Freekbass. Have you heard of him? He has worked with everyone from Bootsy Collins to Phish’s Mike Gordon. On Saturday, he’ll be bringing his band to The Opera House in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a 9 p.m. performance. We recently caught up with him via email to talk about his childhood obsession with magic, the rich musical history that his hometown, Cincinnati, has, and his latest instructional DVD, “Funktronic Groove Construction with Freekbass & DJ Logic.”
What initially drew you to the bass?
A jazz band from Oberlin College, from Northern Ohio, came to our school for an assembly concert when I was in sixth grade. I sat directly in front of the bass player. When I heard the tones and deep sounds coming from the instrument, I felt drawn to it. I was already playing drums, and with the bass I felt like I could be a drummer that plays notes. That is still the way I kind of think today. I feel like I am creating beats on my bass.
And conversely, what has made you stick with it through the years?
I play other instruments, too. Drums, as I mentioned. Guitar. Little bit of keys. But bass is the instrument that doesn’t feel like I am playing, but more like I am speaking. As crazy as life can get, it is the one thing that always makes sense to me.
Did you ever want to master another instrument? Why or why not? And if you have, which one would it be?
At one time, I thought I would grow up and be a full time drummer. I still always feel very connected to drums and the drum world. So, if not bass, that would probably be my main instrument. Although, I would love to be a concert pianist, too.
Have you been to The Opera House in Shepherdstown before? If so, what’s your impression of it? If not, what are you looking forward to the most?
I have not, but have heard great things. It always is a deep one saying you are playing at an Opera House. I look forward to seeing the layout of the spot, the dynamics of the stage, and hearing what the acoustics are like.
You’re from Cincinnati. Can you tell us about a few musicians who we might not already know about here in Maryland/West Virginia?
Well, Cincinnati has a very rich musical history, especially in the funk world. James Brown recorded a good chunk of his early hits in Cincinnati at Kings Records. So, the late ‘60s/early ‘70s Cincy had James Brown working there and creating his sound. In the ‘70s, you had funk legend Bootsy Collins, who put his name on the map by playing with Mr. Brown out of Cincinnati. Up the road just a few minutes in Dayton, you had bands such as the Ohio Players and Zapp. In the ‘80s there was Midnight Star and The Deele, which featured Babyface. So there has always been this strong tradition of funk/R&B in the area. Being a bassist, those sounds are the ones I felt connected to.
You’ve worked with some incredible people through the years. Do you have any favorite collaborators/musicians you really connect with? If so, is there a story you could share about working with them?
I have been very lucky and blessed to get to work with some very talented people, so it is hard to pin it down to one. But I would say working with Bootsy was definitely a big stepping stone in my musical life. I remember going over to his studio for the first time, and I thought “wow, I am going to learn all of these really cool bass tricks and techniques.” But when I got there, he showed me how to record and write in the studio versus playing live. I learned how to make albums and produce songs from him. It put me on such a positive journey when I was just starting out. Bootsy comes from the “teach a man to fish” school of thought. I will always be very grateful for this experience.
Your website says you originally wanted to be a magician. What’s up with that? Any interest in one day picking magic back up?
I was always fascinated as a child with the illusion part of being a magician. In a way, being a musician is similar, I think. We are trying to take the listener or concert-goer to a different place like a magician would do. Plus, I loved that top hat. I will have to levitate my bass onstage one of these days soon. Can you describe the difference between performing onstage as part of a band and giving clinics around the world like you do? Do you prefer one over the other? Which one and why? I love both, and each is a different animal. While you are using a lot of the same techniques on your instrument for both, with the clinic you are doing a lot of explaining step-by-step of those techniques, and talking about how your musical journey got you to where you are. With live playing, it is more of an escape and flight you take with the concert-goer. They become as much of the part of the music as you are. Plus I am playing with other musicians onstage, where with the clinics, they are usually just me giving a class. It’s very apples-versus-oranges.
What are some of your career’s favorite, most accomplished memories so far?
Wow, that’s a tough one. Meeting and working with Bootsy definitely felt very special and opened doors for me. Also, I really enjoyed working and recording with Mike Gordon from Phish for my album “Junkyard Waltz” a few years ago. We wrote together in the studio, and it was great to see how another bassist/writer’s mind works when putting music and lyrics together. The same with funk legend Bernie Worrell. He came and stayed at my house for a few days while we wrote and recorded together. The word ”genius” can be overused, but Bernie is definitely in that category. You just try and be as much of a sponge as you can in those situations.
Who were some of your biggest influences and why?
David Bowie is a big one. Besides being a huge fan of his songwriting, the way he would reinvent himself with each album, especially during the ‘70s, is fascinating and inspiring. And it is amazing that many of his tunes, which delve into the avant-garde, managed to break on pop radio. Also, I would have to say Dr. Dre. His songs, grooves, and sonics that he creates have always be an influence on how I play and write. When I was a kid, I used to put on my bass and play along with “Doggystyle” by Snoop for hours and days at a time.
What does 2015 hold for Freekbass?
I just finished a new instructional DVD/Download for the company TrueFire.com out of Florida. DJ Logic and I did it together. It is called “Funktronic Groove Construction with Freekbass & DJ Logic.” It should be released sometime during the summer. Also, I just signed with Ropeadope Records for the next album. They have a great roster of artists such as Snarky Puppy and Col. Bruce Hampton, and have released albums by folks such as Charlie Hunter, Marco Benevento and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I grew up listening to artists and music on Ropeadope so it is a big honor to be a part of that family of artists now. They are going to be releasing my next release in the early fall.
And finally, what can we expect from your show at The Opera House?
Me and the fellas are very excited to play at The Opera House for the first time. Expect lots of energy, lots of dancing, lots of groove, and maybe a little bit of that magic.