When we first met bassist Shalini Chatterjee she had just begun to experiment with her newly acquired Chandler Royale 12-string bass in both of her bands. Since then Shalini has grown quite attached to the 12-string bass and is using it more and more.
So you've had the Royale for a few months now. I understand that you've grown quite close to it! What are your feelings about it now and has it changed the way you approach playing bass?
I like it more than I ever thought I would. At first, I was doubtful I could play it live and be viable. But, it was relatively easy and fun. And most importantly, it looks cool! My approach is not to treat it like an insensitive Viking axe but to realize that it's tough but sophisticated. The light touch is really appropriate at times. This is a versatile bass. It can sound bad-ass, and also beautiful and chiming.
What has the audience response been to the 12? Do you look at it as an all-the-time instrument, or are you more selective with which songs you pair it with?
The audience wants to know "What's that?!" Many people have never seen a 12-string bass before. I hadn't seen one before Mitch acquired this Royale. In my band, I play it some of the time. In Mitch's band, I will be playing it for most of the set.
Has owning a 12 inspired you to research it in any way? Have you gone out and bought albums that feature it or are you finding your own way without outside influence?
No, but I've become more aware of them and have met one or two musicians who own and play them. There's a band from Wilmington called Hungry Mind Review who lent me their Hamer 12-string for a while. When I played it at home, it really got my dog's attention.
You've had a recording career for some time now. Are there any solo projects on your radar? Would you include the 12 on something like that?
I don't know if I would call my attempts a recording career, but thanks! The 12 is on my new album called Metal Corner, out on a new regional label called Dalloway. They are cool people by the way who are really interested in the Royale. It is on two songs on the record, including a cover of Cheap Trick's "Downed". On my website there's a link to a free download of this song. Check it out!
I'd like to use it on my next record a little more, if there is a next record.
How would you describe your playing style?
Simple basic rock. No super fancy playing but not just root notes either. In Mitch's band, he writes some more sophisticated bass lines for me to learn. This is good experience. I took bass lessons, but feel like I learned not very much. Music lessons have always seemed like a frustrating waste of time, actually. In my combo I make up some stuff but Mitch often adds ideas.
One old-timey device I use a lot, because it's easy, is to play the 5th and the octave. The 12 requires me to build strength. It's a little more demanding. I just hate the buzzing sound of sloppy playing.
Who are your biggest influences?
Oddly, Mitch Easter and Faye Hunter in Let's Active were early influences. The record Cypress, which I got when it came out, is exceptionally musical and the spookiness of it made me want to play bass. Also, Faye was kind of a good role model for little weirdo 13-year-old suburbanites like me, trapped in their bad family scene, waiting to escape and join a band.
She was obviously a talented artist, she was from the era when being an aggressive jerk *wasn't* your whole showbiz personality (an unfortunate and boring stance that is clearly accepted and encouraged today), and she was a good singer. Throughout the 80's, there were more bass players to look to all the time. By the way, I think Mike Mills is a little under sung. He's always been a really good bass player. Same with Kris Novoselic. What an excellent bass player. Kurt Cobain was such a star, and Dave Grohl became maybe as big a star, we forget how that driving bass powered all those excellent Nirvana songs. Heavy!
There are some other 90's bass players that I thought were overlooked but I noticed them, such as Steve Lack of the original Veruca Salt. Everyone in that first line-up was very good at what they did, but when I saw them live I really noticed how powerful the bass was. Eep, that was almost 10 years ago now.
In more recent years, I've noticed how good Mary Huff is (Southern Culture) - a real pro actually, and also an excellent singer. I'll mention Don Dixon too but he is such a pro session cat, it's beyond influencing me. I am just an admirer of his ability. He's just kind of intimidating and plays a different kind of music than the slightly tacky professional kid punk rock that I like so much. I just had to mention him because he is an influence of sorts. Did you know he is supposed to have played bass on R.E.M.'s recording of "Perfect Circle", one of my very favorite songs when I was 15? Another influence I'll mention from the ancient days is Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go's, also a very good singer and songwriter.
How long have you been playing bass? What made you decide to pick it up?
I started lessons in the spring of 1986 when I was a senior in high school. A lot of records coming out at the time had interesting bass lines that were pretty audible. I always knew I was just living to play in a band and it all made sense. I made a beeline for a bass as soon as I could. I practically had to sneak off to lessons. I had to live with the Dursley's until I was 17 -- anyone who has read Harry Potter will get the analogy.
When were you first introduced to the idea of the 12-string bass? Do you remember what your first impression of it was?
My friend Jodie Forrest gave me a book called American Basses for my birthday last year. Mitch spotted the Royale and got hold of a floor model! My first impression of it was awe. I was a little scared to touch it. It is aptly named.
Having played your Royale I can honestly say that it's as close to perfect as 12’s come. Of course, there are other wonderful 12's available by other companies. Have you played any other brands? If so, what did you think of them and how do you think they compare to the Chandler?
Just the Hamer, which was excellent too. I haven't played it enough to offer comparison. They both seemed high quality, and not hard to play at all.
Could you see yourself owning more than one in the future?
Maybe if I get some huge career boost and get to tour, there would be a reason to have another one. Otherwise, no. I've never been a collector.
Have you recorded with the 12 yet? When we met you were using a very simple, yet very effective rig. Are you still using the same set-up?
Yes, I actually just played the 12 on one song called "I Wanna Be Near You" and I think we used the same two-amp set-up for recording. Mitch played it on "Downed" and I wasn't there. Not sure what he did, probably the same set-up.
Do the rest of the members of your band like the 12? Would they prefer that you played it more or less?
They like it a lot, they think it's cool. I'm encouraged to play it.
Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us Shalini! You bring a whole new dynamic to the 12-string bass table and we're really glad to have you on board. We wish you all the success in the world and I personally hope to get the chance to see you and your band really soon.
Thank you very much!
Editor’s note: This interview with Philip Snyder was originally published on June 1, 2004.