Interview with Victor Wooten

12 04 2011

Victor Wooten

Hey everyone, it’s good to be back! I haven’t been updating this blog as much as I would like to, but I hope to change that.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview bass extraordinaire Victor Wooten for the magazine I work with, Scene Magazine in Fort Collins. He was in Boulder getting ready to play a show with Stanley Clarke at the Boulder Theatre. We talked for over an hour, and the published interview is below.

If you would like to read more of the interview (without the annoying [...] marks), click here to read the full, uncondensed interview on Scene Magazine’s website.

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Scene: How old were you when you started playing bass?
Wooten: I was out playing gigs with my brothers by the time I was five years old. They started teaching me how to play much earlier than that, when I was about one or two. […]

Scene: You grew up in a very musical family. How did growing up in that environment influence you?
Wooten: The same way that growing up in a family that speaks a language influences you to speak that same language – you learn it naturally, which is the best way. Rather than having to study and practice it, you just learn it. […] My brothers allowed me to play with them even though I couldn’t play an instrument: They gave me a toy instrument to hold and strum along as I learned it. It was a brilliant and beautiful way to learn.

Scene: What kinds of music influenced you as a young musician?
Wooten: All the music that was on the radio in the mid-to-late ‘60s: A lot of soul music, R&B, Motown, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone. But because radio was so open, I would also hear Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Pink Floyd. And then later on I got into jazz – people like Jaco Pastorius, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke.

Scene: What influences you to create music nowadays?
Wooten: I still enjoy doing live concerts and having that instant feedback, that instant gratification. I can’t think of any other profession in the world where you get that instant feedback – where everyone in the audience is there to support you. […]

Scene: Do you feel that bass is often underestimated as an expressive instrument?
Wooten: Yes, by most people it is. But by the same token, bass is the foundation of music. […] The same way when you walk into a building and no one looks at the floor and says, “Wow, this is a nice floor.” […] Bass, by its general nature, holds up the rest of the band. And so, like the foundation of a building, it usually goes unrecognized. But that’s definitely changing.

Scene: You’ve made huge strides in making bass influential as a solo instrument.
Wooten: Some of that’s good and some of that’s bad. Sometimes, and myself included, it’s easy to have so much ability and technique that we forget what our true role is. I hear a lot of young people that are learning the instrument in reverse; they’re learning to play the flashy stuff first, but they can’t even play a 12-bar blues.

Scene: Do you feel that music theory is the basis of music?
Wooten: No. Music came first; theory came later. […] Think about this: What if you wanted to learn to speak English and I started out by teaching you nouns and pronouns and verbs and the alphabet. You’d learn to talk that way, but it would make you learn it really slowly. […] Everyone has been hearing music since before they were born. We all know music; we just have to learn to play it through the instrument. Later on we’ll learn the rules.

Scene: If you could give one piece of advice to young musicians, what would it be?
Wooten: I would say to learn to play music, not your instrument. When you talk, you don’t say, “I talk now.” You speak a language, and you speak it through your instrument. I approach music in the same way – like a language.

Scene: You’ve always stood for peace and equality. Do you think these ideals have become even more important over the 15 years that have passed since A Show of Hands was first released?
Wooten: It’s always been important. But it’s at a point now where we really have to make it a conscious effort. […] For the world to work, we have to love each other. We have to understand that equality – that’s what makes the planet stay alive. Love each other.

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Check out www.scenemagazine.info for the full, uncondensed interview with Victor Wooten (a must read for bassists).

Learn more about Victor Wooten at www.victorwooten.com.

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