When an artist needs a bassist who can handle any genre, there are a few they could call on. But lately, as evidenced by his outstanding work with the likes of David Bowie, The Black Crowes, Elvis Costello, Sting, John Mayer, The Tedeschi Trucks Band, and more, the go-to bassist that many rely on most to settle their four-string needs is Tim Lefebvre.
Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and despite his lofty resume, neither was Tim Lefebvre’s status as a bass dragon slayer. But still, it’s incredible to see (and hear) what he’s laid down over the years—the most iconic of which may well be his groovy work on David Bowie’s final record, the uber-amazing Blackstar.
But while Blackstar—and the rest of his discography—speaks volumes, his linguistic approach bred through bouts of hyper-experimentation sets Tim Lefebvre apart most. While some bassists are purists, choosing to plug and play, Lefebvre is a mad scientist, interchanging pedals and calling upon different bass rigs in an ever-persistent chase for the perfect tone.
In reality, though, no one tone will settle things for Lefebvre. No, he’ll forever be searching for new soundscapes. And once he finds and tames them, he’ll be back on the hunt for more. Such is life for a genre-hopping bassist extraordinaire. It’s par for the course, and for Tim Lefebvre, it’s all part of the process.
During a break from the action, Tim Lefebvre beamed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into his approach and gear choices and to give the rundown on his work with David Bowie, as well as serve up the details on the numerous releases he has on tap.
What led you to pick up the bass?
My dad, Spike Lefebvre, a middle school music teacher, called it early on. I would steal my sister’s guitar, but I only played single notes on it, not chords. So, he determined that I was a bass player. Good call, Dad!
When you look at a bass, what do you think of first, and what informs that vision?
It’s usually the opposite; I listen to what the material then determines the best sound, whether it be a hollow body sound, bright roundwound four or five-string, or P-Bass with flats. It really depends on the situation.
And how does that inform your approach?
You play the song and the sound of the bass. The same mantra applies to pedals. You play the pedal, not your same licks and stuff.
You’ve covered so many genres over the years. What’s allowed you to do that?
I just try to love whatever music is in front of me. That way, you can be authentic in it.
Do your bass and choices shift with that, too?
Sure! The bass choice thing is always a thought process. I always try to pick something that has a twist but doesn’t get in the way of the production. My Moollon, Handyman, Fender, Wilcock, Serek, and Callow Hill basses are usually in front of the travel/versatility line. When I’m recording at home, which is often, it’s nice to have them all in front of me.
How about amps?
Amp-wise, on the road, I usually go with Ampeg or Jad Freer if there is a choice. Often, it’s amp du jour, but I can usually line up an SVT Classic and 4×10 cab. I know that sound intimately. It’s always open-throated and full. But a new company from Italy called Jad Freer is making absolutely monstrous amps and cabs. This company is changing the game.
Are you one to intermingle effects pedals into things? If so, what sorts of pedals are you using?
Sure! I’m sort of known for pedal adventures, but I’m trying to chill it out. It’s hard to travel with so much gear. I usually like a sub pedal, and I have a signature Octaver with 3 Leaf Audio called the Octabvre. The 3 Leaf is the best out there. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact.
I’ve started messing with overdrive and compression, too. Since I play a lot with a pick these days, I like two compressors: the Empress Effects Bass Compressor and the Union Tube and Transistor LAB. Also underrated is the MXR Bass Compressor.
Overdrive-wise, I’m way into the Darkglass stuff. The Microtubes X7 is currently on my pedalboard. I’ve also been using the Alpha Omega, as well. For home recording, I use the ADAM as an amp send. Also, I just recently got on board with Neural DSP for the Quad Cortex, which is also a game-changing device.
As far as new and unknown pedals are concerned, what tends to catch your ear?
I like stuff that will bend the sound and do unique things. I’m really into reverbs lately. I am lucky to have a bunch of great ones by Mantic, Vongon, Make Sounds Loudly, Caroline Guitars, Red Panda Lab, and Hologram Electronics.
You can really get into creative stuff with these. They’re all different. And like I said, my go-to octaves are the 3 Leaf Audio Octabvre and Celebrity Pedals. Also, Fairfield Electronics, Eventide, Neural DSP, and, like I said, Darkglass Electronics are heavily in rotation.
Some would say pedals are overlooked when it comes to the bass. Would you agree?
No, I don’t think pedals for bassists are overlooked. Everyone has special DIs that add sauce to the sound. And the rock guys (me included) have overdrives and fuzzes on their boards. Compression in the pedal chain is also a definite “thing.” Some great ones are out there through companies like Empress Effects, Darkglass, Union Tube and Transistor, MXR, Origin Effects, etc.
How did you end up working with David Bowie? Were you a fan of David or any of the bass players he’s worked with in the past?
We were chosen as a band on the recommendation of Maria Schneider. I loved all the Bowie stuff I heard on the radio as a kid. But I only did a deep dive after meeting him. There’s so much good stuff there. I loved all his bassists, like Tony Visconti, Herbie Flowers, George Murray, Carmine Rojas, and Gail Ann Dorsey.
Once in the studio for Blackstar, how did you most impact the music?
Some of the songs called for just playing what was on the demo. For the others, I could freelance a bit. I’m most proud of the “Blackstar” track and “Dollar Days.” The intro and outro to “Lazarus” were things I improvised during the takes. David liked it and told me to play it on both ends of the song. I was channeling Tony Levin, Pino [Palladino], and Justin Meldal Johnson on much of it.
What was your bass and amp setup like for Blackstar?
So, my Moollon P-Bass was on “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore.” And on “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” it was my ’77 maple neck P-Bass. Stupidly, I sold that bass for cheap. The rest was done with a ’68 P-Bass, strung with flat wounds. Amp-wise, I used a Yamaha EM80 plugged into an Ampeg B15 cabinet with this cool mid scoop. I also used a great spring reverb.
Considering you’ve been on many sessions, is there one you’re proud of that doesn’t get much attention?
There are a lot. I haven’t played on so many “hit” records, but Rachel Eckroth’s The Garden record got us a Grammy nomination. And I’m proud to have co-written songs and played bass with Empire of the Sun and Tedeschi Trucks Band. Those aside, some of the Wayne Krantz Trio albums are great, and the latest New Age Doom record is good. So, there are quite a few.
If you had to describe the player you are today, how would you do it? And what’s next for you?
I’m solid, creative, and sonic. As for what’s next, I’ve got lots of producing coming up. So, I’m going to try to hang out in L.A. and just let it come to me. But here’s a list of recent albums I’m involved with; I hope you enjoy them:
Fink’s The Lowswing Sessions. It is on vinyl only and will be out on February 23, 2024.
Morgan Weidinger’s Dear Ghosts and Sistine Blue EPs
Michael Wollny Trio Ghost’s on Act label.
New Age Doom’s There is No End via We Are Busy Bodies
Night Plow via We Are Busy Bodies
Donny McCaslin’ I Want More via Edition Records
Rachel Eckroth’s The Garden via Rainy Days
Burt Hussell’s High Desert, which came out in September 2023
Scott Fisher’s The Kingdome of Ego via 1A Music
Joy Denalane’s Willpower via Universal
The Brilliance’s Feel It
New York Jazz Guerrilla’s Bluth
Ego Mondo’s End of Daze
Tim Lefebvre: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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