Proving there's no "right" way to land a gig touring with a chart-topping pop act, we present Broken Bells bassist Jonathan Hischke. How does an uberhipster retro/avant-garde/shredder/minimalist/ iconoclast land a pop gig led by James Mercer of the Shins and superstar producer Danger Mouse? “I’m most interested in finding compelling sounds,” says Hischke, “sometimes at the expense of convenience, playability, logic, and good taste.” Just a glance at his effect list (Probability Of A Fax Machine?!) confirms his musical mission statement.
Hischke’s oddball journey started in Lincoln, Nebraska, where his dad was a professional musician. He visited New York to study with classical composers, went to South Korea with an avant-garde theatre group, hit Chicago and joined a hundred eclectic bands, toured worldwide with math/noise rockers Hella, tracked with the retro-garage band Agent Ribbons, fell in with the Mars Volta crew, made records with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Big Sir … and, skipping ahead another hundred projects, moved to L.A. in 2008 to form the futuristic groove-heavy band Dot Hacker with current Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who referred Hischke to Broken Bells a few years later.
“I think my enthusiasm for playing is the main reason I ended up in the band, and my sensitivity toward what they were needing from me.” When you’re getting calls from pop icons and absurdists alike, you must be doing something right.
What do you listen for in fellow bass players?
I’m inspired by Jah Wobble, Tina Weymouth, Bernard Edwards, Eric Avery, Simon Gallup, Tony Levin, Rocco Prestia—players who find interesting and personal ways of sitting in their musical context. I’ve always been mystified by synth bass tones, too. I’ve spent hundreds of hours with my good friend Juan Alderete, nerding out about tones and sounds and effects. He has unquestionably been the most important direct inspiration I’ve had in that department.
Given your vast instrument and pedal collection, how do you choose a tone for a project or song?
It’s always intuitive, and to me it’s as important as the notes or feel. I try to find a balance between what the arrangement needs architecturally, what the fellow co-creators involved are hoping for, and exploring my own sometimes abstract ideas.
How have you ended up on so many different projects over the years?
I think it’s mainly just because I’m game! I am drawn to idiosyncratic artists, I make myself available to them, and I try my hardest to meet them on their terms, learning everything I can from them. I’m often in way over my head, which is a good thing.
HEAR HIM ON
Flying Luttenbachers, Infection and Decline [2010, ugEXPLODE/Karkia Mistika] (expanded/re-mastered from original 2002 release)
Agent Ribbons, Chateau Crone [2010, Antenna Farm Records]
El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Cryptomnesia [2009, Rodriguez Lopez Productions]
Basses ’65 Kay semi-hollowbody, ’80s Roland G-77/GR-77b synth bass, ’63 Hofner Artist, ’08 Fender Jaguar Bass, ’73 Fender Precision Bass, ’70s Oncor Sound Touch Bass
Live rig Aguilar DB 751 head, two Aguilar DB 115 cabs
Effects Tronographic Rusty Box, Aguilar Octamizer, Electronix Submarine, Blackout Effectors Musket Fuzz, Tech 21 VT Bass, DigiTech PDS 20/20 MultiPlay, DigiTech Space Station, DigiTech Timebender, Way Huge Swollen Pickle, Pigtronix Envelope Phaser, Pedalfile modded Mid-Fi Clari-Not, Montreal Assembly Probability Of A Fax Machine, Jacques Fat Burner, Tech 21 XXL Bass Edition, DOD Meat Box, Pefftronics Rand-O-Matic, and many more