Barenaked Ladies’ Jim Creeggan isn’t your typical rock bass player. He’s a trained symphonic bassist whose band just happened to blow up with chart-topping, whimsical radio hits such as “One Week,” “Pinch Me,” “If I Had $1000000” and “Brian Wilson.”
This summer, Barenaked Ladies are heading up the 2013 Last Summer on Earth Tour, which also features Ben Folds Five, Guster and Boothby Graffoe. The Barenaked Ladies also have a new album out, Grinning Streak, which just landed them a No. 10 spot on the Billboard 200 chart.
We caught up with bass player Jim Creeggan to talk about his use of distortion on Grinning Streak, switching between electric and double bass and why his Gibson Recording bass is a perfect fit for his rig.
Congratulations on Grinning Streak debuting No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart. When you started out in the Barenaked Ladies, did you ever think you would be on your 11th studio release?
No! Really, I just kept on getting on the bus, and one thing led to another. (Laughs) I didn’t know this would be my career. I think when I started playing in the band, my aspiration was more to become an athlete—a middle distance runner. In fact, other dream was to be a symphonic bass player. After my second year of studying, I thought I’d take a year off from school and go with my band Barenaked Ladies on a tour around Canada, and that turned into 25 years!
What’s your favorite thing, bass-wise, about Grinning Streak?
From a bass standpoint, one thing I think was great is that we would do a lot of mixing distortion in with the bass tone. The one shining distortion example came in “Keepin’ It Real,” and that’s where I used my Gibson Recording bass and a chunk of distortion. It was a real swampy song and needed as much grit and power as possible. The heaviness of that Gibson Recording bass, when everything is turned on full and with solid distortion, really created an atmosphere and really spoke to the lyrics.
You switch between electric bass and double bass. How did you come to that decision to perform on both?
I came from studying double bass and played electric bass in high school. When I was in fifth grade, I played in my school string program in my public school, so the two were always together. I would play with electric bass with my rock band. I’ve always been doing a balancing act between the two basses, so it’s a continuation of what I’ve always been doing, but I’ve always considered myself a double bass player. When Barenaked Ladies started, I played double bass exclusively. It wasn’t until our second album that I started playing electric, because we were bringing in distorted guitars, and electric bass usually fits in better under distorted guitars than double bass
What are your go-to Gibsons on the road and in the studio?
The two Gibson basses I own are both Gibson Recording basses. The story is that we were going from Australia to Japan, and somewhere on the way, my bass was stolen. I was bass-less and went looking at this music store that was 20 stories high in Tokyo and played this Gibson recording bass there. I played it, and I went, “Wow. I’ve been looking for you forever! Where have you been?” There was this huge sound that killed everything else in the shop, so I ran back to the venue to get my money. My guitar tech and I picked it up, took it to the gig and I had the most fun rocking out to it. Because we travel so much, I had to get another one.
What makes Gibsons the right fit for you?
I would say, I’ve always considered myself a double bass player, and when you play a double bass, you can play it very aggressively, whereas with a lot of other basses, if you play them aggressively, it chokes the note and takes away the bass note. With the Gibson Recording bass, I can play it like I’m playing my double bass. It’s a great sound that supports an electric guitar very well. When I want big goose egg note in a song like “Old Apartment,” it’s a great guitar to play, because the bass line is right in unison with the electric guitar and it adds a whole other bass depth to the overall sound and to those big power chords we’re playing.
What constitutes good tone?
It’s really different, because it changes depending on the song. It also depends on the venue, if you’re playing live. I’ve really worked very hard on this tour especially to find the right sound. When we go to a big venue, especially a big outdoor venue, the sound is very reverberant. It’s like playing in a fishbowl. The first thing that suffers is the bass sound. It’s frustrating to see from the audience’s perspective the bass player ripping it up on stage, and you can’t hear a thing they’re playing. So, I’ve been working to find a tone that fits sonically right on top of the bass drum and right underneath the electric or acoustic guitar.
How’s the Last Summer on Earth Tour going?
It’s going great! I really like those guys and love their bands, and we’re having a lot of fun. We’ve toured with Guster before and have a parallel career with Ben Folds Five. It’s nice to see those guys again. After the tour this summer, we’re going to keep tour in the fall. We’re going to do some more dates in the U.S. in October and couple of tours in Canada in the winter.
For more on the Barenaked Ladies, visit www.barenakedladies.com.
Photo credit: Anne Erickson