Nicole talks bass
Bass powerhouse Nicole includes Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, John Bonham and Muse among her influences. She loves experimenting with sounds and laments the lack of interesting noise-making equipment to be found in South Africa where she grew up. Though it made her resourceful.
I originally went to an audition to be a guitar player in a band and it turned out they were actually looking for a bass player, so I ended up falling into the role of a bass player. However I lived in a third world country and there was no access to any interesting gear, so I got bored of bass very quickly. So I just started trying to get interesting sounds out of really shit tiny amps which, all you really could do then was distortion by overloading the resources you had, and then I realised, oh, you can actually just get that in pedals, that make different kinds of distortions and put them through bigger, more quality amps, and that’s basically where it’s gone from there.
Her current set up, a mix of Big Muff and other pedals, allows her to get the sound she wants.
I’m known to be quite anal with distortion sounds so if you look at the pedals they’re actually all marked with different little lines and stuff, and for most of the gig, it’s spent on the floor re-aligning my pedals to get a sound for each song. I could probably just stick to one or two distortion sounds but it’s much more interesting to craft sounds for each song as we intended them to be. I kind of live in the bass world on stage so it kind of makes sense for me to be on the floor crafting sound the whole time. Even though it might look dorky.
Everything starts with her unusual vintage Fender JP-90 bass, with GHS strings.
The basic bass I play is a Fender JP-90, which was made in the 90s, which is one of my favourite decades. It was also when I started playing bass, which is probably why I have it. I like it so much because a it’s a Fender and there’s something totally about Fender basses that I’ve just never come across in any other brand, sorry guys. And it’s a JP because it’s a Jazz and Precision hybrid. So it’s got both pickups, which is nice, because it’s a versatile bass and it sort of combines that softer jazz sound, and a growly precision sound, and the neck is a jazz neck so it’s a bit thinner for my tiny hands, and that’s why I like it. Also I’ve had it since I started playing so it’s got a lot of sentimental value. I’ve gutted it and put different like little electronic bits in it to boost parts of the sound so, it’s my baby.
Fender JP-90 Bass
It’s a versatile bass and it combines that softer jazz sound, and a growly precision sound
Nicole gave us a tour of her sound.
The bass also has a stunning custom pick guard made by Nashville metal sculptor Robert Cortner. It looks like something an angel would be proud of.
He made this wing pick guard for me out of two metal plates and he did the whole thing by hand and drew on it with other bits of burning metal and then painted it afterwards and really sculpted it, it’s one of my prize possessions.
From the JP-90, the signal goes into her Electro-Harmonix-heavy pedal chain.
Well I’m kind of obsessed with Electro-Harmonix, possibly because they look so cool, actually. They’re like enormous and look really nice and there’s a really tangible feel to when you’re playing with these massive knobs and sliders and stuff. It almost becomes a bit of a performance playtime. So I use Electro-Harmonix Synthesizer Bass pedal, a Worm Electro-Harmonix as well.
Electro-Harmonix The Worm
Bumper box of modulation
It’s a sort of four-part effects unit, which is wah, phaser, tremelo and vibrato, and you’ve got control of the rate and range as well so you can get some really interesting sounds when you combine it with distortion and different octaves and things.
Nicole says her heavy foot-stamping means she breaks lots of pedals along the way. She has names for a lot of her gear, even her pedals, and there’s a religious theme going through - or maybe she’s hoping there will fewer breakages!
From there it goes into The Priest, or Sans Amp made by Tech 21, which is an overall signal boost. I also sometimes run a clean line out of there to keep bottom end when I engage different distortion sounds. It’s got an equalizer so you can craft your sound a little bit.
Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI
It’s got an equaliser so you can craft your sound
Out of there it goes into my newest pedal, the Dirt Transmitter, made by Earthquaker devices, which is a totally badass distortion pedal which I discovered from the North London metal scene guys actually. It basically sounds like an earthquake. A dirty earthquake! I was like, I love Big Muff and everything but sometimes you just want it to be more bottom-endy and more cutty so they were like, you need this pedal, it’s called the Dirt Transmitter, and I got it. It’s got the most enormous sound you’ve ever heard. Love it.
