John Ferrara Music bassist, composer, teacher

FAQ

Q:What’s the deal with those foot pedals?

A: They are homemade “Moog Taurus” pedals. CTS’s drummer Jeff had an organ in his basement which was just collecting dust. Our lighting designer at the time, a “MacGiver” like figure named John Olsen, heard me talking about how badly I wanted a Moog Taurus to compensate for the lack of low end in my bass guitar tone, and figured out a way to take the pedals off of the organ, connect them to the brain of a Casio keyboard, built a casing and then all I had to do was buy a Moog Minotaur to use as the actual sound.

I first got the idea for using these during the recording of the CTS album “Are You Watching Closely?”. Our engineer, Joel Hamilton, an absolutely brilliant master of sounds, had the idea to use it in certain parts to beef them up. You can hear it on the chorus of “(Good Point) Wandering Bear” and the last heavy riff in “Blue Steel”.  It made these sections sound so much bigger and more powerful and I thought to myself “I NEED THESE!!” Since then i’ve started using them in our live shows during the intro verse of “You Are Obsolete”, “White People Problems”

These days I use it for a lot of other things and it used in almost every song in my solo work. I often treat my bass guitar more like a guitar or piano, playing in higher ranges with a very mid range heavy tone, the Taurus occupies the bass role. I love it because it provides me with a wide arrange of bass sounds and also, since I have to play them with my feet and can’t really do anything too crazy with them (though there are people out there that play the organ bass pedals like a champ), it forces me to play simple bass lines which allows my tapping and chordal techniques to have a lot of room to stretch out on the bass guitar itself.


Q: What kind of bass do you play?

A: I play a Fodera Monarch 5 as my main axe. It is tuned Eflat to B (So standard E to C tuning but down a half step) with a Khaler bridge.  I also have a Fodera Monarch 4, which was my main axe in CTS until I got the 5.

Aside from that I have a Hutch Hutchinson model Kala Ubass, and a Goldtone Banjo Bass. I use both of these during CTS acoustic sets.


Q: What’s the deal with that slapstick instrument?

A: The slapstick is a total anomaly.  It’s a long thin rectangular piece of medal with a single long metal ribbon strapped to one side that you play with your hands or drum sticks. It’s mainly a percussion instrument but can be tuned to different pitches and can be fretted. The sound it produces is all it’s own. I use it during CTS acoustic sets to do a percussive jam with the guys and used it during our Radiohead cover sets during the song “Backdrifts”, tuning 6 of them to some of the main notes in the song and playing them all open (without fretting them). You can check them out here, they’ll blow your mind! http://www.slaperoo.com


Q: What’s your approach to slap bass?

A: When I teach this technique to students I always tell them a couple things. First off, contrary to what people say I do not use the double thumb technique all that much. I’m sad to say, I’m just not that good at it, even though I do think it is one of the most practical and innovative slap bass techniques out there! Instead I decided to focus on a method that felt more at home for me, one that employs the thumb bouncing off the strings (rather than through them), and keeps my index finger plucks close to the body of the bass by keeping my right hand pinky and ring finger embedded in the body of the bass most of the time, preventing my right hand from going too far away from the body after I pluck. There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the main thing technique-wise.

As far as what kind of stuff to do with this technique, I base a lot of the rhythmic ideas largely on drummers and percussionist. I pull ideas from Indian percussionist, Drum N’ Bass grooves, metal drumming and pretty much anything that I hear that is rhythmically interesting. Then I spend time figuring out different slap patterns that can help me express what I heard.


Q: What’s your approach to tapping?

A: When I started tapping it was solely to help me write. I had an idea for a bass line and melody and wanted to hear how they sounded. After years of combining different patterns that I had in mind I started realizing I had inadvertently developed some tapping chops. At that point I started challenging myself, creating exercises that would strengthen my fingers and figuring out how to navigate the fret board with them. I would take chord progressions that we use in CTS songs and started learning how to improvise over them. I’d learn piano pieces from composers that I loved which would always show me new possibilities. I like pulling inspiration from the music I like, not only the bassists that inspire me because I feel that it forces you to figure out new ways of playing the instrument.


Q: How did Consider the Source form?

A: CTS formed in a very organic way. Our original drummer Justin, who I had grown up playing music with, met our guitarist Gabriel at a party and jammed and had a connection. I already had a great musical relationship with Justin since we grew up playing together and so it made sense for all three of us to get together and play. When we did we all felt after the very first session that there was something truly special there. We had tons of similarities in what we liked musically and also had a lot to offer in our differences and it was truly a perfect balance. Justin left the band in 2012 and we picked up drummer extraordinaire Jeff Mann who has been a driving force in the group ever since, helping us maintain that balance that we had when we first started and contributing to the CTS sound in a way all his own.


Q: How much do you practice?

A: In my formative years I would practice 5-6 hours a day. These days, due to my dubious schedule from touring I practice as much as I can when I can. Instead of clocking in a certain amount of hours of practicing I try to make my practice session count by being super focused and long term goal oriented, chipping away at things I want to be able to do over time.


Q: What is your approach to teaching?

A: My biggest thing is getting the student to exploit their strengths and use them to the fullest. I teach techniques that I use, but if I see someone doing something slightly different or even very different and it’s working, I’ll switch modes and help them develop practice methods that will help strengthen what they’re already on a good path with.