Curation, Pt. 1: An Interview with Brent Rademaker
As bass players, we tend to be the ones that get things done. Whether we’re born with it or we grow into it, we have a supportive nature that reveals itself in our music as well as our work ethic. That’s why when I was recently turned onto an awesome new album, it didn’t surprise me that there were great bassists helping the project along every step of the way.
High Upon the Mountain is the latest release by Pacific Range, an L.A.-based Americana/Jam band that cites their influences as The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Allman Brothers, and The Grateful Dead. There is something so quintessentially Californian about the entire album. It plays like the perfect soundtrack for a motorcycle ride down the Pacific Coast Highway on a sunny day.
In this four-part series, we’ll talk with four bass players and their role in working with the band: Pacific Range’s own stellar bass man Cameron Wehrle, Curation Records founder Brent Rademaker, and producers Dan Horne (Circle Around the Sun) and Dave Schools (Widespread Panic). Through the process, we’ll get a feel for how each bassist gravitated toward their role, how they approach it, and advice for other players.
First up is Brent Rademaker, a veteran of the Los Angeles music scene who cut his teeth with his brother, Darren, in the bands Further and The Tyde. He formed Beachwood Sparks in the late ‘90s with Christopher Gunst and was signed to Sub Pop Records, where they released two influential albums before splitting. They would reform in 2008 and are now working on a new record. He’s also been playing guitar in his project GospelBeacH.
Rademaker launched Curation Records out of a natural desire to connect and empower his fellow musicians. High Upon the Mountain is the first release on the label, but more great things are coming soon including an album by his writing partner Trevor Beld Jimenez that will feature session legend Bob Glaub on bass.
We caught up with Rademaker just as he was prepping for a bass gig with Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes.
How did you decide to start Curation Records?
Initially, I was helping out a lot of bands in LA, getting them gigs, getting them record deals – just hooking up people, other musicians. I started to really see that the people I was helping were doing well. I had a friend who I’ve known for about 25 years say, “I like that band Mapache that you’ve been helping.” They’re a folk duo and he just said, “Are you managing them?” I said, “No, no, I’m just I love them and I’m just trying to get other people to hear them.”
He said, “You should do a record label.” Then that started the whole, “Do I really want to do this?” [thing]. Because at first I just laughed, but then I was working a job at a design firm and I said, “I would love to do a record label full-time.”
Mapache had since signed to a label called Yep Roc but I told them about the label and they said, “Remember Pacific Range? You had put them on a show and down in the desert.” I remembered [guitarist Seamus Turner] as well because he played an acoustic show for me one time that I put together. They had just recorded an album with Dan Horne and Dan is an old friend of mine. Another bass bro.
I immediately asked if I could hear it and I fell in love with it. Then we had a release so the label was off and running.
In the meantime, I had reached out to Beachwood Sparks and said, “Hey guys, it’s been eight years since we’ve got an album, would you want to do one if I started a label?” They all said yes because it felt like time.
Farmer Dave from Beachwood Sparks has a side project called Farmer Dave and the Wizards of the West and we’re going to put that out. I have a co-writer in GospelbeacH, who is a solo artist named Trevor Beld Jimenez. GospelBeacH, my own band, was just finishing up our contract with a label. I started thinking, “Wow, we’ve got a lot of records here. Let’s curate this, my little version of LA here in Hyland Park. Let’s make a record label.” We’ve done it and that’s what it is.
I love the idea of a supportive role and that you were doing that for bands already. Of course, bass players are supportive roles in bands. Do you think that’s tied in together?
I absolutely do. A lot of bass players that I know including Dan, and Dan does it with his own band Circles Around The Sun, we like to bring people together. We like to help out people. The bass player is usually the band’s manager. [laughs] It’s also a supporting role. With Curation Records and with Beachwood Sparks and all the bands I’ve ever been in, Further with my brother… I’ve always been the guy who got the gigs and made the records. If there was this stuff that nobody else wants to do, I’ve always done that.
That’s how Dan and I connected. He did some recordings for me a long time ago, like in the mid-2000s, and that’s how I even brought him into Beachwood Sparks. I was already the bass player and he said that he wanted to learn pedal steel. I said, “Look, if you can learn to play good enough, you can be in the band.”
We stayed in touch this whole time. It was a Beachwood connection, but then it’s grown because I introduced him to Neal Casal and they did Circles Around the Sun. He also did the Grateful Shred with Mapache and he produced their album.
I invited Dan to see the band Mapache and he’s recorded three albums for them now, including the Pacific Range album, because Dan is a great producer.
But it is a bass player thing. It’s not all bass players who do this, but I think it’s a lot. You’re a bass player and you’re doing a whole publication and a whole site devoted to bass players and it’s like, who else better to do it?
Yeah, it’s a real community-building thing. That’s the biggest part of it.
Well, look at Phil Lesh up at Terrapin. We’ve gone up there and played. He nurtures bands from Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, and that’s a very successful restaurant as well as it is a venue. He plays almost every night of the week with any band. The Tyde came up to play at Terrapin Crossroads and Phil wanted to jam with the band and so we jammed on a couple of songs and it was with two basses. Phil’s bass was a five-string with two or three inputs. He is going crazy and I’m over here just holding down the root. I only did that on one song, but I put it down and played tambourine, but we did it for one whole song.
