Bass Gear — Issue 11
Change Language:
Miles Mosley
Tom Bowlus

Tom Bowlus talks with the incomparable, and difficult to describe, Miles Mosley. This is one diverse and talented cat that you just need to see and hear for yourself.

We don’t do many player interviews here at Bass Gear Magazine, but when we do, we try to pick someone interesting, and then dig in a little deeper than what you might get elsewhere. For this installment, we feature Blast Cult endorsee, Miles Mosley, and believe me, folks, this is one interesting cat!

TB: For folks who may not be familiar with you and your work, let’s start with a bit of a primer on Miles Mosley. Your main instrument is upright bass, but some of the musical settings in which you present this instrument are fairly unique. How is it that you came to play the upright bass in the first place?

MM: It’s been a great journey so far. Thank you for taking the time to feature me in your magazine. The short version of my introduction to the upright is that in junior high school (age 13), I chose the instrument because it was the only string instrument you didn’t have to carry home with you. They would assign you a bass to care for, but didn’t expect you to lug it around on the school bus, which appealed to my lazier side at the time. It was good fortune – or dumb luck – that once I picked it up, I was inherently good at some of the instrument’s more challenging tasks.

TB: What unique challenges does the upright bass present to a player?

MM: For a beginner, the upright challenges your hand strength, muscle memory, and overall fortitude. There isn’t really a way to ease into the instrument. You have to dig in and bruise your hands if you want to play pizzicato and pull a good sound, and you have to develop a vice grip in your left if you want to move quickly and clearly with the bow. There’s so much joy to be unlocked in the instrument, but it’s not a soft start, like piano or drums, where some sort of musical sound is waiting for you on arrival.

TB: What are the unique advantages to playing upright?

MM: There are so many. I remember as a kid realizing that because humans hear harmony from the bottom up, the bassist is somewhat of a gatekeeper for how the music truly unfolds. If a full orchestra is playing a C major chord, and the bass section plays a low A, the chord is now A minor; the mode of the music has gone from bright and happy to ominous and dark, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it [smirks]. That’s an advantage for all bass instruments, I suppose.

Unique to the upright is its tonal variety. If you truly exploit its potential, the instrument has a percussive element to its plucked sound that no other instrument in the string family has – due to the amount of flesh you can place on the string. When you pull a sound, you get a low, almost sub-resonance under every note that the listener responds to; it is that character that has made the instrument invaluable to jazz and country music over the years. Arco (playing with a bow) can be both lush and warm, or powerful and full of momentum. Orchestral music in the 21st Century is using the aggressive sound of the bow on upright more than ever before; it is a feeling that we can evoke that is uniquely ours and universally understood.

TB: For any readers who might be wondering, you were, indeed, named after Miles Davis. Can you explain the inspiration, and why your parents chose to name you after him?

MM: My parents, Catherine and Jerry Mosley, are tremendous jazz fans from two ends of its spectrum. Miles Davis is the gold standard by which their love of the idiom met in the middle. My mother gravitated towards the more spiritual, “out-vibe” artists, like Yuseff Lateef and Pharoah Sanders, whereas my father liked things up the middle, like Cannonball Adderly, Oscar Peterson and Nat King Cole. The name Miles itself was appealing to my mother, because it couldn’t be shortened or “bastardized.” No one would start calling you Mi’ for short, or ‘Les. With a name like Miles, you are exactly as you were intended to be at all times.

TB: You started off playing mostly classical and jazz, right?

MM: Yes. I began my private studies at the Colburn School under David H. Young during his time with the L.A. Chamber Orchestra. After a number of years with him, I was introduced to John Clayton and began a more hybrid study with him for almost a decade.

TB: Tell us about your education and early growth as a musician.

MM: There was not much friction from my parents when I decided to prioritize the double bass in my life. My mother supported whatever I wanted to investigate, as long it was something that brought me joy and fortified my identity, and my father didn’t mind my pursuit, as long as I took it seriously, practiced hard and respected my teachers.

I was fortunate to attend great schools: The Hamilton Academy of Music in its prime with Dan Taguchi; The Colburn School of Music when it was in the USC Annex; and UCLA under Kenny Burrell and Gerald Wilson. However, the real gift was that during my time in these focused, well-funded institutions of music, I was plucked out to be a part of private programs like the Thelonious Monk Institute, brought to the west coast by Barbara Sealy and Bob Brodhead, who together, spearheaded a multi-faceted revolution in Los Angeles inner-city music education. I was part of the All-American Grammy Band, the Henry Mancini Institute, and a long list of other great programs that supported the artistic growth of kids in L.A. throughout the ‘90s.

It later proved fortuitous that I met Sealy and Brodhead. Not only did they guide me like guardian angels through university, they provided opportunities for me when I graduated to make a living and focus on my art. Barbara eventually created SB Music Management and took me under her wing, opening every door she could along the way. She also helped me to create and build my publishing company, Taming Bear Publishing. She’s the major reason I was allotted the time to cultivate the skill sets you are interviewing me about today. The accumulation of those opportunities meant I was able to study with Ray Brown, Al McKibbon, Roberto Miranda, Abraham Laboriel, and Paul Ellison, just to name a few.

