Canadian Musician

JAY WALKING

Jason Raso


The Unstoppable Michael Manring

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Michael Manring is a true pioneer of the electric bass. It’s more than fair to say he possesses one of the most distinct and innovative voices in the history of the instrument. I first heard of Michael in 1994. There was huge buzz about his album “Thonk” and I knew I had to hear it. I was not prepared for what I heard. I had been playing bass for 6 years at that point and thought I had an idea of what was possible. “Thonk” blew my mind. It forever changed the way I saw the bass and inspired me to push further. Mr. Manring is still pushing the boundaries of the electric bass and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Michael graciously agreed to answer a few questions ahead of his performance at The Canadian Guitar Festival in Kingston, Ontario this July.

JR:  When did you start playing bass and who were your early influences?

MM: I fell in love with the bass when I was about 10. In those days we didn’t have much information about the records we listened to and originally I didn’t know what instrument was making the sound that captivated my imagination. Gradually, as player credits appeared on LP record jackets we began to be able to sort out who was playing what. When I figured out it was the bass guitar that was fascinated by, I begged my parents to let me buy one.

The Woodstock Festival record was popular at that time and was a big early influence. There was a relative variety of music at Woodstock, so it was kind of a nice place to start as a bassist. After just a few years I got into jazz, so its rich history became very important to me as well. From there I got interested in classical music, contemporary music, ethnic musics — lots of different sounds inspired my musical upbringing.

JR: At what point do you feel you came into your own as a bass player?

MM: For me, being a musician is a constantly evolving process and I certainly feel I’m still growing and learning. However, I suppose there was a point in my twenties when a certain personal path started to become apparent. Jaco Pastorius had been my idol at that time and much of my musical pursuit had revolved around trying to come to terms with the great innovations he brought to the instrument. When I got to study with him and get to know him a bit, I’m not sure why, but I began to feel a need to branch out a little. It’s difficult to describe because it was an intuitive process, but I started hearing certain sounds in my mind’s ear and I began to have an unstoppable urge to follow a particular set of dreams.

JR: Which non-bass player has had the biggest impact on your playing?

MM: That’s a tough question to answer! I suppose the people who’ve had the biggest impact on who I am and therefore, the kind of music I make, were my parents, but I doubt that generic an answer will be satisfying to you! I have lots of heroes, musical and otherwise, so it really is impossible to pick just one. Maybe, for the sake of dialog I’ll name William Shakespeare, only because he has had such an enormous impact on all western art as well as on me personally.

JR: It’s very exciting that you are coming up to Canada to play the Canadian Guitar Festival in Kingston. How much of your solo set is planned out and how much is improvised? How do you decide on the set list?

MM: These days I like to improvise a lot of my live performances. Again, I’m not sure why — it just feels like the right thing to do. The music-making process is a kind of passion for me and it can be a bit difficult to put into words how some decisions are made. If this year’s Fest ends up being a typical set I’ll spend maybe 70 percent of the time experimenting with various ideas and the remaining time playing stuff I know how to play! Sometime the day of a show I seem to get a feeling for what direction I need to take, so I follow that impulse as best I can. However, I’m always so grateful that folks want to listen to what I’m doing so I always try to make sure to play a few things I think they’ll find entertaining. I need to follow my muse, but I’m not interested in completely alienating my audience!

Visit Michael at www.manthing.com

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