Victor Wooten Interview
This interview took place on February 3rd, 2000 @ Big Shots in Roseville, CA
I was exposed to Mr. Wooten on my local PBS television station during a type of live music show. David Byrne, I think that is his name, the guy from Talking Heads, he interviews the bands or the artists on this show. The night I caught this show was when Bela Fleck and the Flecktones were playing. I heard the bass, and was just freakin blown away to my seat. No doubt that this band is great, but Victor, my gosh, the way he grooved, the sounds he commanded from his bass, the way he complimented the other creative sounds being presented by the rest of the band…………Just left me in “awe.” A few weeks ago, I was looking through my local news magazine where I read about all of the upcoming shows in my area, and I saw the show listing for Victor Wooten’s tour coming to Sacramento, CA.
Victor Wooten is a Grammy winning bassist for the group, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. He has been voted Bass Player of the Year by Bass Player Magazine 3 times, and his latest solo album “Yin-Yang” is up for a Grammy in the best Jazz Performance Category. So, ya know I had to see and talk to this guy, right?
In this interview I was able to expose Mr. Wooten to some of the music I listen to. A couple of hardcore/metal bands known as Candiria, and the Dillinger Escape Plan. After the interview inside the venue, Victor and I moved the remaining part of the interview to my car where we listened to a little bit of each band. You will read his thoughts of them in this interview.
I, a little more or less, started off the interview telling Mr. Wooten basically what I told you guys in the first paragraph, and how much more I appreciated the creation of music after capturing their performance on TV. Here is his response, and the rest of the interview.
Thanks to Sheri at Compass Records, for making this happen.
Victor Wooten – It’s funny because, the people who are not really familiar with Bluegrass, as soon as they hear the banjo, they say “Wow it’s Bluegrass,” but the people who are familiar with Bluegrass and Country, they say “No, it’s nothing like Bluegrass.” I think it is just the instrument of the banjo that makes people hear the Bluegrass, and I think that is great. Traditional “bluegrassers” say “No, that’s Jazz,” and the “jazzers” say that’s something different, but it’s neat, and I like it.
A.M.P. – From reading two or three different stories from the local papers upon you coming here, I read that you have some history in Sacramento, CA, particularly Rancho Cordova, CA. What stands out the most about this city, and what stands out the most on what you were doing while living here?
Victor Wooten – Well I had a lot of friends here. I started elementary school here, going to Cordova Villa Elementary. I remember the school as a round school, and it looked like a spaceship, and I lived just three houses from the school. So I’d go there everyday and play on the playground, you know. Those were some good years for me, care free years, but at the same time we were playing gigs, my brothers and I, the five of us, were playing gigs, and I was five, six, and seven at the time, and that’s where my musical career really started. It was here.
A.M.P. – Can you read music?
Victor Wooten – Yes.
A.M.P. – From you playing bass for so long, and being good at it, I would think that you are pretty good at thinking notes in your head, and playing the notes, and presenting them on bass, the same way you thought them.
Victor Wooten – Pretty much, but it’s kinda like talking. Talking is, the words are a description of what you really feel, and sometimes the words are just not capturing it, it’s not enough. The feeling is the true meaning, and music is the same way. You have a feeling so you describe it with these musical notes, and I use the instrument, the bass, to describe what I am trying to say, just the way we would use words, and most of the time when things are going well, I am having a pretty good day at trying to describe what I’m feeling, but sometimes it’s hard. You hear the notes in your head, but just like talking, sometimes you just can’t get it in the way you want, and music to me in just another language, and I approach it the same way.
A.M.P. – How much of what you play on bass is actually composed and driven through emotion. As opposed to “jamming,” or thought out creations of notes, how often or how much of what you create yourself is brought out from a feeling, and which song, and on what albums have you done that with the least amount of alterations and changes?
Victor Wooten – Most of it, is pretty free. It is sort of like, again, I always relate music to talking, or language. When you are talking, unless you are reading verbatim what you want to say, you are improvising. You have an idea of what you want to say, but it’s because you know the language so well, and your vocabulary is so big, you can freely pick and choose the words you want, without having to think too much about it, and it is pure expression. So for me, music most of the time is the same way. Even though I may have songs, that have a structure, I am going express and describe that structure different every time I play it. So, probably, eighty to ninety percent of what I am playing is pure expression, you know, it’s going to be different each time. It’s rare that I will play something exactly the same as I played it the night before.
