In the 17 years since he left Berklee, Stu Brooks has cultivated a resumé with breadth and depth: Besides working with artists such as 50 Cent, Lady Gaga, Meshell Ndegeocello, Lauryn Hill, Mark Guiliana, Candiria, and Pretty Lights, he has toured with Mike Patton and Dr. John, and since 2009, he’s been musical director/producer for reggae rapper Matisyahu. Brooks is best known as co-founder of Dub Trio, whose split-second switches from gnarly thrash to deep dub put them in a category of their own. It all started in Toronto, where Lou Reed/Alice Cooper/P-Funk alumnus Prakash John saw a teenage Stu play one of his first gigs.
How did you meet Prakash?
About a year after I started goofing around on bass in high school, Prakash saw my band and decided to take me under his wing. He loaned me a bass and produced the record we made about a year later, and he taught me a lot about life, the role of a bassist, and being a musician.
You attended Berklee and then moved to New York.
In school, I was in Actual Proof with [drummer] Deantoni Parks and [future Dub Trio guitarist] Dave Holmes, and in 2000, we moved to New York. Deantoni left to start Kudu, and I met Joe Tomino when we auditioned drummers. A couple years later, Dub Trio was born.
How did you get into reggae and dub?
A King Tubby cassette that Joe Tomino gave me started it all. [Keyboardist] Borahm Lee and I did a tour with Topaz in 2003, and we spent six weeks opening for the Wailers. I had heard Aston “Family Man” Barrett’s bass lines for years, but seeing and hearing his use of space, melody, and feel up close connected all the dots for me. I’ve been applying Family Man’s influence to my punk, metal, funk, hip-hop, and electronic music background ever since.
Your tone is fat, but you don’t play 5-string or key bass.
I play key bass, but mostly, I do drop-D tuning or CGDG tuning on my 4-strings. I don’t use a B string because it’s a little too tense for me.
The La Bella flatwounds work for both dub and distortion?
Yeah, with the AG500 dual channel.
Besides doing sessions, you’ve done lots of production, too.
Yes, I love it. I think to sustain a career as a bass player, you need get your hands into a bit of everything.
Do you think bass players are especially suited to be producers and music directors?
I do. I think it comes naturally because of where we fit in the music. It’s also cool to not just be a hired session guy or jumping from gig to gig.
You toured with Dr. John for three weeks in 2015. How was that?
It was bananas! I learned 55 tunes and ended up going on the gig with no rehearsal. I was so nervous. I spent a few weeks listening to his music, and then three nights before my first show, I got the setlist. It was stressful! Using the Headspace app to meditate helped me remember to take deep breaths. Onstage, [drummer] Herlin Riley was having fun, and that was contagious; it helped me relax. Dr. John knew I was coming in cold, and he told me to just be free and easy. At the end of the tour, he gave me a call and said thank you. He was very generous.
I’m excited about producing [Matisyahu keyboardist] Big Yuki’s new album; he’s the shit! I’m also working on new stuff to pitch to several artists, including Matis. The new album is pretty happening—we wrote songs based on jams, came up with arrangements right before we hit record, and then we gave the instrumentals to Matis to write to write to. Now I’m working on a new Dub Trio record, which includes a collaboration with Mastodon. Otherwise, I’m figuring out a balance between touring, production, and songwriting.
What advice from Prakash has stayed with you after all these years?
Be humble and stay gracious. I’ve been playing with my friends in Dub Trio since the ’90s, working with engineer Joel Hamilton at Studio G in Brooklyn since 2004, and touring with Matis for eight years. I like working with new people, but I love being part of a team, and I value the relationships I’ve built over the years.
Basses Atelier Z, Moollon J-Classic IV, 1967 Gibson EB-2, 1966 Vox Violin Bass
Strings La Bella Deep Talkin’ Bass, 1954 flatwounds 760FS
Rig Aguilar AG 500, Aguilar GS 412 4x12 cab, DB 115 1x15 cab
Effects Moog MF-101 Moogerfooger Lowpass Filter, Earthquake Devices Hoof Reaper, DOD Meatbox, Red Panda Bitmap, Iron Ether Nimbus reverb, Eventide H9, Aguilar Tone Hammer preamp/ DI, Aguilar AGRO overdrive, Recovery Effects Sound Destruction Device