FROM HIS EARLY YEARS GROWING UP ON A CATTLE RANCH in a small Kansas town, Nate Harold knew he would one day pursue music and make it his life. After studying piano for a few years, his love of Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament led him to buy his first P-Bass at age 13, and dedicate his time to learning the instrument. In his late teens, Harold moved to Lawrence, Kansas, a place he still calls home, where he plunged into the emoindie scene and took over the bass duties for the Get Up Kids and Koufax.
In 2008, his mutual friends Nate Reuss, Andrew Dost, and Jack Antonoff asked him to join their new indie-pop project, fun., knowing that he was the bassist they were searching for. Harold agreed, and four years later the group is playing to sold-out venues, performing on SaturdayNight Live, earning six Grammy nominations, and making everyone hum their hit single “We Are Young.”
Already exceeding his lofty childhood ambitions thanks to fun.’s 2012 breakout album Some Nights, Harold is adjusting to the widespread notoriety by expanding his abilities in a band that features thick layers of keyboards, four-part vocal harmonies, and skillfully picked driving bass lines.
Was it difficult finding your place in a band that utilizes keyboards?
A lot of my lines are competing with synth bass lines, so it’s all about finding a happy medium to sit between the percussion and the keyboards. It was a little intimidating at first, knowing that I had to battle a Moog. I just focused on filling out the low frequencies and making my lines fit the songs as much as possible.
How did producer Jeff Bhasker record your bass?
Jeff is a hip-hop producer, so there were no amps in the studio whatsoever; I went straight into the board. Usually when I track we use a DI, mic an amp, overdub parts, and sometimes re-amp my lines, but this time was really straightforward. It was something new, but I love the results.
Have you always been a pick player?
Actually, I only started playing with a pick leading up to playing with fun. My friend Rob Pope plays with Spoon, and he gets an amazing tone that I love, so I developed my own version of that. I keep my pinkie across the strings at the bridge and use that as my muting technique. If it’s a slower song I’ll pick closer up to the neck to get more low end.
Describe your ideal tone.
My favorite tone comes from a vintage Fender Precision Bass through my 1976 Ampeg B-15N flip-top. That’s ideal, but I can’t get that sound everywhere. I don’t take much vintage stuff on the road, because it gets used and abused every night. I try to keep my bass present in the mix, and I like the low mids to stand out most.
Describe one of the band’s shows from your perspective.
Most of the time our shows are a blur. Some of the shows are so exciting and so big that I almost black out. I have one shining moment in the set on the song “All Alone” where I have a fantastic bass feature at the end, and that’s where I have to face my fears and walk to the front of the stage in the spotlight and play that part. It’s terrifying every night. I just think, “Don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip.”
fun., Some Nights [Fueled By Ramen, 2012]
Bass Fender ’62 Reissue Precision Bass, Epiphone ET-285
Rig Two RCAB Audio 50-watt heads, four RCAB Audio 2x12 cabinets
Effects Electro- Harmonix Big Muff, Boss DD-3 Digital Delay, Electro- Harmonix POG2, Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy Delay, JHS Pulp ’N’ Peel Compressor
Strings Ernie Ball Slinky, .045–.105