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Derek Brown


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By Brent-Anthony Johnson  

Seattle’s Liquid Quartet has been pushing the envelope in the realm of post-King Crimson-meets-Grateful Dead jamminess for the past 3 years.  It all started when former Boulder, CO residents Derek Brown and Shane Sasnow met again while both were slogging through the Rainy City’s music scene.  In 2000 they joined forces with guitarist Linus McTweed and drummer Donovan Pfeifer, and they’ve been bringing their quirky, offbeat, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes absolutely hilarious brand of electric mayhem to the masses.  Their second release, Focus has just hit the streets, and it’s a must have for anyone who’s ever wondered, “what would fusion from Seattle sound like?” At the helm of the driven ensemble’s decisive cacophony is electric and acoustic bassist Derek Brown.  

Derek dances gracefully from fretted and fretless electric 5-string to acoustic contra bass with amazing ease.  While doing so, he also displays the unflappable nature of groove-riding bassists the world over - as he not only masterfully supports the quartet, but he also adds fills and lines that speak strongly to the band’s insistent brand of humor.  Derek’s edgy, slightly over-driven tone commands attention, and his fretted Status Graphite Stealth punches through the looping and swirling guitar duo of McTweed and Sasnow.  

I was able to hang with Derek recently and our conversation ran the gamut of topics for the few hours he was able to take out of his busy teaching schedule for this interview.  Derek holds a degree in English Literature from Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO, and he is also one of the easiest people to chat with in the world!  He’s another of the world’s thoughtful bassists, and his friendly disposition has aided in finding him on the road with a number of artists based in the Seattle area.  Here’s what we talked about…


BAJ:  What’s happenin’, D!  It’s good to have a couple hours to hang out with you.  Let’s begin by talking about your life from the moment you landed in Seattle, and what you’ve been doing since then!  

DB: Tony, thank you so much for talking with ME... I really appreciate the opportunity to be in this magazine, and also to spend time with an amazing bassist like yourself.  Let's see… I can tell you that since I landed in Seattle I haven't applied sunscreen to any extremity of my body. (laughter) Alright, but seriously, I haven't... I married my beautiful wife about a year and a half ago. She is really my biggest support system and I love her immensely. I've been working a lot on my tone. I've spent the last few years making connections in the singer-songwriter world, studying jazz, touring with various artists, recording albums. You know, the usual stuff.  

BAJ:  You began playing acoustic contra bass after your relocation.  Let’s talk about your specific studies and your general practice regimen – on both acoustic and electric.  

DB:  Well, my love for playing and listening to the bass has only deepened in my fairly new relationship with the contra bass. Playing acoustically has broadened my sense of melody and voice and grounded me in the traditional role of "the bottom end". I've also spent the past few years feeling very humbled physically and tonally. It takes a lot of effort just develop good tone and accuracy. Because of this, I've learned to pay closer attention to every note I play and to really put feeling behind what I deliver. It's kind of funny, because the first couple of years I performed with the contra bass it felt really awkward, and I always considered myself an electric player posing (as an imposter) on the acoustic. Now I have a hard time performing a gig without the acoustic bass.  

I guess I should talk a little about practicing now… Alright, enough babble! I really try to spread my time as generously as I can between the two instruments. Usually, I can only focus on one or the other, not because I want to… But because every day has it's time constraints and I don’t always have the ability to play acoustically. No matter which instrument I focus on, I usually spend at least an hour or two running through scales and modes on my electric. I wake up and spend at least 15 to 20 minutes warming up my right hand "only" with the metronome. I'll usually run chromatic scales up and down the fingerboard for another 10 to 15 minutes and then start into my scales in two octaves. I change the pattern depending on the day. A typical week might go something like this: Monday is Major, Tuesday is minor, Wednesday is Melodic Major and Minor, Thursday is Harmonic Minor, Friday is Diminished, Saturday is Whole Tone and Sunday is usually a day off. If I have time during the day, I'll focus an hour on learning something totally new… either by reading or using tablature. I'll then spend another hour learning a song that I like or spending time learning material for an upcoming gig.  

