A GRADUATE OF THE MANHATTAN School of Music, Catherine Popper first built her reputation as a ferocious talent on upright bass in New York City’s jazz circuit. Popper’s rock career took off when she plugged in with Ryan Adams & the Cardinals in 2005 and ’06, recording tracks that have just recently been released on III/IV, a voluminous collection of chaotic genius. Since splitting from the Cardinals clutch, Catherine has taken up with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, throwing down live and recorded performances that promise to prove her one of rock & roll’s coolest queens of cred.
With the Cardinals, you recorded over 60 songs in a very short time. What was that recording process like?
Exhausting and exhilarating. We would record the songs before we had really heard them, so we were guessing the chord changes as we were tracking. That part was really fun. Most of the time Ryan would even let me go in afterwards and overdub a coherent bass part. I love how those tracks sound. You can hear the whirlwind of shit and love in every track.
Who are the bassists you draw the most inspiration from?
Since I started playing upright when I was nine years old, Ray Brown has been my No. 1 bass hero; I used to transcribe his lines and play along to Oscar Peterson Trio records. When I started playing electric a few years ago, I immediately connected with James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, and people who had a similar woody sound. And I always give a hat tip to my original inspirations, Sting and Mike Watt. Lately I’m stealing a lot from John Paul Jones. And Nick Lowe is so cool—his bass playing makes me want to punch a baby.
You’re a badass who seems to have transcended the stereotype of the “girl” bass player. Do you have any advice for other women looking to get recognized for their playing?
Playing jazz in New York, being a girl was a huge liability. When I started playing rock, being a girl was an asset. I’ve tried to find a comfortable middle ground. I practiced and studied and listened and earned my stripes, but I never trusted anything that was handed to me. I’ve never taken gigs where people are specifically looking for a “chick bassist,” and I never let anyone tell me what to wear, unless it’s a uniform the whole band is wearing. Hell, I hardly ever wore makeup or dresses before I started working with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. One day I just stopped caring if I was being taken seriously or not. I feel like that’s the day people started taking me seriously. That’s terrible—I’m a jackass [laughs]. —ANNIE CLEMENTS
HEAR HER ON
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals [2010, Hollywood]; Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, III/IV [2010, Pax-Am]
Basses 1966 Fender Precision Bass, ’67 Guild Starfire, 1850s French flatback upright
Live rig Ampeg SVT-CL head with SVT-810E cabinet