DeepReinterpreting Classic Cover Songs
An interview with professional bassist Thierry Augustine – The Heritage Blues Band
“The one thing that made me buy RipX DeepRemix after like 5 minutes after trying it for free, was the accuracy of the track separation. It just blew my mind! I was so impressed! RipX helps me (as well as the band) to go faster with my workflow when it comes to learning and practicing cover songs.”
French bassist Thierry Augustine can’t seem to remember a time in his life where there was no music. After growing up in a house where his parents would constantly listen to the radio, his older brother received a turntable as a birthday present and around the age of 9, came home with the double red and the double blue albums from The Beatles.
“As I kept playing these albums one after another I knew they were having a powerful effect on me and that things would never be the same again. Some years later me and my brother would start exchanging records and exploring new artists, fueling each other’s appetite with our own discoveries, even if we would have some serious disagreements over some artists, albums or songs sometimes, you know…brothers. But mostly, we were happy to share new stuff!”
At school, most of Thierry’s friends were music aficionados, and some of them were even playing instruments, being self-taught musicians or learning from music conservatories.
“It was when I turned 14 or so that it was obvious to me that I couldn’t anymore be a music listener only. You can be into any art form and decide to be a spectator or to take the next step and become an actor of this art. Playing music was the most natural next step in this journey. Surprisingly, I didn’t expect the struggle it would be to actually choose which instrument to play. Picking up only one seemed impossible and heartbreaking as it meant not picking up the others.
But then Thierry started thinking about learning the bass guitar after his brother brought home a Gibson EB-1 copy by Epiphone with a Montarbo amp.
“The idea was to form a band with some friends of his, learning to play a song here and a lick there…but the band never saw the day of light and the bass was soon to be forgotten in a corner of our shared bedroom. At that time I was still undecided which instrument to choose, but it would have been stupid not to try the one that was literally at reach. So of course, I would take any opportunity he was out of the apartment to plug-in the bass, switch on the amp and start playing.… poorly of course. After not playing the instrument anymore, my brother got rid of it. That’s when I discovered that I was seriously hooked and decided to buy my own gear!”
As for his favorite artists – John Mayer would definitely make his all time top three.
“If I analyze what really turns me on in music, it’s mostly simple songs with hidden complexity (whether rhythmically or harmonically). The instruments must be played with a certain elegance. That’s why I would also add B.B. King in that list as well as Issac Hayes, maybe Fleetwood Mac (the Peter Green era).
And favorite bass players?
“Firstly, David Hood from the Muscle Shoals’ Swampers, because he made me realize that a bass player’s role is to keep everything together. If the music is a vehicle, the drums are the engine, and the bass is the fuel that propulses the band. His seemingly simple yet very structured basslines and the clarity of their articulations was my first major shock.
Secondly – Lee Sklar. The name of the man almost never shows up on a top three list of the best bass players, but he is on a lot of the records I love. The very definition of the discrete musician, you don’t take notice at first but after listening carefully to songs he plays on, you realize he is a jewel at hand’s reach. He’s not the musician that will take the front of the stage, but he delivers at will and is a very substantial reason why the songs we all love sound the way they do.“
“And I can’t end this list without citing Pino Paladino. His harmonic and groove abilities are just amazing and one of the reasons I also play fretless bass and a bit of upright bass. He’s another discreet musician, but when you isolate his bass parts, you realize the tremendous amount of work he puts in his lines, plus he delivers with such a control over his playing. From the day I heard Paul Young’s “Wherever I Lay My Hat“, I had to know who was behind that sound. In this era you had a DX7 on almost every recording, so when you suddenly hear a Pino Paladino, you notice something great is going on. Of course I could cite many many more, from Jaco Pastorius to Stanley Clarke, Louis Johnson to Marcus Miller, Ron Carter, James Jameson, Anthony Jackson, Bobby Vega, Carol Kay, Paul McCartney, Chris Squire and among the more recent, Victor Wooten or Sungazer’s Adam Neely. All of them have, in a way, influenced my playing, but Hood, Sklar and Palladino sums up perfectly the style and sound I seek to play.”
