It’s more than probable that the first time most people in the UK came across the name MILES MOSLEY was after perusing the credits on Kamasi Washington’s 2015 breakthrough album, ‘The Epic.’ Mosley was the de facto bass player on that groundbreaking triple LP and has also accompanied the LA saxophonist on his tours of Europe. In case you didn’t know, he’s the shades-sporting, beret-wearing dude who brings a cool sense of savoir faire and gangster attitude to upright bass playing.
Like Washington, Mosley is a founder member of the Los Angeles collective called the West Coast Get Down (WCGD), a cadre of accomplished and versatile musicians who can seamlessly switch between hardcore jazz improv, rump-shaking funk, and silky smooth R&B. After previously appearing in England with Washington as a sideman, he’s about to return to the UK this summer fronting a band composed of WCGD members to promote ‘Uprising,’ his super-funky debut album on Verve Records. He’s playing at London’s Jazz Cafe (June 28th), Manchester’s Band On The Wall (June 30th), and the Love Supreme festival at Glynde, Sussex, on Sunday 2nd July.
“We pride ourselves on putting on action packed shows with high energy and we’re always pushing ourselves to the limit,” says Mosley in regard to his upcoming British live shows. “Nothing is prearranged. We provide ourselves with a framework to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences for ourselves and the audience. I think you’re going to hear a group of musicians that are in peak condition on their instruments, battling it out on stage and lifting everyone’s spirits in the process.”
Those who have discovered Miles Mosley via Kamasi Washington are in for a bit of a shock because he’s not a newcomer but in actual fact has been around for a few years and worked with some of the biggest names from across the spectrum of popular music – from Lauryn Hill (he once worked as her musical director), India Arie and Kendrick Lamar (he worked on ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’) to Jeff Beck, the late Chris Cornell and Joni Mitchell. And he’s not just a bass player – he’s a multi-instrumentalist who’s also a singer/songwriter and is beginning to make his mark as a film composer. Those who were expecting a straight-up jazz album from Mosley – based on their preconceptions of him as a jazz bassist – will be utterly surprised by ‘Uprising,’ which is a hard-hitting meld of soul and funk flavours, with tinges of rock and gospel in its unique DNA.
“I think we in the Get Down are an interesting lot,” says Mosley, explaining the eclectic flavour of his first album. “Everybody has a different passions that they bring to the group. Having Kamasi being the first one out of the gate, and we all rallying around him and pushing ‘The Epic’ up the mountain as high as we could, I could see how people would think that all of our albums would sound similar. But what we really all share is a passion for improvisation and for hard-hitting live music and a connectivity within the group. Everybody brings in their other influences and for me it’s the singer-songwriter aspect of it and the power of words and the celebration of melody in that way.”
Ahead of his imminent UK shows, Miles Mosley, talks to SJF’s Charles Waring about ‘Uprising,’ being part of the West Coast Get Down, and other aspects of his life as a musician…
‘Uprising’ was released last month. What’s the response been so far?
It’s been great. I definitely think that this album has been the critics’ darling. People get it and oftentimes find a nice surprise; that there’s singing, and it really is song-driven, but I think that it really captures what I’m trying to on the upright bass well and highlights that. It’s also such a visceral and intimate record, and at the end of the day, it’s a soul record. I wanted to do something in which I could showcase my songwriting and arranging abilities but also shine a light on the upright bass and where I think it can go.
In the context of the album, what does the title ‘Uprising,’ mean?
For me, this collection of songs is about common human emotions and how sticky and tricky they can be. It’s hard out there for people, no matter what year it is, no matter what the political climate is. It’s difficult being human and music serves a great purpose, in that certain approaches to music can provide the listener with a sense of companionship and a sense of understanding and the ability to dust your knees off, stand-up, and try again. That is an uprising and this body of songs is trying to rally people to carry forward because someone out there in the world understands them or has been through what they’ve been through or has tackled the same kinds of tricky human emotions.
