Tone Talk with Deb Morrison

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Photo by Joel Domantay

Hi! I’m Deb Morrison, a singer-songwriter and bass player in the Americana band Morrison & Company. When I’m not playing music, or spending time with my kids, you can usually find me with a camera in front of my face moonlighting as a photographer or assisting at boutique music/production studio Rockton Road. My passion for Americana music inspired me to start the “Prickly Pear Presents Americana Music Night” series in Los Angeles, and it has been a wonderful ride ever since.

Morrison & Company was born in our living room (thanks to my bandmate and quarantine lover husband) during one of our jam nights called “The Living Room Sessions.” We have an album coming out in 2020, and I look forward to getting back into the studio as soon as we are released from this lockdown!

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
When I first started playing bass, my tone varied a bit depending on the style of music or band I was playing in at the time (which was mostly in the alternative rock genre back in the day). The tone I prefer now is a warm, round, fat bass tone. I run through a tube amp set flat with the tone knob on the bass rolled off a bit to give me that woody 70’s sound that I love. My definition of tone is a warm and round seventies style, and to achieve that, I use flat wound strings and tube amps with the high end rolled off.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
My main bass is a 1973 Olympic White Fender Precision bass with Lollar pickups. I use all Ampeg amps, a mid-seventies B-15 for recording, a SVT for rehearsals, and a small combo for gigs around town. For direct recording or DI live, I use a Noble preamp/DI.

What about strings?
I love the Thomastik-Infeld jazz flats. They are pricey, but are a “buy one time” kind of purchase and totally worth it. Word on the street is that they should last at least a decade and so far I’ve never had to replace them. I love the way they sound, and because they are low tension, they feel great under my fingers.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
I love getting the whole band together in the studio and capturing a very live feel. I’m a fan of not over rehearsing the songs and prefer to record a tune when it’s still relatively fresh. I feel that tracking the band live harnesses a real, organic energy, captures the personality of the band, and helps create a more unique sound. For us, it’s about the emotional response to a take that’s most important, not how perfectly played it is. I love the “happy accidents” and the unexpected surprises that can happen. I lay scratch vocals while getting the groove down and usually come back another day to lay vocal tracks. Sometimes we actually end up using the scratch track, so we always record with that in mind.

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I dig the tape saturated vintage sound, so to accomplish this, we use amps, instruments, and processing that harkens back to that vintage tone. I prefer to record my bass through my Ampeg B-15. My producer uses the V76 preamp on my bass, which was developed in the 1950s. It gives us that distinct hi-fi tube sound, which was internal to many of the legendary studios in Europe (Decca & Abbey Road, etc.). He couples that with a tape saturation.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
I try to dial my sound in onstage the best I can to try and keep the sound man from giving me that ’90s style clicky/clacky/trebly sound! To do so, I roll off the treble from the bass’s tone pot, so I send the FOH a warm signal from my DI feed or my mic’d up amp and hope for the best!

What does your practice consist of?
Practice with my bandmates generally consists of mixing up some drinks for the band and letting the chips fall where they may! We usually get together to rehearse our set once before a gig. If I can, I try to run a few tunes from my set every day. My practice time frequently turns into a songwriting session or flushing something out, but I’m always happy if I can do a little something every day.  It can be a challenge singing lead and holding down the bottom end, so it’s important for me to practice until my bass parts are simply muscle memory so I can focus on my vocals.

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Do what you love. Be true to yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you; you can’t do something. Try not to compare yourself to others; just try to improve over yesterday’s you. Be prepared to work hard. Don’t be afraid to explore various doors and opportunities that open along the way. Learn as much as you can about every aspect of the music business and be prepared to do it yourself. Surround yourself with positive people. Give without expectation. Always add value. Remember the reason you started playing music in the first place. Let your freak flag fly!

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