Kentaro Mashimo's Unique Take on Bass Playing and Music Production

Posted by Mike Schuck

Kentaro Mashimo is a professional musician and producer specializing in bass guitar performance and production. He's currently based in the Boston area, a city renowned for its varied music culture and music institutions. 

Mashimo previously studied at the city's leading music school: Berklee College of Music, and he has gone on to record bass for multiple artists in addition to his production work. 

He has worked with Warner Chapell artist Mike Soto, singer-songwriter Taylor Deneen, and singer-songwriter Mio. 

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Mashimo was also selected to perform in the Sylvia Rhone (President of Epic Records) Honorary Doctorate tribute show in 2019, which was under the direction of multi-Grammy-winning producer Rob Lewis. 

Mashimo joined Jam Addict for a chat about his personal history with music, specifically with bass guitar, the return of live performances, and the creative philosophy that drives his playing and his production work. 

kentaro mashimo

Kentaro Mashimo

Starting out 

We all have our own stories about getting started with music. For some of us, it might have been a grade school band class and a subpar rendition of Hot Cross Buns. 

For others, it might have been forming a three-piece rock band that exclusively played covers of Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. 

For Mashimo, it actually started with a completely different instrument, piano, which he played from a very early age. But in his early teens, Mashimo found himself wanting to explore music through another instrument, though deciding which one would take some time. 

What started as an offhand suggestion from his father led to a more personal exploration of all that the bass guitar had to offer. 

"I remember my father saying, 'there are fewer bass players than guitar players, so you'll get more gigs that way,' so I picked up bass. As I practiced, I learned that bass is the only instrument that has a significant dominance of both harmony and rhythm, and one idea can change the whole direction of the music and make songs more exciting." 

Nowadays, Mashimo views the bass guitar as an incredibly versatile instrument that can massively contribute to songs and live performances. 

His understanding of the bass has also informed his approach to production, which we'll be talking about soon enough. 

Covers as a creative challenge  

In recent months, Mashimo has been keeping busy producing and recording bass for cover songs, including covers of 'Molasses' by Hiatus Kaiyote and 'In My Room' by Utada Hikaru.

Though plenty of musicians enjoy playing covers, recording and releasing covers can be trickier than you might think. How closely should the cover adhere to the original track? Where are the opportunities to add something new? 

To Mashimo, covers are an opportunity for him to pay homage to the artists he loves. 

"My philosophy is to do my best to be authentic and pay respect to the originals. Researching the craftsmanship that went into the originals really helps me focus on details and helps me to appreciate all that meticulous work." 

Sure, it's one thing to play a cover song at a gig, but learning about the production and recording process of the original song and trying to recreate many of those details as closely as possible gives a sense of what the original artists were going through and what they were trying to share with the world. 

On the production side, too, this poses a challenge. It's not that hard to achieve a modern studio sound, but it's much more difficult to recreate studio sounds and effects that originated in decades past. 

Creative philosophy 

Ok, let's be honest: bassists have been extremely instrumental in mainstream music for decades (pun intended), but they don't usually get a lot of attention, especially compared to guitarists, lead singers, and pop stars. 

At the same time, some bass players have found their own spotlight, notably Thundercat. So it's definitely an interesting time to be a bass player, and in Mashimo's opinion, bass players have so many opportunities to make songs that much more interesting and impactful. 

When Mashimo started playing professionally, he discovered that his own musical philosophy wasn't necessarily shared by other instrumentalists and that it specifically wasn't shared by some other bassists.  

"When I play bass, I have a mindset of, 'What can I add to breathe life into this song?' I was surprised to learn that this mindset is rare. A lot of bassists just focus on finishing each song. But I'm inspired by this magical ability that musicians have to transform music by utilizing theory and musicality. I never want that magic to go to waste." 

It's not really that Mashimo thinks his outlook is the only right one, but for his own part, he's always trying to be consistently hard-working, adding something interesting to the work because even those small changes can really help a song take off. 

The return to live shows 

Recorded songs can absolutely soar when everything comes together just right, but as we all know, nothing really compares to the experience of being right there with the band during a live performance, and any musicians out there know how electric it can be to play on stage, especially for an energetic audience. 

Due to the Covid outbreak, live shows weren't really a thing last year, and even this year, the return to live music has been a tentative one. 

But those shows that have returned have given both performers and audiences a solid reminder of how wonderful these shows can be, and Mashimo also got to experience a triumphant return to a live performance earlier this year. 

Performing to a sold-out crowd in Asakusa, Tokyo back in September, Mashimo was immediately brought back to the kind of energy and excitement that live shows can generate. 

"It was my first in-person performance since the pandemic started, and I believe it was for the audience, too. We all had an amazing time, and it made me appreciate how great simultaneous interaction is and how it gives me inspiration and energy." 

We've got our fingers crossed that live shows will return to full force sooner rather than later, for the sake of musicians and audiences alike. For artists like Mashimo, shows present unique opportunities and experiences that just can't be duplicated anywhere else, not even in Facebook's Metaverse. (We'll have to talk about that some other time.) 

Mashimo on living the musical life he's always wanted 

We've talked a lot here about some of the specifics of a professional musician’s life. They invest themselves in different projects, chase down the tiniest details to make a song just right, and share their music with others, either by releasing recorded music or playing gigs. 

In our conversation with Mashimo, he definitely proved that some musicians have found their success by adding a healthy and creative mindset to impressive technical skills. 

That mindset extends to Mashimo's view on the role of music in our lives, and especially the role it plays in the life of a professional musician and performer. 

At the tail-end of our conversation, Mashimo touched on the widespread idea that music serves an escapist function; that it can transport people away from the immediate problems of their lives and take them somewhere completely different. 

Speaking for himself, Mashimo completely disagrees with this idea. In fact, he argues that music is always integrated with life and that this is one of the best parts of music and living a musical life. 

"I've learned that music is not an escape from life. It's about engaging with life. There's a lyric from a Japanese song called 'The March of 365 Steps' that I think applies here: 'Happiness doesn't walk to me / That's why I walk toward it.' This line reminds me of what I have to do and be. I know that I need to work for the life I want to live."

That's some really good advice for aspiring musicians out there in our readership. Sure, it's possible to get discovered and be whisked away into the life of stardom and notoriety that you've always envisioned for yourself, but unless you've already worked hard to demonstrate your vision and musical ability, it's not likely to happen. 

For many musicians, the road to success is a long and rocky one. There are lots of potholes out there, and you'll probably blow a tire now and then, but the destination doesn't get any closer unless you actually get up and start to move. 

But hey, the whole way there you'll have your music and plenty of other musicians to help you along the journey.  

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