21st Century Upright: Etude For Comrade Watt - BassPlayer.com

21st Century Upright: Etude For Comrade Watt

MIKE WATT IS A NAME THAT HAS become synonymous with American punk rock. With the Minutemen in the early 1980s, Watt helped re-write the rules of punk bass by throwing out the rulebook. Since then he has continued to create challenging and deeply felt punk rock with Dos, Firehose, the Stooges, the Black Gang, and many other bands. Though he has attained a sort of iconic status and is often lauded as a very righteous dude (which indeed he is), it is his actual music that is his life’s work. As a composer-bassist, Watt has a singular approach that has helped shape how so many of us hear and play music.
Author:
Publish date:

MIKE WATT IS A NAME THAT HAS become synonymous with American punk rock. With the Minutemen in the early 1980s, Watt helped re-write the rules of punk bass by throwing out the rulebook. Since then he has continued to create challenging and deeply felt punk rock with Dos, Firehose, the Stooges, the Black Gang, and many other bands. Though he has attained a sort of iconic status and is often lauded as a very righteous dude (which indeed he is), it is his actual music that is his life’s work. As a composer-bassist, Watt has a singular approach that has helped shape how so many of us hear and play music.

/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/BP0510_Wood_Berklee_Ex-1.jpg

The first thing I notice when I listen to Watt’s playing is his tone; employing few effects and zero gimmicks, he gets a tone that’s at once muscular and singing. Playing melodies that are also bass lines— or vice-versa—his musicality is unique and deep. Unlike so many punk and rock bass players, Watt’s strength is as much in his left hand as in his right, utilizing slurs and vibrato, and strategically working the whole range of the bass (not just the lower register) for harmonic and melodic impact. His dynamic range is often subtly woven into the fabric of the songs themselves. His action, for the record, is set very high, so that if he plays a note with all his might, it will actually be that much louder than those played with a softer touch, without the note fizzling out or breaking up.

/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/BP0510_Wood_Etude_Ex-02.jpg

Thinking about some of these things, I wrote this etude inspired by and dedicated to Watt. It can be played on either string bass or bass guitar; I suggest you learn it on both! Of course, this piece is perhaps more about how I hear Watt than anything else, but to me that is part of the point: I prefer incorporating what I love about a musician’s style into my own creative approach, rather than just trying to copy what they’ve already played. Maybe you get something different out of listening to Watt’s playing. That’s the great thing about music—there’s room for everyone!

/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/BP0510_Wood_Etude_Ex-03.jpg

I hope you enjoy my tribute to one of my long-time bass heroes. Listen to some (or all) recordings of his music, and if you get the chance to see the man play live, please do—you will definitely be in for a treat.

/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/BP0510_Wood_Etude_Ex-04.jpg
/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/BP0510_Wood_Etude_Ex-05.jpg
/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/BP0510_Wood_Etude_Ex-06.jpg
/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/BP0510_Wood_Etude_Ex-07.jpg

Related

21st Century Upright: Raw Sound

LET ME ASK A QUESTION WHAT IS the most fundamental material element of any and all music? I would propose that beneath any stylistic, emotional, or intellectual consideration, it’s sound itself. Strip away all of the permutations of musical style

Too Much Is Never Enough: Muse’s Chris Wolstenholme Reinvents Art-Rock Bass For The 21st Century

A WELL-WORN CLICHÉ ABOUT THE BRITS IS THAT THEY’RE serious, understated, subtle, and—heavens, no—certainly not silly or anything like that. Well, Muse’s Chris Wolstenholme is having none of it, musically or otherwise. “There’s always been this thing with English bands where it’s a bit shoe-gaze-y, you know what I mean? British bands find it hard to just let loose and rock out sometimes. Back in the ’70s, British bands were great; they had a certain over-the-top-ness. It’s almost like bands are scared to do stuff like that now.” Not so for the members of Muse: “We just think, Fuck it, you know?”

/uploadedImages/bassplayer/articles/bp0310_wood_Upright_Ex-1.1.jpg

21st Century Upright Arco Metal

OVER THE LAST SEVERAL DECADES, the technique, technology and musical applications of the double bass (contrabass, string bass, doghouse—call it what you will) have changed and expanded rapidly. In this and future columns, I will be exploring the evolving roles of the double bass in contexts where the instrument hasn’t typically been heard. If you’re curious to hear what all this sounds like, I have employed these and other approaches on recordings by Good For Cows, the Nels Cline Singers, Law of the Rope, and under my own name.

Image placeholder title

Buying An Upright Bass

SELECTING AN ELECTRIC BASS IS A FAIRLY CUT-ANDdried deal—listen to recordings, learn what your favorite bassists are playing, read reviews, and pull out your credit card.