Beyoncé’s stunning Mrs Carter Show hit Australia in October 2013, playing to capacity houses nationwide. Greg Phillips was privileged to meet LT, the gifted bass player from Beyoncé’s band for a backstage tour and a chat about playing in one of the biggest music shows touring the world.
It’s unusually calm backstage at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena just a few hours before Beyoncé and band perform their second gig of the Mrs. Carter Show Australian tour. Every crew member has a job to do and is going about it methodically and professionally. It’s a visually spectacular show featuring two stages, an eleven-piece band, a host of dancers, a stunning digital light show, pyrotechnics and a parade of costume changes. There is so much involved in this extravaganza, yet it seems to flow effortlessly. Beyoncé has hand-selected the very best personnel available for both on and off stage duties and it shows. To have been invited to work on this show is quite an accolade and Queen Bey’s bass player, Lauren Taneil (or LT as she prefers to be known), knows that more than anyone. “I’m honoured and blessed,” the 25 year old enchanting musician tells me of scoring such a celebrated role so early in her career.
Navigating through a labyrinth of scaffolding and staircases underneath the vast stage, LT leads me out into the public seating area where we sit, looking back at the ‘B’ emblazoned curtain as she begins to tell me how she procured this prestigious gig.
“I was playing with my sisters in our band The GG’s and Beyoncé’s musical director at the time, Kimberley Burse came in and saw us play and she kind of just scooped me up,” LT explains. “She called me for a gig, the Black Girls Rock gig, an award show. Then all of a sudden she called me for the Beyoncé gig. I didn’t even audition.”
It was a dream come true for LT but it’s not surprising, she’s been playing bass and singing since the age of seven. LT’s father Garry ‘Michi’ Robinson, a local musician and producer back in Atlanta made certain that music was an intrinsic part of his three daughters’ lives.
“My first instrument was in fact the bass,” recalls LT of her childhood introduction to music. “I would say that the bass chose me, I didn’t really choose it. It was my first instrument, my only instrument. I’m still learning, still going at it strong.”
LT grew up idolising such bass greats as Pino Palladino, Larry Graham, Lewis Johnson, Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller, and the great Jaco Pastorius but sites her father as her biggest influence. Later she latched onto the female bassists that were making a name for themselves like Meshell Ndegeocello, Rhonda Smith and Debra Killings.
Fast forward to 2013 and on Beyoncé’s massive stage today, LT has her own allocated station where two Musicman 5 string basses sit alongside a Little Phatty keybass, which she also uses throughout the show. Under the stage you’ll find Sean O’Brien, LT’s tech who completes the sonic bass team. “Sean helps me program all my sound effects for my Line 6 pedal and he also programs my sounds for my Mini Moog,” explains LT. “Me and Sean usually go through sounds together to see what I like the best. All programming is done before show time of course, that way when it’s time for me to play on stage, all I have to do is press a button.”
O’Brien is a respected composer and producer, as well as being a talented session guitar player. He explains the workings of LT’s bass rig.
“LT’s signal path starts with a great player,” says Sean. “Not much I can do to improve that! Trying to get her performance to the audience is the first priority. After the player, it’s DR Neons on 2 Music Man HH 5 string Stingray basses. From the bass it goes wireless to a modeling processor Line 6 HD Pro with a short board. We use the modeling amp to shape and add effects to the bass sound very sparingly, sometimes a smart harmonizer or auto wah. From there, it’s back to wireless world, to her in-ear monitors and a bass kicker mounted under her riser. This keeps her sound very consistent.”
In regard to her choice of bass, LT has always been a Music Man fan and is more than comfortable with the Stingray 5’s she tours with.
“Before I got this gig I was playing the Stingray 5 and before that I was playing a Bongo 5 Music Man,” says LT proudly. “When I got this gig, I wanted to go with what was most comfortable to me and the easiest to play. It’s so demanding energy wise and I can rely on the Music Mans.”
One of the most visually striking aspects of LT’s energetic nightly performance is her use of the glowing Neon bass strings, manufactured by New Jersey based company DR Strings. She currently uses multi-coloured round core Neon strings on one bass and single-coloured Neon round cores on the other (Tonight they’re pink!). The eye-catching glow is achieved by the use of DR’s unique K3 coating, which reacts according to the type of light that the strings are exposed to.
For LT, there was an adjustment period getting used to the revolutionary Neon strings, but now she couldn’t be happier.
“I actually started playing the Neons before the Beyoncé gig. I just remember loving them so much because they were neon. They do feel different and I had to get used to the coating, the way they felt, the way I’m sliding, passing through certain notes and passing through my bass. I had to get used to that but once I did, it was great. I don’t think I can go back to another thing, truly. I got used to the feel and it’s just perfect. It’s not distracting to me at all now. If I don’t see a glow, it messes me up!” she laughs. “I love the glow, it’s such a clever idea.”
The Black Girls Rock award show which LT played on, was significant for many reasons. Apart from being the first time she played with members of Beyoncé’s band (as well as backing a host of incredible singers including Jill Scott), it was also where the association with DR Strings originated.
“That’s where I met the beautiful Miss Rosa Daza,” says LT enthusiastically. “She’s like the face of DR back in New York. I met her at Black Girls Rock and she came over and introduced herself and that’s how I got connected with DR. That was about four years ago and ever since I have been playing the Neon strings.”
Like a lot of bass players, LT prefers her strings ‘played-in’ to nullify that new string brightness. Since using the DR Neons she has never broken a string, so doesn’t feel inclined to mess with a restring as often as the show’s production people might like.
“I use the spray called Fast Fret on my strings and it kind of deadens them faster than it’s supposed to,” says LT. “My string changes ranged from weeks to months. I usually like a dead string. The Front of House guys however, like it to be very bright, clean and clear. So we are fighting on that,” laughs Lauren. “But we’ve found a balance and it’s actually about every two weeks now that I change them.”
The folks at DR have also incorporated the innovative multi-coloured Neon string concept into an educational phone app called Jamstar. I suggested to LT that via her association with the multi-coloured Neon strings and being a critical part of Beyoncé’s band, that she could be inspiring a new generation of female musicians.
“I wish growing up that I could have seen someone like me playing the bass,” she says, taking a shine to my suggestion. “All I saw was men. It was great but I never saw anyone looking like me playing the bass. So I do hope that I inspire someone … young girls or guys to pick up the bass and study their craft… or whatever it is. It doesn’t even have to be playing the bass but whatever it is that they want to do … just to inspire them to do it would be great.”
Right now, LT finds herself in the enviable position of backing one of our generation’s greatest artists. The tour has taken her to parts of the world she’d never seen before and placed her front and centre of the television world when Beyoncé and band performed at this year’s Superbowl. Below LT’s station on stage she has written a bunch of affirmations; focus, motivation, divine order, power, respect, love, kindness, successful, smile. “Simple things,” LT says. “Every time I look down it inspires me and affirms me to keep doing the right thing and keep moving forward.”