These phenomenal people nurtured a natural skill set within me and catapulted me through many of the more daunting and tedious tasks attributed to playing the upright, allowing to me to be as creative as possible, as soon as possible. It was a wonderful time to learn music in this city.

TB: Tell us about some of your early influences, and what music gave you the most joy to play?

MM: Easy! Ray Brown. He was my focus during my formative years. I wanted to sound like him, think like him and model my career after him. I transcribed every solo and bass line from the lion’s share of his body of work. Early on, I treated classical music as a utility to teach my body to get out of the way of my brain. Although I have a passion for classical music that grows exponentially as I mature, jazz – the way Ray Brown played it – spoke to my unending desire to improvise and gallop through the groove. While my tunnel vision was set on sitting at the heels of the master, my parents’ home was filled with music that reached into different territories. I can almost smell now the fresh breakfast of Saturday morning being prepared when I think of my first experience with Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel, The Temptations, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell and all the other artists outside the jazz tradition that seeped into my lexicon growing up.

After about six years of strong focus on Ray, I began to branch out and found Charles Mingus, Christian McBride, John Patitucci, Edgar Meyer, and then the electric players like Jaco Pastorius, Steve Swallow, Victor Wooten, Michael Manring and Tony Levin. At some point, I felt like I was doing myself a disservice by not transcribing other instruments, so I dove into guitarists Charlie Christian, Paco De Lucia and Herb Ellis, and trumpeters like Snooky Young and Clarke Terry. It was this decision that boosted my dexterity and opened up the door to new concepts and possibilities I hadn’t previously considered.

TB: Have these influences changed over the years? Who are your current, or at least more recent, influences?

MM: My influences, as it pertains to the fundamentals of my instrument, haven’t changed that much. However, now that I use effects, and my compositions are a priority, they reach a lot further than instrumentalists. Melodically, Jorge Aragao from Brazil is fresh on my radar (he’s been around for a long time). Brazilian music has a command of melody and insinuating chord movement that is unmatched. As far as instrumentalists go today, I think the freshest ideas are coming from Kamasi Washington, Cameron Graves, Tony Austin, Ronald Bruner Jr., Brandon Coleman, Ryan Porter and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner – all of whom I perform with as part of a collective. There is an onslaught of talent coming out of Los Angeles that keeps me on my toes, musically.

TB: When did you first break out of the traditional mold, as far as what people expect to hear from a double bass player?

MM: The initial reason I plugged the upright bass into an effects pedal was the same reason we, as a community, plugged it into an amplifier 50 years ago – to be heard. My problem was simple. During a song in which a trumpet or saxophone is soloing, the intensity of the musicians backing them is limitless. The drums can smash and bash, the piano can comp heavily, the bass player can dig deep, and collectively, they can reach all peaks and valleys of their momentary experience. Then it’s time for the lowly bass solo. Horn players hit the bar for a drink, piano player plays upper register, single-hand suggestions at chord movement, the drummer takes a breather and dictates metronomic time on the hi-hat, and everything falls to hush. Don’t get me wrong, we all have seen our heroes masterfully pluck and pull their way through a carefully crafted solo, leaving the audience enthralled by the sheer feat of this giant, booming body moving with any grace at all. But I wanted to ROAR. I wanted to start from a quiet place, and have no perceivable end to what heights I could reach because of something as silly as volume.

The solution would prove to be tricky; three years’ worth of tricky. Eventually, it occurred to me that the problem was in the frequencies, more so than the volume, itself. The more “intensity” that a group of musicians play with, the more frequencies they emit, generally. Because the bass deals with the lower, slower-moving frequencies, they become harder to hear clearly as the intensity piles up, especially if you’re playing fast. Using effects to make the bass emit higher and more complicated frequencies allowed me to project a sound that would cut over a group of musicians playing more freely, harder, louder, and with greater dynamics. The goal wasn’t that it HAD to be loud; it was that it COULD be loud. Once I kicked open that gate, it was like running free through a field of new possibilities. I didn’t have any direct comparisons to troubleshoot against, so the sky was the limit. Anything was possible, because no one knew what wasn’t possible. It was trial and error, and error, and error. Then it worked.

TB: How would you describe your style and approach to the instrument?

MM: I value dynamics over everything else. As a bassist, I am the bridge between the rhythm of the drums and the harmony of the piano or guitar. I can utilize one to influence the other, and I am responsible for the rate at which those ideas are manipulated and conveyed to the audience. I also value the way in which the audience receives the music. As bassists, we provide the fundamental layer of harmony, the bottom. If we bombard the listener with that value for the entirety of a piece of music, it becomes more difficult to surprise them. I think that approach comes from my love of classical music. I’m not afraid to drop out, or save the big booming notes for the chorus of a song. When I am playing live, I think of it as producing a recording in real time. I try to use my dynamics to balance the other instruments in the band and only “take over” when I feel like the moment needs an exclamation point.

In my soloing, I’m attempting the same thing. I want to create a landscape for the listener to buy into, surprise them somewhere along the way, and really rile them up. There are times when I find it suitable to play something understated and mellow, but at this time in my career, with what I’ve unearthed with the pedal board, and the style of music I’m writing, I’m usually aiming to rip the roof off the place by the end of the solo. When it’s time for me to take the spotlight for a solo, I am internally combative, competitive. I want to keep my mind and body out of the way so that I can act on impulse effortlessly.

