Transcription: 0375 - Steuart Liebig

Released: February 20, 2022

Darwin: Okay. Today, I have the great pleasure of speaking to someone that was introduced to me by my friend and one of our interviewees, Andrew Pask. This guy's name is Steuart Liebig. And he is a composer. He's a bassist. He's a recording artist. If you look him up on Discogs, you'll have to go multiple pages to see all of the works that he's produced. If you head on over to Bandcamp, you'll be able to listen to a lot of them and they are beautiful. So I am really excited to learn more about how he approaches his craft and with no more ado, let's talk to Steuart. Hey, man, how's it going?

Steuart: Fine, thanks.

Darwin: Thanks a lot for taking time out of your schedule to have this discussion. I really appreciate it. Why don't we start off talking a little bit about the body of work you do? I went and I spent some time on Bandcamp going through your releases that are available there. Plus I had also heard some of your work that you had recorded on pfMENTUM. In all those cases what I found was you are primarily a bassist, but you are involved in composition and improvisation in a lot of these kinds of groups, but I noticed that also, in your Bandcamp stuff, while bass plays a prominent role, there's also an extent to which you've been moving towards working with modular systems. Occasionally, you do things that are really effects oriented. And I'm kind of curious if you can fill us in on how you imagine your current work and working style to be?

Steuart: Oh my current working style is in flux. As you mentioned, I just sort of started getting into the modular thing. I bought some semi-modular stuff. The guy I bought from said, "Hey, this is a gateway drug." And yeah, I was pretty much addicted in about two months. So a lot of what I'm doing right now is just trying to figure out what I'm doing with that.

And part of the reason I like it right now is because, even though I have some experience with synthesizers, mostly they've been polys and it's more chordly-based and this becomes kind of a different thing. I'm just trying to figure out how all this stuff of works and patching it together. And it's sort of just like, "Oh, I'll try this. Oh, that's a nice sound. Well, what can I do with that?"

So for me, I'm almost looking at this as more like as assemblage or collage then I am composition. My current work, that stuff is literally in the last month or two. So it's pretty new, frustrating and exciting all at the same time, because half the time I'm just going like, "Okay, did that work?" But I like that because I've been playing music for, let me count here, about 51 years now. From the time I got my first electric bass and sometimes we get a little stale and we get a little too used to what we're doing. So I kind of like throwing myself a curve.

I am understanding now that I have certain things I like and I'm gravitating to sound wise and I'm trying to figure out if I want to do that or if I want to try to negate that part of my personality, if that makes sense?

Darwin: That urge, right? Yeah. I hear you. Now, it's interesting though, because it seems like throughout, as I kind of like surfed through your career, it seems like, first of all, you do a lot of collaborations. You also do a lot of solo work. I mean you do a lot of everything, right? But it seems like especially when you're doing collaborations, it's a little bit of a dice shake what you end up doing.

You might end up, you might play a bass, but you might play - now it looked like for at least some period of time, you're using a six string electric thing that it didn't look big enough to be a full on electric bass. I don't know what the hell that was. A lot of stuff that you did was synthetic. You mentioned in our emails that you'd been doing stuff where you were using iPads in performance. How do you make the decision when you get involved in a group or get involved in collaboration or something like that? How do you make the decision what's the tool for this game?

Steuart: Right. Well, first off, the thing you're probably talking about is the headless six-string basses I have. So that's a six-string bass. It just looks really small, because the body is smaller and there's no head and all that stuff. I've pretty much been committed to the six-string bass and a couple variations for 35, 36 years. But anyway, how do I make my mind up about how to play?

Well, some of those bands are designed like I played this band Toques, with this guy, Nathan Hubbard, and he's doing field recordings and radios and drums and a couple synth things here and there. I was using iPads to both do samples and synth stuff and some live sampling stuff via Samplr. And that band was sort of designed to be that based on both of us designing it based on the technologies that we wanted to use and the sound world we wanted to create from that technology.

Same thing when I've done stuff with Andrew in that field, but I've done a lot of jazz, "jazz trio stuff," where basically I take a bass and three fuzz boxes and I blend the fuzz boxes with expression pedals. So some of them have, they have different EQ, really low, mids, and highs, and I can kind of like go for different textural things. And then, sometimes when you blend them together, you get all these really nice overtones...

Darwin: Oh, interesting.

Steuart: ...or you can feed them back. So for bands like that, partially because I'm playing with drummers who have extended pallets. So they're going for sounds and I'm playing with horn players that have extended pallets, can do overtones and multiphonics and all this stuff. I kind of wanted to be able to bring something like that, similar to that kind of vocabulary or sound world, but not bring in like a bunch of effects, like delays and stuff like that, though I really like delays and I've had a million of them and still do.

And I like loopers, the danger with loopers is to not have it go on forever, unless you want to go on for half of forever. But a lot of it just, I look at who I'm playing with. Like if I'm playing with Vinny Golia and Nate Hubbard, I'm going to do sort of this kind of sound. If I'm playing with G.E. Stinson, I'm probably going to bring more effects because he is a master of extended technique, both in terms of how he produces sounds on the strings and how he uses electronics.

Darwin: Right. That's very interesting. Now, when you do recording for yourself, you actually do... A lot of the solo stuff you do is sort of like featuring solo bass with a modest number of effects that are relatively prominent, I would say.

Steuart: Yeah. I think that's true. And for me, I can become too effect-oriented and it sort of clouds the intent sometimes. So I need to really make sure that I'm playing the effects, not vice versa.

Darwin: All right. I want to get into that more, because that is actually - I think that that's at the heart of something that a lot of us kind of struggle with. So I'm going to get to that in a minute, but before we go there, what I want to do, part of the regular through line for this podcast is talking to people about their background and how they got to be the artist they are.

I'm a little curious: how does someone, first of all, become this exceptional bassist and one that works with a lot of people, but also has got a mind open to the variety of experimental expressions that you've been involved in and your willingness to take on other instruments? Tell me a little bit about your background, how you got there and who some of the influences were that helped you become who you are.

Steuart: Well, I think the first thing is that my mom was a semi-pro singer who did a lot of Renaissance and early music, but also performed in like premieres of Stravinsky pieces in LA. So I think, I remember going to like rehearsals up in Malibu, where she's like rehearsing some Palestrina mass in a burned out church or whatever it was. And I'm playing with my war toys outside and I'm hearing this come through.

So I think that's a big influence. And then, she had friends who were in like, I don't know if you heard of this band called the United States of America that was sort of like a psych rock band. She knew those people. So I got taken to like loft rehearsals of that band. And I saw one of their few gigs and she would, her singing group would play with them.

So I had sort of these things coming in. Then, I grew up in the time when the Beatles were new and there was all this kind of, before music became incredibly corporate on that level. So there was a lot more ferment, I think. So I was lucky for that. And I started playing bass when I was 14. Then I went to what I call a hippie free school where one of my music teachers was like a guitar player, this guy named Dorian Ichigan and he started teaching us jazz tunes.

And then, he started having me go out and play gigs with him when I'm like 15 or 16. And then, we had a second theory teacher come in, replacing somebody. And the conversation between the old guy was, "Well, I'm teaching about jazz, but not like that Ornette Coleman guy." And this guy says, "Oh, that's my favorite stuff."

And this guy was Dean Drummond, who was like, he's he played with Harry Partch. He was a disciple of Harry Partch. And he's like on the cover of Delusion of the Fury. So he started turning us onto all this stuff and like we went and saw the big Harry Partch concert that in LA of Delusion of the Fury. Then, it's like I saw Mahavishnu Orchestra and that kind of blew my mind. So all these things happened in a pretty small period of time. And then, I ended up going on the road with this guy, Les McCann, when I was 20. I turned 20 when I was in my first month on the road. And I had been playing a little bit of guitar, just, I met him at like a jam session kind of thing.

And I was playing guitar, because somebody else was playing bass. And so, he hired me and I played with him for three years on tour and did a couple things on four albums for him. And then, I said, "I don't want to do this anymore. I want to go back to school." Because I hate playing guitar. I want to play bass.

