Slightly Stoopid’s Miles Doughty is shown here playing a custom Fader bass that’s chambered to give it a woodier sound, make it rounder, and feel lighter. It also features an onboard preamp. Photo courtesy of Miles Doughty
When you switch instruments, the bass player moves to the “bass spot” onstage, too. Why is that?
Doughty: I like to stand right in front of the kick drum. You get to feel all the subs and the side fills. We have two 8x10 cabs on the side of the drums, so it gets that full, round feel.
McDonald: Sometimes the stage resonates in different areas and if you stand on what we call the hot spot—it’s the fucking sweet spot—it just rumbles bigger. It rumbles up through you. It feels good.
How does your relationship with the rest of the band change when you’re playing bass as opposed to guitar?
McDonald: When I’m playing bass I try to keep it locked and tight and grooving. When I’m on the guitar there is a little more freedom. That’s where I let loose a little bit.
Doughty: The role of bass is to create that pocket with the drums, so any vocal, piano, horn line, or guitar can drop in there. You need that to keep the song going—it carries everything. If you’re playing something funky and fast, the bass is going to be a little busier. If you’re playing slower and more laid back, it’s going to be less notes and more locked in the pocket.
How about rhythm guitar? In such a large band, do you sometimes find you’re competing with the keyboards? How do you control the clutter?
Doughty: Sometimes you just stop playing guitar. We’ll stop, let the keyboard play, and concentrate on the vocals. When you’re not singing—bring the guitar back in. And obviously, when you’re playing something like reggae, you don’t want to be competing the whole time—like doing skanks at the same time—so you do different things, whether it’s doing shadow guitars or little licks.
McDonald: Silence is golden, I always say. Some of the best musicians know when to drop out, come back in, do air breaks, little pauses, and stops, and fills—it’s just a feeling—little formulas of when to cut in and cut out. It goes a long way.
What advice can you give younger players trying to learn how to play a reggae or ska feel?
Doughty: You need to do your homework by listening to reggae music in general. It isn’t as easy as everyone thinks. A lot of people do the upstroke for the reggae rhythm because they can’t understand the way that you hear it. Sometimes it can’t be taught if you don’t have the feel—not everyone is going to be able to do it. But I think that sticking to your guns, always practicing, and not being lazy—you’re going to break through regardless. And what’s cool about today is that you can pull anything up on YouTube. You can watch the whole technique of it.
Playing a funk groove or a reggae feel is a lot harder than it looks.
Doughty: It is a feel and it’s not as easy as everyone thinks. But also it’s not as hard if you understand what’s going on in the music. That’s why I say you have to do your homework with some of the old-school players. Sly and Robbie is a great way to start. A lot of people’s first choice is Bob Marley—he’s the most recognizable reggae musician. But there are also amazing cats like Don Carlos, Yellowman, Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker—stuff like that should be studied. That’s how you learn how to play.
Why do you use the same guitars and pedals instead of having separate setups?
McDonald: We’ve tried to do that before, but it gets to be a little too much. For us it’s easier just to have one dope guitar setup and one dope bass setup. Keep it simple and make sure each one is sounding solid.
Doughty: We do so much touring—it’s easier in the long run of the madness of shows. We use the same pedals anyway so we just get a board big enough to fit the pedals that we want.
Does sharing equipment ever create problems onstage?
Doughty: Sometimes we’ll have certain guitars we want to play and they’ll get mismatched while trying to do switches. And sometimes we’ll go into a song and the pedals will still be on from the last song—that first note will be like every little sound that was going on from the last song. Sometimes that happens onstage, but it’s an easy fix.
You feature a lot of acoustic guitar on your albums. Why don’t you use it much live?
Doughty: It’s easier to use it in the studio. We have such a loud stage volume—we like to have our own show onstage aside from the show that’s going on in front of the house—that way we can feel what the crowd is feeling. When you have it that loud, the volume, no matter what you do, rattles the acoustic strings and you can’t play it cleanly.
But you break it up more in the studio.
Doughty: Yeah. A lot of the reggae songs sound good when you add acoustic rhythms to them.
Acoustic has one of the greatest tones. There’s something the electric can’t get that acoustic has. It’s fun to use it in the studio.
How do you mic the acoustics when you’re recording them?
Doughty: We plug them in direct and we mic them. We don’t have a booth [in our studio], we have rooms we like to record in.
McDonald: Our studio is like a big playground full of stuff. A whole wall is lined up with guitars, basses, and an array of different amps we use. I don’t like to be pigeonholed into using one thing.
Do you have any interesting guitars?
McDonald: A fan of ours blows these glass guitars: The glass is hollow and you can hook a bowl up to it and smoke through the guitar. It’s the most beautiful guitar I’ve ever seen in my life and it plays like butter. It sounds amazing whether it’s plugged in or not and it’s some killer craftsmanship.
Where do you see yourselves in the future?
McDonald: I just take it one day at a time. We really don’t know any better than what we’re doing. We’ve had our fair share of day jobs and we’re grateful to be able to play music and travel around. We know we’re really lucky.