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Bassist Rob Gourlay – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson

Bassist Rob Gourlay – Why Is Music Important

Bassist Rob Gourlay – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson…

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Rob Gourlay and I’m a Musician, Author and Teacher based in New Hampshire. I’m blessed beyond belief to be able to do what I love, and have an amazing wife of 25 years and 2 great kids. Music and family are my life, and the reasons I get out of bed in the morning excited for the day!

Who are your primary musical influences?

My family has always been very musical. Both my brother and sister played instruments, and we always had a lot of music alive in the house. My dad had a jukebox business ,so I was exposed to a lot of music I wouldn’t have otherwise heard.

I was also really fortunate to grow up in an era when so much amazing music was being created. The Beatles were my first huge influence, followed by all the incredible music that came out in the early to mid- 1970’s. Getting certain albums and listening to them intensely, and waiting for the next release the following year, was such an education. There was nothing like putting on a brand new record you had never heard a note of before the needle dropped, and have it be a life changing experience. These recording are classics now, and taken for granted in many ways… but, for me, it was like opening a door and seeing a great work of art for the first time!

Following the evolution of the music was also an amazing experience. The other key, and something I feel very fortunate about, was getting to see so much live music over the year – especially when I was younger. There were bands playing at dances every week and concerts in the park in the summer. I was able to see and hear great musicians up close and that became a huge inspiration for me wanting to play an instrument. I started playing guitar in about 6th or 7th grade and worked hard to get so I could play some of the music I loved to listen to like Bad Co, Aerosmith, and the Rolling Stones. Having great support from my drummer brother, Gord, and my parents was an invaluable help. I began studying with some great musicians in my hometown like Pete Henault, and Dick Easter. They helped me immensely to get on the right path, and they also turned me on to even more great music. I was I loved bands like Yes, Genesis, Rush, Frank Zappa and all the great players. That led me next on to the jazz fusion stuff like Jeff Beck, Weather Report, Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke, Allan Holdsworth, Bill Bruford and eventually to the classic jazz era. I started learning bass around that time for what was initially a single gig. The bass soon took over as my main instrument – since there were lots of gigs and, more importantly, because I absolutely loved playing it! All the music I had been listening to had great bass playing in it, and digging into players like Chris Squire, Jaco, and Jeff Berlin was hugely inspiring to say the least! All of these influences inspired me to want to make the best music I could, and to strive to play on the high level of these amazing musicians!

I studied at Berklee and have had many amazing teachers along the way including John Hunter, Jeff Berlin, Charlie Banacos and my mentor, friend and teacher, Jim Stinnett.

What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?

It’s been great to see some former students tearing it up and succeeding in a big way in music business, touring and recording. I’ve definitely been more aware of the music they’ve been doing, through going to shows and watching more awards shows than I normally would. Though, not so much on a musical level, but as a teacher this has certainly enhanced my feeling of the importance of every lesson and class you have the opportunity to teach and the students you might be reaching. Also aside from the musical part, success in this business requires full commitment and often a lot of sacrifices. Each one of these players had that commitment in addition to seriously working on their music and instruments. The importance of that has certainly been reinforced in my thinking. Hard work and dedication truly pays off!

I try to be open to new music and check out what’s out there but often there isn’t a lot that catches my ear. So, I keep digging into my huge collection of music. You’ve got to keep searching though, or you’ll miss the good stuff!

How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?

My contribution to the music and voice depends on the music I’m playing. If it’s vocal music and I’m playing in a primarily supportive rhythm section role, the sound I go for is a deeper and more full sounding to support to the music. I’ll normally play a Fender or Music Man bass,in this situation, and what I play musically will always be based on what works to make the music happen.

When I’m playing instrumental music, melodies and soloing my weapons of choice are my Fodera Matt Garrison Imperial and Rob Allen MB-2 5 string basses. Both instruments are strung E to high-C and they allow me to play in a much more expansive way both- harmonically and melodically. The Fodera is the perfect bass for my instrumental music and it allows me to express that voice. I can play music on it that I have never found on any other instrument! It’s just one of those perfect instruments for me. The Rob Allen is an entirely different instrument – as it is a nylon string bass with a piezo pickup. It’s been a very inspiring instrument to play as well.

