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Ray Riendeau - October 2001

Over the past couple years solo bass phenom Ray Riendeau has quickly become a brand name in the bass community. His brilliant displays of technical proficiency has catapulted him to the ranks of one of today's premier bass artists. While some of you may recognize Riendeau for his work as a member of the band Halford, others may have caught one of his many jaw-dropping solo performances as a clinician for Fender Musical Instruments. With the independent release of his 1998 debut solo effort, All Funked Up, Riendeau set a new standard for contemporary solo electric bass technique. Then, in October 2000, as a follow-up to his benchmark recording, Riendeau presented the bass community with another glimpse at his impeccable skills with his second set of mind-blowing compositions on Groove Therapy. Ray's success has continued well into 2001 as this has become his break-through year as an established artist. Earlier this year, Ray completed an extremely successful tour with the Halford band that took him around the globe and back before ending in front of one of the largest music festivals on earth, Brazil's "Rock in Rio III." This past summer you may have caught Ray performing at a number of high-profile bass functions. He made special appearances at the National Guitar Summer Workshop in Los Angeles, Bass Day - L.A., and Nashville's Summer NAMM show, and just recently, Ray completed work on the next Halford project due to be released in early 2002. Now, in October 2001, Ray is set to take the stage at Bass Day - New York alongside fellow bass heavyweights Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey, Christian McBride, Matt Garrison, and T.M. Stevens. This month will also see the release of Ray's next all-solo bass endeavor, titled Enlightenment, in which he fully utilizes LightWave Systems' revolutionary optical bridge technology. Next year is shaping up to be even more eventful for Riendeau as he releases his brand new, highly anticipated band project, Arrhythmia and embarks on another world tour with the Halford band.

In the following interview, Ray offers us some insight as to how he has become one of today's most recognizable voices in the bass community and one of the hottest bass players on the planet. As you will soon read, Ray offers us his thoughts on everything from his earliest influences, to his latest projects, to playing with Halford, to his burnin' technique, and his thoughts on the recent events surrounding the acts of terrorism on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Ray Riendeau Could you provide us with a little background on yourself for those that may not yet be familiar with you?

I grew up in Iowa and now reside in Phoenix, Arizona, where I've lived for over 10 years. I started playing bass at age 16. I moved to Arizona at 19, and I started teaching there full time until I got my first "big gig."

Tell us about your musical history. When did you become involved with music?

I always gravitated towards music. No one in my family history actually played any instruments, but music was always playing at our house. Music was definitely the background of my growing years. At age 16 my neighborhood friends and I decided to start a band to try and emulate our musical heroes of that time. I was really into rock and had a couple of uncles who turned me onto Rush, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Yes, and other bands of that type. I actually picked bass due to a local salesman at a music store who convinced my dad and myself the merits of being a bassist (mainly lots of job opportunities). I started private lessons right away and studied with any local instructor I could. This went on for 3 years, and then I actually started teaching. My search for knowledge and love for playing was all consuming. I had found a voice that I have always connected with and is very special to me, the electric bass. I love music and feel it is the coolest form of expression we as humans will ever know. Music can express so many emotions and feelings that words alone cannot.

Did you study formally?

Outside of private lesssons, no. I did however seek out instructors who had attended a lot of my favorite schools such as Berklee and Musicians Institute. I also studied tons of books and videos. In this age, I feel musicians have so much information at their fingertips to take advantage of.

Who were your earliest influences on bass?

First were the rock players - Geddy Lee, Steve Harris, Chris Squire, and John Paul Jones. I also really got into funk at an early age and players such as Larry Graham and Louis Johnson. After a few years I was into Jaco, Stanley, and all the fusion cats.

What equipment are you currently using?