The thing that I noticed was he brought Mapache on his tour bus and he took time to say hi to everybody. He’s the bass player for one of the greatest bands ever. Even though Jerry’s gone, it’s like the last band standing, what The Dead did. I love Chicago as much as I love the Grateful Dead. Peter Cetera is an incredible bass player and a great songwriter and singer. The Dead, they just created this prototype for what is now what everybody else is doing. Every band builds their own little community and then tries to share that because I guess through the internet and touring.
Meeting Dave Schools as well, he’s another bass player who brings people together. He’s a record producer. He’s an impresario. He just brings people together. He’s like what I do, but in a different scene in the jam world. It stood to reason that we’d get Pacific Range in the studio with him.
What was your role in the album itself?
To be honest, I get a lot of credit because everybody loves the way it sounds. The only thing that I did was sequence it and mastered it. They had it all recorded without me.
I got them some gigs. I’m sure they met Dan through Mapache and Mapache met Dan through me. I’m out there if you made a diagram, but when they played me the record then I asked if I could put it out, I listened to it and I heard their first mastering and there was no bass on it. As a bass player, I want to hear a bass. I know Dan had it recorded on there, but their first mastering engineer had twisted around. I think it was more concentrated on the snare drum. I said, “Listen, the drums are fine, but the bass and the vocals, these are things that we need to hear.” I had JJ Golden in Ventura at Golden Mastering remaster it.
I said especially for the vinyl, get as much bass as you can out of it because Cameron is an incredible bass player. He is miles above anyone that I know playing on the local scene out here. Even on the album, it’s very subtle because they didn’t pound it away, they didn’t put it in your face.
My role was to make sure that everybody was heard. I also oversaw the pressing on the vinyl because it’s a really great pressing and it’s sold out twice now. We’re super happy with it. It’s a double album too. I think people are happy with the fidelity. Then I showed the guys what it takes to actually put your music out is more than just signing up to a digital server and getting it up on Spotify. I said, “Let’s team up together, and if you guys trust me with your music which I love, I’ll show you how to get it out there.”
That’s where we are now. That’s my role. I can’t take credit for anything except for being part of the team that made an incredible album. It’s very listenable and that’s what you’re going for. There’s not a lot of bands doing what they’re doing. They’re kind of in the jam band world, but it’s not really a jam band album, it’s really more songwriting. It’s song-oriented. Now live, they jam, and then if you see Cam play “Coming After You” and there’s a couple of other songs that he just smokes on. He’s got like this Rick Danko thing going when Danko was doing the fretless thing. I don’t know what his influences are, but he’s a solid guy and a solid bass player. This is a band who really cares about the musicianship.
What do you look for if you’re going to look for a band to sign?
Great songs, good people, and a band that tours. Pacific Range, they played every night of the week when they were home. When they weren’t home they were on tour on the West Coast. I knew from being in bands that when we toured, the record would be successful and despite success, it would reach the people that we wanted it to reach and it would sell more. I knew from GospelbeacH and Beachwood Sparks that when the band tours, if the record’s good, people will hear it.
Good is a relative term because we all have our taste. I happen to like a lot of different kinds of music. There’s a lot of people who they get into a groove and they want to hear this one kind of music. Nobody’s going to hear it unless you’re out on the road. You’ve got to tour. You’ve got to be a real band. I like singer-songwriters and I like projects, side bands, and things like that but there’s nothing that beats a real band that the members are all for one, one for all. They got each other’s backs musically and spiritually.
That’s what Pac Range is. They’re the prototypical band. They’re almost like a bar band that’s waiting to be discovered by the rest of the world. They’re getting huge in Europe right now. These guys play sports bars, wineries, and fish marts. [chuckles] They played a couple of festivals and a couple of concerts, but really they play and that’s what I look for in a band.
They’ve got to have a great drummer and they’ve got to have a great bass player. I’m not into super busy bass players, but that’s why I like Cam. Cam can be getting out there but then when he needs to hold it down, man that guy can just hold it down. He knows where the pocket is. He knows how to play rhythm bass. It’s just so great.
I love the amount of space he used on the album. It’s just right.
See, I put them in the studio with Dave Schools as a producer because he’s a bass player. We did some recordings that are coming out. I was hoping for the next recording to be a little more… First of all, we could do a whole interview about recording bass. What’s the one thing you never hear on a local band record? The bass. You just can’t hear it. It’s all kick drum and vocals. Recording bass is really hard, it’s really hard.
Bob Glaub just texted me while we were on the phone here. He played the bass on an upcoming Curation Record’s release by my songwriting partner Trevor Beld Jimenez. Trevor’s made a solo album, very in the vein of Jackson Browne and Tom Petty. Bob plays a lot with Jackson, among other people. Johnny, the keyboard player for GospelbeacH who also produced the last album, he recorded Trevor’s new album and recorded Bob. We’re listening to the final mixes all week, and I’m like, “This is the first Indie release in a long time where you can hear the bass.” There’s a lot going on in the music and it’s because Bob knows how to play and where to play. Just like Cam knows how to play where to play.
We’re partial to bass players and the bass sound, but you know how hard it is. Look at everybody who’s going down the rabbit hole trying to figure how the Beatles got that McCartney bass sound. You could set up the same mics, the same amps. You could set it all up and it still doesn’t mean when your record gets home and you put it on and that you’re going to hear [it.]
[Stay tuned for the next installment!]