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Reader Spotlight: Charles “Chuck” Hoffman

Chuck HoffmanMeet Chuck Hoffman, a bassist from Des Moines, Iowa and our player in the spotlight for December 21, 2010.


I started out playing trumpet in elementary school in Waterloo, IA, got interested in indie rock, jazz, and 20th century music in high school. I went to college with the idea of becoming a composer, but took up playing bass in a grunge-rock band instead, and ended up dropping out. I came back to my hometown, took up the guitar, and got involved in a wild young lo-fi/noise/outsider scene that sprung up around a band I started called No Consensus. Stepped into the frontman role with a few later bands and did some solo stuff as a multi-instrumentalist songwriter, but found myself gradually returning to the bass, as the more I played it, the more it just felt right.

I played bass and trumpet backing up Iowa City songwriter Samuel Locke Ward in 2008, and at the end of the year I moved to Des Moines, where I joined the venerable indie-rock band Why Make Clocks. This year, Dan Hutchison of Why Make Clocks saw fit to involve me in the relaunch of his 1990’s prog-punk band Fetal Pig (original bassist Michael Glenn now plays in the Burmese, in San Francisco), and I reconfigured my solo work to a more bass-centric “sludgegaze” sound under the moniker Distant Trains.


Des Moines, IA, USA

Day gig:

I’m a web applications programmer, working primarily in Ruby On Rails, for a small web development company in West Des Moines called Red 5 Interactive. In addition to developing specialized functionality for clients who request it, I maintain active development on the company’s SiteMan content management application. We do a lot of websites for malls, and various other businesses.

Years experience:

Off and on, probably about 19 years.

Bands & Gigs:

The aforementioned Why Make Clocks, Fetal Pig, and Distant Trains. I’m interested in adding a regular drummer to Distant Trains. Right now I use a drum machine.


My first bass was an old Univox that my high school band director graciously loaned to me. It had a big crack along the body and two strings on it, one of them flatwound. It would creak loudly when I tuned it. I’d play that thing for hours. Later I saved up a little money and bought a Peavey T-40 some guy was advertising in the paper. Wish I still had it now, but I sold it on the rationale that it was too heavy and the neck too wide for my little square hands.

Now I have a ’66 Precision that was sold to me by Kevin Jass from The Mittens, with a brass Badass bridge. My main amp is a Champagne-colored Kustom 200 tuck-and-roll with the matching 2×15 cabinet that I had my eye on for years as it kicked around the No Consensus circle. Steve Wilson and Matt McGuire scored it at a garage sale, was previously owned by an old lady named Mickey Moore that played in a country band, and I later bought it off Steve’s younger brother Ben. I also have a Fender Sidekick 35 combo for the quieter gigs or for playing at home.

I’ve also got a sparkly, sorta cheezy but fun ’90s Danelectro bass that Peter Vanderwall owned when he played in Exit Drills (one of my old bands) and left with me when he moved to the Ukraine. I keep it around in my living room so I can just grab it and mess around any time I feel like it.

Pedals, in order of frequency of use: a beat-up ’80s Rat distortion pedal; MXR Dyna Comp on long-term loan from Dan Hutchison (he also has an Ashdown bass combo I often use for out-of-town gigs when we can’t fit my Kustom in the truck, it’s quite nice), Boss DD-3 delay, and RC-20 Loopstation, Vox Clyde McCoy wah pedal.

Why I play the bass:

My first experiences with the bass came about in high school, partly because I liked the sound. I would frequently annoy the bassist of the school jazz band by messing around with her bass during breaks in rehearsal. When some buddies and I decided to try playing rock music, we had guitarists and drummers but no bassist, so I offered to fill the spot. So initially I played bass because none of my friends did.

In later years, bass became just “one of the instruments I play” along with guitar, drums, and trumpet, but since joining Why Make Clocks, I think I’ve really begin to see the bass as my true calling as a musician. It’s always been the instrument I am best at, it just took me a while to really acknowledge that fact to myself and start to really think of myself as a bassist.

My bass superpower/claim to fame

I don’t know if I can nail it down to any single thing. Craig from Libyan Hit Squad said (when Radio Dramamine played with them) that I play bass like a guitar. I’m not sure that’s completely true, because I really strive to stay true to what the bass is about, even as I incorporate lead and chord elements. I think it’s the combination of my willingness to experiment, with my desire to seek out what works musically with the material rather than just what I think makes me look impressive. I like feedback, I like switching between pick and fingers, I’ll try anything crazy but the motivation is always to serve the songs and/or the mood, rather than “wow, check out that bass player.”

My influences

This being a site about bass, I’ll try to stick to bassists. Early on, Peter Hook and Will Shatter (and/or Bruce Lose) — I loved Joy Division’s records, as well as what I could find of Flipper’s, when I was in high school and practically taught myself bass though playing along to them by ear. Flipper was especially easy as a beginner and really started my love of distortion/fuzz on bass. Later on, once I started really listening to bass players, came Cliff Burton, Joe Preston, Geezer Butler, David Wm. Sims, Barb Schilf (House Of Large Sizes), Mike Kunka, Lou Barlow (as a bassist in Dinosaur Jr as well as as a songwriter and vocalist), Mike Watt, John Entwistle, Lemmy. I’m sure there are more…

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