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SA Bassists With Martin Simpson: An Interview with Garth de Meillon

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Meet Martin Simpson –

For this month’s interview, we travel further North to the Capital City of South Africa – Pretoria – and speak to another bass instructor. Garth de Meillon runs a very successful music school. This is what he told me in earlier this year.

How did it all Begin for you Garth?

I took some piano lessons in primary school but quit when I got to high school.  In 1998, after I had completed high school, I began carrying equipment and helping out with sound checks for a local band called “Flying Circus”.  I really enjoyed the experience because I thought starting a band was too difficult and that learning an instrument would take too long.  One day at a sound-check I was captivated by a song that the vocalist had written by himself for the band. Until then I had only seen bands write and practice music together…so, the seed was planted then.  I soon started getting the itch and got some guitar lesson from a great teacher (Antonio Oricco) and started putting together my first rock band (Deep Water).  Seeing a band go from peaceful and lazy at a sound-check or rehearsal to rocking out with energy and emotion, totally free and expressive at a gig, had a huge impact on me.  I didn’t know to what extent music could do that to a musician, band or audience.

Why Bass Guitar?

Within a few months I chose to switch over to the Bass Guitar due to the fact that I auditioned around 40 bassists without results for the position. The band had three guitarists and it actually made sense that one of us should make the move. I guess the instrument chose me! My drummer’s dad had an old beat up 70’s Ibanez funk bass, which I had fixed up and soon started working my chops out on. I was into the Red Hot Chili Peppers and just started imitating Flea’s style over our Led-Zeppelinesque rock vibes.

What other Instruments do you play?

I am totally comfortable on both Bass & Guitar. My main bass is a Yamaha TRB 6 string , but I also love my fret-less Ibanez BTB 6 string (converted from fretted bass).  My guitars are a Takamine G-series acoustic and an Epiphone Les Paul electric.  I use a Hartke 5150 head and 4×10 explorer cab for bass gigs, while the acoustic guitar normally goes through a DI box to the Engineer.  My Marshall Amp has been in the repair shop for about a year now, so I have given up ever using it again! HAHA! I also have a bunch of practice and teaching amps for daily use.  I have 2 upright acoustic pianos at the studio (I started playing performance exams on piano last year, just to get my hand’s to work together. I enjoy African drumming and have a very playable djembe made in West Africa (Ivory Coast I think).  I also recently purchased a Con-Selmer Tenor Sax and have started blowing a little bit.

What is your Teaching Philosophy?

As a professional Teacher it’s important to keep on learning and challenging yourself, so it’s very crucial to keep up your studies and examinations.  I’ve also tried to formalize my teaching experience, methodology and syllabi.  It’s an on-going process that never seems to be as complete as you wish it to be, but as long as you keep balancing your craft with new experiences and knowledge, you will continue to grow and have new things to say and feel.

The concept of an “Interactive and Continuous Counting Method” is fundamental to my teaching style, especially with the bass students, as they will form the heart of the rhythm section along with the drummer.  Once you can count consistently and understand different subdivisions, you can begin to feel a groove within different contexts and genre.  This leads to freedom within any time signature and feel and results in “unique and musical phrasing”.

Other concepts that are important to learn and teach are as follows:

1) As much Theory as you can stomach! Learn to read, write and understand your language!

2) Reading while you practice….this is an important skill for working musicians and will help you to get through vast amounts of work sooner and more efficiently

3) Interaction with other musicians to express and try out all you are learning i.e. rehearsals and live performances equal live experience and will help you to find your “Voice and Tone”

What are your Strengths?

-Rhythmic understanding and independence.

-Working towards technical mastery of my instrument.

-Creativity, phrasing and composition on various instruments.

-Song writing experience in many contexts, genres and bands.

-Chord knowledge and application.

What are your Weakness’?

-The strict Jazz Walking Bass approach – it requires a lot of patience and maturity.

-Exotic scales and modes as used in Improvisation is always something that keeps growing.

What has been the most challenging music for you to practice?

-Learning to count and breath while playing.

-Learning to look up and interact with band and crowd while playing.

-Learning to play less in melodies and solo’s.

-Learning to compromise, be more sensitive and also not to take music and/or musicians too seriously

-Learning to use textures, dynamics and emotional content as serious tools.

-Learning to solo and be free in odd time signatures (5/4 was my first great challenge)

Three songs/artists that have really put the burn on me:

Jaco Pastorius’ – Donna Lee:

It’s 7 pages of finger tip destroying phrasings.  You really have to earn the muscle memory bar for bar and there are new left and right hand techniques to fine-tune the whole time.  I have spent over 5 years on this tune and still relearn sections over and over again.  I even used to practice it on the fret-less in the dark to fine tune my intonation and muscle memory.  There’s a triplet run about halfway through Donna Lee that’s just ridiculous!

Victor Wooten’s – You can’t hold no Groove:

What a great Slap and pop technical workout…and so much fun to play!

John Coltrane’s – Giant Steps:

The chord progression and Harmony concepts are just so intricate and demanding…something to keep on learning from…not to even mention trying to play coltrane’s solo’s

Tell us about your Practice Ethic?

I believe that every musician needs to go through a phase of dedicated learning and practice, so that you jump-start your confidence, broader knowledge and experience on your instrument. You should always have your metronome on and count out loud along with it. Cycle the piece of music you are trying to master and then attempt to reinterpret it in different Time Signatures…this is my favourite way to learn a challenging piece.

Playing along with your favourite songs off an I-pod is a great way to “Have a Jam” in your practice routine.

Rather try to practice 30 minutes every day religiously than once a week for 6 hours. A short but consistent practice routine is worth more than an irregular long practice.  Whatever amount of transcribing you can do is some of the best exercise you can get as a musician, it will teach you more about phrasing in 10 minutes, than an hour lesson can ever give you. Take the time to score out in music notation and rhythm, any idea that you may have. These days I’m too busy to practice every day, but I do practice every chance I get.

Remember, Band Practice doesn’t count as individual practice time, but is necessary for your development as an interactive and responsive musician!

Why a Professional Teaching career versus Professional Performing career?