And my friend Dorian said, "Hey, I've been going to Northridge. You should go there." And he started turning me onto people like Penderecki and all this stuff. So right place, right time in a lot of ways. I went to Cal State Northridge and I took double bass and went through a couple different teachers. Finally, this guy named Ed Meers, who is a co-principal or the principal of the LA Chamber Orchestra, like really made me hone in on some things that I hadn't been honing in on.

And then, all the music history classes just kind of exploded. Your brain they go like, "Oh, Ligeti," or "Oh, Penderecki," or, "Oh, I don't like Dollapiccola as much as I like George Crumb." And you just learned all that stuff. And also, I had met Nels Cline at Santa Monica College, before I went on the road, and that gave me the entree into that whole LA scene. So I sort had this - but I'd been playing with people like Billy Childs and John Beasley and played a whole month with Diane Reeves.

So I had this sort of bizarre polyglot thing going on. We were talking earlier about how do you end up being doing so many different things? That's part of it. I listen to a lot of blues at the Ash Grove in LA, kind of a legendary club. We were going when we were 14. So all these things kind of combined to get me to like, I like playing, there's funky elements in what I do. There's sort of atonal classical elements of what I do.

I've written whole bodies of work that were sort of like improv bands for, that did improv that were based on Monteverdi concepts. Is that-

Darwin: Yeah. Well, I'm sitting in my chair with my hair blown back, because just some of these things that you drop are outrageous to me. I mean this idea that you go to a hippie free school, you meet some people including Dean Drummond. And then, next thing you know you're touring with Les McCann. I mean this sounds like it's unbelievable.

Steuart: Okay. Well, and then I ended up playing with Julius Hemphill for a couple tours and Bill Frisell was on the second tour, if you want to get into things-

Darwin: Unbelievable.

Steuart: A lot of it just been kind of right-time-right-place, maybe a little bit of talent involved with nepotism. You know what I'm saying?

Darwin: Sure. Well, because that's basically taking advantage of the right-place-right-time stuff too, though, right?

Steuart: Yeah.

Darwin: Is being able to say, "Well, I have this entrée, I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't exist."

Steuart: Yeah. And the thing is really, I've always followed what I wanted to do musically. Like if I had friends who told me that I was a fool for leaving Les and not following up on that and going back to school. I mean people like, I kind of like said, "Well, F you. I'm not going to talk to you for a while."

I mean I had a rock band that was signed to a label deal, and the label wanted us to recut something. And I just said, "I can't do this anymore." And that's when I got really much more into doing... My earlier improv meets written bands. Again, my whole life is sort of a mess, because I was doing electronic-ish stuff when I was in this band.

And then, at the end of the band, I was trying to write string quartet. And then, I realized I wouldn't be able to get this stuff really performed. I was trying to write symphonies. So how do I get my stuff performed? I form a band where we improv and we have written material and we interact with it. And that became a whole avenue for me.

Darwin: Oh, that makes - yeah, of course. That's beautiful. Well, the other thing that happens then too, especially if you're writing, what that does is that introduces other people to your writing and for those people, for whom that rings a bell that when they get an opportunity they might open the door to have you come and write with them too. Right?

Steuart: Yeah. I've done some writing for other people. None of it's been recorded, unfortunately, partially because when some of this stuff was going to happen record companies went away or you had the recession of 2009. I mean there's, and then of course people aren't selling CDs anymore. So I mean there's sort of a weird perfect storm of what's happening in the real world versus what's happening in mine.

Darwin: Sure. But now, I mean some of the collaborations you've done, you mentioned working with GE Stinson, and you actually have interacted with him on a couple of different avenues. Right?

Steuart: Well, I met him earlier. He would come to this band that I had and he became really, really, really good friends with Nels through that. And then, me, and he knew Alex, Nels's twin brother and he had me and Alex and this guy, John Fumo, playing his band, the GE Stinson group. And then, he basically wanted to go complete improv after that. He and I just had a really, I think we've had a pretty tight bond. I mean we're talking like 30 years now.