For the contra bass I operate similarly. I'll spend a half hour working on right hand bow technique and warming up my fingers, then I'll run scales in two octaves with the French Bow. I really like Rufus Reid's The Evolving Bassist. That is by far one of the greatest studies for both acoustic and electric basses. I also like to spend about an hour a day listening to classical music. It allows me to hear (for the most part) what good intonation sounds like, and how the bass works as a melodic accompaniment to the cello, viola and violin. I also love listening to players like Edgar Meyer and Yo Yo Ma. They open my ears.  

BAJ:  If I’m not mistaken, you’ve just finished a tour with a Seattle local.  What was that about, and tell us about that experience!  

DB:  Yes, I just finished a tour with singer-songwriter Brad Warren. He's the founder and President of the NW Folklore Society and an amazing guitarist as well ( Every few months we take a little journey down the coast to California and back. We're usually gone a week and a half to two weeks at a time and mostly play house concerts and small venues in the Bay Area and as far south as Santa Cruz. He's had some mild success selling songs to "real" performing artists who are "signed". I always have fun playing with him.  

The best part of the trip though was meeting a woman named Erika Luckett! ( She's an amazing artist who was born and raised in South America, mostly in Brazil, and has an incredible amount of life and energy. She's one big ball of song and love!!! I've recently hit the road with her and I should be touring across the country for a good portion of the summer months. So, things are going pretty well with me in that respect right now!  

BAJ:  You’ve been playing more sessions in the past couple years.  Who have you been playing with and how can our readers get that material?  

DB:  I have been doing a lot more sessions lately. I've done some recording and very extensive touring with Seattle songwriter Mary Lydia Ryan. You can find her material at I've also been working on my own project, of course, the Liquid Quartet. Also, I've done recording for Brad Warren and Waterbug records at, and JR's third album entitled Afriqueen Stare which is due to be released this Fall. You can find her material on I've also done a few live albums, which are yet to be released and have done sessions for people who just needed a quick part here and there. Basically, I've been having a lot of fun and playing a lot.  

BAJ:  Though you’ve been running up-and-down the coast with other artists, you always “come home” to Liquid Quartet.  Let’s talk more about the beginnings of that band, and where it’s going next!  

DB: Well, the Liquid Quartet is kind of a strange beast. We all play in so many other projects and move in different circles, it's tough to keep any sort of regularity to practicing or writing. We seem to get together in waves. Everything just happens when it happens. We try to write something every time we rehearse, whether it's completing a song structure or establishing a really cool groove. It keeps the energy flowing and keeps us interested in what we're doing.  Nothing is worse than trudging through the same old material time after time after time after time after…  

Our first album was written and recorded over a four-month period of jam sessions and improvising. We then went into the studio, laid down the tracks so we wouldn't forget what we did, and went our separate ways. It wasn't really intended to be an album, but more of a reminder. A year and a half later, we found ourselves in the same boat, but with much more to say. We'd all been practicing a lot and playing a lot of shows with other people. So when we finally got together, the organization of the album went very quickly. We then spent the next four months getting together once a week and playing the songs, basically just exploring. All this preparation was great because when we got in the studio, we decided to record everything at once. We set up, dialed in the sounds we wanted and away we went. Six and a half hours later we emerged with Focus. I can definitely tell you that we didn't stop laughing the entire time. I haven't had that much fun recording an album EVER! The experience is something like this; put a bunch of guys in a room that don’t take anything seriously, love to play their asses off and basically act like dorks, and you get the Liquid Quartet.  

Our next project as a group will be a concept album called The Automatic Earth, sort of inspired by Neil Postman's book "Technopoly". I know, "What the hell is that??!"