I played in numerous professional and successful bands, but there was always the problem of different visions and multiple perceptions for those projects. I feel that the industry is of such a limited nature in South Africa, that you need to play commercial music to be able to survive as a professional performing musician. The lifestyle can also be very destructive on your personal life and passion for music.  With all these issues in mind, I made the decision to rather teach professionally and then only invest my energy and experience in my own musical vision.  In this way, I have been able to be self supporting as a musician and have been able to focus on the music that I really want to play..I don’t have to compromise on the type of music I want to write and play, just to make ends meet.

What are your favorite Time Signatures?

5/4, 9/8 and 6/8.

What are you Currently Listening to?

Charles Mingus, Max Roach and Duke Ellington: Money Jungle,

Jack Johnson: To The Sea,

John Butler Trio: April Uprising,

Medeski, Martin and Wood: Combustication.

How was your 1st ever Gig?

In front of a 350 capacity crowd with my first rock band “Deep Water”. Nerve Racking Stuff!  It was such a huge experience; from dragging all the equipment there, to setting up, to sound-checking and finally playing our first 45 minute set.

What was your Easiest Gig?

Calling Kingston @ J.S. Moroka District Music Festival.  The festival was running so late that all the bands could only play 3 songs each, but the 15 000 strong crowd was so stoked! That 15 minute set will live on in my mind forever…plus we still got paid the full festival fee! I remember the show was on a soccer field and the 4 big spray-lights attracted a huge swarm of locusts from the wilderness areas in the vicinity…the stage, musicians and crowd was just absolutely crawling with locusts!

What was your Hardest Gig?

The first gig I did with Scicoustic.  I had to learn an enormous set of tunes because the live performances were  always so epic.  After the sound-check I still went home to hit the woodshed and practice my parts a last few times, to make sure that I was capable of pulling them off that night. I was still reading charts on the night and there was almost no light to see with, the stage was super cramped and the crowd was just going wild.  When we hit the stage the opening band’s bassist had blown my amp’s speaker cone for me.  But the sound engineer just stuck me through the P.A. and we were off. It turned out to be a great gig from then onwards and nothing else went wrong!

What was the Last Gig you played?

April of 2010…we did the Dave Matthews Tribute show @ Tings an Times in Hatfield Pretoria!  This was a once off show and the crowd loved it, as did the band!  The musicians were all awesome, well rehearsed and on the top of their game. The sound and lighting was done by some of the best crew available. This was my Debut Live Performance as a Guitarist!

What are your newest challenges?

1) Mastering new programs for audio and video editing (Logic Pro and Final Cut).

2) Nurturing my Fusion-Jazz Project, Rendezvous. This includes everything from:

Writing and composing the songs sections and structure,

Creating the song’s identity for musicians and audience.

Working out drum backing with a Boss DR-880,

Composing basic melodies so that a session sax player has simple ideas and harmonies to be able to work from, quick and easy,

Basic Recording, production, editing, and cover design and layout for demos,

Gig booking and planning, all logistics for rehearsals (sheet-music and song charts for muso’s, as well as set-lists,

promotion, travel logistics, financing, sound and lighting and  possibly A/V recording.

3) Finishing off the last Grade 8 Classical Theory Level.

4) Piano and Sax graded Levels and exams.

5) Completing and Polishing my 4 levels of bass and 2 levels of guitar Syllabi.

What are the most important things you’ve learnt from your drummers?

I have learnt more as a bassist from working with drummers over the last few years than I did from all the other types of musicians put together. Gideon Meintjies has been my greatest resource as a growing musician. He is such a mature and musical drummer, that he just has a lasting impact and effect on all those that he works with and for.

the main aspects that he has left me wiser about are the following:

-Use of dynamics as a “super power” in composition and performance.

-The Flexibility and fragility of the Groove. As a rhythm section we can push or pull a groove ever so slightly without altering the actual time of the band.  this is subtle, yet powerful.

-Grooving and then Soloing in a 5/4 meter.

-The impact and effect of Intro’s and Outro’s on the audience.

What is the future of music and what has changed for the better in the last ten years?

-Loads of teachers and institutions and younger students and bands:

Music tuition and performance is growing at a staggering rate and the average age for students to be exposed to music (learning or playing) is much younger than it was 10 years ago.

-Instructional DVD’s and Internet resources:

The Internet has revolutionized the abundance of information and exposure.  Information, tabs, courses and tutorial DVD’s are readily available to the musician who wishes to improve his level and standard. There is definitely an awareness of a higher standard set by musicians and audiences for performance and the product that musicians have to offer.

-Music Videos vs Albums:

Band’s have realized that music videos are having much more of a visual impact than just audio used to have.

-Exposure: There are more methods and forums available for exposure of new bands (e.g.Youtube and the internet)

-There are more collaborations in music across genres and age groups.

-The birth of the “Home Studio”: It’s way easier for most musicians to be able to at least use and grow comfortable with recording programs and equipment, than it was a couple of years ago. The technology is so much more accessible and intuitive.

-Interaction and acceptance at schools of music as a viable educational direction.

-The explosion of professional soundproof and well-equipped practice spaces.

What hasn’t changes in the last ten years?

-Musicians still set and demand poor standards of musicianship and professionalism from themselves and their management,

-Lack of ambition amongst professional musicians and no idea of longevity,

-No work ethic and/or vision among young musicians,

-Greedy club owners and festival administrators and/or promoters,

-Bad sound and bad sound engineers.

What has been your biggest personal discoveries/growth?

1) Working with a “Counting System”  I count all subdivisions all the time while playing, in time and following a metronome, so that if you make a mistake you can recover or improvise and link up with the groove in a musical way that other musicians will recognize and respond to.

2) Setting goals and continually challenging yourself and your creativity.

3) Exams, recitals and live performance are high intensity and taxing practice.  A 45-minute gig is the equivalent of 3 hours band practice. An hour of band practice is the equivalent of 4-6 hours of individual practice.

4) Having a routine practice regiment ensures steady and cumulative growth: Cycling an idea, following a metronome and counting the subdivisions (so you can feel the pulse versus every possible placement of that note) are hard but fantastic ways to practice.

5) Technique must find expression in emotion.

6) Creativity must become part of your writing process.

