BEHIND THE SCENES AT LILITH FAIR 2010
After a 10-year hiatus, the Lilith Fair tour returned in 2010 for 23 summer dates, featuring founder Sarah McLachlan and a bevy of female-fronted headliners in tow. As a bassist, a woman, and a member of one of the headliner’s backing bands (Sugarland), I was anxious to catch up with the other boys and girls holding down the low end on Lilith, and get their take on living the dream with a woman at the helm. —ANNIE CLEMENTS
Band Sarah McLachlan
Gear Gibson Thunderbird and Ampeg SVT-VR vintage reissue amp with an 8x10 cabinet.
Bio The Australian-born multi-instrumentalist and tremendously talented singer-songwriter has her own solo career, and additionally plays with bands Elle Macho and Nashville’s renowned Ten Out Of Tenn. Her melodic approach to the bass and strong vocal abilities are a perfect fit for McLachlan’s intelligent pop music. And being on the gig with ultimate session drummer Matt Chamberlain doesn’t suck, either.
Influences Robert Smith (the Cure), Suzanne Vega, and Cyndi Lauper
On getting the gig with Sarah “Sarah came to one of my early shows in New York in 2003. I’d just released an album, and must’ve liked it; a year later she asked me to open for her on her North American, European tour, and Australian tours. Recently I did the Barenaked Ladies’ Ships & Dip cruise as a solo artist, and Sarah came on as coheadliner. She had laryngitis, so she came to me and said, ‘Hey, do you know (McLachlan’s hit song) ‘Angel’? Can you sing it’? I can’t sing as high as Sarah, but she said ‘You’ll be fine!’ When the cruise ended, she said ‘This is cool—how can we do this again?’ She realized I play bass, and now I’m out on with her on Lilith!”
On working with Matt Chamberlain “I’d always heard that every drummer drools over Matt Chamberlain. I’d heard him play on records and thought, This is cool. He sounds like a good drummer! But it wasn’t until I started playing with him in rehearsal that I really got it; He’s so good—so natural— and there’s no ego involved in his playing. Matt once told me that any time he works with a new group of people, he’s always learning something new. I just sat there thinking, You’re still saying that, and you’ve worked with nearly everybody!”
Band Colbie Caillat
Gear ’62 Fender Reissue Precision with flatwounds (tuned down a half step), Lakland Skyline Bob Glaub, Aguilar DB 751 head and 4x12 cabinet
Bio Nyback hails from Los Angeles and cites his drive, being a good human being, meeting the right people, and doing his homework as the contributing factors to his success. His skills in the recording studio surely don’t hurt.
Influences: James Jamerson, Flea, Pino Palladino; drummers Steve Jordan, Questlove, Dave Grohl, and Josh Freese.
On tracking with Colbie’s father Ken (former producer with Fleetwood Mac)
“We were re-cutting her second single from Breakthrough. It’s a mellow midtempo song, and the label wanted it to have a bit more edge. Ken came in and liked what we did live, so we had our arrangement and we tracked it live. He’s very old school in the sense that he talks in colors and shapes, not so much in the literal nomenclature, but it’s fun to take what he was saying and interpret it. He gave us a lot of freedom.”
On working with women “I really don’t see a difference. It’s all about your relationship with the artist. People ask me if Colbie is really as nice as she seems. Completely. She’s not a diva, and she respects us for what we do. In turn, I absolutely respect what she does. It’s an absolute pleasure.”
Band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Gear ’66 Fender Precision Bass with flatwound strings, ’67 Guild Starfire; Mark Bass TA 501.
Bio A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, Catherine is as much a beast on upright bass as she is on electric, and possesses stellar background vocal talent. Touring credits include Ryan Adams, Leona Naess, and Norah Jones.
Influences Ray Brown, Mike Watt, John Mcvie
On her amp preferences “I’ll play out of a toaster. I’ve got a great bass—a ’66 Fender P-Bass with flatwounds—so sometimes the crappier the amp the better, because it needs to be brightened up a little bit since the bass is so deep. I also have a ’67 Guild Starfire hollowbody, which is also rather deep-toned. I have an Ampeg flip-top that I love for upright, but I think it sounds terrible with my electrics.”
On loving Lilith “What I love about Lilith Fair is that it’s not about women being celebrated just because they’re women. We’re mixed up in these bands, we’re workers among workers inside these bands. That’s really important for people to see. We can actually be in the background doing the job.”
Band Sheryl Crow
Gear K-Line J-Style Bass, Music Man 5-string, Ampeg SVT-VR Vintage Reissue head
Bio A guitarist first, Tim came into his own as a bassist with legendary art-pop band Jellyfish. After 14 years as Crow’s bassist, Smith remains Sheryl’s go-to source for acoustic guitar and backing vocals when the need arises, and he dons an electric guitar when Sheryl plays bass.