TB: I got a laugh out of your comments on your webpage about playing “cello.” In one of my bands, I double on electric and upright, and I’ve heard more comments about my “cello” or “that big violin” than I have heard people correctly identify the instrument as a double bass, upright, or even “doghouse.” Why do you think that the upright bass is so difficult for people to correctly identify?

MM: I think it’s purely a generational problem. If you were walking through the streets of America with your instrument between 1930 and 1960, I don’t think there would have been anyone who didn’t know you were holding a upright/double/string bass. It was seen regularly in the popular music environments, so people knew what it was. These days, people see cello and violin more often than upright bass, and when they do see a bass, they see an electric bass. I don’t mind it so much. Even when people do know it’s an upright bass, by the time they’ve finished watching me play, they usually aren’t sure anymore. It’s a re-education that I’m happy to be a part of.

TB: Do you play any other instruments?

MM: I have “composer chops” on the piano and guitar. I know a lot about drums, but don’t play them well. I play a mean hi-hat, though. It’s important to learn other instruments beyond just the theory of them.

TB: You also have one helluva voice. Tell us about your approach to vocals.

MM: I’m always a bit shy about that part. I’ve learned to love singing. It started off as a way to keep people’s attention long enough to get them to listen to the bass solo (laughs). On my first few records, I hadn’t really spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of it. I hold singers in high regard and don’t consider myself to be a “singer,” like Nat King Cole, or Otis Redding, but I’ve found my voice, and as it continues to grow, I rely on the strength of the melody and the words to carry me through the song. I’m happiest with my vocal performances when I “talk” to the audience and convey an emotion or idea in a powerful and direct delivery. Playing bass and singing at the same time is its’ own co-ordination issue, but I find that it helps me deliver the vocal melody more succinctly and has taught me an enormous amount about being a bassist behind a vocalist. I’m so happy I began this journey and enjoy learning more about it everyday.

TB: Do you come from a musical family? Does anyone else in your family play an instrument?

MM: My parents don’t play any instruments, although my Dad will tell you a funny story about him playing clash cymbals in band as a kid, and mother can sing angelically tight harmonies ONLY to Beatles songs. I have uncles that were Photo by Peggy DeRose ....professional musicians, so I think somewhere in the family tree, the ability was harnessed and passed down to me.

TB: Hearing you solo, or playing in the BFI (Brute Force and Ignorance) duo setting, with just Tony Austin (drums), is a very different experience from listening to your studio recordings with a full band (featuring horns, guitar, etc). I thoroughly enjoy both flavors, but I wonder if you bring a different approach to the two performance settings.

MM: They are two completely different states of mind for me. When I have the power of the full band behind me, I am open to receiving information in the moment from the different members of the group. From a compositional aspect, I’m looking to unleash energy from different musical textures, be it strings, or horns, or the rhythm section. When I am writing and performing with the full group, I have all these brilliant safety nets in place, and I sit on top of it and guide it along. I pick my moments more carefully on the bass, because I don’t want to overload the audience with information. When I am performing solo or with Tony, I feel a greater responsibility harmonically and energetically, coupled with a vast sense of flexibility. Tony and I tend to live and die by the sword in those performances; there’s no coasting or differing of responsibility. Each of us has to aim true in order to make an impact. This means that I have to carry a heavier load of harmonic movement, and orchestrate my resources on the upright so that the song can build carefully and effectively. It’s like playing basketball on a team, as opposed to street ball 2-on-2. The audience has a much clearer vision of what is going on, so the response in the room touches me a lot more directly.

TB: The first time I heard you (with Tony) at the 2012 NAMM Bass Bash, you took me completely by storm. I think every jaw in the room was on the floor. What was that first tune you played? It’s on the video linked your webpage, and it’s definitely one of my favorites.

MM: This tune is called The Mighty HRP. It was written in the same manner, lyrically, that Bob Dylan sometimes uses in which each lyrical phrase is written to be interesting in and of itself, and not necessarily contribute to the entire context. The interesting thing about writing in this manner is that when you’re all done, you tend to find that it begins to take on some kind of open meaning for the listener. I really like that song. It’s my managers favorite song that we play in the BFI duo setting. This song was composed specifically for this NAMM performance, as well. I take my NAMM performances seriously. To me, it’s an opportunity to show the bass community what I’m thinking about, working, and exploring. It’s one of the few instances in the year where I’m surrounded by my peers and can exhibit my passion for this instrument we all love. It was a very clear decision to me to decide to perform in the duo setting, as opposed to the full band, because I wanted to challenge myself to strip away the safety nets and perform captivating ideas on the upright the way a guitarist or pianist does. The audience was great, Tony is a magician, and the duo is one of my favorite parameters to perform within.

TB: It looked like you were having a lot of fun at that show.

MM: There is no greater joy than stepping on a stage and changing the way people process their old ideas. At this point in my career, my audiences are still made up of two kinds of people. The first has no idea what’s coming. They see an upright bass and they have their immediate ideas about what kind of sound it makes and what kind of music it is associated with. The second is usually standing next to them saying “Man! Wait till you get a load of THIS!” I’m fortunate to have found something that I enjoy sharing with audiences, and in turn, audiences enjoy sharing with their friends. Fun is an understatement.

