Touring the world and bashing out the best music for hoards of traveling fans night after night is no simple feat. Musicians practice and dedicate their lives to bringing their A-game to the stage. But behind the lights, glamor, and fame, is a lone man whose one job is to make sure the musician is set up for success – the instrument technician.
Brian Rashap is one such tech. First and foremost a musician and a bassist, Brian is also the bass technician for Phil Lesh, founding member and bass player for the Grateful Dead. On top of being his bass tech, Brian fills in for him on bass when needed, and considers himself Phil’s understudy.
Phil Lesh founded a music venue called Terrapin Crossroads, in San Rafael, California, where Brian resides as the bassist for its house band.
We had the pleasure of speaking to Brian who gave us a behind-the-scenes view of what the life of a tech for a top bassist looks like and what’s in his bag.
First up! What’s in the Bag?
Well, let’s start with my new Lakland custom 44-51 Tele Bass. This is a “re-create” of my old ‘73 Fender Telecaster Bass (one of those tree trunks with the big-ass Seth Lover Humbucker I like to call a Dumbucker). We went with a lightweight ash body, roasted maple neck, birdseye maple fingerboard, and powered it with a Curtis Novak EB-BSx2 pickup, split with a push/pull tone knob. It’s amazing! Kidd Candelario custom cables, JH Audio JH16proV2 IEMs & filtered earplugs, Soldier strap w/ Dunlop locks, a Boss TU-10 tuner, Korg Metronome, Dunlop Ultex 1.14 Triangle picks, Leatherman tool, PAX Era, Petzl Actik headlamp, CMG Infinity techlight, EMG Hex Driver, string winder, Sharpie, Sierra Nevada pen and bottle opener, Benchmade 1100 Damasteel Tactical Pen, iPhone charger, soft rag for bass pat-pats.
Everything in the bag is personally important and comes with its own story. First of all, creating the bass has been a wonderful experience with Lakland. Brian Gingrich (Lakland Customer Service) and I had a good time with this. Bunch of phone calls and ideas being thrown around. He actually has one being made for himself too! I sure hope this becomes a “thing” with them.
If you are going to use some atrocious tuner on your headstock (take it off when playing please… pet peeve), at least make sure its a good one. I’ve found that the Boss ones are the best. Kidd’s Cables are hands down the best cables out there. This guy’s work is legendary! He tech’d and cabled all the Grateful Dead’s sound systems, instruments, etc. There are still a bunch of cables in Phil’s rig from back in the day you could open a museum. He does so much for the Bay Area music community and is the nicest, most humble human I’ve known. The Benchmade pen is special and I use it to put my guitar players back in place. My soft rag is from my wife, Karen. I don’t know where it’s from, but I like having it around me.
Tell us how being a bass tech affects your approach to setting up, or your approach to music?
Well… I mean first, it’s tech-ing for Phil Lesh. Phil. Lesh. This guy is a legend. He has helped redefine bass guitar playing since the get-go. Everything we bass players do today was somehow affected by his legacy. Doesn’t have to be playing style… Your gear has changed for the better because of what he was chasing and what the gear tinklers were looking for. The Countryman DI, Alembic (who also helped Modulus), Meyer Sound, Kidd Candelario, etc…. All have had a huge impact on modern bass playing and sound sculpting.
So, being a tech for Phil has taught me that you are never truly done finding your sound or your thing… and you never should be! Keep searching. Every day is different, every sunrise brings a fresh breath of air, every note you play is not like the last time you played it, so don’t try to recreate what you’ve done before. Use it, but move on. Today is today!
It also affects me by taking my attention away from realizing my tone goals, and what I would want in my sound, and lets me look at what I’m tweaking from an outside perspective. Maybe I don’t understand why Phil wants something the way he does. I don’t have to! It’s not about me, so I think “OK, this is what he’s grabbing for… what can I do to help put that into his reach? If we back the gain off of that, can he add it back in if from somewhere else, to achieve the same lively pluck, yet get rid of the crunch that he doesn’t want?” It’s fun! I get to tinker and play with his gear without having to go out and buy it for myself. Ha!
I feel that tech-ing is also about the buddy system. I’m going to make sure my artist is well taken care of, has all their beans lined up and doesn’t have to think about anything other than getting on the stage at the right time and doing what they do best, which in this case is playing the shit out of an amazing Alembic bass (that thing is gorgeous!) And if you think about it, Alembic is just like Phil. They’re still creating and moving forward with every instrument they make.
View this post on Instagram
Terrapin Crossroads, in San Rafael looks like a nice place to call home! Tell us about the vibe down there.
Well, on the stage there is a sign that simply says “Keep it Weird”. I think we do that all the time we get up there. It’s weird because you don’t know what you’re about to play, or what someone is going to call out. It stays weird when someone calls a tune and then asks “who’s singing it?” I mean, really? Who’s singing it? Ummm… I guess I will? Someone eventually pulls out a Dead tune, or a Dylan tune and it grounds you for a second… until they count it off at break-neck speed… and you’re singing it!
So the vibe of the place is very warm and inviting. I’ve blown lyrics and screwed up tunes more than I should say, but that’s ok there. You’re encouraged by the patrons and players to take chances. This isn’t one of those TV shows where someone is walking away with a BS record deal and no one that plays there is super pretentious or on their high horse, so we all just go for it. And I would say, we always connect. Even if it’s for a fleeting moment, we connect.
Do you have any cool stories of anyone passing through who you’ve been fortunate enough to play with?