7) Playing through mistakes during live performance and searching for perfection during recordings, helps with confidence and fluidity of musicianship.

8) Developing a sense of phrasing: Listening to people soloing while being able to count the subdivisions along with the music, allows you to see when people start their lines, end their line, when they use rests, different lengths of notes and rests (silence) and when they use durations (lengths of notes ringing) in their phrases.

9) Dynamics in music.

10) Sing your phrasing, even if you can’t pitch.

11) Understanding harmony better to write deeper and richer textures into your music.

12) Singing backing vocals.

Give us a few of your Guilty Pleasures for the future?

If I am blessed with the time and energy, I would love to re-assemble Rendezvous for a few rehearsals, record a few new tracks and then to play the songs live again.  I have my aim set on completing between 17-20 tracks, before I release a debut album.

I am aiming at putting together a Jamiroquai Tribute show called “5 Mile Smile”, as well as putting together a

Ben Harper Tribute show during 2011-2012

I would also love to sit some French language exams…it’s such an intricate and expressive language.  Furthermore, I would be stoked about engaging in tracking and game ranging courses, to really get out deep into the “Real Africa”.

I would Love to tour France and Hawaii, even just as a bona fide Tourist!

 


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Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

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Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore

Interview With Bassist Edmond Gilmore…

I am always impressed by the few members of our bass family who are equally proficient on upright as well as electric bass… Edmond Gilmore is one of those special individuals.

While he compartmentalizes his upright playing for mostly classical music and his electric for all the rest, Edmond has a diverse musical background and life experiences that have given him a unique perspective.

Join me as we hear about Edmond’s musical journey, how he gets his sound and his plans for the future.

Photo, Sandrice Lee

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Billy The Kid: Tapping Into Sheehan’s Eternal Youth!

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Bassist Billy Sheehan

By David C. Gross & Tom Semioli 

BS: Billy Sheehan
DCG: David C. Gross
TS: Tom Semioli 

“When you find one door, open it up! It leads to another world…” 

William Roland Sheehan needs no introduction to bassists, nor hard rock aficionados – however such perfunctory salutations are required for the uninitiated. 

A virtuoso (tap, shred, effects maestro – you name it) who plies his craft in genres loosely termed as metal, prog-rock, and heavy-prog, Sheehan is actually a musical polymath. Though he’s most commonly associated with the numerous high-profile voltage enhanced ensembles he’s been an integral part of – namely Sons of Apollo, Talas, Winery Dogs, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, Greg Howe, Niacin, and Tony MacAlpine to cite a very few – Billy digs everything from classical to jazz to synth-pop to electronic to flamenco to Tuvan throat singing – and then some. All of which is reflected in his work on stage and in the studio – which incidentally, has been going strong for six decades and counting.

With age comes wisdom. We caught Billy in the midst of Mr. Big’s farewell sojourn with his signature Yamaha Attitude bass in his lap. Note that while we were setting up the Zoom connection – Billy was working scales and warming up despite the reality that there was no show scheduled that evening! Sheehan explains why said collective is taking its final bow. Not to worry, the Buffalo-born bassist has much more work to do. In fact, you could say that Billy’s just getting started. 

TS: Someone once sang “I hope I die before I get old…” Yet when we take a look around us at a few of your peers and heroes such as Tony Levin and Ron Carter just to name two– they’re going stronger than ever. Reflect on the young Billy Sheehan and the 21st Century Billy Sheehan. What’s changed? What is the same? 

BS: As you grow you become more focused. I don’t want to say that I’m more mature, because that has other implications! 

As a musician – and I think this is true with all artists – we maintain our 16-year-old sensibilities for life! It’s healthy to maintain a youthful exuberance.  I’m thankful that I still have it. Somehow that was built into me. 

I’m still excited about getting up in the morning and working on my bass playing every day. I’ll be driving in my car and a musical idea will suddenly hit me and I have to get home to pick up my instrument.

Perhaps it’s because we can devote more time to things at this point in our lives. Hopefully, we’re not running around trying to get our lives together and we have more stability. That can lead to a new personal Renaissance for the over 50s players. It’s a great time to be alive at my age. 

DCG: Do you think the snow in Buffalo helped you develop into a virtuoso player?

BS: Absolutely! (laughter) I remember the Blizzard of ’77! I couldn’t leave my house. The snow was up to my chest. I think we went something like 60 to 90 days with the temperature not getting above freezing. I had my little apartment, my little bass, my little heater – so what else could I do? 

I learned the Brandenburg Concertos on bass…well, not all of it, just chunks here and there. However, the adversity you get from your environment can be an advantage, like it was for me – I was isolated. I was on my own with no interruptions. Back then I was free – no kids, no girlfriend. I froze but I think it paid off! 

DCG: There is one bass tip you gave me – not personally, it was in an interview – regarding strap length. The advice was to simply grab a piece of leather, sit down the way you practice, put the leather on you, stand up, and that is the optimum position for your bass!  

BS: Of all the fancy stuff I’ve tried to show people I’ve received more response from the strap length than anything else. 

But it’s really important. I’m sitting here with my bass practicing. When I stand up to play live, I need it to be in the same place. You need to maintain the angles of your hands, fingers, and arms. If you get up to play and the bass is lower nothing seems to work. 

DCG: That’s because you’re not using the muscles you’ve developed during practice. However you do want to look cool on stage, and the low-slung bass is the ultimate rock star aesthetic.

BS: Right, which is why we should invent a strap with a button on it to instantly lower and raise the bass! (laughter)

Note: Billy proceeds to model different bass lengths – chest level for progressive rock, and under his chin for what Sheehan terms as ‘the jazz bowtie.” 

TS: You came to prominence in a decade known as the 1980s which to my ears was a golden era for bassists. Our instrument was able to adapt to the new technologies. The improvements in recording and pro audio allowed bass notes to be heard rather than a low rumble lost somewhere in the mix. 

BS: It was a great decade. There is a constant evolution going on. It goes from artist to artist. One artist hears somebody – let’s say Oscar Peterson hears Art Tatum – and suddenly we have this amazing confluence of both styles together. I learned from many of the players that came before me – it’s a long list – everybody imaginable – and some not. Consequently, I stood on their shoulders. 

