A common phrase you’ll hear real estate agents dish when discussing properties is that the most important factor is always “location, location, location.” You could make the argument that when it comes to being a professional musician, that adage is equally appropriate. No one agrees with that more than Vicky Warwick, a British bassist who cut her teeth in the eclectic scene of London before making the hop to New York and most recently Los Angeles. She’s toured much of the world and has appeared on countless TV shows backing the likes of Rod Stewart, Cyndi Lauper, Cee-Lo Green, Craig David, and played in the house band for UK’s X-Factor for some time. She was also a mainstay in the bands of Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey and pop sensation Charli XCX.
When she isn’t playing the supportive role for other artists she’s most commonly writing music of her own under the name Ainslie, interviewing fellow musicians for her blog, whereareweagain.com, or working on her upcoming podcast that she will be hosting. Lately she’s been getting used to her new digs in LA, but hasn’t had much down time in between working with Belgian songwriter Speelburg, touring and playing double duty with Robert Delong and Gothic Tropic, and preparing to head to Indonesia to perform with singer Hailee Steinfeld. It seems that wherever Vicky goes, the scene embraces her and she has no problem finding her next big gig. Being a triple threat as an electric bassist, keybass player, and vocalist has always served her well, as her resume and passport readily proves. She took a break from her busy schedule of woodshedding and rehearsals to talk about her life in bass, her musical upbringing, and her new home in Los Angeles. Or, at least, her home until she’s off to the next music scene that calls to her.
You just hopped off of a tour where you played in both of the bands (Robert Delong and Gothic Tropic) on the bill. What was that like?
I had never done that before, but it was really nice because we were one big touring family. The music is different enough to where it was two different flavors each night. It wasn’t too tiring on the playing aspect, but it was tiring because it was all so DIY, so I was loading in and setting up my bass rig every night and then breaking it down and hefting it out after. That got a bit arduous towards the end. I hate to sit around and not do anything, so I would help lug everyone’s stuff too. It was a great experience all around though. It wasn’t a long tour, so it was sustainable, but if it was any longer we might’ve all died.
You’ve bounced around the scenes of London, New York, and Los Angeles. How has being in those musically competitive places help sculpt you as a player?
When you’re right in the thick of the industry, you are what you mix with. London was the most neutral scene, as it’s the center of Europe, so you can find everything there. New York is more jazz and Broadway music, and less pop-oriented, which is what I love to do. And I thought LA would be super pop-focused, but I have to say that the standard of everyone here is so insane, where everybody has a crazy work ethic and their playing is amazing. But at the same time it’s California, so everyone tries to take care of themselves and make time to relax and go on hikes and do things outside of music that is good for them. It’s so great being new to a town, being of a musician, as you get introduced to so many people and everyone has been really open and helpful and have taken me to shows. People have been so kind out here.
You’ve had some impressive gigs with big artists. What’s been your biggest “pinch me” moment so far?
Playing Glastonbury with Charli XCX was crazy. We had been camping there for three days, so everything is a little hazy, but the crowd was insane. Playing Lollapalooza with her was an amazing experience as well. Playing for all of the those people and being around so many great bands. My favorite thing on earth is playing for a sea of people as far as you can see. Another pinch-me moment was playing at Chateau Marmont in LA and Nile Rogers, Mark Ronson, and Kylie Minogue were in the audience. As we came offstage they were all standing right there and I was just blown away.
What was it like musically playing with pop singer Charli XCX? Was that a lot of synth bass?
You would think it would be a lot of synth, but oddly enough it was all electric bass for her shows. The records had synths on them and some backing tracks live, but I played electric the whole time. Charli’s vision was to have a band like the Donnas for her backing group and the energy that comes with that. It was way better to be jumping around on stage than to be standing behind a keyboard for that stuff.
Do you prefer to alter your bass tone with pedals or simply use a keybass instead?
If you were to ask me that a few years ago I’d say that I’d rather play things on bass, but now that I’ve had to so much keys lately, I’ve been enjoying playing my Moog. You always do whichever is best for the song and most required, so I’m ready to do either for every gig I take on. It’s nice when artists are open to suggestions, but I want to replicate the artist’s sound and what the musical director wants as much as I can. It was funny playing with the Thompson Twins and Tom Bailey because “Hold Me Now” is a really obvious bass line and the bass chair requires keys and bass, but their old bass player played that on keyboard at the time, so when I stepped in I felt it should be an electric bass line. Luckily Tom was open to that and we kept it as live bass for the shows.