In a nutshell, Postman talks about how the human species has, through the advancement of technology and the quest to make our lives simpler, actually made it more complex and un-natural by creating a strange dependence and coexistence with machines (Duuhh!). So we're writing a science fiction concept album… Fun!!!!!!!!  

BAJ:  Before I forget, please tell us about your gear and set-up.  Also, you’re a dedicated 5-string electric bass guitarist… Are you considering a move to the “big 6”?  Or, are you happy with 5?  What does the future hold for you – instrument-wise?  

DB:  My rig is very simple. Right now I'm playing through a David Eden Metro 2X10 cabinet and occasionally use an Eden four ten cabinet for more stage volume. For the most part though, I don’t really need it! The Metro is so versatile I can get just about any sound I want. My favorite feature on the cabinet is the two-channel separation. This is really important on the gigs that I double (which is just about every gig), because I can set an entirely separate channel for my acoustic and one for my electrics. It's a lot nicer than carrying two amps around, that's for sure!  

For my electric playing, I've been coloring my tone with a lot of little things lately. I'm really into pedals right now. I have a Line 6 Delay Modeler to create a little bit of spaciousness in my tone, a Moogerfooger Envelope Filter to give a little bit of warm analog distortion and the follower effect, a Moogerfooger Phase effect, a Boss Octaver for my fretless and for solos and an Ernie Ball volume pedal. I use all of these things sparingly. In fact, if you heard me play, you probably wouldn't recognize that I had any effects on my bass!  

As far as instruments go, yeah, I've been a dedicated 5 string bassist. I like the five string a lot. It feels very natural and comfortable in my hands. Especially the Status Graphite Stealth 5 I've been playing. My god… the tone, playability, and craftsmanship of this instrument is of the highest caliber. I have been very happy with the Status as my main axe and will definitely pick up a Status fretless 5 soon. I've been playing a G&L 2500 5 fretless for the past 4 years, and have been satisfied with the warm, nasally, woody sounds I achieve. It has a lot of versatility in the studio and live, but the quality of the instrument overall just doesn't compare to that of the Status. I've had a really hard time switching back to the feel of the G&L. It feels kind of lose, clunky and not quite as accurate, which is cool sometimes, but…  

As far as whether or not I'll switch up to the big "6" any time soon, I'm not so sure. However, I have been hearing a lot of chords lately. I've been studying chord structures and comping with chords on my fretted five and often think that if I had a 6 string some of the fingering as well as chord melodies might be easier to play. The only 6 string instruments I've liked, at this point, have been your Status 6's, Mr. Johnson. They are absolutely the most natural feeling 6 string I've ever held, and they play like butter!!! So, potentially.. 

BAJ:  How is Liquid Q fairing in the Seattle area and will you be taking it on the road, anytime soon?  

DB:  The Liquid Quartet is doing all right. We're playing a few times a month and having a great time. Like I said before though, everyone in the band is involved in a lot of other projects. I'll be touring all over the country this summer with Erika. Donovan and Linus are both in another group called the Combustion Collective. They're a really cool, totally improve, "jazzy" jam band that plays all over the Northwest. They're starting to make a good name for themselves so it keeps those two very busy. Shane is diving heavily into the art of multimedia, recording and computer generated music and has been working incessantly on his own "techno" project entitled "Reptile". His disc should be available within the next year, and I'll keep you posted on where to get a copy!  

So, as far as hitting the road, The LQ is looking to do something more by the summer of 2003. We're staying fairly local and are playing some festivals and club dates in the area through the summer and fall of 2002. Once we can all find time to actually get together, we'll get the next album out and really hit it hard. We've been in the process of finding a manager and have a couple of good leads, so the future looks bright and promising!  

BAJ:  Talk with us about your influences, and how do yours line-up with the group’s individual and collective influences?   