TB: How long have you and Tony been playing together? You two convey a real sense of “musical symbiosis.”

MM: It’s a full circle story, really. Tony also grew up in Los Angeles. When we were in high school, my (now) managers, Barbara Sealy and Bob Brodhead, put together an honor band, of sorts; a jazz combo that did a couple of performances in big venues for the non-profit organization they ran back then. They were also mentors of Tony – he was on drums, and I was on bass. We were aware of one another ever since, and would do shows here and there, just being in the scene. I was working on a new sound and reached out to Tony to replace a cat that moved to New York, and we hit the ground running. Not only is he a phenomenal drummer with facility and musicality, he’s equally matched as an engineer and producer! He has a serious command of electronics and the science of sound. He’s been an invaluable contributor to the sounds I’ve come up with on the bass, and is equal parts producer and engineer in the recordings I make today.

We have certainly attained a symbiotic approach to music at this point. I think we’ve created a sound together that is unified and robust, because our execution on stage is fortified by our desire to be un-paralleled. The “magic” we have together comes from the long relationship – which cannot be learned. It just is!

TB: This past NAMM Show, I had the pleasure of hearing you and Djordje Stijepovic play at the Blast Cult party. It looked like you were having some fun there, as well.

MM: That was not planned or rehearsed; we picked a key and went for it! I am a huge fan of Djordje and the legion of “slap” upright players out there. I’ve carved out a lane for myself on my instrument, and I enjoy learning about it every day. However, slap is not something I’m very good at. I understand the technique behind it, but, try as I may, I can’t do it at their level. Being able to duet with him, with such a broad spectrum of what’s possible on the upright bass being exhibited all at once, was something I had a “blast” doing. He definitely shares my work ethic; always searching for the next step in his technique.

TB: Let’s talk a bit about Blast Cult. As you know, we’re featuring a Blast Cult factory tour and two Blast Cult reviews in this issue. What a cool company! Tell us how you first became associated with Jason Burns and Blast Cult.

MM: I really hope I can convey my gratitude to Jason and his team for what they’ve done for my musical dreams. Imagination can only take you as far as the tools you have to realize it. If you strip away my Blast Cult One4Five, and my pedal board, I’m still an accomplished bassist. I am the sum of my efforts, thus far. However, with that instrument in my hands, I am limitless. Instead of standing at the edge of what I have accomplished, I am at the beginning of what may come.

A mixing engineer named Jon Griffin, who did my 2005 release Bear, was attending that year’s NAMM show. Having just finished working on my record and seeing some of the trouble I was having with my bass, he was on the lookout for anything that could help my ideas cut through the mix better. He stumbled across their booth and called me. He said, “These guys are making a bass that may be your answer; seems like they’re mostly into rockabilly right now, but they’re really cool and you should call them.” I looked into it, took a visit to their workshop and met Jason. He’s my “mad scientist.” There is no “can’t-do” in him. He believes in my skills, and I believe in his vision. It was a perfect match at the time, and has grown stronger everyday.

TB: I’ve heard you speak about the limitations which your chosen instrument had placed upon you, as far as the size of venues you could play. Large, resonating instruments don’t normally play well on big stages with massive PA’s and subs located under the stage. Tell us a bit more about this.

MM: For all intents and purposes, the body of an upright bass is an acoustic amplifier. Its job is to project the sound swirling inside of it. The problem with large stages, especially those with subs underneath, is that the amount of sound on stage and the rumbling underneath from the subs travel inside the bass through the f-holes – or up the end-pin – and create a feedback loop that makes it so that the sound you intend to make is being over-powered by outside forces. This is a newer problem, because until 1960, there was no dedication of speakers to sub-amplification. It is now commonplace, and popular music uses a wider range of frequency than ever before. It was common practice for upright bassists to stuff the f-holes with material to keep sound out, and though it works poorly, it was the best option for many years.

The idea of certain stages or venues being a “problem” is also genre-specific. For the most part, classical music and jazz is not performed at a problematic volume. So, if you go to Disney Hall to see the LA Phil, or the Hollywood Bowl to see a Jazz Festival, the engineers and performers are dealing with a comfortable decibel level on stage to ensure that everything is heard well. With new styles of music come new innovations and challenges. Rockabilly players have to compete with blaring guitars and banging drums. Some of us play in hip-hop groups that have 808 samples for bass drums. There is a litany of new information on stage that our uprights have to process, combat and deal with. Until Blast Cult hit the scene, the choice was between DIY solutions that were hit or miss, or the resolution to switch to a solid-body bass.

TB: Exactly; and obviously, some folks are going to suggest that you switch to an electric upright bass (EUB), or electric bass guitar, or something else that doesn’t feature a big resonating body. But for a lot of players, not only the proportions, but also the vibrational characteristics of the upright bass are crucial for their performance. Do you find this to be the case, as well?

