Bryan Dondero: Bass Playing in the Big League
by: Jeff Hightower
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Back to the nest...
Four separate parts, which fit together like a puzzle to form one single piece that works as a unit. These are the components to most rock nâ€™ roll bands. Each individual understanding that they separately are good, but together, they create a whole new level of music. Bryan Dondero, the bassist for the Nocturnals knows this formula. He helps tie together one of the fastest rising bands touring on todayâ€™s circuit. But bass playing is not where his interests stop. Bryan has taken it upon himself to become as educated and experimental with music as he can. From the beginning stages to final post production, Bryan engulfs himself in the entire music making process. And while on the road, he like the rest of the band remains close with his fan base and takes pride in letting each one know how grateful he is to be where he is, and to have the greatest fans in the world. Along the way to his current status, Bryan sat down to help ALM and its readers better understand the growing pains of the music industry and what he looks for as a musician. We soon find out the quick whit and sense of humor Bryan has, along with the vast knowledge he has gained over such a short period of time. With nowhere to go but up, it seems if Bryan and his partners in crime, the Nocturnals, are coming into their own as what has been said is, â€œthe best kept secret in music.â€� HM - How did you break into the music business and eventually become part of GPN? BD - I've been playing in bands since I was 13. I always thought that it would just be something that I did on the side, but I swore to myself if the opportunity to play for real would come that I would do it. I was friends with Scott through a mutual friend, so he used to come over to our house and rock out with us when he was in town. When Cory left the band in '04, Scott mentioned to Grace and Matt that I was a bass player and could play upright bass, which was crucial to their sound back then. They asked me to join the band, so I quit my jobs (had a few of 'em then), broke my lease and moved to Waitsfield. HM - Who are the influences that shaped the musician you are today and what style music do you consider your favorite? BD - Whew, this one is a tough one because I draw inspiration from a lot of musicians, not all of them bass players, some of them not even musicians.... I have a fondness for early R&B music, I love Stax and Motown and probably get a lot of my influence on bass from that music -- James Jamerson, probably influenced the way I the bass more than anyone.... I love Duck Dunn's playing, he's got a great attack that I try to emulate sometimes, David Hood, Willie Weeks, then there are the 70's rockers, John Paul Jones, John Entwistle, Geezer Butler, Paul McCartney of course -- nowadays, I really love the playing of Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck's bassist), and some of the players I've shared the stage with Andy Hess of Gov't Mule, Chris Wood, Sven Pipien (The Black Crowes), Two-Tone Tommy.... I don't want to exclude all the fantastic Jazz players, Mingus, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter....I could go on listing players forever. As far as a favorite genre....well, I don't listen to modern country and I fuckinâ€™ hate twee, everything else is cool in my books. HM - You play bass and have been known to pick up a mandolin, what other instruments do you like to try your hand at? BD - I'm actually working on solo EP right now and one of my goals was to play all the instruments. So far its got guitar, bass, drums, rhythm ace, harmonium, moog synth, sitar, Chinese Prayer Box and theremin..... I have a penchant for weird instruments....some might call it an addiction. HM - A well versed bass player seems to be the hardest position to fill in with a band, what do you consider the definition of what a bass player should be in his band? BD - The bass is the foundation, the support. If the player is not comfortable with just being the support, they usually suck in my opinion, and by sucking I don't mean not having chops and technical skill. I've actually seen way more players with a shit ton of technical skills that completely ruin the music. I feel like bitch slapping their ego and telling them to drop the Jaco licks and go study some McCartney lines - unless your band sounds exactly like Weather Report, Jaco's style of playing is a bit...well.....wrong. HM - GPNâ€™s unique 4 man drum solo is one of the coolest concepts Iâ€™ve seen for a live band. Whatâ€™s the story behind the drum jam? BD - I think it was because Scott's rig was tweaking out, so he threw down his guitar and picked up some drum sticks and started wailing with Matt, it looked like fun, so the rest of us joined. HM - You do quite a bit of recording on your on as a side project. What can you tell us about the music on your myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/bdondero )? BD - I've been doing some producing in my free time (what's left of it anyway). The songs I have up there are examples of that, with a few of my own crazy tunes slipped in as well. I produced my girlfriends' band's last EP, The Leaves - we cut 4 songs in one day, so most of that is live. It sounds really great. I did a track this past winter for Burlington singer Mia Adams. That was a fun project. I modeled that session after an old Motown kind of setup where the musicians actually play in the same room together with their amps and all. We used an old school mic technique on the drums with some tasty ribbon mics. I really was pleased with the end result. Right now, I've been focusing on my EP and also doing some instrumental music for licensing for commercials (which I was thinking about releasing as a separate EP entitled "Music for Drug Commercials"). I've been building a website with some friends of mine that I am hoping to launch by the end of the summer that will feature all of this, my podcast, along with the side stuff I've been doing with Scott and Matt - the new Blues and Lasers EP. We've been selling that at shows and I think Scott is planning on getting it up on the web soon too. Its sounds fuckinâ€™ great! Real dirty. HM - What was it like when you guys first signed a major record deal with a Disney label? BD - Well...I had money for about a month or so, till I blew it on instruments (see above list). HM - Whatâ€™s one of the bigger misconceptions that indie artists need to understand if they have the opportunity to sign on with a major label? BD - Smaller is not necessarily better. I've seen bands with less artistic control on a small indie label than one on a major. The smaller labels usually have a much smaller budget, so of course they're concerned with the product they're putting out. They're all businesses and nothing more. Their goal is to make money just like any other business. And making money usually means that someone is getting screwed. HM - How do you spend all those endless hours on a bus touring on a day to day basis? BD - I wish we were in a bus right now.... We've scaled back this summer to a dodge sprinter which is comfy for the 1st five hours.... I guess I read a lot - work on my music, watch movies...the usual. I've tried doing my podcast once or twice when we were on the bus. That was interestin'. HM - You have had the opportunity to play shows with music legends. Whatâ€™s it like to stand on stage and play music with people who helped defined their genres of music? BD - Dunno... it's okay...I guess....la dee dah. Kidding. It's really cool. Hearing their stories is always cool. Most of them have been really cool to us. Warren (Haynes) was the most cordial person I think I've ever met. It always felt like you were at his house for a bbq or something and he'd be like "Hey, you want some more mashed potatoes, I could whip up some more for you." Just yesterday, Chris Robinson was telling us some hilarious stories about their dysfunctional tour with Metallica back in the early 90's.... He's telling us about touring with them, and I'm thinking how Metallica's black album tour was my first concert ever. I was like 15 or something....that realization was surreal for me. Meeting Willie Nelson on his bus takes the cake though. Let me just say the rumors are true. It's a geriatric clambake in there. From the nest... HornetMan