Steve Lawson: Even Steven

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Of the dozens of bass players who have appeared on the cover of this magazine since 2002, few can claim to have their own, truly individual voice. But that’s because Steve Lawson hasn’t been on there – until now. Read and learn, says Joel McIver

Pics: Eckie

Steve Lawson, the man sitting opposite BGM and delivering anecdotes about his eye-opening career, is munching on a chapati. Why so? Because, for no particular reason, this interview was conducted over a curry in darkest Oxfordshire.

We like to think there’s a metaphor there. After all, Steve’s music – like the nation’s favourite cuisine – is a banquet of sound, a smorgasbord of tones and a feast of innovation that makes his fans drool with anticipation. If you want light, easily digestible soundscapes (like poppadoms), Steve’s music has them; if you’re after thunderous, meaty layers of epic experimentation (maybe a lamb vindaloo?), he supplies them in abundance. And it’s all absolutely joyous to consume. Possibly we’re overdoing the analogy, but you get the point.

It’s not just music that attracts Steve’s fans. The guy is a renaissance man of bass: teaching, writing, composing, performing and experimenting with a commitment to creative diversity and a connection to his followers that few other musicians can command. Enthusiasm shines from Steve, whether you’re interacting with him as a listener, a reader, a student or, as in this case, a colleague with mutual interests in exotic cuisine. Let’s hear the man tell his story in his own words, and pass the chutney…

How did you start playing bass, Steve?

I grew up playing violin and trumpet – really badly. My brother and sister played instruments, as does my mum, and when we moved from Wimbledon to Berwick-on-Tweed the kid next door played drums and one of my schoolteachers was selling a short-scale, no-name SG copy bass for 25 quid, just before my 14th birthday. So I got it. I quickly broke the G string and I didn’t even know you could buy new strings, so I wedged the broken string under the bridge riser and played it like that for 18 months.

Why bass? It was Nick Beggs, Curt Smith and John Taylor: they were the coolest looking members of their bands. Then I saw Level 42 doing a giveaway on some Saturday morning show. I couldn’t really hear bass at that point: I would buy stereoised versions of mono recordings and pan them to one side. Listening to isolated Jack Bruce on Goodbye Cream was an education. Yes were another big obsession: the bass was so clear, which was inspiring. Then I broke my wrist when I fell off my bike, and got kicked out of my first band because I couldn’t play for a long time. They were better without me.

I then borrowed a Vesta distortion pedal off a friend and blew up my first amp, which was a keyboard amp, and got a little five-watt guitar amp instead. I just sat there playing Pixies and Jesus & Mary Chain tunes, because by then, alongside getting into prog, John Peel changed my life. My taste diversified hugely into indie, hardcore, Zimbabwean music, electronica… Prior to that, I’d been into hair-metal bands like Bon Jovi, Europe, Def Leppard, that kind of thing. My bedroom wall looked like some sort of homoerotic dream, with all these dudes with long blonde hair! From there I discovered thrash metal bands such as Metallica and Anthrax. Frank Bello is an amazing bass player, and really stood out for me.

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