Today there are people who are standing on my shoulders! There is a whole generation of players who are doing what we thought was impossible – or couldn’t even imagine. And that’s a great thing. We see that happen in all the arts.

In music, more than anything, we notice a significant ascension in skills. Some other art forms go off into abstractions whereas in music, there is a real technical, definable and quantifiable ability to play a string of notes in time, in tune, and righteously. That has gone way, way up to me. 

I have a huge collection of music. I often focus on one particular brand of music – for example: garage rock from the 1960s.  There is rarely a bass in tune! Not even close – sometimes a half step off! Why nobody noticed it, I’ll never know! 

As we progressed, it got much better – more in tune, in time. 

My first concert was Jimi Hendrix. I went to see him play and I got up close and took a few photos. That was as close as I ever got to him. Now on YouTube – you can see his fingerprints as he’s playing. You can see the iris in his eyes. You can watch and learn everything. I think that is a great advantage to a new generation of players. 

They are fortunate in ways that we never were in that there are amazing documents of the musicians that came before them. So now the shoulders are even wider to stand on! Before that the best we could do, as you guys know, is listen to a record and go ‘I think it’s this (Billy renders imaginary riff)! I’m not sure…’ We find out later that we were either right on the money or somewhere in between. 

TS: However, ‘getting it wrong’ sometimes develops your individual style. Even if I couldn’t get John Entwistle’s line perfectly, I came up with something else that is unique to me. 

BS: Very true! You had to improvise and try to figure out how they did it. As a result, we have the ability to play stylistically. And the mechanics can be wildly across the spectrum of innovation. 

I traveled to Japan years ago to participate in a huge bass clinic. There were 3000 people in the auditorium and about 10 players on stage. One bassist played this complicated piece that I had recorded. And he did it exactly, but his technique was nowhere near the way I played it. It was amazing and it taught me a lot. He took a left turn and still landed in the right place. Awesome! 

As you both know, there are a million factors that go into this.  There are many paths to express yourself, and to be the way you want to be. 

TS: Growing up in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s – we heard pop music on the radio with such extraordinary players as James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Louis Johnson, to name a few. Aside from metal, alternative, country, and funk – there hasn’t been a bass on hit tunes – even with such contemporary R&B artists such as Rhianna, Cardi B, and Beyonce – how do we get our instrument back into the mainstream? 

BS: I think it is cyclical. That sub-sonic, sub-harmonic pre-programmed thing – you know where they pump the bass line, or make a midi-file of it – is very popular now. And sonically – it is bassier! It’s more precise, and right on. 

That is the style that people’s ears are used to right now. They are also acclimated to auto-tune vocals. When they hear a natural vocal, which 99% of the time is not in perfect pitch, it throws them! Nowadays every note lands perfectly on that ProTools grid. The vocals are tuned to perfection, there is not a slightly flat or slightly sharp note to be found. 

I think the pendulum will swing back at some point. People are going to want to hear more humanity. They gravitate to something slightly out of time or out of tune which gives the music authenticity. Like taking a breath – we all do not inhale and exhale at the same rate. Our hearts do not beat at the same rate! I believe that there is an analogy there for music as well.

At present, we are in the perfection stage. There is beauty to that too. I don’t put it down. There’s not much about music that I do not like. Millions of love this type of music, and I acknowledge it. Who am I to say? There are a lot of cool things to think about. Especially in electronic music that was coming out in the 80s and 90s – artists such as Prodigy, Fat Boy Slim.

DCG: Yes, it was very experimental. 

BS: I loved that right away. There was a Stacey Q song ‘Love of Hearts’ with the coolest synth bass part. I remember sitting down and my challenge to myself was to work that out on a bass guitar. I tried to play it as rock solid as the programmed track. Sometimes it’s good to go with ‘man vs. machine!’ and try to match up to that studio perfection. And that goes for any musician, not just a bass player. You have to push yourself in different directions. When you find one door, open it up! It leads to another world… 

DCG: The older we get the more we appreciate things, and even in new music -which may not speak to us per se – there is something to be learned. For example, Justin Timberlake commented that he commences the songwriting process with beats as opposed to traditional chord changes and melodies – which is how our generation hears music. 

BS: This is true. And when I was young, I remember the older generation saying ‘What is this Jimi Hendrix stuff you’re listening to, it’s not music!’ 

And now I see a lot of young folks at our shows – especially Winery Dogs and Sons of Apollo – so there is somewhat of a generational hand-off going on today. 

My mom was big into the standard singers of her era; Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, and similar artists. I am big into Sinatra!

DCG: What is your favorite Sinatra record?

BS: That would be Live at The Sands! Of course!

DCG: Mine is Frank Sinatra Sings for Only The Lonely. 

BS: That’s a good one! Live at The Sands is a compilation of five shows. It is a collection of the best parts of five nights…

DCG: Quincy Jones did the arrangements! 

BS: Right! I found recordings of all the other shows! That’s the nature of my collection. I always search out the impossible. I also have the rehearsals for Jimi’s Band of Gypsys before they ever performed. It’s amazing to hear different versions of those songs. 

Getting back to your comment on the components of music from this generation to the previous ones– I think it’s harder to go from the standard verse-chorus-bridge to a flat beat and vocalizations without any real pitch. That is a big jump. 

Yesterday I was discussing the chord changes in Beatles songs with a colleague of mine. For me, the greatest song ever written is The Beatles ‘If I Fell.’ How elaborate they were. I remember learning Everly Brothers songs on guitar and then the Beatles came out and it changed everything. I recall thinking ‘How does this even work?’ That was a jump back then, now what is happening is an even bigger jump because there were still harmonic relations between new and older music. 

But that does not mean that the new way of doing things for some artists cannot be crossed over.  Again, I appreciated a lot of new stuff. The computer-generated stuff, I’m not crazy about it because many of my friends are musicians and I like to hear them playing instead of programming. Yet there is a real beauty to electronic music. 

I was way into Wendy Carlos (composer/recording artist who was a 1960s electronic music pioneer and worked with Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer) back in the day. There was a great record by Mark Hankinson entitled The Unusual Classical Synthesizer (1972). I love the work of Japanese synthesist (Isao) Tomita – he wasn’t doing rhythmic Bach and Beethoven – he was doing Debussy on synthesizer which was mind-blowing to me. His record of Debussy Snowflakes Are Dancing (1974) – is full of lilting, emotional pads and colors. Just incredible. 

