Bass is the place 

On the road with Matt Schumacher

Bass maestro Matt Schumacher is in a bus station somewhere between Missoula—the place he’s called home since 1999—and San Diego when he calls for an interview. He is, he says, “ridin’ the Greyhound, livin’ the dream.”

Schumacher is headed to San Diego to join up with the other members of his latest group, On the One, to work on the quartet’s impending album and to rehearse for their upcoming 11-show, 15-day Western tour. On the One, a funk-soul-jazz ensemble headed by drummer John Staten and saxophonist Jesse Molloy, is a recent addition to Schumacher’s vita. He performed for most of the early part of this decade with local jam band Swyl and toured with Global Funk Council extensively throughout 2005; in light of On the One’s success, both projects, says Schumacher, are “definitely backburner now.”

It was Schumacher’s time on the road with Global Funk Council that led to his current stint with On the One. While on tour, Schumacher got noticed by Staten, whose pedigree includes Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Giant People, a group that featured the trumpet playing of Carlos Washington. “I fell in love with his playing,” says Staten, who told Schumacher, “As many gigs as you can do with us, please do them.” So Schumacher began touring with On the One earlier this year, at which point his life in Missoula went into a storage locker. His only extended time back was a month reprieve in late October and early November, during which he performed at everything from the Halloween Barnburner in Missoula to a Helena post-election bash headlined by Democratic legislator George Groesbeck of Butte.

“[He’s] an old friend,” says Schumacher of Groesbeck, adding that it was an occasion for “lots of the senators and representatives from across the state [to] come out and get greasy with us.”

His recent return to town, in light of his mostly indeterminate residency, left Schumacher weighing where to rest during his infrequent downtime. San Diego offers more work and proximity to other members of On the One, but the higher cost of living detracts from its attractiveness, especially when coupled with Schumacher’s extensive touring schedule, which means he won’t be around much anyway. Plus there’s the fact that it’s not Missoula: “I really don’t want to leave Missoula. I love the town,” he says.

But it can be tough to keep a band going in Missoula, where, Schumacher says, people are often “worried about paying a cover charge.” Working with On the One, however, means Staten and Molloy handle logistics and the band’s direction while Schumacher plays the role of hired gun. Staten, who spent years in Schumacher’s current position, gigging with other people’s ensembles and giving up a measure of creative control, is sympathetic. To supplement On the One he still plays the occasional cocktail-lounge jazz gig.

“The element of jazz these days is they want you to play soft,” Staten says. “I’m like, ‘what the hell.’ They think jazz music is the music going at Starbucks while everybody’s sipping cappuccino…That is not jazz at all to me.”

Nor is it the kind of jazz On the One plays. Rather, the group’s sound is straight-ahead instrumental groove fueled by Staten’s ferocious drumming and flavored by the timbre of Molloy’s saxophone. The result is far from latte lounge music. It’s “power funk,” says Molloy, “elements of soul-jazz, elements of hip-hop…a real aggressive high-energy dance party kind of thing.” Hence the name, which Molloy says is “based on Prince and James Brown always shouting at their band ‘On the one’ and breaking it down on the first beat of the measure.”

It’s a potent sound—fun and musically complex—and it’s easy to see why Schumacher wants to be a part of it, even if, as Staten says, “[Schumacher’s] really into drum and bass music and that’s where his passion lies right now.” Having been in Schumacher’s position—being part of a solid project that’s not necessarily his artistic ambition—Staten wants to be careful to keep his bandmate enthusiastic. “I don’t want it to go stale,” says Staten, “because sometimes that shit happens, you stay with something you really don’t like doing and you start not liking the person because of it. I don’t want that to happen with me and him. But he seems into it, so we’ll see.”

Schumacher, who’s going on a year and a half of doing nothing but playing music for a living on the strength of his developing reputation, seems in tune with Staten’s sentiments about On the One. “So far,” he says, “it’s sounding pretty sick.”

On the One plays The Loft Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 10 PM. $6.

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