Eva Gardner: Bass Tour de Force

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine, Issue 8

Eva Gardner’s been called the queen of pop bass and session player to the stars. Those are valid descriptions for a first-call bassist who’s worked alongside Gwen Stefani, Cher, and currently Pink. Those coveted bass chairs don’t come easy. You’ve got to be good, really good, ultra-professional and versatile; she certainly fits the bill.

Eva’s musical journey began with her father, bassist Kim Gardner, who was part of the British Invasion bands such as the Birds and the Creation. He even worked with the likes of Rod Stewart, George Harrison, and Bo Diddley. “From an early age I was exposed to music and people jamming and having a good time, and it has always been a part of my life,” says Eva about her musical roots.

Fresh out of college, she played in the Mars Volta, a progressive band, where she explored sonic music-making with no bounds. Countless bass sessions and tours later, she’s an A-list musician navigating the ever-changing music industry.

This summer she’ll release a self-produced five-song EP, which tributes her love for ’90s-era alternative rock. “You can definitely tell I was listening to K-Rock in the ’90s,” she says about the atmospheric tracks. An early SoundCloud share reveals a blend of silky pop vocals, against tonal guitar riffs and beautifully rumbly bass that thumps around your soul. It feels like modern grunge rock with a dab of red lipstick.

Stepping in and out of the hired gun role is a juggling act pretty common with the growing list of session players finding their grooves. Eva is very supportive of her fellow bass sisters on the scene. She offers, “We’re a community. If something comes through the pipeline that I’m unable to do, I’ll hand it off to one of my friends. We all support each other. I think that’s what it’s all about.”

You’ve been playing bass in Pink. That must be incredible to be a part of her band?

I’m lucky because I have been with her going on 12 years, and it’s pretty much the same band since I started with her. We’ve become a family, and it’s become more than just another tour. It really, really is something that we all look forward to. We look forward to seeing each other and sharing the stage with each other and with her.

You play upright and electric in Pink’s band. Are you still playing synth bass as well?

I’ve done synth bass in the past with her, as well as other artists, but in this particular show I’m playing electric bass, upright, and singing as well.

How long have you played upright?

I actually started playing upright when I was in college. I played in the Middle Eastern orchestra and that was my start of upright. 

Are you playing your signature bass on this tour? And tell me about the design behind it [Squier Eva Gardner Signature Precision Bass]?

I do play that in parts of the show and use it for some alternate tunings that I have. Right now, my main bass is a [Fender] ‘62 Olympic White Reissue. I wanted the signature to be a mix of all my favorite basses including my first bass (a Fender Precision). It’s a tribute to that as well as my father’s vintage basses that I love so much. It’s got some vintage specs on it, and it’s basically a mix of all my favorite things.

The P-Bass has such an incredible sound and tone.

What I love about it is that it’s versatile. It’s a versatile bass, and it’s actually the first electric bass that was ever made, and that’s why they named it “the Precision.” All the basses that came before it were upright basses; Fender put frets on it so that you could play precisely and called it the Precision Bass.

It really changed everything.

It did change everything. They are just incredible workhorses. And for me, it’s like why reinvent the wheel. It works well for so many different styles of music.

Are you using any pedals?

It depends; for this particular tour the only pedal I am using is a distortion, Turbo RAT [Pro Co Turbo RAT Distortion]. I use it on “For Now” and “So What.”

I love “So What.” It looks like so much fun to play live.

That’s the one where she’s (Pink) flying around all over the arena and visiting everybody up in the rafters. [Laughs]

It’s such an elaborate show. How much leeway is there for you to move around the stage?

For these bigger production shows like the one we’re on right now, there is a lot of choreography. We have a lot of moving parts as far as the set goes, including dancers and an acrobat. Where and when you can move is actually different for each song. I do have a riser that’s right next to the drummer, and I’m up there sometimes, which is great. There are some songs where it’s just the band up there, and we have a little bit more room to move around. I can go over to the guitar player and hang out and rock out for a bit. When there’s lot of choreography going on and set parts moving, unless I want to get kicked in the face [laughs], I’m staying in my allotted place. You just have to be aware because there are 10 dancers, and it literally is a safety issue, too. The band does become part of the choreography as far as knowing where and when to move around the stage.