A.M.P. – That’s the same way for me when I play drums, I just cannot play things the same way everytime.
Victor Wooten – But it’s hard to. It’s really hard. I mean, if you were to ask me that question again, it would be hard to say it the same way.
A.M.P. – Oh my gosh! This is weird! That is the exact way I think, I mean, I literally cannot play things on drums the same way the second time. Different things motivate it.
Victor Wooten – Exactly.
A.M.P. – Different things will just drive me to do different things, and if I answer questions, if you ask me again they are going to be different because I would have thought of something else.
Victor Wooten – That is life, that’s life. There are no two snowflakes alike, there are no two people, there is nothing in the universe that is totally alike. There are things that appear similar, but nothing is exactly a like.
A.M.P. – You are the only other person that has said something so similar to what I’ve said before. That’s just strange.
Victor Wooten – That’s just truth, that’s just the way it is. You really can’t express yourself the same way as you did once before. That is why every experience, is a blessing, it’s a jewel, because it’s the only experience ever.
A.M.P. – You can’t get it back.
Victor Wooten – Right, so you know, you just enjoy, and love everybody, everything because it’s an individual, and that brings me to another thing. A lot of people always ask me “Well who is your favorite this, who is the best, or are you better then this guy.” Everybody is an individual, everybody is the best. There is not another you. Even if I took a new born baby, and let them crawl on the bass guitar, they are going to get individual sounds that I will never be able to produce, and if I can’t produce what a new born baby can produce on an instrument, who is better? You see, so really, everybody is just, who they are, and that’s just exactly the way I see it, so everybody is the best, in my eyes.
A.M.P. – What artists of today, like hip-hop, blues, metal, rock, etc. have you been paying attention to, and what do you still consisitantly listen to?
Victor Wooten – Lately I have been listening to some, it’s a stuff called throat singing, which is, these guys from a country called Tuva, or either Mongolia, and they do this throat thing where they, it’s like a ( he gives his example ) groaning thing and they start hitting these harmonics with their voices, and they can get two and three notes with their voice. I have been checking that out quite a bit, and I have been into some music from the country India where they are using Tambla drums, and different time signatures. I still love a lot of the rap music, pop music, and jazz. I consider myself to be pretty open when it comes to music. I just like listening to all of it.
A.M.P. – Ok good because I have something for you after the interview.
Victor Wooten – Good.
A.M.P. – Ok, I play drums, and I was happy to see that you the work you did with Carter Beauford on your newest album “Yin-Yang,” which is up for a Grammy, I believe…
Victor Wooten – Yeah.
A.M.P. – That’s great!
Victor Wooten – Thanks.
A.M.P. – …will be on video, and can you tell me what it was like to work with him, and when will that video be available?
Victor Wooten- The video is available right now, actually we have them tonight. Carter is amazing, I have known Carter for many years. After we left Sacramento we moved to Virginia, and Carter lived in Virginia.
A.M.P.- That’s pretty much where all of Dave Matthews is.
Victor Wooten – Exactly, a lot of the guys from Dave Matthews lived in Virginia. So we met Carter, quite soon after we moved to Virginia. A lot of the great musicians, you just kind of gravitate towards each other, people that are thinking a like, you know. So I have known him for a long time, but had not done a lot of playing together. So this was a treat, to get him in the studio, and to see how he works after all these years. He is great. He just came in and had to learn these songs, and they are not typical songs, and you know, it was fun, and I was glad that the people were there to film it, and actually make into a video, because he is an amazing drummer, he’s got his own voice. As soon as he sits behind the drums, you know it’s him.
A.M.P. – Who else is featured on this album?
