There are bass players, and there are bass guitarists.
Bass players hold down the groove, supply the low end, and more or less hang in the shadows. They don’t try to do too much. This is usually the norm, and they’ll always be a crucial piece to any band. But bass guitarists can steal the show with their intricate and masterful playing- hell they can be the show. Case in point: Victor Wooten, Jaco Pastorius, Flea, Les Claypool, and many more.
Someone I would file under bass guitarist is The Garden State’s own Mike Hall.
He has shared the stage with the likes of Blondie, The Plain White T’s, MGMT, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Third Eye Blind, Blues Traveler, Sugar Ray, and numerous other major label artists. And after hearing him play, it’s no surprise he was associated with such acts.
He recently was featured in Bass Musician Magazine, Bass Magazine, and New Jersey Stage Magazine, and is endorsed by Skjold Design Guitars. He also released his first three-song EP titled The Next Step, and began creating bass covers on social media that have accrued over 500,000 total views in only a few short months. One of which being his solo bass cover video of Owl City’s “Fireflies”, nearing 60,000 views on Facebook alone.
We got the chance to fire some questions Hall’s way to learn more about his EP, which living bass player he’d like to have a drink with, his bass rig, and much more.
So where did you grow up, and who or what got you to pick up the four-string?
I grew up in Madison, NJ, which is a small town located in the Morris County area that I’ve benefited from tremendously, particularly in their investment of providing quality music education throughout their public school systems. That being said, how I got started on picking up the four-string is a pretty funny story: I started playing the cello as my first serious instrument in fourth grade, but due to having scoliosis at the time, I had really poor posture that drove my orchestra teacher crazy. Once I got to middle school, stand up basses started to be introduced, and my orchestra teacher essentially forced me onto it as an instrument that would be “more comfortable” to play. Although she was correct, I always took it as the greatest cop-out ever for her not having to continue to endure my poor posture. However, I stuck with the upright bass all the way through middle school and high school. Once I got to college, I picked up the electric bass, and haven’t put it down since.
There’s obviously a lot of versatility with the bass. What genres/styles drew you in and do you mostly play?
I was fortunate to grow up with a very eclectic taste in music; my family is full of extremely talented musicians, and it allowed me to develop a real sense of appreciation for every genre of music imaginable. However, rock, pop, and funk have always resonated with me the most, all being genres I would say I specialize in within the context of a band setting. That being said, as an independent artist, I take a very classical, progressive approach to bass playing with conceptualizing and performing my solo bass arrangements.
Do you have a strict practice regimen?
I wouldn’t say I do, which may come as a surprise to many people. In all honesty, I never really agreed with the idea of having a strict practice regimen as the best means of making meaningful progression. In fact, that model of thinking is what really turned me off to the idea of attending music programs out of high school: every time I forced myself to play a certain routine for a set amount of time, it just became a monotonous chore that gave me little to no satisfaction, which also significantly contributed towards burnout.
However, once I started approaching practice with an attitude of playing whatever I wanted, for as long or as little as I liked, I began to increase my skill level tremendously. Sometimes I can only tolerate practicing for 30 minutes a day, other times I skip meals and pull all nighters to practice. As long as I’m having fun and I’m consistently engaged with the material I’m playing, I’ll practice the day away. The moment it starts becoming a chore, I’ll put the bass down and do something else.
It may very well be an unorthodox approach to practicing, but it’s the one that’s worked for me.
So I was hoping you could discuss your EP, The Next Step. Could you talk about the inspiration and influence behind it?
Following my decision to leave my previous project, the inspiration came from wanting to try my hand at becoming a solo musician, thus being titled The Next Step. That being said, the EP is a short compilation of a few of my solo bass arrangements, and even though they’re covers, I feel as if I perform them in a way that really makes them my own. I was also influenced to create this material from other incredible bassists that I’ve watched over the years, many of whom have broken the mold on conventional playing. Ultimately, I wanted to create content that contributed towards showcasing what can be done on bass.
Who else helped bring the project to life, and where was it recorded?
Just myself really. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but could never figure out how to pull off. However, once I was in lockdown from the pandemic, I realized that there was no better time to figure out how to make it a reality. The EP was recorded at home through the use of Logic Pro X on my Macbook Pro, in tandem with my Scarlett-Focusrite Midi, and released under the artist name of “Mike Hall Bass”.
If you could have a coffee or beer (or other) with any living bass player, who would it be?
I have to go with Victor Wooten. Not only is he debatably the greatest bassist of all time, but we also share a very similar philosophy in terms of making progression as a musician. For those who are unfamiliar, Victor has spoken at a number of events on the idea that music education should be “treated as a language”, which attempts to combat the pervasive notion of having to spend years of strict tutelage as the only way to become an “accomplished” musician. Essentially it’s a paradigm of thought that prioritizes having fun, doing away with the fear of “playing wrong notes”, and expressing your musical self freely, all without worrying about things such as scales, modes, and theory.
Who are your top three favorite bassists? (Obviously Wooten is in there…)
Victor is definitely number one. Number two would have to go to Flea. His ability to fuse his aggressive punk rock roots with funk and melody driven progressions resulted in the creation of a distinct style of slap bass, which was a sound that really helped cement the greatness of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Number three has to go to Cliff Burton. He was the pioneer of showcasing what the bass guitar can do as both a rhythm and lead instrument for Metallica, which forever redefined how the bass was viewed in the rock and metal genres.
What does your bass rig look like these days? Any favorite basses you’ve owned?
My bass rig is pretty simple: it currently consists of a Hartke Preamp, an Ampeg cab, Boss cables, with a BigSkye reverb pedal and Polytuner. My favorite basses are my Schecter Stargazer, which is decked out with piccolo bass strings, my Ibanez acoustic bass, and my Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray. I recently received an endorsement from Skjold Design Guitars, and will begin to exclusively perform with their basses once I receive them in the very near future. For those who are curious, you can check out all of the work of art basses that Pete Skjold creates at skjolddesign.com.
What does a dream gig look like for you?
For me, a dream gig simply consists of performing without inhibition. The size of the stage, or the audience, doesn’t matter nearly as much to me. Between playing huge shows to crowds of thousands, to performing in a corner of a random dive bar, I can confidently say that the most ideal shows are always the ones where I can express myself freely.
What are one or two pinnacle moments for you as an artist?
I would have to say that one pinnacle moment for me had to be from my very first big show, which was nearly a decade ago at a venue called Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ. I was both so nervous and excited that I couldn’t help but squeeze the hell out of the neck of my bass, which resulted in my left forearm being locked in place for nearly a week after the show! From that moment on, I knew that being a musician was something that I wanted to seriously pursue.
What can fans expect from Michael Hall as we get deeper into spring and into summer?
For the foreseeable future, fans can definitely expect a lot of really cool traditional and solo bass covers. Speaking of which; I recently released a solo bass arrangement to “You’ll Be in My Heart” by Phil Collins from Disney’s Tarzan, which can be checked out on my Instagram, and on my Facebook / YouTube pages! I also have a lot of other really exciting pieces of news developing, but can’t quite comment on at the moment. However, I’ll frequently be posting updates on my social media pages, in addition to my website, so be sure to Like, Follow, and subscribe to stay tuned for what’s coming next!