Darwin: Wow.

Steuart: He and I both really like playing with groove stuff. I mean he came up through the Chicago blues era. He knew guys like Muddy Waters and stuff like that. And then, he ended up doing Shadowfax. But we both have like this thing where at one point, we're going like, "Yeah. This stuff's fun, but we really want to play some grooves." And he goes, "Yeah. Let's play some grooves." So we've done a lot of things where he brings in laptop beats that he creates. And then, we've had a number of different other collaborators involved in that at different times.

Darwin: Sure. Well, I will tell you that I listened to a couple of different things where you and GE were working together. And some of them were about as far away from Shadowfax as I can imagine, but they were really, really amazing. I mean that GE Stinson group album, it was weird, because it was like flying back and forth between being like progrock and like fusion. And then, all of a sudden like wide open space rock. It was quite amazing, but also not at all what I expected when I saw his name at the top of the album.

Steuart: Right. And a lot of people get kind of freaked out by what he does. I mean, because like he'll just put alligator clips all over his guitar, which is not unusual in our world, but for "civilians", they're going to sound like... But I like what he did with Shadowfax. It's like, yeah, that was like 35 or 40 years ago. Let's move on with our lives.

So yeah. It's interesting. He's definitely broken the paradigm he had. But I think he still has some of the innate musical drive that helped create Shadowfax. They've just gone in a somewhat different direction.

Darwin: Right. Right. Now I'm kind of interested in talking a little bit about the way that you approach your work, because first of all, you're a composer, but again, as I listen through a bunch of your work, I feel like sometimes you're doing things that are primarily improvisation. It looks like you're trying to, like you're working on ideas and you capture them and put them out as a recording, which is, is cool. But do you take those things and evolve them into something else?

Is it sort of like you just capture everything because it's a possibility? What is your imagination when you're doing these things? Again, listening to those most recent problems where you're really diving in a modular, what I hear so much is... You mentioned before that you think of the modular kind of more like an assemblage than an instrument or something. And that's what it feels like. It feels like almost you're doing like Musique Concrete with sounds that you're making instead of sounds from the real world. Right?

Steuart: And I think you actually put your finger on how I'm conceiving of this stuff. I recently sort of, to my shame, I never really knew that much about him, but Pierre Henry and I started listening to that stuff, and a lot of it, I don't love, but I love the implications of what he's doing. I'm not really big on some of the kind of wordy stuff he does and the sort of field recording stuff. But some of the other things really get me going.

This gets into process in why I'm doing certain things I'm doing. A lot of my Bandcamp experience started in 2009, which is around the time the recession. I lost work. And that was also the time I did, for a long time, it was my last CD. And I realized I wasn't going to be able to afford to do CDs. Some of the bands that I had been doing, I didn't want to do anymore or I felt like I was… I had reached a dead end in that style. So I kind of started doing things that were me just trying other stuff out.

And I had some kind of weird family stuff going on. So I was having like that thing where you can't sleep at night and you wake up at three in the morning and you have like these kind of fugue things going on and you can't shut off your brain. So I started writing, trying to write pieces based on that. And that's like the first Bandcamp thing I ever did. And that was like a bunch of Ableton stuff. And I don't even remember what I was using on it. At this point, it's really ancient history.

But part of it was just because I didn't have a really clear idea of what I wanted to do next in terms of writing for people. And also because sometimes band members can become real pains. And it's like, or they just get too busy and then it's like, "Well, okay, well that's not going to happen" or they move away. Because all those things I had to hunker down into a new thing, and I'd really, for instance, been talking to Andrew about some ideas I'd had about trying to incorporate some more electronic elements into what I was doing.

And then, when all this other stuff happened, it says, "So I'm just going to go on the electronics deal." I kind of conceive all this stuff is being more assemblage of sort of like almost like codified and then cut up improvisations rather than through-composed, like writing on paper. Like almost none of this stuff is writing on paper.

