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SBL Student Spotlight – Toby Ellis

Introducing Toby Ellis from Watford-based alt-rock band Corolla.

In this regular feature we shine a light on a select few SBL students regarded by many as ‘ones to watch.’ Throughout the year, we’ll be catching up with a diverse set of breaking and established talent to air their thoughts and experiences about bass playing, tunes and music in general from their own vantage point (the only thing that anyone can do, really). Want to join them? If you're studying with SBL and would like to share your experiences, then please don't hesitate to Contact Us

Toby Ellis - Corolla

2017 has seen a number of young bands break out from seemingly nowhere as key ‘ones to watch’ in the UK, and Watford-based alt-rock band Corolla certainly live up to their billing. Remarkably, bassist Toby Ellis is relaxed about it all, focusing on his bass playing and his teaching. “I’m a private music teacher, which is my full-time job,” he tells us. “I have a Grade 8 and a University Degree in Music, which is built around my drumming, so I would actually say the bass is my third best instrument!”

For someone who picked up the bass out of necessity, Toby’s done pretty well. “I bought my first bass at university to help record some songs,” he says. “I was playing lead guitar at the time, but my band had a gig that our bass player couldn't prepare for so I volunteered to play bass for the gig. I learnt the songs, did the gig (blisters and all) and got huge praise from everyone there. As it looked like I would become a permanent fixture on bass, so I decided to get a subscription to SBL so I could figure out how to play more like a bass player and not a guitar player, and further develop my right-hand blisters!”

All this practice has led Toby into new areas of bass playing, he explains: “I’ve been transcribing Micheal League a lot lately, having just been to see him with Snarky Puppy at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I also saw Meshell Ndegeocello there and she was fantastic, she gets so much power from such tiny hand movements. Her economy of motion is really inspiring.”

Nowadays Toby delivers the juice on a Fender Jazz Bass. “It’s got a nice big chip in it from a pub gig,” he tells us. “I also use a Digitech RP500 Multi-Effects unit, which has an octave function that tracks the bass surprisingly well. I also use a TC Electronic MojoMojo overdrive as a slight boost/saturation pedal on heavier songs. If I can, I’ll try to use neither, and just turn up with my bass and get on with the gig! The most important piece of gear is my ear protection - I’d still like a career when I’m older!”

Corolla Music Video “Shiver”:

Tell us about your projects outside of SBL

I play bass in Watford-based alt rock band Corolla. We recently had a gig supporting Paul Weller! I also have a solo project and released a single two years ago that was played on BBC Radio 6 Music. My full-time job is as a self-employed private music teacher. I drive from house-to-house in the Cheltenham/Gloucester area teaching people drums, guitar, bass, piano, singing, songwriting, recording etc. Running my own business is fantastic and it means I get to run off gigging whenever I need to.

How would you describe your playing style?

I started out playing with a stubby pick and now I use fingers almost exclusively, unless I want that pick sound for a particular recording. I also use musicians gloves just like Scott, but unlike Scott, I use them because I get sweaty hands that make playing without them very difficult. They also help prevent blisters when I’ve been practicing for 12 hours at a time!

What have you gained from being a member of SBL?

Community focus. Being around (virtually) lots of people who are all trying to get better is hugely inspiring. Taking part in the 67-day habit building challenges has been fantastic. Getting lots of feedback from Scott in the student reviews is huge - every member should be submitting a video to him every time a review comes round as it’s so inspiring and useful! I listen to all the Bass Hangs and the Academy shows on long drives from Gloucester (where I live) to Watford (where I gig) and have by osmosis gained tons of general musicianship and bass player knowledge.

Who are your favourite players?

Damon Minchella from Ocean Colour Scene. His playing on OCS records is perfection. He always chooses the most tasteful thing to play, and of course, he played on all those mid-90s Paul Weller records. The same goes for David LaBruyere, who was John Mayer's bass player from the beginning of his career all the way through to Where The Light Is, when he hired Sean Hurley. Sean is really great too and Scott did a fantastic interview with him. Guy Berryman from Coldplay is also someone who has caught my attention. Re-listening to those first three Coldplay records, he makes some really clever line choices and I can imagine he is a very under-rated artist on bass.

How do you practice?

My practice comes in short bursts around doing Corolla gigs, but I would practice very differently if the bass was my sole focus or my professional gig. I would read functional (jazz) music in all 12 keys and dominate the fretboard. For now, that is not my priority, but one day I would like to dedicate myself to a quantum leap in fretboard knowledge. Scott's harmonic layering course is where it is at folks, use it!

What's your best gigging tip?

Double check everything, turn up early, wear your ear protection and be a pro. I record all the gigs for the band with a Zoom H4N recorder, which accelerates the improvement of the band like nothing else.

Any career highlights?

Supporting Paul Weller! He is one of my idols. We also supported Nils Lofgren. Also, the first time I got one of my songs stuck in my head as a teenager was a real shift in thinking.

How do you unwind?

I like golf, skiing and running. I also take 15-minute breaks from work to do keepie-ups in the garden with a football. I try to weaponise boredom. I will stare at a clock for 10 minutes if I need to unwind and within 3 minutes I'm so bored I go straight back to actions that move me closer to my goals.

What would you be if you weren't a bass player?

In a way, I'm not! If the question was “what would you be if you weren't a musician?”... Probably a really cheesy life coach and a motivational speaker. Tony Robbins would have nothing on me!

What's been the best thing about 2017 so far?

That Paul Weller support slot! Also seeing Pino Palladino with John Mayer at the 02 Arena for my birthday. Along with Michael League at the aforementioned Snarky Puppy gig. I am constantly surrounding myself with good bass playing!

And the worst?

I stepped in some cat poo while doing keepie-ups in the garden today in a break from bass playing. Life is pretty good when I can say that that is the worst thing that has happened to me this year!

Checkout out Corolla on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/corollamusic5/

To join Toby and our other amazing students within the SBL membership click here and grab your 14-day free trial today.