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SA With Martin Simpson: An Interview with Andrew Warneke

Meet Martin Simpson –

Andrew, who comes from South Africa’s ‘Windy City’ on the south coast called Port Elizabeth, recently sent me a copy of his first (and hopefully, not his last) solo album, titled, Just The Bassics. This title is a little mis-leading as there’s really nothing basic about the album. It shows off Andrew’s great talent on the six string bass guitar where the only other musician involved is Robert Williams who takes care of drum programming. I spoke to Andrew about his career and album in July 2009 and this is what he told me.

[Martin] How long have you been playing Andrew?

[Andrew] I have been playing for about 10 years now.

[Martin] How did you get started?

[Andrew] I never thought of music as something I could do until I turned 14 and found a bass in our closet (it had belonged to my grandfather – a great pedal-steel guitarist and recording engineer). I decided to learn to play the thing, so I began teaching myself, mostly by playing along to CD’s, and watching other people play.

[Martin] So you come from something of a musical family!!!

[Andrew] Yes, you could say that. My paternal grandfather, Dennis Warneke, was a great musician, and both my parents are musical (my mom is a piano teacher, and my dad sings bass). My sister also plays keys and sings.

[Martin] Have you taken any formal musical training?

[Andrew] Yes I have. I completed a Bachelors degree in Music at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2006. I majored in music technology, with bass and guitar as my main instruments.

[Martin] What’s your favourite band / solo artist?

[Andrew] Favourite bands include: Dave Matthews Band; Bela Fleck and the Flecktones; Israel and New Breed; The Dixie Chicks; Tower of Power; The Spindoctors

Favourite solo artists include: Victor Wooten; Stanley Clarke; Faith Hill; Jewel; Michael Jackson (purely for the grooves in his songs – so I’m really saying I dig Quincy Jones I guess!); Michael Manson; Pat Metheny; Stevie Wonder; Todd Johnson; Gary Willis

[Martin] What are the amps and instruments you currently use?

[Andrew] I am privileged enough to hold a bass endorsement with Cort. My main bass is the Cort A6. It’s got a beautiful sound for what I do, as the preamp is very flexible, so I can get everything from a thick bottom-end tone, right up to a clear, bell-like sound for chordal and tapping passages. This is also one of the most beautiful pieces of wood I’ve ever seen! The figuring on the maple top is amazing!!!

I also have the Cort B4FL for those times when you just really need the fretless sound. It’s also a great bass. I don’t use it often though, as much of what I do calls for chordal playing.

In terms of amps, I endorse Laney Amplifiers. I have a Laney RB7 combo, and a RB115 extension cab. These amps really give me the clean, articulate sound I’m going for. I love the RB7, as it’s a 300w, 2×10 combo that’s easy to carry to small to medium sized gigs, and the same amp powers the extension cab when I need more grunt on bigger stages.

Another piece of gear I use a lot is my Boss RC-50 Loop Station. A great tool for creating a “solo bass orchestra”. I like to try to arrange songs in loops so I can do an all bass version of the song, like some of the tracks on my album. I also do solo jazz gigs, so the looper comes in handy there too.
I play on medium gauge Elixir strings.

[Martin] What instruments would you like to have if money were no object?

[Andrew] I think bass-wise, I’d opt for a Zon (though I’ve never played one). They appeal to me for a variety of reasons, one of which is their super-deep cutaway, which would allow for access to play chords right up to the 24th fret. They also sound really clear, and seem to sustain well too. I would also love to play on a Fodera one day! Those guys make some gorgeous instruments!

In terms of amps, I’d like to play through a David Eden amp, as the guys I hear playing through them sound great. I’d also be interested in trying out the stuff from Aguilar, and some of Ampeg’s amps and cabs. I played on a Hartke Hydrive rig at Bass Day South Africa this year which was also pretty great!

[Martin] What have you been doing for the last five years or so?

[Andrew] The last five years have been spent finishing my B.Mus degree (completed in 2006); gigging with various bands; teaching and lecturing; and practicing (generally trying to figure out how this whole music thing works!!!). On a more personal note, I got married about 2 years back, so the last five years have also been building toward that goal with my (now) wife, Claire.

[Martin] What does it mean to be a bass player? Are there certain stereotypes you want to avoid?