I’ve played with so many people there that I’m sure there are some cool stories that should be told… or possibly shouldn’t be told. I would have to say the coolest story about playing on that stage is that everyone who shows up, whether or not they are a rockstar like Chris Robinson, or a Pro Pitcher like Jake Peavey, shows up with an open mind and a smirk for getting musical with people they don’t know. It’s music. It truly is the universal language.
I’ve shared that stage with: Phil Lesh, Chris Robinson, Neal Casal, Adam MacDougall, Tony Leone, Jay Lane, Reid Genauer, Mark Karan, Jake Peavey, The Mother Hips, Isaiah Mitchell, Jon Graboff, Andy Cabic, Scott Law, Lebo, Todd Roper, The Dickenson Brothers, The Entire TxR [Terrapin Crossroads] cast of nutjobs, dummies, and doofuses.
What is it like being Phil Lesh’s understudy?
It’s awesome. Why the hell do I get to do this is the question I ask myself daily. It’s weird. Since playing at TxR I’ve been gently pushed to fill the bass role of these Grateful Dead nights and gigs where Phil can’t be there or wants the night off. So for me, it’s trying to get into that head-space. I played with a pick for the last few years to get comfortable with the attack and clarity it provides. Also the attitude. For a while, we were doing little practices in the Grate Room during the day to hone these skills and tunes. I really try to do justice to what Phil has created over the 5+ decades he’s been playing GD [Grateful Dead] music. My style is rooted in improvisation definitely, so it works, but I do tend to like rock solid bottom root notes to keep it together, so I get to add my two cents to the tunes. So much of the GD catalog is comprised of amazing songwriting that it allows me to treat them as songs, not necessarily GD songs, so sticking to a root note for a measure is a-ok!
What was one of the key moments that made you want to be a musician?
Ummm… jumping up and down on my parents’ bed when I was 3 singing Donny & Marie Osmond’s “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock N Roll” while watching their variety show and singing into the plastic mallet of my Fisher-Price xylophone. So… ya… also Hee-Haw and the Mandrell Sisters TV show. Can I change my answer? ha!
Here is one of my senior year High School Band, The Band of Joy… Yeah, we stole the name from the lore of Robert Plant’s first band. This was me, Ted Duncan on drums, David Rafalovich on guitar, and Marty Schwartz (yes, the Marty Schwartz of martymusic.com) on vocals, harp, and acoustic. We would practice every day in Teddy’s garage. It truly was a garage band. All the friends would come over and hang out, get into trouble, etc. I am still very good friends with these guys. We chat every day actually.
You’re in the house band, you’re a bass tech, a production manager, you’re in a whole host of bands including The Mother Hips and Casual Coalition, you play up to 4 gigs a week and also tour extensively! How do you fit it all in and what do you do to ensure you keep things fresh and don’t burn out?
I have my family to keep me grounded. My sons Aston and Elliott keep me on my toes, and don’t care what I do outside of the house. And my wife Karen is my rock. She is a heaven-sent angel that makes everything possible and moving forward. She recharges my battery so that everything I do has the same theme…. “How does this help the family and move us forward.” This wasn’t always possible. Until Greg Loiacono introduced us I was a single father. It was a bit tougher in those days to full-time music, work a desk job, pick up kids, etc. Karen is 100% my soulmate. She is the best mother, best partner and best friend I could ever dream to find. She is what keeps all this fresh, keeps me grounded, and reaching for the stars.
Once you find that, everything else just falls into place. Everyone should have their own KareBear.
What do you never leave home without when you’re on tour and why?
Honestly at this point my phone. That way I can FaceTime with the family whenever I want.
What MONO gear do you use at home, in the studio or on tour?
I’m using the M80 Vertigo Bass Case. It’s incredible. I don’t know why it took someone this long to create such a versatile “Gig Bag”, but I’m glad y’all did. Good work with that! I have a hard time calling it a bag. It just sounds like it isn’t giving it enough credit.
I actually just busted a seam on my little Nano Pedalboard bag, so I’m sure I’ll be purchasing one of your Classic Tick 2.0 bags very soon!
View this post on Instagram
I can’t believe this thing works so well! This new Mono Creators Vertigo Bass Bag fits everything I own. My ‘73 Fender Tele bass Lakland US Hollowbody AND Short-scale Hollowbody 30. The Headlock system really keeps it together. Thanks @monocreators for such a great case! #monocreators #vertigobass #monovertigo #lakland #fenderbass #shortscalebass #monom80vertigo #rodneystrong
What is it about the MONO M80 Vertigo bass case that you like and why?
A few things actually. The ease and security it provides my basses. The lid of the bag doesn’t flop over when loading, so no more awkward exits from the stage. I dig the top loading function because of the Boot on the bottom. I’ll never have the strap pin hit the deck while loading it. I like that the pocket has enough room to carry all the weird things I want with me and it’s deep enough that I don’t see those things until I actually need to. I like that there are D rings to add a Tick to the base of the neck for easy carrying and the fact that the neck of the bag with an instrument in it will keep its form. Also, the construction is super solid. I used to be the warranty “director” of Marmot Mountain LLC. so I’ve seen some shoddy seams and construction. This thing is bomb-proof!
It’s also just simplistically sexy. Makes ya wanna cuddle the thing.
What’s next for you, Brian?
Well, I need to put a few hours into our house’s landscaping, cleaning up and out the garage, Mack (our 2-year-old Berner) needs a walk or five, I need to learn a few tunes for the next Top 40 night (I’m thinking a little Harold Faltermeyer!), the Mother Hips Tour, and I need to start looking into a new tour rig. Anyone want to gift me a Sprinter Van?