Victor Wooten – All of the members of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. A sax player named Kirk Whalum, he’s playing sax on a couple of songs. The guys who are my brothers, Regi on guitar, Joseph on keyboards, JD Blair on drums. I have another friend of mine, a lady named Jennie Hoeft. She plays drums on a song, and there’s people, different people helping out with the vocals, cause I’m not much of a singer at all, you know. So I have different people, friends of mine, lots of friends of mine. Some of my friends who have never been on a CD or have recorded before I get them up there, just for the fun and the experience. My daughter is actually doing vocals on two songs. On one song she was sixteen months old, on another song, she was thirteen months. On one of the songs, she was talking, and I just recorded her talking for a long time, and then I orchestrated the music to the pitches of her voice, to make it sound like she was singing. It’s pretty neat.
A.M.P. – How long did it take you from the first and oldest played note that is on the album, to the last played note, how long did it take you?
Victor Wooten – That album probably was done, I would guess three months. The band, the Flecktones, we were on tour at the time, for a lot of the time that we were working on the album. So we would come off the road and I would have maybe five or six days to get into the studio with everybody. Then we (Flecktones) would go out on the road and I would work on stuff while we were out on the road. So, I would say maybe three months. I don’t even really know because I don’t really think of it in that sense.
A.M.P. – I appreciate you taking the time to tell us what to look for on certain songs on the album. I have not heard the album yet, I have only heard the Real Audio parts of it on the site, but, how things came about, and what you were thinking while you were in the studio, I have not seen that much on any other artists site including whats on the album or anything like that. They just put the album out, and you only hear things like that while reading an interview like right now, but you actually have that on the site, like “look for this…,” and “look for that on…” So that it pretty cool.
Victor Wooten – Thank you. I just think about what I would want to see. I see records from Miles Davis, and all these artists. A good example is this. There was a CD just released by the Mahavishu Orchestra. Which is this fusion band with John McLaughlin on guitar, Billy Cobham on drums, Jan Hammer on keyboards, Jerry Goodman on Violins. It’s a great album, but this was an album that they had forgotten about, and someone just found it in the vault, you know, and so they have just released it. On the album they talked to the different musicians. Somebody interviews the musicians about what was going back then.
A.M.P. – Is this actually on the cd?
Victor Wooten – Not on the CD, but in the credits, and so it was so neat reading about what was going on at the time, you know. The band was kinda feuding a little bit, and all that kind of stuff, and the different musicians wanted more of their music on the albums, and more credit. Just all of this inside stuff. It makes you kind of feel like you are getting a little more than your money’s worth, like you are inside there, and I love that kind of stuff. So I want to put it out there for people and let them know what is going on. To me it makes the music more special when you have something to look for, something to go on. You know when you are listening to Kaila and you know she was only 13 months old, and you know how it was recorded.
A.M.P. – You appreciate it more.
Victor Wooten – Of course, I believe so.
A.M.P. – Before joining Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, how well was the rock band that you were in before that, how was that band doing?
Victor Wooten – I was doing a bunch of different things. Like I said I grew up mostly playing with my brothers as a five peice band in Sacramento, CA, and San Francisco, CA we would play all over, and in Virginia we did that more. Then I was doing a bunch of things. Working at an amusement park, playing in a country show, you know, at Busch Gardens in Virginia, and right before I came to Nashville, I was playing with this group, this guy who you used sing with the Platters, who was living in Virginia, and I was playing in his band going around and playing the 60’s, Platters music. So that’s what I was doing right before I actually came to Nashville, and it was doing well but I knew that was not going to be the thing I did for the rest of my life, but I enjoyed it.
A.M.P. – How has the tour been going?
Victor Wooten – The tour is great. It’s been fun. We never know when coming out to the West Coast, especially on my own because for whatever reason it is always a little harder out on the West Coast. You never know who is going to show up, but we have been having a lot of sell outs, and big crowds, and we’re just having fun.
A.M.P. – Where has your best show been so far, on this tour?
Victor Wooten – On this tour… Wow… I don’t know. The first night we did was good. It was a long day because we had some new equipment and we spent all day trying to get it to work right, but it was in Boulder Colarado, at the Fox Theatre, and we always have a great time there. There was just a ton of people, and it’s a big venue, and it was just nice starting up again, and just getting to play, after that long bus ride from Nashville Tennessee.
