18 Fretless Questions: Aaron Sands
1. FB: At what age did you start playing fretless bass, and how long have you been playing?
Aaron Sands: I started playing fretted bass around the age of 16. Four years later when I started college at Belmont University in Nashville, TN (1993) I was required to take 4 semesters of training on the upright. I didn’t know at the time that those 4 semesters would be so helpful in my future as a musician. My ear for pitch grew enormously, especially from playing with a bow, and I feel like I still benefit specifically from the intonation standpoint every time I play a bass.
2. FB: What influenced you to play fretless?
Aaron Sands: An audition for a gig…I started playing fretless in the fall of 1995. I bought a Carvin 5-string fretless–with fret lines–in anticipation of an audition with Jars of Clay (I was still in school). With only a short time to get comfortable on a fretless, I played a Christmas acoustic show with Jars in Nashville as my audition, and apparently did well enough to get the gig. Nothing like an intimidating audition and first experience on a fretless!
3. FB: Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
4. FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences?
Aaron Sands: I would say Jaco and Mingus are my main references for the fretless. I have not had much jazz training, and I tend to listen to singer-songwriters and alternative rock more than other styles of music. I have recently been enjoying the playing of Byron House and Barry Bales.
5. FB: Who is your favorite fretless bass player and why?
6. FB: Do you play Stand-up, acoustic, electric, or all? Which do you prefer?
Aaron Sands: I mostly play and prefer electric, though I am the first to say when I feel like acoustic or stand-up may lend more to a song. My goal is to stay versatile enough on the fretless for most situations even though it is not the bass I play most of the time.
7. FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it?
Aaron Sands: The Carvin LB75 fretless I bought in 1995…and I still own it.
8. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass you’ve ever played?
Aaron Sands: I have been playing a Carvin AC-40F a lot over the past 4-5 years. I haven’t checked out a lot of different fretless basses, but I love the way this bass has its own sound, somewhere between an upright and an electric fretless. Even though I only use it for a couple of songs in a show, I feel like it definitely captures the bass part for those songs and fits my personality as a player.
9. FB: What fretless basses have you owned, which do you still own?
10. FB: What types of strings and fingerboard combinations do you like?
Aaron Sands: The AC-40 has an ebony fingerboard and tape wound acoustic strings…and though I haven’t heard many other combinations, I really like how it translates.
11. FB: What playing styles do you use – finger, thumb, or pick (or other)? What do you like about those styles?
Aaron Sands: I play with my fingers pretty much all the time. On this current tour, I do use a pick (while my hand mutes over the bridge) for part of a song in order to get the thump distinctly heardâ€¦kind of a dub bass part, I guess. I feel like I can best express the dynamics and feeling of my playing through my fingers.
12. FB: What bands/projects have you played fretless bass in/on (list as many as you like)?
Aaron Sands: With Jars of Clay, I played the AC-40 on a song called This Road, which can be found on the CD City on a Hill. The bass signal direct as well as through an Ampeg B15 portaflex made a great combination for that track. Also, this past year we taped a PayPerView concert in which we performed an “acoustic set”â€¦I played the upright on those 4-5 songs, which was so much fun and allowed for some creative arrangement ideas with the instrumentation. That footage can be found on a DVD that was just released in all stores, and will be part of a Jars of Clay live 2-disc project due in early 2003. The live CD will have some additional tracks that we recorded live (and acoustically) in August. I am excited to have these opportunities to play upright for a change. Outside of Jars of Clay, I played the upright on a couple of songs for Aaron Spiro, who released a record this year.
13. FB: What is your favorite song you played fretless bass on (studio or live)?
Aaron Sands: Before I started with Jars of Clay, they recorded a Christmas EP with Little Drummer Boy on itâ€¦I always enjoy playing the song live, partly because the track that Jackie Street played for the record is so inspiring and offers a great opportunity to showcase the uniqueness of the fretless.
14. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass riff you’ve written (if different from above)?
15. FB: What would you say is unique about your fretless style?
Aaron Sands: I don’t consider myself a busy player on the fretless…I love the way it speaks and resonates, and for me that translates into thoughtful bass parts that stay out of the way and add richness to a song.
16. FB: Are you still actively playing fretless bass?
17. FB: Do you have any basic advice for bass players looking to take up fretless or those who are currently playing?
Aaron Sands: I think the key to playing fretless is listening. Learning how to listen to other instruments in the group and at the same time listen to yourself. Intonation, while definitely important, doesn’t always have to be dead on…sometimes the way notes are played and the way they speak are more important than having dead-on pitch. Maybe some players would disagree with me, but that how I approach the fretless.