Sometimes I'll write down little themes and I'll integrate them into that or sometimes I'll sit down at the piano and write down chord progressions or chord successions. But a lot of times, I'm just, I've gotten away from the paper and pencil. So I view it as almost the whole thing is assemblage or collage that the whole, almost the whole Bandcamp thing. Some of this Bandcamp stuff is trios and duos and other bands that I've played with that are like live recordings or recordings that never came out.

And then, there's one whole project I did where I just did a group of improvs for three days every month and I called that the diary, kind of like the bass diary, because I was just trying to document. And I thought it would be an interesting project. I'm not sure it's musically good, but… And then, sometimes it's just like, "Oh, I'm going to play a bunch of different bass vibes or I'm going to create basses." There was a thing, I got… bee in my bonnet about trying to do some Scandinavian folk tunes and learn some basic melodies, and then put them over some synth and prepared bass kind of atmospheres.

Darwin: It's interesting you say that I live in Minnesota and Norwegian folk songs run deep in the heart of some of these communities. And so, that's something that absolutely resonates with me. Now you say that you've been moving away from paper and pencil as composition [tools], but I'm curious then, when you present work to other people, how do you, what are the ways that you offer sketches? Do you just sort of like have a way of just verbally saying, "Okay, we're going to do this and then that," or do you have...

Steuart: Well, actually, I should say that we were discussing the Bandcamp.

Darwin: Oh, right.

Steuart: So I tend to compartmentalize a little bit. I have a band called the Men-Tot Six, which is a combination of few bands, Tee-Tot Quartet and the Mentones, which is sort of like it's my, it started off as my Little Walter meets Ornette Coleman band, and then became sort of like a Hank Williams meets Roscoe Holcomb meets Anthony Braxton. And then, I put those two bands together and then there's more Mingus involved so I did the...

So that band is heavily written with solos on it. The Mentones were Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica. Tony Atherton is on alto saxophone. Joe Barardi's on drums. The Tee-Tot Quartet is Scott Ray on lap steel, Dan Clucas on cornet, and Joe Berardi on drums, and then me. So it's just a sextet of all those people put together.

And the second album, right before the pandemic, I'd finished writing. We'd hit our first rehearsal. Scott lives in Montana. Bill lives out on the Inland Empire. It's like, "Okay, eventually, I'm going to get these guys." Pandemic hits. Okay - that project's off. But that band had some way different writing for me where I would, I was becoming, because the way I'd been practicing improvising, it was freeing up my mind to be able to write different things and say, "Well, I'm going to try it."

So I kind of have this triplet thing and all of a sudden I would break it off into everybody playing a five/eight thing, and then go back into like a four/four half time. But it's all sort like blues, rock, or country grooves.

Darwin: Yeah. Well, I actually saw a video of the Mentones thing, which was also really interesting, but I love the fact so like in that group, you have what's sort of like kind of a traditional jazz trio plus a harmonica player. In the other case, you've got a pedal steel. I just fall in love with anyone who's willing to put a pedal steel player on a stage. That's really amazing. But that's really cool that you open it up to these things.

Now you just said something though that I'm really interested in following up on. You talked about how doing a bunch of improv and stuff, it freed up your mind to pursue some other things. I think everyone listening to this is going to have a sense of what you're talking about, that certain kinds of musical work, it's almost like if you put a lot of intensity in one direction, it'll spew off some spare electrons that actually spark up another set of interest in your brain, right?

Steuart: Yeah. Absolutely.

Darwin: For you, how often does that happen and how likely is it that the sparks that it lights up make you just say, "Well, I don't want to do that thing anymore, I want to go over here and do this?"

Steuart: Wow. Okay. That's a really excellent question. For me, I tend to go like, "Okay, I'm repeating myself too much or I've done this before and I don't want to do that." And I was having this a little bit of a conversation with a friend the other day. When is my rut, my voice or my style or vice versa? And I think that's the hardest part about this thing for me is trying to not be too calcified in my own "vision."

