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Interview: Victor Wooten - Zen and the Art of Playing to Infinity

Interview: Victor Wooten - Zen and the Art of Playing to Infinity

How important is your gear to your sound?
I want gear that’s so transparent I forget it’s there. I do clinics for Hartke all over the world, and sometimes I forget to talk about them. And when I do, I tell people that me forgetting about the gear is a wonderful thing, although for Hartke, it’s not so good (laughs). I’m much more musical and I always get it more right in my heart and in my head, but by the time it comes out, there’s a bunch of mistakes in it, and it doesn’t sound like it did in my brain. When the amplification is projecting exactly what’s in my head, then I forget it’s there. Really, that’s the biggest thing I’m looking for. That’s why I have a hard time sitting in a room and testing an amp. I’m thinking about it too much. I need to put it in real context.

What have you been listening to lately?
One thing that might surprise people is that when I’m driving in my car by myself I’m usually listening to country music. I got into it when I worked at Busch Gardens amusement park in Virginia and learned about country and bluegrass. Listening to it in the car gives me a chance to practice my music theory. Because the chord changes move by slowly, I can call them out and say, “That’s a I chord, that’s a VIm, there’s a IIm chord, there’s a V7.” I’ve also started to predict where it’s going to go so I can see if I’m right, and I can tell what’s going to go on before it happens.

Who are your greatest bass influences?
It all starts and ends with my brother Regi. But Stanley Clarke is a big one, Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius, of course, and there are tons of other people like Chuck Rainey, Louis Johnson, James Jamerson and Willie Weeks. Acoustic players like Ron Carter, Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro. And that’s just bass players. My musical influences span a lot of different instruments.

How does the bass resonate with your personality?
It’s a supporting instrument. It’s designed to make other people feel and sound good. It seems like a lot of the time, we forget that. That instrument was not designed to be on top, and it’s rare that you’ll find a bass player who is leading a band. It’s designed so that most of the time we’re going to be sidemen. But I find that when most of us bassists are alone practicing, that rarely comes into the picture of what we’re working on. We’re going to get hired based on our ability to be a supporter, but when we practice, we learn new scales and work on our licks and our solos and how to play faster. But you never get hired for any of that. You have to honor the true spirit of the instrument.

How does it make you feel when people tell you you’re the best ever?
I understand that what people think, good or bad, is up to them and not me. A little kid who looks up to his big brother for being able to dunk a basketball, for example, is really seeing his own future potential. It wouldn’t make sense for the older brother to stop dunking the ball because the younger brother can’t, so he keeps doing it. When people put me up on a pedestal, I used to take myself off it and tell them I wasn’t that good, or I’d shrug it off. But what I realized is that whether they know it or not, when they think they’re talking about me, they’re really talking about themselves. I don’t want to diminish their dreams by saying I’m not that good. Instead, I accept it, say thank you, and then we move on.

What would you ideally want someone to say about your music after hearing it for the first time? That they really enjoyed it and that it inspired them to go do it. I want people to feel something. I want them to think less about the technique and the playing behind it and feel the big picture of it all. Music should hit you in your heart and make you feel something real, just like an Otis Redding song does.

What inspires you to keep growing as a player?
You have to understand that music never ends and there’s always someplace new to go with it. A good friend of mine once said that it’s like trying to count to infinity—no matter how far you go, you’re no closer to the end. In no way do I think that I’ve reached the limit or the full potential of my playing ability. None of us have.

Victor Wooten's Gear

Fodera 4-string fretted Monarch basses, various upright models

Hartke HyDrive LH Series, Hartke HyDrive 410, HyDrive 115

Rodenberg Distortion pedal, Boss GT-6B Multi-effects pedal, Zoom B3 Multi-effects

D’Addario nickels strings (.040, .055, .075, .095)

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