I have been having a blast with this interview series. God bless Carlos Ramirez, and what he does for music. The people that have agreed to it have hopefully informed you guys of what it physically takes to play the bass with a band, live, and on recordings. I assumed we all had a similar story, and for the most part, it's been true. My main goal is to focus totally on the person, and how they play their instrument.
Through all my years of playing the bass, nothing prepared me for playing bass for Supertouch. When I texted [guitarist] Jon [Biviano] about doing this, he told me that before late, great bassist Joe Graziano joined the band, they had these players: Carl Serio, Walter Schreifels, Mike Bitton, Eddie Cohen, and Tom Capone.
I never met Joe, and I never got to see him play. I was asked to join Supertouch in 2011. Of course, I said yes immediately but then panicked realizing the gravity of my situation. When I started dissecting the bass parts on The Earth is Flat album, I could not believe what I had to learn. I play with a pick, and Joe recorded the LP with his fingers. I could definitely hear the notes, but his attack and finesse were not in my ballpark. The first few practices were scary for me, because I wanted to play the parts correctly, but there was no way I was going to do it (Joe's way).
Thankfully, the band was down with my interpretation, but I am always obsessed with doing the songs they're proper justice, while also playing them—how I do it. Supertouch is so important to me, and I had to ask the guys how Joe did what he did. I learned a lot from this interview, and I hope you guys enjoy the details.
Introduce yourself to everyone.
Rich Edsell: My name is Richard Edsell and I played or I play drums for Supertouch, and I actually played bass in Supertouch for a while. For a little while.
Jon Biviano: Hi, I'm Jon Biviano, guitar player of Supertouch.
How did you first meet Joe?
Rich Edsell: I met Joe the first time I went to go see Supertouch. I was friends with Biv already, so not only did I get to see the band; I got to talk to the band a little bit and I believe that was probably sometime in 1989. I joined in November of 1991.
Jon Biviano: I first met Joe Graziano the day we (Supertouch) tried him out at Andy's (drummer Andy Guida) house in Flatbush, Brooklyn. We had put an ad in the Village Voice saying we were in need of a bass player. That was the Fall of 1988.
Do you know if Joe's family supported his music?
Rich Edsell: It's hard to say because Joe didn't talk about his family that much. I will say though, his father was a musician. He played saxophone, and I don't know if it was in Joe's blood. He never mentioned if there was any static so to speak about what he wanted to do as far as playing music. I can't remember him saying anything like that.
Jon Biviano: Don't really know. His parents were divorced so I never met his father, until much later. Joe lived at home with his mom at the time, so we met her several times when we would pick Joe up for gigs. She was very nice, but I couldn't tell you how supportive she was of her son playing in a band.
How would you describe his style or tone?
Rich Edsell: That's an interesting question because it changed over time. When I first saw Supertouch they were kind of doing if you take for example a song like "On 3" which has a punk and a hardcore feel to it, but it also has a little bit of hip hop in it. There was a bit of a funk sound to what they were doing when I first saw them in 1989. And they just started evolving a little bit more towards rock. And the more they started to go in that direction, his style started to change over time. he became more solid, and he was serving more to the song. He played a little more ploddingly. He became more supporting in the band and made them sound heavier.
Jon Bivano: Joe's style was very aggressive. The day we met him, we were blown away at how he attacked his bass and how well he had learned 10 of our songs. He played a Fender Precision through a Sunn half stack and had a tone that just growled. Not too distorted, but certainly not clean. It was perfect. And he played with his fingers.
Who led the charge in that change? Was it Jon or was it both of them?
Rich Edsell: There was definitely always a certain chemistry about the band. It's hard to say who led the charge because anybody could walk into the room with an idea, and we would work on it. When I joined in late 19991 we would jam, and Joe would come up with great hypnotic bass lines. A good example of it is "Flying High," and it's great because Jon was getting into more and more delay.
Did Joe write his parts on the spot or would he come back later, and it would be more polished?
Rich Edsell: That depends on who's idea we were working on, for example, when we did "Better," [from the 1996 Anti-Matter compilation] I had a lot of those ideas and brought them to the band. When those guys would hear those ideas they would make it even better than what I thought in my head that is was going to be. There were songs that were constructed because of a bass line that Joe brought to the particular rehearsal that day. Often times during those days we would start our shows by just improvising for a few minutes, and a lot of times it would be a bass line of his.
Jon Bivano: He did both. Joe had full pieces of music, or you could bounce ideas off him and he would work right along. Great musician to write with. Always brought the best out of us.
I get grief all the time from people asking me how I can possibly play Joe's parts correctly since I play with a pick, and he recorded his parts with his fingers. I never know what to tell them. What is your favorite part or song he wrote?