I’m also a big fan of world music – though that is a title that is too often misused. Bulgarian choir music intrigues me.

DCG: How about the Tuvan throat singers…

BS: Oh yeah, that is not human! Unbelievable. And they’re all in a room singing… I am also a huge fan of Indian music especially violinist L. Shankar whom Frank Zappa referred to as the best musician he ever knew. 

And it’s all available now…

TS:  You bring up the topic of streaming music – and a question to all the artists David and I speak with. Given the nature of the platform, which is song-oriented, is the album format still relevant today? 

BS: To some of us, the format is still relevant. When I’m on tour we sell lots of vinyl. The 1985 Talas record came out on vinyl and we have a hard time keeping up with it. The pressing plants are backed up from six months to a year in some instances. 

I saw one columnist comment that he didn’t know if people were actually playing the records as much as they enjoyed holding them in their hands! 

Who knows, there may be a time when the grid goes down and everyone is going to have to get their bicycle out, or their generator and get a turntable going again! 

DCG: Tom, how do you make a musician complain? 

TS: Give him a gig!

(laughter) 

BS: That’s true! The internet has brought on the age of complaining…

TS: Musicians complained that the record labels were unfair gatekeepers. When MTV came along – a platform that gave massive exposure to scores of artists – yourself included; musicians once again complained that it favored only the visuals as opposed to the music. Now with digital technology, musicians can go directly to the consumer. 

BS: For lack of a better word, things are more ‘democratic’ now. You can accelerate your promotion. For example, I am on a laptop now and I can record an entire symphony orchestra and do the movie soundtrack along with it. Then I can go online and sell it. That has leveled the playing field quite a bit. Before, you could only do that if you had a big budget – you’d have to hire a studio, engineers – it was cost-prohibitive in many instances. You can even do it on an iPhone! 

So, to me, that’s a good thing. 

I’ve heard of this parallel with this, perhaps you will concur with me; when desktop publishing first came out the reaction was ‘Oh no, there will be so many amazing books we won’t know what to do anymore!’ However, the same number of books still made it to the top of the list – despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people writing via desktop publishing. 

And I think the same situation exists with music. Despite the population of the world making music, there is still going to be stuff that gravitates to the top. So, I don’t think it is so wildly different from when there were gatekeepers as you say. 

So that’s a good thing. You can be one click away from a billion listeners. That is amazing. The bad thing is, so are a million other people! 

DCG: As I said to Tom yesterday, in 100 years, I don’t think people will be reading. 

BS: I agree, and that it sad to see. Because similar to music, you can use your imagination. There is a fantastic book entitled This Is Your Brain on Music (written by neuroscientist Daniel Joseph Levitin, first published in 2006) – and I had a conversation by email with the author. 

The creativity that you must have in your mind when you’re reading a book – if a passage reads ‘snow is falling, smoke is coming from the chimneys…’ you can see it and smell it in your mind. You create a cinematic scenario. Whereas in a movie, it’s all spoon-fed to you. 

TS: The latest kerfuffle in the music business in 2024 is the use of artificial intelligence. What say you of AI?

BS: I am a purist in a lot of ways. When people ask me for advice about getting into the music business I tell them three things: 

1. Get in a band. 

2. Get in a band with songs… 

3. Get in a band with songs that you sing!

Run the numbers of every bass player, every guitar player and so forth and those three steps are the most successful. AI does not necessarily fit in with that. I have yet to wrap my head around AI to have a solid opinion about it.  In general, I am leaning towards humans, humanity, and people thinking up things. 

People thought up AI, it didn’t think up itself. And it’s all on a computer which is made by humans! I see the urge to create a robot world where everything is done by robots. But unless somebody programs it…it ain’t gonna happen. So there is that human element that is still essential.

Until we get robots that can program, then they’ll be some self-replicating, and then we’ll wind up with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator of some sort!  That could happen. Science fiction has predicted many things that came to be! 

I prefer the Everly Brothers to AI. If and when the whole world goes to hell, we can still sit around a campfire with a guitar and sing songs. 

TS: Let’s talk bass for a change. David and I have a credo that states ‘it’s not a real bass until you drill holes in it.’ David now favors custom instruments, though he still loves to tear up a perfectly good bass and rebuild it in his own image every now and then. I prefer to modify my Fender basses. What was your original inspiration to create the legendary ‘wife’ and other basses? 

BS: For me, the Fender Precision bass is the bass. Ninety-nine percent of everything has been done on that instrument or some variation thereof. 

This (Billy holds aloft his Yamaha Attitude bass) is very P bass-ish. When Yamaha contacted me to make a bass and endorse their instrument – Fender was at a low point. They were changing ownership, there were shifts going on in the company, and their instruments weren’t that great. I’m going to say that was the mid-1980s.

Yamaha came along with quality control second to none in my opinion. I am glad went with them and I will always be with them. 

The P bass is undeniable. Before my first P bass came into the store – that was Art Kubera’s Music Store on Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo, New York – they let me take home an Epiphone Rivoli bass – or the Gibson version of that, which had the big, fat chrome pick-up right here beneath the base of the neck.  It had a super deep low-end resonance. 

I played for a few days, and when my bass came in I played it and it sounded great but it was missing that sound from the Rivoli. It was a super deep low sound like I’d heard on ‘Rain’ by The Beatles – which may have been Paul’s Rickenbacker or Hofner. 

Notes From An Artist Notes: Paul’s aforementioned instruments both featured pick-ups beneath the base of the neck and body! 

Paul Samwell-Smith of The Yardbirds, who used an Epiphone Rivoli – was a big inspiration to me and he had that deep sound.  

I loved the P bass but I wanted those sounds so I figured ‘Hey, I’ve got all this space right here, why don’t I dig a hole and put a pick-up in there!’ I didn’t know how to wire it, so I made two outputs and ran it into two channels of my amplifier. We’re talking 1970…1971. When dinosaurs roamed the earth!

