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Michael Manring

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ďLIFE AS A MOVING TARGETĒ

~Michael Manring

Global Bass proudly presents an interview with MICHAEL MANRING, world renowned fretted and fretless bass player.

Last November Michaelsí label Alchemy Records released THE BOOK OF FLAMES. More ethereal or other worldly than the previous Drastic Measures or the flat out rocker THONK, The Book of Flames once more pushes back the supposed boundaries of bass playing.

Michaelís stellar playing, including his stunning ability to single- handedly perform complete concerts by himself, forces the less adventurous amongst us to re-examine what a bass guitar can and cannot do. Michael regularly travels where the musically faint of heart would fear to tread. To be more precise, Michael regularly occupies a musical stratosphere most have never visited, or are even aware exists.

For those of us that have pondered long and hard over whether a formal education at BIT or the self taught path is the way for them, itís seems to be a given that Michael Manring, one of the finest of todayís contemporary bassists, and Ďbass heroí to many tens of thousands of bass players, might just have a clear cut answer.

Michael: Well, I went to Berkley for about 7 months, but I still consider myself mostly self-taught. Kinda like everybody else does, I got a gig, went on the road and never went back. I kinda regret it actually. I've kinda always wanted to go back and learn more.

You know there's so much to know about music. Harmony, composition and the music of so many different cultures and so many brilliant composers. It's a dream of mine at some point in my life to go back into some kind of a more academic environment.

You were close friends with the brilliant guitarist Michael Hedges, do you still find his sudden death rippling through you?

Michael: Oh God! I guess some people weren't aware of how close we were. I started playing with Michael when I was 18. I practically grew up playing with him. Before either of us were signed, we played for $50 dollars and slept in the back of his van. He was a great friend and I looked up to him. He was an amazing human being.

And an amazing musician?

Michael: Yeah, but almost a more amazing human being than a musician. I guess I could tell you that whenever I was around him, amazing things would happen. Things that defied logic sometimes. Michael was really in touch with something. I used to really worry about something happening to him because he used to live very much on the edge. He took a lot of chances!

He took physical chances? Like Jaco did?

Michael: There were a lot of similarities between them! And believe me, I've done a lot of soul searching. I studied from Jaco too.

Really?

Michael: Yeah, `cos he was another big figure in my life. I didn't have a 'friendship' with him, it was strictly a teacher-student kind of thing. I didn't spend a LOT of time with him.

It's fairly well known these days that Jaco was through no fault of his own, bi-polar, a manic-depressive. His illness was a source of great musical genius, but it cost him many friends as well.

Michael: Yes he was manic-depressive.

In addition, he didn't choose to use lithium or any other mood modifiers.

Michael: Well Jaco was a very complicated story, very tragic.

Are you okay talking about it??

Michael: I am okay talking about it just because I spent so much time trying to process it in my own mind. These people were my heroes. Jaco, Michael and my Dad!

 

With Jaco it was so tragic mostly because he was so self-destructive. He had so many people that offered to help him and he was hospitalized a couple of times. People got to the point where they were glad to take him in to try to make his life better. But he was really determined to destroy himself.

{Michael Hedges also lived easily 10 lifetimes in his one short life. He did so many things, so many extraordinary things. He was incredible.

I think we can take some comfort, particularly in the case of Michael Hedges that there was nothing that he didn't have the chance to do, that he was very very blessed to be able to do. It made me think to some extent that he knew that he was going to die soon. He could have had a lot more life to live, there's no doubt about that.}

Have these untimely deaths helped you or allowed you to give greater value to your life.

Michael: Yeah that's a good question! I guess that I would like to believe that everything that's happened leads on to value life more. Being more awake to truly how precious life is.

It was in fact listening to what you had done on DRASTIC MEASURES, this album and THONK that drew me finally towards getting the courage to attempt fretless. It was a scary proposition indeed, embracing the level of accuracy to even play the fretless. It is an unforgiving instrument to those who approach it half-baked.

Michael: Yeah it is. You've got a millimeter of forgiveness and that's all.

 

How do you manage to maintain your intonation? In a live playing environment, is it a matter of certain specific lighting arrangements directed towards your bass or that you are comfortable enough with the fretboard that the lighting doesnít matter?

Michael: Actually, that's a really good question that nobody's ever asked me. You're right, you need to see well and the lighting on stage is very important issue. I've tried to request an adequate amount of light on stage, but I've had little luck

Well, Greg Lake used to play barefoot on an imported rug just to relax and to get centered during his concerts. Why not set up some great big absurd thing with a bloody big light on it? That way youíll have no problem seeing what youíre doing.

Michael: Actually thatís a good idea, that I hadn't thought of. My problem is that I usually travel alone and by air. I always always have the absolute maximum amount of baggage that I could take with me. Even if I were to decide to take even one more shoe with me, it would be so actually to the wall. They keep cutting back too.