One of the key songs is ‘Abraham,’ which has some biblical imagery in it in it. What’s the significance of that particular song and what inspired it?
My first name is Abraham – my full name is Abraham Miles Mosley, and I remember a period in my life just before I wrote that song where I recognised the power of a name and that you represent more than yourself in this life that you lead. You represent all those that came before you that got up every day and went to work and did their job and raised a family and carried on and got through hard times than I’ve certainly never had. I believed that it would behove me to show that lineage and that effort some respect and to recognise that my actions reflect on everyone that came before me. When I settled into that, I settled into this phrase, “you can call me Abraham,” which means not only I have come to recognise the power of my name and the duty I have to it. I want people to see me as a man of honour and integrity and carrying forward a lineage. I also think that line, “you can call me Abraham,” is just a really gangster thing to say to someone (laughs).
On ‘More Than This,’ you sing about being “a flawed man in a flawed world…” Is that how you see yourself or people in general?
It’s a recognition that we are not perfect…and that’s okay. I feel that a lot of people who I talk to feel pressures, like with self-imagery and the pressures that women feel from billboards, magazines, and television or the smoke and mirrors of social media, that everybody is doing much better than you are and everybody’s more popular. We’re all kind of being pushed back into a high school again and to come to grips with the fact that you’re flawed, and so is everyone else, kind of levels the edges a little bit. Everything’s not so drastic. It’s fine. You will fail at some point and you’ll learn from it and will just do better, and that’s okay because you’ve got plenty of time. There’s this heightened panic, I think, in societies – and it seems to be the societal norm – that we’re not doing well enough when in fact everything is fine and everyone is doing exactly as they should be doing, even during the hard times, and even in the most impoverished areas of the world. I think that’s why you find sometimes that it’s the simplest things that tie us together: love and family, and just looking out for the person next to you. That’s all you got because that’s all that really matters. The rest of this stuff is just commerce.
I read that you recorded ‘Uprising’ in the same marathon recording session that famously produced Kamasi Washington’s ‘The Epic’ (pictured above).
Yeah, the entire Get Down banded together to invest in each other and because we’ve all known each other since high school, we’re all playing in each other’s band. It’s a weird thing and I think we’ve just realised what’s going on. There aren’t six different projects. It’s one project but a different person standing in front of it. If it’s Brandon Coleman’s show, I’m still playing bass, and if it’s Kamasi’s show, I’m still playing bass. And if it’s my show, those guys are in the band. So I think it all clicked for us that we all had this great music that needed to be recorded and we could pool our resources together and get a lot more done in a shorter period of time since you’d have all the musicians that you needed for all of these projects in one room together at one time. I’m a really strong project manager. I like to geek out and have things organised neatly so I could bring that skill set to the table, and (drummer) Tony (Austin), is a tremendous engineer and amazing producer, so he was able to be the ‘Danger Mouse’ of all these sessions. So we holed up in the studio for 30 days and recorded 170 songs. Many of the songs on ‘Uprising’ were cut there. So we’re rolling everything out and hitting the road and we have an awesome opportunity right now and are taking advantage of it.
Was there a feeling of exhaustion and relief when you finished that marathon session?
Absolutely. Having known these guys for a long time, we are like a band of brothers and to that extent, when you spend 30 days locked in a studio with people you’ve known your entire life, I don’t think we talked to each other for about three months after that (laughs) because there was so much creativity and we really laid it all out on the line for one another and individually. It was a truly exhausting experience. I think we survived on adrenaline because it was such a creative environment. We worked from 10 AM to 2 AM every single day. So it was pretty crazy.
What about the origins of the West Coast Get Down (pictured above)?
