Whenever I think of the word “bass” (the sound, not the fish), I automatically hear Public Enemy’s Chuck D in my head, distinctly proclaiming, “B-B-BASS!” His voice has been sampled so many times, even if you don’t know who Chuck D is, you might be familiar with the “B-B-BASS” snippet. As a nation, bass is something that we embrace. When teenagers are looking to buy their first automobiles, they could give a crap about how many cylinders are in the engine or if the vehicle has front or rear-wheel steering. All that matters is if the car has a boomin’ system. If so–sold!
Some people love bass so much, they’ve cut out treble from their lives completely. How many times have you been at a stop-light next to a car with a bone-trembling system and tried to figure out what song was emitting from their stereo? Get music-whiz Matt Pinfield in a car and even he might be unable to identify a song if the bass is played loud enough.
I’ve always been a fan of bass. Let’s face it, hip-hop wouldn’t exist without bass–neither would funk (nothing to slap). Where would electronic/dance music be without bass? No booties are going to be shakin’ in Miami with a bunch of treble and mid-ranges. Though guitar is the “sexy” instrument of rock-n-roll, let us not forget that the bass has given us stars like Paul McCartney, Sting, and Flea (don’t be telling me Sting ain’t sexy). Today’s current bass pin-up, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, has also been known to get his share of “oohs” and “ahs” from the young ladies.
If bass is such a good thing, why has it become such a no-no for several indie rock bands? Why have groups like The White Stripes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Kills, and The Black Keys (among many others) sworn off bass players? From my rock knowledge, drummers are the difficult ones to deal with, bassists are usually more than happy to sit back and play the supporting role. If two heads are better than one, wouldn’t logic lead us to believe that three heads are better than two? Strength comes in numbers, right?
Well, if you’re a shy indie kid, numbers probably scare the crap out of you. There’s also a certain comfort in having intimate friendships. That’s why a lot of us only marry one partner–and let’s face it–all couples get into arguments, but if you find the right person, they’re going to love you on your worst day the same as your best day. Maybe that’s the appeal of not adding an extra band member? Though the White Stripes’ frontman Jack White has more talent in his belt buckle than most bands combined, it took hiding behind an under-average drummer (sorry Meg), for him to muster up the courage to step into the spotlight. If there was a bass player messing with the Stripes’ chemistry, there’s a good chance Jack could still be upholstering furniture in Detroit.
The Kills, the duo comprised of Hotel and VV, began as an innocent overseas pen-pal correspondence. The two awkward art enthusiasts eventually found strength in each other, created a band, and have been side-stepping “…are you two going out with each other?” questions ever since. If Hotel and VV had a third wheel, we probably wouldn’t be talking about them right now (and they’d be known as Jamie and Alison instead of Hotel and VV).
You’d think that after a band gets over their initial wave of self-consciousness, they’d be more open to adding another member to the group. However, for anyone who has ever played in a band, you know that’s not as easy as it sounds. At the most recent SXSW I asked the duo of Matt & Kim if they would ever consider adding a third member to their ranks, and Kim’s response was, “I don’t think our fans would like it.” It’s no secret that enthusiasts of indie music do not like to share. If a band jumps to a major label, it’s usually their most die-hard supporter that’s first to cry “sell-out.” Mess around with a band’s line-up and you may never have a good blog written about you again.
I’m actually a big supporter of all the bass-less bands mentioned above, and it’s pretty amazing to think about how far they’ve come without a bass player (which at one time was a necessary ingredient for rock-n-roll success). Where would The Beatles have gone if they were only a two-piece? Would Green Day be selling out stadium shows if their line-up consisted of just Billie Joe Armstrong and Tre Cool? What’s really scary to think about is where these low-end-intolerant bands could be right now with a bass player to fill in the missing grooves. Considering mainstream America loves its “B-B-BASS”, here’s how things could have turned out for indie rock music:
Mates of State and the Dresden Dolls support The Black Keys (the world’s “loudest” power-trio) on their 30-date sold-out arena tour of the United States. Pat Carney is injured when he falls 60 feet from his drum-kit, which was suspended in mid-air during a “big rock” drum solo. In the ER, Carney mumbles, “If we never recruited a bass player, we would have never gotten this huge, and I would have never been talked into doing a Tommy Lee-like drum solo.”
The Kills’ Midnight Boom albums sells 1.5 million copies in its opening week. The band sees little of the income as their manager and a jealous bass player (who claims Hotel and VV never pay attention to him) flee town with their money–and drum machine.
Matt, Kim & Steve (their bassist) sign the most lucrative recording contract in the history of music. Michael Bay agrees to direct their next music video and claims that it will have, “more explosions and CGI graphics than Transformers.”
After their mega-platinum-success from their Fever to Tell and Show Your Bones albums, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs appear on American Idol, prepping contestants to perform their music. David Archuleta sings “Maps”, which causes Paula Abdul to break down in tears.
The White Stripes finish their third straight sold-out stadium tour of the world (and ooh goodness do “Seven Nation Army” and “Blue Orchid” sound nice with a bass-line!) . Following the tour, the band announces its breakup. Jack White buys a monkey, gets plastic surgery, and builds an amusement park in his backyard. Some critics begin referring to him as “The New Jacko the Whacko”.
Okay, so maybe bass isn’t the answer to everything.