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Jennylee: “Bass is a really easy instrument to learn, but it’s a really hard instrument to get good at”

Jenny Lee
(Image credit: Timothy Hiatt/WireImage)

Jenny Lee Lindberg provides the hypnotic, encircling grooves that power Warpaint's particular brand of psychedelic pop, but she has released plenty of material under her own name, too.

As Jennylee, she dropped a series of indie-styled seven-inch singles at the tail end of 2021, while Warpaint are set to release fourth album Radiate Like This in May. As Lindberg acknowledges, it's a busy time. But there's always time to talk bass…

What’s your current setup?

“I mostly play with a Rickenbacker, but I also have a 1978 Fender P-Bass that I play with at times, and I believe I have a late ’50s or early ’60s Kay bass, too. I’ve sold some stuff over the years. I had a Fender Mustang, a vintage reissue – it was amazing. I loved the small headstock, and the tone was really bright. It was really easy to do chords and fingerpick, and it just had a nice, sweet tone.” 

Is the Rickenbacker your go-to bass guitar?

“I do love my P-Bass too – it’s got flatwounds on it, so it doesn’t really sound good when you do chords because it’s just a little too muddy. But the Rick is tried and true. I’ll write lines on other basses, and then I’ll play them on the Rick, and I’m like, ‘Oh, this just sounds so much better’. I think it’s because I’ve toured with it for so long. I’ve just played the shit out of it.” 

How did you get into bass?

“When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to start playing a musical instrument. I messed around with piano when I was growing up. I really didn’t practice enough, but I definitely dabbled with it, because I really wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument. 

I got really obsessive about it – practicing scales, writing my own basslines, playing to drum machines: Just playing for hours every day. I really wanted to be good

“I moved to LA when I was 18 or 19, and drums seemed unrealistic where I was living, and I didn’t want to play the guitar, so I was like, ‘I’m gonna start playing the bass’. I went to Reno a few months after I had moved to LA, and I told a friend that I wanted to start playing bass. He was like, ‘Oh, I have a bass and an amp for you’ and he just gave them to me.” 

That’s a pretty cool friend.

“He really was – so now there were no obstacles in my way, and I started messing around on bass. I had no clue what I was doing, so I asked some bass players that I knew, who were really good, to give me some lessons. I think I had maybe four or five lessons, and somebody gave me a scale sheet, so I started practicing. 

“Actually I got really obsessive about it – practicing scales, writing my own basslines, playing to drum machines: Just playing for hours every day. I really wanted to be good. I had a real drive to do it. It felt like the first thing that had ever actually held my attention for that long.” 

Who were the bass players that you admired back then?

“When I started to play bass, I started to really pay attention to the bass players. Prior to that, I liked to dance to a groove, but I wouldn’t necessarily isolate just the bass. After I started playing, I really loved Jah Wobble’s style in PiL, which was how I first heard of him. I also loved Bernard Edwards. 

“I’d say those are my two favorite bass players, although obviously there are so many others. I think Flea’s playing is incredible. I think Thundercat’s playing is amazing. There’s so many bass players where I’m like, ‘Damn, they’re really great’. But those two are so different. I feel like somewhere in the middle of them is where I land – not with the talent, just with the style. 

What is good bass playing, as you see it?

“I think it’s important to consider melodies. A lot of people overlook that when playing bass. Not always, of course. I always say that I feel that bass is a really easy instrument to learn, but it’s a really hard instrument to get good at – to really stand out and be great. Oftentimes, it just goes under the radar, doing the root notes and being the support, which is cool, too, because songs sometimes need that. 

“I feel like you can do both. If you’re really good, you can always make a bassline really interesting and make it stick out, even if it’s simple. It doesn’t mean that you need to get flashy. It’s just about the choice of notes, which is why I go back to melody being really important. I also like a repetitive groove, though. That’s the thing I loved about Jah Wobble. Being able to find a good line that you can repeat over and over, and it doesn’t get old, is key.” 

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Joel McIver is the Editor of Bass Player magazine. A journalist with 25 years' experience in the music field, he's also the author of 35 books, a couple of bestsellers among them. He regularly appears on podcasts, radio and TV and occasionally teaches at BIMM.