Darwin: Yeah. Well, that's a great point, because, man, there's nothing worse. I remember there was a period during the 1980s, it seemed, in my head it feels like it was the 1980s, where guitar players were sort of like being, guitar player, instrumentalists were being brought forward. Right?

Steuart: Yeah.

Darwin: But what they would have a tendency to do is they would do, their first solo album, would just like prove to everybody that they could play one song in every style, kind of. And it just ended up being like, you got this sense of like, "Well, I don't have any idea of what this person's voice is." Right? Conversely, you can take a look at some people's body of work and say like, "Okay, the first two albums, I understand. The 14 after that sound like different versions of the first 2 albums." I think fighting that is something that is sort of like at the heart of the artistic effort, right?

Steuart: Yeah. I mean I'm just nodding in agreement the whole way through that. Yeah.

Darwin: So you express that you worry about that and you basically, you act on those feelings, but what do you do or where do you get advice or where do you get the momentum to basically say, "Stop, focus on this for a while?" Where does that come from? Because for me, it's like, it happens to me, but often it's like really peculiar stuff. Right?

So like for me, lately, I got this ARP 2600 and I started, I said, "Hey, I'm going to do solo albums with this." Well, there's only so much you can do. Right? But it's funny. I did one that was very kind of mechanical. And then, a label said, "Hey, can you do this? Do a thing for us?" And I did it, but it came out very like romantic, almost. It was really weird. But in the end, it still was all sort of like of the same thing. But somehow it's like sitting in front of an instrument is the thing that gives me the discipline to do that. What mechanism do you use to basically sort of like reign things in so you just don't, all of a sudden say, "Well, you know what? I'm going to be the world's… I'm going to get involved in Klezmer music or something?" Don't tell me, you just started a Klezmer band.

Steuart: I was laughing because the Klezmer jazz thing was a thing in the New York scene for a while, right?

Darwin: Right.

Steuart: First off, I'm interested in your process with the 2600 thing. That's all live, is it any overdub or is it all live stuff?

Darwin: What I do is I build, I use a monome norns as sort of like a looping system. I wrote my own recorder. It's a four-track recorder that does looped recording, but it's longer form. And I basically build the backups, and then I play over the top of it all in one sitting.

Steuart: Got it. Okay. I mean I don't have any comment, otherwise, just interested you do it. Like I'll just say that from my modular experience, which is just laughable compared to all the people I see out there who are doing like insanely cool stuff and really know their thing. I just find sounds that I kind of find little, funny little ostinati that I like, and then I print them and then I try to figure out what to do with them. And then, I go like, "Oh, that sucks. I can't do anything with that." Or like, "Oh, I can do this. I'll put that on." "No. That's too loud." And for me, it's a lot of… It's all over dug stuff. There's nothing through plate on any of that stuff for me. But that's not answering your question. That's sort of a tangent based on what you were talking.

Darwin: But let me follow up on that, because it's actually interesting that you say that, because I would say that, I mean first of all, there's a thing and I kind of asked this a lot of times when I talk to bass players, because it seems like a lot of bass players also have a certain level of producer built into them, and I'm not sure why that is. Maybe because it's the role of being a bass player puts you in a good spot to think of production.

Steuart: Right. And there have been some really good ones. I would never be that guy, to be honest. In that kind of situation I'm much more a collaborative, "Hey, why don't we try this kind of thing."

Darwin: Right. But even on your... I will tell you that listening to your modular stuff is very different from listening to most people's modular stuff. It has like a level of maturity to it that... I mean with the modular, the one thing a modular is really good at is doing sort of like the endless falling down the stairs kind of a thing where you kind of like set random things and bang and clink, cling, clank, and it goes on for a long time.

Your stuff- and the reason why I talked about it kind of as having a music kind of sense to it - it feels like thoughtfully put together, but also there's sort of like this idea of thematic repetition and stuff like that, that comes from being, bringing composer's brain to it, rather than someone who likes plugging in cables.

Steuart: Absolutely. I mean I think that's pinpointing where I'm coming from. When I was playing… Let me just tell you a story. When I was playing in the Northridge Orchestra, we were playing Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the Ravel Orchestration. There's a lot of places where the bass players just aren't playing.

