Cincinnati funk sensation talks to FBPO about his group, equipment and working with Bootsy Collins!
Born and raised in Cincinnati, OH, Freekbass was an only child who initially wanted to be a magician. He later developed his own obsession for cartoon superheroes and comic books, relating to the underlying themes.
Living in Cincinnati exposed Freekbass to genres of music he may have missed otherwise. While most kids were listening to Nirvana and Green Day, Freekbass connected with the bottom-heavy sounds coming out of the boom boxes, like Zapp and Midnight Star. While working in a music shop to pay off his first electric bass, which he had in lay-away, Freekbass began to study the music of Larry Graham, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Parliament and Bootsy Collins, with a bass in one hand and an MPC2000 in the other.
Freekbass has released five full-length CDs, including his latest, Concentrate, with guests Bootsy Collins, DJ Spooky, Adam Deitch and Steve Molitz, and Junkyard Waltz, which includes guest appearances by Phish bassist Mike Gordon, guitarist Buckethead and P-Funk/Talking Heads keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell.
FBPO: How would you describe your musical upbringing?
FB: I started as a drummer. I remember being attracted to rhythm from a very early age. Listening to the windshield wipers in the car, or a drippy faucet, I would create different grooves in my head based off of the sound they were making. I started with just a snare drum and I would put on music and just play in time to it. It was calming to me. Even at that early age, I liked the feeling of pocket and grooving.
FBPO: What attracted you to the bass?
FB: Weird story: On one of my math books when I was a kid, there was a Fender P Bass on the cover. I liked how big and chunky it looked. Guitar always looked and felt so delicate, like I would break it if I wasn’t careful. Bass was something you could dig into. I heard an electric bassist from Oberlin College, who came to play at my school, and I was hooked on the sounds it was making. I remember he had a Gibson SG-shaped bass. Then when I heard “More Bounce To The Ounce” by Zapp coming out of a boombox by someone walking down the street, I knew for sure what instrument I would play. Cincinnati has always had a strong funk history and Zapp was right up the road from Dayton.
FBPO: Who were your influences as a young, up-and-coming bassist?
FB: Like almost every bass player, I went through my “I want to be Jaco” phase. Of course, there was Bootsy and Larry Graham. I was a big King Crimson/Tony Levin fan at an early age. Rush/Geddy Lee I really dug as a kid. And, although not a bassist, Dr. Dre was a big influence of mine. The bass lines and tones on his albums were so big, thick and pocket. I must have played “Doggy Style” by Snoop on bass a thousand times.
A big turning point for me as a player is when I really got into all of the James Brown library. I would woodshed with those albums for hours at a time. When I had the honor of being part of Bootsy’s “Tribute to James Brown Tour” in 2008, it was surreal. At the end of the show, Boot would go into the audience and I got to play bass with the original JBs. I still pinch myself when I think about that one.
FBPO: At what point did your career get rolling? What kind of gigs were you getting initially?
FB: I started playing in clubs when I was about 14, mostly original bands in Clifton in Cincinnati, which is where the University is and where all of the “Freeks” would hang out, so I felt right at home!
FBPO: How did you hook up with Bootsy Colliins?
FB: Bootsy’s singer in the Rubberband, Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, heard about me and had me play on some demos he was doing. We would go to his house and watch all of these amazing obscure videos of funk bands for hours at a time. It was like going to “Funk School.” One day Mudbone asked me to play on a tune about Jimi Hendrix that he and Michael Hampton from P-Funk were doing for a funk label out of Japan called P-Vine Records. I asked him where we were recording it at and he said, “At Bootsy’s. He is going to engineer and produce it.” Needless to say, my head spun. So we went out to Boot’s studio the next day and Bootsy and I really hit it off. He called me a couple of weeks later and asked me to come to the studio and write songs together. And that began the groove down the Yellow Brick Road.
FBPO: I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Bootsy a little bit over the years. Tell me about your experience with him? What have you learned from him?
FB: Bootsy is from the school of “Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” He really impressed upon me early how important it is, not just playing bass, but writing and recording songs and how to do it. We would spend hours and hours in his studio writing songs. He would show me how to work a mixing board, how to program and sample with an Akai MPC 2000 and the difference between playing live versus in the studio. It is an experience that I will be forever grateful for.
FBPO: What’s keeping you busy these days?
FB: Lots of roadwork. I tour with my own group, Freekbass & The Bump Assembly. I also work with the Kelly Richey Band, a blues-funk-rock power trio, and a funktronica group with DJ Logic and Steve Molitz, called Headtronics. I teach bass lessons privately through TrueFire.com. It’s nice the way TrueFire has it set up. You, as a student, can be anywhere in the world and take lessons from me.
FBPO: Tell me about your equipment.
FB: My main bass is a 1975 Fender Jazz bass. The company, Singdooba, out of Denmark, is in the process of making me a custom bass. I also had a reverse P-Bass that Grove Guitars made for me. My amp is a Kustom Groove Bass head and cabinet. I have an endorsement with them. My main pedals are an Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron, a DigiTech Whammy, an Amptweaker Tight Drive, a Boss Bass Synth and a Pigtronix Envelope Phaser. For strings, I use D’Addario ProSteels.
FBPO: How about the future? What else would you like to do that you haven’t already accomplished?
FB: Although I have been on the road and in the studio pretty heavy for the last eight years, I feel like I am just now getting my musical voice where it needs to be. I am guessing another eight-to-ten years from now I will probably be saying the same thing, but I feel like I am in a good space right now. I am really excited about the new album I am in the middle of right now. It is being produced by Duane Lundy (My Morning Jacket/Ben Sollee) and Bootsy. It is a back to the basics, straight up raw funk album.
In March of 2014 I am going to be giving a Master Class and performance at the London Bass Guitar Show in the UK. That is about the same time the new album should be dropping and I will be doing a tour to promote it.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
FB: Probably a magician or a baseball player. I am pretty obsessive over baseball, specifically the Cincinnati Reds. I wrote a song, “Reds Fan,” for them a few years ago that they play at the ballpark. I got to throw out the first pitch at a game around that time. It was a huge honor and I feel very lucky and humbled that I got asked to do it.
Photos by Sonya Ziegler
Also see our exclusive FBPO interviews with Larry Graham
and Tony Levin, both of whom are mentioned here: