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Then There Were Two

Interviewed by Bruce Stringer
Interview with Mike Viceglia of Then There Were Two from February 2008

This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at

Did the fact that you appear on only one track of the new Suzanne Vega album have anything to do with working on your CD as part of Then There Were Two?

No, no -those kinds of questions are very hard to answer. They’re entwined with inner politics with record companies. And she decided to use a new producer for this record. In this situation the producer will often use musicians that they can get the right response from, the right chemistry rather than taking that new chance with the unknown factor. I think in this past few years, with Suzanne, she’s had a lot of changes: a new manager, a new record company, a new husband and I think she wanted to explore and make a new start.

MSJ: How do you find it working with a new producer?

It really depends on the producer. Some producers give you full license. Some producers really like to open the room up and throw ideas back and forth and get really involved in that. Some come in with everything that they want to hear written out, all fleshed out in a line. I mean, most of them are open to new ideas but within a certain framework.


The arrangement for “Left Of Center” seems like an obvious predecessor to Then There Were Two. How was it working with such a format given that it was so uncommon at that point?

In the beginning, actually the first several times that I did it, it’s so unusual to have bass and vocal – there’s nothing to fall back on musically. After I got comfortable with it I really liked that and it also inspired me do this other project with Fiona McBain, Then There Were Two.


How did you get the idea to play the dual sections of root notes behind the solo sections of “Left Of Center,” as opposed to gently re-working it in a simpler fashion?

Well, that came out of listening to the original recording with Joe Jackson. I wanted to extract what I could from the piano solo but, of course, when you’re playing piano you play both. So I learnt the melody and then I started putting in some root notes also. I had to figure out a way to display my skills, so what I do is very dexterous. It’s not dazzling in a way that some of these other bass players can dazzle but it’s dexterous because it demands a lot of command over the instrument. To some extent it’s very freeing because I can explore, I invent the arrangements. I get to explore the bass in a way that I don’t get to very often. It’s restricting in a good way because I have to play it with an exactitude and very disciplined to make it come across the way that I want to play it. So it’s not freeform, it’s very structured.

MSJ: So – given the success of “Left Of Center” live – how did you approach the material with Then There Were Two?

It was very intuitive. I had this idea – as I don’t know anybody who ever really did a record of just bass and vocals with no processing, no overdubs. There are records of guys playing bass that were layering parts on top so that nobody could sound like that. They put a few pedals so they can sound like flutes; make it sound like all sorts of things. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted it to be as simple as possible, this idea of doing a bass and voice song – bass and vocal, one vocal and one 4-string bass. And that idea came out of doing some of the performances with Suzanne where it was just the two of us. There were some songs where she wanted to do that she actually couldn’t play on guitar. And I was like, “Well, what can we do to make this”... And I tried and started experimenting with it and started getting my teeth into it. Out of that I said, “You know, I’ve never really heard anybody do a full project so why can’t I try to be adventurous and do that?” And, at the time, I was good friends with Jennifer Glass and she knew Fiona. They would come and sit in with us and I just had this intuition that Fiona was the right person to do this. So I just met her one day and told her about the idea and she went, “Sure.” So I said, “You pick a song that you love and I’ll pick a song that I love and let’s start with two songs and see if it works.” So she did and she came over to my place and I told her that I worked on this arrangement that I wanted to try out and immediately it started sounding really good. Two songs became three, became four, became five, became nine, became ten and suddenly we had a set of material. So we started playing out a little bit and we wanted to make a record and said, “Let’s do this!” That’s how the whole process came together.

MSJ: Did you work with discipline or a more relaxed approach to arrangement and song selection?

The arrangements were very thought out and particular. And the song choice was very thought out. We really wanted to celebrate the song itself. We took songs from all across the board, an eclectic array of styles: rock, folk, jazz, all different things that are essentially great songs and that’s one of the reasons that we didn’t write the songs ourselves. We picked covers because there are so many good songs out there and we wanted to celebrate the song and reduce the production value down to the essence of what the songs is: the melody, the harmony and the rhythm. As a bass player I’m actually crossing a couple of borders by supplying melody or harmony like somebody plays the guitar.

MSJ: Are you working on any newer songs for a follow-up album?

There are a couple of new ones that we’re working on.


Your book, A View From The Side, has some very interesting observations concerning the role of a sideman in the music industry. What gave you the idea to write a book?

