Miles Mosley: Getting Down on Upright

Miles Mosley knows the importance of surrounding yourself with good people.
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Miles Mosley knows the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. Growing up in the L.A. music scene, Mosley was schooled by greats such as Ray Brown, John Clayton, and Abraham Laboriel, before branching off as a first-call player for Lauren Hill, Joni Mitchell, Chris Cornell, Kendrick Lamar, Kamashi Washington, and many others. In emerging from sideman to musical director and bandleader, Mosley founded the West Coast Get Down, a powerful collective of musicians who are responsible for seemingly every big album coming out of Southern California nowadays. Add to that list his duo band, BFI, with drummer Tony Austin, and you get the idea of how important musical family is to him.

Even with numerous collaborations in motion, Mosley is currently focused on his solo debut, Uprising. The soulful album finds him at the helm as he belts rich, crooning vocals over arco and pizzicato lines that run the sonic gamut from effects-laden extremes to earthy clean. Mixing flavors of R&B, funk, jazz, and rock, Mosley ropes in the listener with chant choruses and hooks, while displaying his technical ability on songs like “Heartbreaking Efforts of Others” and “More Than This.” And while it’s no surprise that his crew contributed plenty to his debut, right now Mosley is the center of attention. Which is something he’ll have to get used to.

What were your goals going into your solo debut?

One of my goals was to cement an identity for a concept of playing the upright bass that was new to me and to the instrument. I wanted to present a way to augment this instrument that opens up a lot of different opportunities. And I don’t mean just putting effects on it. It’s about working on your bowing until you’re fluent in the various colors and shadings you can create, from singing to scorching to beautiful. I wanted to challenge myself and make sure I was sculpting sounds that were special and not just the first idea that came to mind.

You’re known for extreme, effected tones, but the clean tone you captured is superb.

When I think of a natural, wooden tone, I hear Ray Brown. His playing has that initial sizzle when his plucking finger touches the string, and then the thump when his finger rolls off and hits the fingerboard. Plus the way his left hand resonated—all of those tones are what equal the sound of one note to me. I tried to capture all of those nuances on the album. I want the listener to be able to hear the flesh, to hear it from my perspective of actually holding the bass, from where I stand.

How much of that tone comes from your bass itself?

The bass is the inspiration, but the identity comes from you. I was at Stanley Clarke’s house and he let me play Charles Mingus’ blonde bass—the one he used on “Haitian Fight Song.” So naturally, I played “Haitian Fight Song.” And as much as I know this is not true, I realized the bass wrote that song and not Mingus. The Db sounded so dope on that instrument, it almost played the riff itself. Likewise, I wouldn’t have my sound, and none of this would be possible without the amazing work of Jason Burns and his Blast Cult team.

How did you come up with the cool rhythmic pickups on “Heartbreaking Efforts of Others”?

The technique I use began as an exercise, and that rhythmic phrase was the result of me having worked on the exercise with a metronome up to the fastest tempo I could play it at. Once I had the technique down, it was another tool in my box that I could strive to use creatively and not mechanically. In the context of the song, it kind of sounds like the end of a floor-tom fill, so there’s a certain finality to it.

Why did you choose the bass as your medium?

I’ve always said the instrument you play is a reflection of the fundamental talents you have as a human. One of my talents is being a hyper-organized person. I can take a lot of scattered pieces and tie them together. So when I play, my brain is pleased because I’m taking chaotic information, translating it, and bringing it together. Helping to control the delivery of emotion is ethereal, and as bass players, that’s what we do.


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Miles Mosley, Uprising [2017, World Galaxy]


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Bass Blast Cult 145 upright, 250-year-old German upright
Rig Aguilar DB 751 head, Tone Hammer 500 head, 2 Aguilar DB 410 cabs
Pedals MXR Bass Octave Deluxe, MXR Phase 90, MXR Bass Compressor, Way Huge Echopuss Delay, Way Huge Pork Loin Overdrive, Moog MF Drive, Dunlop 105Q Bass Wah
Strings D’Addario Helicore Hybrid Double Bass Strings
Bow Carbon fiber