What was it like performing on the television show UK X-Factor?
That was an amazing experience, but it is way different how TV shows work over there, to be honest. It’s not live, so you just kind of have to mime it for the cameras when you perform. They would call me every week and tell me if I was playing with one or two or three artists, and then I’d prepare and they’d set me up with crazy costumes and all of that stuff and it was a big spectacle. They have dancers and so much stuff going on and one time they put me up on a big podium and it wasn’t well constructed and I almost fell off of it on live TV. But I caught myself first, so luckily I averted that nightmare. I got to be there when One Direction was on there and so many artists who came through.
How do you go about learning an artist’s material for a gig?
It’s so funny because I’m going through that process right now and I have the setlist on my wall and I’m literally tallying every time I’ve run through the set so far on bass and keybass. When I’m first learning music I listen to it a ton over and over to really absorb it. Hopefully I have the stems so I can listen to the bass in total isolation. I’ve always felt that listening to music a lot before playing it is so important and that you should be able to sing it back to yourself before playing it on your instrument. Then I start to work through it and I learn all of it, even the songs we probably won’t play just in case. I find my sounds for snyth bass and electric bass and make sure I dial everything in precisely. Then I record myself and listen back. I learned that from a drummer friend of mine. You can play through the songs a ton and think you’re fine and that you got it, but then you listen back to a recording and hear that you’re rushing parts or not hitting it exactly as you think. That’s a great tool for preparing for a gig.
You tend to play smaller basses. Why are they your preference?
My hands are small, so when I discovered that short scales are a thing I was so thrilled. I had to do an audition recently that required a 5-string, and it’s quite an adjustment. There are actually a few times now that has come up, so I’m going to have to bite the bullet and just dig into it. I need one where the body isn’t so big so it’s more playable for me. But I’ve just always preferred shortscales and smaller basses because I’m a smaller person.
What is your ideal tone and how do you achieve it?
I use Aguilar amps, and their stuff is wonderful, so that’s always my start. I love their Tone Hammer 500 head because it’s so small and portable while super powerful, so I take that wherever I go in the world. Even if I can’t bring my own rig, I take that along with me. I can use it as a stand-alone DI. Then it depends on the gig to how I dial in my tone. I’m not big on pedals, but I have a Sans Amp DI and a Big Muff and those two pedals get me pretty far. Those are my go-to pieces of gear that get me any sound I need.
You write your own music under the moniker of Ainslie. Can we expect a solo album in the future?
I am trying to get another single out right now and I can’t believe it’s been a year since my last release. I’m going to release an EP before I put out an album though, because it just takes so much time. Putting out singles is difficult alone when you’re busy out on the road touring. And It’s all self-funded, so you want to be able to do it as precisely as possible. I’d love to play shows as Ainslie and perform my own music, but I’m so used to being just a bass player, so that will be a whole new experience in itself.
Who are your greatest bass influences?
When I first started I was way inspired by Flea, but then as I learned more I discovered James Jamerson, Willie Weeks, Duck Dunn, Pino Palladino and so many others that influenced me. I was way late in discovering Tina Weymouth and now I can’t get over how cool her playing is.
How and when did you first start playing bass?
I was 12 and I always wanted to play an instrument, but I didn’t know what I wanted it to be. I didn’t have anyone around me playing guitar or drums until then and my friend Suzy from school invited me over to her barn, which was converted into a practice room and she decided she wanted to start a band. There was no role for me in the group, so I sang back up vocals, but I was shy and I sucked. The bass player was the back up singer and she very kindly said she’d just sing and I could play bass, so that’s how I got my start. It was handed to me and I didn’t really know what it was. I used my thumb and took to it pretty quickly and I just stuck with it and fell in love with it. I love playing bass and it’s my instrument, but on a larger scale I love music and this is my way to tap into it. As you progress as a musician I’m writing on my own, but it’s always been my way to compose and play with other people and I’m still discovering so much stuff that this instrument has led me to. -BM
Bass Fender Mustang Bass, Fender Shortscale Modern Player Jazz
Rig Aguilar Tone Hammer 500, Aguilar SL 115
Pedals Big Muff, Aguilar Optimizer, Tech 21 Sans Amp Bass Driver, Fender Downtown Express
String DR Strings Medium Gage
Follow Vicky: HERE