EPITOMIZING THE PHRASE “BIG EARS,” Billy Mohler has cut tracks for Kelly Clarkson, Liz Phair, Jimmy Chamberlin Complex, Samantha Ronson, Jon Brion, and multiple movie scores. After two years honing his upright technique at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, plus stints at modern rock stardom with the Calling, Seventh Circle, and Macy Gray, Mohler slid comfortably into session and production work. He even received a Grammy nomination for his production role on Gustavo Galindo’s “Te Perdi.” From McCartney-esque Höfner spirals to soulful footballs to punk and prog, Billy Mohler twists his hard rock influences into a real calling.
You’ve played on some superstar sessions. What’s the key to being hired for those spots?
I am eclectic. I like to sit back in the pocket, but I also like to step out and play creative lines. I want to do something different with every track. But that can also keep me from doing more sessions, because I like to put a sonic footprint on the music, and I don’t always blend in.
How did you get your foot into the L.A. studio scene?
You’re only as good as your last job, so I took everything seriously. I would show up at the audition and know the tune better than anybody; I’d know the charts, and everybody else’s part. I nailed my homework. I wanted to be over-prepared, even for a rehearsal.
How do you give producers what they want?
You have to know the lineage of bass—the work of James Jamerson and Carol Kaye. There’s a certain flavor and attitude that those players brought that still resonates with everybody today. Their bass lines are what we’re all programmed to hear. They’re harmonically perfect, in the pocket, and have a certain tone. You also need to know what the job is, show up with the right gear, and understand what style you need to bring. Bring your spirit—that is why they are hiring you—but remember it’s all about being part of the team.
HEAR HIM ON
AWOLNATION, Megalithic Symphony [Red Bull, 2011]
Basses Moollon Vintage Precision, 1975 Fender Jazz Bass, 1977 Fender Precision, Höfner 500/1, 1975 Univox Hi-Flyer, 1890 Czech flatback upright
Rig Aguilar AG 500 head, Aguilar 4x10 cab; 1960s Ampeg B-15N
Strings Electric, D’Addario Chromes flatwounds (.040–.100), D’Addario Pro Steels (.045–.105); upright, Thomastik Spirocores (EAD) and Golden Spiral (G)
Effects Aguilar TLC Compressor, Octamizer, AGRO, and Filter Twin; Boss OC-2 Super Octave; Arion MOC-1 Octave; Crowther Prunes & Custard Overdrive; Fulltone Bass Fulldrive; ZVEX Wooly Mammoth; Electro-Harmonix Big Muff and Memory Man Delay
Picks Herco Medium Flex 75