What is the rehearsal process for Pink’s Beautiful Trauma Tour?

For these particular shows there’s a lot of different departments: lighting, dance, video. Awhile before the tour starts, all those different departments are getting together and sorting out their individual places and parts of the show. And as we get closer, we start bringing those parts together. We’ll have band rehearsals for a couple of weeks before in our own rehearsal studio. Then when we get closer to the tour, we’ll do what’s called production rehearsals, and that’s when we see the stage and sets and all those different parts start fitting together. We run through songs and see what works and what doesn’t work. Then, they start putting all those moving parts together and make sure they work as a whole. We will do that for a little while before the tour starts.

Before all the high-profile gigs, did you start out in local bands?

I first started playing in local bands when I was in high school and college. I had to stay local because I was in school. I was actually getting tour offers while I was in school, but I made the decision to finish college. When I finally did graduate, things just lined up magically, and I had my first tour booked for the fall.

That’s how it should work.

It was really incredible. When you’re in school, fall is always when school starts; I never had an opportunity to go elsewhere. I was like, “Wait, I don’t have to be anywhere in the fall? I am free to go on the road?” I traveled across the country, and I experienced my first autumn. It was so crazy because I grew up in L.A. where we sort of have seasons, but it was nothing like being in a college town on the East Coast when the leaves start changing. I was actually star-struck by autumn [laughs]. I was like, “This is what it’s like in the movies,” because I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of autumn.

You definitely have a strong educational foundation.

I am grateful for that, but you don’t have to go to college. There are so many incredible players who took different paths. I know a lot of people who were getting tour offers while they were in school, and they took them. They made that choice, and it worked out great for them, too. I am grateful that I do have the degree; it was something I wanted to do, and I wanted to follow through on it for myself. And I got a great education while I was at it. I had accomplished that goal, and I was finally free to live the rest of my life playing music.

Tell me about your time in the Mars Volta?

That was a really amazing creative time for me. I had just finished school, and then I was like, “OK, now I learned all the rules so I can go break them.” It was really creative. I still talk to those guys and work with them sometimes, and I’m glad that we had that time.

What are some of the changes you’ve seen in the music world—good and/or bad?

It’s been an interesting shift in dynamic because, when I was in high school, the whole goal was to get signed by a label. Now that’s not the goal anymore. There are so many opportunities for people to do things on their own, and if they are inspired enough and motivated enough, they can record their own music. I travel with a recording rig. I do bass sessions in my hotel rooms. One time, I even did a bass session in the back lounge of our tour bus in Germany—while we were moving! It’s at the point where the technology is so good that it’s accessible to everybody. You can do all that on your own; you don’t need the label. There are so many distribution companies, and it’s easy to get your music online.

But the flip side of that is now the whole landscape has been oversaturated. There’s so much out there, how do you stand out from the crowd? Days of the development deal are gone—where someone sees potential and is willing to work with a band or artist and help develop their craft. Now you’ve got to have all that honed in before a label will even look at you. You need enough followers, and YouTube followers, “likes” and this and that. You don’t have the support you used to. There’s good and bad for all of it. They say that change is the only constant, so now it’s just trying to figure out how to navigate those waters.

Do you have any side projects in the works?

I am actually about to release my own EP; talk about doing things yourself. In my off time, when I am at home, or days off on the road, I write. I took a bunch of songs that I had written, and during my last tour break in December, I went into a studio in Joshua Tree and recorded the songs and tracks that I had on my laptop. Then in the studio, I added on live drums, redid vocals, added some guitars, and I have a five-song EP.

When do you plan on releasing it? Did you include guest musicians?

It will be released probably this summer. I’ve always enjoyed writing since I was a teenager, and I’ve always written with bands, but this will be the first time I am doing it all by my lonesome. It’s just me. I’m playing most of the stuff, guitar and bass. I programmed all of the drums for the demos. When I was in the studio, I had my friend come out and play live drums on it. Another friend of mine played some lead guitar stuff and solos to add some nice little flavors. It was great to have my friends come in and help me realize my dream and my vision.

That’s what you want as a musician to be creative.

