Bass sensation describes new Flying Colors, LaRue/Alexander recordings
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
December 16, 2019
Perhaps best known for his long associations with the Dixie Dregs and the Steve Morse Band, Dave LaRue is a well established bassist in the rock, jazz/fusion, and prog worlds. Over the course of his stellar career, LaRue has also worked with some of the music industry’s most celebrated artists, including John Petrucci, Vinnie Moore, Joe Satriani, Pat Travers, Eric Johnson, and many others. Dave is on two brand new recordings, both released this fall, Third Degree with Flying Colors, and L.A.X., with Glenn Alexander.
FBPO: This has been a pretty busy year for you. You just released two records, with two different bands, right around the same time.
DLR: I spent some time on the Flying Colors record, that’s for sure. That was fun to do. When I get the drum tracks, and I’m ready to record, that’s really where the fun starts, cause we demo very simply, and then I get to really be creative. Once I’m doing the final tracks, (that’s) where I really get a chance to see what’s going on.
FBPO: They’re definitely two very different sounding records. Since you mentioned Flying Colors, why don’t we start with that one. Tell me about the record.
DLR: Well, that’s our third album, obviously, hence the title, Third Degree. It’s actually been a couple years in the making because we write as a band. We all go in the same room and we write the songs, and we piece them together. And once we have a song complete, that’s when we do the really rough demo of it, and we use that as our template for recording. The first writing session we had I guess was like five years ago, or something. We had some technical problems on the session, and we ended up not finishing enough material for a record. We got about 70% of it written, so we had to book another session and it took us three years to find a window when all five of us can get together. This past December, a year ago now, we finally found some time. We got together for a couple days and we wrote the rest of the album, and then started tracking it right away, in January.
FBPO: How does Third Degree compare to the previous two releases, Flying Colors, and Second Nature?
DLR: For me, this is, by far, our best record. I really like the material, everybody’s playing well. We seem to be finding kind of a groove as a band. We really have our own sound now. It seems to be a logical progression. The new album demonstrates growth in the band, which of course is the most important thing for any musician, so I’m very pleased with it.
FBPO: You’re involved in so many different kinds of music.
DLR: That’s the kind of musician I am, sort of. I get bored easily, so I like to do a lot of different things. That’s why the Steve Morse band is such a great gig for me. I love playing with that band because we’ll do a hard rockin’ thing, and the next thing you know we’ll be playing a bluegrass thing, and then we’ll do a Baroque duet, and we’ll do some “proggy” odd-meter thing. So for me, that’s a really fun gig. And these other bands kind of do that too. We tend to be diverse in our writing, let’s say. [Laughs]
FBPO: I think I remember you telling me once that Steve Morse doesn’t just hand you a chord chart, but that his bass lines are actually written out. Am I remembering that correctly?
DLR: No! Nothing’s written out! [Laughs] I’ll tell you, though, I get a lot of room to make the bass lines. In Flying Colors, I’m completely on my own. It’s great working with Steve. A lot of times we would just work through a song, and he would say, “Come up with something.” And then other times, he would actually have a composed bass line. It’s never written out, so to speak, but he would show me, “Hey, do something like this.” He taught me a lot about constructing some really different kinds of bass lines. Man, I owe him a debt of gratitude. I learned so much from him. So, it was a mixed thing. Some things he just said, “Here’s the changes, it’s B minor, then we’re gonna go to a G thing,” and he’d say, “Come up with something.” And other times he’d say, “Hey, we need this line here.”
FBPO: I saw him at a NAMM show once, playing with Eddie Van Halen and Albert Lee, around 1991.
DLR: Yep, yep. I was there. I saw that.
FBPO: I saw him more recently, also at a NAMM show, signing autographs at somebody’s booth. I didn’t realize he’s left-handed.
DLR: Yes, he is. But, right from the beginning, he said, “No, I’m playing right-handed, because all the guitars are right-handed.” [Laughs]
FBPO: So obviously, he doesn’t tune it upside down. He plays a righty guitar like a righty would play.
