Leanne Bowes: “I want my deep inner connection with the beat to come across, and that leaves no room for nerves”

Leanne Bowles
(Image credit: Leanne Bowles)

My dad was an awesome drummer and all-around musician, and he always had instruments lying around the house, so I was always checking things out and tinkering around. 

When I was about 12, he decided to build his own electronic kit and got into MIDI recording, and he asked me to learn So Lonely by the Police on his bass guitar so he could try capturing a live bass and drums take. I was obsessed with the way the bass combined both melody and rhythm, and basically haven’t put it down since.

I learned every CD in the house, and thanks to my mom, we had a killer collection. She was the only mom I knew who listened to Alice In Chains, Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana. 

My dad and I always used to jam together, so in so many ways he was my introduction into being passionate about music. He passed away too young in 2011, and that was part of what inspired me to quit my day job and make music my career in his honor.  

My first bass guitar was my Fender P-Bass in sunburst, probably purchased by my dad around 1999. I was just a high-schooler when I used to play local gigs with it, and I remember at one band practice the saddle was crooked after one too many nights left in the trunk of my car. 

I quick-fixed it with a little piece of notebook paper from my homework. It’s still there, and I love when I notice it on stage now! I still play that bass occasionally and it’s a time capsule to what feels like another lifetime.  

My favorite bass is my 2008 Fender P-Bass in Blizzard Pearl. It was an unexpected gift from my father, and when he gave it to me he said ‘It came with a flight case, for when you’re touring the world’. At the time it sounded totally ludicrous, so I almost cried the first time I saw that flight case coming around the bend on a luggage belt in Sweden on my first European tour in 2013. 

I also use a Fender American Professional Series Jazz for those smooth tone gigs, a Stagg J-Bass that gives me a metallic punk tone, and a Fender acoustic Kingman for the occasional unplugged gig.

As for pedals, I keep my board simple, and I usually have my Empress compressor, an overdrive, and a wah pedal that I find pretty versatile for the varying types of gigs I play. 

Sometimes, though, an artist will recommend an additional pedal based on their preferences, and I love getting my hands on something new to achieve that vision. As for doing at-home session work, I use Ableton Live with an M-Track audio interface. 

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When I was pretty new to the world of playing bass professionally, my band had the opportunity to record with Linda Perry in her studio. I was beside myself with nerves, because I’d never been in such a huge recording studio and I felt out of my league. I was hitting every note and thought things were going okay, but Linda stopped the session, came right up to me and said, ‘Relax’. 

She could actually hear through my playing that I was nervous, even though I thought I was playing it perfectly. She offered me a shot of whiskey, and in that moment I learned that our nerves prevent us from actually feeling the music and putting ourselves into the beat. I took a deep breath and loosened every part of my body, and she immediately noticed the difference in the track. 

We used that next take, and it’s now something that I do every time I track or play live. I want my deep inner connection with the beat to come across, and that leaves no room for nerves.  

While I grew up learning from the great classic rock bassists, once I started my career in touring I was in awe of Cone McCaslin of Sum 41. My band at the time, Hunter Valentine, gave me my first taste of professional touring, and we opened for Sum 41 for a tour back in 2013. Cone’s relaxed but powerful stage presence totally struck me, and I still steal his moves when I perform today.

More important than his presence and talent, Cone is a down-to-earth and sweet person, despite having been in the limelight since he was a teenager. I admire that a lot. Luckily, our paths have crossed professionally many times since we first met, and we’re good friends. 

My fingers are crossed that I’ll be able to announce some shows and tours again for various artists sooner rather than later, as we’re safely able to become less socially distant, but in the meantime I’ve been doing session work.

You’ll hear my bass and vocals on some upcoming tracks for a few different artists, including Derek Day, Jules & The Howl, and Jennifer Lee Snowden. My debut EP under the pseudonym Badways comes out at the end of this year. I’ve never released my own music before, but in this downtime from my usual gigs as a hired gun, I really found my voice – and I’m excited to share it.

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