Thursday, May 26

Pino Palladino, the best pop bassist: ‘I felt like a monkey performing!’ | Music

BAs he himself admits, Pino Palladino is not a man very used to giving interviews. “Very reticent,” he nods during a Zoom call, his accent speaking noticeably louder of his childhood in Cardiff than of his current home in Los Angeles. “You know, there was a time when I was featured in all kinds of musician magazines, and then I thought, ‘Move over, there are people who really need publicity.’ Not to smoke my own ass, “he adds hastily,” but I didn’t really want to see or hear from myself. “

It’s a commentary in keeping with the amazing career of one of the world’s most famous bassists. It’s hard not to pale when you consider the sheer number of records that have been sold with his work. He played on not one, but two of the best-selling albums of the 21st century: Adele’s 21 and Ed Sheeran’s Divide, as well as with Rod Stewart, Elton John, Bryan Ferry, Simon and Garfunkel and Keith Richards. They’re the biggest names in a surprisingly diverse catalog of collaborations: Palladino’s rendition is the thread that ties Perfume Genius with Phil Collins, Harry Styles with Chris de Burgh, and Nine Inch Nails with De La Soul. In fact, its versatility and omnipresence is a running joke within the music industry. When another legendary bassist, Pink Floyd’s Guy Pratt, got married, she opened her boyfriend’s speech with the words, “I’m only here today because Pino couldn’t attend.”

For a musician who seems to have appeared everywhere for the past 40 years, Palladino has remained a remarkably anonymous figure outside of musician circles. In fact, he somehow managed to get through 14 years as a member of The Who without actually losing what he calls an “invisible posture.” It certainly stands out in the photographs of Soulquarians, the experimental collective assembled by D’Angelo for his legendary album Voodoo, the lonely and lanky Welshman among a crowd of African-American musicians, including Questlove and the late J Dilla, but you’d still have a hard time pulling it off. recognize him on the street.

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Palladino in 1985.
The best of Cardiff… Palladino in 1985. Photograph: Paul Natkin / Getty Images

Presumably that’s how Palladino likes it. He’s tremendously fun and self-deprecating (he says his default setting when working with a new artist is “don’t screw up shit”), but he doesn’t seem terribly frustrated by life in the background. Which makes it all the more surprising that he’s releasing an album in which he shares billing with Blake Mills: Notes With Attachments, a fascinating and eye-catching collection of experimental instrumentals that sits somewhere between jazz, global music, and ambient. . He and Mills, who has produced for Fiona Apple and Laura Marling, met while working on a John Legend album. “We get along well and the next thing you know he says to me ‘Have you thought of a solo album?’ Well, I’ve obviously thought about it, ”he laughs. “For 40 years I have thought about it, but I never had a real idea of ​​how I could do it.”

Packed with guest appearances, from avant-garde saxophonist Sam Gendel and jazz drummer Chris Dave, among others, Notes With Attachments brings to the fore the sound that made the Palladino name: the no-80s. jumping of the fretless bass put through a chorus pedal. He first used it while working with Gary Numan, but it was Paul Young’s 1983 hit Wherever I Lay My Hat that introduced him to a mass audience – pushed up into the mix, the bass effectively became a main instrument. . It was so surprising that Palladino suddenly found himself messing with everyone from Go West and Don Henley to Tears for Fears – he appeared on Top of the Pops with alarming regularity, the musical equivalent of a designer fashion item. “There was a lot of that in those days,” he says of the sound. “I was very lucky, it resonated with people, captured their imaginations and took on a life of its own. It got to the point where I was hired for sessions and I felt like a monkey performing: ‘Yeah, bring your fretless, make that fun sound and maybe we’ll hit it.’ “

He also became the escort of choice for the rock aristocracy. “The first call I got was from David Gilmour. I couldn’t believe it: am I going to the studio with this guy and pretending I really belong there? I was fucking nervous, but the drummer for the session was Jeff Porcaro. [famed for playing with Toto and on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album], and he was really sweet: ‘Come on, man, relax, smoke this. So I did, and that seemed to work for me. I just had to maintain that attitude throughout that period – phone calls from Elton John and Phil Collins, you have to maintain that mental space that you belong to, even if you think they’ll find out at any moment. “

Palladino performing with The Who at the Desert Trip festival, California, October 9, 2016.
You will have to play louder! … performing with The Who at the 2016 Desert Trip festival in California. Photograph: Kevin Mazur / Getty Images

He says another phone call, this time from D’Angelo, who had heard him play on a BB King album, changed his life. “My roots are in Motown, reggae, R&B. I didn’t have much opportunity to express that side of music and then I met the don, how lucky was he? D’Angelo: I’d mention it at the same time as Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and Sly Stone. When I was in the studio with D and Questlove, James Poyser, all those guys, I don’t even have to think about what I’m playing. It’s amazing, being a Welsh boy, not having any real connections to these guys other than the music that we love and play. From a personal satisfaction standpoint, it was the best thing ever, it probably will.

“It took people 10, 20 years to really get the first album we made, Voodoo, but I absolutely knew it was unique and really special. He was probably more aware of it than the rest of them, because he had been working. for a long time. I knew this kind of thing didn’t happen very often. “

The Soulquarians recorded with Erykah Badu, Mos Def and Talib Kweli; The influence of his laid-back approach can be heard on Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 vintage album To Pimp a Butterfly. They had just finished a session with Common when Palladino learned that The Who’s bassist John Entwistle had died, and that the band had refused to cancel their upcoming tour and wanted Palladino to replace him … on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, in two days.

“I flew to Los Angeles, thinking, what are you doing? You don’t even know a lot of Who songs. Pete Townshend was waiting for me at the hotel with a big stack of CDs. Don’t know much about the catalog? Fair enough. Then you will know tonight, right? At the first rehearsal, Pete comes over and says, ‘You’re going to have to play louder,’ because I’m used to being an understanding musician, who fills up, doesn’t make noise. That’s the only instruction you get when you’re working with The Who: ‘Fuck, turn up the volume, we can’t hear you!’ ”.

Palladino says he’s “not exactly crazy about touring anymore,” he stopped playing live with The Who in 2016, but is considering doing some gigs around Notes With Attachments, pandemic permitting. Until then, there are sessions to attend in Los Angeles, with Covid tests in the parking lot for all participants. “Film and music studies are considered essential to the economy here; that’s something you must love, right?” he laughs. “Mind you,” he says, “that’s better than what Britain tells you if you’re a musician or an artist, you might have to find a new job.”

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