Describe your musical composition process.

The best things I’ve written always seem to come very easily and quickly. I will often set up to play and record, get things sounding good and at a point things will hopefully get in “the zone” and the music flows. I’ll then go back and listen and work to develop the music that catches my ear and organize it into something that makes sense to me. I usually have no clue what I’m playing during the process, I just completely rely on my ear and instincts. Hopefully something special happens but not always.

How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?

For me it’s all about communication. If you’re connecting with the other musicians in a meaningful way you will probably connect with the audience or listeners. The more levels you connect on, the better. The extremes of playing only for yourself and alienating the audience or playing for the audience with nothing of depth for yourself are not very satisfying in my mind. When both happen it’s magic. I try to not take for granted the power of music and appreciate more than ever the people who come to shows, buy music and support us all as musicians. It’s amazing when you think about it.

What would you be, if not a professional musician?

I’ve never had a “real” job so I don’t have a plan B of any kind! It would have to be something creative though, maybe production or photography? What are the hours?

What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?

That would have to be when I first became a full time musician. My parents had moved to Florida and I was living on my own for the first time and it was time to start supporting myself though music. The other members of the band I was in had all quit their day jobs and we were all cutting the cord to make it or break it as full time musicians. It was a really lean time and money was so tight that the smallest setback would have us eating five for a dollar boxes of mac & cheese for the week! We knew many musicians who never took that seemingly crazy leap of faith and ultimately never made music their career. It was a tough time for sure but things slowly got better and I think it was a necessary step in making music my career. If you’re serious about what you want to do, sometimes you just have to jump in and sink or swim!

Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?

Practice is something I love and for me it’s always been the key to moving forward musically and career wise. If you’re not growing and developing in your music you’ll lose the joy and probably forget why you’re doing it!

I’ve learned a lot about effective practice techniques from Jim Stinnett and that’s something we strongly emphasize in all the teaching I’ve done with him over the years at the Bassworkout and the NH Bassfest.

I do quite a bit of ear training and that’s often done during travel to and from gigs, but it’s an ongoing part of practice that’s so important.

When I’m with the instrument I have a basic way that I practice but what I work on is always changing.

The first stuff I work on is always the urgent stuff, getting material ready for whatever is coming up soon. Sometimes it can be quite a crunch but I do my best to always be prepared!

After that I work on technique exercises like chord, scale and arpeggio exercises in all keys and depending on how much time I have, multiple chord types. I use play-along traks and those help to get me through the exercises quickly and efficiently in the shortest amount of time.

Next would be reading, repertoire, working on new transcriptions and digging further into ones I’ve worked on before. Then working on new ideas. All of this part of my practice is where the real growth happens as a musician and where you can add skills for hopefully bigger & better things down the road! It’s also the part that requires the most self- discipline to get things accomplished. This is the stuff you don’t have to do but need to do to get better. You reap what you sow and I try to make the best choices of things to work on. This is also the most exciting part!

What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?

It’s who I am, what I do and what I love! I never had to make any kind of choice about what I wanted to do career wise. Since I started with music it was just something I knew I had to do. My dad never enjoyed a single job he had and I certainly feel blessed to be able to do what I love. It’s not something I ever take for granted.

How important is it to understand the Language of music?

I think it’s hugely important for musicians who are interested in playing in many different situations and styles. It certainly makes communicating ideas a lot easier if you are speaking the same language. Reading music, learning theory & harmony are all very beneficial to any musician I think. In addition to offering a deeper understanding you also have a much more effective way to communicate with other musicians. It’s certainly helpful in teaching, learning and offers you the greatest possibilities and options down the road. Some players are just ridiculously gifted and don’t seem to need that understanding but for the rest of us, learn as much as you can!

How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?

I think that you are always taking in ideas and influences from whatever is around you and what you’re experiencing in your life.

Even when you don’t think you’re listening you are. To me that makes it really important to listen to great music and things that really inspire you to keep yourself excited about music. I think those influences are something that will naturally come out in your music.

Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?

