Thursday, October 17, 2013

Interview: Level 42 Bassist Mark King Talks Tone and Sweet Mingers

Interview: Level 42 Bassist Mark King Talks Tone and Sweet Mingers

Mark King on tone, technique and the future of music   09-Jun-13

We catch up with legendary bass player Mark King, one of the greatest slap and poppers in the business. Mark King has been hitting the studio recently, and Rich Beech spoke to him between recording and gigging...

RB: Hi Mark, first of all, thanks for taking part in the Q&A. How have you been, and what have you been up to these last few weeks?
MK: "Hello guys, thanks for having me on. All's good here thanks, busy writing and recording in the studio right now, interspersed with the odd festival appearance, so a nice relaxed summer really."

 The word 'tone' gets thrown around a lot by guitarists and bass players, so we're starting off with potentially a tough question! What does 'tone' mean to you? Is it generated by decent equipment, or is it something that's in your fingers and comes through good techniques?
"Yeah, describing 'tone' is a tough one alright, but it all comes down to your ears I guess.
"As a player you know what sound you are looking for and will put together the equipment necessary to achieve it. This was pretty evident when I played some shows with Larry Graham recently. You would think that as 'slappers' we would sound pretty much the same, but we are poles apart tone-wise, which is what makes the union work so well I suppose."

Could you take us through your rig, and why you use the gear that you use?
"Sure. Starting with my basses, I have been using the Status Graphite King Basses for the last ten years or so, and have enjoyed helping Rob Green in developing them. The latest model is the 'Paramatrix', which features a fantastically versatile parametric eq, coupled with four single pole pickups which can be configured in any combination, so at the flick of a switch you can change your sound, it's brill!
"These basses are all strung with Rotosound Funkmaster double ball ends, which are lovely and bright, and you can change a set in a couple of minutes.
"The gauges are 30-50-70-90, which is very light I know, but I love the 'bendability', so the trade off with bottom end is worth it for me. I use the Line-6 Relay G-50 digital wireless system, which is housed directly on my pedal board, along with a whole host of TC Electronic pedals: Hall of Fame reverb, Vortex flanger, Corona chorus, plus a Boss Dynamic wah, and a Radial Bassbone DI box which is another fantastic bit of kit.
"Amp-wise, I'm using the TC Electronic Blacksmith head, which features the same front end as the RH750, but the power is upped to 1600w, so a real beast!, and this goes through two TC 4x10 cabs of course."
Mark King in 1987
Mark King in 1987, photo by Nancy J. Price

You worked on creating your own Toneprint with TC Electronic, which must have been pretty exciting. Could you take us through how that process works, and how important it is to be able to tweak a bunch of tiny parameters to get your own signature sound?
"The guys at TC are very cool, and came up with a method of downloading certain players 'tone print's', which can then be dumped into the relevant TC pedals, and voila, you can sound just like them!. I spent a very nice afternoon with Uffe Kjems Hansen a while back tweaking the Vortex flanger, which is an excellent pedal, and I was lucky enough to have them 'print' my tone, which we have called the Sweet Minger.
"So you get the Tone Print app for your phone, download whichever tone print you want, then, and this is the cool bit, dump it into your pedal via your guitar or bass by zapping it through your pickup. It's witchcraft..."

Do you think bass players get as clinical as guitarists do about tone when it comes to the signal path, the effects loop and choice of amp? Effects pedal forums seem dominated by nerdy guitarists, rather than bass players.
"I think that when you have experienced poor quality effects and cables, and cables are very important in the signal path, then you start to get picky as to  which units you choose.
"True Bypass, which means routing the bypassed effect directly, and not still ploughing through a host of capacitors and PCB's, has been a great help here, and all the TC pedals have this, but as to whether bassists are as clinical as guitarists? I think we all know that bassists are much more laid back [laughs]."

When you're playing on big stages night in night out, in different spaces with varying acoustics, how much of a struggle is it to get a consistent sound each night and to get into the groove? Have you ever found in certain venues that you just struggled to get the right vibe?

"Venue sound can be a nightmare for sure, and to make gigs as sonically consistent as possible I like to use the same sound guys wherever possible. Mark Jowitt has been doing our monitors for twelve years or so now, so he knows what all the guys in the band will want to be hearing, but even then you are up against it if the hall is throwing it all back at you, and it takes a cool head not to turn everything up to try and hear yourself as ultimately that just compounds the problem because the tech on front of house sound turns up too.
"But all is not lost and IEM's ( in ear monitors ) solve a lot of the problems, and are so much better these days and I would recommend any musician invest in a good quality set of custom IEM's. I use Ultimate Ears UE7a's and they are amazing."

You're widely considered as the one of Kings (excuse the pun) of slap, and you have been for decades now. With such a reputation, is there a pressure to spend a lot of time practicing technique and focusing on the technical part of playing?
"[Laughs at my awful pun], thank you. Unfortunately I have never been one to practice as such, though I admire the guys that do, but whenever the band get together and we fire up there is always this exciting vibe of exploration, and some great ideas and riffs just come pouring out, which I don't think would happen if I was to sit with the bass on my own everyday. No, I definitely like bouncing off of the drums at soundcheck, and Mike Lindup is always there on rhodes too!"
Mark King in 1986, by Nancy Price
Mark King in 1986, photo by Nancy J. Price

You were influenced by some of the funk bass legends of the 70s, when you do your masterclasses or when you meet young bass players at gigs, do you get the feeling that the funk legacy in the UK is in good shape for the next decade?
"I think music in general is in good hands today, and I'm really excited by so many of the current crop of artists that I'm hearing on BBC 6 Music, bands like Field Music, Dutch Uncles,Everything Everything, Starting Block, James Blake, the list goes on, and though they aren't purely funk of course, the point is that they have been inspired by it at some point and there it is in the music. That's why music is such an amazing thing, it is constantly evolving."

Finally, thanks for talking to us, here's a standard SonicState question, if you could choose a combination of one amp, one pedal, and one bass to play through for the rest of your life, what would it be?
"My pleasure, thank you! Um... TC Blacksmith, TC Flashback, and the Kingbass Paramatrix. Simples."