Bass Player Magazine
Mike Rivard: Groove Chameleon
Boston’s Mike Rivard has developed a big niche for his bass approach. “I try to be as versatile as possible,” he explains. “I play upright and electric, and I have a lot of different instruments. When producers hire me, they know I’ll have a lot of different sounds available. If a tune calls for a fuzz bass, then a fuzz bass it shall be! If you listened to four albums that I’ve played on, then you’d have a hard time telling it was the same bass player.” “Micro” has also developed a knack for melody down low. “I like to get counterpoint and call-and-response in the bass. I love what the bass does, and I love filling up the bottom with wonderfully diverse sonic delicacies.”
Rivard holds the distinction of being the only bassist to have played behind both Wild Man Fisher and Cab Calloway (though not simultaneously). His many credits include gigs and recordings with Morphine (now Orchestra Morphine), Either/Orchestra, Mighty Sam McLain, and Paula Cole. In addition, Mike leads his own project, Club d’Elf-an amalgam of jazz, world music, electronica, and hip-hop. The band’s regular gigs at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have featured special guests such as John Medeski, DJ Logic, and Reeves Gabrels. Winners of the Best of Boston’s Best Cutting-Edge Band, Club d’Elf is releasing its first LiveArchive CD, As Above (Live at the Lizard Lounge), this summer.
Starting first on guitar, Micro picked up the bass at age 12 to play with the school stage band. Soon he became attracted to the exploratory styles of Jack Casady and Phil Lesh, and John Paul Jones. It wasn’t long before he became sought-after for his ability to get inside a tune and play supportively, yet still inject his personality. Rivard’s instrument choice usually dictates how he approaches a tune. “If something is feeling stagnant, I switch to something different.” For inspiration Mike draws upon fretted and fretless Lakland 5-strings, a Danelectro Longhorn, Wal fretless, ’61 Fender Jazz, ’66 P-Bass, ’76 Music Man StingRay, ’60s Rossmeisel, ’67 Guild Starfire, ’60s Hofner solid-body, ’70s Gibson Les Paul Signature, and a Chapman Stick. His upright is a 1990 Rheinhold Schmidt that he bought used from Dave Holland. “Dave used it on his solo album One’s All [Intuition]. It’s incredible owning an instrument with that kind of legacy.” Mike strings his upright with D’Addario Helicore Hybrids and amplifies with a David Gage Realist pickup. Live he uses a Demeter preamp and an Ashly power amp and a couple of SWR Goliath Jr. 2×10 cabs. With Club d’Elf Rivard uses a Lexicon JamMan for loops. “Both the drummer and I get a MIDI click from the keyboardist, so we can do some pretty hip live loops.” Rivard also uses a Mu-Tron III, EBS Octabss and Uni-Chorus pedals, DigiTech Whammy pedal, and an SIB Vari-Drive for distortion, plus T.C. Electronic and Fishman parametric EQs for the acoustic bass.
Rivard has been touring with Orchestra Morphine, a nine-piece version of Morphine, since the band’s 2-string slide bassist/leader Mark Sandman died last summer. Mike played mostly upright with Morphine for five or six years; he appears on Like Swimming, The Night, and B-Sides and Otherwise [all on Dreamworks]. “I haven’t played 2-string slide bass yet, but if they want to do old tunes on the tour I might pick it up.”
Rivard continues to pull in a wide range of interesting projects. He recently played on Patty Larkin’s new CD due out on Vanguard this summer, as well as Experiments in Truth [Grapeshot], a spoken-word record by Paul Auster with Oteil Burbridge, John Medeski, Billy Martin, Vernon Reid, and Bob Moses. Rivard helped with a WGBH documentary on George Wallace for PBS’s American Experience series. He has also been getting into North African Gnawan music, created by mystic troubadors for healing and inducing trances. And, inspired by sintir player Hassan Hakmoun, Rivard has been scouring the East Coast in search of his own Moroccan bass lute to add to his already healthy collection of options.
“I listen to many different types of music, but the unifying principle is always the groove. I want to play bass from the heart and tune into it as a way of getting closer to the life force of the universe.”
*Groove Tip: One of Micro’s favorite practice techniques is to play along to his Boss Dr. Beat clicking triplets. “I like to play with the two-against-three feel, or four against three. I love the wonderful ground where four meets three.”