As long as money is being exchanged for it I guess it is by design, commercial. There’s a big difference between marketplace value and the true value of the music though. We’re in a strange time now with all the downloading and streaming issues and hopefully that can all be figured out in a way that supports musicians and keeps great music being made. Great music is priceless!

Who are your primary musical influences?

My family has always been very musical. Both my brother and sister played instruments, and we always had a lot of music alive in the house. My dad had a jukebox business ,so I was exposed to a lot of music I wouldn’t have otherwise heard.

I was also really fortunate to grow up in an era when so much amazing music was being created. The Beatles were my first huge influence, followed by all the incredible music that came out in the early to mid- 1970’s. Getting certain albums and listening to them intensely, and waiting for the next release the following year, was such an education. There was nothing like putting on a brand new record you had never heard a note of before the needle dropped, and have it be a life changing experience. These recording are classics now, and taken for granted in many ways… but, for me, it was like opening a door and seeing a great work of art for the first time!

Following the evolution of the music was also an amazing experience. The other key, and something I feel very fortunate about, was getting to see so much live music over the year – especially when I was younger. There were bands playing at dances every week and concerts in the park in the summer. I was able to see and hear great musicians up close and that became a huge inspiration for me wanting to play an instrument. I started playing guitar in about 6th or 7th grade and worked hard to get so I could play some of the music I loved to listen to like Bad Co, Aerosmith, and the Rolling Stones. Having great support from my drummer brother, Gord, and my parents was an invaluable help. I began studying with some great musicians in my hometown like Pete Henault, and Dick Easter. They helped me immensely to get on the right path, and they also turned me on to even more great music. I was I loved bands like Yes, Genesis, Rush, Frank Zappa and all the great players. That led me next on to the jazz fusion stuff like Jeff Beck, Weather Report, Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke, Allan Holdsworth, Bill Bruford and eventually to the classic jazz era. I started learning bass around that time for what was initially a single gig. The bass soon took over as my main instrument – since there were lots of gigs and, more importantly, because I absolutely loved playing it! All the music I had been listening to had great bass playing in it, and digging into players like Chris Squire, Jaco, and Jeff Berlin was hugely inspiring to say the least! All of these influences inspired me to want to make the best music I could, and to strive to play on the high level of these amazing musicians!

I studied at Berklee and have had many amazing teachers along the way including John Hunter, Jeff Berlin, Charlie Banacos and my mentor, friend and teacher, Jim Stinnett.

What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?

It’s been great to see some former students tearing it up and succeeding in a big way in music business, touring and recording. I’ve definitely been more aware of the music they’ve been doing, through going to shows and watching more awards shows than I normally would. Though, not so much on a musical level, but as a teacher this has certainly enhanced my feeling of the importance of every lesson and class you have the opportunity to teach and the students you might be reaching. Also aside from the musical part, success in this business requires full commitment and often a lot of sacrifices. Each one of these players had that commitment in addition to seriously working on their music and instruments. The importance of that has certainly been reinforced in my thinking. Hard work and dedication truly pays off!

I try to be open to new music and check out what’s out there but often there isn’t a lot that catches my ear. So, I keep digging into my huge collection of music. You’ve got to keep searching though, or you’ll miss the good stuff!

How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?

My contribution to the music and voice depends on the music I’m playing. If it’s vocal music and I’m playing in a primarily supportive rhythm section role, the sound I go for is a deeper and more full sounding to support to the music. I’ll normally play a Fender or Music Man bass,in this situation, and what I play musically will always be based on what works to make the music happen.

When I’m playing instrumental music, melodies and soloing my weapons of choice are my Fodera Matt Garrison Imperial and Rob Allen MB-2 5 string basses. Both instruments are strung E to high-C and they allow me to play in a much more expansive way both- harmonically and melodically. The Fodera is the perfect bass for my instrumental music and it allows me to express that voice. I can play music on it that I have never found on any other instrument! It’s just one of those perfect instruments for me. The Rob Allen is an entirely different instrument – as it is a nylon string bass with a piezo pickup. It’s been a very inspiring instrument to play as well.

Describe your musical composition process.

