Discussion With Doug Wimbish
Doug Wimbish has been a strong voice in the bass community for quite some time now. His exploits with “Living Colour” alone shows the virtuosity this man commands. Further evidence of that virtuosity is shown in his discography, as he flips genres in a heartbeat backing such artists as Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Mick Jagger, Annie Lennox, and Madonna just to name a few. He also demonstrates a command of the compositional realm as well which is evident on his latest CD Cinemasonics (reviewed in this issue). His art of blending rock-funk-hip-hop and more is clearly heard in these recordings and it’s done with authority, as well as showcasing his passion for the “art” of his musicality. I see him as one of the proponents of the “progressive” side of the genres he’s involved with, and that speaks well of his forward thinking approach in an age where “repetitious” seems to be the standard. This bassist/musician has a lot to say, and is worth checking out.
Jake: Let’s start off talking about your new CD “Cinemasonics”. What was the concept behind this CD?
Doug: It’s like a collection of personal musical memoirs that I’ve been able to come in touch with over the years. You could say it’s kind of “grooves” of my life over the course of my musical career. I touched on a few different genres of music, and I just wanted to be able to have the opportunity to log that energy musically. I tried to come up with a record more or less like a movie soundtrack of some of the things I’ve been involved with in my life, everything from the early R&B days, to the Sugarhill days, and on to the hip hop era, and then on to projects I did with Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, Annie Lennox, Joe Satriani, and a few others. With all these different music projects, the energy tends to linger on, and you’re reminded of some of the things that you’ve done, and I just tried to get a very simple snapshot of some of these things I’ve been involved with over my career.
Jake: Did you do most of the composing for this particular project?
Doug: Pretty much. There’s one cover song that we did, a Curtis Mayfield song, and I composed all the other songs with the help of a few other artists, and then credited these people for their work in whatever capacity it was. For example, Skip McDonald helped me out a lot on this record, as well as some other players. I basically wanted to have a very short list of friends be involved in this production. I didn’t want to make it a record where there would be a large number of artists involved. I just wanted to use a few people that I’ve been closely involved with over the past few years. This approach made it a very stress-less project to complete.
Jake: It sounds like you’ve been working on this for a while, is that correct?
Doug: I started working on this project in bits and pieces a few years back. Being involved over the course of the last few years in all the projects I’ve done tends to puts your personal work to the back burner at times. But I’ve been thinking about making this a record for quite a long time, and it took me a few years to get it done based on my schedule—not only my schedule, but the other players schedules that I wanted to use on this project as well. In hindsight, it didn’t take that much time to complete this once I got things rolling. It just took a while to create the space to say OK, now’s the time to do it. Once I was ready I could visualize the cinematic musical structure I wanted to achieve. It starts off with Revolution, which comes on pretty strong, than it proceeds into a kind of free spirited kind of vibe in the middle of the CD, and then it kind of ends up on a groove. So it was like, well, like a relationship. A lot of times people make a record, and the kind of lose the plot, and they start thinking, oh, I’m going to make this record, and I want to play this for this person, and that for that person, instead of the just playing and recording what you feel from your heart.
You have to be careful not to put a project together to just help “position” yourself somewhere, or with someone. I’ve made many, many records over the years, and I’ve found that it works best to have the same attitude and honest intensions you come in with at the beginning of the project still be present at the end of the project as well. It’s important not to get caught in all the illusions of it will be this, or it will be that. You just want to let it flow and hope that it will be something that comes out that is totally “you”. You want to try to stay away from following a trend, or whatever seems hip at the time—try to focus on playing from “your” experience. A lot of musicians are seen in terms of—this is what I expect them to do. Fortunately, I’ve never been in that position because I’ve been so diversified in the styles that I play.
Jake: This question comes to mind when I think about the styles you’ve been involved in musically. What would you like to see quote unquote progressive rock evolve into, and who in your opinion might be taking it there?
