Global Bass Online May 2000
From the first few momentsof Bunny Brunel’s newest CD ‘CAB’, you can hear the strong influence that Return to Forever’s 1976 seminal album ‘Romantic Warrior’ has had upon Bunny. For years held by many to be one of the finest examples of jazz/rock/fusion, ‘Romantic Warrior’ was equaled at that time only by the likes of Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’ or Mahavishnu Orchestra’s `Birds of Fire’.
Now Bunny teams up with powerhouse rock & neo-classical guitarist and keyboardist Tony McAlpine and percussionist/drummer Dennis Chambers to produce an album containing all the strengths of those monster recordings from an earlier age. In spite of this seeming look backwards in time for inspiration, Brunel’s ‘CAB’ holds up extremely well. Fusion music is at its best in this newest foray by Brunel.
Perhaps it is true that everything in fashion comes into fashion again, if you wait long enough. These days many of us feel starved for ‘player’ albums, releases that balance both strong songwriting and stunning technical prowess. It is no surprise to anyone who knows what Bunny is all about as a player, that he is more than capable of holding his own, even with the brilliant and often mind boggling speed and articulation of McAlpine. As McAlpine himself is known for his powerful & anthemic songwriting, it was also no surprise to see his name on two of the songs on this release.
Bunny expands the palate of sounds he can draw from by using a midi-triggered Yamaha B1-D synth pickup on his bass guitar. Used frugally and intelligently in the closing cut ‘Bernard’, (Bunny’s actual first name), the polyphonic intro opens up the imagination as to what sounds a bassist might achieve if they were to decide upon a course of using midi controllers themselves.
Otherwise, throughout the balance of the album, he opts for more of a mid to bottom-end sound while still achieving surprising clarity. This clarity of technique compounded with Brunel’s custom-built Carvin bass is key to Brunel's aural success, who’s great dexterity on the instrument would be totally sacrificed without it.
Another aspect of the Brunel Philosophy or way of doing things, is his understanding of the need for a proper marketing plan. Fusion music will not be picked up by any of the major labels anytime soon, so an artist of this genre must know how to get his message out there, virtually on their own. This bring us to the well developed web site developed for the promotion and sales of his releases both new and previous, as well as what is known as his Cyber-bass lessons. For the fee of $6.95 you can purchase a complete lesson in any of the styles and techniques currently in demand for today’s music. Taking into account the cost of a face-to-face lesson, ranging anywhere from $25 to $250+, Brunel offers a low cost way of doing things.
The conversation with Bunny begins with an examination of the similarities between CAB and Romantic Warrior and the influence that Chick Corea, Return to Forever’s keyboardist and composer had upon Bunny’s career. (It should be noted as a consideration to Bunny that as he was born in France, and though he has lived in the U.S. for 22 years, he still retains a mild French accent with the cadence and vernacular that comes with it. It adds up to charming and entirely understandable way of speaking.)
Bunny Brunel: You know how much Chick Corea meant to me, I was one of these guys who had the good fortune to play with the man. I have long been a fan of that kind of music, and have long considered myself in fact a Fusion musician. It’s funny because, the record company doesn’t have a Fusion classification so to them you become a ‘Jazz Guy’. So even though I do Jazz gigs with an acoustic bass and all that I still consider myself a ‘Fusion Guy’.
Global Bass: You’ve had dealings with Alain Caron? (another great six string fretless player from Quebec, Canada).
Bunny: We are doing what we call Bass Summit once a year. It’s sponsored by the string company La Bella, and we do it also with another bass player called Brian Bromberg. I have played with them several times.
GB: You have a well-developed website, both for your Cyber Bass lessons plan and the marketing of you albums.
Bunny: People want to be able to get information about what to buy and where to get it. In the type of music I play, you never can find the records. (Editor: In conventional record stores) Thanks to the Internet, people can find my albums now all the time. If somebody lives at the End of the World, and if he’s got Internet access, he’s gonna be able to get my albums.
Global: Where he may otherwise have not access even to the conventional record store.
Bunny: When you go to the music store, they are only selling the top ten albums, and that’s all they sell. Unless you go to Tower Records or Virgin Records, but if you don’t have either of these two stores, you are out of luck. You are not gonna find any album that you want, you’re gonna have to go to one of those small guys and they will have to order it in. What happens if they don’t even know where to get it? But the Internet…Boom!
