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Markus Setzer - December 2007

One-half of an atypical duo collaboration that features the vocal accompaniment of his wife, Markus Setzer has released four bass and voice recording sessions under the name Reimer|Setzer, and over the past several years, the celebrated duo has performed their unconventional arrangements at music festivals across much of Europe. As one of the most highly regarded bassists and clinicians in Germany, Setzer leads workshops through his bass academy and has demonstrated his concepts to hundreds of bass enthusiasts at many of Europe's popular bass events including the European BassDay, Bass Days Poland, and the Euro Bass Day. Since 2001, Setzer has also contributed a regular lesson column to Gitarre & Bass magazine which is distributed throughout Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands.

In this interview, Setzer discusses his background, influences, playing in a bass/voice duo with his wife, teaching through his bass academy, and music in Germany.

Could you tell us about your background and what led you to become a bassist?

Markus Setzer I have been playing music for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I played classical music on the piano. It's funny that I was attracted to Bach's bass parts at the time, without knowing of course that I'd become a professional bassist one day. The next step in my musical journey was playing keyboard in my high school's band. After listening to the band of my best friend's guitar teacher, I immediately decided to buy an electric bass instead of a keyboard because I was so impressed by the bass frequencies. When I was seventeen, I took 400 German marks to the local music store and bought my first bass. The sales representative explained to me how to rest my thumb on the pickup and how to hold the bass properly. That was my first crash course in bass playing. I started playing with a guitar player, and we played songs by Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles.

Which bassists have influenced your playing the most?

There have been many bassists who have greatly influenced my playing. In the beginning, it was Steve Harris of Iron Maiden because I listened to so much heavy metal as a teenager. I was a big fan of John Paul Jones and Geddy Lee. Geddy was very influential. Bassists like Stuart Hamm and Billy Sheehan also became big influences especially due to their tapping techniques. When I heard Stuart's version of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," I decided to work through all of my old sheet music for piano on bass. "The Well-Tempered Clavier" was very exciting and challenging to play on bass. That's how my tapping technique developed. Eventually, I found my way to jazz music which exposed me to players such as Jaco Pastorius, John Patitucci, and many European bassists. Jonas Hellborg's method of playing chords and Mark King's slapping were techniques that I studied for a long time. There was also a period where I was not interested in other bass players at all. I immersed myself in the improvisations of John Scofield, Chick Corea, and John Coltrane. I was really into Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and Kind of Blue recordings. Later on, I got into the music of Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, and Richard Bona.

Can you tell us about how you formed your unique bass/voice duo with your wife?

Markus Setzer I met Sabine at a birthday party of a keyboard player we both played with in different bands. I thought she was an absolutely fascinating person when we met. She told me she was a singer and that she always wanted to start a duo project with a bass player. I told her that I was an electric bassist, but she was looking for an acoustic upright player instead so this ended our conversation for the rest of that evening. When I saw her again about a month later at another party, we talked the whole evening, but when she got up to leave, she called me the wrong name. Well, after these somewhat discouraging initial experiences, we finally decided to work together as a duo after our next encounter. We had our first concert on November 11, 1999. It was just her voice and me playing bass. It was a rather exclusive concert that only consisted of our families and friends in Hamburg. It was our reality check as to whether or not the whole thing would work. Standing on the stage with only a singer and no band to shelter us felt a bit like skydiving without a parachute. We had no idea of the power and the depth this instrumentation could develop. Our first playlist consisted of mostly jazz standards. Composing our own music came later, and our songs are not easily categorized as a single style. To date, we've released four recordings as a bass/voice duo which have received many great reviews. We love to play jazz, but some of our music also contains funk and folk influences.

When you are composing for your bass and voice collaborations, do you have a particular process for writing bass parts with vocal melodies?

We don't follow any particular process when composing. Music is a special thing for us, a way to express and to live love which means our compositions arise from the middle of our daily lives. They just develop without any warning while we do the dishes or while we are traveling. They can be inspired by our daughter, Jule. Sometimes the melody comes first, sometimes there is only one bass riff, and other times some chords might come to mind so a certain pattern for composing doesn't really exist for us. There might be melodies which stay in my head for quite awhile until they eventually turn into a song.