MM: Anybody who plays upright knows that it’s about muscle memory. There are no frets or visual reminders as to where the notes are. This means that your arms, elbows, shoulders, hips, fingers and wrists use the physical proportions of the bass to “remind themselves” where the notes are. If you’re not a bassist, think about how you access the wallet in your back pocket. You know where it is not because you look and see. You know where it is because you have trained your arm and wrist to move a specific direction and distance each time to retrieve it. Adversely, your “Grandma Maybelle” takes the better part of an hour to find her wallet because it’s “somewhere” in her purse. Switching to EUB is a perfectly suitable solution to the feedback problem, except everything you’ve practiced for the last 20 years would be out the window. Not only will the notes be in a different place, but there won’t be the same physical reminders as to where they might be. So you’d have to use your eyes like Grandma Maybelle, and not your muscle memory.

The next issue is intonation. Each note or chord vibrates your acoustic instrument in a specific manner. The longer you play your instrument, the more you subconsciously attribute the feeling of it’s vibration to your hard-earned intonation. EUB’s don’t have the vibration of acoustic instruments, so you’d have to learn all of the subconscious tools from scratch. I have owned, performed and recorded with EUB’s. Some of them have a great sound to them. However, I don’t use it as a substitute for upright. It’s a completely different instrument.

TB: How were you able to work with Jason to develop an instrument that would remove the conventional limitations of the upright bass and free you to play any size stage or venue?

MM: Well, Jason and his team were already hard at work solving that problem years before I showed up. I’d say that what I brought to the table was a perspective that they hadn’t previously considered. At the time I met Jason, his focus was on creating basses that were impervious to feedback while being played pizz and slap, while maintaining the acoustic sound we all know and love. I introduced a different set of challenges with arco and effects. Now, the bass had to not only deal with warding off troublesome low frequencies, it had to deal with complicated distorted or sweeping frequencies, as well.

Another focus of ours was making sure the instrument had a classical and jazz feel to it for players like me who pride themselves on their dexterity and want a really responsive, fast instrument. Working with Jason to that end was exciting and special for me. It was the same process of trial and error combined with ingenuity that I think you find in the birth of all successful products and innovations.

TB: What special modifications or features pertain to your Blast Cult bass? How does it differ from the “typical” One4Five?

MM: My bass is a stock One4Five in all aspects except two features that can be requested upon purchase. I have two adjustable sound posts, instead of one, to provide some extra defense on the big stage and against certain aspects of my pedal board, and I have a custom fingerboard that was modeled after my 250-year-old German upright bass. The fingerboard is unique, because it is really thin. That property allows me to have both high action when I dig in, and low action when I play softer and faster. Essentially, because it is thin, it acts as a springboard, as I play, it constantly adjusts itself to the proper height.

TB: Do all of these modifications which help your bass resist unwanted feedback also have a negative impact on those vibrational characteristics we talked about?

MM: Absolutely not. Since the instrument maintains the classic proportions of an upright, the impact of each note’s resonance vibrates the bass in the same manner. The modifications allow for the bass to produce and amplify the instrument’s tone without interference from the outside world. It’s self-contained, so to speak. But to be fair, I will say this: although the One4Five can be setup to be a great, purely acoustic instrument, most of us already have an upright that creates an acoustic tone we’re happy with. My old German upright creates a sound that is so beautiful, I have yet to hear another I prefer. If I was going to perform or record a sonata in a private setting, it’s what I would use, hands down. I wouldn’t take my old German upright on the road, I wouldn’t take it to a bar, I wouldn’t play it at a festival, and I DEFINITELY wouldn’t plug it into an amp. It’s too delicate for that.

The Blast Cult bass is a workhorse. The purpose is to plug it in, achieve the characteristics of the acoustic that we appreciate, and be able to project those qualities – uninterrupted – at any volume you want. In the process of doing that, if some bumbling person walks by and trips on it or spills his beer, it will remain unharmed. If the festival director rushes you on stage and gives you a 15- min line-check for the front of house guy who doesn’t know the first thing about upright, it’ll clearly sound like your beloved upright when the curtain pulls back. You will find that it will become your main instrument over time, because in the 21st Century, most of us are performing in venues and situations that are not ideal for purely acoustic, mic-only instruments. Furthermore, if you take your prized upright, rig a pick-up on to it and plug it into an amplifier, it may sound like a lot of things, but it will NOT sound like that upright when it is purely acoustic. So, why risk it? Why not get something that was designed to sound great through an amp, and to survive the Apocalypse and anything else your weekly gig or tour can throw at you?

TB: What has your relationship with Blast Cult meant to you and your career?

MM: It’s meant a lot! Without Blast Cult, I probably would have prematurely rested on my laurels after some time, and felt that I had hit some sort of a ceiling with my playing. Because of the tools that Jason and Martin created, I’m only just beginning to harness my potential of expression through the upright bass.

TB: Tell us about your other gear. I know you play a bunch of MXR pedals...

MM: I use MXR Bass Innovations, Jim Dunlop, and Way Huge pedals on my board. They receive information from the upright bass in a way that is very appealing to me. The tricky part about using pedals on upright is that there are a lot of overtones being sent through the pedals, at times. This makes the pedals react in ways that they may have never been tested for. The MXR/Dunlop/Huge family of pedals are built tough and with “warmth and saturation” at their heart. I went through a lot of “boutique” pedals that sounded good, but couldn’t withstand the beating I gave them every night. When you play upright with pedals, you have to move very quickly to turn things off and on so that you can maintain your role as “Bass- Player-In-A-Band,” while still expressing this new journey you’re on. A lot of the boutique pedals have these tiny switches that I can’t get to, because bending down while holding an upright is a challenge. On the other end, I found that extensively digital pedals tended to “track” the signal from upright in an unmusical way.

The MXR/Dunlop/Huge pedals are built the oldschool way, with new-school ideas. The Dunlop Volume Pedal is the only volume pedal that has survived more than a year on my board; it’s built like a tank and has the least amount of moving parts possible to accomplish the task. The MXR Bass Octave tracks better than any other octave pedal out there, and gives you the option to mess with the tone of the octave it creates. This really opens up the sonic character of your octave sound. I use it on every song, at some point. The Way Huge Pork Loin and Red Lama are awesome upright bass distortion/drive pedals. They were designed for guitar, but because of their subtlety, they keep your low end intact and add the distortion to the higher frequencies without losing any clarity, like most “bass distortion/OD” pedals do. The Way Huge Super Puss and Aqua Puss are easily at the top of the heap when it comes to analogue delay. Jeorge Tripps is a brilliant man. MXR and Dunlop have a wonderfully passionate team working over there, particularly Darryl Anders. Not only has he been incredibly supportive and informative, he has treated me like a friend and offered his resources to me in any way that might advance my career. They’ve all been very kind to me as I’ve rummaged through each and every pedal trying to figure out what they all do when connected to an upright.

TB: What is your favorite effect?

MM: I’d have to say the Dunlop 105Q Bass Wah. No matter what effect I use, I usually end up using the Wah to sweep around and carve the sound into the mix of the band, act as the “vowels” in a melodic line, or make a certain effect pedal react differently to the amount of gain or frequency it’s going into.

TB: As a kid who started out playing classical music in orchestra, another comment of yours that I enjoy is that “you’re not a real upright bass player unless you can play with a bow.”

MM: Well, I have to say that Al McKibbon told me that when I was young. Not learning to play with the bow would be to ignore the potential of your instrument. I don’t see why anyone would want to limit themselves like that. Additionally, the process of improving your bow work also helps your left hand accuracy and intonation, and generally gives you a command of the instrument from top to bottom. The bow can be used in any genre and creatively at any moment. When I was on tour with Jonathan Davis (Korn) I used the bow with distortion and a bass octaver to create huge multi-guitar sounding pads in the choruses of the songs. It was because of my variety of sound that I was able to land that gig, and many more like it. The bow is how you make the bass sing. If you want to have a longer expression or sustain ideas in your solos, I suggest devoting the time to bow work.

TB: Let’s talk about your songs. What inspires you as a song writer?

MM: It is my hope that my songs have universal themes that people can latch onto. I try to convey my own frustrations and joy in a way that may be relatable to others. Lyrics are important to me. I want to represent an element of my generation that is thoughtful. Compositionally, I tend to gravitate towards music that has contrast and dynamics; I want there to be a journey within each song.

TB: Around the time of the 2012 Bass Bash, you were giving away digital downloads of your album, Bear, for free. What were your thoughts with regard to giving away your music for free?

MM: Bear was made in 2005. The album was kind of a victim of my own success, because the year it was finished, I hit the road on a series of tours with other artists for several years straight. So I was never able to properly promote and release it. I wanted to create an incentive for people to introduce themselves to my music, while building my fan base in preparation for my new album, Roar, which will be coming sometime this year. The promotion worked great while it lasted, and helped spread my sound to continents I couldn’t reach immediately through touring. Although I outgrow my own records very quickly and am always modifying my sound to my newest abilities, I’m still proud of the work I put out and enjoy sharing that with people.

TB: Regarding Bear, your cover of Voodoo Chile certainly stands out. You make Hendrix just seem so “right” on a double bass.

MM: The art of the covering a song is something I’ve always gravitated towards. I’m picky with the ones I cover, but when I do, I try to turn it upside down a bit. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) was a great way for me to introduce people to what I am doing on the upright. It eases people into hearing my sound. We all know Voodoo Chile so well that hearing it done on the upright with effects is both awesome and comfortable, and then at the end of it, I tied in Zepplin’s Kashmir, that had the same result to me. It is important to me to recognize and honor those who came before me, so that I can move forward from where they left off. Jimi kicked open a door we all have walked through since; it was my way of showing some respect.

TB: Another favorite of mine from Bear is Back It Up. I challenge anyone to listen to that song the whole way through without tapping their toes or fingers to the beat. Catchy vocals, too!

MM: “You want a dude who’s a millionaire/ I want a dime with a law degree/ not likely anyone here anytime soon’s gonna find either of the two/ so let’s make the best of it/ cheers to the hell of it/ here, take a sip of my drink/ alcohol at my place is always free/ conveniently located down the street/”

My way of saying “Hey, we may not find what we’re looking for tonight, but we’ve found each other, so let’s call that ‘close enough’ for now and start dancing and enjoying ourselves while we can.” [Laughs] It’s a young man’s story, for sure. The groove has that P-funk vibe to it. I still get the party jumping when I pull that one out. Its sentiment, though delivered in jest, is sincere.

TB: Your single, Guantanamo, is a powerful tune. Do I hear a little Rage Against the Machine influence in there?

MM: During one of my tours around the world, I had a stint where I was on the same bill as Rage for a number of shows. I hold them in high esteem. Hearing that trio produce that muscular of a sound for the first time made me rethink what level of energy was possible on a stage. I had recently been told a story about how my Grandfather fought his way to freedom in this country, and felt that it went well with that sound. So, I began experimenting with capturing some of the Rage Against the Machine energy with different instrumentation. It’s an action-packed tune.

TB: You gave me an opportunity to preview the material from your up-coming album, Roar. Thank you for sharing this music with me. I really enjoyed it! One facet that stands out is that the vocals on Roar are your strongest yet. Is this the result of natural maturation in a singer’s voice, or did you specifically focus on this development?

MM: I’ve spent some time over the last few years training as a vocalist. I worked with Nick Cooper, who is a world-renowned vocal coach. His method was perfectly suited for me. He focused on teaching me how to first capitalize on my natural talking voice. He provided me with fundamentals that allowed me to sing powerfully and confidently, without hurting my voice. He’s a very specialized teacher who doesn’t try and teach you to sound the way you THINK you want to sound. Instead, he teaches you to sound the way you NATURALLY sound.

When it came time to record the album, I worked with Patrice Quinn – who is my favorite modern singer. She helped me with phrasing and conveying the lyric with emotion. All the final touches were run through my manager, Barbara, who won’t admit she’s a good singer, but she is. She knows how to make melodies stick in people’s head, and she made sure all decisions I made on the album represented my strong suits in a live performance area, as well. Singing is new to me, in comparison with how long I’ve played bass. I’m still studying it and growing. The process of bolstering a new skill set feels more comfortable as a team sport for me.

TB: It also sounds like you are either using more effects on Roar, or else letting them shine through in the mix a bit more. Is this the case?

MM: I’ve learned a lot more about effects since the last record. My voice on the bass, especially when I’m soloing, is a lot more attached to my pedal board than before. Although the musical phrases are coming from the same traditions I was brought up on, I am modifying and extending them with the board. Because it has become a signature sound for me, it is pushed a bit hotter in the mix.

TB: I presume that is still Tony Austin on drums? I don’t know if you recorded the drums differently, or just gave Tony a bit more room to spread his wings, but that is some inspired drumming!

MM: That is Tony, indeed. He and I sat down in pre-production of this record and decided that there would be no “stock beats” on any of the songs. This didn’t mean that the drumming had to be overly complicated, but it had to be, as you said, “inspired” by the song, as opposed to standard-issue time keeping. Tony is a tremendously musical drummer, and he’s got cannons he can let loose at the drop of a hat. He and I thrive on combating mediocrity. We wanted to take this opportunity to show that great, freespirited drumming – much in the tradition of jazz – can play a service within a more commercial context. Tony being a great engineer helped in carving out room, sonically, for him to support the dynamics of the song.

TB: I love the Latin/South American groove and vibe of Fire. What was your inspiration?

MM: I am heavily influenced by the music of Brazil and Latin America. My goal for that song was to combine the timbau rhythms of Brazil, the piano driven influence of Latin America, and the sheer scope and size found in Mahler and Rachmaninoff, with a good ol’ North American Club Banger [laughs]. It’s a leviathan.

TB: My favorite track off of Roar is More Than This. That song covers a lot of ground, musically, and I just love the lyrics. Very impressive!

MM: More Than This is one of my favorite songs, too. Lyrically, that song feels “complete” to me. As a composition, it takes a number of interesting turns on its way to the big finish, and the bass solo on it is one of my favorite on the album. I made sure not to box that song in too much. Most of the songs on Roar are great for radio – they are well-timed and get to the point – but More Than This was a song that needed a little more spin time to say everything it needed to say. I’m grateful to all the musicians who went the extra mile to make it turn out so passionately.

TB: I am a big Fishbone fan. Tell us about touring with Angelo Moore as both a bassist and Musical Director.

MM: Angelo, the lead singer of Fishbone, did a solo tour through France for which I was the opening act. He also used my band to back him up, and I was his musical director for that time. It was a great opportunity to reach the fans in France. Angelo is a truly gifted singer and front man. The music I was playing at that time was a more raucous kind of jazz that complimented what he was doing in his solo project well. I enjoy doing tours where I can be both musical director for the artist and the opening act. I think it’s a creative way for solo artists to work together and get more mileage out of their tours and reach wider audiences.

TB: As the father of an 11-year old and a 9-year old (and as a fan, myself), I have to mention The Muppets. You had a composition featured in the movie. Tell us about how you became involved in this project.

MM: That was an exciting opportunity for me. Disney’s Muppets commercial campaign was a series of spoofs and homages to all kinds of “movie trailers.” For one of the trailers, I was asked to re-imagine the Trent Reznor cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song that he produced for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I grew up with The Muppets and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of that world in anyway possible. The song turned out great, and my music was nominated and won a couple of awards for the campaign. Composing and producing music for film and TV has been something I’ve always been enthusiastic about. I feel like I understand the medium. My own music has a lot of cinematic qualities to it, and as I’ve built a career in film and TV, making custom cues and scores comes very naturally to me. Since The Muppets, I’ve done a lot of work in the commercial trailer business and continue to enjoy the unique challenges it presents to composing and producing.

TB: In addition to being a musician, vocalist and a song-writer, you are also an accomplished producer, composer, and arranger. How do you juggle all of those roles and responsibilities?