Well if you can sell 10 millions albums you can buy your own damn plane! And your own spotlight!

Michael: If I can sell 10 million records, I can afford to stand barefoot on a rug too!!!!!!

So back to the tech end of things. Regarding LEDís on the bass neck, ALEMBIC Basses have the red LED position markers positioned on the top neck. Have you ever thought of having ZON do something like that?

Michael: Actually, Joe Zon did a funny thing. The bass that is sort of my main fretless these days, we worked on and designed with each other. He didn't tell me this but he put fluorescent dots on the side of the fingerboard. The first time I was on a completely black stage and the whole fingerboard lit up! I laughed at the time because I knew that he had played sort of a joke on me. I am actually really glad now he did that because there have been many occasions when they were very useful.

On your album ĎBOOK OF FLAMEí quite a number of the cuts are just you, unembellished. Are you able to take this into the field and into the live environment?

Michael: Oh yeah, in fact there were many years that that was the main gig I was doing. Even now I just go out there and play a couple of dates.

Isnít that wonderful and scary at the same time? It's all relying on you!

Michael: You hit the nail right on the head. It is a wonderful thing and at the same time absolutely terrifying! For me it's an especially frightening thing to do, I have a special kind of fear that I have when I do things alone like that. It has taken a lot to conquer that fear.

Sometimes fear can be delicious. You can't fail! It's you they came to see. Itís your own music. The package is intact!

Michael: And that is what life is about. It's facing the things that are difficult, You know you're gonna grow. It has been a good experience. It's hard to describe how much that I've gotten out of doing it. The challenge is about the fact that maybe you're doing something in a way that it just hasn't been done before.

Now I hear you are tackling a 10 string bass! What on earth is that about!!!! The neck must be about 4 feet wide?

Michael: Well actually what it is is 5 sets of 2. It was designed to be tuned in octaves, but of course as soon as I got, I took off those octave strings and I tuned it completely bazaar. I turned every string to a different note. That works for me.

And what is the benefit of that other than making people dizzy?

Michael: (Laughs) Well making people dizzy is a pretty good goal. It upsets them a bit which is when they learn. The advantage is that it offers you the ability to play things that you couldn't do any other way. Since everything that you play is an interval, you have the ability to play these HUGE chords.

Chords you normally couldn't reach otherwise?

Michael: You couldn't reach, you wouldnít have enough strings. It gives you all these voices of possibilities. As with anything, there is a big tradeoff. Here a lot of things I could never use that 10 string bass for. I can't play melodies on it, but the trade off is that it brings whole other areas in.

So am I safe in saying that one of the reasons that you cannot take even one more shoe with you on the road is that you are packing so many basses?

Michael: I try to keep it to 3, but I would like to take 4 or 5.

I had read of an occasion of you pulling a bass out of its case and the machine heads had moved. It left you with a rather bazaar tuning, F sharp, G, B Flat and G.

Michael: It wasn't tuned standard when I put it in the case. My basses go through so much. (Laughs) They've really been knocked around. I have this one bass that is ten years old that looks like its 30 years old.

When I first heard your music, it reminded me of the very first time that I heard the British Progressive Group U.K's 'In the Dead of Night". The time signatures were so advanced, the choral groupings so fragmented and accents and cadences that are usually one of the first thing we latch onto for a piece of music Where Just Not There!! I remember telling a friend that I couldn't 'hear' the music. I couldn't tell where a verse, chorus or bridge began and ended. It baffled me for weeks but I just couldn't let it go.

Eventually one day after I let go of trying to own the songs, they began to open up for me like a flower. As the music played in the adjacent room, I suspended my need to analyze what was going on, who was playing what, could I play it too, and I just stripped away my ego. It was at that moment that the whole thing just fell together. When I stopped trying to measure the music, I was able to grasp the measure of the music.

The same is true of this your most recent venture, 'THE FLAME OF LIFE'. When I hear this I get feeling tones and perceive mental images rushing by, but am left with the feeling that there is yet so much more to hear, to become enraptured with.

Michael: Well that's interesting that you noticed that. That's a large part of the way that I view the world. I think it came actually from growing up in the household that I did. My parents were both wonderful people, my Mom's still alive. Really amazing people but they held almost polar opposite philosophies in life. They always got along and stayed together till my Dad died. I don't think they ever voted for the same politician. Both could explain their viewpoints very eloquently, very calmly and rationally. So I grew up seeing everything in life from these two points of view. So thatís how I tend to look at life, I see the two points of view and try to find the sense between them.

{Itís funny how the height of intelligence is really the same as the simplest form of innocence.}

On a more selfish quest here, and having one of our offices in Canada, Iíve just got to ask if there are any chances you may at some point come across to Canada for a few concerts?