How do you generally record your bass and voice projects?

We always record our music together in our own recording studio. This is the only way for us to develop the energy needed to bring a song to life. For Between the Worlds, we recorded our parts separately, but looking back, I have to admit that there is a lack of energy on that project, even though the recording may sound more technically perfect. For me, the intuition and spontaneous energy of the moment is too important to sacrifice in going for a technically precise recording. People who attend our concerts often tell us that we are much better on stage than on our recordings due to the live interaction.

Is it challenging to locate gigs as a bass/voice duo?

Actually, we play regularly all over Europe. It can be difficult to get an organizer enthused about our rather unconventional duo, but we have become quite well known over the past several years. We get booked for many gigs because a bass/voice duo is not what is considered mainstream. Last year, we played concerts in many countries including Poland, Italy, Latvia, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. We were in the United States, too, but only as a part of the NAMM show. We were invited to perform at BassUp! in Atlanta, but unfortunately, we could not make it due to having already committed to gigs in Europe at the time. We would love to lineup some gigs in the United States in 2008.

In addition to your duo, do you perform with other bands?

Yes, I do play with other musicians. Due to the duo work with Sabine, the solo gigs, and lots of bass events and workshops, I'm so busy that I have to turn down most long-term commitments, but I'm currently planning to start my own band. I also receive composition contracts from time to time such as the music I wrote for Warwick's 25th Anniversary. I really like this aspect of my work very much. Listening to music that I've composed for other projects is very satisfying.

Have you ever considered releasing a recording that features your solo bass playing?

I'm currently working on a solo bass project, a true solo recording with just me and the bass. It's a really challenging project but a lot of fun. I'd also love to perform within a trio or even a quartet alongside a great drummer. Benny Greb is a fantastic drummer in Germany. His playing is unbelievably groovy and very innovative. If our schedules permit, we will get into the studio in 2008. We will most likely enlist other musicians, but this could become another duo project.

Where can viewers check out and purchase your recordings?

If you are located in Europe, you can order my recordings via any local store. In the United States, you can get my recordings from You can download my music from nearly every major digital platform online, and you can also order my music through my web site.

What type of instruction do your provide through your bass academy?

Markus Setzer The Markus Setzer Bass Academy evolved because many bassists from all over the country were requesting lessons so I got the idea to start my own bass academy and go to the people who were interested. In 2008, there are at least ten dates scheduled in Germany along with workshops setup in Austria and Switzerland. During the Bass Day in Poland, I conducted a workshop with more than 100 bassists in attendance. The most important topic that I discuss in my workshops is groove. I demonstrate different riffs and bass lines, and then I present various possibilities for working on timing, with and without a metronome. I also examine the use of a looper and how it can be used for practicing. I try to work with each participant individually and not just follow a fixed format which contains things the participants are not interested in. This makes all the workshops different and exciting for everyone. I just love teaching. The best moments for me are when my students experience a breakthrough and manage to play something they thought they would never be able to achieve. I take teaching very seriously because it's a responsible job, and your students need to have confidence in your abilities as an instructor. It's very important for me to deal with this in a caring and serious way. That's why I don't accept too many students at any one time. I don't want to sacrifice my approach by taking too many students. Since last year, I have also taught some classes at a local university as well.

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?

I'm planning to release my first solo project during the second half of 2008. In addition to the new solo recording, I'm currently working on an instructional DVD series which will be published bit by bit. The title of this series is "Bass Rudiments" which will coincide with my monthly workshop column in Germany's Gitarre & Bass magazine.

How would you describe today's music scene in Germany?

Germany's music scene has experienced a slow period, but I think that is coming to an end. After years of diminishing CD sales, the market is slowly recovering. I truly believe that there is an audience who wants to listen to creative music. More and more people are going to concerts. There doesn't seem to be as many concerts as there once were, but it's getting better.

Selected Discography

Markus Setzer
With Sabine Reimer
The Inner Light
Between The Worlds
The First Twinkle


Le Fay Singer 5-String Fretted

Glockenklang Bass Art Classic

Glockenklang Double 2x12

Elixir (.045, .065, .085, .105, .130)


For more information on Markus Setzer, visit:

© 2007 The IIB