Chris Bierden is the first to admit he’s hit the bass player’s
jackpot with Poliça. The Minnesota alternative trip-hop band’s 2012 debut album, Give
You the Ghost, gained critical acclaim, thrust the group onto big touring bills with Bon
Iver, and landed them key slots on the festival circuit. Along with an effects-driven vocalist
and two highly technical drummers, the result is a bass-driven sound where Bierden
takes the rhythmic and melodic lead by picking his way through funky grooves and rubbery
fills and belting his falsetto vocals. On Poliça’s latest album, Shulamith, Bierden’s role
is even more dominant than before, as he takes his sense of
countermelody to the next level while bottoming out with an
even deeper tone. Whether his muted picking attack is plowing
the trail ahead or if he falls deep into the pocket of his
drum team’s polyrhythmic grooves, Bierden’s bass is always
the glue that holds everything together.
You’re in a unique situation, being the only stringed
instrument in your band.
I describe it as a bass player’s dream, because I get free
rein to play the countermelodies of what Channy [Leaneagh]
is singing and the counter-rhythm to what our two drummers
[Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu] are doing. I get
to do whatever I want, so it’s an ideal outfit for a bassist to
play in. I’m very lucky.
How do you approach playing with two drummers?
A lot of the heart and soul of a band falls into the drummer’s
style, so to play with two drummers with two very distinct
styles is amazing. As a bass player, I do have to be mindful
of how many beats are going on and which rhythm to latch
onto. It can also become a battle of the low end with two kick
drums and a lot of low tom work. We have to really make sure
we’re playing together or it can be too much.
Did you dial in your tone differently
on this album?
I love great bass tone, but I’m
not a tone junkie at all; in fact, I
have more questions than answers
on the topic. But I recently acquired
a ’76 Precision Bass, and it sounded
beautiful on this album. We wanted
to make my bass a little dubbier this
time around, so we rounded up the
low end and rolled off the rest. And
this is the first album where I used
reverb and chorus pedals, which really
enhanced my sound.
Describe your playing technique
I’ve always been a pick player and
I love to palm-mute, so I usually play
pretty close to the bridge. It does
change my tone quite a bit and I get
more of the mids from playing at
that position. Picking is not always
the most ideal tone for this band,
because I’ll want something deeper
or wider, but I can usually get away
with it by tweaking my amp. The
band has a fairly bluesy undertone,
so I usually stay in a pentatonic
range with my playing.
I get to do a lot of fun blues
scales and runs, but I like to
mix it up. I like baroque playing
How do come up with
all of those bass fills?
A lot of times I catch
myself doing things and I
don’t know where they’re
coming from, and other
times I’ll think to do something
just a second before I
do it. I see a lot of patterns
on the bass, and I’ll spontaneously
them for fills. A lot of times
I’m hearing my fills for the
first time when I play them.
It’s half playing what I hear,
and it’s half my fingers going
where they want to go.
[Mom + Pop, 2013]
Basses Fender Marcus
Miller Jazz Bass, 1976
Fender Precision Bass
800RB head, Ampeg
Strings DR Strings
Effects Boss RV-5
Digital Reverb, Boss
CEB-3 Bass Chorus,
ZVex Mastotron Fuzz