DLR: Yes, he plays guitar what we call right-handed.
FBPO: I’ve interviewed some guys like Jimmy Haslip, and I just don’t know how they do it. They’ll take a righty bass and flip it over. What really blows my mind is how Jimmy manages to slap that way, but somehow he’s come up with a technique that works for him.
DLR: I had a student like that. It was really interesting because we actually worked on trying to figure out how to utilize the bass better when you’re slapping upside down, essentially.
FBPO: Yeah, but if you’re slapping, how do you pop?
DLR: Well, you end up popping a lot of low notes! [Laughs]
FBPO I never thought of that!
DLR: So that’s what we kind of looked at, ways we could maybe make it a little bit traditional. But they’re going to be really different kinds of bass lines. We went in that direction and came up with some cool stuff.
FBPO: You’ve got some traveling coming up. You’re going to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, London…
DLR: Yep. We’ve got some Flying Colors dates over there. We’re trying to do a few shows with the release of the new album and get it out there, basically just doing as much promotion as we can for the record. We want to get over and give our European fans a dose.
FBPO: Tell me about the LaRue/Alexander record, L.A.X.
DLR: We wanted to put our names on the cover as sort of an unknown entity, a LaRue/Alexander project kind of thing. We want to morph (it) into L.A.X., which is a combination of our initials, obviously. So we went both ways with this. Glenn and I – Glenn Alexander, the guitar player/singer on that project – (have) been playing together for 25 years of more now. We have a really great chemistry, we love playing together, and we’re best of friends. Even though I left the Northeast twenty-some-odd years ago, we still keep playing together. We wrote all these tunes, and they were recorded over a length of time whenever we could get together. We’re really happy with that project too. It’s funny, Glenn and I had a band when I was living up in the Northeast, called Stretch, and we actually played a lot of shows. We were instrumental at that point, almost kind of like Weather Report/Allan Holdsworth, doing all this really bizarre fusion stuff. We actually got quite a following. I mean, in the late ‘80s, you could do that. We had quite a lot of people come out to the shows. And we did a bunch of shows opening for Allan Holdsworth, so that was a really fun band. The vocal thing kind of grew out of that later. Glenn started singing a few tunes on the gig, and he came up with a couple really cool ideas, and I said, “Hey, let’s work on these together,” and we wrote some of the tunes together. I brought a few things in, and we ended up with that record.
FBPO: I like it a lot. I’ve been walking around singing “Phony Baloney.” That’s a fun tune!
DLR: Thanks. I’m glad you like it.
FBPO: What else is keeping you busy?
DLR: Well, session work, and I’m still working on my own record when I get a chance. It’s all written, and I’ve done a bunch of the bass tracks. I gotta start bringing a few guys in to track on it as well, and then hopefully mix it, but that’s just kind of whenever I get to it. Actually, with the holidays coming up, and I have those Flying Colors dates… but other than that, I want to spend some time on that. We’re looking at some L.A.X. dates down the road, and there’s a couple other things percolating too, so there’s plenty on my plate.
FBPO: Is your new solo record going to be a follow-up to Hub City Kid?
DLR: It’ll be the follow-up, yeah. It’ll be somewhat similar, but I think this one’s a little heavier. I guess through the years of playing with Steve, and John Petrucci, and Flying Colors, and those kinds of things, I kind of have a little more “proggy metal” side to me, so there’s some heavier tunes on there.
FBPO: You mentioned how busy everyone is, and how it was such a challenge to find a window of time to do this record, but I’ve gotta ask: What about the Dregs? Anything possible in the future for a reunion?
DLR: I don’t know. I think, if anything like that was to happen, it would more likely be the Steve Morse Band. We did one show at Morsefest in August, which is Neal Morse’s big wingding he throws in Nashville. He really implored Steve to bring the Steve Morse band, and he finally said okay. We did about a 45-minute set. It was really nice to get the band back together and play, and hopefully we’ll do some more down the road. But Steve’s really busy between Purple and Flying Colors, so we’ll have to see if we can squeeze that in somewhere. It’d be really nice. We’re all hoping to.
FBPO: Neal and Steve are not related, right?
DLR: They are not.
FBPO: Just a coincidence.
DLR: They’re “Brothers in Flying Colors,” but other than that, there’s no relation.
FBPO: Tell me about your gear.
DLR: I’m mostly playing Bongos, the Music Man Bongo, although I have been playing a lot more 5-string these days. I got really comfortable with it. Doing the Petrucci gig for five months last year, it was all 5-string, so I got a lot more comfortable with it. And then I cut about half the Flying Colors record with 5-string, so I’m playing a bunch of the set on 5 now. There’s a cut on there called “Geronimo,” kind of a slap thing. I played a Sterling 4-string on that. Still Music Man bass, with Ernie Ball “Slinky” strings.
FBPO: What about amps?
DLR: Still using the (Ampeg) SVT-4PRO. It depends on the gig. For the road gigs, I usually use two SVT 8-by-10 cabinets, but when I’m local, or, depending upon the situation, sometimes I’ll use the 4-by-10s. I’ll use a couple, or four of those.
FBPO: How about effects?
DLR: I’m actually playing two systems. My main one at home is a TC Electronic G-System, which is a really great multi-effects unit. You can program it (and) change presets, so that five different effects change at one time. I love the flexibility of that. I use effects quite a lot, especially in my band. In a power trio setting, trying to utilize the sonic realm to keep it interesting is really important. When it’s just guitar, bass, and drums – “Oh, guitar solo. Oh, bass solo” – you’ve gotta do as much as you can with the music to keep it interesting, make things stand out differently, so I use a ton of effects there. The G-System is my main effects unit. Great-sounding, studio quality effects. The reverb and the modulation effects are great, delays are great. It also has some inputs where you can add distortion devices or any outboard pedals that you’re particularly fond of. You can actually hook them into certain loops that will also turn on and off with the presets they have. My old standby is the BOSS Octaver. It’s still the best one around. I’ve tried them all. There’s actually one built into the TC unit, but it’s just not as cool as the Octaver. I also have a Darkglass Alpha-Omega distortion device.
FBPO: Darkglass has really come a long way.
DLR: They’re making some great stuff! They sent me a really nice sounding compressor, maybe the best one I’ve heard, of the stomp box compressors. Really gorgeous. And really versatile too. It does a lot of different things, but man, it sounds really nice.
FBPO: Let’s talk a little bit about bass technique. A lot of people know us at FBPO for our interviews, but we’ve now got a very popular online bass instruction program too. What advice can you impart to someone who wants to learn bass?
DLR: I really think it’s important that they check out reputable places, much like yours, to get information that is good. There’s so much crap online with people instructing you how to do this, and how to do that, and teaching you songs, completely wrong! So, it’s important that those that seek out information online try to find good, credible sources, much like your site. The information that’s out there. There’s just a world full of different people and their opinions, and ways to go, much of it you can end up wasting time with. Half the time it’s some half-baked guitar player who’s giving bass lessons just to supplement his income.
FBPO: What about the future? You mentioned a few things already. Anything else coming up?
DLR: There’s a few Flying Colors things coming up, and we’re really looking to push the L.A.X. thing. We’re actually looking to do some dates as early as, maybe, January, and hopefully get that out on a festival circuit, a blues festival, or something like that. We’ve got some people that are managing us at this point. They’re putting out feelers, and we’re getting a lot of positive feedback. So, I’m hoping to push that a little bit, especially being a partner in the record and everything. It’d be a good thing for me to get that out there, sell some albums, and get that band on the road. It’s really a fun band. There’s a couple other projects that are being discussed at this point that I really shouldn’t talk about, but I think are going to be taking up some of my time down the road here.
See Jon’s blog, with key takeaways from this interview, here.
The following Dave LaRue recordings are available below: