CanCulture’s Jill Krajewski sat down with Sam Dixon (left), the touring bassist for Adele, ahead of a gig at the Air Canada Centre May 18. Photo by Tolbxela.

CanCulture: How did you get into playing bass?
Sam Dixon: I started playing piano at the age of six. It was focused on classical music and then around 11 or 12 I started listening to the radio more intently and buying records. I realised there wasn’t a lot of classical piano involved in the stuff that I was being drawn towards. I started at 14, playing bass. I wanted to explore other types of music and my piano teacher wasn’t into it. Also, there was one bass player at my school who was in the five bands that existed in my school and he was in his final year of high school and was about to leave. I kinda figured I play I bit of bass, maybe I’d get to play in some of these bands.

CC: How did your interest in music develop into songwriting?
SD: As much as I love being a bass player and touring and recording, with writing you get to be so much more involved creatively and you get shape something sonically and emotionally. I joined a band when I was 19 and we were all involved in that as writers, but that was very much the five of us in a room jamming with songs being written that way. I got myself a little computer writing setup eight or nine years ago and started messing around with that. I had been working with a bunch of ideas, practicing writing. A long-time friend of mine, Sia, an Australian singer-songwriter, had just signed a deal with Parlophone [Records] in the U.K. and was working on what would become the Colour the Small One album. She was like “Oh, I’m going to write some songs.” and I played her a couple ideas and said “Amazing, let’s do some writing.” That led to us to working really intimately. In 11 days, we wrote 13 songs and about half of them ended up on the record. That was how I kind of accidentally fell into it. Our relationship clicks very naturally and it was a really easy, enjoyable process. A lot of times in writing sessions, you might meet someone and it’s the first time you’ve ever met them and you’re expected to write a song over a day or two days. You don’t even know if you’re going to connect personality-wise, let along come up with a song.

CC: Given that, do you prefer band work over session work?
SD: With session work, a lot of the time if you’re called to play bass on something, it might be just you and the producer in the room. I’ve been involved with a couple of records where everyone’s there over the course of a couple of weeks, and it’s an amazing way to make new friendships. The process and the hanging out and the meals is as much fun as the music. I definitely prefer that, working with a bunch of people you know, and also just musically — you play and react off other things.

CC: What are some of the types of music and artists that inspired you?
SD: I was into skate punk bands like DRI, Dead Kennedys, and stuff that my parents detested [laughs]. At the same time, there were a couple of radio shows in Adelaide, [the Australian city] I’m from, that would play early 80s funk and disco-funk and that kind of got me interested in bass as well and how prominent the bass was in that. That led to discovering James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and on the flip side of that Miles Davis and the jazz side of stuff. That stuff I still listen to now. The skate punk stuff, not so much.

CC: Since the mid-2000s I’ve noticed, just looking at your production credits, you’ve increasingly played with female soul singers like Corinne Bailey Rae and Adele . . .
SD: My publisher said “We gotta get you working with some men” [laughs].

CC: Was this a conscious choice?
SD: Not at all. A lot of the time people will base whether they want to work with you or not based on what you’ve done in the past.  Sia’s music is such soulful music and she’s female, so I think if other artists are doing similar sort of things they want to do similar heartfelt music. Also Sia and I have worked together a lot so maybe it’s being with other female artists. That’s the other thing, you can’t really plan what your next gig is. Everything’s a surprise. I guess you can plant seeds subconsciously.

CC: How did you meet Adele?
SD: I got a call November last year, looking to put a band together with the touring and promotion of her new album. They initially reached out to Tim Van Der Kuil, the guitarist who worked with myself and Sia’s live band, and he recommended me for a bass player. Afterwards, I found out Adele had been to Sia’s shows so we kind of met, but not really knowing it.

CC What was your first impression of her?
SD: She’s incredibly honest and herself at all times, which is amazing and refreshing especially for someone at her level. She’s not a diva.

CC: What was it like to hear Adele perform for the first time?
SD: Amazing. Absolutely amazing. She never doesn’t sing at 100 per cent. Even at 6 a.m. at a radio station promo she still sounds at the absolute top of her game. A lot of singers will reserve themselves or make sure they don’t go full on and that’s why we don’t do promo when we’re touring because she needs to rest her voice for shows. For camera rehearsals, she’ll sing those six or seven times at her absolute peak because she can’t hold back. It’s incredible.

CC: Which of her songs do you like performing the most and why?
SD: “Rolling In The Deep” and “Rumour Has It” because of the energy of those two songs. The ballads are amazing as well, especially “Don’t You Remember.”

CC: With someone hailed for emotional performances like Adele, do you find that emotion positively effects how you perform?
SD: Definitely. All her songs are from experience and about personal relationships. This one song, “My Same,” she’s only started doing again recently because it was about a best friend of hers and they had a falling out so she didn’t play that song live for a couple of years. But they’ve since reconciled and now the song’s back in the set. There are some nights where she can be really affected by the song she’s singing. It takes her away to the place where she was where she wrote the song originally and you can hear that when you’re playing. The band, we’re sympathetic to that.

CC: How does playing with Adele compare to playing with other artists?
SD: What’s amazing about this tour is — and [Toronto] is an exception, [the Air Canada Centre] is the biggest room we’ve played as a part of this tour — most of the shows we’ve been doing have been 800 to 1200 seaters in very intimate, small theatres. For her to be at the level she’s at now and the scale of things, I can’t see her playing rooms this size ever again. The energy in the room, the excitement around her and where she’s at now as an artist . . . to be in rooms this size is amazing. It’s like this crazy focus and it feels like you’re in a much bigger room. You’re playing to 800 people and they’re as loud as 10,000.