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The Art of Bass: A Reflection on Creativity and Functionality in Elvis Costello’s Finest Albums by the Main Attraction

“Some bass parts are functional and some are creative: you don’t need to play Rachmaninoff when the band wants Al Green”: The man behind Elvis Costello’s finest albums recalls his life as a main Attraction

Elvis Costello, a key figure in the punk/new wave movement of the mid-1970s, formed a lasting partnership with his backing band, the Attractions. The distinctive sound of his second album, This Year’s Model, showcased the significant contributions of Bruce Thomas on bass, alongside Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums.

Thomas emphasizes the balance between functional and creative bass playing, noting the importance of tailoring the bass parts to the band’s overall sound. His rhythmic cues often came from the drums, while he drew melodic inspiration from the vocals. This approach is evident in iconic tracks like Pump It Up and (I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea.

The Art of Bass: A Reflection on Creativity and Functionality in Elvis Costello's Finest Albums by the Main Attraction

The Art of Bass: A Reflection on Creativity and Functionality in Elvis Costello’s Finest Albums by the Main Attraction (Credits: No Treble)

Thomas, who joined the Attractions in 1977, reminisces about the band’s eclectic journey, from a punk performance on Saturday Night Live in 1977 to their showcase on Rockpalast the following year.

Discussing his early years, Thomas reflects on starting to play bass in 1965, drawn to the instrument’s four strings and the influence of bass legends like James Jamerson and Paul McCartney. He recounts his diverse musical journey through various bands before joining the Attractions.

Elvis Costello, according to Thomas, didn’t provide specific direction for the bass parts but acknowledged the importance of experience. Thomas had been playing bass for a decade when he joined the Attractions, allowing him to bring a seasoned perspective to the collaboration.

Thomas shares insights into his choice of bass guitars over the years, ranging from an Epiphone Rivoli to a Fender Precision and a signature Bass Centre Profile. He also mentions his preference for specific amplifiers, such as the Ampeg SVT, and minimal use of effects, except for compression.

Reflecting on the changes in the music industry, Thomas notes the significant shift from recording live in mono to the current era where anyone with a laptop can be a producer. This evolution highlights the transformative nature of the industry, signaling a “brave new world” where technology has democratized music production.

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