Stu Brooks, bass player for Dub Trio, Peeping Tom, 50 Cent and Tony Yayo, to name a few, gives the lowdown on his bass rig.
Interview at aguilaramp.com :
Stu Brooks has been a Gotham mainstay since arriving in the early 2000’s. His massive sense of groove has led him to consistent work with some of the hottest Hip-Hop/R&B producers and artists in the world. And yet, his work with Peeping Tom and his own band, Dub Trio, show that Stu’s versatile playing also has an aggressive side.
With the growing popularity of his band we thought the time was right to talk about Stu’s far-ranging projects and Dub Trio’s innovative stage set-up (each band member has the ability to alter each other’s sounds on the fly).
Something that I’ve always noticed about your playing is that you refuse to be pigeonholed. If someone only knows you through Dub Trio they probably wouldn’t guess that is you on so many Hip-Hop tracks!
Yeah, I’ve done a bunch of recording with artists on G Unit Records, which is 50 Cent’s record label. I’ve recorded with 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, Young Buck and Mobb Deep. There is a song that I did that was on the radio quite a bit called, So Seductive featuring 50 Cent which is on the Tony Yayo record and that was a big hit about two years ago; especially in New York. I’ve also done some work with Slick Rick, Method Man, Redman and Rahzel from The Roots.
When doing a session for rap artists such as 50 Cent, how much input do you have?
They don’t really give too much input. A lot of the time it’s just replacing samples; maybe with a little interpretation. There might be a situation where you have a groove without a bassline but the bassline is sort of obvious. And then there are times when you create something totally from scratch. It’s different every time but it’s usually open for interpretation.
One time I found myself on a Tupac record from a session where I had no idea it was for him! I thought I was doing it for somebody else! That was interesting because they put me in with the producer who had a drum machine and basically we just started from nothing and I guess it worked out. That was the last I heard of it; it was really weird.
In a super star situation, is the artist there in the studio with you?
Sometimes but usually not. I was doing a lot of the sessions during mixdown because they were mixing the record and decided that it need a little bit more low-end.
And how about your work on the Rock/Jazz side of things?
I work with Eric Krasno on his solo project. He is the guitar player for Soulive. I’m a member of the Adam Deitch project; he’s a great drummer who’s known for playing in Scofield’s band. I’m also a band member of Peeping Tom, which is Mike Patton’s group.
Is that an ongoing project with Peeping Tom?
Right now it’s on hiatus; we’re in between records.
What is the background on Dub Trio?
Dub Trio has been a rhythm section for 10 years now. We have four albums out, the most recent being Another Sound Is Dying that came out January 29th of this year.
Dub Trio is unique in that the entire band is available as a rhythm section for hire.
Yeah, we were a rhythm section that backed up different artists for about 5 years before we started Dub Trio. I’m originally from Toronto and I moved down to Boston to go to Berklee, where I met Dave Holmes who is the guitar player for Dub Trio. We had a band called Actual Proof and we moved to New York minus our drummer. Once we got to NYC, we met Joe Tomino (Dub Trio drummer) and he joined that band. It existed for another few years but we wanted to make music as a living and we had enough time in our schedules to do other stuff. It turned out that we would get hired as a trio to do demos for producers/songwriters or back up singers and do gigs as a rhythm section for hire.
After awhile we started getting tired of being in a band that had a singer; I think we just wanted a chance to play our own stuff as a trio. We started booking some gigs in town doing improvised music; instrumental music and eventually we started getting some attention. The more we played, the more we were adding Dub flavors to our sound and developed the concept that we have now. Eventually somebody put the name “Dub Trio” on the marquee; we had been a nameless band and “Dub Trio” described us better than anything else! And soon after that Lucas Cooper from the label ROIR, which is actually right across the street from Aguilar, offered to do an album with us. But it wasn’t until the second record when Dub Trio transitioned from a side-project to the main priority.
Did the session work for the rhythm section come from the producers that you had worked with individually in the past?
Yeah, somebody recommended us to Rob Fusari who produced Bootylicious and No, No, No for Destiny’s Child and all of these ‘Pop’ artists. We were doing these pop things, just trying to make some money through recordings and demos. That’s when we realized that we could do the trio not just as a band but also as a rhythm section “business”.
Who were some of the artists that you guys played with?
Matisyahu and also Peeping Tom. That worked out well because Mike (Patton) needed a band, his record was a collaborative effort with maybe 50 different people and we were the only band aside from Massive Attack! So, it worked out for him, where he hires us and we’re already a unit so that made it kind of easy. I think that’s sort of the asset that we have is that we know each other really well and it cuts what would have been weeks of rehearsing into two rehearsals!
So, Dub Trio is still for hire as a rhythm section?
Definitely. We’re doing some producing stuff and remixing stuff this month while we have some time off for bands like Candeiria, who are putting out a remix album. Dillinger’s Escape Plan is on it along with Dub Trio [laughs].
Dub Trio has a very unique approach on stage in that you all have access to make changes to everyone’s sounds. How did this approach come about?
It started with throwing microphones on the drums and throwing them through guitar pedals. Basically, I have a row of pedals for the bass guitar and then a separate row for ‘dub’ effects. I have a mic coming from the snare/hi-hat area going into an A/B/C box, like a switcher, and then I have a send coming from the guitar going into that A/B/C box, so I could switch from guitar to drums. So, basically the mic is off when I switch the drum mic on, the signal goes through the effects pedals, which are either a Roland Space Echo tape machine, or some other effects like delay/reverb/phaser. So while I’m playing the bassline, I can just stomp this pedal, it will turn the mic on on the drums and pop a delay on the drums for example. Or the same thing with the guitar, I can pop the delay on one of the guitars.
Then the guitar player does the same thing with the drums, he’s got a send from the drums into his guitar pedals and then the drummer also has his ‘dub’ effects as well where he’s playing with one hand and passing the mic around and affecting certain drums. It’s fun and it’s not that difficult either.
So, you and the guitar player each have secondary pedal board?
Essentially yeah, or the same pedals! It’s fun because it’s improvised. We might have a looped bass line, looped drum part and whatnot but the ‘dub’ effect are improvised. It’s sort of a conversation, like Jazz, trading fours or trading ones! Trading half bars! I might pop a reverb on the first beat two that comes around and then bar two, the guitar player gets to pop on another effect. It’s a sort of call and response or it can be more chaotic, but totally reactionary and conversational.
Have you run into a problem where you have a sound going and someone else goes to add one? Or does that just add to the whole thing?
It kind of adds to it. You can also get certain tempos too with your delays. He can do an 8th note delay and I can do a dotted quarter-note delay and that effect is amazing; the rhythms that come out of that creates a train track kind of sound.
You don’t want to step on each other’s toes, so you have to listen. That’s the fun of the band, a lot of listening. It makes it different every night; it makes it fresh every night. Especially if somebody is coming to multiple shows – they’re not going to see the same show every night.
As far as Bass gear, what are you using these days?
I have the AG 500 head – I can’t work without it. I can’t work under any other conditions! The distortion in that amp is the best for my sound. I’ve tried a lot of distortion pedals and I don’t use any of them. I do use an MXR Blowtorch for another gain stage but I think the main characteristics of my sound have to do with the 412 cabinets and the low frequency response that’s inherent with 12” speakers and LaBella Flatwound strings. These are the really heavy-gauge, James Jamerson set. I have a lo-pass filter that I use for Dub sounds because I like to boost up those lows!
So I’m switching between Dub and Punk in an instant and using the two-channels (on the AG 500) helps me do that by changing tonally. So it might help that tone transition happen with a pick as well such as going from the Dub-by finger-style and then going over to the second channel and having distortion with a pick and then back.
How about writing new material?
It usually starts with a riff or a groove and then somebody will bring a groove then the three of us get together and elaborate on the groove and throw in some hits, a turnaround, a bridge. Or all of that! It’s usually a collaborative effort.
How would you say the group has evolved from the first album up to now?
I think we’re in a pretty good spot because there is no defined direction; we don’t have to be anything. We are very lucky.
Our first record was like an experiment; we were in love with Dub music and all sorts of different styles and trying to throw it all in there. Sort of doing what we want but it was a little more on the Reggae end of things. By the second record, we realized that there is no creative input (from the label), there weren’t any expectations, and so we could just do anything. We listen to a lot of music together and have a lot of tastes in common, so we just implement all the things that we want to play. We are writing for the next record and it is getting heavier but I really enjoy the fact that we have a wide spectrum; we can do the ambient, atmospheric stuff or the heavy stuff.
Wow – that was pretty intense! I learned a lot and I’m sure anyone who reads this will as well. Thanks Stu. Check out Dub Trio’s recent album “Another Sound Is Dying” to hear Stu’s visceral assault.
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