[Andrew] Being a bass player (to me) means that I’m using the bass to express the music that is inside me, whether that be playing a one-note groove to support a band, or playing chords, melody and bassline all at once by myself, or playing chords, melody and solos in a jazz band – I just want to get the music out there, and the bass happens to be how I do that because the bass feels and sounds right to me. I have always felt that we put bass players in a box, and I’m grateful that I never had a teacher when I came up because I see the way people teach the bass and it’s a “The bass plays basslines… and only basslines!” kind of approach. There’s nothing wrong with teaching the traditional role of the bass playing the bass part in a song and teaching guys to groove before trying to be flashy, but I don’t think we should stop there or we’re in danger of teaching BASS not MUSIC. When I was learning, I was fortunate to come across a few CD’s or videos where guys were doing something different, and I thought: “That’s right. The notes on my bass are the same kind that pianos and guitars have, so why can’t I play chords and melodies like them?” and I started trying to get those other parts of music out through my instrument. So I guess I avoided the stereotypical bass role quite naturally… I still enjoy playing a great groove though!!!

[Martin] What recordings that you’ve played on would you recommend for listening?

[Andrew] Last year I played on Mark Scholtz’s album “Great God”, which I’m really proud of. You can check it out at www.markjscoltz.com.

Obviously though, my new solo album “Just the Bassics” is definitely the place to hear ME! I really feel like I poured myself into the album after years of intense longing to do a project like that. It’s an album of music that inspires me, rather than an album of flashy bass playing. That’s always been my goal… to be a musician who uses the bass as a tool rather than some guy playing bass because that’s all he knows. You can hear some of it on my Myspace page, or look me up on Reverbnation.

[Martin] What’s been the low point in your career so far?

[Andrew] The low point is the recurring feeling that I’m going to be stuck playing in PE forever. I love the place, but the scene here is pretty cover band dominated, and I’d love to play original music, and solo bass, in a more accepting environment… Right now I’m trying to create that environment here for myself. I guess it’s good practice!

[Martin] And what has been the high point of your career?

[Andrew] Playing at Bass Day South Africa this year was also amazing for me, as I got to show my stuff to the muso’s from the ‘big city’. It was great to hear how what I’m doing is fresh, relevant, and unique. I guess all the high points in my career would have to have been the times when muso’s I admire tell me my playing is meaningful, and cool; and the feeling I get every time I play something that touches me, or someone else. There are no feelings quite like those. The feedback I have received on my solo album has really encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing too. Just knowing that the music is having an effect rather than just being heard makes all the difference.

[Martin] Let’s talk about the CD you sent me recently called Just The Bassics. How long did the album take to record, mix and master?

[Andrew] I recorded all the tracks in 3 days, mix-down and master took about two more. The process went really smoothly, and what I liked about it most was that I had the freedom to work on the songs in the studio while I recorded. I went into the studio with a basic idea for each song, and came up with a lot of the parts on the fly. All the ‘solo’ sections are real improvisations rather than pre-rehearsed parts. I wanted the album to maintain an organic feel, as I like the listener to be able to hear me playing the music as if it were live, so there are some fret-buzzes and things which I feel had to be left there, because they came from me when I played the track.

[Martin] Could you take us through the album, track by track, starting with: Endless Union

[Andrew] This song was written a few weeks before I got married, whist pondering the whole concept of marriage. The chorus part was actually used at our wedding as a prelude to Claire walking down the aisle to a funky arrangement of the wedding march that I wrote.

I played the intro in tapped harmonics (if that’s the correct term for them!). I love that sound! The time signature change from 4 to 5 is kind of cool (if you ask me), because I set it up so you don’t really feel it coming until it hits. The chorus brings a fairly dramatic change of emotion from the verse – I suppose this has some deeper meaning in relation to the marriage theme, but I tend not to over-analyze what I compose too much!

[Martin] Joshua 1:9

[Andrew] This is a ‘proper’ solo bass piece as it’s all played at once. The sound of chords on the bass has always appealed to me, and I have always loved harmony and pretty voice-leading.

This particular piece just arrived in my head one day. It’s great when that happens… it really streamlines the composing process for me.

[Martin] I’m So Grateful

[Andrew] This was actually written for a band that I was playing in (2che) a year or two back. It was just me (on bass) and Claire Harmse (singer/songwriter) on acoustic guitar and vocals. The band never performed the song as we never managed to write words for it, so I decided to do it on the bass as an instrumental. The part of this song that I love is the chorus melody-line. It’s so catchy!