Doug: A lot of the time music is kept hostage by either companies or trends that may be happening. If something of note happens within the industry, it can end up resonating within the industry for quite some time, because that’s what everyone wants to hear. From my point of view, when you make a record, it’s important that you keep an honesty to what you’re trying to do. But it’s difficult, because most people expect to hear basically what you’re known for. If it’s a new Rolling Stones record, they expect it to sound like the Rolling Stones—that’s what they like, and expect. Contrary to that, I feel that the audience of the hip-hop culture that has been around for about 20 years is now starting to listen to a lot more rock; music that might fall under this term we use called “progressive” rock. I think it’s based on the idea that after a while when you hear a certain frequency over and over again, loops and the like, you tend to look for more eventually, and I kind of see this happening, and that particular style of music is now involving a bit more of the rock element to it. On top of that, I feel that the whole rock thing in general is beginning to cross over to a bit of the R&B thing. There’s an R&B audience out there that’s checking out the rock side of music more than ever from my point of view, just like the hip-hop audience is. Things are changing. I’m hearing a lot of music coming out that’s progressing from both the R&B and hip-hop thing into a more rock kind of vibe. And interestingly enough, I’m hearing a lot of the rock bands starting to use a bit of the hip-hop vibe as well—everybody borrows from everybody. I think the good thing in all of this is that rock and roll has most certainly sustained itself over the years. It seems to have kept its purity and “live” playing capability in tact. And in this latest record that I’ve done, I’ve tried to keep all these different elements that we’ve just talked about present within the music in a not so typical way.
Jake: You’ve worked with a couple of guitar legends in the past, that being Jeff Beck, and Joe Satriani. Does your approach as a player differ when you’re playing in I guess I’ll call it a more “fusion” context?
Doug: The tactics change. I feel the “approach” is designated by the feel and the songs involved. If I’m playing with Jeff Beck for example, I know the things that he likes and more or less expects from me, and I try to understand the support that he’s looking to have from me. And that would apply to Joe as well. They both have kind of individualized and I’ll say spiritual approach to what they do. With either of these guitar players, you can hear just a few notes and pretty much know who it is.
As a musician trying to provide some frequencies for them, I’d tend to think of their individuality as far as their music goes in making my decision on how to best support them musically. It’s kind of like being in a movie. Sometimes you’re the lead role, sometimes you’re the supporting actor, sometimes you’re essentially just part of the background. So it kind of becomes what movie are we making now and what character do I portray in this musical endeavor. A lot of the time it gets to be about what things “don’t” I need to play to make this work as opposed to what “do” I need to play. I always try to understand what a person needs “now”, and then let that guide me through my performance. So it’s not so much changing my approach, as it is my ability to create an ambiance within the musical structure. The true key to all of this is “listening”.
Jake: I think the word that comes up for me when we speak of all the dynamics involved in “doing your job” for someone is trust—their acknowledgement that they trust you to observe all the elements of making the “total” performance the focus of the session, and that’s why they hired you.
Doug: There are many dynamics involved in each session that you’re playing, and things can go left or right at the drop of the hat. And this is where you have to make sure you check your ego in at the door and be there to support whatever you’re involved in. You adapt your personality to each individual situation, and this is how you get called back.
Jake: In an interview I did a while back with Christian McBride, he as well spoke of the importance of how you handle yourself at a session—no ego, and having a great attitude were in his opinion more important than your actual playing.
Doug: It gets down to this—it’s about having basic human skills. Some players have a temperament about them, and when they bring that to the session it just doesn’t work—I call it vendetta music. This is music to get back at someone that maybe didn’t notice you before. They seem to have something to prove, and that’s not why you’re there. It’s like learning music to position yourself so the highlights of the situation come to you all the time. It should be just the opposite. Your presence should highlight the situation around you. Check the ego—do the job.
Jake: With all we’ve talked about, how do you personally feel about taking the role of the leader?
Doug: Over the last few years, I’ve actually been in more of the leader role, even though I try to keep a balance with that. For example, in Living Colour I’ve actually been taking a bit of the leader role, more less using my years of experience to help coordinate what needs to be done. We’re working on a new album right now and I’ve been able to pull a lot of favors with some of the people I’ve worked for in the past. I’m able to help pull together all the elements involved in getting the project done because of my years of experience working with other artists under those same conditions. It’s not so much actually being the leader per se as it is, well, I like to use the word ambiance—I’m kind of the ambiance director. So you can see it goes well beyond just playing your instrument when you’re involved in the recording process. And with all the projects I’m working on, Living Colour, my album Cinemasonics, and a new DVD, it becomes imperative to basically just have your house in order.
Visit online at www.dougwimbish.com