I've been with Fender as a consultant (R&D) and as a clinician for 6 years now. I believe Fender basses are the best out there. I own a lot of Fenders, but my favorite is the American Deluxe Jazz bass. As for amps, I've worked closely with Fender on the Sunn line and also the new Bassman line. We are continuing to create and design more bass amps for the future. I use Fender strings exclusively. I've also been working with LightWave Systems, the makers of an optical bridge. My involvement with them was not so much for replacing my magnetic pickups but utilizing the bridge for having separate, discreet outputs of each string. I have a "solo" rig that utilizes this technology. It works as follows... I had one of my Fender 5-strings retro-fitted with the LightWave bridge. From the bass a 13 pin output jack feeds a midi cord to a fanout box. This box allows for sending the signal flow of each individual string anywhere, amps, effects, etc. I usually send my E and A strings to a Fender Bassman 400 (dry), and then I send the D, G, and C strings to a Fender Cybertwin head (loaded with all kinds of effects) which then goes to 2 stereo 4-10 Sunn cabinets. I pan the D string hard left, the G hard right, and the C string is in stereo. Needless to say, this rig sounds amazing!

What current projects are you working on?

I have a new band and CD called "Arrhythmia" that will be out next year. The band includes Joe Morris on drums (from prior solo cds), Ted Belledin on sax, and Jesse McGuire on trumpet (Tower of Power). The CD also features a rapper, a DJ, and keys. I also just completed a CD featuring the LightWave bridge system utilizing the technology I just referred to. The CD is solo bass with some guests. I plan to mix the CD in digital surround sound in the future. I'm currently recording the new Halford CD for a 2002 release. Lastly, I've been asked to play at this year's Bass Day in New York City. The gig will be cool, and I'm bringing out the Arrhythmia band.

You mentioned that you just recently finished a new solo project on which you utilized the sounds of the LightWave Systems' optical pickup. Tell us about the material on your forthcoming solo release. What will we be hearing?

The material I chose for the LightWave project was solo pieces of cover tunes and one original. I did arrangements of "Sunny" (Bobby Hebb), "Living for the City" (Stevie Wonder), "Penny Lane" (The Beatles), "Tell Me Something Good" (Rufus), "Man in the Mirror" (Michael Jackson), and an original called "Shiva." Some tunes feature trumpet, sax, and percussion. Even with a standard stereo mix, the panning and effecting of various strings creates interesting soundscapes.

How did the Halford gig come together?

I got a call to audition for Rob's band Two by his manager who lives in Phoenix. My name kept coming up when he asked around town about bass players. I flew to L.A. and auditioned among about 10 other bassists and was asked to do the tour. After John Lowery (Two guitarist) quit to join Marilyn Manson, the band Two folded. Rob wanted to start another band and get back to his roots, and he invited me to join. I gladly accepted, and we've done a studio record, a live record, and we've toured the world. I consider Rob one of the best singers in rock, and it's a thrill to be on stage with such a legend.

How do you achieve a balance between your solo gigs and playing with Halford? How does it differ musically for you from working on your own material to working with Halford?

Every gig dictates how and what I play. I think knowing what and what not to play is a huge part of being a well-rounded musician. I love playing in both supportive and solo situations.

You've been a long-time clinician for Fender. What do you cover during your clinics, and what do attempt to accomplish on your clinic tours?

Teaching has always been very dear to me. I get so much enjoyment in sharing ideas with other players. My clinics have a lot of performance in them, mainly to demonstrate some of what can be done on the bass. On the otherhand, I always try to come up with ideas and lessons people can walk away with. I definitely want the audience to walk away with some new ideas.

Ray Riendeau Let's talk about your technique. If you have a daily practice routine, run us through it. What are the fundamental aspects of bass playing that you focus on in your own study? What are you studying right now?

As for a daily practice routine, I really don't have one. I think if you approach your practice time as a time of learning something new, whether it be a new song, a technique, a scale or whatever, this will keep you in a state of always improving. A lot of guys play things they know over and over. I really try to play things I need to work on. As for fundamentals, I still recommend learning songs and bass lines that you like. If I hear a cool bass line, I learn it and see how and why it moves me. It could be note choice, the rhythm, the attitude or whatever. That is why transcribing music is so valuable, you really learn about the music. Currently I'm working on my linear slap technique. I've been learning tons of bebop tunes, phrases, and solos utilizing the slap technique exclusively. I also love taking my favorite songs and coming up with solo arrangements using slap, fingerstyle, and tapping.

