Ortus: An Interview with Jon von Boehm
Bassist Jon von Boehm has returned with his sophomore solo album, entitled Ortus. As opposed to his self-titled debut that featured a large cast of musicians, the new release focuses on the bassist’s unique compositions in a trio format with Michael Green on drums and John Gallo on guitar with guest spots by vocalist Jesse Rose Brassfield and bass guru Vuyani Wakaba.
Ortus has a sense of urgency thanks to von Boehm’s writing style as well as the performances. The instrumental album leans on prog rock with hints of the bassist’s jazz background in cool harmonic changes and note choices. Von Boehm switches between melodic and angular lines for his bass lines and solos while adding extra tension and release through texture changes from his arsenal of pedals.
We caught up with von Boehm to get the scoop on his new album, his use of effects, and his musical influences.
What does “Ortus” mean and why did you choose it for the album title?
“Ortus” is Latin for beginning or rising. When I started this record, I was coming out of a hard patch in life. I felt I was finally rising above all that, so it seemed fitting to name the new album Ortus.
What’s your songwriting process?
Every song is a little bit different. Sometimes I have a theme in my head and I’ll grab a bass and start working out an idea, whether it be with drums, some kind of rhythm, or by myself for that matter. Some of my favorite products have come from writing without instruments around and just putting pen to paper. Those are actually some of my favorite melodies. Writing like that gets you away from the box that instruments may put you in. Got to fight that muscle memory sometimes.
“Soweto” is named after the South African city. Is it about the city or just named for Vuyani Wakaba’s guest appearance?
Both! My last record also had a guest appearance by a South African. I didn’t set out for it to be that way, I just seem to keep crossing paths with people from South Africa. They may be students or fellow musicians I’ve worked with. Naming this song after a township there, and it being the same township my friend Vuyani is from, seemed very fitting. I’m actually considering a future record with just South African musicians.
How did you record the album?
The meat of the recording was done at my drummer’s studio. Michael Green is not only an amazing drummer but he’s an awesome producer. I let him mix and master the project as well. Having Michael produce Ortus allowed me to concentrate more on playing. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by that stuff. Delegation is a great skill! Vuyani and guest vocalist Jessie Brassfield did their parts remotely. We also did some re-amping to the guitar parts to get it just perfect. John Gallo is the guitar player on Ortus. He played his ass off and brought great ideas.
What kind of effects are you using? The overdriven bass leads sound great. I also dig the bit-crushed, filtered intro for “The Rev”.
Man, I love me some pedals, haha! It took me a while but I got my pedalboard to a pretty usable set up. I tend to go for guitar-based distortion sounds. I’m not a big fan of bass distortion effects because they usually sound like fuzz. I don’t like fuzz for what I do. I’m using the Amptweaker Tight Metal for distortion. I did a lot of layers on some of the songs. A lot of the heavier palm muted stuff you’re hearing is actually me. I’m a huge fan of the Cusack stuff, too. Jon Cusack is a genius when it comes to pedal design. Most of the record’s bass synth and sub affects come from the Cusack SubFuzz. When I turn the fuzz setting completely down it gets that bit crusher sound. If I put that through a Meatbox pedal by DOD, peoples fillings fall out. It’s a big HipHop bass sound.
This album blends a few styles together. Do you go for that intentionally or is it just a result of the music that comes out of you?
It’s what comes out of me. I write what I want to hear. I don’t go in thinking “OK, what do people expect from me?” or “What am I supposed to do that’s hip?”. I want to create something fun I would like to listen to. That keeps things true to who I am. You can hear my personality come out better that way.
Where does that blend come from? Who would you describe as your biggest musical influences?
Oh man, I get this question a lot. I usually get very overwhelmed by it, haha! I’m not only influenced by a lot of different instrumentalist, but I’m also influenced by a lot of different genres. I’m very fortunate to call some of those instrumentalists my friends. I’ll just say that Pat Martino and George Benson where big game changers for me. Dexter Gordon and Jeff Berlin are big influences, too. I also listen to a lot of K-Pop, hahaha! With the exception of Jeff, these aren’t the typical bass players’ influences, I know. I didn’t choose bass; the bass was chosen for me. Now I’m hopelessly in love with playing.