Influences Paul McCartney, Ronnie Lane, Colin Moulding
On Sheryl rockin’ the bass “When Sheryl recorded ‘My Favorite Mistake,’ she played bass. I thought she sounded great. She’s a keyboard player, and she plays bass with that kind of phrasing. And the fact that she’s not ‘muso’ about it makes it a little bit more interesting and charming—it’s not so polished. It’s been nice to have her do that and let me play guitar as well.”
On being an original Lilith Fair alum “We did the ’99 tour, which was one of the best experiences of my life. A tour that big, with that many bands and that much great music was different—it hadn’t been done before. That movement of women’s music was still kind of new, so it was great.”
(OK, THIS IS ME)
Gear Fender custom bass with vintage reissues of a Precision body and a Jazz neck, Fender Reggie Hamilton Jazz Bass, Daisy Rock custom “Steam Punk” bass, Brick preamp
Bio A Berklee graduate and New Orleans native now residing in Nashville, I’ve been touring full-time with Sugarland since 2006. I’m also a music marketer for Sorted Noise studio, and these days I do a lot of session work as a vocalist.
Influences James Jamerson, George Porter Jr., the Beatles, Cranston Clements (my Dad)
On working with women It’s very gratifying to be a part of a band—and now a full-blown tour—where women are running the show. For me, it sets a tone of joy, kindness, and compassionate energy that counterbalances the many rigors of touring life. And like Catherine Popper said, the fact that there are so many female musicians on this tour that are out here based on their merit—not simply because they’re female—is encouraging and inspiring.
On the Lilith scene What’s interesting about all these bass players is that they all bring valuable skills to the gig on top of solid bass playing. Whether it’s Tim’s guitar work, or Catherine and Butterfly’s backing vocals, it seems like today’s musicians are bringing more to the table, adding value to their own brands and to each head liner. And despite the challenging economy, Lilith has been a success. McLachlan ended the show each night with her arrestingly angelic vocals and an announcement of the local charity who would be receiving $1 per ticket sold. As such, some charities received upwards of $10,000 each. The festival already has plans to continue next year. Not bad for a bunch of girls.
On writing this article It’s funny—I had some trouble tracking everyone down. I think everyone thought I was going to grill them on some intense tech talk or ask for a dissertation on their rig, when really I just wanted to talk about girls on tour. One person told me they finally gave in because I seemed so nice (and because I wouldn’t leave them alone). Perhaps I have a budding career as an investigative journalist? I get nervous about interviews sometimes, and it was interesting to put someone else in the hot seat. So I just tried to be sensitive to how I feel when I’m in that position.
On keeping sane on the road That’s not too hard these days. The band bus is lovely, clean and full of Snuggies. We travel with a personal chef. Mostly I try to exercise each day, drink tea and just chill out. I’m surrounded by people I love and get to play music that I love, so it’s really not that hard! I do miss my family a lot so I spend time on the phone or the computer, staying in touch.
On the community of female bassists It was so great to be out here with other women rocking the bass. I really think Catherine Popper summed it up best by saying that we’re all just working out here. It’s not totally unusual now to see a woman up on stage doing her job. And it was great to sit down with them and be able to totally relate to them right off the bat. We had all this common ground, just talking about dealing with relationships, how to shop on tour, how to stay healthy. There aren’t a million people out there who’ve necessarily lived out of a suitcase for a decade, and to be able to sit down with other women who are living that life was a really great experience for me.
On being a multi-instrumentalist This is a biggie for me. It really hit me out here how everyone is bringing so many different skills to bear on their gig. For instance, when Sheryl does an acoustic show or TV spot where it’s just her and an accompanist, she brings her bassist Tim out to play guitar. It makes him very valuable on that gig. And Butterfly got the bass chair on this tour after she sang with Sarah. Obviously she’s an amazing bassist, but having the opportunity to get up and sing with Sarah is what opened the door for her to get the gig in the first place. And certainly for me personally, my singing has gotten me where I am today. If you’re one person doing two jobs, it’s very valuable to any organization.
If she was in charge of Lilith Fair I’d stage a massive “Bitch ‘N’ Swap.” This is a secret ritual that groups of women perform where basically you pull all the clothes you haven’t worn in a while out of your closet, you gather at a friend’s house, and you sit around and bitch about stuff and swap your old clothes for new ones. I think Lilith could pull this off. It would be epic. And anything left over goes to Goodwill. Sound good?”
Annie Clements is the touring bassist and background vocalist for the multi-platinum band Sugarland, and a self-confessed bass geek. Learn more about Annie at www.annieclementsmusic.com.