Tone Talk with Leanne Bowes

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Leanne Bowes | Photo by Kelly Fox

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 11 – Spring 2020 – SoCal Inspired

My name is Leanne, and I’m a bassist and vocalist! I picked up the bass at age 12 and taught myself to play by learning my dad’s entire CD collection. I’ve been touring professionally since 2013 when I joined the band, Hunter Valentine. We played everywhere, from festivals in Japan to US tours with Cyndi Lauper, to Linda Perry’s studio in Los Angeles. When they disbanded in 2016, I set out on my own as a hired gun, taking gigs with tons of different artists! My roster of recent gigs includes Hank Von Hell, Corey Feldman, Jane Holiday, and Derek Day. I love playing live, and being on tour is my favorite!

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?

I never thought much about tone until I became a hired gun playing for multiple artists at a time. When I was working on my own projects, I would quickly find a tone I liked in the amp and bass settings and stick with it. At one point early in my career as a hired gun, I was playing for a black metal band and a folk singer-songwriter in the same week, and I realized I’d need to up my pedal game to fit their styles. Now, I have a tone setup for each artist I work with, and I’m always open to suggestions based on their preferences. My definition of bass tone currently is seamlessly fitting into a style while also maintaining a bit of personality

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?

I play a 2008 Fender Precision bass. I’ve been playing Fender since I learned to play at age 12, and my dad actually gave me my 2008 bass as a gift. He passed away in 2011, and he’s the reason I am a musician, so having that bass with me on stage feels special and significant. As for amps, I had to sell some of my favorite gear when I moved from NYC to LA, so I left some good amplifiers back there, but right now, I’m using an Ampeg 112V2 75 watt combo. I use a full tone bass drive pedal for any grit that an artist might want, and I use an Empress compressor for more pop style projects. I also use a Cry Baby Wah pedal from time to time.

What about strings?

I use Ernie Ball slinky bass strings! I generally like a sharper tone, so I go with rounds rather than flats.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

I am all about preparation. If possible, I go into the studio fully, having memorized the songs I’m recording. That way, I have a solid foundation of understanding for any improvisation or changes that an artist might request, and I don’t need to waste time figuring anything out. If we’re writing the songs in the studio, my technique lately has been “do more!” I was in the studio with Tim Armstrong (Rancid, The Transplants) last year, and he pushed me way out of my comfort zone, and I wrote some of the coolest bass lines of my life. Of course, you should always get a good “safe” take, but it’s essential to think outside the box if you have time to get a few wild takes to have as options.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

I use the same set of pedals for every artist, and I always memorize my settings. For example, I know exactly where my tone knob, amp knobs, and wah pedal knobs should be when I step on stage for a Derek Day show. By the same token, I know exactly where the compressor pedal knobs should be for a Jane Holiday show.

What does your practice consist of?
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I have a huge filing system that contains the charts I made for every artist I’ve worked with in the past five years, even if it was defined as a “fill-in” or a one-off. If and when they call me back, I don’t have to start from scratch, and can just relearn based on those charts. Once a show is booked, I run the set at least once per day in order to memorize the material. I also listen to the music even without my bass in hand in order to speed up memorization.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?

You might not be taken seriously as a female-identifying musician or crew member — people often assume I got a gig based on my looks rather than my skill. My advice is always be prepared to prove them wrong. Have your “secret weapon.” I cannot argue that I’m the BEST bass player in the world — I’m not! But I get gigs by consistently showing up as the most professional and prepared person at the audition or at the fill-in gigs. Define what sets you apart, and when people try to knock you down, remember why you were hired.

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