Freekbass on Octaves

“Thickness attracted me to the bass,” says Freekbass.
By Jimmy Leslie ,

“THICKNESS ATTRACTED ME TO THE BASS,” SAYS Freekbass. “I appreciated its depth and its width. I try to make my sonic space as big as possible—leave a big footprint.”

Two decades ago, the bassist with the biggest footprint ever— Bootsy Collins—tapped Chris Sherman as his protégé, and then gave him his stage name. Collins’ instinct about Sherman’s dedication to pure funk was clearly on the one. Freekbass proudly waves the funk flame on his new recording Everybody’s Feelin’ Real, and his playing is blistering.

Freekbass is obviously fascinated with octaves. The instrumental “Fish a Man” is stacked with stanky stuff, both tonally and technically. On “Mama’s Like a Cowboy” he thumps-and-plucks the hell out of the octave-based line, and then on the solo he cops a Whammy-infected tone that would make Jack White smile. So would the fuzzed-out, dual-octave tone on “Never Enough.” Speaking of guitar-like solos and tones, Freekbass found actual guitar unnecessary throughout the new album. “So much of the frequency range I take up using octaves grabs what would be in the guitar player’s range,” he explains. Take that, White Stripes!

How do you execute octaves, from plucking and fingerboard perspectives?

If the groove is heavy on the one and I am playing, say, a G, I’ll hit the E string’s 3rd fret and the octave onthe D string simultaneously. I normally use my thumb to pluck the low note, and my index finger for the higher one. I love how that sounds almost like two basses playing at once.

I usually use my 1st and 4th fingers to fret octaves at or below the 8th fret. Above that, where the spacing is smaller, I use my index and 3rd fingers. That’s mostly from playing double bass growing up. I would favor fingers one, two, and four, and then the first three fingers in higher positions. The goal has always been maximum strength and depth. Occasionally, if I want to hit a root note, an octave, and a 5th above that, I actually use my first two fingers to accomplish the octave, and hit the 5th above with my pinkie.

How about slap-and-pop applications?

I always think of my thumb as the kick drum and my index/plucking finger as the snare. I create octave grooves the same way a drummer would create a beat. If a drummer’s beat would be kick/kick/snare, mine would be thumb/thumb/pluck, with the thumb being the root note and the pluck being the octave.

Can you share a thought about playing octaves on the same string versus different ones?

I am especially conscious about notes sounding even when I’m recording. Sometimes I’ll play an entire line on a single string, even though it may be technically easier using others. I also appreciate the thicker sound of hitting a note an octave higher on the same string, as opposed to on a thinner string in a lower position.

What are your thoughts on octave effects?

I like my octaves to sound organic—like another bass. A mix knob is important to balance the initial note with the octave created. The DigiTech Whammy Pedal is my longtime favorite pedal, because both its octaves sound pure and real. For the dominant part of the bass line, I add the low octave for heaviness. When I solo with distortion, I like adding the octave above for definition. I also utilize the octave above when playing tight lines with quick rhythms. It’s a unique sound, especially with double-thumbing—like rhythm guitar and bass playing in unison.

Recently, horn madman Skerik turned me on to the Eventide PitchFactor. It creates pure, fat octaves, and it’s programmable. You can control the blend and specify amounts of lower or higher octave. Adding and subtracting octaves inherently affects your overall level. The PitchFactor’s level control on each patch is huge for achieving a consistent sound.

What’s the most interesting aspect of applying octaves?

The most intriguing thing is how much it dictates creative flow. When you create a super wide and thick tone using octaves, you might play more sparsely with a big pocket. I appreciate fireworks, but what made me fall for the bass in the first place was that one- or two-note line bumping out of your car window or onstage that would spread out and animate anything in its path. Octaves can make that happen.

Got any grip tips?

Try playing an eighth-note octave pattern between the low G on your E string and the octave on the D string. Hit the higher octave with your pinkie for the first bar, use your 3rd finger for the 2nd bar, your 2nd finger for the 3rd bar, and then go back to the 3rd finger for the 4th bar. Repeat that in a 16–24 bar phrase at about 90 beats per minute. Then take it to another level by pulling your thumb away from the neck with your fretting hand. You will never play like that for real, but when you bring your thumb back it will provide added strength and comfort. It’s kind of like a baseball player who warms up on deck with two bats, but goes to bat with one.

INFO

LISTEN

Freekbass, Everybody’s Feelin’ Real [Indpt, 2014]

EQUIP

Basses ’75 Fender Jazz Bass, (Bass Centre) Bass Collection Jive Bass, Grove Guitars Freekbass Signature J-style bass
Strings D’Addario FlexSteels (.045–.100)
Rig Kustom KXB800 head through two Kustom DE410h Deep End 4x10 cabinets
Effects Pigtronix Bass Envelope Phaser, Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron Plus, Eventide PitchFactor, DigiTech JamMan, PalmeTronics Freek Fuzz, DigiTech Whammy