So I bought the score and I followed the score while we were playing that. And it was a really eye-opening and kind of phenomenal experience and probably formative now I think about it of just being in the middle of this big body of people playing and watching what was going by and hearing it and feeling it. And I think that's kind of like a thing for me is I'm almost more interested in how you place things in space than I am sometimes of what they are, because harmony comes and goes.

Beethoven's harmony, new and exciting. No. What he did with form, what he did with like fooling you that he thought, you thought you were going to go one place and he went another with the zigzag thing. The incredible craft, all that stuff stands. I'd say the same thing for the people like Stravinsky, maybe George Crumb, not all the time, but...

I mean all these people, that's what kind of I get off on is hearing how they place these things and the thematics that they bring back. And a lot of my thing is based on the Stravinsky era of Symphony in Three Movements and Symphony in C, where he kind of does, I found out there's a term for this. It's called moment form, I think it's what a friend of mine told me.

It's like he would just do fast juxtapositions and cuts between different sections he'd already heard before. And he creates this really intense, formal narrative for lack of a better term.

Darwin: That's really interesting and I love that that's kind of the level that you're thinking on this stuff, but also the concept of really focusing on form, that's something where you can make this voice concept, bridge the variety of instruments that you work on, the variety of groups that you work in and stuff, because you're just bringing this form to the table no matter who you're working with.

Steuart: Yeah. I mean just about the improv thing, this is just kind of riffing off what you're talking about. To me, sometimes the best thing I'm playing is when I'm not playing, because that creates form for other people to mess in, right? If I interject silence that creates other synergies. And to me, it's where composition and improvisation sort of meet. It's like, "Okay, I'm making a conscious decision to not do this, to not have that happening." That may or may not be code into this conversation, but that's something that I think a lot about.

Darwin: No. That's really cool. And again, the idea of form is a primary consideration. Now that kind of contextualizes your work for me in a way that's really cool. I appreciate that. One of the things I'm curious about, and this is like a more practical curiosity is: you play instruments that often utilize two hands, but you also have a lot of effects or you have Ableton or you have iPads or you have whatever. How do you physically interface yourself with these other things?

When I interviewed Andrew Pask, I mean one of the things he talked about kind of with frustration was that as a saxophone player, he had two hands on the instrument. It meant he had a limited number of limbs in order to interact with the rest of stuff. Right?

Steuart: Right.

Darwin: So especially when you're getting into any highly, extensive groups of effects or kind of computerized, real time computerized stuff where the iPad is as sort of an interface, how do you deal with just physically doing it? I know in one case you mentioned that, you mentioned to me that you were using this Ibanez volume panning pedal that allowed you to at least in real time be able to play with the pan position of stuff, which is kind of one of those formalist things that I hear in some of your work, which is cool. But there's a lot more stuff going on. How do you interface yourself with those things?

Steuart: I sit down. I used to try to stand up and play and my basses are kind of heavy. So there's time, and I'm like 5'6, right? So there's times I'd be starting, like trying to do different pedals and I'd almost be falling over and losing my balance. So finally, I just said, "I'm sitting down, because that way I could can run..." I really got into the expression pedal thing.

So like I said earlier using three fuzz pedals, but also I'm using expression pedals on like reverbs and delays and bit crushers and stuff like that. Because I like to, this kind of gets to the modular thing. I was playing with people who were doing modular as improvisational guys, like Tom Djll and Tim Perkis. And I'm not sure when I played with Geno, if he was doing that or something else.

And I heard these sounds, so I was trying to figure out how he could sort of approximate that kind of like glitch, pointilistic voice thing. Right? So it became down, like I had to be able to like make these pedals like be able to do that really quickly, which means that I have to sit down and do like a whole foot dance at certain points. So I sit down, and when I'm playing the iPad thing, maybe I've already put a loop in a, like on that band Toques. I put a bass part on a loop and I do a far left pan, then maybe I'll do a contrapuntal part on the same loop far right.

