Mark Egan Interview – About Now Album, Tour, and More – Part 1
Article by Eric Larson, © Copyright 2014 FretlessBass.com
I recently interviewed Mark Egan, focusing on his latest solo album About Now, and also covering some new projects that he is working on. This particular project was released in the spring of 2014, and features long time collaborators Danny Gottlieb on drums and Mitchel Forman on keyboards.
Mark Egan is a bass guitar veteran and a hugely accomplished and influential fretless bass player. His career spans more than forty years. In addition to solo albums, he has worked with many different artists and groups (the Pat Metheny Group, Sting, Arcadia, Roger Daltry, Joan Osborne, the Gil Evans Orchestra, Marianne Faithful, David Sanborn, John McGlaughlin and Sophie B. Hawkins, just to name a few), and has a list of accomplishments a mile long, including television and movie credits, and platinum and gold records.
Egan has been touring and supporting the About Now album for a good portion of 2014, and has seen great success with this effort, including many successful world-wide live shows, extensive press coverage, and impressive radio play. It was nice to follow up with him as 2014 comes to an end, to touch on the writing and recording of the album, and also on the tour and what’s next for him.
FB: Your latest solo album About Now is really a great album. Did you do all of the writing?
Mark Egan: I composed and arranged all of the music and was very flexible when we got together as it evolved. Everyone gave input and the music took on it’s own direction.
FB: How does interaction between the band members work? How do each of you as musicians decide where solos are appropriate – are they planned or improvised? How natural is that during the recording process, and how planned out are the arrangements?
Mark Egan: The arrangements were very specific ahead of time. My production process is such that I like to get the busy work out of the way before the session so that we can all be creative at the sessions. What was very open at the sessions was the way that Mitch, Danny and I responded to each other and kept very open minds. Mitch and Danny are master improvisers so I left a lot of room for them to be creative. I wanted the project to feature everyone.
FB: What was the setup like at your studio Electric Fields and how long did the recording process take?
Mark Egan: Danny recorded his drums in a booth and Mitch and I were in the same room, since I recorded directly into two stereo direct boxes. We have a closed circuit TV system that allows us to see each other for visual cues. We recorded all of the music in three consecutive days.
FB: Tell me a little bit about the gear used on this album.
Mark Egan: I used my Pedulla signature MVP5 fretless and fretted basses played into a Korg AX300 multieffects pedal board then into two Radial JDI passive direct boxes, which then went into two Millennia TDI EQs.
Some songs were recorded in stereo and some basics were done in mono, then I overdubbed a solo in stereo with delay, reverb and sometimes light chorusing. All of the songs were recorded live with the trio. I use D’Addario XL170 strings with a 125 on the low B string. I also played through a Littlemark 111 head and a 102HF cabinet during rehearsals. Some of my other effects are: TC Electronics stereo Chorus, a Lexicon PCM 42 delay, and a Markbass Reverbero.
FB: For songs with bass solos and overdubs, how different is the experience playing those live as just a three piece? When playing live, how do you approach songs that may have had overdubs on the recordings?
Mark Egan: We try to create the basic focus of the song from a rhythmic, harmonic and melodic perspective and try to create the essence of the song. It will never sound as produced and multi-orchestrated as a recording with overdubs. There is a balance of overdubbed songs and straight live trio songs on the About Now CD.
FB: In particular a song like “Sailing” comes to mind.
Mark Egan: “Sailing” works well live without the overdubs because Danny and Mitch are such brilliant players that orchestrate when they play. Mitch can create a rhythmic bed that allows me to fell a full bottom underneath my soloing when we play live, and we don’t miss the overdubbed bass harmonics.
FB: I personally love to hear artists play live, stripped down, and see how they interpret and play a song without overdubs, in contrast to the recorded album. I am fascinated by the decision process, of what is priority and what gets left out, or who fills in, and how. I prefer live music with no backing tracks, but do understand the need in some cases. I love to hear the rawness and the space of live performances. How did that all happen on this tour?
Mark Egan: We took the essence of each of the recorded songs and worked out live versions that were representative of the recorded version.
Lately while recording my solo projects I too enjoy the live and open aspect of the creative process. When I was arranging for the record there were a few songs that I thought would move better if I added a groove bass under my solo. I always listen to the music and see what it’s calling for arrangement wise. I also wanted to feature my 8-string fretless playing on the melody of “Sailing” but wanted to have a groove along with it. It also called out for harmonics on the Pedulla 8-string fretless, which I tripled. I was drawing from some of my previous production techniques from records like Mosaic and Touch of Light.
FB: As the end of the year approaches what are your overall thoughts on how the About Now album and touring experience was?
Mark Egan: I’m really pleased with the reception that we received from About Now. The response has been excellent. It was received very well in the press and on radio worldwide. We’ve gotten some great reviews and a tremendous amount of airplay. We reached #11 on Jam Band radio airplay charts, which is huge for me, and for several weeks this summer it received heavy airplay on over 112 stations nationwide. I really love playing with this trio and the live dates were fantastic. Overall I feel that it was “mission accomplished” as far as composing, producing, playing, and marketing the music. My goal was to focus on my fretless sound in an intimate trio environment without any stylistic barriers. So, is it Jazz, Funk, Rock, Latin? It’s just music to me from my sensibilities, from all my experiences, however, I think I’m perceived as a jazz bassist.
FB: Do you have any more live dates planned at the moment?
Mark Egan: We don’t have any live dates planned at the moment however we are working on dates in the spring and summer in Europe.
FB: For you, when does the point come that you move from one project to the next?
Mark Egan: Music is timeless, however after composing, producing, playing and touring around a release it does have a life of it’s own and becomes evident when it’s time to start a new project.
FB: Do you find yourself eager to move on, or do you treat every project separately as far as how long you tour, support it, etc?
Mark Egan: I treat every project separately and each one has it’s own shelf life. It really depends on how much we tour with the music and the type of songs that I write. Lately the trio is so engaging that we just never want to stop playing. Danny Gottlieb and Mitch Forman are master players and improvisers and they continue to inspire me to go forward.
FB: Do you already have new projects or songs in mind, or in the works, even as you are still supporting past projects?
Mark Egan: It’s interesting because shortly after releasing About Now I continued composing and came up with another trio’s worth of new music that we just recorded in September. I wanted to evolve with the trio, and the new CD will be released in March of 2015 and is called Direction Home. This CD is recorded with acoustic piano and no overdubs except for a few keyboard pads. I wanted to get to the essence of the music and it has more extended solos. It also features my fretless playing as did About Now.
I also am involved with several other groups. One group, Constellations, has a new release in Europe at the moment and will be released in January in the USA. This is a very special group with Drummer-Karl Latham, Trumpet- Ryan Carniaux, and keyboards-Nick Rolfe. We recorded the music of Bjork. Her songs lend themselves to moody improvisational grooves. My fretless playing is featured in a very different way than any other recording that I’ve done in the past and the CD ends with an extended solo bass piece that’s very different from my past recordings.
I’m a member of a group called Unit 1 with Karl Latham and John Hart. We recorded a new CD this summer that will be released in the near future that features our renditions of many cover songs from the 60’s and 70’s. We recorded songs by Pink Floyd, Blind Faith, CSNY, the Beatles and many others and approached the songs from an extended jam point of view.
FB: Tell me more about Electric Fields the studio.
Mark Egan: My Studio, Electric Fields, was my home studio in Warwick NY and since then I moved to CT where I built another home studio also called Electric Fields. The original studio and home was bought by my great friend and drummer, Karl Latham and he now calls the studio Fire Fly Studio
FB: How has the convenience of this studio contributed to this album?
Mark Egan: It’s so great to have a home studio that you can record master quality recordings in. When I get ideas I can immediately try things out and as the creative process goes,…one thing leads to another. We have a great Steinway piano that is what I composed most of the songs on. I’m not a pianist per say, but the instrument inspired much of the music on About Now. I also composed some of the music on my basses.
FB: Was About Now the first album recorded there?
Mark Egan: Yes, this was my first solo production from the new Electric Fields Studio. Over the past few years I have also been doing other various recordings on tracks that people have sent me for outside projects. Often other artists send me audio files that I then load into Protools and record my bass parts and send the hi resolution files back through the Internet.
FB: It sounds like you are very pleased with the experience in that studio, and from the sound quality of the album, About Now, it must be a phenomenal studio.
Mark Egan: I am really pleased with the sound of the new studio. It was designed by the great studio acoustician Francis Manzella from FM design. The goal was to build a studio that would have four isolation rooms and a control room with very accurate acoustics. After mastering the new CD with Fred Kevorkian at Kevorkian Mastering in NYC and bringing it back to Electric Fields Studio, it was evident that Francis did an amazing job designing the studio. When I listen I have confidence that the frequencies are accurate, especially the low end.
FB: Do you see yourself preferring this studio, and using it as a default location for other projects, or do you like the experience of different studio environments?
Mark Egan: I love the new studio and whenever possible we record our projects at Electric Fields. There are also many great studios in the NY area and I enjoy recording in them as well. It really depends on the scope of each project and logistics. Sometimes it’s more convenient to record in NYC because most of the players live in the area. I feel very comfortable mixing at Electric Fields because I have confidence in what I’m hearing and how it translates to speakers outside of the studio.
Be sure to get your copy of About Now!