It’s a pretty dense story with a lot of plots, but the long-story-short is that we all grew up in Los Angeles, California, in the ’90s and benefited from the fact that Clinton was our president. He was investing a lot of money in third-party programs to supplement public schools, so as kids growing up in public schools wanted to play an instrument, we had a lot of opportunities to better ourselves and learn those instruments and take great lessons from Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Ray Brown. There was a lot of opportunity to excel in the arts and humanities. So, in doing that, we were the top of our class and the best in our area at a bunch of different high schools and we were always put together to play music and enjoyed making music with one another. So we have stuck together for the entireties of our careers and have shared opportunities as sidemen together. When I got the gig to be the MD for Lauryn Hill, I called the West Coast Get Down to be the band. Then at some point, we realised that we were doing a great job making other artists that we worked for sound great and by adding our unique sound and energy to them and that it was time to invest in ourselves. And that’s what we did. So we started a residency in Los Angeles at The Piano Bar in Hollywood. I used to say when we started the night, introducing it to the people, “ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the West Coast Get Down… Your Friday night DJ alternative.” We packed out that club that sometimes the fire marshal would come and shut the place down (laughs). So the name, the West Coast Get Down, stuck and it’s all history from there.
And you’re bringing some of the guys with you to the UK?
Yeah, the West Coast Get Down is now splitting into two different parts. One part’s going off with Kamasi to continue his tour, and I’m taking Tony Austin on drums, Cameron Graves on keys, Ryan Porter on trombone, and Howard Wiley and we’re running off and promoting Uprising so it’s been good so far, really exciting.
Going right back to the very beginning of your interest in music, what attracted you to it and who or what inspired you to take up bass?
I really got to my instrument in a really circuitous, screwed-up way. I was a 13-yer-old kid in junior high, and I wanted an easy A so I signed up to a comic book drawing class because I figured that nobody would be able to tell how bad I was at drawing. But not enough kids were interested, so they send me to orchestra. I didn’t know anything about playing an instrument but I figured that yet again, I’d still get an A because you wouldn’t be up to tell if I was trying really hard or sucked at it or if I was being lazy. So the teacher was playing all the instruments for the kids because I didn’t know what any of these things sounded like. She played the violin and viola and it was all screechy and weird-sounding. Then she played the cello – she was a wonderful cello player – and I thought I’ll play that. She said “great, I’ll assign you a cello and you can take it home with you.” At that time I was taking the bus and I lived in a pretty rough neighbourhood and I knew that if I took the cello with me, it was going to get stolen and I was going to get beat up for it and it was just not going to fare well or last long. So I explained that to her and saw in the corner this thing peeking above the screen. I said, “what’s that?” “An upright bass.” I was like, “you’ve gotta take that home?” She said, “no if you play the bass, you leave it here.” I said, “you have yourself one upright bass player.” So out of being lazy, I ended up with that instrument but as soon as I played it and I began to understand that the human ear hears everything from the bottom-up and how powerful that is and how magical that instrument is, I fell in love with it. The music in my house was always Miles Davis, Otis Redding, The Temptations, Curtis Mayfield… a mix of jazz and soul, and the Laurel Canyon songwriters, like Crosby, Stills and Nash and Joni Mitchell. So the combination of all that stuff sent me down this path of playing bass and wanting to push it further and play it faster and park it behind great lyrics and great songs. But how I got to the instrument was because I was a lazy punk (laughs).
But you fell in love with the instrument immediately.
Yeah, and I was really good at the hardest parts without trying, so I got lucky on that. I understood intonation right away, and dexterity… I was fast really quickly on it, and I didn’t ever think of it because I had no framework for it. No one told me that the bass is just supposed to hold it down. I just thought well, I can play it and I like the sound of it, so it can do anything, right? And no one ever said no. I started classically, so I started on the bass playing all over and understanding it as a complete instrument that can do a lot of different things. It was love at first sight and I knew pretty early that it was the only thing I was going to do for the rest of my life.
On which instrument do you usually compose?
I compose on bass, guitar, and piano. I can tell by what the song wants to be and what it should be written on. So if it’s supposed to be something that is grooving real hard, I’ll write it on bass. And if it’s something that supposed to be more arranged and has strings on it and feels like the chord movement’s going to be a little tighter, or more soulful, maybe, I’ll write it on piano. And if I want it to be charming, I’ll write it on guitar. So I can tell where a song wants to go. After I write it, I’ll go play it on all of those instruments, just to make sure it’s a good song because if you can’t play it on piano, guitar and bass all by themselves, it’s not solid, something’s wrong. Playing it on bass will expose whether or not your melody is strong enough. And the piano will let you know if your harmonies are boring or if it’s not moving enough.
You had an immense bass teacher in the shape of the legendary Ray Brown, didn’t you?
I did. Ray Brown and John Clayton. John Clayton was my primary instructor for most of my years and is a phenomenal teacher who’s great with the bow. He’s a mixed martial artist. (Laughs). His bass understanding is complete. Through him, he would set up lessons with me for me with Ray Brown and masterclasses. I was also able to study with Al McKibbon, who taught me a lot of great lessons and was more of a mentor. I’ve been able to hang with a lot of great bass players growing up. In my older years, I spent time with Stanley Clarke. I think of myself perpetually as a student and I’m interested in learning from the cats that came before me that I’m lucky enough to exist on the same Earth with. I’ll sit down and listen to any of those cats talk and shut my mouth and just be a student because I think that’s what it takes in order to properly carry on the torch.
Who has been your biggest musical influence?
Everything I am as a bass player is because of Ray Brown. I’m basically playing his stuff but just faster, louder and distorted. But it’s all Ray Brown licks because that’s what I wanted to be. He was the greatest bass player I had ever heard and it sparked such a passion for me with the instrument. But when it comes to songwriting and composing, every little piece is influenced heavily by one or two people – lyrically, it’s Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. I just think that they have a command of intimacy in their lyrics. Vocal phrasing, it’s Ray Charles, Otis Redding and the Temptations. I think those people turn a phrase better than anyone. And when I write for strings, I’m trying to do Mendelssohn’s string quartet meets Motown strings. Horns is James Brown. So each one has its influence. I think I’m a mixture of influences but the influences are really targeted.
Is it true that you worked with Joni Mitchell?
Yeah, we were working together for a charity concert/album thing. I was able to spend quite a bit of time talking and sitting with her and bugging her for Jaco Pastorius stories and drinking tequila all night, so I’ve always been a huge fan of hers and any moment to stand next to her and make music and learn the stories of her career was a huge influence.
What’s been your best gig as a sideman?
I really liked being the MD for Lauryn Hill (pictured above). She never sang one wrong note the entire time, even in rehearsal or on stage. She’s an astonishing artist and I know that she has a reputation for being difficult but she challenged me so much to do so many arrangements so quickly and to combine different styles of music. She’s so wide open as an artist that not only did I enjoy the challenge but I also think that everything I have done since then has been a degree or two less difficult because of working with her. I also really, really like to play with Jonathan Davis of Korn because I feel comfortable in situations where the upright bass doesn’t belong. I love being able to tour the world and prove that that instrument can stand next to loud electric guitars and hold its own. So that was a great experience for me.
You’ve branched out recently into the world of movie soundtracks and trailers.
I definitely want to expand on the film and television side of composing. If it was going to be a big-budget Hollywood film, I’d love to get involved with something either super-action packed, something with popcorn things being fired and blowing up and people running. I think that would be fun. But I’d also really get behind Wes Anderson film, which is quirky and unique and interesting. So yeah, it’s definitely one of my dreams to establish myself as a composer and be a go-to guy for a particular sound in Hollywood.
What is it that appeals to you specifically about writing film music?
More than any other medium you get to toy with people’s emotions and expectations when you’re writing a score. And seeing an image and placing music underneath it that evokes an emotion for the audience but doesn’t give away what’s getting ready to happen or frames it so that what’s happening hits you harder. I think it’s so emotionally connected and it’s a mixed media and so all the moving parts have to go together. It’s a beautiful dance to be a part of. I think that’s what I like about it. I think songs serve a different purpose. Songs are supposed to befriend people and a score is supposed to guide people.
What about the soundtrack to your own life?