Global: If also frees the artist from complete dependence upon the Major Record labels as the only alternative for reaching all around the world.
Bunny: But unfortunately, this has a Catch-22. The Internet is a place where people want EVERYTHING FOR FREE! They don’t understand, they are trying to get the government out of the Internet, because of course, they don’t want any regulations.
I understand that communication shouldn’t be the governments ‘thing’, people should be able to communicate for free. But people interpret that to mean that everything should be free on the Internet. I don’t agree with that, they don’t realize that some people are spending hours and hours recording their music, even making the web site pages, putting things on the Internet. There’s no reason why Bozo the Clown out there anywhere should have the thing for free. But that’s the way they look at it. The thing with MP3 files, the problem is with all the people that download these MP3 files and exchange them, it becomes an exchange thing, a free thing. “I have a copy of Bruce Springsteen, do you have one of Prince?”.
Global: It’s become a forum to treat the music, the artist’s hard work and creations like trading baseball cards.
Bunny: Exactly. The problem will be of course, nobody is gonna get any money in the midst of all this. So, the only thing left for the musicians will be the people who want a hard copy of the artists CD. Only those people will buy it.
Global: And those with Read-Writable CD burners can even make their own CD copies, as clear and as full sounding as any CD, so even there the artist loses. Other than the creative urge, what is to motivate an artist to even bother?
Bunny: The problem also lies with the people who buy those little MP3 players where you can get the whole album. The kids would rather have a little player slung around their belt the size of a pager, with up to 300 songs on it, than buy a CD.
Global: So you are saying that
without some regulation of the Internet, there is a tendency to undervalue or
completely remove the value of anything on the Internet?
Global: There is a similarity here with the lack of Royalties being paid and the acknowledgement of work done, that plagued the Movie Industry in it’s early years. Many performers from that era, and this includes many of the earlier television shows, never saw a cent in Royalties. The same thing is happening here in these times on the Internet. People are not having the right to make sales, to reap benefits from their creative efforts.
Bunny: Yes, everything on the Internet becomes a ‘freebie’. That’s what scares me right now. Another way to look at it is that is may open up more live playing. Maybe people will end up coming to the live playing and right there, on the premises, you will be able to sell your music.
The record company system no longer works, they are messed up. They don’t realize it. I am not talking about my album, it’s Fusion, it’s like a drop of water in the ocean, but all those big guys like Springsteen and all those Number One albums, those are the albums that are not gonna get the sales. They are the ones most likely to become ‘freebee’s’ on the Internet. If you were to give me the name of a tune, I’ll bet you that if I were to go on the Internet, I could find it for free.
Global: Horrible and true.
Global: You’re gonna see where the copies show up?
Bunny: That is what is so scary! People who never steal from anybody, but will do it on the Internet because everything on the Internet ‘should be free’! I am glad we talked about the Internet, you & I are on it, so we might as well have people aware of it. We have to find a way to fix the problem somehow.
Global: A comparison…People on the street driving their car will invariably behave relatively reasonable. Staying on their side of the road, just behaving like they are part of a system that works. Put those same people in a parking lot at a mall, with no lights, no regulated roadways, and chaos abounds!
So, back to the music!
Your Cyber school on the site,
please tell our readers a bit more about that.
Of course, it is better when it is in person, the personal touch, you can correct things, you move the fingers and say “No, don’t do that”, you can hit him on the head (Laughs). If you need it!
I think the Cyber lessons are working however. I keep adding lessons, I have about 10 lessons on there now. I’ve just done 10 more, and the person who takes care of the site is editing the video. It probably will be on next week (Editor’s Note: Late May, early June 2000). So there will be 20 or so lessons. And people can choose exactly what they want to practice. It shows the fingerings and all that. I give lessons to people who have never played and to those who have played for 20 years. The first lesson that I give is right hand and left hand fingering. It’s amazing that even if you go to Berklee School of Music, nobody is teaching anybody how to play.
Global: You use a Flamenco style of playing with your right hand, using the pointer finger and the middle only, keeping them straight and stiff.
Bunny: I am doing that because I tried just about everything. One day I was playing with a very famous French singer and he had a flamenco guitar player who played as well as Paco De Lucia. This guy was going so fast with only two fingers, not three, not four. Even playing arpeggios, complex lines using only two fingers. To this day I don’t know of any bass player using three even four fingers who can play as fast as these guys with only two!