Thierry currently plays bass for the Heritage Blues Band, delivering a mix of Americana, Southern Rock, Soul, Rhythm n Blues sometimes with a touch of Jazz. They perform covers from the Allman Brothers Band to ZZ Top, Joe Walsh, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Marcus King, Lucky Peterson and more.
“I’m so thrilled about this project! It’s actually a new band as the Covid era kinda ruined all of the bands we were in for two years. The music we love to play and share with the audience is of course mainly inspired by the Blues, and all of the artists and bands we love come from the Blues. We all come from different backgrounds, use these differences to create or own sound and have several decades of experience. Vincent our vocalist is very jazz influenced, Stephen on rhythm guitar is more into bluesy/west coast OAR style, Alain on drums is definitely the Americana/Southern Rock side of the band and Philipe has this approach of guitar solo navigating between Clapton/Santana/Bonamassa.
“Personally I am into Blues, RnB, Soul, the Memphis sound scene from the 60/70’s, Muscle Shoals sound and so much more. Combined all this and it’s an explosion of ideas clashing, a big mashup of styles that helps us create our own sound.
But does Thierry prefer playing in a cover’s band vs a normal band?
“As I do not compose music in that style, there is not much difference between the two situations for me. I used to be in an original material playing band and the approach was not tremendously different. Although we are playing what was already played by others, we are playing it our way, changing a structure here, a bassline there, re-harmonizing a chorus or simplifying a bridge, changing the global mood of a song. I love the approach that Joe Cocker had. Why create songs when honestly, others already wrote better material? Making covers does not equal playing robotically what others already played. You have so much space for your creativity to thrive in, and it’s fun trying new approaches to old songs that everybody has heard many times.”
Any favorite covers to perform in particular?
It’s hard to choose just one but two come to mind.
“Stormy Monday” by T-Bone Walker and “Something“ by The Beatles, written by George Harrison. They contain what I like, in both cases a repeated chord progression, but the first allows a great diversity in terms of dynamics and improvisation. We can have a real dialog between musicians, one will make a call, another will follow and the whole group will back up providing a solid musical ground. It’s quite conducive to solo improvisations but depends a lot on the atmosphere in the moment.”
“The other is more demanding in terms of execution. It’s difficult to change a note played by one of the instruments. You can step aside, but you have to calculate your stroke well. It is a piece that is very smooth and restrained , not easy to master. The public generally expects a performance fairly faithful to the original, On Stormy Monday the public will be more sensitive to spontaneity and surprise. These are two different approaches, but each is as exciting and satisfying as the other. However, I would say that they have one thing in common which is a certain elegance in the chord progression and harmony.”
Of course, the Heritage Blues Band always likes to play a few rock anthems to get the crowd going.
“It’s always exhilarating to have that moment when you feel like you’re going to “raise the roof“ with the audience. That feeling of “esprit de corps“ with people as we say in France. It’s a real adrenaline rush for a musician which is why I like to perform on stage. To share this feeling of community for the evening.”
As for Thierry’s most invaluable tools for learning and playing bass?
“First of all – the metronome! You can never stress the importance of excellent internal timing. Only working with a metronome allows you to develop a precise internal timing. When you master this internal timing, then you can start playing with it and if necessary, playing ahead or behind the beat, giving this pendulum movement feel that is called the groove. Having impeccable timing, even if you can’t play anything other than the root and fifth of each chord, you will be a sought-after bass player. I extend this recommendation to all instruments.”
