Steve Lawson
Steve Lawson
Steve Lawson Terry Tyldesley
Steve Lawson by
Steve Lawson

Steve Lawson is a hugely innovative and influential bassist, described as one of the most gifted solo bass players on the planet. He is also a music educator and social media guru. Steve has created an amazing 10-album series, Fingerpainting, of live improvised shows with Daniel Berkman that he recorded himself. A double CD of highlights from the albums has just been released. He gave us some incredible insights into the work - how it began, the gear he used for playing, and the mixing and mastering afterwards. If you’re in the US you can see Steve play this month, as he is performing a series of concerts in January.


Steve talks Fingerpainting

Steve is a true creature of the digital age - relishing his independence, a twitter guru, and making the most of artists’ tools ranging from Bandcamp to multi-track live recording.

‘Fingerpainting’ - a 10-album live project of compelling music - is a mould-breaking venture, and we wanted to know how it came about. Very organically it turns out and it started off when Daniel Berkman and Steve met at a gig.

We did this warehouse show in San Francisco, and we met, we set up and we were just getting a sound. There was a blend, particularly with the Gravikord which is this amazing electrical Kora instrument that he plays, which I’d just never even heard of before. He’s quite possibly the world’s leading exponent of it. He had a couple of synths with him and it was just apparent that something magical could happen from this, and we just looked at each other, and went, we’re not going to play solo are we.

They recorded their first ever shows together in 2012 and the following year in 2013 played another eight gigs in California, mostly house concerts. Steve had the idea of putting it all out as a ten album set.

Steve’s style is very fluid and atmospheric with shades of ambient, pop, electronica and jazz, combining to make a warm and mesmerising sound. The recordings of their concerts show how he and Daniel seemingly effortlessly intertwine.

It sounds like a really great studio recording and so I don’t want to break that spell. I’m OK with people being a bit confused by it and going, ‘Really? This is live? This doesn’t sound live’.

There is a very definite soul to the aesthetic of it, it’s not icy cool, it doesn’t sound like it was designed by committee to sound hip like Café Del Mar at six o clock in the morning on Ibiza.

Singer, musician and producer Artemis was key. She organised the tour and also performed some of the time, with Steve describing her contribution as “fabulous”. Improvisation was at the heart of all the concerts.

I’m always surprised by the beauty of it, by the way that ideas coalesce, by the way that whoever it is that I’m playing with brings something to what’s going on that I wouldn’t have possibly conceived of, and Daniel’s possibly the pinnacle of that. I have a sense of awe at what he does to what I bring. So I’ll throw an idea at him and all of a sudden the harmony has shifted, a groove has appeared. He listens.

It can get quite playful, we’ll start trying to throw each other off, and it goes backwards and forwards. There are influences that sneak into it that are drawn from so many different kinds of music, so many different cultures and so many different bits of our experience. And that’s heady stuff, there’s a real adrenaline rush.

House concerts afford you a sense of space and a sense of postive anticipation from the audience that is about the least pressured environment in which to do stuff like that, you feel like you have the permission of the audience to amaze them.

The fact that it was all recorded live, meant embracing things from a performance, that wouldn’t get through in the studio process.

The vocal tunes on the second gig, you can hear there’s talking at the beginning of one of them. After we’ve started playing, you can hear someone talking and I’ve left that in. And there’s a guy who coughs a bit later on, so I’ve put a delay on it so it goes off into the distance. So we can be playful.

Steve being an independent artist and using the latest technology gave them huge freedom.

Even ten years ago we couldn’t have done this, there was no mechanism by which to release eleven hours of beyond-CD-quality recording.

There’s a 24-bit FLAC thing as well as MP3 so we’re going considerably beyond CD fidelity, and putting out this amount of music. We’re able to remix it and mash it up and so at the end of all this Artemis will be able to put out a vocal record, which is a compilation of all the vocal tunes on it, and sell it and make money for herself on it and do whatever she needs to do with it.

And if she wants to overdub on it she can, because we own all the rights, so we can let anybody do what they need to do with it, without having to go through publishers.

So we can be friendly and fun and infectious with it by letting people take it and sharing. But again so much of that is down to what Bandcamp has made possible. As a mechanism for sharing, listening, discovering, buying and forming relationships around music. I don’t think there’s ever been a platform that does that anywhere near as well as Bandcamp. Not even close.