To have that support is important, too. It’s a whole different facet when you’re a hired gun. It’s a different element of what I do. You’re coming into a role, and you’re there to support the artist and help them. Then that kind of shifts, and it’s like, “Now you can help support me in what I want.” It’s fun to experience that other side. It’s all part of balance. It was a really cool experience to be at that point.

What style of music is it?

It actually has a more pop alternative vibe, pretty heavy guitars, heavy choruses. I’m singing. It’s more in the rock vein—I would say rock pop alternative. You can tell I was listening to K-Rock in the ’90s. It’s kind of grungy.

There were a lot of great female bassists during that time in the ’90s.

Oh yeah, that’s when I started playing, and those were the people I was looking up to and were my inspiration. I was like, “I want to play in Hole someday!” That was my vision. I wanted to be in a band like that—to just rock and let it all out.

Earlier in life, do you remember hearing your dad play bass in the house?

I do. When I was really little, my dad had a studio set up in the living room of our house. There was an amp, his upright bass, electric basses, guitars, and a piano. People would come over, sit on the couch, and play songs together. From an early age, I was exposed to music and people jamming and having a good time, and it has always been part of my life.

What have you learned from your dad the most about music?

He made me realize that I really wanted to play bass. When I first showed interest in playing the bass, he wasn’t that into the idea. I’d say, “Can I borrow one of your basses? I want to practice.” And he’d kind of ignore me, and it just never really happened. I was indirectly being told no [laughs]. And because I was being told no, it made me want it even more. It made me work for it harder.

How did you get to the lesson stage?

One of my dad’s best friends (sound engineer Andy Johns) actually came over and gave me my first bass lesson. He let me borrow a bass (a Gibson EB3) and an amp. Finally, when I did get my hands on a bass, I took to it like a fish to water. At that point, Dad realized I was serious about it. I proved that it was something that I really wanted, and that’s when he took me under his wing. We finally turned over that leaf, and we had some special moments where we bonded over the bass. He taught me how to change the strings and set it up. We had little jams together and recorded them in the studio. Those were really precious moments that we shared. I’m really grateful for it.

But it took me proving it and working really hard for it. It wasn’t forced on me or just handed to me. A lot of my friends at the time had asked for guitars. Green Day was popular at the time, so they all got this baby blue guitar that looked like Billie Joe Armstrong’s. They all got the guitars they asked for, and, sure enough, within a year all those baby blue guitars were in pawn shops.

Up to what point in your career did your father get to see?

I was about to leave for my very first tour with the Mars Volta, and I was at the point where I was like, “OK, Dad, I finally made it.” But the flip side of that was he was on his deathbed. So, I wasn’t going to leave, and I said, “I’ll just stay here with you.” And he said, “All you’re going to do is just sit here and cry, so get out there and do what I taught you to do.” I look back now, and that was the very moment he passed on the torch to me, because I did leave for tour, and by the third show, he had passed away…he passed on the torch, and he saw me go on my way on my first tour.

I bet he was happy in his heart to see you on your musical journey?

I think he was. He was proud of me and was happy that I had gotten to that point, and he was passing on a gift. And a gift that he was passionate about, and in turn it was my passion as well.

Fast-forward, did you ever imagine you’d be playing at this level and part of such elaborate shows?

I am just doing things that are beyond my wildest dreams. My dream was just to tour. When I did my first tour in a van and was sleeping on people’s floors, I thought that I’d made it. I was like, “I have arrived! I am on tour, and I am happy. I’ve accomplished my dream.” The amazing thing is since that first tour, it just keeps getting better and better.

Eva’s Gear

Basses:         Squier Eva Gardner Signature Precision; Fender American Vintage ’62 Reissue Precision; Kay Double Bass; Moog Synth Basses
Amps:           Ampeg SVT-2PRO; Ampeg SVT-VR; Ampeg Early ’70s SVT; Ampeg Heritage B-15; Ampeg PF-50T; Ampeg SVT-810AV
Pedals:          Ampeg SCR-DI; Pro Co Turbo RAT Distortion; MXR Bass Fuzz Deluxe; MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay; Mu-Tron Octave Divider; Mu-Tron III Envelope Filter
Strings:         Rotosound Swing Bass 66; Rotosound Jazz Bass 77 Flatwound
Misc:             Gator Cases; Dunlop Picks; Seymour Duncan Pickups; Levy’s Straps

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