Burnt Sugar – whose full title is Burnt Sugar, The Arkestra Chamber – makes music like you’ve never heard it before. In fact, they’ve never really heard it either: this highly improvisational and eclectic group creates new pieces with each performance via a special hand sign guidance system.
The collective is led by groove guru bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, whose musical background spans funk, rock, pop and more. His upbringing in Dayton, Ohio influenced this breadth of genres and, in turn, his stylistic choices in Burnt Sugar.
Nickerson and the band recently released a new album, Angels over Oakandaso we confronted him with some burning questions.
How works Angels over Oakanda different from Burnt Sugar’s other albums?
“It could probably be related to the first four albums in terms of its spirit, but it’s pandemic-related. As the bottom fell out of the industry last year, we began returning to our unreleased catalogue. Our founder, Greg Tate, found a session from 2018 with a 23 minute jam based on a loop.
“We shared the original track with different members to fill in and reinterpret the parts. Ultimately, it’s a digital collaboration from around the world of five or six truly incredible musicians from the Burnt Sugar family that brings us back to our conducting roots. Instead of being guided physically, they were digitally guided through the recording process of this 23 minute session.”
There’s a barrage of notes in your bass line for Oakanda overdrive this seems to be a new technique for you.
“Well, I’ve never been a two-finger bass player: I’ve always used my thumb to pick. My first bass was a Harmony with a pull rod under the G string, which further reinforced that style. Most of my recording career is based on plucking with my thumb: Freedy Johnston’s Can you fly Charlie Musselwhites refuge Garry Lucas gods and monsters .
“You know, there are restrictions. There’s a lot of speed things I can’t do, but I never really worried about that because I realized it would give me something that was mine. However, over the past 10 years I’ve expanded on that and transitioned into more of a banjo style where I use my thumb and two fingers and get into a plucking style like a banjo roll.”
What gear do you ride these days?
“I used to love heavy gear, but now it’s all DIY and the days of lugging that gear are over for me. For the amp I use an Eich T900 which weighs about 8 pounds. This goes in my Schroeder bass boxes which weigh 23 pounds.
“Years ago I was introduced to Michael Pedulla and I bought one of his Thunder basses, the 124th bass he ever built. That’s basically what I play to this day. For effects, I use an Electro-Harmonix White Finger Flanger and a Boss Dynamic Filter. As far as strings go, I’m a flatwound guy and use La Bella Deep Talking Flats.”
Music has taken you all over the world, but it all started in the music capital of Ohio in the 70s. can you draw us this picture
“What people don’t know about Ohio is that the northern part, like Cleveland, is industrial and tough. They go to southern Ohio, however, and the Southern sensibilities run deep in the people. I was born in Cleveland and moved to Dayton as a kid. Dayton had most of the hubs that churches in the South had, including a strong church system, so there were a lot of kids playing at church.
“Dayton produced the Ohio Players, Zapp & Roger and the McCoys did it Hang in there Sloopy in 1965. The city also has a rock history, which I got more involved with when I came back from Boston in the ’80s and joined the Cleveland band Human Switchboard.
“So there was always good local music, and dancing was always important in my family. Radio was also an important part of my musical upbringing. I remember when I was in seventh grade I was in our rec room and the station was playing Sugar cake, honey bundle by the Four Tops, followed by someone to love by Jefferson Airplane, and I danced through both. I only noticed later that they both have driving bass and drums.”