[Martin] Opened Eyes

[Andrew] This one was also composed for a band (the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Jazz Band). It’s the first thing I ever composed, so I thought it deserved a place on the album. The drum groove in the chorus with the displaced snare hit was always a feature of the song, so I kept it in the programmed drum track.

[Martin] Jesus Loves Me

[Andrew] This one was sort-of an afterthought. I had already ‘finished’ the album, and was suddenly inspired to record this song. I arranged it to display my chord-melody approach in the first 2 choruses, and then played the melody in harmonics and bass notes underneath to end.

[Martin] Psalm 1

[Andrew] This one’s another solo piece demonstrating my chordal approach to the bass. The melody has some artificial harmonics in it, and there are some cool key changes in the bridge section.

[Martin] Victory

[Andrew] After tracking what I thought was the complete album, I realised I hadn’t recorded anything that utilised my thumb techniques. My favourite thumb player is Victor Wooten, hence the name ‘Victory’. The verse rhythm sections are played using a muted thumbing and finger technique. The ‘kick drum’ part is me thumbing the muted B string, and the ‘snare drum’ is a hand-tap on the higher strings. The chorus reverts back to chords, and an interesting 4th interval harmony. The solo section is also played with various thumbing and plucking techniques.

[Martin] Blessing

[Andrew] This track is more of an improvised thing. I came up with the chord part using the open D string and moving the other voices around on top and developed that idea as it came along, and then just improvised a melodic part to make it a bit more interesting to listen to.

[Martin] Be Thou my Vision

[Andrew] In University we used to play around with re-harmonizing well-known melodies in a more ‘jazzy’ way. I wanted to do that with a song on the album, as it’s not something people expect from the bass. I came up with this arrangement in the studio while the Rob Williams, the engineer, was on lunch. The first chorus is a fairly traditional way of seeing the harmony, and the second one is a bit more ‘complex’ (for lack of a better word).

[Martin] Real Life

[Andrew] This one’s a got a more R’nB-ish sort of vibe. I went for a very mellow sound for the chords, and a fat, thumpy bassline sound. Sonically it’s one of my favourites on the album.

[Martin] Desire

[Andrew] My first all bass piece! I wrote this one night in 2006 in a moment of awe and the realisation of the beauty of music and the desire to grow. My goal when recording this was to capture the emotion I feel when I hear or play this song.

My favourite part of the song is the chorus melody, which is essentially 2 notes. I love how one can touch someone else with absolute simplicity. I laid some cool harmonies over the melody in later choruses too. The harmonic countermelodies in the intro are cool to listen to in headphones (because of the panning).

[Martin] So where do you go from here?

[Andrew] Back to the woodshed I guess… LOL!

Well, my goal for the immediate future is to have as many people hear the album as possible. I don’t have a distribution deal on it so that’s a pretty hard thing to achieve. Other than that, I’m looking to play solo as much as possible. I’ve worked up a repertoire of jazz standards as background music so can do those types of gigs by myself.

In the long term I’m going to have to get out of PE to a major music centre though, so it’ll be Cape Town or Johannesburg, or somewhere overseas… I’m excited to see what the future holds!

[Martin] Here’s a review of Andrew’s album by Kai Horsthemke

[Andrew] Port Elizabeth-based Andrew Warneke’s offering is an album where one really needs to get beyond one’s irritation with the titles of the tunes – which all have a strong and clichéd ‘saved’/ ‘born-again’ connotation. But inside, that is on the actual CD, there is a treasure trove of bass ambience, shimmering atmospherics, chordal delights and tastefully performed and conceptualised melodies. Andrew’s main weapon-of-choice is a 6-string fretted bass, and his approach is predominantly harmonic, i.e. chordal – less from a jazz standard point of view than from a folk guitarist’s perspective. The only criticism I have, regarding the actual recording, concerns the drum programming on track 4 – it is rather leaden and, frankly, seems unnecessary. However, there is not a single weak track on this CD: the tunes, without exception, have a pristine, direct and uncluttered beauty.

For anyone interested in contacting Andrew. He’s a member of the BMM community site and is a member of three of my groups – The South African Bass Players Collective group, The Cort Owners group and The Solo Bassists group.

Martin

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