Brent Rusinow: Soul to Solo

Brent Rusinow

Listening to the elastic, soulful grooves of the Allen Stone band, it’s hard to believe that bassist Brent Rusinow began his musical journey in the somewhat more rigid world of classical music. But growing up with a guitar-collecting father in the house, the lure of the Rock n’ Roll world became too great and eventually young Brent was strumming along to Beatles records. “That led me down the path of playing guitar,” Rusinow says, “until I was caught up in the ‘two guitar and a drummer’ conundrum when I was about 13 years old. Luckily, my dad also had a bass laying around!”

Fast forward to today and Rusinow is now a seasoned member of Stone’s band; his bass solo spotlight being one of the many high points of the live show. Celebrating the release of the new album Radius, we recently caught up with Brent to discuss his formative years, his Aguilar rig and the value of learning songs, “from the bottom up”.

 

What was it like starting off playing classical music?
I started playing violin when I was five or six and ended up doing 14 years of full-on classical training. I don’t think I was ready for the rigidity of the classical world as a kid, although, in hindsight, I appreciate it more now as an adult, than I did when I was younger.

How did electric guitars come into the picture for you?
My dad played a little bit of guitar and starting to collect them when I was about nine or ten and that was when I started getting into it and playing along with Beatles records. But it wasn’t until I heard D’Angelo’s Voodoo album where I went, “I want to be a bass player”. Pino changed me – that was the one!

You progressed rapidly on the bass through your college years, what do you attribute to?
I finally asked a good friend of mine who was at Berklee – I actually went to Boston University - who I should study with because I hit a plateau and didn’t know how to progress and he told me about Jim Stinnett. I ended up reaching out and working with him really opened me up to a whole other world including Jazz. I grew up in a household with a lot of classic rock. The closest thing to ‘soul music’ was Michael Jackson and maybe Paul Simon’s Graceland; my exposure to the full Stevie Wonder catalogue was relatively late compared to a lot of people.

Brent's Rig
Brent Rusinow's Gear

Brent's rig includes: DB 751, DB 410, DB 115, Filter Twin, Octamizer, TLC Compressor

Listening to Allen Stone’s new album and then hearing you perform those songs live, it is apparent that there was not a directive to just mime the studio tracks – you have new arrangements for the live show.
Completely and it’s been that way in one form or another from the beginning. We approached that self-titled album [2011’s Allen Stone] with the mindset of “we want to lift this stuff a little bit off the page”. That record especially was straight-ahead soul music but our musical backgrounds within the band are very diverse. The best example I can think of which adds to our sound as much as anything is Trevor, our guitar player. He uses very ‘open’, Andy Summers-style voicings in unexpected places which is not the stereotypical R&B/Soul-type guitar playing and that gives it a different, unique palette. This band can really go a lot of different directions during the show which makes it approachable to a lot of people with different music backgrounds!

You have done a few videos performing solo bass arrangements of various pop tunes. How did you develop that side of your playing?
I think some of it kind of stems back to the way I learned to play when I was getting into Jazz. I was lucky that there were a couple of other bass players under my teacher’s tutelage that were my age and working really hard like I was. So we would work on learning standards together. We would put on a metronome and one of us would play the bass line, one of us would play the 3rd’s and 7th’s and the other would play the melody. We would just loop it and keep going until we felt good about what we were doing and then we would switch parts. Once everybody knew all the parts, then we would actually play the tune in normal Jazz form – taking solos and that kind of thing – and I think that really kind of inspired the way that I learn and hear music now.

I like learning and knowing a tune from the bottom up. It’s the “bass player ear” – you start at the bottom and then you’re able hear a lot of things. I think that’s invaluable when playing with a band if you’re able to hear and know what the organ player is doing, what the guitar player is doing.

Tell us about your live rig – you’ve been using the same rig since that first tour!
I have the DB 751 with a DB 115 and DB 410 cabinets and for me, that’s the perfect set up! The DB 751 is just… incredible!

With the demands of such a dynamic ensemble, how do you set your DB 751?
I run it flat! Of all the different amplifiers I’ve used, plenty of them have more knobs but you are just using them to try and make the thing sound good and it’s such a challenge! With the DB 751, I feel like it was never a matter of figuring out how to set the head because it sounded how I wanted it to sound from the beginning. It truly is my sound!

How about your pedalboard?
On the floor it is pretty simple but the Octamizer is down there, the Filter Twin is down there - the TLC compressor is there and I run that one for the whole show.

What does the TLC give you specifically?
It’s very tactile and is a ‘comfort’ thing for me. It allows me plenty of room on both sides of the dynamic spectrum – when I’m playing quieter it just sounds like what I want the bass to sound like. And then when I start digging in, it keeps everything a little smoother and tighter and this band can get really loud by the end of the show!

What I noticed most, from the beginning, is that it’s just subtle enough and musical enough to not limit what I do but to enhance the general tone. Our front of house guy loves it as well!

I think that with everything Aguilar makes, it is very clear that there was a lot of testing and genuine gigging experience and musical experience that went into it!

Thanks for chatting with us Brent! Best of luck on this tour!


Check out Brent’s YouTube channel to check out his many videos including solo performances of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Pharrell William’s “Happy”.

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