string I've ever heard. Every note he played was like
a discovery”
Hamm's forthcoming sixth solo album is
The Book
Of Lies,
a collection of songs which span the full
gamut of dynamic bass playing. Readers familiar with
Hamm's astoundingly technical material will find
it here, but he often eschews the high-speed, high-
octane playing for emotive, subtle songwriting that
is all about atmosphere rather than technique. Asked
about his evolution as a songwriter, Hamm explains:
“On every record I try to come up with some new
technique, like on the last record I played some sliding
harmonics. But I was listening to some of my earlier
records, like
The Urge
(1991), which I sang on, and
which I hired [Motley Crue drummer] Tommy Lee and
Joe Satriani to play on, with the idea that it would sell
a million copies and I'd get rich and buy a house in Bel
Air, and I realied that nowadays I'm free to write the
music that I hear. That's the wonderful thing about
turning 50 years old. You don't give a shit about a lot
of stuff, because you don't feel under pressure!”
As for that title? “The 'Book Of Lies' is a code word
on tour for what we call the itinerary,” he chuckles.
“Someone will say, 'What time's soundcheck?' and
we'll say 'Why don't you look in the book of lies?'
because it'll say 'Soundcheck: 5pm' and you'll get to the
venue and they'll say 'Soundcheck's at eight'. That's
the first song on the album, and it's a really funky-ass
track: I wrote it to be my [the Meters' super-funky
1969 song] 'Sissy Strut', with a single line with no
chords or harmony.”
He adds: “A major part of the album is a seven-
piece suite called 'Le Petit Suite For Solo Bass'. Each
piece uses a different technique - harmonics, chords,
slapping, tapping and so on. As a kid playing flute,
I would go to competitions and there would be a
catalogue of beginner and intermediate jazz and
classical pieces. Similarly, although we can't deny
that solo bass is now an actual idiom, there's very few
actual charted-out pieces for the genre, so I wrote this
suite in the hope that high school kids would pick one
of the pieces and perform them for auditions - and in
learning them, acquire the techniques involved.”
There's a real sense of groove on Hamm's new
album: a human touch that is worlds away from
the super-shreddy technical stuff so prevalent in
his early career. As he explains, “I've worked in the
studio in the past with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani and
all those Zappa guys who were so precise, and if you
make a record that sounds like you're trying not to
make a mistake, it sounds Pro-Tooled - even though
it isn't! I've gotten much better at trying to capture a
performance: the mistakes are usually the good stuff!
So we mixed the record to sound like three or four
guys playing together live.”
Still, it's not easy getting these complex pieces down
on a hard drive, he admits. “It's difficult sometimes,
because I'll go and listen to [the late Canadian pianist]
Glenn Gould and then go back and listen to what I've
recorded - and all I hear is fret buzz! I can hear my
hands moving from position to position, and so I try
to punch in the notes afterwards, but then I realise
that it doesn't sound like a bass guitar any more. The
reason it sounds that way is because that's the way it
sounds when you play! It's never going to sound like
Glenn Gould playing piano. But when my bass is set
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