From a technical standpoint, your slapping technique is simply jaw-dropping. Can you briefly explain your right hand technique? How did you develop it to such an advanced level?

I've really worked on economy of motion. I use a lot of right hand combinations that include up and down thumbing and popping with my index, middle, and ring fingers.

Describe your composition process. How do you approach composition? Do you have any particular methods to composing? Do you always write on bass?

I write on bass a lot. Even when I write for other instruments I usually come up with the parts on the bass. I get real inspired by a hip drum groove. I love working out crazy drum programs and then coming up with the bass parts. When I'm not writing "bass" tunes, I also write using guitar. I usually also write out my parts. I've done this a lot lately because it's too hard to relearn my parts after I record them! I also dig writing without my instrument. This process helps me focus more on rhythmic creations without being tied down too harmonically.

How do you approach soloing? When you are soloing are you thinking in terms of patterns, scales or what?

When I solo I try to capture whatever mood I'm feeling at the moment. I try and focus on musical statements and not on preconceived patterns, scales, etc. Soloing is an art that you can never truly master in my opinion. True improvising is creating something totally new and in the moment. This is what makes it so personal and unique to each individual.

Are you still teaching privately? If so, what type of material do you stress in your lessons?

I've stopped teaching, other than doing clinics, due to my busy schedule. A main focus of mine has always been theory. No matter what genre or style you play, you always need the knowledge to construct and create bass lines.

Do you currently have any instructional methods available? If so, how can a bassist who wants to learn more about your technique go about obtaining them? If not, are there any plans for a book of Ray Riendeau transcriptions or a Ray Riendeau instructional video?

There is a beginner video available through Fender. I did have a couple books available via my web site, but I'm currently revamping them and searching for a publisher. I will have a video available hopefully next year. The video will focus on my slap techniques.

Who are your favorite bassists today? What recordings would we be likely to hear in your CD player?

Some of my favorite bassists today are Victor Wooten, Matthew Garrison, Michael Manring, and Marcus Miller. The CDs I currently have in my case are by Matthew Garrison, Christian McBride, Marcus Miller, Pat Martino, Emiliana Torrini, DJ Logic, Lamb, Tool, and John Coltrane.

Where do you see the state of bass in the next 10 years?

I see bass becoming as much as a lead instrument as guitar, and I also see a lot more bass-fronted bands in the future.

What is the best advice you can give to the viewers of the IIB and to bassists who are just starting out? What areas of study do you suggest that they concentrate on?

Just be open to all players and styles of music. Concentrate on being able to create bass lines that sound and feel great for whatever musical situations you are in. Outside of your playing ability you need to be courteous, punctual, and have fun! Too many musicians I know are too hard on themselves. Remember music is an expression of one's inner self. It is a language that goes much deeper than words.

Do you have any interests outside of music?

I have been a vegetarian for over 5 years now. I am a motorcycle enthusiast. (I own a Harley Sportser.) I also have a passion for independent films and actually have written a couple screenplays. I still would love to direct a film in the future.

Do you have any closing thoughts or anything else you would like to mention that I may have overlooked?

I just want to say in light of the recent terrorist acts that I am very proud and pleased with the way Americans are coming together and bonding. America, to me, should be about equality and the uniting of humans regardless of sex, race, religion, or any other qualities that make us all special and unique. Hate is the real enemy here, and I only regret that it takes such terrible acts for people to realize what is really important in life. My heart goes out to all that have been plagued by such heinous acts. (Cliff's Note: this interview took place just days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.)

Selected Discography

As A Leader
Groove Therapy
All Funked Up

With Halford
Live Insurrection

Bass-Talk 7: Lords of the Bass

For more information on Ray Riendeau, visit: