Interview - Marc Rogers
Marc Rogers is a Toronto-based session bassist, producer, and arranger. Some of the artists he has recorded/performed with are Rachel Platten, Nelly Furtado, Chantal Kreviazuk, Nikki Yanofsky, Norah Jones, The Philosopher Kings, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Lionel Richie, Bernard Purdie, K’naan, Al Jarreau, The Good Lovelies, Sarah Harmer, Gary Burton, Joe Lovano, Mike Stern, Mark Mclean, Robi Botos, Larnell Lewis, Terri-Lynn Carrington, Adam Rogers, Dave Binney, Holly Cole, and many more. He has written and recorded on soundtracks for movies (Journey to the Center of the Earth, Two Weeks, Frankie and Alice, etc), television (including Sliders, Highlander, Sue Thomas: FB Eye), and video games (including EA Sports' NBA Live, Need for Speed, NHL Live). He has produced albums for artists including David Braid, Tia Brazda, Emma-Lee, Ash & Bloom, and Barbra Lica, and has composed jingles for Sears, Toyota, Samsung, and VISA among others.
What are some important musical and other lessons you've learned that you can pass on to aspiring bassists?
Firstly I feel that it's important to accept that throughout your musical life you will inevitably go through periods where you hate your playing, and this will happen regardless of how long you've been doing it or how hard you're working. Strange as it sounds this is usually a good sign, as it often means your ears, perception, and taste are improving faster than your actual playing...I've always believed that it was better to have great ideas you can't play yet than to have all the facility in the world and no ideas to express with it! My solution for dealing with those times is to keep working through it but keep an eye out for burnout...whenever that feeling of disengagement/dissatisfaction lasts longer than a couple of weeks I usually take it as a sign to take a few days off ASAP to recharge the musical batteries. It's also very important to maintain balance in your life, which means leaving time for healthy eating, exercise, meditation, and social time with friends/family. The music industry is more challenging than ever these days, and if you don't take care of your body and mind the long/irregular hours, frequent travel, and general stress will take a toll and stop you from reaching your full potential. I learned this lesson relatively late. I wish someone had pointed it out to me 20 years ago. :)
As far as on-instrument stuff it's very important to get your technique, tone, and timing together as soon as possible...learning good habits right away will save you hours and hours of re-learning and correcting later. Working with a good teacher to get the fundamentals in place first is very important and will help you immensely no matter which direction your creativity takes you later on!
I feel that transcribing is KEY to learning how to play well, to me playing music is very much about developing your instincts and there's no better way to do that than learning inside and out what your favourite musicians do and don't do in different situations. To those who are worried that transcription leads to unoriginality I would suggest that your own taste and personality will filter out all the elements that don't appeal to you and over time your own unique style will develop naturally...which is why I usually suggest transcribing a wide range of music as opposed to just one or two artists.
Playing with other people (preferably people who are better than you are) is also crucial as that's where you learn how to apply what you're working on at home to actual musical situations. To that end it's very important IMHO to always make sure you're not feeling the need to play everything you're currently working on in every situation just because you can...always put the music (and audience if there is one) ahead of your own ego as much as possible.
What are three of your favourite recordings that you consider essential for any bassist to check out?
Yikes what a tough question lol...I'm going to cheat a bit and divide this into electric and acoustic bass!
For electric bass I'd say the first essential album is 'Jaco Pastorius'...Jaco really turned the whole bass world on its head with this album and it still stands up today. I'd say the second un-missable electric bass album is D'Angelo's 'Voodoo'...besides Pino's unbelievable Neo-soul work on that album both Raphael Saadiq and Charlie Hunter's thumb lay down some ridiculous grooves. The third essential would have to be Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' album, which features the legendary James Jamerson at his finest as well as some of the overall best vocal performances ever captured on record.
For acoustic bass I feel that Ray Brown plays some of the best jazz bass ever on 'Sonny Stitt sits in with the Oscar Peterson Trio'...the bass intro on 'I Can't Give You Anything (but love)' is still one of my all-time favorites. Paul Chambers on 'Introducing Wayne Shorter' is also just amazing, I lifted every bass note on that album while I was at North Texas State. Finally, Christian McBride is just generally a beast but his playing on 'Fingerpainting: the music of Herbie Hancock' is still some of my favorite acoustic playing on record.
Please keep in mind that these are 6 of about 10 gazillion that I would consider 'essential'...there's so much great music out there, I encourage everyone to seek out as much as possible through friends, teachers, and the internet.
Can you share some practice ideas? What should aspiring bassists focus on? What worked/works for you? I realize this is a very broad question that varies with individuals' needs, but I'm looking for some general ideas, and in particular what worked for you.
Practicing is one of those things where the more things change, the more they stay the same over the course of your career...ideally you should always be working on things that you DON'T know how to play as opposed to just running over things you already have under your fingers. Regularity is also very important. You'll get more results doing a focused hour every day than from one or two 5-hour shed-a-thons per week. It's also VERY important to make sure that your ears, harmony, phrasing, and other musical aspects get equal attention to your hands. Again, it's great to have a ton of facility on the instrument but facility is pretty useless without any connection to emotion and musicality. To that end I often recommend doing a ton of transcription (see above), and when learning to play the thing that you've lifted make sure to also lift the phrasing, dynamics etc. so you get the full picture of what is happening. I also recommend transcribing at least some of what the other instruments are doing alongside the part you've lifted (especially any comping instruments) so the context for what you're transcribing is clear, otherwise there's a danger of possessing a ton of vocabulary without having any idea how or why it works.
Do you have any gear advice (specific pickups, strings, amps, etc. and what to look for)?
I really believe that gear is only useful as a tool to achieve your vision...it's important first and foremost to have a sound in your head that you're going for, and then learn everything you can about gear, technique, signal path etc. that will help you achieve that sound in reality. While I believe that the majority of good tone comes from your hands, trying a lot of different gear combinations is hugely important...swapping main instruments with a friend for a week, for example, will likely teach you both a great deal. I currently have 2 upright, 24 electric, and 3 synth basses, all of which perform a specific function in my overall 'tone palette' and all of which have drastically different setups depending on what I want them to do. Also don't be afraid to experiment with different string gauges, setup heights, etc. At the end of the day sounding the way you want to takes priority over what's 'normal' or 'correct'.
The other way I learned a lot about good tone production is through emulating my favorite bassists on albums as closely as possible, both playing and gear wise. For example, if you're a Paul McCartney fan, learning his basslines is great by itself but playing 'Come Together' on a modern-sounding 5-string through a digital amp is a VERY different experience from playing them on a Hofner with flatwound strings and a felt pick through a vintage optical compressor and Ampeg B-15 amp, and playing Paul Chambers solos with gut strings on your bass for the first time is nothing short of a revelation! There are a ton of great resources online that can help with this process, as can your teacher. Ultimately since tone is such an important part of one's playing any time you spend educating yourself about signal chains and tone production will be time well spent. Also engineers will LOVE you for it. :)
What's coming up for you and how can we follow you (website, social media, etc,)?
My main website is www.marcrogers.com, it's currently being redesigned and will be up and running soon. I'm also launching a new website, www.thebass.expert which is dedicated to my online bass tracking work (which has been picking up quite a bit the past few years), and I'll be launching a third site, www.thebass.guru later this year which will be dedicated to music education, online bass lessons, and will contain a bass forum for people to exchange tips/thoughts/etc.
Any other thoughts to pass along?
These questions were really tough but fun to answer, I really enjoyed reading the responses from the other bassists you interviewed. Thanks for providing this resource for people!