Then I got a second amp – one was for all the harmonics and high-end content and then the super low deep end on the other. That really helped me in a three-piece band. We didn’t have a keyboard or rhythm guitar, so I had something that sounded guitar-ish and keyboard-ish but there was always bass underneath it. I never lost that low end. And that is basically the formula I stuck with. 

Then I found out later on – of course, I did not invent it, I came up with it on my own – all the others did too, that all the early Alembic basses had duel outputs for each pickup. Rickenbacker’s Rick-O-Sound had both pickups going to two places. 

I’d read that John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin took his Fender Jazz bass and split the pick-ups into two amps. John Entwistle did stuff like that as well. Chuck Burghofer,  who played the iconic bass part to the Barney Miller show theme song had a Gibson EB-0 pick-up on his Precision bass! A lot of players used that for the same solution to the same problem. 

If you really want to extend the low end – that neck pick-up is really where it is at. And that’s how I got to where I am on my Attitude bass. The Attitude neck is modeled after a 1968 Fender Telecaster bass – it’s a big fat baseball bat! It’s meaty with a lot of sustain. And that’s my story sad but true! (laughter)

TS: The great Mel Schacher of Grand Funk Railroad modded out his Fender Jazz with an EB-1 pickup at the neck – that’s how he attained his signature tone. 

BS: One of my favorite players!

TS: Since our show commenced three years ago as The Bass Guitar Channel David and I have debated the merits of the extended-range bass. You’ve always been a four-string guy. I last saw you with Sons of Apollo with a double neck bass – with both in four-string configurations. 

David and I spoke with Jerry Jemmott, the legendary bassist who, as you know, was a great influence on Jaco Pastorius. He maintains that Jaco would have continued with the four-string had he lived to see the advancements in extended-range five and six-string instruments. He also stresses that it was the limitations of the four-string that were a major factor in Jaco’s style – it prompted him to be more creative within those so-called restrictions.  Your thoughts?  

BS: I’ve already got enough death threats from five and six-string players! (laughter) 

I refer to the five-string bass as a ‘flinch.’ You have a guy sitting at home playing a four-string, it’s not really working out for him. He’s not playing in a good band… he’s not happening. So he thinks ‘I’ll go to five-strings!’ 

DCG: Oh Jesus!!!! C’mon Billy…

BS: Well, that’s really not a true blanket statement… (laughter)

Really, if you want to play five-string, God bless you, go for it! Go for however many strings you want.

When I posted my double-neck on social media, there was a ton of vitriol! Hostility! Attacks! I got feedback such as ‘You should play a five-string, that’s just wasteful!’ 

Hold on, I played a double-neck for a lot of different reasons. First of all, they are tuned differently. On the Mr. Big tour, we had to lower the keys on many songs. We’re not like we used to be vocally. Some of our songs are a whole step lower – so I’d have to switch basses, which would interrupt the flow of the performance. With the double-neck, I have every tuning I need right here. 

It seems like nobody could figure that out, especially the five-string. The double-neck is a fantastic instrument, it feels good, and it’s perfectly balanced for me. Standard tuning on the top neck, BEAD on the bottom. All my notes are where I want them to be. 

I agree with Jerry, I think Jaco would have stuck with the four-string. Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen played four strings. Monk Montgomery… There really is no limitation on a four-string. 

I can bend my Attitude on the G string to a high G. I can go really low with my de-tuner. I can bend the low D to a low B! So I have almost the same range as a lot of extended ranges basses right here.

I remember being in a band with Steve Vai and I had one low B note in one song, so I simply hit the de-tuner! Where there is a will there is a way! 

If you want to play a 90-string bass, I’m with you! The insistence that we all have to play the same bass with the same tone with the same everything – and if you don’t – you’re out of the club! I can’t hang with that. 

TS: You’ve collaborated with so many virtuoso guitarists – Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine, Ritchie Kotzen, Paul Gilbert, and Michael Schenker to select a scant few. Who are the players, past or present, whom you would like to work with the most? 

PS: Sadly we lost that guitar player, and I don’t think I am qualified either: Paco de Lucia! He was tops on my list. Also I have to add John McLaughlin to the list. I am a huge Mahavishnu Orchestra fan. I am a big Billy Cobham fan too.

You mention guitar players, but I am more of a ‘drummer’ guy! I got to see Cobham in Dreams before the Mahavishnu Orchestra with the Brecker Brothers on horns for $1.50 at the University of Buffalo. He blew my mind! 

I love Dennis Chambers. Playing with him changed my life. 

DCG: Tell us how you approach working with guitar heroes.

BS: I like to work ‘with’ guitarists. I do what they need to have done. In the past when I played with Steve Vai, I removed myself from the equation. My approach was ‘What does Steve want? What does he need?’ In some ways, it takes the burden off me to be continuously creative. I strive to play accurately and righteously and make him happy. I don’t want him to even think of the bass while he is doing his thing. 

He is free and I am providing that big foundation – think of it as 18 inches of steel-reinforced concrete! With Paul Gilbert in Mr. Big, I always make sure there are big fat notes underneath him while he is soloing and I get the heck out of his way! I want to hear him too!

Bass is primarily a supportive instrument. Most anybody will agree to that I believe. The instrument does its own things too; sometimes its really woven into improvisation, sometimes it’s the foundation.

The problem I have with some guitarists is that if I move harmonically – they get thrown off because they cannot play over changes. Even if I am in the key of E minor, if I do some movement in the key other than the root, they are completely lost. I tell them not to worry, we are still in the same key! 

If you listen to Bach, what he does in the left-hand affects the sound of the right hand. The moving notes create intriguing counterpoint which are essential components of music and harmony. 

Depending on the guitarist, I’ll move around all over the place. Within reason of course! I give them the option to go where they want to go, and not to work because I’ll follow you! I will instinctively get out of the way when you need me to. Lock in with the drummer and I’ll jump in when it’s time. This way we create an interchange – an improvisation. Again, think Bach with the left hand and the right hand. You hit one note, you hit another, and something changes! That is harmony. It creates a third tone in a way.

When you can do that as a bass player it leads to more harmonic complexity in a good way. 

