|Since their 1993 debut album, "Music", 311 have garnered a massive fan base for their inspiring, positive rap-rock-reggae music and energetic live shows. The band is currently back in their Hive Studio and busy at work, writing and rehearsing new material for their next album. 311's bassist, P-Nut, was kind enough to take a little time to talk with Guitar Center about his gear, the band's writing process, and practicing on his vintage Fender Jazz Bass.
GC: What do you think about the bass rig you that have right now? What do you use and why?
P-Nut: I had been using the same rig for close to six years. My old rig was three SWR SM-900s, the tube-pre-amp solid-state amplifiers, which are kick-ass workhorses! I always got a little scared because they would clip pretty easily and I never really wanted to run them that hot. I was always lacking a little bit of volume, even though it was the clearest tone I had ever heard in any amp, that's why I put up with it for so long. So I would mostly rely on my monitors when I would play live. But now, I switched over to a SWR Bass 750 and a Stereo 800. The Bass 750 is the main pre-amp and the Stereo 800 is just the slave. The cabinets that I was using before were two Goliath IIIs, which are the 4 x 10s. Now I've got a Megoliath, which is pretty much a union of those two cabinets that I used to use, but in one box. With that, the huge front port, and the Speakon cable, it is just amazingly loud and huge sounding, especially for the low B. For the first time in my professional career, I've had to turn down instead of reaching my limit. Now I pretty much have no limit! I've found it a couple of times, but generally speaking, on a normal show, it's amazing. I just turn it up to 11 o'clock and it is warm and clear.
GC: What's the coolest recent addition to your setup?
P-Nut: Pretty much those amps! That takes care of me so deeply and I'm so happy with the new speaker cabinet and the new amp. It's just amazing. I've been playing the same basses, Warwick Streamer Stage IIs, for seven years. Before that, I had a Tobias 5 string bass, which I pretty much just played live. I didn't get a chance to record with it because it burned in our 1994 fire.
GC: What is it that you like about the Warwicks?
P-Nut: The first person that showed me how cool they were was Norwood from Fishbone. I really think he was the first guy in rock (if you can call what Fishbone does rock because it's so experimental) to show just how amazing they are. He's got great taste in instruments and amplifiers. I wanted to try it out and ever since, I've been hooked! It's so crunchy and bottomy and beautiful at the same time, like a work of art, and the perfect instrument at the same time.
GC: How many different Warwicks do you have? Are they all five-strings?
P-Nut: They're almost all five strings. I've got an acoustic four string, the Alien, which I got a first run of--they only made 100 of them. I love that bass. I'm going to be playing that on the road a lot on this next tour because we're going to be adding a little acoustic part to our show.
GC: So, it's got a pickup inside or something like that?
GC: Do you run that through your amp or do you just go straight into the PA?
P-Nut: I'm gonna run through an SWR Strawberry Blonde acoustic amp, which I used in Chicago for our first radio acoustic thing that we ever did, which was really, really fun! It sounded so much better than the SWR Working Man 15 that they brought as well. It was just warmer and clearer. I am waiting for that and I can't wait to play through that at home before I leave.
GC: What do you want to get next?
P-Nut: Not too much, I'm pretty happy. I usually find something I love and I just wear it out until I find something better. Right now I'm completely satisfied as a professional musician. I've been doing a little bit of vintage hunting around and I picked up a '64 Fender Jazz Bass. It's custom cherry red in really, really good condition, which means it's beat to s--t. I love it. It's so much fun to play.
GC: Have you done any other instrument collecting?
P-Nut: No, more looking than collecting, which is probably the way to do it. You don't want to be all crazy and frivolous. You want to make sure when you buy an instrument like that, it's really important to you. I've got a Paul Reed Smith Standard that I noodle around on. I've got a mini Martin acoustic guitar, which is really, really fun to play and tiny so you can take it anywhere. I've got a Streamer LX, like the cheapest four string bolt-on maple body bass, which is a slap machine; I beat it!
GC: Do you imagine that you might use your new Fender for recording at all or do you just play it for fun?
P-Nut: I actually did try and record with it, but I had some buzzing problems mostly from the nut and I put a little duct tape over the nut to bring it down, but it just kind of deadened the string so much that I kind of scrapped it and went back to my Warwick, which is usually what I always do when I try and experiment.
GC: Do you ever use any effects or processing live or recording?
P-Nut: I've got a Mo' Bass in my head setup as a backup amp. I actually did a lot of recording on From Chaos using the Mo' Bass just as a regular amp. I think it's based off of the same amp that I use, the Bass 750. So, I think that's why I liked it. I found out that it had a slightly different tone and it worked better on some songs while recording than my actual Bass 750. But, I didn't use any of the effects on it, which is mostly what it is designed for. It was just more for me to keep myself entertained while I was waiting to take another take or just getting through the day, just screwing around with it. I don't have enough practice with effects to really want to work them into our songs that much. I'm more of a fuzz guy. I have a Big Muff, that's pretty much my only effect.
GC: So you run bass through that?
P-Nut: Oh yeah, for certain songs and certain sections of songs.
GC: If I had a basic amp and instrument and I wanted to improve my sound in some way, what would you suggest that I get?
P-Nut: I would say get a better bass, just off the top of my head, because that's what you're touching, that's what you're really thinking about. And then go for the amp. I think that's pretty much how I did it. I remember coming home from the store I eventually started working at as a teacher, Russo's in Omaha, Nebraska. I brought home a Randall all solid-state amp and played the new Pixies album, which was Dolittle at the time. I just couldn't believe how great it sounded. It is good to treat yourself to each because it will improve your sound on both ends. It's good to do little stair steps. You don't need to go out and buy the best thing right away. The best teacher I had, who I only had for a couple of months because he was English and he was having problems staying in Nebraska (which is hilarious in itself) played a Washburn--like a two hundred dollar bass. He was the most smokin' bass player I had ever worked with - before I played in Europe with Les Claypoole, of course!
||It's totally within the person. You can make anything sound good, but gear is important as well and that's why I use the best. Gear is really fun especially once you've been doing it for years and years. It just gets that much more exciting, and it keeps you more in that kid state of mind where you get excited about things.