EarthQuaker Devices Dirt Transmitter
Totally badass distortion pedal
And then from there it goes into the creamier Big Muff sort of overdrivey distortion pedal. From that guy it goes into the bass synthesizer, also by Electro-Harmonix and you’ve got sort of octaves on here, square wave, delay, it’s really fun to play with, you can really get into the sliders and stuff.
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi
I love Big Muff
Then that whole chain goes into the Orange MK3 bass head, a nice valve amp, lots of nice organic gain sounds, straight into the big, boomy but yet crispy 15 inch speaker.
Orange AD200B Bass MK3 Head
Lots of nice organic gain sounds
She’s fond of her Orange amps, but retains a soft spot for one particular amp combo.
My favourite amp combo of all time is an Ashdown ABM 500, the old series through a 70s 215 Ampeg cabinet, which I do actually own, but I had to leave it (the cab) in Nashville because it’s literally bigger than me, so I couldn’t get it on a plane.
Ashdown ABM 500
My favourite amp combo of all time
I found a pretty good substitute in these Oranges. MK3 with a 1X15 speaker works better in London as well because you can actualy get it onto the tiny stages, and it’s got a really gritty valvey analoguey sound. It’s actually kind of breaking at the moment which I’m sort of enjoying, it just kind of goes crackle at all the wrong moments sometimes.. but it’s really fun to play, and it’s loud and dirty and bassy and looks fabulous as well.
Orange OCB115 Bass Speaker Cabinet
Boomy but yet crispy
Nicole considers Nashville as the place where she grew up as a musician.
I started playing bass in South Africa and that was exciting and interesting, just because I’d never played music before, but then moving to Nashville and being exposed to so many incredible players and incredible producers and just every area of music industry, there’s someone like, wow, inspiring. I learnt a lot of what I know about playing and gear off other musicians who had been doing it for a really long time… it was really just a melting pot of music knowledge for me. It’s very much about vibe and feel there as well. I didn’t really get exposed to that much to working with producers until I met Paul, it was all very much about what you could make on the spot.
Nicole and Paul spend a lot of time bouncing ideas off each other in the studio.
Paul and I nerd out a lot and will experiment with software and running sounds into other sounds and quite often we’ll start with him playing with the drum machine, running it through a bunch of effects and me playing my bass through a whole bunch of effects. We’ll swap now and then and swap chains and it’s really quite an incestuous little nerd-fest. We’ll play anything that makes sound and run it through pedals, and you can get interesting melodic and sort of percussive loops out of it if you mangle them enough.
The ukulele is one of her favourite instruments to have fun with.
I don’t think we’ve ever ended up using ukulele on a Vuvuvultures track but we’ve used it for making samples and sounds and things. We also have this little toy collective called Sh! Pop Studio, it’s like this little really, really fucked old speaker, everything you put through it distorts so immediately sounds awesome, and it’s got a drum machine, a keyboard and a mic, and we basically had a whole bunch of sessions playing ukelele and then playing off that, like little keyboards and drum parts and stuff.
Smash Hits Sh! Pop Studio
Everything you put through it distorts so immediately sounds awesome
Nicole is very particular about her strings and needs something that stands up to her powerful playing. She uses a range of different strings from GHS, who personalised things just for her.
The reason I started working with them is that they were up for making me custom gauge sets. I like to have a different range of gauges, and as a rule always get the first G.50 or up.
My favourite are the Progressives. I was drawn to them because of the strong wire and magnetised core. And they do actually have an amazing tone, and they last ages and I feel like I won’t break them no matter how hard I play!
An amazing tone, and they last ages
Also I like the Infinity Steel (cool name too), as a coated string option. Also they coat them RED. Win. I was specifically looking for black coated nice sounding strings at one point for fun and GHS mentioned these so I tried them out.
Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synth
Add synth tones to your bass playing.