Global: Is the rest of the right hand fairly relaxed? No carpal tunnel or tendonitus problems come of this?
Global: Apparently the neck of the bass as well is narrower on the G and D string side and wider or the lower end to allow your fingers to remain straight.
Bunny: What I did was like on a four string, it has normal Jazz bass spacing. On the five string, instead of doing the same thickness from both sides of the neck, that is where I made the neck asymmetrical, smaller on the ‘high’ side in order to allow the neck to not feel like a 2 x 4 !
It feels like a four string. I kept the Fender spacing and maybe slightly smaller on the five string. It stays pretty close to that so that you don’t have any problems switching from the four to the five. On top of all this, I play acoustic bass, which is even larger, so I cannot go very small myself. Most good bass player would play Fenders anyhow, so I kept that kind of spacing.
Global: Tell us about the electric stand up bass you designed.
Bunny: I designed a bass that I actually use all the time. I have a group that I play straight-ahead jazz with, not the old stuff, more like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea jazz and I use that electric upright bass and everybody loves it. Not only does it sounds great, but it also looks very very good. There was a luthier that built it for a time, but they are almost in bankruptcy, and they didn’t have time to do it anymore, so I am looking for another manufacturer to build it. I’ve sold all the prototypes that I had, I don’t have any left right now, so I need somebody to build more. I still have three of my own.
Bunny: What I did is like on the side of the neck I put little dots. A standup neck is a lot larger than an electric’s neck so you might not know where the positioning is.
I even had Jeff Berlin trying it a while back and he was telling me “I cannot play acoustic bass!”, but he tried mine and said “But I can play this!”. The action is very low. You can make it high, some people like to pull like crazy on the strings, but you can make it as low as an electric bass.
Global Bass: Again and again, I see that strong business sense coming out in all the things you are doing. Would part of it be the stage of your life that you are in?
Global: No matter where you are playing, or what kind of venue you may be in, you never know who is in the audience.
Bunny: I tell people ‘You have to be ready!’. If your time comes and you are not ready you are gonna miss the boat. I was fortunate. I was there at the right time and at the right place.
Global: I think of all the musicians in all the bands I’ve worked in who start drinking before they hit the stage or are so busy chasing skirts that they have nothing left for the music. Meanwhile, I’ve often thought that they have no idea who might be in that audience that night. You don’t know who might just gotten up and walked out.
Bunny: Exactly. The thing is I tell people you have to practice to be the best. I can’t guarantee that you’re gonna end up with a gig with Herbie Hancock or whoever, but at least if one day you do come in contact with someone like that and they are there to listen to you…you are prepared!
It happened to me, I was playing in a club in London, it was the Ronnie Scott Club in London, I was playing with a trio that was really cooking. Every night I had a keyboard player called Patrick Moraz who was living in London at the time come into the club every night. He was telling me that, “Wow, there’s only a couple of guys that play like you, you know. Jaco and Jeff Berlin, and hey Stanley Clarke, nobody else!.’ This was a very nice compliment. So of course I said ‘Thank you, that is very nice’.
Patrick then told me that he was going up to see Chick Corea. “He is playing in town and I will tell him to come up and listen to you.” I said, “Whatever you say!”. The guy actually did talk to Chick and Chick was looking for a bass player. Stanley Clarke had left the band and he needed somebody who could fill the shoes, I guess. That was it, that’s how I got the gig.”
Global: So did it unnerve you a
bit, asked to fill the shoes of Stanley Clarke?
I got out of the plane & I went directly into the studio without sleeping. I was there for 12 hours, not joking, I was there! I was kicking butt, I just went in like a bat out of hell!
Global: You knew that this was important.
Bunny: Oh yeah, I knew that this was it! It was right here, they wanted to hear it from the first note. I recorded the album called ‘Secret Agent’. It’s not yet on CD, but I was talking to Ron Moss, the manager of Chick Corea, and he told me they are finally gonna make a CD out of that one. The first song I played for that album was called ‘Latin’. (Editors Note: This song is on the web site).
Global: You are involved with Midi Controlled voicing for the bass.
Global: Still actively using them?
Global: So it is the Yamaha B1-D pickup you use with a controller.
Bunny: I have the G-50 converter as well. It is the only synthesizer that actually works! It’s better than the Roland and all that. It really tracks evenly, even deep deep bass, it tracks. It tracks the B string, which is amazing.