That’s not to say that Cliff Williams in AC/DC isn’t a genius. He’s pounding that beautiful open E string while Angus is doing his thing and it is glorious. Amazing. Same thing with Ian Hill of Judas Priest – he holds the whole band together. 

TS: And on the topic of drummers, Michael Portnoy and you have two remarkable bands that are completely different: the prog-rock collective of Sons of Apollo, and the blues-based Winery Dogs. 

BS: Winery Dogs is straight-up rock with a lot of improvisational stuff. Sons of Apollo is more of a progressive arranged style – the parts are the same – they are written into the song, much like classical music. As you can hear, there is not as much free form moving in Sons of Apollo. 

Sometimes I have this ESP thing going on with drummers. I remember one time I was setting up in a little club to do a jam and drummer Ray Luzier of Korn – we are dear friends and have a production company together – I had my back to him and I was plugging in my little amp. The lights were down and while we were playing Ray just hit his bass drum – boom!  at the exact moment when I hit my E string – boom! We spun around and looked at each other and said to each other ‘how did you know!’ (laughter)

When a drummer goes chicka-ta-ba-ba-do-bop, I play chicka-ta-ba-ba-do-bop! You can really incorporate motion in the bass into a useable, uncluttered thing if you are really locked in with the drummer. That’s something I tell young players all the time. 

Start on the bass drum – when the drummer hits the kick – the bass player hits a note. Same with the accents. Then later on if you want to do it you can play lower and higher octaves with the bass and snare drum – ala The Knack on their hit ‘My Sharona.’ There are so many hits constructed on that way of doing things: ‘Gimmie Some Lovin’ by Spencer Davis – there are many examples.

If you want to get adventurous you play along with the tom-tom fills! That’s my thing. I build my basslines more on drums than guitars. 

TS: Moving from Sons of Apollo to Winery Dogs is just another day at the office for you…

BS: Fortunately, I grew up in a time where my bands’ setlists were wild. Like everyone else, I started off in copy bands. My groups played everything from The Tubes –‘White Punks on Dope,’ to King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man,’ to Three Dog Night’s ‘Joy to the World,’ to Grand Funk Railroad…all this diverse stuff. A broad array of styles. 

When you’re playing in a bar band, you never know who is coming through the door. Some audiences like to hear complex music, other audiences want to sing along with ‘Jeremiah was a bullfrog… was a good friend of mine!’ 

It was good training for me to get in a situation where I could jump from genre to genre – somewhat convincingly I hope – and still manage to stay on my feet.

TS: Playing Top-40 was a boot camp experience for me as well. We had our disco set, slow dance set, dinner standards set… how is Mr. Big doing on your 2024 farewell tour.

BS: We’re doing great, we’re selling out venues, the feedback has been fantastic. We’re having a ball. And it’s a real farewell tour too – not a fake farewell tour! (laughter)

We want to cross over the finish line standing up rather than crawl over it with a walker and an oxygen mask with backup singers and running tracks! We are still actually singing and playing! I’ll be 71 next month (March 2024) – I am the oldest in the band. Not everyone ages the same, it can be difficult to get up there for a two-hour show. 

DCG: Doesn’t it strike you as funny when you go from being the youngest member of the band to being the oldest?  (laughter) 

BS: My timeline has shifted! I feel great. I still feel like I’m 16. I recall that after the pandemic when I first went out with the Winery Dogs, I felt like an MMA fighter! Get me in the octagon, let’s go! I was dying to play, and we hit it hard. Then I went back to Mr. Big, then back to Winery Dogs again… twice to Japan…two or three times to South America… all within the span of a year. 

I’m still ready to go, it’s all good!   

Note: Our complete conversation with Billy Sheehan will be available in an upcoming book: Good Question! Notes From An Artist Interviews… by David C. Gross & Tom Semioli www.NotesFromAnArtist.com 

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Bass Videos

Interview With K3 Sisters Band

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Interview With K3 Sisters Band

K3 Sisters Band Interview…

It is very rare when I talk to a band where all the members play bass. The K3 Sisters Band is a perfect example of a group where Kaylen, Kelsey and Kristen Kassab are all multi-instrumentalists and take turns playing bass.

Hailing from Texas, these three sisters have been playing music since they were very young and have amassed an amazing amount of original music,  music videos, streaming concerts, podcasts, and content that has taken numerous social media platforms by storm. On TikTok alone, they have over 2.5 million followers and more than a billion views.

Join me as we hear the story of their musical journey, how they get their sound, and the fundamental principles behind these prolific musicians.

Here is the K3 Sisters Band!

Photo, Bruce Ray Productions

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TikTok
YouTube
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Bass Videos

Interview With Bassist Danielle Nicole

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Interview With Bassist Danielle Nicole

Bassist Danielle Nicole…

Blues music has universal appeal. We all have our ups and downs and this particular musical genre often fits our reality. Just hearing that we are not alone makes us feel a bit better. 

Danielle Nicole writes and sings the Blues. She does an amazing job at delivering both exquisite smoky vocals but plays just the right bass line to drive the tune home. Danielle recently released “The Love You Bleed” last January and will be touring the album this upcoming year.

Join me as we learn about Danielle’s musical journey, how she gets her sound, her plans for the future and more.

Follow Online

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IG @daniellenicoleband
youtube.com/daniellenicoleband

Photo, Missy Faulkner

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Bergantino Welcomes Karina Rykman to Their Family of Artists

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Bergantino Welcomes Karina Rykman to Their Family of Artists

Interview with Karina Rykman…

Karina Rykman…The high-energy bassist discusses her path on bass, her upcoming tour, how she came to find Bergantino through another Bergantino artist, and more!

A lifelong Manhattanite diehard New Yorker, Bergantino welcomes new Artist Karina Rykman. Jim and Holly had the privilege of meeting Karina and her band in Boston to see her perform. She lights up a stage with her charismatic passion as a bass player and singer – a true powerhouse of joy and energy. On stage, she smiles from ear to ear, hopping, jumping, and dancing; the entire room overflowing with positivity! If you don’t know this titan of bass yet, you will soon enough. Karina’s JOYRIDE 2024 tour picks up this month with the debut of her new album. We had the opportunity to ask Karina some questions about her career so far. 

