As far as pop-star potential goes, few have as much of what it takes to become a hit sensation as Meg Myers. Her booming and emotive voice is as striking as her comely appearance and chic fashion sense. Her charismatic demeanor and down-to-earth personality brings her as much admiration as it does appeal. And thanks to Myers’ new alternative-pop album, Sorry, her sound is making its way to the masses. So here’s the part where she hires songwriters to write her tunes and shape her voice while she enhances her princess image for her next photoshoot. But the only problem is, she doesn’t want to do any of that. Instead, all she can currently think about is playing bass.
In fact, even amidst non-stop touring and writing new material, playing bass is most of what the 29-year-old songstress has been doing lately. And if seeing the bass strapped around her 5’3” frame might seem misplaced for some, watching her command her Fender Mustang while cranking her fingers to get a jarring tone will immediately silence any doubters about her ability to hold down the low end. If you truly want to see Myers light up, simply bring up the topic of bass. “God, I love bass so much,” she admits. “Really, I don’t get many opportunities to talk about it as much as I’d like to because I’m typically known as a performer first, before a bassist or a musician. Lately I can’t play bass enough, and it’s all that I can think about musically when it comes to writing or performing. Few things make me as happy as playing bass, and it’s my favorite part of music, period.”
You can hear Myers’ affection for the instrument through her skillful playing and brooding tone on songs like “Desire PA,” “Lemon Eyes,” and “The Morning After,” where her deep riffs anchor the sound of her emotional writing. Often compared to Fiona Apple or PJ Harvey, Myers’ influences lie closer to the ’90s grunge and metal scenes that spawned Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Tool. And while her appearance might give the illusion that she could be the next Taylor Swift or Demi Lovato, don’t let looks deceive you. For she would much rather dig into a bass line by Flea than daintily sing the next fun-loving pop anthem.
Tell me a little bit about the writing process for Sorry.
I put out two EPs before I started working on this album and one of the EPs became popular, so I took off and went on the road unexpectedly. I had been gone for two years in the middle of writing, so it took a long time to complete this album. My producer, Andy Rosen, and I did everything on it as far as writing, playing, and production. There are a lot more live instruments on this one than on the first two EPs. I loved being able to play more bass this time around. That was a big highlight of this process.
How did you go about writing your bass lines?
Half of the bass is programmed on this album, and the other half I played on my electric. We would write a melody on bass or piano and then add to it, and that’s how it worked on all of the songs. It was a lot of building parts on top of each other. Most of the album came from bass or piano riffs.
Which basses did you use in the studio?
Fender gave me a Mustang bass, which I love because I’m really small. I’m only 5’3”, so playing a regular sized bass hurts my back after a while. Also, it looks big and clunky on me, so I decided to go with a short-scale bass. I actually didn’t use it on the recordings, though; I went with a Jazz Bass since I didn’t have to stand with it like I do for live shows.
What kind of bass tone were you shooting for?
I love really bassy tones that are super low and rumbling. It really depends on the song; a lot of my songs call for that low tone, while others need more midrange to make what I’m playing cut through. The Jazz Bass was perfect for that. I love slap bass too and I’m sure I’ll incorporate that into my songs in the future and get a little funky with it.
Slap would be a big jump sonically for your current sound.
Not to sound arrogant, but I hold back my playing on my music. At least for the type of songs I’m writing right now. I’m definitely not going wild on it; I’m more doing what’s best for the song, and a lot of times that means simpler bass lines. I don’t feel like I’m showing my full capabilities on these songs. But it’s what’s best for the music, and that’s an important part of being a bass player.
You play with your fingers primarily; tell me a little about your playing technique.
I use a lot of dynamics with my fingers, depending on the song. I love digging in with my index and middle fingers, and getting a loud tone. I also like to anchor my thumb on the bass. My producer helped me put the top portion of a golf tee on top of my pickguard; that’s where I rest my thumb when I play.
What are your favorite elements about bass?
I feel like bass adds an emotion to the song that none of the other instruments can. It’s like the ocean to music. There’s something about the simplicity of bass, but you can make it do so much within that simplicity; just the way it feels to play with my fingers and dig in to achieve those low-end frequencies.
Did it come naturally for you to sing and play at the same time?
Yes and no. Yes because a lot of the bass lines on my material are pretty straightforward and move rhythmically with the vocals. But there are a few songs that I wrote on synth bass and translated them to the electric bass, and those are hard for me to play live. But I love challenges in music, so I spent a few days playing the parts and singing them really slowly on top of each other and getting the motion down. Now it’s all muscle memory and it’s easy breezy.
How and when did you first start playing bass?
I started playing when I was 13 and my first bass was a Schecter. It had a really low growl and it was beautiful. The neck was tiny and that was good for me to learn on. My brother took upright bass lessons, so he was my guy who taught me everything. The first song I ever learned was “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and I was so excited. From there, I started listening to a lot of music I found on my own, learning it by ear, which helped me develop my playing. I listened to a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and still I warm up before shows with “All Around The World.” I also love the bass in Tool, Alice In Chains, and Deftones. Those were my early inspirations.
Do you think you’ll pull from those heavier alternative and metal roots on your next album?
Definitely. There are a lot of sides of my musical personality that have yet to come out, and now that I have a platform to express them I will utilize it and explore new sounds. I’m constantly focusing on becoming a better bass player and songwriter, and that gradually develops the ability to express what you hear and play what comes from inside of you.
Bass Fender Mustang
Rig Orange Terror Bass 500 amp, Orange OBC-212 cab
Strings D'Addario XL Nickel Wound .045-.105
Listen: Meg Myers, Sorry (Atlantic, 2015)
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