Playing a supportive role is a great honor
By Jon Liebman
Week of November 23, 2020
Anyone who thinks the primary function of the bass is that of a lead instrument had better think again.
We can talk all day long about Stanley Clarke, Billy Sheehan, Victor Wooten and all the other great soloists, but the main role of the bass is to lock in with the drummer, lay down the foundation for the band, and make the music groove.
There’s no shame in playing a supportive role. On the contrary, it’s an honor. Without the bass and drums doing their thing, we’d have a bunch of shredding guitarists playing over – nothing.
The topic came up in our conversation with Mike Kroeger of Nickelback, in an interview with FBPO’s Gary Graff, published this week. Mike does a fantastic job defining what playing bass is. And what it isn’t.
“I’ve never really been that interested in being really flashy or really out front,” Mike says. “I just want to listen and understand what the song needs.”
That’s what playing bass is about.
“Bass doesn’t need to be a lead voice,” he says. “It needs to be complementary and foundational, not lead.”
Then he said the most important thing of all: “It’s not about the bass; it’s about the band.”
As bass players, we have the power – and the responsibility – to make the music feel good. And we know when we’re doing right. We see the heads bobbing, the bodies swaying, and the people dancing…
“The difference between a band with a bass player doing it right and not doing it right,” Mike says, “is nobody can really put their finger on something’s wrong — but you know it’s wrong. But when somebody’s really doing it right, most listeners don’t recognize it specifically. You never hear, ‘Holy crap, did you see the bass player?!’”
Maybe he’s saying, for the most part, that nobody really talks about the bass unless the player screws up. If that’s how you feel, just smile, do your job, and know that you’re a major force of what makes the music feel good. Oh, and don’t screw up!
Supplying both rhythm and harmony, the bass is the glue between the drummer and the rest of the band. “When a band doesn’t have that right kind of flow between the bass player and everyone else,” Mike says, “you can tell the difference.”
How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, check out Gary’s interview with Mike here.