The best things I’ve written have always come very easily and quickly. I will often set up to play and record, and at a point things will hopefully get in “the zone” and the music flows. I’ll then go back and listen and work to develop the music that catches my ear, and then organize it into something that makes sense to me. I usually have no clue what I’m playing during the process! I just completely rely on my ear and instincts. Hopefully something special happens… but not always.

How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?

For me it’s all about communication. If I’m connecting with the other musicians in a meaningful way I will probably connect with the audience or listeners. The more levels I connect on, the better. The extremes of playing only for yourself and alienating the audience, or playing for the audience with nothing of depth for yourself are not very satisfying in my mind. When both happen it’s magic. I try to not take for granted the power of music and appreciate more than ever the people who come to shows, buy music, and support us as musicians. It’s amazing when you think about it.

What would you be, if not a professional musician?

I’ve never had a “real” job! So, I don’t have a plan B of any kind! It would have to be something creative though… maybe production or photography? What are the hours?

What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?

That would have to be when I first became a full-time musician… My parents had moved to Florida and I was living on my own for the first time and it was time to start supporting myself though music. The other members of the band I was in had all quit their day jobs and we were all cutting the cord to make it, or break it, as full time musicians. It was a really lean time and money was so tight that the smallest setback would have us eating dollar boxes of mac & cheese for the week! We knew many musicians who never took that seemingly crazy leap of faith and ultimately never made music their career. It was a tough time for sure! But, things slowly got better and I think it was a necessary step in making music my career. If you’re serious about what you want to do, sometimes you just have to jump in and sink or swim!

Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?

Practice is something I love and it’s always been the key to moving forward musically and career wise. If we’re not growing and developing in our music, we can lose the joy and probably forget why we’re doing it!

I’ve learned a lot about effective practice techniques from Jim Stinnett and that’s something we strongly emphasize in all the teaching I’ve done with him over the years at the Bassworkout and the NH Bassfest.

I do quite a bit of ear training and that’s often done during travel to and from gigs. It’s an ongoing part of practice that’s so important. When I’m with the instrument I have a basic way that I practice but what I work on is always changing. The first stuff I work on is always the urgent stuff, like getting material ready for whatever is coming up soon. Sometimes it can be quite a crunch, but I do my best to always be prepared!

After that, I work on technique exercises like chord, scale, and arpeggio exercises in all keys and, depending on how much time I have, multiple chord types. I use play-along tracks, and those help to get me through the exercises quickly and efficiently in the shortest amount of time.

Next would be reading, repertoire, working on new transcriptions, and digging further into ones I’ve worked on before. Then comes working on new ideas. It’s also the part that requires the most self- discipline to get things accomplished. This is the stuff each one of us need to do to get better. You reap what you sow, and I try to make the best choices of things to work on. This is also the most exciting part!

What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?

It’s who I am, what I do and what I love! I never had to make any kind of choice about what I wanted to do career-wise! Since I started with music it was just something I knew I had to do. My dad never enjoyed a single job he had and I certainly feel blessed to be able to do what I love. It’s not something I ever take for granted.

How important is it to understand the Language of music?

I think it’s hugely important for musicians who are interested in playing in many different situations and styles. It certainly makes communicating ideas a lot easier if you are speaking the same language. Reading music, learning theory and harmony are all very beneficial to any musician. In addition to offering a deeper understanding, you also have a much more effective way to communicate with other musicians. It’s certainly helpful in teaching, learning and offers everyone the greatest possibilities and options down the road. Some players are just ridiculously gifted and they don’t seem to need that understanding! But, for the rest of us, we should learn as much as we can!

How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?

I think that we are always taking in ideas and influences from whatever is around us and what we’re experiencing in life.

Even when you don’t think you’re listening… you are. That makes it really important to listen to great music and things that really inspire you to keep yourself excited about music. I think those influences are something that will naturally come out in our music.

Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?

As long as money is being exchanged for it I guess it is by design, commercial. There’s a big difference between marketplace value and the true value of the music though. We’re in a strange time now with all the downloading and streaming issues and hopefully that can all be figured out in a way that supports musicians and keeps great music being made. Great music is priceless!

Visit online at robgourlay.com

 

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Rob Gourlay

    April 13, 2015 at 5:23 am

    Thanks Brent-Anthony!

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