Nathan East: ‘The Daft Punk experience has been so much fun’

Samedi 3 Mai 2014

Interview. Bass player Nathan East is a pillar in the US music business. He has played with the greatest musicians in the studio or live for more than 30 years and now, he has finally released his first solo album.

© Bob McClenahan
© Bob McClenahan
When did you arrive in L.A. and how was life there at the time? Was it an exciting period for a musician?

I arrived in LA toward the end of 1979 and officially started my session career on the 2nd day of January, 1980. I remember like is was yesterday because although it was a jingle session for Hertz Rent-a-Car, all the LA top call session players were on the date! Gene Page was the arranger, Lee Ritenour and Ray Parker, Jr. were the guitarists, Sonny Burke on piano and James Gadson on drums. It was a very exciting period for a musician as there were literally hundreds of recording studios and sessions taking place around LA on any given day. The music scene was thriving and lots of opportunities existed.

You have been credited on maybe one third of the records I have bought. How did this happen?

We must like the same kind of music. Given the amount of time I have been making records which spans more than three decades, there's a good chance that the sheer volume of albums that i have played on would account for a large percentage of your record collection, especially in the more Pop genres, R&B, Rock & Roll and Jazz.

As a sideman, do you prefer to work in the studio or live on stage?

That's a good question. I can say that I enjoy both venues for different reasons. In the studio, your sound is being recreated at the highest level of fidelity and the work conditions are usually pristine, involving the finest studios, engineers and musicians available. That hi-fi audio experience doesn't always translate to the various stages you perform on however the energy and audience response in a live performance scenario is a rush that almost can't be described and there's nothing quite like it! I feel very fortunate to have maintained a good balance between studio and live playing. When in the studio, I approach it like a live performance and when I'm playing live, I treat it with the same reverence as if I'm playing in the studio.

Your solo album and the albums you recorded with Fourplay are jazz albums but as a sideman you play with many pop/rock artists such as Elton John, Phil Collins or Toto. Do you consider yourself as a jazz musician?

First and foremost I try to consider myself a good musician regardless of if i'm playing Jazz, Pop, Rock or R&B ... or any genre for that matter. I'm not a big fan of labels although I realize for marketing purposes they are a necessity but as a young musician, I listened to and enjoyed so many styles of music that when I play I draw from all those references and don't really consider myself any one particular type of musician.

Why did you wait so long to record your first solo album?

That's probably the one question I get asked the most. Although I have really carved out a career as a perennial sideman, my aspiration to record a solo album has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. I guess it's taken me this long to get a full grasp on the concept and presentation of my initial statement as a solo artist. When addressing functionality of the bass in popular music and the supportive role it plays, that presents a challenge in trying to figure out how to present it in a solo album. Add to the fact that I have maintained such an extremely busy schedule as member of so many touring bands and involved in countless recordings and productions, simply finding the time to carve out a solo project was quite a challenge.

Even though it's referred to as a solo album, it's very much a collaborative effort with lots of my musical friends. I do feel that at this stage in my life and career, the timing of it all is absolutely perfect.

You explored very diverse music styles in the album including Brazilian music. Was it way to pay tribute to all the musicians and styles that have influenced you?

It's definitely a celebration of all the music that I have enjoyed over the years. Each song has a unique story associated it which I believe adds depth and emotion to the album.

There are many covers in the album. How did you choose the songs?

Again with each song having an associated story, the song selection was quite easy. "101 Eastbound" is a cover of one of my own songs that I've played around the world with Fourplay for more than 20 years and it sort of evolved into this version.
"Sir Duke" is a universally "feel good" song. I'm a big Pat Metheny fan and his "Letter From Home" has a special place in my heart. "Moondance" was one of the first songs I ever learned and played and sang in my first band. Michael McDonalds "I Can Let Go Now" is one of the most beautiful songs ever written! Stevie Wonder and I ended up doing a harmonica and bass rendition of "Overjoyed" at a sound check at Carnegie Hall in New York and he said if I ever recorded it that he would like to play on it! I couldn't pass up that offer!! "Yesterday" an all time favorite song of mine and my son's version really captured my heart. "America The Beautiful" Jaco (Pastorius) inspired.

There is a song on your album untitled “Daft Funk”. It it a way to pursue the Daft Punk experience?

The Daft Punk experience has been so much fun especially playing "Get Lucky" on RAM and at the Grammys! "Daft Funk" is a tongue-and-cheek tip of the hat to my friends in Daft Punk and I am especially grateful that they went for real music played by real players and that the world embraced their music at such a high level.

There is an impressive list of guests in your album. Could we consider these musicians as the ones who've been important in your career?

Yes. All are friends and have inspired me for a long time. It's an honor to be able to call them my friends and that they all said "yes" when they got the call to participate on my album.

Your son Noah plays on your album. Would you like him to become a musician?

I think it's already too late. He has a passion and gift for music that is evident in his playing and even at the young age of 13, he plays like he has been around for a long time. That said, I believe he's smart enough to become anything he wants to become.

Do you plan to tour in Europe and more particularly in France in the near future?

At the moment there are offers and requests for me to tour Europe so I am in the planning stages and really look forward to playing there. I especially love playing in France which has some of the most enthusiastic lovers of music in the world!

To learn more about Nathan East, please visit his website as well as his online bass school

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Boris Plantier