Shep on Bass – Interview with Jonathan Hischke
Jonathan Hischke holds down the low end with acts such as Dot Hacker, EV Kain & Broken Bells as well as collaborating with huge artists such as Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Norah Jones! Surely any man that Juan Alderete sights as his “favourite modern bass player” must be doing something right…
Jonathans writing and performance credits are as diverse as his taste in tones. He’s equally at home playing in the pocket with solid clean bass tones as he is creating huge soundscapes, ambience and crazy glitching sounds. It’s this diversity that has gained him a reputation as one of the elite amongst the modern bass player. Jonathan is no stranger to pedals. His set up has been the topic of many forum discussion and his love of certain effects has turned other globally successful musicians onto them as well. Jonathan in an innovator and an inspirer.
If you would like to check out a selection of the music that he is involved with then you can scratch the surface with these links:
Jonathan would also like to make special mention to the companies that have supported him and that make such awesome gear: EarthQuaker Devices, Dwarfcraft Devices, Fuzzrocious Pedals,Wren and Cuff, TC Electronic, Aguilar, Tronographic, Pigtronix, Creepy Fingers, Devi Ever,Tech 21 & EHX.
– Jonathan performing live with Dot Hacker:
- How long have you been playing bass & when did you start fiddling with effects?
“I’ve been playing bass since I was a teenager…. I’d been playing piano and trombone at lessons in the school band program and around 13 or 14 I figured I should probably learn to play something a little more “cool”, meaning something electric, I suppose. My father, who is a musician, suggested bass as a potentially good instrument for me and played me some examples of what electric bass was, as I had no real idea. He pointed it out in my favorite Motown songs by the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder and also in Weather Report’s ‘Heavy Weather’ album, which I had listened to all my life, thanks to him. That got me off and running.
I think I learned the riffs to “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and “We Built This City” first. I remember taking Frank Zappa’s “Apostrophe” album to my first bass lesson, hoping I’d just easily learn it all. The teacher did show me how to play the main part of “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” that first day, which was pretty cool.
As far as effects – well, since I was really young, I’ve always loved unusual sounds and how they are made. It only took me discovering the mere existence of effect pedals to immediately draw me in. I remember finding a bass wah pedal under the Christmas tree pretty early on, and a few years later a gift whammy pedal really set me down the path.”
- Can you talk us though your current live/studio set up from bass to amp to the pedals (and anything else besides!)?
“It changes a lot from situation to situation but I can say that for the past few years I often lean on P-basses; they are simple, have a broad range of ability, and work great in so many situations. Meat and potatoes. I have a few from the early 70’s, but recently I’ve been playing and falling madly in love with a ’56 that belongs to Josh Klinghoffer. My god it feels and sounds great. In addition, I also try to keep some type of old plunky hollowbody nearby, and something that can get really deep and thick. An old Guild or solidbody Hofner with tapewounds can come in handy in certain situations where you need some serious lows. One of my old Roland synth basses is never far away either. I use Aguilar amplification & cabinets where ever possible.
The effects I use are also variable, but I rarely go anywhere without the bread and butter fo my collection:
- TC Electronics or Korg tuner
- Aguilar Octamizer
- Wren & Cuff Tall Font Russian Muff or Fuzzrocious Rat Tail
- Tronographic Rusty Box
- Tech 21 VT Bass
Maybe a kinda round and warm sounding overdrive in there too. They are all kind of essentials for me, and can get me through most situations where I’m expected to play ‘bass’ with some variation on a standard ‘bass tone’. If I’m given a bit more creative leeway then not far behind that list would be things like:
- Pigtronix Envelope Phaser
- EarthQuaker Devices Dispatch Master
- Dwarfcraft Devices Baby Thundaa
- Dwarfcraft Devices Great Destroyer
- Digitech Space Station
- EHX Superego
- Pretty much any old Digitech or DOD delay
- The mighty DOD Meat Box
…. the list could go on for a week. That’s certainly not all of it, but kind of scratches the surface.”
