As the world continues to recover from the Coronavirus, we're all finding ourselves in unfamiliar territory given the subsequent lockdown that is keeping us off of stages and confined to our homes. Luckily, there's comfort in the fact that we're all in this together, and that there are still many outlets for us musicians to keep us active and sane throughout this quarantine. We're checking in with bass players from all over the world to see what they're doing to stay entertained, healthy, productive, and safe during this trying time.
Bass Player: Damian Erskine
Bands & Artists: Gino Vannelli, Peter Erskine New Trio, Solo artist
Home: Portland, Oregon
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
I’ve been putting more focus on my educational life. I’ve always taught jazz workshops, privately, and at Portland State University, as well as having written a few books. My first Covid project was to record a two-hour video companion to my book, Right Hand Drive. Once that was done, I decided to finally build an educational site, I’ve been thinking about it for years but I never had the time to commit to a project of that magnitude. Since mid-March, I’ve primarily been working on building and nurturing my edu website, BassEducation.com, and it has grown nicely. The site is pretty robust at this point and I don’t want to clutter it up with videos for videos sake. There’s well over a hundred videos laid out and organized in different ways, depending on what your goals are for the instrument. I’ve been dialoguing quite a bit with members, helping them with questions and lessons, and creating specific content based on their individual needs. It’s been a blast and has kept me super busy. Aside from BassEducation.com, I’ve recorded a handful of albums remotely and I continue to teach remotely. There have been a small smattering of streaming gigs as well, although I’m pretty selective with my public outings these days.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
I’ve been focusing on getting back to basics. Slowing everything way down and trying to do more with less. My favorite exercise lately is to play through difficult changes as a very slow ballad and try to play melodies using only two notes from the available scale for each chord; usually chord tones, but sometimes the 9th or 13th, as well. It forces me to speak via articulation, rhythm, and phrasing, without relying on patterns and speed.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
I’ve been loving an album by Michael Olivera called Oasis, with Munir Hossn on bass and guitar. I’ve been having fun going back to some classic funk, like Pleasure and the Brothers Johnson. I’m also a podcast junkie; I tend to rock the pods on walks.
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
I’ve been pretty solid on my gear for quite some time. Skjold basses and Aguilar amps. I had a distance hang with Roger Baer of Baer Amplification, locally, because he’s designing some new cabinets and wanted to hear my basses and style through different variations of components. That was a blast and very educational. He builds stunning cabinets and it’s always fun listening to him talk gear; I learn something every time!
What non-music activities, books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?
I am a total Kindle addict. I generally read between 100-150 books per year. Although it’s mostly sci-fi stuff, there have been a few that struck me this year. The Living Mountain, by Nan Shephard is lovely. The Los Nefilim series by T. Frohock is beautifully written. The Body, by Bill Bryson was fascinating. Lately, I’ve been hooked on a sci-fi series by Aleks Canard. I’m plowing through his Machina series, which is super fun.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
I was about to start recording a new trio album with Greg Goebel and Charlie Doggett here in Portland before the lockdown, so I’d like to get to that ASAP. I’ll probably need to get a few gigs under my fingers again before I feel like documenting it, though. I have to get my jazz hat back on because I’ve pretty much only been playing groove gigs, and the same goes for when I play for fun at the house. I’m a groove guy at heart. Jazz is what I focus on in the shed because of the ways in which it challenges me harmonically.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
While I find solace in keeping busy, everybody is different. I think that whatever brings you peace right now is valid. I’ve started to try and adopt a way of being in which I treat every moment as a chance to make a decision and I try to make that decision with the benefit of hindsight. Basically, whenever I am deciding what to do, which way to turn, I wonder what I’ll have wish I had done tomorrow. I lost 85 lbs last year and that was one of the ways in which I changed my relationship with food, especially late-night eating. I always went with what I would wish I had done after waking up in the morning. I’ve found that type of thinking has bled into other areas of my life as well, and it works for me.
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All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi