Stephen Paulson is an accomplished, humble, and energetic Bass Player from Minnesota who plays in the band Remo Drive. Jim (Bergantino) and I had the opportunity to meet Stephen and the band while on tour at their sold out show in Boston at the Paradise Rock Club, where we caught up and asked him a few questions.
How are you doing and how is the Remo Drive tour going?
I’m doing pretty good … just getting over this terrible cold that’s lasted forever. The tour is going great. We’ve had sold out shows every night and it’s been awesome to see the crowds’ reaction to our old songs and also to our new EP “Pop Music.” It’s been really cool.
I've been seeing very artsy pictures posted of all of the states you go to on your Instagram page … Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, the mountains in Utah, Gabe’s in Iowa City, Iowa, and palm trees in Burbank California; some of these could be posters! Which state has been your favorite so far?
Well, I am not a professional photographer but I do take the pictures. I just like to mess around with photography for fun. My favorite state so far was California for me as we played at the The Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood. For years I had dreamed about playing there, and it was just awesome performing at this venue. We had a lot of our family come to the show, including my parents who flew in and my grandmother. For the family to get to see us perform live like that was so cool. What was really funny is we gave a shout-out on stage when we were playing to my grandmother and the crowd starting chanting “Grand-Ma” Grand-Ma” over and over again – and she was eating it all up!
How did the Remo Drive get started and where did this name come from?
Remo Drive came together in 2013 with my brother, Erik, and people from my home town. We were both in another band, but decided to form our own. We deliver a high energy brand of indie rock – a Midwest punk alternative. Minnesota has a history of cool bands and becoming a part of this – as well as growing outside (of our usual comfort zone) – has been fulfilling and yet it sometimes doesn’t seem real. The name Remo was derived from a drum head company – we thought what would go good with that and Drive just popped into my head and we thought this seems to be a good name and stuck with it.
Congrats on signing with Epitaph Records and the release of Pop Music. How has this has changed things for the direction of the band?
The band now has resources that we did not have before when we were an independent band. We now have funding to do things with recording and marketing that we haven’t been able to do before. It’s been super cool. Having the support of an incredible group of people who cheer us on and back us up has been amazing. Epitaph is a really big independent music label founded in Los Angeles by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, who is super supportive of Remo Drive. At our LA show a group of over 20 employees from Epitaph came to see us. To have that many people want to see us play live was very special to all of us.
How do you typically write your songs? With "Blue Ribbon," how did this come together and what was the inspiration for the song and the character with the mustache and lightning shooting out of his hand?
The songs start with my brother Erik, who does the majority of the writing and the lyrics. Then we collaborate and go back and forth as to whether the instrumental of the song is solid and we are feeling it ... or not. I’ll then go ahead and record the bass component for the demo.
For the actual recording for the "Pop Music" song, we went to a recording studio in Philadelphia called The Headroom. There is a guy there whose name is Joe Rheinhart who is not only a producer and a writer but also in a band called Hop Along. We worked with Joe for three days and recorded the EP. It was an unreal experience creating this. The lyrical theme and the music video are not related. It was more for the music video and we were just having fun visuals with individuals and inspired by an 80s theme … sort of a Dark Pilgrims or Big Trouble in Little China versus The World.
What advice would you give to those that are starting out and what lessons you have learned along the way?
Be kind and respectful to everyone you meet and accept as many opportunities that come your way – even if it does not have an immediate pay off. Opportunities can turn into good luck. You never know what connections you will make and where they could lead. Even if the opportunity doesn’t seem super right – you just never know what networking might be possible unless you give it a try. You could meet a concert promoter or a band looking for another band for a tour.
Why the bass? Who was your inspiration for playing bass and what would you share with others about your playing style?
My younger brother Erik started playing the guitar and I thought that looks like a lot of fun. I tried, I took one lesson and quickly realized this was not for me AT ALL! I tried the bass and stuck with it. I always enjoyed playing it … being into the rhythm and beat … so this was a better natural fit for me. I also play the guitar, drums, and piano. Having more abilities helps to be a more well-rounded musician.
My first band that was an inspiration for me was Metallica. I’d listen to their music and watch all the bass videos and tried to blend my style with some of what I was learning at the time. Other influencers would be Nate Mendel, of the Foo Fighters, Chi Cheng from the Deftones, more like rock artists and stuff, and funk. When I was deep into taking lessons, my bass teacher was a big R&B funk person.
I don’t really know what my playing style is … haha. I would also say it has punk influence but it’s not aggressive all of the time. My technique has been driven by a huge umbrella of rock music. When you play a lot, you become open to learn different styles, rhythms, genres and artistic composition.
Where did you learn to play bass and what age did you start?
I am going on a decade of playing bass coming up in June. I started in 2008. I took private bass lessons in middle school through high school, and then via the School of Rock. I also took lessons from local music stores in town. The School of Rock did a lot in terms of preparing and motivating me with incredible exposure to prepare you for shows, tours, and team work. Students really develop confidence and musicianship with the programs designed for all skill levels on live rock stages.
Which bass and bass strings are you currently using?
I play my 1974 Gibson Ripper that I found in Berkeley, Calif., at a music store that I just love; and also I play a 2013 Fender American Deluxe Jazz bass as my back up. I use Ernie Ball coated bass strings.
Pick or no pick?
I use a pick because for the style of music and for the tonality, you need that attack – that’s the biggest reason for me for using the pick.
Tell me how the Bergantino NV412T is performing on this tour for you in the various venues?
The Bergantino NV412T has been phenomenal every single night and the funny thing is that Ryan McKenna, the bass player for Sorority Noise, is touring with us also and to make things easier, I said we can share my Bergantino cab for the stage. Ryan was looking into Bergantino at the time. I happened to see another 412 on Craigslist, and I sent the link to Ryan and he bought in when we were in San Francisco. So now we have two of the 412’s on tour with us.
The sound is just awesome in every venue we have played in, and the larger speaker size works. It’s a nice mix between a 15 and a 10. I was looking online for 412’s and on a bass forum site and a bunch of people were telling me to check out the Bergantino 412 because they are super awesome and have the output that the Ampeg SVT 810 had. I watched a bunch of videos and thought it sounded great, and the rest is history.
What is the most important thing so far that you have learned so far on this tour and what do you have with you that you could not live without?
The most important thing is making sure you take care of yourself so you can give every concert your all and making sure you put on a great show for everyone–and yourself. There are tons of weird hours, driving from place to place, and it’s easy to get exhausted. Some of the back-to-back concerts have been overnights like from LA to San Francisco with only an hour of sleep in between. You still have to give it your all. And you have to eat right, do things together for mental and physical health, try to get sleep, and be good to yourself! The one thing I would say I could not live without is my multivitamin first; and then my phone charger.
What is it like playing in a band with your brother?
My brother is my best friend and sometimes it can get hard when we get under each other’s skin. But we also know each other’s limits, and we can be ourselves around each other no matter what else is going on. I feel super awesome and fortunate that we get to experience this and perform together. My parents are extremely proud of us both. They are happy and gleaming. They’ve been great with their care and support for what we are accomplishing. They trust us and believe in us which just everything.
Any parting thoughts for people that you want to share about you?
I have been reading Bass Player Magazine since I was a teenager, and think it is so cool to have an article about my story. Sort of full circle.
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