You have quite the career that began at a very young age. You have so much going on!! Can you share some of your musical path highlights you are most proud of?

Oh man, thank you! What a long, strange trip it’s been. I’m proud of still being so absolutely enthralled by music after playing in a million bands and finally ending up at this current juncture: being able to make my own music and tour under my own name. It just seems completely surreal – every gig, every recording…I’m on cloud 9 being able to continue to do this, and we’re just getting started. I’m extremely proud of being so young and being able to learn so much from Marco Benevento, without whom I’d be absolutely nowhere. Being put up to a large task with enormous shoes to fill, and stepping in even though I barely knew what I was doing at the time. Every gig with Marco is extremely special to me. 

Tell us about your new album release Joyride and your 2024 tour.

Joyride is my debut record! It came out in August 2023, and we’ve been touring behind it nonstop ever since. You only make your first record once, and I’m so proud of this one – it’s fun, searing, lush, with chantable choruses and, of course, incredibly thick bass and infectious grooves. It was produced by Phish’s Trey Anastasio, who also contributes guitar parts to 5 of the 9 tunes. 

What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate towards it?

There’s nothing quite like feeling the subs rumbling under your feet in a venue and being responsible for those sounds is thrilling. I played guitar first, at age 12, but essentially completely switched over to bass when I was 22 and got the gig playing bass with Marco Benevento. I haven’t looked back since, except for a few gigs on guitar here and there (notably in the house band on Late Night with Seth Meyers and on The Today Show backing up Julia Michaels). 

People hate this question, but: If you were constructing your personal Bass Mt. Rushmore, who are the four players that would make the cut and why?

Geddy Lee, Cliff Burton, Bootsy Collins, Les Claypool. The list goes on and on, of course, but those four have imprinted their unique styles upon my brain since I was so young, and I’m perpetually learning from them – even in the case of the deceased Cliff (RIP), going back and watching Cliff ‘Em All videos is something I do all the time. Endlessly compelled by these four players and their original takes on the instrument.

How did you learn to play?

I never took lessons, but in middle school and high school, I just surrounded myself with equally music-obsessed people. All we did was play music and go and see live music, which is wildly accessible when you grow up in New York City. I had a really tight-knit crew of amazing players as my friends, and everyone would teach each other riffs and licks. I was fearless – playing with people much better than me and saying “yes” to every cool opportunity that came my way. I essentially learned from playing in a million bands and playing along to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin records. 

Are there any other instruments you play?

I started on guitar, and still love to write on guitar. I can get around on keyboards a bit, but you’d never hire me as a keyboardist. The same goes for drums – I LOVE playing drums but you’d never hire me as a drummer. 

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.

I play both with a pick and my fingers, depending on the specific needs of / vibe of the tune. I love playing fuzz bass and writing bombastic “lead bass” moments, which are a staple of my live show. I’d say I’m about the least “traditional” bassist in just about every way – which is both a strength and a weakness depending on how you frame it. I play what I hear, what I like, and I adhere to very few rules. I’ve always hated rules, and I didn’t start playing rock n roll to follow them. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio Systems?

I’m pals with Mike Gordon, bassist of Phish, and his tech is named Ed Grasmeyer. Ed suggested he bring Mike’s Bergantino for me to try out at a show I was playing in Vermont, and I fell instantly in love. 

You have been using the Bergantino Forté HP2 head. How have you been setting the controls on this and what changes to those settings might you make as you plug into your other individual instruments?

I love my Forté HP2! The versatility and headroom are incredible, and I’ve been having a lot of fun dialing it in at home. The real fun will begin this weekend when I take it out for 2.5 weeks of tour – dialing something in an apartment just isn’t the same as on a big stage with a PA and subs and all that good stuff. I like to roll my highs a bit and I keep “punch” on all the time. So far, it’s been a dream.

You are the inspiration behind Bergantino cab the new NXT410-C. Can you tell us more about this cab and your experience so far?

Firstly, I’m beyond touched to be the inspiration behind, well…anything! But this is truly insane, and such an honor. I love this cab. Not only is it light and extremely good-looking, it can handle all my loudest, most abrasive and obnoxious effects. My old amp didn’t come close, and could just fart out or I’d have to turn down to appease it. I’m a big fan of playing at earth-shattering volumes, so this is going to be a match made in heaven. 

We all love your custom-made Goldie Hawn bass guitar! Can you share more with us about this bass design and why it is so special to you?

Thanks! That’s made by “Zeke Guitars” – it’s the second custom bass he’s made for me! He reached out in the summer of 2019 and asked what my dream bass would be, and I said it was basically my 1978 Fender P-Bass, but lighter, whiter, with Lindy Fralins, gold hardware, and shorter scale. And, well..he did exactly that! I love that bass so much. And the gold, which is referred to as Goldie Hawn, was born in December of 2022, and has the same specs. I just love it, it sounds amazing and looks, arguably, even better. 

Jim and I were lucky to get to meet you in person when you came to Boston with the band. The members of the band are such a great group of people! Can you share more with all about the band and crew. 

I’m so lucky to keep such incredible company. My bandmates, Adam November and Chris Corsico, are not only unbelievable musicians but also incredible humans. We just laugh and laugh, and we’re there for each other when the road gets tough or we’re exhausted or whatever life throws at us. It’s the joy of my life to get to tour the world with these guys. And the crew! That night was Connor Milton on sound and Nick Koski on lights – we have a rotating cast of people who play those roles based on availability, and everyone who works for us are absolute consummate professionals and the sweetest humans. They are my team of experts and I just adore them so much. Shout out to Zach Rosenberg, Jeff Volckhausen, Dylan Hinds, Dom Chang, for being the best rotating crew a gal could ask for!  

What else do you do besides music? 

Not much! I love going to the beach! I love eating dinner! 

Because I am a foodie, I always ask people what their favorite food is!

Oysters, caviar, sushi. I’m a raw bar fanatic. 

At a very young age, Karina is a diligent hard worker. She juggles many balls managing her business and is savvy beyond her years. We are very happy to be working with Karina and are excited for her continued success!

Follow Karina Rykman:

Instagram: @karinarykman
X (formerly Twitter): @KarinaRykman
Facebook @karinarykman/

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