Bass player Simon Little performs with The Divine Comedy, The Duckworth Lewis Method, Clare Teal, Duke Special AND finds time for his own electronic project, Monochrome Echo. He also just happens to be an advocate of the ukulele bass and we are are terribly lucky and undeniably excited to have the opportunity to speak with him!
1 – How did you discover the U-bass?
“I discovered the U-Bass in Wunjo’s bass shop on Denmark street one day. I’d never actually seen anyone playing one before and as an upright bass player I was interested to see how the sound would hold up as an alternative for travelling. I tried out as many of the different models I could lay my hands on and settled on a fretted mahogany model. It had such a thunderous and open tone it was a no-brainer really.”
2 – As a session bass player how do think the sound & play-ability of the U-bass compares with acoustic bass guitar and upright bass and do you think it’s now an established tool amongst serious bassists?
“As a session player I need to have a variety of sounds and tones at my disposal and I’ve had many different basses over the years in search of the perfect combination for live and in the studio. I’d say sonically the U-bass sits somewhere between my upright bass and my Höfner Violin bass. I’ve played a few electric upright basses over the years and several acoustic bass guitars but found they often lacked the bottom end that you get from a real upright bass or bass guitar and consequently they rarely sit well in the mix. The U-Bass has a much broader timbre and a weight to the sound that works really well with acoustic guitars and drums.
Playability-wise obviously there are certain sacrifices you have to make when playing the U-Bass. Speed would probably be the primary one as the strings take a little while to speak but there are ways around it with a good right hand technique. In fact I had to play Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick on the U-Bass with The Divine Comedy on Chris Evans’ radio show a couple of years ago. It took most of the week for me to get it up to speed and sounding proper but once I got there the bass sounded great! It’s a very rewarding instrument to spend time with.
It’s not quite an established tool for serious bassists yet, purely because not a lot of players have even had the opportunity to try one out but I am noticing more people playing them live these days so it won’t be long before they become a more accepted instrument in the bass world. They certainly deserve to be and I get more positive comments about sound of the U-bass than anything else.”
3 – Would you ever use the U-bass in the studio or is a first and foremost a portable instrument for intimate acoustic gigs & promos?
“I’ve only used the U-Bass in the studio on a couple of my own Monochrome Echo tracks so far. I would tend to use either my upright bass of the Höfner for those sounds, but the U-bass does record very well indeed so I expect it’ll make it onto a few records soon enough. I primarily use the U-Bass live with The Divine Comedy. In the live show we tend to have an acoustic part of the set where I’ll play four or five songs on the U-Bass. These might be songs where I’d played upright bass on the record or simply acoustic versions of some of the hits, but the sound of the U-Bass blends really well in that setting. I also use it for all the promo and radio sessions as it’s so portable, easy to fly with and records so well. I’m currently running it through a little Markbass Micromark 801 combo and it sounds awesome.”
4 – How did you first come to work with such fabulous song writers as Neil Hannon & Duke Special?
“I started playing with The Divine Comedy when I was in my final year at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama. I’d played with Rob Farrer the percussionist from the band and Neil was looking for a new bass player that also played upright bass so Rob recommended me and it all went from there. I’ve been with the band for 17 years now! And Duke Special supported us on a big European tour many years ago and he was also looking for a bass player for his larger shows so I stepped in. I’ve been incredibly lucky to play with such wonderful musicians and song-writers.”
5 – With the new album and imminent tour from The Divine Comedy plus the release of your own latest album from your solo alter ego of Monochrome Echo, you’re having a busy year! Is there room for anything else in 2019 and what’s coming in 2020?
“There’s certainly a lot going on this year! The latest Divine Comedy album has been doing really well and the Autumn tour is starting to sell out already so we’re all looking forward to that. In fact if you tune into Zoe Ball’s Radio 2 show this Friday 12th we’re doing another acoustic session!
Right now I’m concentrating on spreading the word about the release of my new Monochrome Echo album. This is my solo electronic project and Matrix Rebooting will be my third album to date. It comes out July 19th and you can pre-order the album on Bandcamp and iTunes. I’ve been working on this music all year so I’m excited to send it out into the world and see what people think!
I suspect there’ll be some more touring for The Divine Comedy in 2020 and certainly some festivals too. I’ll also be out touring with Clare Teal all over the UK so check out her website for dates. And of course I’ll be producing more music as Monochrome Echo. I’m thinking an EP will be next but then I thought new record was gonna be an EP until it got all out of hand! That’s the way it goes I suppose…”
A huge thank you to Simon for taking time from his crazy schedule to indulge us delving into his use of the U-Bass. I’ve lovingly listening to “Office Politics” by The Divine Comedy and “Matrix Rebooting” by Monochrome Echo (which you can pre-order and sample above) and they are both ridiculously good. I urge you to give them both a jolly good listen. Don’t forget to check out The Divine Comedy on Zoe Ball’s show or catch the tour where you can to see Simon live in action with his U-Bass and if you really want to make it easy for yourself, have a look at our review of Norman & Norma!