Friday, June 18, 2010

Julie Slick Talks About Her New Album, Her Music & Playing the Bass

Julie Slick is a much-in-demand bassist and stylist of importance in the advanced rock worlds out there. She has been working as a member of Adrian Belew's power trio among other things. Her debut album (Julie Slick) just came out and it's a stunner. We'll be reviewing it in a few days but today I post a most interesting conversation we had via e-mail concerning her music and the making of the album.

GREGO EDWARDS: What brought you to take up the bass guitar? Did you have any model players that inspired you?

JULIE SLICK: My whole family is comprised of musicians and music lovers. My grandfather played trombone in many great jazz bands (including Buddy RIch's and Billie Holiday's) and my dad collects vintage guitars - we have over 30 in our quaint Philly row house. My brother Eric was always a drummer, so growing up, I'd just pick one of his awesome axes up and mess around.... Eventually one day (when I was 11) I picked up his fretless Gibson Ripper and thought to myself "Hmm, I don't have to learn chords, or solo, and I can just hide in the background..." I was a really shy kid, and it was the first time Eric would allow me to jam with him and his friends. My parents also collect vinyl records, so once I started to get serious about playing bass, my Dad would play me the music of some of his favorite bass players - Jack Bruce, Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, Stanley Clarke, John Wetton, Greg Lake... the list goes on...

GREGO: You’ve played with an impressive assortment of alt/prog masters. Was it a matter of one set of associations leading to another or a kind of musical logic based on what you yourself heard in your mind’s eye? Or both?

JULIE: Hmm. . . well, coming up through the School of Rock, I got to meet and play with Ann Wilson, Alice Cooper, Stuart Copeland, Eddie Vedder, Napolean Murphy Brock, and Ike Willis, among others - it was amazing! Two years passed and I was going to Drexel University (for their new Music Industry program), when one day I got a call from Paul Green (the founder of the school) and he asked me "How are your chops? I'd like for you to fly down to Nashville next week and audition to be in Adrian Belew's new power trio." I was stunned - I had been such a HUGE fan of Ade's growing up. I even bought my first serious condenser mic - a Shure KSM32 - because he endorsed it in their ads. Obviously touring with a luminary like him, I got to meet and perform with a lot of incredible artists like Pat Mastelotto, Tony Levin, Robert Fripp, Bela Fleck, Umphree's Magee, Les Claypool... I know - I am unbelievably lucky!

GREGO: Do you keep your chops up with a regular practice routine or is it a matter of just playing as much as you can?

JULIE: I pretty much play every day, from anywhere to ten minutes to several hours. Sometimes I'll practice one of Adrian's songs, or a Zappa riff to keep my chops up, and other times I just improvise. There are days where I don't play at all though, just to remove myself from any routines I'm getting into. I like to think it keeps my ideas fresh. Or I could just be more in the mood to cook that day, haha!

GREGO: Haha! Food is good, to paraphrase the (Young) Frankenstein movie. Your first album is a keeper! Is it a kind of first step, a culmination of where you’ve been and where you are now?

JULIE: Thanks!!! I recorded as I wrote, using Logic and my Roland VB-99 as tools to compose. I'd come up with an idea, track it, and build it up from there. So I suppose it's more of a collection of my influences - bassists, composers, and producers. I wanted to make a cool-sounding album that could be easily digested, not just a self-indulgent frenzy of bass chops. Of course I love progressive music, so obviously the compositions have that quality to them, but I also enjoy electronic and simple pop-rock, so I think one can hear those impressions on my style as well.

GREGO: Your bass sounds great on the tracks. Did you mostly record by miking off your amps or was some of it recorded direct to the console?

JULIE: Actually I have a really awesome old Ampeg B15 - but it was getting repaired when I was making the album, so I just put the bass directly into my Keeley compressor and Sebatron VMP-4000. I had all of these intentions to re-record or re-amp my direct tracks, but I often mix as I record, and the process went pretty quickly, so once the amp was ready, I was pretty much already finished and satisfied with the sounds!

GREGO: How did you come to use such a varied grouping of musicians from piece to piece? Did each combination suggest itself via a sound you were after?

JULIE: Well after writing the first couple of songs, I realized I needed real drums desperately on certain tracks - others I could get away with just using Logic's Ultrabeat. So I wrote to Marco Minnemann, and he sent me his drums for "Many Laughs" overnight. Once I saw how quick and easy the process could be, I started asking some of my favorite players (who have home studios) to see who'd be interested in helping me out. I was in shock when Robert [Fripp] wrote back, allowing me to sample any of his soundscapes. It was a lot of fun to explore that library, and figure out ways to incorporate them into my pieces to provide new textures (and for some, new directions). The first track, "Mela" has the most contributors because it has the most complex arrangement - and it sounded really cheesy with just software samples!

GREGO: It seems that post-prog or whatever one calls it has really blossomed further lately into new and exciting avenues. Of course you are a part of that. Is there something in the air? Is it just a matter of a good time for creative work?

JULIE: Honestly, I was just trying to figure out how to work some of my new pedals (specifically the Roland VB-99). One day in late January, I was getting some cool sounds looping my bass, and playing it as guitar through the '99. I thought it sounded pretty neat, so I set up some mics and next thing I knew, I was starting to compose what would become "Shadow Trip." The process was exciting and new for me - I hadn't written anything in years. I became addicted to it, and we were getting a TON of snow in Philly anyway, so I just stayed inside and worked on it for several hours everyday. I'm still amazed at how quickly it all came together - I had the CDs in my hands by early May!

GREGO: Where do you go from here? What’s coming up for you in the near future?

JULIE: Well, as said, I'm pretty addicted to the process now, so I hope to create another album soon. For the next one, I'd like to work with some vocalists so that it's not totally instrumental, and I think it would be a lot of fun and different for me.I'd also be interested in getting some of the music licensed for use in TV or film. And of course I love touring and performing, so perhaps I'll put some more shows together... I'm already opening for Adrian June 30th (at Mexicali Blues in Teaneck) and July 1st (at World Cafe in Philly).

GREGO: Thanks Julie!

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