex. 3 shows the first four measures of Hadrien’s expressive solo on “Circles” (at 3:25), a good example of his phrasing and use of hammer-ons/pull-offs and chordal ideas. Listen for how he lays back at the beginning of bars 1 and 2, and the end of bar 3 into the start of bar 4.

INFO
LISTEN

Born in the ’80s [2015]; Simon Lynge, Absence of Fear [2015, Natural Machine Recordings]; Chick Corea, The Vigil [2013, Concord]; John McLaughlin, Floating Point [2008, Abstract Logix]

EQUIP

Basses Two Ken Smith Signature 5-strings (buckeye maple and spalted maple), fretless F Bass BNF 5-string, Mayones Jabba Classic V, Fodera Beeze Elite 5-string, fretless Godin A5
Amps Markbass Little Mark III head, Standard 104HR cabinet, Mini CMD 151P combo, Traveler 102P cabinet
Effects Morley EOV Optical Volume Pedal, Markbass Octaver, Markbass Mini Distortion, TC Electronic Shaker Vibrato, TC Electronic Helix Phaser, DOD FX22 Vibrothang
Strings Elixir Nickel Plated Steel (.040, .060, .075, .090, .135)
Other Gruv Gear bass cases

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