– A shot of Jonathan tweaking those toys:
– And the shape of things at a typical Dot Hacker session:
- ow do you approach writing bass parts for your music? Do you mess with pedals, find sounds and then work the groove around them, or a more traditional approach of writing the bass line first?
“That totally depends on who I’m working with.
In sessions it usually goes notes first, then groove, then sound. Dot Hacker is different, in that the process could take any route under the sun. There exist DH bass parts have been built around a single quirk I’ve found in some weird pedal. Other times it’s just finding an atmosphere and figuring out the notes and shape of the line later. I’ve also brought ideas to the band, song seeds, in the form of a simple bass part I’ve come up with. There are no rules in that band, which is such a privilege. I’m happy we designed it that way!
In contrast, EV Kain is a project in which part of the band’s concept is directness and simplicity sound-wise, kinda in the ballpark of early 80’s Police and XTC, and there’s not a single effect anywhere near the bass. But I get a whole lot of room to be melodic and almost like a lead instrument of sorts, so it requires a totally different approach in the writing stage. Oh, and it’s also a trio, which is a very special format, especially for an enterprising bass player. Trios are so much fun!”
- Does the creative process with Dot Hacker differ much from how it did with Hella or Broken Bells? Do you find the sonic space you can exploit is dependant on the other instruments that you’re playing with?
“Hella and Broken Bells, as different as they are musically, have a similarity in that they are both essentially duos who have recruited others along the way to help realize their vision. I am lucky enough to have been enlisted in both of these groups as a supportive member, mainly for live situations. The creative element I brought to these was more in the realm of how to help present the pre-existing concepts that were already well in place. Not to say these weren’t both incredibly rewarding situations, they most certainly were… there’s so much to learn by getting deep inside someone else’s whole ‘deal’.
Dot Hacker is a different case, because it is a band that I am an equal member of, as well as a founding member. It is a very democratic organization, and we are all four extremely close, so it is a very comfortable and supportive environment to create within. There aren’t really any expectations we are trying to meet, or a premeditated vision for the music or some band ‘career’, so the juices really get a chance to flow freely.
When I’m playing or writing, I think a lot about the sonic landscape around me for sure… I am fascinated by the role and function of the bass in all music, and it’s relation to the rest of the musical voices that it is working with. I feel I always have that in mind, no matter how melodic or bizarre I get, or how much I stretch the role. I guess the approach I have to all musical things I do is that I consider both a narrative and an architectural standpoint and figure out what is needed from there. I’m all about the ‘shape’, ‘arc’, ‘texture’, ‘vibe’, etc. of music amongst many other ridiculously pretentious-sounding elements.”
– Jonathan performing on Broken Bells ‘The Ghost Inside’:
- You have a few dirt boxes on your board but manage to reign in the wall of noise kind of stuff. How much of a part do dirt pedals play in your over all sound and how vital are they for your set up?
“It’s funny you ask that, I was just thinking about this today! I guess I’ve always liked fuzzes and dirt pedals a lot, but it’s only been in recent years that i have felt I’ve built a fair and just relationship with them. Playing in situations like Le Butcherettes and Earthlings? have made me understand the power of rasp and buzz in a more personal way. I am kind of a sucker for gnarled up bass tones now. Just this evening, I was in the studio and tracked a part on a new Dot Hacker song that is SO crusty. A bunch of dirt pedals stacked up, they make such a great sound.
In addition, I’ve recently spent time with my great friend Juan Alderete making segments for hispedalsandeffects.com website called Fuzz Wars. We go through many fuzz pedals and contrast them and see what they’re about. It was so fun, and because of it, I am now quite obsessed with the Univox SuperFuzz circuit and it’s derivatives like the Ibanez Standard Fuzz & the Acetone Fuzz Master and I have been researching who makes the best clones/version. I am so anxious to find the right one. I can’t stop thinking about that SuperFuzz sound!!!!”
– Part 2 of the Fuzz Wars video series featuring Jonathan’s current favourite’s fuzz pedals:
- Delay. Something that is becoming more and more popular with bass players and noise-makers. What is it that makes the DL-4 your delay of choice?
“I like the DL-4 mainly for it’s reverse and swell delays, and though it is a very handy and versatile box I usually opt for gadgets with a little more character, which is an abundant quality in the world of delay. Old DOD/Digitechs, old EHX, old Arions – I love those kinds of things.
The Earthquaker Devices Dispatch Master sounds absolutely divine. The Strymon Timeline was getting some serious use tonight in the studio on some guitars and holy cow, that thing is crazy! The Mid-Fi Clarinot, Digitech Time Bender, Lell Modulation Delay, Red Panda Particle, DOD Performer Dual Delay… man, those are some out-there and very inspiring tools!”
- You have also been known to really sing the praises of the DOD Meat Box. Given the modern sub-bass options available why does the old school stomp box still tick the boxes for you?
“I found the Meat Box about 12 years ago and have used it in pretty much every live context I’ve been in ever since. It isn’t the only device to do what it does, but seems to be the most extreme one in it’s ‘class’. It takes no prisoners. I love it like I love very few things. Makes me feel good every time!”
- Do you do much in the way of looping and layering during your live performances?
“Not so much. If I do, it’s mainly just to have some sounds on hand to twist and bend and use for sake of weirdness and freak-outs. I don’t loop myself and play solos over it or anything like that. I recently saw a youtube video of the singer Kimbra doing a live looping vocal thing that blew my mind. Maybe I need to take another look at the idea!”
- Generally pictures of your set up do not include any expression pedals or effects that are typically manipulated on the fly. Is there a reason for this? Do you prefer the sounds to be set in advance and not tweaked live?
“Yeah, I guess I do maybe? Hadn’t thought much about it. I suppose that for the most part, I’m not a frequent wah, filter, or modulation guy. For years I had whammy pedal on everything, but that got a bit tired. So yeah, not much treadle in my life.
I’ll tell you what I DO like though – pedals that can be left sitting idly after having been switched into active mode and when you need a little ‘something’ they are ready for you. The Space Station, Digitech PDS stuff, EHX Freeze and Superego, Kaoss pad, the new Boss Harmonist S-bend mode, that kind of stuff. Pedals with latching options are cool like that too, the old Boss Vibrato for instance. I wish more pedals functioned like these.”
- Are there any pedals or items on your most wanted list at the moment? What are you GAS’ing for?
“Like I mentioned earlier, I am after Superfuzzes! I’m looking closely at the Creepy Fingers Harakiri and the Smallsound/Bigsound Super Puzzle. Might have to pull the trigger on one of those. Trying to get my friends at Earthquaker to build me a Fuzz Master General, which is a limited edition they made years ago, and are rare as hen’s teeth.
Aside from that I’m always after the weirdest shit I can find. The MASF Possessed looks amazing, as does the Hexe Revolver 2… I have literally dreamt for years of a pedal that does that random glitch stuff, so I have to get one of those. I’ve also seen the Sonic Crayon Anti-Nautilus which is now on my list too. All of my favorite weird pedals are delay-based I think, so these would be right at home. I want to try the Loud Button WTF at some point too.
I have a million things I’d GAS for if they existed, but they don’t yet. Anyone want to help me build some pedals based on some of my preposterous and outlandish ideas?”
– Jonathan throwing some garage-rock inspired bass down on some Le Butcherettes:
- With so much time spent with your pedals how much thought and effort do you put into the cabling and powering side of things? Any hints, tips or recommendations for people?
“Well, I try to use decent cable, just so crackles, shorts and ghostly Korean radio stations don’t wreck the flow, but I haven’t given it a ton of thought beyond that. I probably ought to though!”
- What else can we expect to see from you over the coming months?
“Me being up to my eyeballs in Dot Hacker and EV Kain!”
Huge thanks to Jonathan for not only taking such time and effort over the questions, but also for being so humble about the process. Jonathan, it’s been a real honour and a privilege.
Thanks for reading,
Source: Shep on Bass
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