Well, it’s funny, I actually do listen to certain pieces of music as an underscore to how I’m feeling or travelling and it changes. The song ‘Don’t Give Up On Me,’ in particular. I love the intimacy of that, and I’ve also been listening to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, the minimalist album. The first track on that is actually great to listen to when you’re in an airport or when you’re walking down the streets of Paris. I like songs that allow me to hide inside of them mentally and vanish. There’s some Nat King Cole I love… I think he made the greatest Christmas album next to Perry Como, so come December, I always put that on. (Laughs). So there are definitely songs and artists that I feel have provided a framework for my emotions. If I want to get really riled up I’ll put on Jay Z or Rage Against The Machine or something like that and psych myself up and get into it.
Is there an album that you couldn’t live without? What’s your Desert Island Disc?
I think the Temptations’ ‘Wish It Would Rain’ has to come. That’s got to come with me. I’ve got about ten dozen desert island records but that definitely one of them.
What is it about that particular record that means so much to you?
I think it’s the height of their abilities as a group, singing-wise, and the arrangements. All their cylinders are firing. ‘Wish It Would Rain,’ is probably one of the most important songs in my life. It was the first song that I ever listened to on repeat. I had it on a cassette tape and would play it and rewind it just over and over again. The arrangement is just perfect and the way that the lyric and the melody finishes just as a piece of the string arrangement kicks in, and as soon as that’s done, a horn line will carry you back to the singing again. That’s my most fundamental approach to producing records. Sometimes things step on each other because that provides size and is the sound of something fighting over something else which makes you think that it sounds big. But handing the musical ball to all the musical instruments in a circular route is what keeps things interesting without cluttering them up and I think that album, top to bottom, execute all of that.
Do you see yourself branching out into production with other artists in the future?
Sure, yeah. I produced quite a few albums and believe that myself and Tony Austin (pictured above with Miles) have an approach to music that is complete and can assist other artists in filling in whatever gaps they have. Some artists have their songs on lock and it’s not about that; it’s about getting them to think a certain way, and I think we’re really good at that. But sometimes they have a great concept of what the album is supposed to sound like but don’t necessarily understand how to arrange the music to fit that sound. So I really look forward to working in tandem with other artists to produce their records and my own records. I’m a fan of the artists that have been prolific. In this day and age, it takes so long for people to make an album but we also live in this immediate world where content is being begged from every second of your day. I admire Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and cats like Oscar Peterson – people who put out a record every single year for their entire lives, hell or high water. I want to be that kind of artists, who every year is putting out some kind of content that is contributing to the lexicon. When I turn 70, I want to be able to look back on a body of work that is complete so that when I leave this earth, people will go, “we know what this guy was up to, all of his ideas are here, be it his classical records, the ballet he wrote one time, his film scores, his solo albums like he made his mark and there’s this beautiful box set to commemorate the life of Miles Mosley (laughs).” So I would like that very much.
That brings me nicely to the final question – what’s in the pipeline after this album? What plans do you have for the future?
I’m recording some more right now. We’ve talked to the team over at Verve and we have a pretty good idea of how we’re going to roll out some new music over the next 6 to 8 months. I’m continuing to record with the BFI duo project, that’s Tony Austin and myself, BFI, and then I’ll pull the Get Down back in the studio to record some new ideas I have and then there’s another project that I started at the KSL (King Size Sound Labs) sessions that I want to finish and bring to light. It’s then just trying to figure out how we’re going to roll it all out. There’s a lot of recording that’s already happening. Right now we’re really trying to focus on going out and touring the album and making sure that we bring music to people where it matters and sometimes that means going to the places that are hurting the most. I think we fit in really well in that environment and our show is a comfortable place to park your concerns. You can come and either feel like it’s church and get some healing from it or you can come to our show just to forget and dance and have a good time. I think that something that is massively needed at the moment, so we’re touring as heavily as we can.
MILES MOSLEY’S ‘UPRISING’ IS OUT NOW
FOR MORE INFO GO TO: http://milesmosley.com/