An Interview with Freekbass

Freekbass is by far one of the most talented bass players performing today. I had a chance to chat with Chris Sherman (a.k.a. Freekbass) about his new album and his collaboration with Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Buckethead and Mike Gordon.

Interview by: Chris Robie

freekbass1HGMN: You just released a new album, 'Junkyard Waltz'. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Freekbass: A couple of the tracks were recorded almost, not quite two years, I would say about a year and a half ago. The first tracks on the CD that I did were with Bernie Worrell. Bernie came down, he was down in Cincinnati and I think he was on tour at the time, so he ended up staying a couple extra days at my place. I have a studio at my place. The song 'Higher' that Bernie plays on and 'X-Ray vision', those tracks, the early rhythm tracks with Bernie and I were done not quite two years ago. It was really so amazing because... Bernie was on the last Freekbass record, 'The Air is fresher underground' but with those tracks, the air is fresher underground that is, they were like tracks that were pretty close to being done and he kind of came in and laid his thing on top, which is still awesome, don't get me wrong but this time it was exciting because we were writing songs together from the ground up. Bernie is just such a great person anyways so being able to see how his mind works, that genius mind of his, it was so exciting. So we started those songs and... I'm sure that you hear this all the time from other bands you interview but the tricky part, being in the studio,  is that you're always on the road so much so it's always hard to take that month or two to really buckle down in the studio. So we started putting tracks together about six or eight months ago. Mike Gordon also came down for a couple days and we banged out a song which ended up being, 'Junkyard waltz'.

How did Mike Gordon end up being on the album?

Freekbass: Mike and I met at... There's a magazine called Bass Player Magazine and they have a thing every year called Bass Player Live. The one I was at, and Mike, it was in New York. Bass Player had asked me to come up and do a, they have a clinic, kind of like a convention, and they had me do the funk, I was kind of like the funk bass clinic guy. So we initially met there. We started talking about gear, bass gear, which all bass players usually end up doing.  It's like this big bass thing to do - have you checked this pedal out? Have freekbass2you heard this one?  It's really all musicians' not just bass players, especially bass players.  So we kind of kept contact email wise. We had a show in Cincinnati and Mike was in town playing with Leo Kottke. He came to the show afterwords and we kinda just started rapping more about bass gear, more tech stuff. I mentioned that we were in the middle of doing a CD and I asked him if he'd be in to coming in and doing a track. He called me a little while after that and said he could swing down. He came down and we banged out some tracks. Ironically, we had planned out some songs to do when he came down and we were pretty much done with the session; I had this little drum beat that I put on in the studio and I  started banging out this bass line, which ended up being the junkyard waltz bass line and Mike came over and spontaneously strapped his bass on. Luckily the engineer was smart enough to keep the tape rolling. We were just jamming basically and then that jam ended up being a song that made the record. And then I really wanted a female vocalist on the song and Mike was at the time touring with Jen Durkin from the Rhythm Devils. I kinda knew Jen a little bit. Jen actually toured with Bernie for a while. The music world is such a small world. So I got in touch with her and asked if she would be in to doing some of the vocals on Junkyard Waltz. She was into it.  So, that's how she ended up being on the record. That's how that song and what ended up being the title track of the record came together. Mike's style and my style are a lot different but they kind of complement each other pretty nicely so we said let's just leave this all bass and let's add the vocals to it. It's almost kinda like a dueling banjo's but it was dueling bass players, that's how we approached the song.

HGMN: The cover song 'Twilight Zone' by Golden Earring, did you plan on doing that song ahead of time or was it just something that ended up on the album last minute?

Freekbass: The guy that produced the CD, his name is Tobe. Tobe is...let me give you a quick background on him. Bootsy was executive producer and Tobe has been working with Bootsy for a long time. Tobe just actually finished a project with Bootsy, Buckethead, and Brain from Primus called Science Faxtion. I think it just came out like a month ago or something. Tobe is actually from Cincinnati as well and plays in a big DJ group called The Animal Crackers. Anyways, when we were doing the record, and we really kinda had to ramp up getting things rolling, Bootsy suggested let's have Tobe engineer and come help with the production.  So, we were actually on tour with Bootsy last year called The James Brown tour and Tobe was on that tour as well. So he comes to me while we were at the hotel lobby one day, "You know we should do that Twilight song by Golden Earring." Wow! That's a great song and I had kinda forgot about it. Twilight Zone has that  trippy, otherworldly thing to it. It even has that funky bass line to it as well. It just seemed like a natural so we just kinda went for it and it turned out ok.

