Tone Talk with Shelby Means

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Shelby Means - Photo by Carlin Timmons

Hi, my name is Shelby Means, I play the bass and guitar, sing, and write songs. My husband Joel Timmons and I have a duo named after my maternal grandparents, Sally & George (www.sallyandgeorge.com). I got nominated for a GRAMMY in 2013 with the band Della Mae and have traveled to 30 countries thanks to music. You can find me on the road this year with Sally & George, the Rachel Baiman trio, and my current project Lovers Leap.  Lovers Leap is a quartet consisting of Joel and myself along with Mary Lucey and Billy Cardine. We are releasing a 6 song EP on April 19th! Check out our preorder packages at www.loversleapband.com. I am a certified yoga instructor and enjoy an active lifestyle, traveling the world, and spending time with family. Follow along @shelbass on Instagram.

Cover Photo by Carlin Timmons

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

Tone is life; it is my fingers on the string, my breath, and intention on my vocal cords, my hand on the bow, the weight of my shoulder, and the resonance of energy that creates sound waves in time. Tone is all encompassing and all about our perception… it can be pleasing or harsh, popping with attack or sweet and gentle. It can sustain and awaken deep currents of energy in my body, in plants, and into you too! When you open and receive tone you allow the sound waves to greet your ears, move your lips in a smile, your soul in a prayer, your body in a dance. Equipment changes and emotions deepen through time but it is always you and always me creating sound waves and receiving life.

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

I play an Engelhardt as well as a Chadwick Folding Bass, a Bourgeois OM guitar, and 1961 Gibson LG3 guitar.  The Chadwick Folding Bass is one of the most interesting creations. It stores away in a hard flight case. After I loosen my Helicore strings, I remove the endpin, the bridge comes off, the fingerboard is removed, and the neck slides back and down through a trap door in the back of the bass. I bought my folding bass in 2013 because I was going to be flying to most gigs with Della Mae. It quickly became my favorite sidekick for those fly dates and has proved to be a reliable axe, despite its wildly flexible form.

For gigs with Rachel Baiman, we are singing into the Edwina Ear Trumpet condenser mic and I plug my Fishman full circle pickup into the LR Baggs Venue DI. For louder shows, I am absolutely in love with my Genzler Magellan 800 bass amp. I have three different options of cabinets, the BA 10-2 Bass Array for more chill gigs, a 2-12 cab for gigs that need more thump, and the combo stack for the ultimate bass machine. Thanks to Midwood Guitar Studio in Charlotte, NC for setting me up with the rig after I tested nearly every bass amp in the store. I find the most natural upright sound comes out of the Genzler head with the 2-12’s and even though it is pretty big, it is quite light for its size and I can lift it easily. I still run through my Baggs preamp in order to have a tuner and mute pedal within reach.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

For bass, I love to run a line from the Fishman pickup and have a few microphones placed around the bass to pick up different things. I like to have options for the way the bass feels on a record and the various mics should be able to mix big body sound with a little bit of finger noise and the pickup is fun if the song needs a little more dirt or grit. Yoga is a true friend to me in the studio and I try to use it between takes to stretch and breathe.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

Knowing my gear is going to work is crucial. I learned a lesson early on from a sound engineer that the less equipment you need from the house sound person, the easier you can make it on them, the better and more consistent you will sound. Make sure your equipment works, use your own microphone, DI, quarter inch cables, etc. Of course, I am a human and an artist, so on different days or with different moods I may play or sing one way and then be completely different the next and that is ok too because music is art, it is fluid and it can not be tamed.

What does your practice consist of?

Trying to get my hands on a bass daily is my practice. Now I am practicing switching from pizzicato to arco; bowing the bass like certain parts I played on the cello for the Lovers Leap album so that the live show can have a little bit of bass and cello feel to it in the same song. I recently had a traumatic experience with an airline in which my bass was damaged and then sent away. I had to perform nine gigs on a rental bass, a beautiful old half-size Kay that lives on the humid island of St. Thomas. My practice for that was quite yogic. I had to overcome feelings of anxiety about my bass and remind myself to relax my body and not carry the tension from my mind to the strings. I tried to play the instrument in a way that didn’t physically hurt my body, which meant sitting on a stool and holding it across my lap like a guitar for some of the show. At first, it felt like I was going backward, instead of playing my instrument that I trust. I was trying to figure out a new scale and size and way to draw meaningful notes out of the thing. By the ninth show, I was in love with that little bass and grateful for its help in filling the void while my bass was out of the picture. Life as a touring musician is not boring or monotonous, so a practice for me is to find my center and maintain my health while on the road and through all circumstances. I don’t always succeed at keeping my cool, but with each low, I learn and each high, I soak in the glory.

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

It is an honor to answer this question! Set goals, be honest, be your best, unique self, work hard, achieve your goals, play hard, and have a positive attitude. Be safe and trust your intuition. If the situation feels weird, find a buddy and/or remove yourself quickly, no apologies needed. If you are going to work as a musician, tour manager, roadie, etc., you may often find yourself in environments with alcohol and drugs and late nights. Know your boundaries and your limits and use the buddy system. People (stage managers, sound engineers, label executives, agents, or bar managers) might treat you differently just because you are a woman. If they do treat you “like a girl,” try not to let it ruffle your feathers too much (you are one after all). You may have the chance to change their stereotypical mind with your professional and courteous behavior. In these instances, knowledge is your friend. For example, the more you can describe the way you want your instrument or voice to sound to an engineer in their terms, the better chance you have of gaining their respect. Surround yourself with people who also set goals, work hard, and whom you can trust. The music industry is a tough place for most of us and can be exhausting and exhilarating in the same day. In times of frustration, take deep breaths, be compassionate to yourself and others, and drink lots of water.

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