Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Robin Mullarkey. I have been a session bassist in London for a good 20 years and have been fortunate enough to work with a wide array of artists that I love and respect (Jacob Collier, Jordan Rakei, Zero 7 and Sia, Roisin Murphy, Richard Spaven, Louis Cole, Steve Wilson, John Newman, Bugz in the Attic). But some people may know me as a multi-instrumentalist (I also play keys/guitar and a bit of cello and percussion), a producer (Brotherly, Natalie Williams, Soul Family, Patti Corduroy) and mixer (Richard Spaven, Marouli, Myles Sanko, Camilla George).
These days I’m mostly touring with the miraculous Jacob Collier. He has been known to jokingly introduce me as “purveyor of finest low notes” but, actually, I guess that is my main goal in life!
Where did you start from, what’s your musical origin story?
I grew up in a family that love music and have at various points made a career from the music industry, so when they realised I had an ear for it, they were very supportive and provided piano lessons for me. I didn’t have any big game plan for my career, but I studied hard and played the music that excited me. Now I’m very grateful to be doing what I love, especially in a time when that is such a challenging prospect for our youngsters.
Where are you now? What is important to you?
The post pandemic gig tsunami is in full effect and I’m loving it! Jacob Collier’s band had an amazing tour of the US and Europe and soon we’re heading east to Japan, Australia, Singapore and Thailand. Back in London I’ve been busy playing at my spiritual home, Ronnie Scott’s, and recently did some recording with Jordan Rakei that I’m pretty excited about, as well as a big Aretha Franklin tribute project with a full orchestra. If I can find some spare time in September, I really want to get stuck into some writing and, of course, keeping up with bass lesson videos for my Patreon site www.patreon.com/robinmullarkey.
What does it mean to be a session musician, both live and in the studio?
Every session is quite a different experience, to be honest. For example, the last 2 sessions I did were for Rosie Frater-Talyor, a fantastic young singer/guitarist from North London, and Adam Lambert, who is an incredible singer currently performing with Queen. Rosie’s approach was to send out demos of her quite tricksy tunes for us to check out in advance. I did a bit of homework and wrote some notes and then we tracked about 12 songs in 2 days, which is absolutely unheard of! But her vibe was to just trust in the spontaneity of the band and let any mistakes just exist. It was so refreshing to work like that in a world of over-tuned and over-quantised performances. I trust her in return to keep that sparkle from the interaction in the sessions because it gives the music a real humanity and individuality.
Meanwhile, the Adam Lambert session was equally as fun and challenging, as he was very open to me interpreting the track and we tried a lot of styles and approaches. In the end we agreed that the perfect approach was to provide a lot of excitement from the bass and guitar parts so that he could feed off that in his own performance.
A previous generation of musician-for-hire might have been less comfortable in each of those situations. You find that, in a big city like London, there is a history of unionisation among musicians, which is fantastic because it allows the amazing musicians to be paid and credited as they deserve. But that can also lead to a type of session artist that expects a written part in front of them and is less willing to finesse the part when the first take was “correct”. I notice that in smaller towns there is a stronger sense of collaboration and trying to contribute something personal to the music and I guess that, being from a small town, I come more from that perspective than the fearsome one-take session aces.
With such a variety in your work, how do you adapt your rig for different gigs, live and in the studio?
It’s true that my genre is a little hard to define. I have probably performed as many drum ’n’ bass tracks on stage as I have acoustic folk, so I don’t really have a rig as such. I’m always envious of those guys with impeccable pedal boards to get “their sound” in any given situation, but my sound seems to change from moment to moment, so my board is always a tangle of leads and effects that I think might be appropriate that day. I have 10 basses in regular rotation (and a few more in the loft). I have a recording amp (an old Ampeg B-15) and a small live rig (Ashdown ABM600 into a Barefaced 2 x 12) but inevitably more of my gigs are performed with in-ear-monitors now and I was beginning to miss all the aspects that a DI’d bass leaves behind. So, I worked my way through a plethora of amp simulators and I’ve settled on an Origin BASSRIG ’64 Black Panel.
To hear the Robin using the BASSRIG, follow the link HERE
How do Origin Effects and our products fit into your work, both when recording at home and performing live?
Again, my approach is adaptable depending on the scenario. On a big gig, I communicate with the front of house mixer so that we can both agree on what we’re trying to achieve with the low end. Every venue is different and the way that I might crank the lows in a small club to make the amp really work is only going to cause problems in a big, washy auditorium. So, in that situation, I want to leave the fundamentals intact, but give enough mids to let the pitch of the bass notes have a clarity that will help make sense of the complex harmony in a Jacob Collier track. At the same time, there is no bass amp on stage, so I’m missing a lot of those harmonics and compression artefacts that a bass amp would normally provide to thicken out the sound and help it blend. I find that digital amp simulations often have some weird issues once they are in the mix and the punchiness seems to disappear. I’m not sure what magic the Origin BASSRIG ‘64 is employing but it seems to give a subtle harmonic fullness that I was looking for without detracting from the dynamics.
The Cali76 Compact Bass has been on my board for a long time. I think a lot of bassists are unsure of what they’re trying to achieve with a compressor but, fortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience mixing and I love having an 1176 in a pedal to give me a selection of classic sounds. I’ll generally either have it set to give a constant but subtle consistency, or set to kick in for extreme effects, but it’s so well thought out and compact that it is the one constant on my pedalboard. The HPF and DRY controls are invaluable to let all the lovely subs through.
We’d like to thank Robin for taking the time to speak with us this month. You can find more of Robin through the following links:
Full Link-Tree: https://linktr.ee/mullarkeybass
To hear the BASSRIG at the BBC Proms, follow the link here: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Chnn2GIqqdk/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link