Michael: I have, in fact thereís a guitar festival in Winnipeg that had me play, I think, 4 years in a row. They were very very supportive. Thereís a festival in Montreal where they hold a guitar, a drum and a bass festival. I think the drum festival is the biggest in the world, but I think they havenít had as much success yet with the guitar and bass part of the festival.

A few more comments on your love of unusual tuning?


Michael:
One of the nice things about unusual tuning is that the drawbacks arenít too severe. Just remember, if you donít like the tuning it only takes about a minute to tune back down!

What do you usually find you can draw for audiences on a single artist tour?

Michael: Probably more than 500, I kinda never know what the deal is gonna be on a number of factors. Itís been an interesting career, because Iíve done shows for as few as 3 people and the biggest show we ever did was in a band that opened up for the Beach Boys.

What promoter put that together!!!!

Michael: I think there was about 7 or 8 thousand people there though.

Do you do a lot of University and college work?


Michael: Not as much as I used too. Iím not sure why. I donít have the most organized business operation.

It seems very odd that a musician of the stature you hold amongst your peers and fans of bass playing has not chosen to go the way of other bassist like Billy Sheehan and Mr. Big.

The Great Pop Music Sell Out.

Michael: I accept the Ďblameí for it myself; I am horrible at business.

Any trusted group of friends or associates that might be very good at it?

Michael: Iíve had a couple of people and a woman that managed my career for years. She did a great job, but the other artists she was managing feel apart and she couldnít make a living just managing me. So she went in other directions. A couple offers from other friends and I am just trying to figure out the best way to organize the whole business.

Certainly, there are people who have offered to help and I feel just blessed to have that and the challenge for me is to figure out how to make it all work in my favor. Itís just not a talent I have! (laughs)

How long will you be working concerts around this new album?

Michael: I will pretty well be working wherever I can arrange to tour. Iíll make another record as soon as I have time. Itís not like the usual relationship where a bands signed with a major label plans years into the future. I mostly make my living by doing studio and session work and backing up other people. The solo album is almost a Ďlabor of loveí. I do manage to make a good portion of my living from it but not everything.

Are you able to work the writing of new material into your somewhat hectic life?

Michael: If I had my way, I would spend almost all of my time composing. I always have a huge backlog of material. Usually the challenge is deciding what the next records direction will be.

In your live show, do you also include your wonderful version of Purple Haze? As well, I understand you include other rock classics in your concerts.

Michael: I do all sorts of cover stuff. I do a lot of jazz, a lot of standards, but I also throw in ďEighteení by Alice Cooper, a couple of Nirvana tunes like ĎTeen Spirití. Itís fun to kind of mix up stuff like that. Thatís one of the fun things about bass, when you play things that people would never expect you to play.

Do you find that some people still come up to you and say, ďWhy arenít you just playing rhythm bass?Ē.

Michael: I tell them I opt for variety. I can playing a `70ís straight ahead funk band one night and the next night I can have a totally improvised night so that it doesnít sound anything like a bass the whole night. The next night I can play a solo concert, and that is what makes the instrument interesting. It has all these things that it can do and people still try to pigeonhole it down to any one thing, no matter what it is. Whether itís just playing solo stuff, or just playing backup stuff, or whatever, I just find that very tiring. I just wish that they could get over that, I just wish we didnít think that way in general.

Do you feel that some of the pigeon holing comes from a position of fear of the unknown?

Michael: To some degree, itís understandable, because you canít have a broad view about EVERYTHING in life. You have to have some compartments. But I think that there is a degree to which we sort of almost worship those little compartments. Almost as if they are sacred, when they are merely just conveniences so we donít have to process everything at once. The most interesting things can happened when those compartments start to stretch a bit and break down.

There was a time in my life when I was more excited about taking on that challenge. As time goes on it becomes more tiring. At this point in my life I would to feel that when I go on stage I donít have something I have to prove. I would really like to play what I think is just nice music and not have to prove things. When I was younger, I liked that challenge more.

On a more mundane level, do you find time to practice everyday?

Michael: I do, I love to practice. I guess thatís why my business sense is so bad. I would rather spend my time writing and playing music than spend any time thinking about my quote-unquote ĎCareerí! Yeah I usually find the time practice every day. I love to play! For me itís just the most full experience of life. Ever since I found the bass, there was no turning back. It just consumed my life. If I had never made a penny at it, it would still be absolutely consuming.

(Editorís Note: I can think of at least 25 jobber musicianís right now that would find a statement like this one incomprehensible!)

Overall it sounds to me like you have most aspects of your life in a pretty good balance.

Michael: Well I certainly wouldnít hold my life up as an example to anyone! (laughs). But I am going through life as a challenge. The way that works for you. Life is a moving target. It never stays in the same place very long.

You can find Michaelís incredible music at

http://www.alchemyrecords.com/

 

You can also keep updated on his touring schedule, news and other info at his site

http://www.manthing.com/

Read this article in Spanish

 

 

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