For his entire career, Mark Saunders’ tonal identity has come from his strict use of Fender Jazz Basses powered through big 8x10 rigs, which gives him his ideal, low-end-heavy sound. But when he entered the studio to record Florence & the Machine’s latest album, producer Markus Dravs had something else in mind. “I walked in and Markus said, ‘The only way I record bass is with a pre-CBS Fender Precision through a 1960s Ampeg fliptop [B-15 amp]. It’s the only way do it properly, no exceptions.’ I was pretty dumbfounded.”
After a couple weeks of adjusting to the new setup, Saunders grew to love the change so much that once the year-long recording sessions were over, he began to use Precision Basses exclusively. His drastic shift in tone on How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful altered his playing approach and gave him the confidence to write bolder lines, and on booming songs like “Queen of Peace” and “Delliah,” Saunders dominates the mix, thanks to his keen pick and fingerstyle work—and his fresh new choice in basses.
How was the studio process different this time around?
This is the first time we worked with Markus as a producer, and he’s entirely song-and band-based. It was very much about working with ideas from the grassroots side of things: bass, drums, and guitar. On previous albums, we’d start with a big concept, with vocals and a melody, and things would go in a convoluted way to get back to the core. The foundational instruments would come into play much later in the process. This was very organic and obvious, the way most people work on a tune.
How did you approach writing your lines?
I wanted to be as tuneful and musical as possible. I’ve never been one to shout with my bass; I’m a fan of lots of different music, but for this band, it’s all about being as supportive of the song as I can be. I’m inspired by a player like John McVie from Fleetwood Mac. The way he plays is very musical and to the point. There’s no fat around it, and it does the job beautifully. That was what I wanted to do on this album.
How did your tone evolve?
The P-Bass changed how I physically played. The bass sound on Ceremonials was very smooth; I had the tone rounded off and I was playing on the neck pickup, so there wasn’t much definition—it was more of a low frequency than anything. Now I want my notes to cut individually and have a presence that isn’t strictly low end. With the type of songs we wrote this time, I like dialing in more mids.
You used a pick for some songs on this album. Is that something new for you?
I’m not as great a pick player as I’d like to be. I was never a guitarist, and I’ve always only played bass, so I don’t have a background playing with a pick. I love pick playing and I’m working to get better at it all the time. I’d love to sound like Bobby Vega, but right now it’s all just downstrokes and keeping up with everything.
Florence + the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful [2015, Island]
Bass 1971 Fender Precision Bass, Lakland Bob Glaub Signature 44-64 Bass, Lakland Joe Osborn 44-60 Vintage J
Rig Two Markbass TTE 500 heads, two Markbass Classic 108 8x10 cabs
Pedals Wren and Cuff Pickle Pie B Distortion, Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, Markbass Super Synth, Moog MF-101 Lowpass Filter
Strings La Bella Deep Talkin’ Flat Wounds, La Bella Nickel Rounds