Rich Edsell: There are quite a few of them, but the one that comes to mind is "What Did We Learn?" I absolutely love what he did in that song. Actually, I love what everyone did in that song. I just love the whole idea of that rolling groove, it reminds me of Black Sabbath a little bit. The bass line really sucks you in. That's a good bridge to what you were talking about because that was still in the time he was still playing with his fingers. As far as people giving you grief or whatever, Joe did switch to using a pick. If people wanna say you should make it authentic and play with your fingers, I don't know. Playing with a pick did suit the band better because it made his playing more aggressive. A little heavier a little louder.
Jon Bivano: It's funny because for the first year Joe played with his fingers. He eventually started playing with a pick, and that just made him more aggressive. My favorite Joe moments are the lead bass breaks in "Painted Sky," which he could pull off fingers or pick; the groove he laid down in "Lock Out" and "What Did We Learn?"; and he had some Lemmy Kilmister moments at the end of "Shame," which was not on the record, but just evolved when we played live.
Joe's style on The Earth is Flat is very low end, but also noodly. When you joined the band was he doing a lot of upstrokes or more downstrokes?
Rich Edsell: A lot of down, but he did some alternate picking too. I don't think he necessarily thought about what he was doing when it came to picking. I just think he did it.
Did he have a favorite bass guitar, and amp? Also, did he use pedals?
Rich Edsell: He would experiment, but basically he was a Fender guy. He played a Jazz bass and a P bass. The one thing I know, that was a mainstay for him was he swore by a rosewood fretboard. When I first got in the band he played an Ampeg, and it sounded great. One day we were playing pretty far out on Long Island, and he showed up to the show with a brand new GK and Hartke cabinet. He bought the thing, and showed up to the gig with it, took it out of the box and played the fucking thing. Biv and I were laughing... we thought it was the funniest thing. He was great.
The other thing about Joe was he was an all-encompassing musician. I learned a lot from him. Those first rehearsals were something. Before I was in the band I thought they were fucking great live, but at rehearsal, I realized why they were great. They got work fucking done. They were particular about the things that they did.
I can relate... a lot of work!
Rich Edsell: He was a great bass player, but what mattered was the song.
Jon Bivano: Joe had beautiful basses. He was a bit of a collector; his friends he grew up with said he had a stash of awesome instruments in all the places he lived in. Among this stash were multiple Fender Jazzes and Precisions, a Music Man, and many six strings. He wasn't much of a pedal user.
Did Joe have a favorite bass player that he was pulling inspiration from?
Rich Edsell: After he left Supertouch, he and I became really close. We would talk to each other often—a few times a week, and I had conversations with him about that. There were a pretty good variety of bass players that he was inspired by. Some of them you could really hear in his playing like John Entwistle, he loved Mike Watt, he was a big fan of the Clash. I also had conversations with him about James Jamerson, who was a session guy who played on so many classic Motown records. He absolutely loved him.
Jon Bivano: Joe loved punk. He loved the Clash, the Jam, Fugazi, Black Flag, Ramones, and all the DC bands. He also loved the Who and John Entwistle. He liked a lot of music, and could pretty much do anything.
Do you think Joe would be surprised at how long-lasting hardcore music has become, and his part in the recordings for Supertouch?
Rich Edsell: Joe was such an individual. He was one of the most unique people I ever met. In fact, everyone that has been in that band is very unique. I love them all. I played in other bands with Joe after Supertouch, and I've seen him play in other bands. I wonder how he would feel about all of it. The time that I knew him he never took himself too seriously.
Jon Bivano: Difficult question to answer. He had pretty much dropped out of playing music by 1999. When we played in Toronto in 2009, he seemed happy to be playing again and wanted to do more.
Finally, do you have any thoughts about Joe that you'd like to share? Personal, his life his legacy?
Rich Edsell: I absolutely 100% loved him. I thought he was a fucking outstanding human being. He was "for real," he didn't push his politics on anybody. He had opinions, but he was very cool. I think people like him gave credence to the scene because he was very genuine. Because of his attitude, he made me ask questions about myself that I had never asked before. To be frank, before I joined Supertouch I thought the whole world revolved around me. And when I got to know him and realized how humble and thoughtful he was about other peoples feelings it changed.
He really changed me. I mean that with all my heart. He was a monster musician. I understood real fast after a couple of rehearsals why that band was so good. The one great thing about Supertouch is there is a little wiggle room in the songs, it's not heavy crunch crunch. You don't have to play it down the middle every time.
Jon Bivano: We miss Joe very much. For me, not a day goes by when I don't think of him. He inspired, made us laugh hysterically with his Long Island wit, and also drove us up the wall with his meticulousness. He made myself, Andy, Mark, and Edsell better players. He was the best musician out of all of us, and his ability and work ethic were infectious.
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