Hey Shredder (bass edition)

7 questions for the low end

Steve Adams

ALO, Big Light

Comments Off on Hey Shredder (bass): Steve Adams

The ability to be unflustered, regardless of the flotsam & jetsam flying around, is a very valuable trait in a musician. In all the settings & circumstances I’ve witnessed Steve Adams perform I’ve never seen him break a sweat, lose his temper or totally drop his sly grin. This Northern California native exudes a Zen-like vibe that’s invigorating and adds a dose of quiet cohesion to his bands that goes beyond his instrument, although it’s lurking there, too.


The ability to be unflustered, regardless of the flotsam & jetsam flying around, is a very valuable trait in a musician. In all the settings & circumstances I’ve witnessed Steve Adams perform I’ve never seen him break a sweat, lose his temper or totally drop his sly grin. This Northern California native exudes a Zen-like vibe that’s invigorating and adds a dose of quiet cohesion to his bands that goes beyond his instrument, although it’s lurking there, too.

As the bassist in ALO and Big Light he demonstrates a monster range, navigating smooth, jazzy waters one minute and thumping punkishly the next or plumbing soul in pop fields, always a presence felt in the music’s meat. And he’s been equally fluid and spot-on excellent when dropped into last minute sub gigs with Tea Leaf Green, Jack Johnson and others. Some vast reservoir of musical intuition combined with clear natural talent, dedicated practice and countless hours of stage time have resulted in simply one of the finest bass players today, not to mention one of the least showy and most humble. Plus, he picks some sweet ukulele from time to time. That’s cooler than you think.

Favorite effects pedal? Why?
I love the “Bass Big Muff” by Electro Harmonix. It has the same controls as the classic Big Muff fuzz pedal – Sustain and Tone – but additionally allows you to blend your clean signal with the effected signal. On the search for a good bass fuzz pedal, more often than not, you end up trading your fundamental tone for the effected tone, which usually leads to less “bass” for us bass players. The blend feature on this pedal allows you to blend in your effect on top of your clean tone. A second great feature is the dual output option that allows you to take two lines out of the pedal, one clean and one effected. It’s a similar concept to the blend feature, but in the studio, it allows you to post-mix two separate tracks, which can be pretty useful. I use this pedal live and in the studio, and it’s the one pedal at the moment that I would take with me to a deserted island rock show.
Tastiest bassist — i.e. not just soloing but also overall playing — currently working four-strings?
Chris Wood consistently satisfies. Tasty grooves, always soulful, definitely a regular 4-string player, from all I’ve caught. I love how he can be very exploratory and experimental but also very grounded and focused. He sounds great in the studio and live, every time. Without a doubt, one of my favorites!
A bass solo I never get tired of listening to is:
Willie Weeks’ solo on Donny Hathaway’s “Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)” ( on Live 1972). It never gets old. I love how easy it is to understand and follow. And his feel and tone from this particular live show are just absolutely on. I wish I could’ve been there in the audience that night!
Preferred brand of axe?
Fender. Classic tone and style, tried and true!
. John Paul Jones, Paul McCartney or James Jamerson – which one gives you the biggest bass boner? What makes them SO sweet?
Good question. Ramble On, What’s Going On, Come Together…so many great basslines. I think I have to go with James Jamerson on this one. But really, all three play incredible bass. Paul I think maybe gets the most variety of tones. He seemed to approach each Beatles song almost like he was playing in a different band. John, maybe due to playing with John Bonham, dug pretty deep into his bass playing. I like how hard he plays with still so much control and melody. James, well, he was just the total groove machine, such amazing lines, custom cut to each song, great tone and feel, and a continued inspiration to so many players still today.
One lesser-known bassist folks should check out is:
Merlo Podlewski, bass player for Jack Johnson. We’ve been on tour with Jack this summer and I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Merlo each night. I’ve been a fan since I first saw Jack with his original trio, but over the years I’ve really grown to love Merlo’s playing more and more. He has a very subdued style, but as a bass player sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. He reminds me a lot of Aston “Family Man” Barrett with his dubby melodic parts. And I love how you can usually catch him singing along to the tune while he plays, a great way to make sure your basslines are truly supporting the song. He’s definitely an inspiring, world-class player.
What aspect of being a bassist always makes you happy?
I love being the anchor, supporting the band, being the bridge between the drums and melody/harmony players. I also just like swimming in those big wave forms!