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The Way Home

by Steve Lawson

The Way Home 05:44
This is something of an homage to two of my favourite artists - Bill Frisell and Bill Withers. My first love has always been pop music, in all its guises. There’s a sensibility to music that regards itself as pop that strives for an immediacy of message and connection, a conciseness and directness that aims to hook the listener in early. That’s what I was going for here - the tune was improvised (I recorded three different country/soul-ish tunes in a row, and this was the third one - the melody and harmony is completely different to the other two :) ) but uses elements that have been part of my vocabulary for a long time. Bill Frisell has been one of my primary influences throughout my career, but this is, I guess, the most direct nod in his direction. Bill Withers always had a supreme knack for being funky without being forceful, emotional without over-emoting. He’s the zen of soul, all the effort is hidden, and the effect is that you’re in conversation with a wise and caring friend. That’s what I was aiming for :) Both of these are part of the long list of ‘home base’ artists for me. People whose work I come back to time and again after whatever excursions I may embark on. This is The Way Home.
A meditation on longevity, on giving yourself space to explore ideas, the world, projects, relationships. I’m an enthusiast (Enneagram 7 for those interested in that), I get excited about things, about people, about possibility really quickly. Sometimes I need someone to say ‘it’s OK, there’s plenty of time for this idea to develop’ for me to not freak out that we’re going to lose the magic of whatever creative exploration has just been mooted. 2015 has been a year of rapidly expanding potential - creatively, expressively... it’s amazing that 15 years into my career as a solo artist, and after more than 20 years of being a professional musician, I am still so regularly surprised by the brilliance of the people I get to encounter. I’m happiest when I’m around people who are smarter than me, who are curious about what I’m up to, and have a whole other way of looking at it. Those people are my lifeline, and I’m glad that they’ll be around for a while. Long term thinking - SO needed so I don’t panic an idea to death ;) So yeah, Ask Me Again In Twenty Years...
This one owes SO much of its inspiration to Divinity Roxx. These two solo albums are the first time I’ve ever incorporated anything other than bass into my own performance set up. I’ve had guests on solo records before (Jez Carr on And Nothing But The Bass, BJ Cole and Julie McKee on Behind Every Word) but never played anything else myself... I’d assumed when I did it would probably be acoustic guitar (Lobelia being an acoustic guitar means there are quite a few around the house, and I play them as though they’re short-scale piccolo basses ;) ) ...but then I got hold of a Keith McMillen Quneo just after I started recording for these albums (note: there’s a subscriber-only album that came out from the beginnings of these sessions called Closing In - the last track on that was the first thing I recorded with the Quneo - The Ice Cracks But Holds Firm, which is also on A Crack Where The Light Gets In :) #trivia) Anyway, back to the story of influence - the FingerPainting set with Daniel Berkman was an incredible opportunity to explore rhythm in new ways, with one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever stepped on stage with. Daniel’s ability to bend and stretch time, to follow the very much non-metric contours of one of my loops and create magic from it, that felt like someone opening a door to a new musical world. (I’m going to expand on this in a proper essay about groove soon... keep an eye on my website for that...) Then this year, my duo project with Divinity happened - we met up for a week to experiment with ideas. For the unfortunate few who haven’t encountered Divinity, she’s an incredible bassist (toured with Beyoncé for 6 years, and Victor Wooten before that), singer, rapper, composer, producer... A truly wonderful creative force. In the course of our musical explorations, she started playing drum parts using the pads on a keyboard, into her loops, combining bass, beatbox, elec. percussion and bits of rap/backing vocals into an extraordinary canvas. We were able to switch looping duties back and forth, and explore so many different textures and ideas. After that, I HAD to try adding percussion in. The project with Divinity allowed me to properly integrate my life-long love of hip-hop with what I’m about as a solo artist. And this track is pretty much the pinnacle of that. It has Divinity’s fingerprints all over it. Hence the name - a biblical reference to humans being one step down from the divine ;)
This is probably the weirdest thing I've ever recorded. Twisted, sort of hip-hop groove, weird melody, freaky solo... strangeness abounds. So, where does the title come from? Well, earlier this year, I was involved in an incredible artist lab in Denmark, looking at cross-disciplinary process. theatre people, visual artists, musicians, sound designers... together for a week to make interesting work and examine our process. Truly a brilliant week. One of the assignments was to make something REALLY bad. Just irredeemably terrible work. The group I was in settled on a self-consciously surreal performance set in the women's toilet, it involved singing lots of different songs badly, randomly opening and closing doors, and me narrating it as meaninglessly as possible... We failed to be truly terrible, of course, because the women's toilet was a really interesting setting (loads of fun to be had with doors, sinks etc...) and it was also funny... Over lunch, I was discussing with a couple of friends how, in that context we could've made something properly terrible - we set about designing a really offensive, horrible show. Breaking a whole pile of taboos in as clumsy and grim way as possible. No point was being made, and no attempt was made to make it aesthetically meaningful. Just piling grimness on grimness. It would have been completely illegal to perform, and would've resulted in a number of deaths. But it was truly terrible... Just as we were finishing up about 25 minutes of planning this thing in minute detail, another friend asked what we were doing. We told him about the plan to come up with the worst, most offensive, miserable show ever. His response? "Just burn a dog". Just. Burn. A. Dog. Truly, the most horrible, indefensible, rotten thing you can imagine for a 'performance'. So simple, and way more grim than all the fussy, complex taboo-busting rubbish we'd come up with. And it became a metaphor. A touchstone for finding the simplest way to the heart of a project, an idea, a concept. Where was the burning dog? What was that one thing that cut through all the fussy, complex, confusing nonsense to the true core of the work? Hence, Looking For The Burning Dog. (for clarity, absolutely no-one was proposing to ever set fire to an actual dog. Ever. Or was indeed making light of animal cruelty. Just in case you were wondering... )
Two things going on here - a tribute to New York as a city, a place I love and find completely unsustainable at the same time. Much like London. I can burn through money in New York like nowhere else on earth! However, back at the beginning on 2014, I was invited to be part of a panel at the Microsoft Social Computing Symposium. It was fun to speak at, and I think I did a pretty good job, but the real magic was meeting a bunch of people who have become an indelible part of the fabric of my life and thinking. Brilliant, profound, wise, extraordinary friends whose advice, friendship, inspiration and wisdom are woven deep into who I am and what I’m up to. Along with a few other events that act in the same way, I can divide my life into pre- and post- MSC 2014. So this is for them, the amazing minds that I encountered there. thanks for the ongoing inspiration. The lesson? Look for people who surprise and challenge you as well as encourage you to see your own life and work from a new angle. Cheerleaders are all well and good, but you need cheerleaders who are smarter than you, who will push you and not let you get away with thoughtless work. Find those people. You need them. I need them, they’re a lifeline. :)
Here’s a thing that just worked out beautifully - the was recorded back in 2014, at the Frankfurt Musikmesse. If you put ‘Steve Lawson Solo Bass’ into YouTube, you’ll find the video of me playing this, with about 100,000 views. Gregor Fris runs ‘BassTheWorld.com’ - a Facebook page and YouTube channel that mostly produces videos of bass-related things from around the world. At Frankfurt, Gregor told me he wanted to film me playing. Playing What? Anything. Just play. So we went out in the quadrant outside the main expo floor, surround by hubbub and bullshit, rockstars and wannabe rockstars, sales people and music-gear-lovers. Gregor plugged me into his laptop, set up the cameras, gave me headphones (without even any reverb - just the dry signal of my bass) and said ‘play’. And this is what came out. I was looking for something that brought the album to a close, that summed up that journey home. This was it. If you see the video, you’ll understand the title. Shut Out The World.


