From April 1992
WITH THIS ISSUE, WE LAUNCHED OUR questionable (but always entertaining—at least to us) practice of including April Fool’s items in the April issue. In the New Gear column—by R. U. Seerius—we highlighted the Decibel Enterprises bass (“a 6-string piccolo bass with an unusual tuning: E, A, D, G, B, E”), the Sample- Tech background-vocal pedal (“onboard controls include duration and number of dudes”), and the Silicold transistor-emulator amp (“an all-tube bass head that simulates the cold sound of vintage solid-state electronics”). On the back page, we ran the Selfportrait with bandaged ear of Vincent Van Gogh (“He didn’t actually play bass, but he had a great ear”). The pièce de résistance, though, was Lumpy Fatt’s Product Profile of the entirely fictitious Wesco PeneTraitor, a “body-through-neck” bass that “emits crackling, distorted static that only gets worse as you tweak your tone.” We actually heard from people who wanted to know where they could buy one.
The cover story on Sting was dead serious, of course. It had taken months of negotiations to work out a deal for former Musician magazine editor Vic Garbarini to sit down with Mr. Sumner and get him to focus on bass playing rather than Zen or lute music or why the Police had broken up. (Well, there was some of that.) In the end, it turned out great and became one of the most high-profi le BP interviews ever. Here are some of the things that Sting had to say.
“It’s easier for the bass player to lead the band than almost anyone else, because you can lead without seeming to. It’s a very powerful yet very discreet instrument. You can control the music because you can dictate what the chord is—I mean, it’s not a chord until the bass player decides what the root is. I can pull the rug out from under everybody when things aren’t going right. No matter what the keyboard player and guitarist are doing, I can subvert the whole thing by changing the chord. I can also change the rhythmic feel of the song with the drummer. I manipulate these elements all the time.”
“When I need that extra bit of volume, it comes from my fingers. Not from cranking the amp to 11. If the volume is in control of you, you’re constantly fighting a battle with it—but if you’re in control of the volume, then you’re winning.”
“Paul McCartney was a model in terms of being a bass player/songwriter. He had a good understanding of the bass’s function, both melodically and contrapuntally. Anyone who plays bass and sings knows that most bass parts go against the rhythm. It’s a counterpoint, and if you’re singing on top of it you’ve got two lines weaving in and out of each other.”
The Wesco PeneTraitor
“I’ve never thought much about the bass parts while I was writing, to be honest. I just make them up on the spot once I’ve written the song, with an eye toward being able to sing at the same time.”
“The older I get, the more I like dissonance— that bitter harmony. There’s a b5 harmony that I play at the end of ‘The Wild Wild Sea,’ and a couple of the crew came up to me and said, ‘Hey, this is a mistake.’ I said, ‘No, it’s a b5. It has a bitter quality about it, that’s all.’ This is popular music and it’s pretty simple, but occasionally you can do little things that suggest something unusual. If I hear intervals that people fi nd horrendous, I love them. It demands a level of concentration that is very rewarding, but it’s an acquired taste—like Campari, which I love.”
“I just hope I have the courage to keep taking risks. Whatever comes next, I hope it will be surprising.”