BILLY FULLER HAS ONE OF THE COOLEST GIGS ON THE planet, because he plays with a rock legend who loves working collectively on new ideas and fearless reinventions of his classics. Lullabyand … the Ceaseless Roar is the first batch of Robert Plant originals in a decade, and his live show is packed with mightily rearranged Zep and solo classics. Fuller began playing with Plant’s Strange Sensation band in 2003, and then reconnected with an essentially recast version of that group as the Sensational Space Shifters in 2013. The band’s sound is modern tribal with lots of hypnotic motifs, rather than distinct melodic bass lines in the vein of Fuller’s hero, James Jamerson, or Plant’s best-known bassist, John Paul Jones.
How did you develop ideas for the new record?
Robert and the band are open to the best ideas, regardless of origin. It could be from a demo brought in on a laptop, or created on the spot as we’re sitting around the control room. “Pocketful of Golden” started with a drumbeat. We decided to try a bass line next, so I gave it a go with my new toy, an Electro-Harmonix Bass Microsynth. I found a sound that people dug, and I started playing along. It’s pretty much octaves all the way through, but I don’t simply hit the notes—I slide into them, which makes the song swing. The Bass Microsynth actually influenced that approach; I could feel the effect reacting to that kind of action on the neck of my P-Bass. That “wow-wow” sound made the bass line sexy.
For the live show, which of Robert’s chestnuts stay true to the originals?
“What Is and What Should Never Be” and “Ramble On” are the only two. Both bass lines are fundamental to the character of the songs, so I play them fairly faithfully, although my technique is primitive compared to John Paul Jones. I simply use my index finger and ring fingers to fret most of the time. I look forward to playing “What Is and What Should Never Be” the most, because it’s a great melodic line—all bass players wish they wrote it!
How do the Space Shifters’ extreme rearrangements come about?
Everybody works together to find inspiring new pockets that will make Robert feel like he can sing his old songs with interest and vigor. The arrangements are done from the rhythm bed up. We don’t play the actual riff for our version of “Black Dog,” which is in G rather than A. They just wanted to sort of move along on the tonic, so the only way I could reference the riff was by playing along with the drums in a way that was almost referencing the riff. I basically cut the riff in half, kind of referenced the very first bar-and-a-half, and then changed the feel and a couple of notes. My ego never really allows me to notch the bedpost honoring when an idea came from me. It’s all for the team effort, and then you move along.
Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, Lullaby and … theCeaseless Roar [2014, Nonesuch]; Beak>, > [2012, Invada]; Juju, In Trance [2011, Real World], Massive Attack, Heligoland [2010, Virgin UK]
Bass ’71 Fender Precision Bass, ’63 Hofner Very Thin, Epiphone Jack Casady Signature
Live rig Fender Super Bassman head, Fender Bassman 410 4x10 and 115 1x15 cabinets
Studio rig Wallace AC3500 XT Mk III head, Ampeg SVT- 15EN 1x15 cabinet
Effects Sovtek Big Muff, Boss RE-20 Space Echo, Moog Moogerfooger MF-101, MXR Bass Chorus Deluxe, Demeter Compulator, Boss PS-5 Super Shifter, DOD Meat Box, TC Electronic Ditto Looper X2, TheGigRig Pro 14 pedal switcher
Strings Ernie Ball 2806 Flatwound Group III (.045–.100)