BACK IN JANUARY, AUSTRALIAN CHANTEUSE SIA appeared on Saturday Night Live to perform her song “Elastic Heart,” a hit from the latest Hunger Games soundtrack about coming back to life after the end of a relationship. As two women moved around the stage and sometimes mouthed her lyrics, Sia stood still and emoted into a mic, her eyes covered by an ornate visor. In the shadows, a three-piece band rocked hard, the bass player/musical director flaunting tasty double-stops and grooving mightily on a light-green Fender Precision.
A few YouTube clicks away, the man and his green P-Bass laid down long notes for a hushed audience watching Kneebody, an instrumental five-piece that wears its love of lyrical horn lines, sophisticated drumming, and Bitches Brew loud and proud. The green P-Bass also showed up onstage at a packed John Legend arena show and in a hot little club with Thruster!, its owner moving smoothly from pop sessions with Beck and hip-hop with De La Soul to cerebral jazz with Anthony Wilson, Afrobeat with Antibalas, and cowriting sessions with Meshell Ndegeocello, Cee-Lo Green, and Bruno Mars.
Colorado native Kaveh Rastegar, a Los Angeles transplant for the last two decades, is known for his warm yet articulate tone and for note choices that fit each situation perfectly. Like many working pros, he pieces together a career like an emperor with far-flung outposts, balancing a full calendar of touring, sessions, writing, and local gigs around L.A. Lately, though, he’s been trying on a new hat: solo artist. On his upcoming debut, But Where Do You Take Me?, Rastegar weaves catchy songs like “The Half That Holds My Heart” into a soulful Plastic Ono Band-meets-Pavement aesthetic that fires on all cylinders, from its heartfelt vocals and accessible lyrics to its masterful musicianship and sweet, sweet vintage bass tone.
What’s the story behind that green Precision?
It’s a ’64 P-Bass I found at Willie’s Guitars in St. Paul, Minnesota, about 11 years ago. I have like, 14 other basses, including a ’75 P-Bass with flats, but I’ve taken the ’64 all the over the world. I love the thing.
When you’re out with John Legend, don’t you need a B string or keyboard bass?
My first tour with John was a stripped-down affair with a string quartet and a guitarist who was playing minimally. I took the traditional R&B approach—Willie Weeks, James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey—so it wasn’t about all-out, bombastic lows. Now the band has changed up again, and if I need to, I’ll just use an octave pedal. I’ve always done that with Kneebody.
What’s up with Kneebody these days?
We have an album coming out with Daedalus, we put out an album in 2013 called The Line, and this year will mark the tenth anniversary of our debut. There’s a new record coming, too.
The onstage chemistry between y’all is quite impressive.
We put a lot of care into how we make and develop our music. Everybody writes, and everybody learns the tunes by ear.
We memorize the music; we’re always working on ear training, and we learn everyone else’s parts, too. When we get together, we don’t need charts. We can engage with the audience more when we don’t have music stands in front of us.
You’re a songwriter, musical director, band member, session bassist, and road dawg. How do you keep it all straight?
It’s haphazard, especially because people from each camp only know me from that camp. But in the last couple years, I’ve seen a lot of paths cross. And although I love being a sideman, at the end of the day, I want to have something of my own, something I’ve created. My Kneebody bandmates will laugh when they read this, but my solo album is almost finished. I’m playing guitar and bass and singing with some great musicians. It’s where all my worlds and all my projects come together.
What advice would you have for folks trying to take their careers to the next level?
Write a list of the people you’d love to work with. If you haven’t articulated how much you want a particular opportunity, you might not recognize it when it comes along.
Basses 1964 and ’75 Fender Precisions, German upright circa 1900
Rig Aguilar DB 751, AG 500, and Tone Hammer 500 heads; DB 810 8x10s and SL 112 1x12s
Strings GHS Bass Boomers and Precision Flatwounds
Effects Aguilar TLC Compressor and Octamizer, Boss OC-2 Octave, Boss Super Overdrive
OtherTonecraft Audio 363 tube DI/preamp