The first time DI laid eyes on Scott Thunes was at a Dweezil Zappa show in the late 80s. We’d missed out on seeing Frank live (where Thunes was also a sparring partner from 1981-1988) and were hoping for a little reflected glow from the nutball genius in his kid. Dweez was fine – though we’d argue he’s a hell of a lot better and more his own man these days – but what really stuck was his wild-eyed, music stalking bassist. Thunes – from that first exposure straight on through his time touring with Steve Vai, FEAR and others – exhibits a hearty, undisguised love of playing, a bouncing exuberance that’s decidedly punk rock in character but master class playing skill-wise. He’s literally the only bassist that’s ever made our heart skip the way Mike Watt does [and check out DI’s 2011 talk with the Minutemen champ here], where their chops and personalities make for a blend that gets their fellow musicians off and draws them deeper into the scrum every single time they get to plunking those low notes.
His current self-described position as “semi-permanent temporary bass player for The Mother Hips” has brought this killer musician into the fold of one of the great American rock bands of the past 20 years, a classic in a time where classics simply do not flourish as they once did. With no disrespect intended to longtime Hips bassist Paul Hoaglin [who DI adores with unreasonable passion], Thunes brings a refreshing energy to the stage, and the result is a tough, muscular sort of rockin’ that’s nigh impossible to resist. One can see how much Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono enjoy sparking off Thunes, and the pairing with drummer John Hofer is a touch more unpredictable – in a positive way – with Thunes. As ever, Scott Thunes remains a player that commands one’s attentions but scrubbed clean of any snobby, fusion-y ego, a scrapper with mad skills that makes music feel quite alive.
Here’s what Scott had to say to our bass guitar inquiry.
- Favorite effects pedal? Why?
- I have never gone in for pedals. Didn’t think about them, couldn’t afford them.
Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to forge a partnership of sorts with Jim Dunlop, who get to manufacture the MXR line. In my arsenal are several fuzz-types, which I’ve needed for this particular song I play with The Mother Hips (“White Falcon Fuzz”). I’ve been having an issue trying to get a good blend, not be too fuzzy, and not over-power the rest of the band. MXR recently came out with the Bass Fuzz Deluxe, and I have to say it not only sounds great but solved my problem with no tweakage. It’s got a dual path, so instead of choosing where the percentage works best (40/60, 30/70) you mix a full dry path with a full wet path. Best of both worlds! Love that thing. Also, my buddy James Santiago created the Giggity lately and let me have one to test. It’s a great boost/overdrive with so many options it’ll take me a year to sort it out. It’s designed for guitar but I see no issues using it for bass. So freaking happy now!
- Tastiest bassist — i.e. not just soloing but also overall playing — currently working four-strings?
- This question was hard for me when I was actually playing, but since I’ve been out of the loop, I couldn’t even begin to say. I don’t follow bassists, anyway. I don’t even follow bands, let alone their members. I hate doing bass solos, and I’ve always been averse to the sound of the bass by itself anyway.
The ‘influence’ question always comes up, and that’s an easy one. I’ve mentioned before who has helped me get to where I am today – John Paul Jones, Chris Squire, JJ Burnell (The Stranglers) – but I find the actual sound of JJ’s ‘gank’ to be my favorite thing to listen to, tone-wise. I know he’s not considered part of the pantheon of heroes but damn if he doesn’t do what makes me happy. As far as who I have always thought was the best bassist I just tell people Patrick O’Hearn. He has always been that guy who was impossible to touch – fretless, tone, speed that isn’t flashy but necessary, tasteful.
- A bass solo I never get tired of listening to is:
- Oh man…I’m gonna say Patrick O’Hearn’s accompaniment to Zappa’s “The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution”. It’s not a solo, per se, but it might as well be. And on string bass!
- Preferred brand of axe?
- Are you kidding? 1965 Fender P-Bass. Lucky enough to have gotten one, stock, from an ex-girlfriend who bought it at a local music shop when she decided to play the bass. I got it from her when she stopped playing. It’s been the thing that has helped define me through all my tribulations. I’ve never had the financial particulars to mess around, but in the 90s I had to do 5-strings. Played a Jackson, an Ibanez, and a Warwick 6-string for a while, but I’ve never regretted having this thing by my side. I’ve told many people that when this thing goes, I go. But that’s hyperbole. I’ll play my 2012 Squier 50s Vibe if I have to, now. I’m actually enjoying playing again, so it’s not up to the bass anymore. Also, I recently was given a 1990s Precision A/E and that thing is freaking amazing. So happy to play it.
- John Paul Jones, Paul McCartney or James Jamerson – which one gives you the biggest bass boner? What makes them SO sweet?
- John Paul by a wide margin. Why? Because I was raised on the English bands and Led Zeppelin was my favorite band during my formative years. Paul was my first – a very pleasant bloke to pop your cherry. James didn’t consciously enter my world until I was in my late twenties. By that time, my limits were set and I was rocking punk and New Wave. Francis Rocco Prestia (Tower of Power) was more my ‘guy’. He let punks do melodic 16th-notes…What the hell am I saying? John Paul Jones was, has been, and always will be the man I use to show people what I think the bass is supposed to do.
- One lesser-known bassist folks should check out is:
- Paul Hoaglin. He was the bassist in the Mother Hips before me. I guess he’s a guitarist, but he played a Rickenbacker and a Hamer 12-string with them, and I’ve never seen anybody work so hard to make so much music and make it look so easy. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, so basically, I’m cheating, but I can’t think of anybody else who deserves world-wide acclaim and glory for putting fingers to four-strings (or more).
- What aspect of being a bassist always makes you happy?
- The feel of my fingers on my P-bass with round-wound strings, massive amounts of air moving behind me, pushing my butt further towards the front of the stage, along with the crungy brightness of the tube distortion telling me I’m playing loud enough to be heard as a wide range of the music, not just one frequency-area. Filling in the notes left by the solo guitarist, no other instrument supplying counter-melodies. Reharmonizing what the band thought was a perfectly fine set of chords but now, with one slight change, has become something totally different, and all on stage are swelling with musical delight and love. Hitting my bass so hard that people in the audience think I’m a deranged lunatic but in one microsecond, they realize it’s not only the right choice for the music but they wish they were in my place.