Justin Meldal-Johnson Interview
Justin Meldal-Johnsen is the session bass player, musical director, producer and general go-to guy for the worlds top musicians.
You’ve probably heard him 1000 times already on any one of his appearances with countless genre defining acts - from Beck to Nine Inch Nails and almost everywhere in between. Roundup catches up with the man himself for this exclusive interview.
1. So, let’s start at the beginning – what got you into playing bass?
A friend of my parents gave me his old junker bass when I was about 11. That's all it takes to spark inspiration...along with a heavy dose of the just-aired MTV.
2. You've got quite a bass collection! Which Yamaha bass do you use and why?
I have a BB1200, BB3000, and a new BB prototype. They feel good, and I like the mix between the P and J pickup. Something about the precision with which they're made makes them sound very "in tune" to me. Just like any bass, they aren't ideal for everything, but they sound really good. I do also like the size of the body; it makes the bass feel very resonant.
3. You’ve played with everyone! – How did you come to be in the black book of so many big acts? Was there 1 big break?
I don't know. Probably it's my profile with Beck in the era of touring Odelay in '95-'97. We definitely got around, and were a sh*t-hot band, if I do say so myself. So I think enough faces were melted that people started to really take note of not only myself, but also my bandmates guitarist Smokey Hormel and drummer Joey Waronker.
4. With such a range of different acts you work with, you must have a very varied taste in music? What are the top 5 most played songs on your iPod?
I have too many songs to give you a top 5, but here's some that I listened to today:
Midnight Juggernauts "Road to Recovery"
Husker Du "Makes No Sense at All"
Wire "The 15th"
Francois Roubaix "Chapi Chapo"
5. Who do you list as your biggest musical influences and why?
Beatles, Stones, ELO, Kinks, Wire, Al Green, Cocteau Twins, Husker Du, Bad Brains, Chameleons, Francois Hardy, Gang of Four, Neu, Big Star, Pixies, New Order, Sonic Youth, Smiths, American Music Club, Bowie, Queen, Radiohead, Cornelius, Black Flag, Cheap Trick, Daft Punk, Devo, Mission of Burma, Scott Walker, Massive Attack, Led Zeppelin, Pere Ubu,The Clash, Marvin Gaye, Talk Talk, MC5, Love and Rockets, Serge Gainsbourg, Michael Jackson, Talking Heads, XTC, The Sonics, Flaming Lips, The Zombies, My Bloody Valentine, Buzzcocks, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Can, ABBA, etc. etc.
Why? I'm not sure. I just gravitate to all kinds of stuff. I like music that is romantic, dramatic, which goes out on a limb.
6. What does the average week with you involve? – is there such a thing as an average week?
My life is divided into two distinct halves: touring and being at home. Touring is an odd combination of luxury and ease, mixed with exhaustion and madness. I quite like it, for a time. This run I'm on right now is almost 10 weeks solid, so I'm missing my family and my bed. Being at home involves juggling my several pursuits: session work, song writing, music supervision, production, and my A&R gig at Dangerbird Records. Amongst that time at home, I spend time with my wife and daughter, work on my house, go cycling, hang with friends, and tinker with my studio.
7. Of the many things you do, you’re involved in a lot of film music – what got you into that?
I just sort of fell in to it. I don't do as much as you'd think, but I might play on an average of 4-6 major movies per year, which I'm very grateful for. I really enjoy that process...the precision, the immediacy, the shortness of the typical film cue!
8. What would you say your number 1 tip for budding bass players would be?
Hmm...play another instrument? Actually I'm being deadly serious. Overstating the obvious, I think a harmonic knowledge is vital for bass players, so I feel playing keys and/or guitar really helps with not only writing bass lines but also hearing what's going on around you in an ensemble situation really well. I'd also say one needs to broaden their record collection as much as possible.
9. Other than your current band, if you could play in any line-up of any band playing any gig in history – what would it be?
On vocals would be Liz Fraser, Frank Black, Al Green, Paul McCartney, and Thom Yorke.
On guitar you'd have Bob Mould, Robin Guthrie, Thurston Moore and Kevin Shields.
Then on keyboards are Cornelius, Johnny Greenwood, Steve Naive, and Peter Gabriel.
On drums could be Chris Frantz, Steven Drozd, Kevin Haskins, and Stevie Wonder, though I think two of those at a time would be my limit.
10. And last but by no means least - What are you working on at the minute and what have you got planned for 2009?
I'm about to wrap up the 2008 NIN tour and have two months off at home in Los Angeles. However, the word "off" doesn't really ever seem to follow its intended meaning. I have two album sessions, a possible production, NIN rehearsal, some movie work, and work with Dangerbird Records on a couple of projects, including an amazing record we're wrapping up with a band called Dappled Cities from Sydney. Busy times. Somewhere in there, I'll fit holidays with my family.
For more information on Justin Meldal-Johnson: http://www.justinmj.com/
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