I was blessed to grow up in Louisville, KY. Some of my first favorite bands had Ashli State playing bass for them. She had her own style and tone and got to play with some of the most talented musicians our city had to offer. When she left for Philly to join Ink & Dagger (after being a member of Guilt) the whole scene was in awe, and proud of her. When she would come back home with Ink & Dagger, those shows were the most memorable of my life. If you don't know about her, this is a great interview for you to hear her story, and how she plays the bass guitar.
How did you get into playing the bass guitar?
My dad’s side of the family is very musically inclined and as far back as I can remember there was always someone playing acoustic guitar or piano or singing. I’m sure as a child my banging on the piano sounded worse than a cat in a dryer, but I eventually started taking lessons and I learned to play pretty ok. Sometime around my junior year is when I got into the skateboarding and punk scene and the music that tends to come with it and immediately knew I had found my place. My first cassette in this genre was Minor Threat. I still love them. I was always drawn to the bass and percussion parts and I think just on a whim one day I went and bought a cheap Fender bass. I think hearing Primus for the first time is what sealed the deal. I was really in awe of the bass parts.
Do you play other instruments?
Throughout my school years, I played several different instruments. The earliest we were allowed to join the school band was during 5th Grade and I learned to play the flute and played it all the way through my senior year in high school, although I was asked to switch instruments to suit what the band needed a few times. During these times I got to learn oboe, clarinet, piccolo, and xylophone.
Can you play and sing at the same time?
I have but it is not my forte.
Does your family support your music?
Well, I will just say they support music and they support me. They do support me playing the music I do, they’re just not really fans of it.
Typically, how do you write your bass parts?
I like to get the basics down while at practice and then when by myself I like to dial in on the parts and make them better. I would say put my own style on them, but I’m still not exactly sure what my style is. It took me more than 20 years to get a tone I like, and I love my tone now.
Did you always play with a pick?
Yes, I have. I would like to get better at playing with my fingers but I rarely, if ever, play music where a pick isn’t appropriate.
What are you doing more, upstrokes or downstrokes?
No one has ever asked me this. I would guess that just because of the nature of the music I usually play it would be more downstrokes but I don’t think the upstrokes would be much less in number.
Both Guilt and Ink & Dagger had crazy parts and time signatures. When I was learning how to play, learning any of those songs made me feel like I was getting better at music. Was there a band that was tougher to play the parts or whole song?
The three bands that have been challenging for me were/are Ink & Dagger, Playing Enemy, and the band I’m in now, Comess. I love to be challenged because it pushes me to be better.
Are there any bassist you've drawn inspiration from?
I would say David Sims (Jesus Lizard), Nate Newton (Converge), Liam Wilson (Dillinger Escape Plan) and many more. I would love to be just half as good as any of these people. I am inspired by some bassists simply for their tone and others because of the playing. Bassists like Tal Wilkenfeld and Victor Wooten seem almost cliche to mention but while their style is not my taste I can appreciate how gifted they are and how hard they worked to be as a good as they are. They inspire me to work on technique.
Are there any drummers who have changed the way you play?
I feel we all adjust in tiny ways to gel with the people we are playing with. For the most part, I’ve always connected with the drummers of the bands I was in. I feel it would be apparent pretty quickly if the two of you weren’t gonna jive with each other. The only struggle I remember experiencing is the faster tempos that tend to accompany nervousness. I love drums and all things concerning rhythm. I get excited about all the intricacies of time signatures and rhythms and how these elements can alter the mood of the listener. I find it fascinating and maybe everyone doesn’t experience this but I often do. There are several bands I listen to such as Neurosis and YOB that really take me to another place, I get lost in the music and I love it because it is a brief moment away from reality.
You toured a lot, are there any cities you would like to live in?
I haven’t toured nearly as much as a lot of the musicians I know. I’ve never even been to Europe with any of the bands I was in, but as much as I love to travel Louisville, KY will always be home. I’ve moved to be in a few of the bands I was in but always come back. I don’t really long to be in any other place anymore. I used to think that I would like to live in any city bigger and more progressive than here but I have but I learned they are so much more complicated, difficult and/or expensive to live in than Louisville.
Do you have a favorite or worse tour story?
I went to Japan with Dillinger Escape Plan a couple of years after they put out their first album. My jobs were to do a little bit of lighting, keyboards, and blow fire. While this was exciting in and of itself that’s all I’ll say about that trip. I was fortunate to go.
I’m pretty lucky in that I don’t have any horrible tour stories. The worst 2 things I can think of is being with Guilt and getting a flat tire in the mountains of West Virginia and not having a spare. And about one week into an almost two-month tour with Ink & Dagger the engine in our van shit the bed. The most ridiculous and funny stories came out of that tour and there are too many to tell.
How has coming up in the Louisville music scene helped your playing?
I’m sure I‘m biased but Louisville had/has a great music scene. It’s had its lulls but I would think most do. I was exposed to so many amazing bands really early on. I think even when I started to discover some of the bigger, well-known bands the Louisville scene gave me so much more inspiration in many different veins of the underground scene whether it was punk or indie or anything in between.
Do you think you have a Louisville sound?
I think I had a Louisville sound in my earlier bands, maybe not so much now but I think it would be hard to completely lose all signs of a sound that was so important to me as a teenager.
Is there anything going on in your personal life you'd like to talk about?
Yeah, no. I’m pretty much an open book and tend to share more than most people would, so I’m gonna sit this one out.
Any musical projects we can check out that you're doing?
Yes! In September of last year (2018) I joined a band named Comess. The first album with the past drummer and bass player is on Bandcamp and we have a page on Facebook. I’ve played several shows with them but we are taking a small break from playing shows to write new material that is more indicative of the current lineup.
Joining this band has forced me to face some demons and anxiety surrounding my bass playing.
It has been nothing but fun playing with these guys and I look forward to the coming album and just want to keep working to be a better player and learning better ways to communicate with bandmates. It was not my strong suit in the past but I am hopeful.
Check out Comess on Facebook and stay tuned for new music from the band.