Bass Player Magazine feature

Mike Rivard: Groove Chameleon

Bass Player Magazine feature

Boston’s Mike Rivard has developed a big niche for his bass approach.
“I try to be as versatile as possible,” he explains. “I play upright
and electric, and I have a lot of different instruments. When
producers hire me, they know I’ll have a lot of different sounds
available. If a tune calls for a fuzz bass, then a fuzz bass it shall
be! If you listened to four albums that I’ve played on, then you’d
have a hard time telling it was the same bass player.” “Micro” has
also developed a knack for melody down low. “I like to get
counterpoint and call-and-response in the bass. I love what the bass
does, and I love filling up the bottom with wonderfully diverse sonic

Rivard holds the distinction of being the only bassist to have played
behind both Wild Man Fisher and Cab Calloway (though not
simultaneously). His many credits include gigs and recordings with
Morphine (now Orchestra Morphine), Either/Orchestra, Mighty Sam
McLain, and Paula Cole. In addition, Mike leads his own project, Club
d’Elf-an amalgam of jazz, world music, electronica, and hip-hop. The
band’s regular gigs at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
have featured special guests such as John Medeski, DJ Logic, and
Reeves Gabrels. Winners of the Best of Boston’s Best Cutting-Edge
Band, Club d’Elf is releasing its first LiveArchive CD, As Above (Live
at the Lizard Lounge), this summer.

Starting first on guitar, Micro picked up the bass at age 12 to play
with the school stage band. Soon he became attracted to the
exploratory styles of Jack Casady and Phil Lesh, and John Paul Jones.
It wasn’t long before he became sought-after for his ability to get
inside a tune and play supportively, yet still inject his personality.
Rivard’s instrument choice usually dictates how he approaches a tune.
“If something is feeling stagnant, I switch to something different.”
For inspiration Mike draws upon fretted and fretless Lakland
5-strings, a Danelectro Longhorn, Wal fretless, ’61 Fender Jazz, ’66
P-Bass, ’76 Music Man StingRay, ’60s Rossmeisel, ’67 Guild Starfire,
’60s Hofner solid-body, ’70s Gibson Les Paul Signature, and a Chapman
Stick. His upright is a 1990 Rheinhold Schmidt that he bought used
from Dave Holland. “Dave used it on his solo album One’s All
[Intuition]. It’s incredible owning an instrument with that kind of
legacy.” Mike strings his upright with D’Addario Helicore Hybrids and
amplifies with a David Gage Realist pickup. Live he uses a Demeter
preamp and an Ashly power amp and a couple of SWR Goliath Jr. 2×10
cabs. With Club d’Elf Rivard uses a Lexicon JamMan for loops. “Both
the drummer and I get a MIDI click from the keyboardist, so we can do
some pretty hip live loops.” Rivard also uses a Mu-Tron III, EBS
Octabss and Uni-Chorus pedals, DigiTech Whammy pedal, and an SIB
Vari-Drive for distortion, plus T.C. Electronic and Fishman parametric
EQs for the acoustic bass.

Rivard has been touring with Orchestra Morphine, a nine-piece version
of Morphine, since the band’s 2-string slide bassist/leader Mark
Sandman died last summer. Mike played mostly upright with Morphine for
five or six years; he appears on Like Swimming, The Night, and B-Sides
and Otherwise [all on Dreamworks]. “I haven’t played 2-string slide
bass yet, but if they want to do old tunes on the tour I might pick it

Rivard continues to pull in a wide range of interesting projects. He
recently played on Patty Larkin’s new CD due out on Vanguard this
summer, as well as Experiments in Truth [Grapeshot], a spoken-word
record by Paul Auster with Oteil Burbridge, John Medeski, Billy
Martin, Vernon Reid, and Bob Moses. Rivard helped with a WGBH
documentary on George Wallace for PBS’s American Experience series. He
has also been getting into North African Gnawan music, created by
mystic troubadors for healing and inducing trances. And, inspired by
sintir player Hassan Hakmoun, Rivard has been scouring the East Coast
in search of his own Moroccan bass lute to add to his already healthy
collection of options.

“I listen to many different types of music, but the unifying principle
is always the groove. I want to play bass from the heart and tune into
it as a way of getting closer to the life force of the universe.”

-Ed Friedland

*Groove Tip: One of Micro’s favorite practice techniques is to play
along to his Boss Dr. Beat clicking triplets. “I like to play with the
two-against-three feel, or four against three. I love the wonderful
ground where four meets three.”