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: Janek Gwizdala
Bands & Artists: Mike Stern, Gary Husband, Randy Brecker, Jojo Meyer, Bob Reynolds, Solo artist
Home: Los Angeles, California
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
I’ve been working solidly throughout the lockdown. I was always involved in the online content-creation side of things, so aside from touring and studio work not being possible right now, it’s been fairly normal in terms of music. I had had a list of things on my to-do-list since November, which are now all in motion, and I’m back to practicing up to six hours a day. I think there’s going to be no excuse for not having improved as a musician after lockdown! My biggest undertaking while being at home has been the new pedal show The Pedal Studio, on YouTube [Here]. I’ve been growing my collection, my fascination, and my knowledge of pedals and effects for over two decades now, and I’ve been planning on sharing that information for quite awhile. Now, with all this time available, it’s become a reality, and I’m already half a dozen episodes in, with dozens more planned and in the pipeline.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
I think one of the hardest things to maintain, when you’re not constantly on the road or cutting records every week, is that “gig-ready” sound. Hardened calluses, consistency, and stamina over the course of a one or two-hour show. Aside from the obvious fundamental technique elements, melodic ideas, harmonic exploration, and composition, I’ve been setting myself the goal of playing full show-length sets as often as possible. I’ll put together a playlist in Spotify of twenty or so pop songs, and then play along for the hour-plus that it takes. Staying disciplined, picking up the songs by ear—as I’ll more than likely not know any of them—and putting myself in that live frame of mind is helping with my sanity, and it’s highlighting what I need to work more on.
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 made some new discoveries, for sure. Joseph Tawadros is an Egyptian-born, Australian-raised, oud player now living in London. I went down a rabbit hole on YouTube a few days ago and came across a video he posted of himself practicing; that set me up for new material to work on for weeks. I’ve also been digging Shai Maestro’s album The Dream Thief, Tigran Hamasyan’s album with Arve Henrikson called Atmosphere’s, and his album An Ancient Observer. In a completely different direction, I’ve been digging deep into modular synthesis, and exponents of the Moog, like Mike Dean. He has a new record out called 4:20, and the sounds on “The Eighth Night Part 1” and “The Eighth Night Part 2” are something I’m working hard to figure out on the bass.
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
A few very cool pieces of gear have arrived in my orbit recently. Some of them I knew I would be instantly in love with, and others that I thought thecomplete opposite about, but ended up become huge components of my setup. The big one being the Line6 HX Stomp. I’ve always shied away from the digital multi-effects lane and exclusively gone with individual stomp boxes. Even though, of course, some of those were digital. I had the HX Stomp on my shelf for a year before I ever plugged it in. But lately, it’s become the most heavy lifting element of my pedalboard, and I’m loving the programming side of things, and seeing how many pedals I can replicate with it. At the end of the day, it’s all about real estate. As much as I would love to travel with 40 pedals on my board, it’s just not realistic. I’m also very lucky that I have in my possession, a Henrik Linder signature 4-string Mattisson production model prototype. I’ve had it since winter NAMM this year, and it’s one of my favorite basses to play. I can’t wait for it to be available to the public, along with my own signature Mattisson 5-string single-cut. It’s amazing the level of instrument that can be produced using CNC now, and these instruments are stunning. Other recent additions to the pedal library include: Iron Ether Dubterranea, Iron Ether FMeron, Iron Ether Xerograph Deluxe, Xotic EP Boster, and a new octave pedal from Gojira effects in the UK.
What non-music activities books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?
As somewhat of a health/fitness enthusiast, I’m starting to build a home gym, as the likelihood of going back to my gym in the next six to twelve months looks slim. Stationary bike, squat rack, bench, resistance bands, Swiss ball, ab wheel, medicine ball. And we’re lucky to live in California and have a yard, so I also have a TRX and I can use the jump rope outside too. I’m currently reading The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reigh, by William L. Shirer, as well as a series of books by Daniel Silva featuring his character Gabriel Allon. I think I’m thirteen books in to the twenty-three book series. Another book I always have close is The Groucho Letters: Letters From and To Groucho Marx. I’ve also been getting back into cooking much more. We haven’t ordered food in once since we went into lockdown, and I think I’ve cooked around 60 meals in that time. It’s been fun to spend that time with my wife, who has serious baking chops. Between the two of us we do okay in the culinary department, and that’s amazing for helping us stay sane through it all. We are massive fans of Top Chef and The Great British Baking Show.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
I literally have twenty solid ideas for projects floating around my head right now for when we figure out what the new “normal” is going to be. I suspect it’s going to take many months longer than people are predicting before we return to “safe” international travel, and being able to perform for large crowds. I have some recording projects, and some collaborations with very different musicians then what I’m used to. I think Joseph Tawadros is a great example of someone I’d love to record and play live with. I also have designs on getting Brian Blade and Tim Miller in the same room and hitting the record button. Plus I have lots of video projects, podcast guests, and writing planned.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
No matter what your situation, I think there are huge positives to be drawn from what is going on right now. Not that I wish suffering upon anyone, it is horrific how this pandemic is playing out across the world. But in terms of the urgency and necessity to develop new skill sets to survive, I don’t think there’s been a time of greater urgency in the modern, digital age. Just remember, if you use your time wisely, you are going to come out the other end of this as a better musician, with a number of new skillsets, and hopefully to a world that is ready for human contact and interaction more than ever before. This could mean a more engaged audience; a more loyal fanbase who appreciates buying a concert ticket or a piece of merchandise at a show. There are a lot of things to look forward to. Just stay the course, and use this time of urgency and necessity, two of the most fundamentally important elements of growth and discovery, to your advantage.
Two Bass Hit Podcast: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNi7JNJGd8cVHDs_k7Lz2_xB_BQsR2q_X
The Practice Room Interviews: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLNi7JNJGd8cXxwUOYr6ResDDy24Xly1oq
All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi