Miles Mosley - Upright Bass Brigade

Miles Mosley

Miles Mosley is the perfect embodiment of the modern bass player – sonically adventurous, can adeptly play a wide array of musical styles and is well-versed in social media networking. With such trademarks, it is not surprising that while Miles plays the upright bass, his vision for the instrument – and the role of the bass in general – is a bit “forward-thinking”:

“I think all of us, as bass players, are in tune with the fundamentals of a lot of different kinds of music. There’s no reason for us not to be leaders, be sidemen, be composers… The music industry’s changed so you have to change with it. It’s not as easy to be a one trick pony. You used to be able to do that! You can still but I find more comfort in having different irons in the fire. It’s not about being a jack-of-all trades. It’s actually about having different facets of your career.”

Recently on tour with Natasha Agrama – daughter of bass legend, Stanley Clarke – Mosley came to the Aguilar Artist Loft to discuss his use of effects to create bold new soundscapes, the challenges of amplifying the upright bass and his love of the “Aguilar sound”.


So Miles… what brought you to the bass?

I started playing bass when I was 13 through accident/laziness because it was the only instrument at school that I didn’t have to take home! But once I played the A string on the upright, it shook my foundations and I never played anything else. I started on upright; I stayed on upright. I eventually went to UCLA and studied with Ray Brown, John Clayton, Al McKibbon, Roberto Miranda and David Young - so I had both Classical and Jazz training.

One of your stylistic calling cards is the way that you use effects on upright bass; how did that approach come about for you?

I was performing a show in which I was doing what we as bass players do - make everyone else sound good! We comp behind vocalists and instrumentalists, we link up with the drummer, we build things into a fervor and keep the pocket locked down – and everybody claps for the soloist. But when it’s time for our solo… everybody leaves! It just seemed really unfair. So effects pedals helped make my solos as bombastic and as soaring as possible, so that I could then tell people “Go ahead and play – you’re not going to muffle me or drown me out.” I’ll just step on this pedal and I’ll be 6dB louder and off to the races!

The way you color the tone of your bass, it becomes much more a part of the music and not just a random sound effect. How do you incorporate effects without detracting from the song?

I think that we can responsibly play with pedals and do it in a way that is servicing the music and not your ego or your boredom. You can do things that people will find indispensable to their projects. You have to think of it not just “how do I make my bass sound cool” but “how do I make this song sound cool”. Pedals are not meant to be randomly stepped on and left on; you use them for “moments”. You use them for the four bars going into a chorus and then you take it off. You use them to accentuate a certain line the singer sings or a certain fill. If you think about it as a color and as something that is transitionary, it makes you a more complete musician in a lot of ways.

Do you internalize those sounds when you are playing?

I do. I hear those sounds when I’m soloing or playing; it’s not just an idea like “I wonder if it will be cool if I step on this”. I really hear my decisions before I make them and that’s a great way to re-wire your brain.

What are some of the challenges of playing the upright bass at concert volume?

Historically, upright bass players couldn’t get loud enough. That problem was solved with better amplification and decent pickups for uprights but nothing that truly pushed the sound accurately. And then if the amp, as well-equipped as it is, got too loud, the bass would feedback. So I understood that that was the first thing I had to solve in order to solve my problem!

I was finishing up a record and this engineer told me about a company called Blast Cult - a guy named Jason Burns - who was making Rockabilly basses. And he was like, “dude, this guy is standing in front of 8x10 cabs with the amp turned up to seven and no feedback!” Later that year I met Jason Burns and we talked and he made me my first Blast Cult bass – what they call the 145 model. And unless you’re trying to be irresponsible, it’s impervious to feedback.

Once I had the Blast Cult 145, a whole world of things opened up for me because I was able to start playing with wahs, distortions, octave ups, octave downs… That all came from getting the Blast Cult bass! It also made the bass easier to amplify since a bass with a good pickup system and a solid tone gives the amp the correct “information” so that it’s not all repair work!

How did the “Aguilar sound” become a part of your playing style?

The interesting thing about Aguilar, and the thing that I think makes it so superior, is that you guys have dialed in a tone that everybody likes when set at zero! Every bass player that I know that plays Aguilar has most of the knobs set flat! And that’s a tremendous homage and show of respect to the fact that you guys have figured out what bass sounds like! Everybody has something that they tweak one way or another but it’s not serious carving. I love that about it! I love that I can just walk onstage, set everything flat, kick up the bass a little bit and off we go. I think that people underestimate the fact that if you have to make too many EQ decisions, you’re compounding a problem that’s hard to fix.

So that’s what I respect the most – you guys figured out a way to amplify the sound of the bass (laughs)! Isn’t that amazing? It’s literal! Amplify the sound of the bass. Not change it – although you can if you want to – but not change it, not force it to be ‘something’; just amplify the actual sound of the bass. What a novel idea! Who would have thought that that’s what you’re supposed to do (laughs)?

What is one feature of the Tone Hammer 500 that you incorporate the most in your music?

I rely heavily on the Drive control. That’s a really easy way to - instead of boosting something in the mids - kind of saturate where the high-mids and lo-highs are kind of meeting to give a little character there. Which makes it feel like you’ve made an EQ change and you haven’t; you just made something stand out a little bit. When trying to dial in the rig in a room, before making EQ changes, I’ll actually turn the Drive knob anywhere between zero and noon – no more than that. Somewhere in there to see if that doesn’t give me or make the room act in a certain way and that usually does it! I love the Drive knob; I think it’s great. I actually EQ using that more than turning any of the other knobs!

You recently got one of our Chorusaurus pedals - what are your thoughts so far?

Like all of your pedals, it does a great job of keeping the low-end intact and I like that you can blend it. Plus the way it’s oscillating is very rich and consistent. You find sometimes in chorus pedals that the tone is thinner through certain frequencies as it passes over it and this is very consistent, very rich and thick-sounding. And that makes it one of the more unique chorus pedals ever because it’s been made for the lower-tones – or at least made to respect the lower-tones!

We first became aware of you from your BFI performance at Bass Bash a few years ago. Will an album be released from that project?

That project actually started because of NAMM! I was asked to be a part of the Bass Bash event and I had never heard of it before and didn’t want to bring the whole band out for something that might be a short set. So I decided to do it with a drummer and then it will actually be… Bass… Bash! I called Tony and said, “I have a few ideas for this; come out a day early to Blast Cult and we’ll rehearse this”. So we did it and that video of the set spread around a little and people started asking for that group! So the record – or at least an EP of original material – will be out later this year. I’m really looking forward to that, I just have to hunker down and focus on it!

Later this summer you will be on the road with Kamasi Washington in support of his album “The Epic” which features both you AND Thundercat on bass! Can you tell us a bit more about that album?

The Epic features a group we call the West Coast Get Down. The album has myself and Thundercat on it at the same time because it’s essentially two piano trios – piano, keyboards, two drummers, two bass players, four horns… and then there’s a full string and choir behind that as well… it’s massive!

Thanks for chatting with us Miles and we look forward to your upcoming projects!

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