Mashing classic R&B with the sonic textures and aesthetics of modern electronic dance music, Brooklyn’s Yeasayer might best be described as party music for the new millennium. On bass, Ira Wolf Tuton playfully blurs the line between tradition and innovation, creatively re-imagining the role of conventional electric bass by crafting lines that combine pickstyle growl with swirling fretless melodicism.
How did you come to focus on the fretless?
My dad is an upright player, and he had a fretless Fender Precision in the house. That’s the instrument I played when I started playing electric. I liked how you could be a little more expressive with it; I feel like you can add more personality to a line with a fretless. Now I tend to run my fretless through effects, creating tones that sound more like melodic instruments, rather than conventional bass.
What effects do you use?
Live, I mostly use an Electro-Harmonix HOG [Harmonic Octave Generator]. On the new record we also used Moog Freqboxes and Low Pass Filters. I even used a DigiTech vocal pedal for one song.
Who are some bass players who have inspired you?
I’ve always enjoyed bass players who sit well with their respective bands—Paul Chambers, Paul Jackson, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, and James Jamerson. By basically ripping off these guys, you can become a pretty good bass player.
How do you view your role as the bass player in Yeasayer?
I don’t want to hear individual performances in our music; I want to hear a unified whole. I want to hear something that collectively hits me in the chest. I get excited when our arrangements work out, and I like getting tones where you don’t necessarily know where they come from. In a perfect world, I would like to think of myself as a musician more than as a bass player; it’s just that I have more facility on the bass than on any other instrument to express the ideas in my end. So that’s my tool. —Devin Hoff
HEAR HIM ON
Yeasayer, Odd Blood [Secretly Canadian, 2010]
Basses Fretless G&L ASAT Bass Semi- Hollow; Fender Precision Bass
Rig Two Gallien-Krueger 800RB heads, Mesa Engineering 2x15 cab; Ampeg B-15
Effects Keeley compressor, Electro-Harmonix HOG, Moog MF-107 FreqBox, Moog MF-101 Low Pass Filter
Keyboard rig Roland rack mount, Ampeg 1x15 combo