GC: How does the band write? Can you describe the process that a typical song might go through from beginning to end?
P-Nut: A typical song is kind of hard to describe. The cool thing about being in 311 is that it happens a lot of different ways. It can come all the way written and lyrics by Nick. It can come with all the music written by Chad. And then we collaborate on a lot of songs as well; that can take many, many different shapes. On Sound System, I collaborated with Nick on two songs. And on From Chaos, I collaborated with Chad on two songs.
GC: So obviously those collaboration type things would have your bass parts written as the song goes along, right? When it's something they're bringing into the band is there some sort of a bass part already in there and do you take that and do it? Or are you coming up with your own thing that would fit the idea that they came in with?
P-Nut: It could happen either way. A lot of times they leave it up to me and a lot of times they bring me specific things because Nick, Chad, Tim and SA have great ideas about what the bass part should do. I'm very open to learning their ideas and trying to get their vision to come out because it's important. I expect the same when I come to the table with things.
GC: Do you come in with something that might have a melody or lyrics or something like that and say "Hey try this"?
P-Nut: I've always wanted to come in with lyrics, but it's intimidating! Just like writing music with the other guys because they're just so good and I respect them so much. I make sure that when I come to the table with music it is as good as can be. And if I do come to the table with lyrics, I want it to be brilliant, if I'm capable of such. They've written so many songs that are really touching and people tell us every day how we've brightened up their lives just that little bit. It's fantastic! So it's kind of a daunting task to try and bring lyrics to the people that I consider masters.
GC: Do you have a home studio or equipment that you use for songwriting?
P-Nut: Yeah, I have a Roland VS-1680 as pretty much an idea keeper whenever I come up with little noodles or riffs or whole songs, I like to put it in there. I've got a huge bank of information in there. It's great. It's a very beautiful tool to have.
GC: Do you use any kind of other external kind of processors or effects or anything along with that?
P-Nut: It's pretty much just the keyboard, a bass and an amplifier. I have a keyboard, a Roland XP60, which is really fun to use. I kind of wish it had some more drum sounds. I guess that's my fault for not getting more, but I do like to come up with rhythmic ideas, a lot more than I come up with melodic ideas. It's a little bit more in my blood.
GC: You guys moved to L.A. in order to get signed. Do you think that was a necessary step? Is it important to be under the noses of record companies in this age?
P-Nut: Yeah, I think it was a great idea for us because it definitely moved the ball along. Maybe something that was inevitable just happened a little bit faster because we dedicated ourselves to moving out here. It helped us as far as concentrating on what we wanted to do. We all moved together, we all lived together for about two and a half years and it was great. So, it brought us together really closely. We practiced every day and it has a lot to do with how tight we still are. So, it's a good move to run off to college and dedicate yourself to learning, which is rare in these days. Or run to California and concentrate on music. Or go anywhere, you know, you can do that nowadays--it doesn't have to be southern California. At the point that we decided to go to California, we made SA a full member because before he would just come out on a couple of songs and just be a guest rapper. We were like, "we're going to California, you better come along and start writing lyrics." That added to our depth. It was a big move and it changed our history so everything was meant to be.
GC: Do you practice a lot? And if so, what do you do?
P-Nut: I practice all the time. When I'm home I usually play my Fender because it's so different than my Warwicks and it's really inspiring. I can feel how old it is. It's ten years older than me and I just love that idea--I just think that's so funny. I know it's never been played in the way I play bass, so it feels like a brand new instrument to me at the same time. It's very inspiring on both sides. It helps me sit down and do that instead of just watch TV. Because it's a four string, it allows me to have more space for slapping so that's pretty much all I write on. And because I know it's never been played on like that, it feels really good and it sounds great when I plug it in. It is kind of dirty, but that's ok.
GC: Do you warm up before a performance? If so, how?
P-Nut: I usually do about 30 minutes of Yoga and stretching before I go out on stage. I do ten sun salutes: five really, really slow and then five or ten really, really fast. But that's like a whole body thing because you're going up and down and you're stretching your arms and your calves and breathing in a rhythmic rate. It helps that my wife is a yoga teacher.
GC: Do you pick up a bass at all before you hit the stage?
P-Nut: Nope. I probably should, but doing the stretching and breathing really gets me mentally ready just as much as playing for a little bit to get your hands ready. Whatever works for you. I know that Flea warms up before he plays and I know that I've never seen him get tired on stage. I know that I do cramp up a little bit, but I can always play through it.
GC: Have you or do you shop at Guitar Center at all? What do you think about it?
P-Nut: Yes, I shop at Guitar Center! I got my '64 Fender at the Hollywood store. I usually walk straight to the vintage room. I didn't know the store had gotten so large! I guess I had never walked in right where all the pro audio stuff is; I didn't know that was such a deep sector of the store. It was huge! People were everywhere, too. It was great. The fun thing too is I can kind of sneak in. I know Chad and Nick get stopped when they walk in there and sometimes have to take pictures. Since I change my appearance so often, I can walk in and out of there, no problem.
There's a room that's pretty much all basses now, which is really cool and a whole wall of Warwicks, which is beautiful. It's stepping up. It's getting a lot more upper-crust, instead of medium and beginning musician. It's very professional--I like it! Bass players deserve attention. I mean, without us it would be a thin, thin musical world!