I'm not sure which of these is the the 'first album' and which is the 'second album'... This one, The Way Home, is much closer to my own first inclination for which tracks should make 'the cut' from the 3 hours of music I recorded on the journey to where we are now. But then, when I handed the whole lot over to my co-producer, Sue Edwards, she chose a list that only had 2 tracks from my main list on it. A Crack Where The Light Gets In is an amazingly coherent journey, I'm so glad I asked for her help, cos it's not a record I'd have ever put together in that way. And what's more, it left me free to still do 'the other album'. Which was the first one on my list... so, as you can see 'first/second' is not that easy to determine.

Suffice to say, this is a very different feeling record to A Crack Where The Light Gets In. It's got more ups and downs, a couple more surprises, perhaps? It ends with what is possibly my most listened to tune ever - Shut Out The World was the first thing I ever recorded for BassTheWorld.Com - Gregor Fris' wonderful collection of YouTube videos by bassists. He plugged me into his laptop, with no pedals or anything, sat me outside at the Frankfurt Musikmesse and say 'play'. This is what came out.

The Way Home is also up on YouTube - go search for it. the video is just me recording this exactly as is. Because, as always, everything here is one take mostly-unedited and definitely no overdub performances. What you hear is what I did. The addition of the Keith McMillen Quneo for playing percussive and synth sounds has broadened the palette a little, but I think it's all still pretty obviously me. :)

I really hope you enjoy it. I'll be blogging the stories behind the titles, and will add those to the lyric fields as I go along - if you're using the Bandcamp app to listen, they'll pop up somewhere along the way.


released September 14, 2015

Bass/electronic percussion/synths/looping/mixing/mastering/artwork/photography/control freakery/everything - Steve Lawson
Recorded, mixed and mastered at Lawsound Studio.




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