DB:  I've been influenced heavily in the past year by another Seattle group called the Living Daylights who are an amazing jazz trio. I turned the drummer on to their album "500 Lb Cat" and Donovan immediately turned around and began studying with Dale Fanning (the drummer for the Daylights). The bassist Arnie Livingston is also absolutely phenomenal and performs with all kinds of people when they come though town including Joshua Redding. Check out the Daylights at . I've also been listening a lot to Avishi Cohen Colors, Jaco Pastorius The Birthday Concert, Chris Potter Gratitude, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Live Art. I've also recently been turned onto one of the most amazing albums I've heard in a long time by Karim Ziad entitled Ifrykia. Wow… there are no words!  

As far as the rest of the band is concerned, we all tend to feed off each others interests and influences. Linus has brought a lot of Charlie Hunter, Primus and King Crimson influence as well as a horde of classic prog rock favorites. Shane has tended to be the bluesy, rock and pop driven member. In fact recently we've begun playing the Immigrant Song as part of our regular set and we do some really twisted stuff with it!!!  

BAJ:  There’s an interesting meeting of musical minds in Liquid Q!  Does the band meet your “musical jones”, so to speak?   Or, will we see a Derek Brown solo disc in the future?  

DB:  The older I get, the more I think that eventually I'm going to have something to say. I love playing with the LQ and we will continue to put out albums, but it's not necessarily what I'm all about. I can picture myself putting out a solo disc, or at least a disc of material that I have put my special touch on sometime down the road. I guess I sort of look at it like this. When I was a kid, I somehow pictured myself as a teacher in my late forties or early fifties. A little gray and potentially with a little more life experience than I have now. That's sort of how I picture my first disc. I have been accumulating bits and pieces of things as I work and woodshed and learn new things about myself as a player. Eventually, I'll get to a place where those things make sense to me and something will happen.  

BAJ:  I understand there’s talk of a Derek Brown bass book!  It’s about time, man.  Tell us about that, and also tell us what you plan to discuss in the forthcoming book.  

DB:  Yes, I'm so glad you mentioned this. I've been working on a book that will hopefully shed some light on the practice regime of the doubler. I won't go into too many details at this point, but it will cover basic scales, warm-ups, bow technique, and include a disc of exercises that will be laid out in tablature as well as musical notation. I'm really excited about it and I can't wait to get it all in one piece.  

BAJ:  What’s next for you?  

DB:  For me at this point, I'm really excited about the opportunity to become a bit of a road warrior. I've been hulled up here in the Northwest recording and playing and I'm itching to get out and see the rest of the world. After Erika and I hit the States this summer, we're looking to potentially spend a month and a half this fall opening for Ani DiFranco on her European tour (keeping our fingers crossed). I think we'll also be in Hawaii for the month of December performing and checking out the landscape. I'm looking forward to taking this day-trip I keep hearing about on the big island. Apparently, a van will drive you and a bicycle up to the tallest paved peak on the island, drop you off and let you bomb the mountain. They meet you at the bottom and you go out for lunch and cocktails. WOAH YEAH!!!  

BAJ:  Give us your “if stranded on a dessert island” list of discs.  

DB:  Charles Mingus Ah Um, Bill Evans Sunday, Live at the Village Vanguard, Edgar Myer Uncommon Ritual, U2 The Joshua Tree (stop laughing), Jaco Pastorius, John Coltrane Blue Train, Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Live Art, Living Daylights 500 Lb Cat.  

BAJ:  Would you like to say anything in closing to the Global Bass Magazine readers?  Also, tell the readers where they can get a copy of the new disc! 

DB:  Well, I can't think of anything else to say, but when you get the Liquid Quartet album Focus, don’t forget to watch the half hour "moc-umentary" movie. It's really funny! Thanks so much Global Bass for this opportunity. I really appreciate your time and support.   

Thanks, D!  You can get the Liquid Quartet’s disc at Derek’s website, and you can read more about this incredible young bassist there.  


BAJ endorses Status Graphite, Hot Wires strings, Aguilar Amplification, Wayne Jones bass enclosures, PRO TEC, and Line 6.







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