A.M.P. – I noticed that when people get a certain level of touring experience from playing so many shows through the years, they really never mention bad shows when asked about them, they just say they love playing to however amount of people are there, but, have you had a bad show on this tour?
Victor Wooten – I would not say that I have had a bad show. I have had nights where I did not think I played that well, there are nights where I feel better, but a lot of time it’s really hard to tell because sometimes, like usually we judge our nights by how we felt, and sometimes you go back and listen to the tapes and you realize, wow, that sounded pretty good, you know, no matter how bad I felt. The opposite can be true too. Last nights show, we were in Tahoe, Lake Tahoe, a small place, and my bass to me didn’t sound that good, and when it’s not sounding that great through my rig, I’m having a hard time playing. It’s hard to just let it go and just play, which is what we try to do anyway, and Regi was saying that his guitar wasn’t sounding right, but, Kurt, our soundman, and Anthony who is doing our monitors, who aren’t really part of the show, they can sit back and just watch it, they said it was the best show so far. So it’s like wow, you just never know. The thing is to just play through your feelings you know, and if you are hating it, just play through, and just try to have a good time and just do what you do.
A.M.P. – Where do you see the love, appreciation, and importance of music among the future people headed? Not where you want it to be, or think it should be, but where do you see it going from the way you see it going now?
Victor Wooten – Well to me, it seems like the focus is being put back on music. I guess originality I guess is a good word, but not really people who are out just to be original, but it seems like people are just being themselves a little bit more, like bands like the Dave Matthews band. It’s amazing to me that they are as successful as they are, because they are not really fitting a successful formula, you know. They don’t have the hearthrob who is the good dancer or takes their clothes off or whatever, and when you go and see them play they don’t have a bunch of dancers up there or they are not playing to tracks, they are just up there like a bar band, but they are amazing musicians. They are playing music in odd time signatures with lots of long solos and all of this stuff that is not suppose to sell, but they are the biggest band going right now, and to me, that’s really amazing that it’s really getting back to that, and people are enjoying it, and even more than that, the people who own the business, the record labels, and things like that, they are starting to recognize that stuff can work. It doesn’t have to be a three and a half minute song with no solos. The lead singer doesn’t have to have orange hair, you know, that type of thing. It can just be good music, and people will listen to it and love it. So it seems like it is headed in a good direction.
A.M.P. – alright, so you got four minutes?
Victor Wooten – Sure, yeah.
Right now, Victor is walking with me to my car, so we can expose him to some new tunes and hear his thoughts. I played “Year One” by Candiria, off of their Beyong Reasonable Doubt album. I also played some Dillinger Escape Plan songs, but that was after the interview. Here is what Victor had to say.
A.M.P. – You just heard Candiria, what do you think?
Victor Wooten – It’s cool, it’s cool. It’s not the type of music that I go out and buy, but I enjoy listening to it whenever I get a chance because, a lot of people would probably consider that, not to be, I don’t even know what the word is…Well I’ll just say what it is. It takes musicianship to really be able to pull that kind of stuff off because they are changing time signatures, the meters are changing, I mean all kinds of stuff is going on, and they are doing it together. So there is a lot of musicianship going on there, even though some people, other musicians that are listening to it unless they are familiar with that type of music they may not recognize it as being good musicianship, but to me it DEFINATELY is. I could not understand the lyrics, but I like the style that it was sung in. It’s sort of like that throat singing I was talking about, you know, again it’s not the classical way that we are used to hearing, but I like it. I like the fact that they are just doing whatever it is that they do. It seems like they are doing what they want to do, not what the market or whatever is telling them to do, and I like anybody that is doing that.
A.M.P. – I would like to thank you for, letting me get a little bit of your time to ask you these questions, and it is an honor to have you in my car.
Victor Wooten – Hehe, sure!
A.M.P. – Because I never thought that this would happen, but THANK YOU VERY MUCH!
Victor Wooten – You are welcome.
After Victor’s amazing almost three hour long set, I got to thank him again after the show, and he thanked me for turning him on to the music I played for him. If you have the chance, check him out. jAy