Tone Talk with Morgan Russo, bassist of Jamie and the Guarded Heart

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woman on stage playing bass
Photo by Jack Purcell
       

Jamie and the Guarded Heart is fronted by Jamie Salvatore and Morgan Russo and will release their new LP, Funeral Song, on April 29. The Scott McGinley (New Religion, BLISS) produced album features ten originals written during the darkest days of the pandemic. It includes the single “I Don’t Love You” and the Bob Sweeney-directed video which finds the band out and about in their Philadelphia neighborhood of Conshohocken and performing at their home base venue, The Lannutti Post.

Photo by Jack Purcell

“The songs for the album came about while being on lockdown, but really they’ve been inside of me since I was a little kid,” says Jamie. “Writing for us is like a mundane fever dream. A look through the veil of who we grew up around and the way we saw life unfold (or how we wish it unfolded) in a blue-collar area. We write about what we know. Growing up in the Philadelphia area — and Conshohocken specifically — is my reference point for the world. One of the things that has been an amazing life lesson, is that while I’m writing about my hometown and my experiences, other people frequently tell me the songs are just like THEIR experiences. The sentiments are universal. And for that, I’m very fortunate.”

Bassist Morgan Russo fills us in on her definition of tone, her gear, recording and practice techniques, what inspired her to play bass, and advice for aspiring young women wanting to pursue a career in music.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Tone is your instrument’s unique sound; it adds another dimension of self-expression to your playing. That definition hasn’t changed too much for me, but my tone has! When I started playing bass, I was emulating Krist Novoselic. Korn was also becoming popular at the time, and I was really attracted to Fieldy’s aggressive bass sound. So, the first pedal I ever bought was a distortion pedal — I wanted to sound messy and angry. Nowadays, I still like some distortion in my tone, but I’ve cleaned it up a bit and lean more towards overdrive.

Which basses, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
I currently use a Fender Precision bass with a Fender Rumble 500 combo amp. My pedals are a Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI and a TU-3 Chromatic Tuner. I like to keep my setup simple, so I don’t need to mess with gear on stage and can focus on the performance. I use my SansAmp to dial in my tone and sometimes as a DI in instances where I need to run direct-in and use my amp more like a speaker. The Rumble 500 combo is my choice of amp because it packs a huge amount of power and sounds amazing, but it’s really light. As most bass players know, not every guitar tuner works as well for a bass, but the TU-3 works efficiently and consistently.

What about strings?
Right now, I’m using D’Addario EXL170 Nickel Wound Bass Guitar Strings, Light, 45-100, Long Scale, but am not very picky. My main thing is that I prefer round wound vs. flat wound because I like a more active sound from my strings.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
I tend to play in the studio pretty much the same way I play on stage — nothing fancy. I like to run my bass through the SansAmp; doing this limits what you can do post-production, but I usually can dial in the tone that I’m looking for, so that hasn’t been an issue for us. I prefer to wear headphones as opposed to tracking with the playback through the studio monitor. But as long as I’ve got a good mix, I’m good to go!

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
I use the same gear and same settings for each show.

What does your practice consist of?
I rehearse our duo set (where I also play a kick drum and midi keyboard) with Jamie once a week and rehearse with the whole band every few weeks. In between rehearsals, I will practice any new songs I’m learning on a daily basis, often on my acoustic Fender Kingman. The acoustic bass makes it easier for me to sit around the house practicing instead of going to our rehearsal space and plugging in.

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play bass?
“Come As You Are” by Nirvana and “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, for sure!

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
Don’t doubt yourself, and don’t think that you need to be perfect. The playing field is not level — if it were, we wouldn’t have a magazine called Guitar Girl. You will, at some point, be underestimated, ignored, and assumptions will be made about you, all because you present as feminine. Keep going, stay true to yourself, and don’t be hard on yourself. Play how you want to play, look how you want to look, perform how you want to perform.

I once heard someone say that no one will ever care about your art as much as you do, and that really stuck with me. You have to care about what you’re doing and not care if anyone else cares as much. Creativity has intrinsic value, and if you express yourself genuinely, that translates into a genuine connection with others.

Photo by Jack Purcell