A few months back I stage-managed LDB Fest. I got to work with over 40 great bands, and Gadget was one that stood out to me. They were great, and I was pumped to watch their bass player Olivia Johnson. I reached out to her for my 24th Bassist Spotlight. I hope you guys enjoy what she's got to say about her interpretation of the instrument, how she got into it in the first place and her love of touring and music.
Introduce yourself to everyone.
Hey, my name is Olivia Johnson. I live in Minneapolis and I play bass in Gadget and Greynier.
When did you get started playing the bass guitar?
I started playing bass in high school. I’ve only been playing for a little over three years, Greynier started when I was 17 (I’m 20 now). Jeb, who plays guitar and sings in Greynier, and I became fast friends and realized that the both of us had been wanting to start a new band and so that was kind of that. He helped me find bass gear and we started writing music in his dorm room. Jon started drumming with us a month or two later and then we played our first show shortly after that. That was kinda it for me, I never really learned bass, I more or less just did it until it worked, but Jeb was super instrumental in that process for me.
Do you play with a pick, and how do you feel about playing with your fingers?
I will never play with my fingers. 1.14mm picks all the way.
Does your family support you playing music, touring, and recording?
Yeah, my family loves coming to see Greynier but they do not like Gadget, which is really funny. My mom and brother flew out to see Greynier in Colorado once, which was wild, so they are definitely down for it. I moved back home last year so that I could afford to tour and be out as much as I wanted to. They think it’s cool that I get to see as much as I do. I don’t think they really care as long as I’m being safe and smart, but they are definitely more supportive than they have to be.
Is there a typical way you come up with riffs? Also, how do you remember riffs if you're away from your instrument?
My usual method is following what the guitar is playing until I have a feel for the part and then making adjustments as needed, whether that be shifting to follow the drums more, or straying from the guitar parts to make things a little more interesting. I also add in chords wherever makes sense. I am so bad about remembering ideas for bass parts. I could repeat it over and over to myself as many times as I wanted and still forget it by the time I got back to my bass. But at this point I know that if I’m trying to write something that I need to record all the ideas I have before I leave my house or the practice space.
When you are picking during the songs, would you say you're down stroking more or up stroking more?
Definitely down stroking. I’m a believer in the “if you can play it well enough while down stroking the whole time then that is the move” sentiment. I think more often than not, the part is going to sound better if you’re down stroking versus alternate picking, that is my personal preference at least. However, there are definitely parts that feel so much more natural to alternate pick, so I end up going with whichever grooves best.
What is your current amp, pedal, and bass guitar set up?
I’m currently running through Peavey Mark IV and an Ampeg 810, which I love dearly. I have a big box Rat and the Way Huge Pork and Pickle that I run through the fuzz channel for Greynier, but I run clean for Gadget 90% of the time. I’m also playing a Fender P Bass right now.
Are there any specific bassists who inspire the way you play?
I feel like I tend to pull more inspiration from guitar players than I do bass players, for whatever reason. I look more for people’s stage presence than their actual playing. I would much rather watch someone have the time of their life while playing than watch them hit every note, that’s something I think about a lot. I pull more from the way that people use the stage, for sure. But, my friend Hunter Senft, who plays bass in Downward, is one of the most compelling bass players I know, he’s the first one that comes to mind.
My friend at home, Jack Carlson, from Wanderer, was always someone I looked up to when I started playing. I was told when I first started playing that if I wanted to learn how to play bass the right way, that all I needed to do was watch him. He just kills it and it’s always so effortless and I love that. Freaky Franz also comes to mind, his presence is god tier. Also Aaron McQueen from Dare, I love watching him play.
Have you played with a drummer who has changed the way you play the bass?
I feel really lucky have had my first experience in a band be with Jon (from Greynier) playing drums. He is an unbelievable drummer and he thinks about drums so differently than most people, it’s a really special thing. So I think that it’s pretty impossible to be in a band with him and not have his drumming change the way that you’re playing. There have been Greynier songs that started entirely from a drum part he had, which I haven’t experienced in other bands. Him and I are able to lock into a really solid groove really easily, which is really cool.
You guys were great at LDB Fest. How do you like touring? Also, is there a city you've visited that you want to live in at some point?
LDB was unreal, both our fest set and our aftershow set were the most fun times I think I’ve ever had playing. I love touring more than anything else. I will be touring until I am no longer afforded that opportunity. There are so many places that we’ve been that I could easily be convinced to move to, but the ones at the top of my list right now are Denver and the Bay Area. I’d also definitely love to live somewhere on the upper East Coast at some point too, that part of the country is so saturated with hardcore, I think it’d be a blast to live out there.
How well do you guys eat on tour?
This is a funny question because Greynier eats pretty well on tour and Gadget usually eats like dog shit. Greynier usually brings a cooler and we keep fruit and hummus and pretty wholesome foods with us most of the time. But Gadget is a lot of gas stations and Burger King. I have a sensitive stomach so I’ve learned how to eat as good as I can while I’m out, but the two bands are pretty different stories.
Is there anything new musically happening for you?
The biggest thing recently for me has been the Greynier full length. We spent three weeks recording in Loveland, Colorado in January with our biggest homie, Corey Coffman. That was such an unparalleled experience and Corey was the best person in the world to do it with. We just got the masters back yesterday and I have never had such strong feelings towards a release of mine or been so proud of something I’ve made before, so I cannot wait to put that out.
Other than that, we’re in the process of getting the new Gadget record pressed with LDB, which we are stoked on, and both bands are busy figuring out tours for the rest of the year.
Is there a band past or present you would love to fill in with on bass?
I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to fill in for bands that I really truly love. I got to fill in for Life’s Question, Dare, and End on End last year, which were all so fun. I love playing songs that aren’t mine so I jump at the chance to fill in for bands if I can make it work with my schedule. There’s not really one band that sticks out to me as one I’m dying to fill in for, but if we’re talking like big-reach, anything-is-possible type situation, I would have loved to have filled in for Unified Right while they were around. I love those songs and playing a set of theirs sounds like a blast.
Is there anything personally in your life you'd like to tell us about?
I run a label with Jake from Gadget called Bad Mouth Records, which is fairly new. We’re in the middle of getting our first couple releases out right now, so if you’re interested in checking that out, we are on social media and Bandcamp [the Prime song below is on the label]. I’m also in school full time. I study printmaking and bookmaking and I do a ton of that, which I post at @onlineolivia on Instagram, so you can check that there if you feel inclined.
I also do a fair amount of freelance design work too. So I stay pretty busy. I also want to use this opportunity here to say that if you are a touring band that has not come through Minneapolis before, that I highly encourage you to come through and let me book you here.
Finally, can you give some advice to someone picking up the bass guitar for the first time?
I don’t know if I’m qualified to do that really, but I think that if you want it enough, you’ll find a way to make it work. Bass is one of those instruments that you can coast on being subpar at for a decent amount of time, I did that for a hot minute. Knowing your instrument, knowing your gear, being comfortable with your skill set, and being confident in a live setting doesn’t happen over night. Stuff like that takes time and I think as long as you’re determined enough to see it through, that you’ll find yourself in a spot that you’re happy with sooner or later.
Getting to that spot is so rewarding and so fun and I would recommend that to anyone. I’m a big believer in throwing yourself into the deep end in those kind of situations. Making yourself do things you’re scared of and jumping in is good for personal growth.