“I had never heard of the Allman Brothers Band or Gov’t Mule until audition time in 2008,” says Swedish transplant Jorgen Carlsson. He holds the coveted Mule chair crafted by the late Allen Woody, and later held by Andy Hess. Carlsson’s aggressive nature sounds more similar to Woody’s style. Gov’t Mule is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a series of archival live releases. Also, Carlsson and Mule drummer Matt Abts are celebrating the second studio release from their side project, POA (Planet Of The Abts), which finds Carlsson creating more bass soundscapes compared to the Mule’s straightforward classic rock kick.
What did you listen to growing up in Sweden, and how did that influence your style?
I listened to a lot of Black Sabbath, so Geezer Butler’s influence was big. When I play fingerstyle and the song gets aggressive, I tend to double-up my middle and ring fingers and pluck with a slapping motion to get a good clang in the tone.
How did you get the Mule bass gig, and how did it challenge you?
A mutual friend of [frontman] Warren Haynes gave him my name. At the first song on the audition, “Blind Man in the Dark,” I hit my Boss Hyper Distortion pedal because the amp sounded kind of dead. Warren said, “As far as I’m concerned, you can leave that on the whole time.” I knew I was off to a good start. I probably got the gig partly because I sound like Woody without even knowing it. When I started listening the kind of 16th-note pick playing he did, I knew it was right up my alley, but I also realized I had some development work to do.
Tell us about the Dark Side of the Mule live CD.
That was my second gig with the band—Halloween 2008. We did one Mule set and one Pink Floyd set. I sound more relaxed on the Floyd material because I was very familiar with it; “Have a Cigar” is still my favorite. I like to think I play behind the beat, but I’m right on top of it on the Mule set from that night because I was nervous.
You recorded By a Thread only a few months later. Did those sessions set the tone for what you bring to the Mule’s low end?
“Broke Down on the Brazos” is straight eighth-notes, à la Roger Glover in early Deep Purple. I got the sound on an old Gibson EB-4, a long-scale bass. The producer suggested I play through a 100-watt Marshall plexi guitar-amp stack, and he miked it up with a [Neumann] U47 about six feet away. I was blown away, and that ended up changing my stage sound.
I had been cranking a pair of Ampeg SVTs to get a good grind, so I switched over to playing tube guitar amps. I use a pair of Category 5 heads simultaneously; one is 200 watts for better bass, and the other is 100 for more midrange. I kept blowing speakers, so I upped the wattage capacity. You have to be careful, though, because the thicker the speaker, the less touch-sensitive it is—and the great thing about using guitar amps is the sensitivity.
Why don’t more bassists use guitar rigs?
I don’t know. Bassists who sit in using my rig rave about its incredible dynamics. Then you see them with SVTs on their regular gigs. The guitar rig doesn’t sound great by itself, but within the context of a band, it totally projects. I like to use almost out-of-control fuzz tone, and then apply an Ernie Ball volume pedal to clip in and out for exactly the right note length.
Planet Of The Abts (POA), All Things the Valley [2015, Orchard]; Gov’t Mule, Dark Side of the Mule [2014, Evil Teen], Shout! [2013, Blue Note]
Basses ’04 Fender Precision Bass, Gibson Thunderbird with Firebird guitar pickups, Epiphone Jack Casady Signature, Gibson Grabber II, ’67 Gibson EB-O, Hagstrom HB-8 8-string
Strings Various D’Addario sets (.045–.100)
Effects Carl Martin Classic Optical Envelope Filter, Carl Martin The Fuzz, Boss OC-2 Octave, MXR Phase 90, TC Electronic Flashback X4, Moog Minitaur
Rig Category 5 Emily, Category 5 JB-100 Joe Bonamassa Signature; two Category 5 4x12 cabinets