A few weeks ago I came across Mansfield duo Bass Illusion – bassist and vocalist Ryan Carver and drummer Brad Johnston. As a fellow bassist, I love seeing a band fronted by one, and I found their recordings to be quite solid as well. It’s always intriguing to find a rock group who perform live as a two-piece, and so I decided to get to know the group a little better.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Tell me about how the two of you came together?
Ryan Carver: I had been trying to get in some bands and it just wasn’t working well. I figured I’d use my resources better and just do a two-piece band. It’s a more unique concept; it really hasn’t been done as much as a 4- or 5-piece band.
Brad Johnston: it’s not always easy to make it sound full with 2 guys but we make it work.
Ryan: Initially it started off with me and my dad. I wanted to do some recordings and my dad knew Brad, so we got together and and the recordings went well.
That makes sense. Why a two piece as opposed to a more traditional band?
Ryan: Well, it’s tough finding people who have a good common band.
Brad: It’s not always easy finding people who can get along .*laughs*
I’m sure we can all relate to that! How do you feel it works out for you?
Ryan: One of the things about being a two piece is that because you don’t have as many opinions or options, you have to be a bit more experimental. Sometimes we both have to play a little different, but I’ve found we both work well together.
Brad: When it comes to our stuff, it’s kind of anything goes. He comes up with most of the riffs and stuff. I’ve been playing forever, I listen to a lot of kinds of music and play a lot of different styles. I try to decide what different styles work best with his riffs. It’s more fun that way.
I’ve noticed that the two piece rock outfit has become somewhat of a popular thing these days. How did you end up as a bass-and-drum duo?
Ryan: I’ve always loved bass, and it just kind of stuck with me. It was just something I wanted to do.
Brad: I think it works well for us, makes us a little more creative unique.
The White Stripes were a big deal when I was a teenager, and The Black Keys really made the duo concept stick. Japandroids, the Kills, and these days Royal Blood and Death from Above 1979 are kind of taking over the rock landscape. Who would you say your biggest influences are?
Ryan: I’ve always been a rock guy. I love listening to rock music, and I’ve always looked up to Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He does a lot of amazing things. But yeah Mike Kerr from Royal Blood, Jesse Keeler from Death from Above, they’ve really done some great things just playing bass for their respective bands.
Brad: I dunno, how long you got? *laughs* I grew up listening to Pantera, so Vinnie Paul was a big one. Abe Cunningham from Deftones was another, and of course I’m big into Danny Carey and Tool. I’ve been into his styles for years. I listen to a lot of metal, but I’m also a big Rush fan.
Can’t go wrong with some Neil Peart, that’s for sure. Talk to me about a live show for Bass Illusion – how do you work things out with just the two of you?
Brad: Well… the thing about a two piece is it’s a lot harder to hide your flaws.
Ryan: You really gotta make good eye contact!
…with the crowd, or with each other??
Ryan: Both! But I really like being able to connect with the audience, and I feel like I have a lot of energy. I’m also a big-time pedal guy. You have to use a lot of different things when there’s only two people on stage!
Definitely! Tell me about your pedal board?
Ryan: Well, I have a secret weapon… actually, I can’t tell you about that. But I do take a fuzz pedal and push it through another pedal. I use a whammy pedal to get the higher range; Dimebag gave me that idea. On a bass, a whammy stick doesn’t give you much as far as higher octaves go. Like any bassist, I do use my chorus a lot for cleans, and I love a lot of delay.
It took me quite a while to find a good style – my 12 herbs and spices, you could say. It took a lot of time to find the right style, but once I found it, I figured I would stick with what works best.
Being a bassist, I have to ask your thoughts on the age-old debate – Pick vs Pluck?
Ryan: No picks for me!
Simple enough! Have you guys played a lot of shows?
Ryan: We played this past summer at The Summit, Skully’s and King of Clubs.
Brad: King of Clubs was really cool – it’s like being at a big professional venue.
Ryan: I really like the small venue vibe, though. Like I said, connecting with the audience is big for me. That show at Skully’s was one of the best I’ve ever been a part of.
Brad: The people there really seemed to like us, and everyone stuck around for the rest of the bands.
Ryan: Personally, I really like the Columbus music scene. People seem to be really open minded. It’s a good live music city. Downtown is really cool, it has a cool vibe.
I definitely agree there. I know you told me before that you were only 15 years old. Do you ever feel intimidated being up on stage?
Ryan: No, never. People usually think I’m older so I just go with it. I’ve been playing live in this band since I was 13, and I’ve been performing other music for as long as I can remember. Being onstage just feels natural to me.
I’ve learned a lot in that time, too. One thing we’ve started doing is linking songs together live. That way there’s not as much time between the song. Say what you gotta say, and let the music speak for itself. I think it’s really helped our set, cutting down on the talking time.
What do you think about adding more instruments to the mix? You seem pretty set on just being a duo.
Brad: we could always have a rhythm bassist. *laughs*
Ryan: Right now, it’s not really in the cards. I think the two-piece setup is kind of our thing. I like where it’s at.
I know most of the bigger bands incorporate keys into their music to beef up the sound – do you think that is something you might want to do between the two of you?
Ryan: Actually, on our new single Crazy Joe – we put some piano on it. That was the first time adding anything. It sounded really good. We might play around with that a little more in the future.
Tell me about your future recording plans?
Ryan: Well, we put Crazy Joe out a few weeks ago. We’re planning on going back and recording some more soon. Maybe a 3 song EP or something. I dunno, we just don’t have the time to do a full-length album. Two or 3 songs at a time give you a more steady income of songs.
I guess the goal is, right now for me, once we get a big enough fanbase… I mean right now we’re recording everything at my house. Maybe one day it’d be cool to go to a real studio and have a bigger EP or an album.
I think it would be really cool to do a live EP, too. I think we put on a good live show.
For sure! Some things just can’t be captured in recordings. What are your upcoming plans for shows?
Ryan: We’re playing at Olar’s Exotics and Aquatics in Mansfield on October 30th. It’s kind of a pet store… our friends wanted us to play the show. There’s going to be a Fear Factor theme, it should be a lot of fun! Then in December we’re playing at The Newark Hub with our friends from Columbus, Artifax. We’re trying to book more shows in Columbus as well.
Brad: We both enjoy playing out, so any show we can get on and show off our style is good!
Awesome. Any last words for the folks reading at home?
Brad: …expect the unexpected!
Ryan: We appreciate what you’re doing for local artists, Thanks again!