I was putting together a website with a web designer and we were trying to come up with content so the idea was tossed around about me doing some different writings about being on tour and interviews with other bass players. And, little by little, as I started getting into that I started collecting a fair amount of material and it was suggested that I should maybe do a book. It’s something that I never really thought about that much. I didn’t want to be ostentatious about it, but I wanted to see what I could do to contribute to the bass community because there are so many book out there and a lot of them tread over the same material. I didn’t want to do that so even though the stories are told through different bass players and bass is a backdrop of it, I think it can be read by anybody interested in the lifestyle of the musician. So there’s not a lot of bass-centric, how to play the bass – none of that, there’s nothing like that at all. It’s sort of human-interest stories as much as it is anything else. Through the interviews that I’ve managed to pull together, through their experiences and my experiences, I think you get a good overall picture of the life of the musician. Especially over the last 20-25 years where the music business has changed so dramatically that it’s really, I have to say that, I don’t know what the future of being a sideman is. I don’t know what the future of that is going to be like because the lifestyle and the needs and the business have changed so dramatically that I’m not sure there’s going to be enough room for someone to explore that kind of lifestyle. It’s just unknown territory. It’s become more and more mysterious as life goes on how we do what we do. Fortunately, I was able to be part of the music business’s golden age.

MSJ: Any surprise confessions or stories from any of your interviewees?

Leland Sklar who played with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt had some very interesting things to say in that you could have misconceptions about the people who are your heroes. The bottom line is that we’re all human beings and we all, regardless of the age and stature of who you are, are subject of the same foibles that most human beings are. That’s explored in the book, also. The book’s called “A View From The Side” so that gives you the idea that he’s a sideman and has a very specific vantage point to their relationship with music business and the artist.

MSJ: Are you still using the same Fender bass from all those years ago?

My main bass I played for over 20 years on all of Suzanne’s records I retired a couple of years ago because it’s very, very valuable. It’s a 1963 Fender Jazz bass and it’s probably worth about $12,000 – besides its sentimental value! I had so many problems carrying it around the world and had close calls with airlines checking it, not checking it, taking off without it, arguing with airline staff about that. And I decided that I wasn’t going to chance losing it so I needed to find another with a very Fender like quality, which ended up being a Lakeland and it’s a jazz bass and it really feels like a jazz bass. They make really good Fender style basses. It has a great sound and I’m really happy with it but, if it unfortunately gets destroyed, I’m not going to go crazy like I would if it was the Fender Jazz bass guitar.

MSJ: Back on “Wooden Horse” (Casper Hauser’s Song) you played fretless so emotively. Do you play much fretless bass now?

I do play fretless – not as much as I used to. Once in a while I pull it out and I really do enjoy it. Sometimes you feel a lot more expressive on a fretless bass.

MSJ: Who were you listening to while you were growing up?
When bass really started coming into prominence to my ears I started listening to a lot of English players: Jack Bruce, Chris Squire, John Entwistle where the bass was at the forefront of the band and that’s what drew my attention. Prior to that I was listening to a lot of jazz players. I was exposed to a lot of jazz players growing up. Kind of oddly, I went back and rediscovered the American Motown funk bass playing after I was exposed to….

And those were the kinds of influences I had and because I had a good background, a solid background

MSJ: What are you listening to at the now?

I find myself gravitating towards nothing extremely new. I keep going back to the great jazz players that I love, the great classical music that I love, the great voices – singers – that I love whether that’s modern day singers like Joni Mitchell or older singers like Ella Fitzgerald. Those are the voices that moved me so I need to hear that expressiveness that I don’t find a lot in today’s music. I just don’t feel that that personality, that unique personality is in it the way I felt it.

MSJ: What are your views on the issue of technology vs. technique in the entertainment industry?
Well, it’s a two-way street. It’s done good and bad. It’s allowed really good players to be able to document things easier. Unfortunately, it’s allowed a lot more poorer players and philistines to be able to come out and make a record. It’s a result of our American Idol mentality where – without having the background or discipline, putting in the time, understanding where the art comes from, performance skills, creative skills, writing skills – that overnight you could become a sensation. With the advent of downloadable music rather than hardcopy purchases where you actually buy CDs, CD sales have decreased and through piracy and digital swapping we’re unfortunately dealing with a younger culture that has minimized the value of music. That’s unfortunate as there are many of younger people who don’t understand music; it’s very disposable to them. It’s a background thing.

When music was harder to make, it was a very special thing to go into a recording studio where it cost $300 - $400 dollars an hour. To make a record was a more special thing and it was more valuable. With the media as it is it minimizes the importance of being an artist. It confuses the concept of being an artist and being a celebrity. To them it’s the same thing.

When technology is in the hands of the right people it’s a great tool.
MSJ: So, what’s your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Okay, biggest Spinal Tap moment – I actually talk about it in my book. We were on a tour bus – and this was way back in the day when I was beginning to tour with Suzanne. We had this big $200,000 tour bus decked out with bathroom and beds, lounges and TVs, video and microwave oven and refrigerator – it actually shorted out and blew up, the entire bus blew up! We were like, “Hey yeah, we’re on a tour bus” and we got off the tour bus and it just blew up.

That would be a good scene! (laughs).
MSJ: Any final words?

If there are any younger musicians reading this please don’t confuse celebrity with artistry. Don’t get caught up in the media hype. Be true to what came before you, learn about what came before you because that set up the ground for you to do what you do.

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