Since I started this interview series I've made it a point to also highlight bass players that started out as punk/hardcore musicians, who have gone on to be professional musicians ie: major labels, major tours, appearing on Letterman, Kimmel, etc. Through my experience being in Young Love, Pin Me Down, and Supertouch, I was always stressed being in that sort of spotlight without being a trained musician. I have found great comfort when I met other bass players who went through the same thing I did.
I hope that hearing these peoples stories inspires other bass players to never put the instrument down. It might take years to get where you want on the bass, or it might take getting with the right people. Everyone is different.
Introduce yourself to everyone.
Hi, I'm Mattie Safer. Bass player and singer for Safer, Poolside, and formerly The Rapture.
How did you get into playing bass guitar?
I was a piano player in the junior high school "jazz band" (we didn't actually play jazz, but...). It was a small school so there were only 5 people in the class. A guitar player, a drummer, a saxophonist, and two piano players. I wasn't as good as the other piano player and I kind of wanted to switch to either bass or drums, I think that since there was already a drummer he told me to switch to bass, so over the summer I tried it out and really connected with it. Maybe the teacher saw something in me that said "bass" to him, or maybe he was just being practical.
Does your family support your music?
For sure. They got me instruments, paid for lessons, drove me around to look at music schools... My mom wasn't pleased when I quit school to tour with The Rapture, but everything turned out ok, and she still supports and comes out to see me play, shares new music with her friends, etc.
How do you write your parts for your bands?
In both the Rapture and Safer a lot of songs originated with a bass line or at least in the very early days a bass line gets set to a chord progression. Poolside I haven't done as much writing with, but Jeffrey usually has a pretty strong idea of what he wants and then I do my best to interpret it.
How do you record your parts if you're not at practice?
Honestly, I usually like just plugging into a UA 6176 pre-amp compressor, or the UAD digital equivalent.
Have you ever forgotten an amazing part you came up with?
Yes, of course! But there's an infinite number of ways to put the notes together. I usually feel like if I can't remember it then it couldn't have been that good.
Do you ever use a pick or is it all fingers?
All fingers, unless the part is super fast. I was playing with a punk band for a while that demanded a pick, and I'd say it was a pretty even mix of up and down, maybe slightly more down.
Did growing up in Washington, DC influence your style at all?
For sure. DC when I lived there had tons of good soul and R&B on the radio, and a lot of the bands in the punk scene at least had those kind of leanings. So I was exposed to a lot of bass-centric music at an early age.
Are there any bass players that you can suggest us to check out?
Nobody profoundly unique. For me my two favorites are James Jamerson (Motown session bassist) and Verdine White (Earth Wind & Fire bassist). I also listened to a lot of James Brown when I was learning to play.
I originally wanted to be a drummer, and I'm still obsessed to this day. Are there any drummers that changed the way you play bass?
More drummers that I played with than anything else. Playing with Vito from The Rapture we learned to really just lock into the groove and not fuck around with lots of unnecessary extra shit. That's why it's so great that I get to play with him in Poolside again.
What is your current pedal, bass, amp combo?
I'll be real, I don't even own an amp right now, there's so few situations where I would be bringing my own amp... Most Poolside gigs are fly ins, and most Safer gigs are in New York where they already have amps on backline. In Rapture days I had a Peavey Mark III that I loved, I want to get one again. I've owned one bass for 20 years, a circa '72 Fender P Bass that I got a good deal on because the previous owner stripped off all the lacquer and repainted it. I also use an MXR pre-amp because it helps even out my sound in backline situations.
Tell us about your new projects coming up.
My new band, Safer, has released 3 out of 4 songs from the debut EP, Sleepless Nights. We've been playing shows in around New York City all summer, and then in August I leave for a month and a half of shows with Poolside.
What's new in your personal life?
Music is my wife.
Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for people picking up the bass?
Focus on having good rhythm, locking in with the drums, and not overplaying. Remember, the bass is there to provide the structural support the rest of the band relies on. That's the power of the bass. Embrace that, not just a bunch of pointless shredding. Less Jaco, more Jamerson.