“Then, I think that any musician who wants to make progress, absolutely must have a recording solution. Even the simplest set-up or software, to record only an up/down in scale with a metronome. To be able to judge the quality of your bass playing while you are playing is just impossible because there are too many things to analyze. Am I on time? Am I slowing down? Rushing? Does each of my notes sound at the same volume as the others? Are there rubbing noises on the strings when I go from one fret to another? Do you hear when I switch from one string to another? It may seem like a robotic and not very “human” game, but as with timing, if you master your sound then each note muffle, each glissando, each fingering will be the result of a choice and yours. It’s the only way to master your instrument.
Finally, I would have said, especially in the context of bass line transcription, a system for looping and EQing all or part of a song. It’s great to be able to practice an ostinato bass pattern over and over again to a satisfying level of perfection. It helps me work on my stamina and ability to catch-up a bassline on the fly if I make a mistake. Thanks to a good equalization, I could bring out the frequencies specific to the bass and better understand what is being played. But hey, that was before RipX, because now I can totally isolate the part I want and practice! That’s having the cake and eating it!”
What does Thierry like most about RipX and how has he been using it?
“The one thing that made me buy RipX DeepRemix after like 5 minutes after trying it for free, was the accuracy of the track separation. It just blew my mind! I was so impressed! But RipX is not the only software to have that function. The ease-of-use and price makes it the best choice when it comes to this kind of software. I once said that buying RipX is the best money investment I ever chose, and I’m proven right every time I use it. Visually, I also find the UI very intuitive, user friendly, using terms that any musician can relate to instantly, and the latest version is setting the standard even higher!”
“RipX helps me (as well as the band) to go faster with my workflow when it comes to learning and practicing cover songs. Past the global approach, tonality, structure and chord progressions, I then focus on the bass part and consider what strategy they came up with. Did they use certain chords, tones, arpeggios, even ostinatos? Or more diatonic or chromatic embellishment of notes etc…?”
“After this analysis process comes the “creative“ part. This consists of coming up with my own rendition of the bass part. Finally, we make the necessary adjustments to play the song together, starting with the tonality (yes I’m looking at you singers…) to create our version of the song and how far we depart from the original (or not).”
“RipX comes in handy during every step of that process, helping me to go faster and setting the level a bit higher than before using the auto detect key functionality and the one click transposition if necessary. Yes I’m still looking at you singers! The beat grid also helps when counting the bars for each part, and the piano roll for very fast transcription of an isolated track. Better yet – if I mute that track, I love being able to practice my own version of an original bass line. We also create specific backing track versions of cover songs so that any musician in the band can practice. Using RipX DeepCreate, we now even have the possibility to work remotely by recording our own rendition of the song in a very simple way over the existing tracks. Of course, leaving the COVID era, we will not deprive ourselves of the pleasure of being in the same room playing music, but if I’d have had RipX DeepCreate during the lockdown period, I think my previous project would still be alive.”
As for the future of instrument learning technology and software in general, Thierry has some interesting thoughts.
“Being able to analyze one’s playing with factual data as to its rhythmic regularity, constancy of dynamics etc…is for me, one of the main tools still not sufficiently exploited today. Being able to edit versions of songs without the instrument you are working on, having the ability to isolate and analyze each instrument and its relationship to others is a reality today and I think the learning technology and software of tomorrow will set the bar a little higher by offering precise analysis of “defects” and exercises to correct these defects.
The most brilliant thing is that in this vision, the teacher/student relationship is not eliminated. On the contrary, it allows them to focus on the essentials of a musician’s performance, which is not necessarily the transmission of technical knowledge or know-how. The teacher may turn more into a coach which would be great! After all, the most valuable teachers have more of a coach vs teacher mentality, using what their students already know to organize and recommend how they should practice.”
As for offering advice to someone starting out learning the bass guitar or wanting to play in a band?
“There are so many things I wish I knew when I started, each of them being invaluable pieces of advice. If I had to pick one, I guess it would be to find a teacher! It could be an online course or at the teacher’s location or home. Even if it’s just to put you on the right track concerning very simple stuff like how to hold your instrument, organize your daily routine. Once you’ve got that, you can be on your own or join a band.”