By show of hands – who HASN’T seen this infamous video?
I’m willing to bet that there aren’t very many hands being raised right now, but a lot of jaws dropped.
That infamous video is of a song called, “They Came from the Sky” by bassist and composer, Nathan Navarro.
Boasting over one million YouTube views on that video alone, Nathan is part of a younger generation of bassists that is out pushing the limits of the instrument in a unique and exciting way. There aren’t thousands of notes being played to a swing beat or a simple drum track or just a cover of a popular tune.
What there is, is a skillful combination of technical skill, compositional knowledge and successful sonic blending with the aid of an array of effects and pedals to create what can undoubtedly called a one-of-a-kind sound.
While he is not making hit videos on YouTube showcasing his talents as a player and composer, he is currently working with singer Dylan Patrello as one half of the duo, Dot (now “Nathan and Dylan” – more on that below), showcasing his bass playing talents on YouTube through his own channel or putting his music up on his Bandcamp page, he can be found teaching bass guitar to the next generation of musicians.
All thanks to Nathan for taking time out to answer my questions about where the dubstep bass came from, his origins as a bass player and musician, what his time at Berklee meant to him and much more.
Mike Emiliani (ME): Who is Nathan Navarro?
Nathan Navarro (NN): Well, if we are defined by the things that we repeatedly do, I am a bass riff. I am a disciple of Christ, husband, son, brother, uncle, bassist, lover of life, and many things. I enjoy learning, writing music, playing sports, traveling, and hanging with friends.
ME: Was bass guitar your first instrument?
NN: Yes. As teenagers, a buddy of mine received a guitar for Christmas and he let me try it out. It was more fun than any video game I had ever played (I was a big gamer at the time). I knew that I preferred the sound of the bass over the guitar, and I didn’t want to copy my friend entirely. I saved up, and with the help of my lovely mother, bought a starter pack (bass, cable, amp, tuner in-a-box).
ME: What is the story band Pinn Panelle? How did you come to join up with them?
NN: We were all students at the Berklee College of Music and had many mutual friends. Pinn Panelle was looking for a bass player and they heard that I was experimenting with effects in similar styles of music. We jammed. Done deal.
ME: One of the last projects I heard you were involved with was a duo called Dot with singer Dylan Patrello. How is that going at this time? Anything new on the horizon we can expect to see and hear?
NN: The duo is going splendidly. Dylan Patrello and I are now happily married. We’ve changed our band name to “Nathan and Dylan” and have released a few acoustic songs… but we are currently working on the good stuff. I’ll be releasing an album on Candyrat Records later this year and it will include some new Nathan and Dylan.
ME: Your solo album is some really phenomenal stuff as well as the single, OFD that was recently released to your Bandcamp.
Can you share your composition process? Who are some of your inspirations and figures that you’ve looked at for ideas?
NN: Thank you! When I write, the process most often begins with a melodic or rhythmic idea in my head. After recording the portion on my phone (if I’m on the road) or writing it in a DAW, I write other parts to go along with it. Depending on the style, I’ll make a midi bass line and record the real bass last while filming.
With product demonstrations like “OFD”, “Montreal”, or “Manta”, it begins with the effects. I decide what the pedals sound most suitable for and write around them. I love this process, it’s a ton of fun. A few bassists who have inspired my playing style include Victor Wooten, Gary Willis, and Billy Sheehan.
They’ve been big inspirations for me to never stop improving my craft. As for writing, I’m inspired more often than not. I listen mostly to orchestral, metal, electronic, and prog genres, but I enjoy almost any genre.
ME: When did you first start experimenting with pedals and effects? Are there/have there been times when you don’t use your pedals and effects?
NN: I received my first multi-effects pedal in 2005, less than a year after I bought my first bass. I loved being able to create and save my own presets. I would also run a mic through the pedals and sample vocals and other noises. In live situations, I try to be as tasteful as I can with the use of effects. I’ve almost never used them outside of Pinn Panelle, Dot, or my solo work because they often don’t mesh well. I also equally enjoy playing clean, and sometimes it’s nice to leave the huge pedal board at home.
ME: I imagine it takes a lot of time experimenting with different pedals, different settings and different pieces of gear to get specific sounds and then to know when and how to use and combine them, like for the Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites cover.
What is your process for experimenting? How do you know when you’ve got something you can use or like a lot?
NN: It took months and months of experimentation in the beginning. Changing pedals, signal chain, basses, strings, amps, pre-amps, playing styles, gloves, EQ-ing, calibration, etc. It was a lot of fun.
Now that I understand the pedals more in depth, and the roles each one can play, it’s much less time consuming. Recording can be a little tricky. The recorded tones never sound the same as the live ones. Never. A great deal of trial and error is involved, and I’ll often scrap completed bass tracks if I feel it’s not sounding right.
ME: How did the dubstep bass sound come to be?
NN: I had been making bass guitar videos for different genres of music and wanted to try replicating the dubstep sound. I needed to find an efficient way of playing live wobbles without a computer; a way I could be more improvisational with.
A friend of mine showed me a video of Herman Li (Dragonforce) using the Hot Hand to control wah. I did some research and found the Source Audio Midi-EXP pedal. I saved up and bought it, a Hot Hand, and a Boss SYB-5. I put everything together and it sounded just okay, but I recognized the potential. I kept experimenting and a few added pedals later, it was sounding pretty beefy. I began writing around the pedals and came up with “They Came From The Sky.”
ME: What is your current gear setup at this time? How has it changed over time?
NN: My setup changes daily, but currently, I’m using:
Source Audio BEF Pro, MBD Pro, Orbital Modulator, Dimension Reverb, OFD, MBD2, Manta, Parametric EQ, Midi-EXP, HH2, HH3, HHUSB; Line 6 M13; Boss SYB-5, OC-3, PS-5, Electro-harmonix Iron Lung, Ibanez PD-7, and Rocktron Midi-Mate. This is all on one huge custom board. Over time it gets bigger and crazier. I try to downsize, but the kind gentlemen at Source Audio keep making excellent pedals and sending them to me (not all pictured below!)
ME: I’ve read that you are a Berklee College of Music student. How has attending Berklee affected you as a musician?
NN: Berklee College of Dudes was an excellent and humbling experience. My buddies and I switched “Music” to “Dudes” because of the lack of women that attended during our enrollment. They have some of the best music professors in the world and I learned everything I could from them and fellow students. They helped me improve my ears (aural dictation), theory, composition, etc… Also, I hear they have more women now, single guys.
ME: What is your current practice routine like? How has it changed from your days starting out in music?
NN: Starting out, I played six hours or more every day for three years. Then I began writing music more frequently and that seemed to follow me everywhere; always scribbling something down, tapping rhythms, or lost in thought… slowly becoming more and more socially awkward for the sake of art. haha Lately, sequential exercises are all but dead to me. I make an effort to practice by writing technically challenging pieces that I can possibly use later. I also enjoy and recommend improvising over music you like.
That’s nearly always fun and productive.
Check out the video below of Nathan giving a demonstration of all of his pedals:
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Thanks again to Nathan for a great, insightful interview. If you haven’t already, Like Nathan’s music page on Facebook!