MM: I’m lucky to have a great support system in my team, who help me juggle everything I do. Although each of those skills you mentioned blend into one another, at times I find that each takes a devotion of time and effort in order to be proficient at it. I am, by nature, a very organized, task-driven person, I’m good at setting aside time in each day to study and improve my different skill sets. I learn the most when I transcribe the masters. To play bass, I learned great bass lines note for note. To learn songwriting, I studied lyrics and learned the chord movement of classic songs. To be a producer, I deconstructed WHY songs sounded the way they did on an album. I devote days to tinkering with plug-ins and gear and pedals. It’s all part of one big pot. I don’t want to be a jack-of-all-trades, king-of-none. I’m always seeking the common thread between each skill and putting in the time to make sure they all stay sharp.

TB: You seem to have an affinity for comic books and video games, and what’s more, you’ve been able to cross over into these genres a bit. Tell us about this.

MM: I have a deep passion for video games. They’ve always tickled my senses. Role-playing games appeal to my organizational brain, and fighting games or sports games appeal to my competitive side. Growing up with Nintendo, I loved the theme songs to games like Zelda, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, Excite Bike and Street Fighter. When I began building my career as a composer, I kept begging my manager Barbara [smile] to help me get into the video game scene. She let me devote valuable time to some smaller projects in order to break into that world. I think we both realized that, on top of it being important to my inner-child [laughs], it was a lucrative aspect of the music business that should be explored and commanded by artists who truly love the genre. In the past couple of years, I’ve done work for Resident Evil 6, Dead Island, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Street Fighter 4, Transformers and more. I look forward to doing many more!

TB: What activities do you enjoy outside of the musical world? Or don’t you have time for anything else?

MM: I’ve got tunnel vision. I take breaks sometimes during the day to watch a movie, but I usually end up transcribing its score. I’ll pick up the joystick and play Street Fighter, but I’ll end up thinking of new ways to modify the music within the game engine to get it to be more dynamic during gameplay. It all leads back to music, each time. I’ve been given a gift and an opportunity to do something great with it. Maybe one day I’ll reach a point in my career where I can take things a little slower, but right now, I have a strong work ethic and I want to do whatever I can to reach my audience in all of its different capacities, be it albums, touring or film and TV licensing.

TB: What is next for Miles Mosley?

MM: Overall, my focus is to have my music reach the general masses, both here at home and internationally. Many people have labeled me a “jazz musician,” which to be fair, is where I started out. Yet, ever since I’ve unlocked the full potential of my instrument and continued to grow as a songwriter, I’ve evolved, and am able to compose over multiple genres. I am enjoying this moment in time where I can be a blend of my influences and express myself broadly within a commercial context. I no longer sound directly like anyone else out there, like I did in high school with Ray Brown. But yet, that time spent studying the masters, while always looking forward, has made it so that i appeal to both young and older audiences. My fan base is comprised of rock, R&B, pop, soul AND jazz fans from over 100 countries! Being able to successfully portray that in a recording, without it sounding “confused,” was something I paid close attention to while working on my new album Roar. We are currently in talks with a couple of major labels that are listening to it now. They have met with me and have shown positive interest. Hopefully, Roar will be released this fall, once my team and I can land on the right deal, which is very close at the moment.

I’ve been fortunate to successfully compose for film and TV over the last two years. My music has been used in film trailers, documentaries and video game projects from Warner Bros, Disney, Dreamworks, Relativity Media, Koch Entertainment, and more. Two film trailers through Buddha Jones won awards last year for my music, and I recently heard that another one is up for an award this year. I also made a recent deal (along with Tony Austin) with Kid Simple Publishing and Viacom, where my music cues will be utilized for Viacom’s Network of shows. I create custom-made music for a lot of these projects, but I’m also planning to have the new songs from Roar eventually land in this medium as a way to promote the album, and expose new audiences to my sound.

TB: Finally, what advice would you offer up to a young (or perhaps not so young) musician starting off on their musical career?

MM: I’ll give you a couple of phrases my teachers and mentors taught me along the way that stuck with me:

Learn and solidify the fundamentals. Everything else is a variation on the foundation of those techniques.

If you don’t know how to play a certain style of music or song, you’re not allowed to say you “don’t like it.”

It’s better to buy quality gear infrequently, than cheap gear all the time.

Ultimately, it’s the driver, not the car. Sing what you play.

Even if your passion is to be a sideman, start a little project of your own. The lessons learned through the process of organizing your own project will make you a more responsible and durable sideman.

The time you have put into mastering your instrument is worth something. Don’t under-value yourself.

Don’t chase fame; chase excellence.

Study the business of music, read about it, know as much about the ins and outs of what makes this business tick, and then get proper representation to handle it for you, so you don’t have to. Be ready for opportunity – even if you can’t afford, or are not ready for, a lawyer or manager, research the ones you want to represent you; then when your opportunity arises, you won’t make rushed or bad choices. It’s a marathon, not a race. Some of us are given the gift of musical ability and are able to profit and live off of it. Others are given the gift simply to enjoy it – only time will tell. Either way, it’s special, it’s a blessing and it’s yours.

Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

TB: For more information about Miles and his music, check out his webpage at, www.milesmosley.com.
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