Global: I hear you have a garage full of discarded technology in midi.
Bunny: Yeah this new one is really the only one that actually works!
Global: How did you originally get connected in with Carvin?
Global: Even better than the Billy Sheehan model?
Global: Dennis Chambers, your
drummer on CAB, works with Billy Sheehan in Niacin, the newest release from
Billy. How did you originally tie in with Dennis?
Global: In your touring schedule, you don’t seem to be actually working with Dennis on the CAB tour.
Bunny: No what it is, is that he is very busy with Niacin. He usually plays with Mike Stern, then he plays with John McLaughlin as well. He’s got three gigs so he’s always on the road, that guy. I tried to get him for the CD release party, but I couldn’t get him. But there was this other drummer, Jerry Brown, who is amazing! He grooves like nobody else.
Global: So here is a really dumb
question, well, one of many! What does CAB mean?
Global: You mean it has no deep meaning?!?!
Global: Second dumb question…where
does the nickname ‘Bunny’ come from? Hey, I know it’s been asked a hundred
times, but I wasn’t there when it happened!
Bunny: When I was a little guy, we’re talking about eight years old, nine years old, I was going to the beach with my brother. We used to go there with a couple of American girls, who lived in the same building. We would walk across the street to the beach, it was kind of a long walk, going around trees and all that, they called my brother Robert ‘Bob’ and so they asked my name and I said ‘Bernie’. They didn’t understand me because they started to call me ‘Bunny’ instead. I just kept it, you know!
Global: Will there be a CAB tour?
Bunny: Oh yes, of course! That’s the very thing we want to do. In fact, this album is one of the best selling albums I’ve ever made, everybody loves that album. We’re gonna do a CAB II in August maybe or September, whenever I can get Dennis again. Meanwhile, before that, I’m gonna do another one.
Global: When do you plan to just sit down and do nothing for a change?
Global: You’re a strong believer in not using drugs, not smoking, no excess drinking, you watch what you eat, besides the obvious benefits to health, you feel it lends to a clear and healthy mind as well?
Bunny: I guess I should get a medal because I grew up in the `60’s! Not smoking, not taking any drugs at all, unlike the President who didn’t inhale! I was totally clean. I was very fortunate, it’s just a personal feeling of wanting to be in control. A lot of people really like to be out of control, I don’t wanna be out of control. I don’t wanna get high, I want my feet on the ground at all times. That’s my fortune, that’s the way my nature is. I think like that. And also by experience I can tell you that all my friends that were into drugs, even just smoking and it destroys people’s life.
Smoking a joint takes the edge off of a person. We need that edge in order to really achieve something. When you take away that little edge away, if you smoke a joint, you don’t really know you have done that because you feel so cool. When you smoke it takes off that little will that you’re gonna make it. You cannot live just sitting down watching TV, doing your little job. If you wanna do something you’re gonna have to make an effort! The joint takes that will out.
I won’t name any, but I know some great musicians, I was thinking of a saxophone player right now, who died with a hundred dollars in his pocket. Why? Because he always liked the joint, snorting coke and all that. A fantastic player who played with everybody. I remember thousands of them like that.
Global Bass: On a planet with 6 billion people, all of them competing…
Bunny: …You want every edge you can get!
You can listen to snippets from the newest album CAB at Bunny’s site and get other information about lessons, his newest CD ‘CAB’ and previous ones as well.
Below is a list of the equipment Bunny is currently using.
CARVIN BUNNY BRUNEL BB75 and 70 series basses 4, 5 strings and Piccolo.
Into ART BCC Pedal Board into
Korg stereo Volume Pedal into 2 CARVIN Cyclops Combo Amps.
The 5 string Piccolo is outfitted with a YAMAHA G50 Guitar/Bass Midi
converter into a MU100R Yamaha Sound module and a Korg A3 Effect processor.
For the Fretless and the Fretted, I use the Big humbucker bridge pickup of
the bass into an ART Pro Channel (Preamp, Optical Comp, EQ).
Note that on the Carvin Basses when using the Big humbucker bridge pickup,
the volume on the bass shouldn’t be more than 1/4.
They are too strong for most preamps.
CAB has been recorded and mixed with the MACKIE d8b Digital board.
No external effect has been used on the mix. Everything is from the board,
Compressor, Limiter, EQ, Gates, Reverbs and Delays etc.
Read this article in Spanish as translated by Sebastian Alejandro Caffini
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