And then, it gives me some time to screw around with the iPad and maybe do something with that, and then pull one loop out and then maybe bring one of them back. That's kind of my process in terms of that is just I sit down and I just have a bunch of crap around me and I try not to F it up.

Darwin: Right.

Steuart: Does that make sense?

Darwin: Yeah. Yeah. I mean in a way, though, isn't that sort of like the standard, the answer to all musical questions, the last sentence is, "Well, I'm trying not to F it up?"

Steuart: Pretty much. Pretty much. Just try to do my best and play something that helps everybody else so.

Darwin: Right. So what's like your desert island effect? Again, I hear you use a lot of different effects and different scenarios. What's the thing that you sort of feel like you have to have at every gig?

Steuart: Oh, well, I mean, I guess it's the fuzz pedal thing. That's probably the one constant at this point, but this gets into the whole thing of playing with saxophones and stuff and some string players, it makes you realize that there's a lot you can do with your instrument. And I think that electric bass, in particular, has not had people exploring different timbres and stuff like that.

So for me, if I really had to think about it, probably the fuzz pedal, because I can make it do a bunch of different things along with, because I put like tambourine tangs, or zills, I guess they're called. The little metal discs. I put those in my strings. I'll beat them with a hand, with a chopstick or something and that gets the sound. You put fuzz on it, it completely changes the sound or overdrive. Something along those lines, because it can shape the timbre, and the actual sound, and then you can get more sustain and all that other stuff. That would probably be it right now.

Darwin: Yeah. It is interesting. Again, you don't normally think of bassist using fuzz pedals that much, but if what you're trying to do is make the tone of the instrument more malleable, the differences in sustain and differences in harmonics and stuff like that really give you a lot of material to work with. Right?

Steuart: Yeah. The interesting thing about bassist, I used to use a lot of effects like 40 years ago. Right? Which back then was just like, "What are you doing?"

Darwin: Yeah. That would've put you in the alien class. Right.

Steuart: Yeah. And it did. Now a lot of bass players are using effects. I mean if you go onto like some of these bassists sites, guys are talking about their effects boards. Now sometimes I'm not really sure that they're, sometimes it's just guys who want to have a certain kind of metal sound that requires a certain kind of distortion or overdrive. And some guys are really developing real vocabularies using a whole assortment of stuff. So the bass player thing has changed a lot. I'm old enough to have seen it change a lot.

Darwin: Yeah. I get the sense though sometimes too, that some of that stuff is just, it's also people who enjoy collecting effects. There is that aspect to it too.

Steuart: I'm saying, I'm looking at this modular setup I put together in the last three months...

Darwin: Yeah. So maybe I shouldn't poke you in the nose about it, right?

Steuart: No. I mean I think when you're buying gear, you're just buying possibilities. And whether or not it works for you is another thing. My philosophy about buying this stuff was that I didn't know what I was doing. I had some money to be able to do it for a change. And it had been something that was sort of interesting to me. And I'm looking at it as a long term science project that'll lead me somewhere.

Darwin: That's a beautiful way to approach it. I love that. I love that perspective. Well, Steuart, unfortunately, our time is up, but I want to thank you for taking the time to have this chat.

Steuart: Hey, can I say something about the goodbye part here for a sec?

Darwin: Yeah.

Steuart: I'm sure your listeners all know, but you've done like 300 and something of these. It's a great service. I told you, I listened to like eight or nine of these last weekend. I'm not really a podcast guy, but, man, there was some just mind-expanding stuff that people were talking about. Really thought provoking so thank you for doing this, and for including me. And thanks Andrew, if you're listening to this, for introducing us.

Darwin: Well, thanks a lot for saying that. You know what? I mean I do it mainly because it's mind-expanding for me too. I mean I'm going to come out of this discussion with a whole bunch of ideas of stuff to do. So I want to thank you for that.

Steuart: Oh, you're welcome.

Darwin: All right.

Steuart: Hopefully, it's not bad ideas.

Darwin: I'm sure it'll be interesting ideas anyway. Well, with that we'll say goodbye to listeners. Thank you.

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