HGMN: I thought it was a nice choice and a great way to close out the album.

freekbass3Freekbass: Thank you. It was fun and it was so weird doing's one thing to do a cover song live but when you're actually doing it for a record it's just such a different thing. We actually started a whole different version of the song, a little bit slower and kinda like your typical, more funk tempo. I kept listening to the original version...I remember when I was a kid there was a band I was into for a while called Faith No More and Faith No More did a cover of the Commodores song, 'Easy'. As opposed to trying to make it sound like Faith No More's "cover of Easy", they just did it straight up like the Commodores. I thought that was almost more erotic and hip doing it that way. We obviously gave it a Freekbass vibe but tempo wise and your vocals and everything, we tried to take the original version and stay fairly true to that version.

You also have Buckethead on the album. How did you meet up with him?

Freekbass: I've known Buckethead for a few years, mostly through Bootsy. Bootsy has his production company called Bootzilla productions and Buckethead, years and years ago, had sent Bootsy this demo tape of himself playing and Bootsy kinda started introducing him to different people, like Bill Laswell. So we kind of know each other through Bootsy. So when we were doing, on the last Freekbass CD as well, Bootsy got in touch with Buckethead and asked if he would be in to doing a track on the song called, 'always there'. So when we started working on this one, Buckethead was actually doing stuff with the Science Faxtion record at the same time, working with both Bootsy and Tobe. We just kinda said hey let's just go ahead and bang one out on this Freekbass CD and that's when we came up with the 'Big Bang Bionic' song that he's on.

Does Buckethead always wear his mask? Does he wear it in the studio or does it bucketheadcome off?

Freekbass: Ah, pretty much...once in a while he kinda sheds it...he's Buckethead about 99.9% of the time, especially when he's out. He wears different versions of the mask. He doesn't always wear the one he specifically wears on stage with the bucket and everything. He definitely stays incognito most of the time. He's a great guy, really quiet and really sweet. I know sweet is a weird word but he really is. He's just very down to earth and obviously very talented. He's just such a great person to work with.

HGMN: How long have you been playing bass?

Freekbass: I started off as a drummer and...

HGMN: How old were you?

Freekbass: I started playing drums when I was ten or eleven but I was drawn to the bass pretty quick. In Cincinnati there has always been this rich funk tradition here. Going all the way back to the 60's it was James Brown and the 70's it was Bootsy, and in the 80's it was a band called Zap and Midnight Star... then there's this band called the Deal. You may have not heard of them but you may have heard of Babyface. Babyface came out of the Deal. Actually, it was Bootsy who gave Babyface his nickname as well. So when I started playing bass it was a natural draw to go in that direction. I started playing bass when I was about thirteen or fourteen.

HGMN: How did you get the name, Freekbass?

Freekbass: Before I was in Freekbass I was in a band called, Shag. The guitar player's name was Chris and my name is Chris. So we were in the studio working with Bootsy, he had just met us recently, so he'd say hey Chris guitar over there, you do this...Chris bass, over there. I was just playing through a bunch of weird effects. Bootsy had all these effects laid out in his studio so I was like plugging through every little thing. I was like a little kid in a candy store. I started pluggin' through all these effects and he's like, "You've got that freaky bass thing going on!". As the day went on, because it was a long recording session, it kinda morphed into Freekbass and then everybody in the studio, the engineer, and then different guys in the band started calling me Freekbass. So what started out as a studio inside joke kinda caught on, I guess.

HGMN: Can you describe how you and Bootsy collaborate in the studio?

freekbass5Freekbass: Like any artist, when you write a song together, the way a song's kinda different every time. Sometimes you start with a lyric idea, sometimes you start off with a groove or a musical idea. The thing with working with Bootsy, the really amazing thing about working with him is... of course me being another bass player, a little flashy, crazy looking bass player.  When we first met I was like, oh this is great, I'm going to learn all these really cool bass stuff and these bass tricks. The main thing working with him is that he's taught me; right away he got me into the recording studio. This is how you record and this is what you need. You need to get pro tools and you need to get an NPC, which is like a sampling drum machine. Basically, learning the ins and outs of the studio. He would give me these different pieces of songs and I would bring it to my studio and I would start putting them together. It's almost like putting a puzzle together. He's like, here's this element and this element. I want to do this drum track, this keyboard line or this bass line, whatever the case may be. You bring it home, you do what you think sounds good and then you bring it back to me and then we get back together. So we then go back to his studio and kinda put it together. This is how we started building the sound for Freekbass. The thing that was interesting is that all the bands I've played in the past, you always play live first. You play live for a while and then you go into the studio and you start putting together a sound based off of what you did live. With Freekbass it was kinda the opposite thing where...I wasn't originally planning on doing a lot of touring with this. It was just a project that I was doing in the studio with Bootsy - putting out a record, writing a bunch of songs together and then creating sound. So we did all this stuff first before even a live band came into fruition. Once we started putting the record together we were like, wow! This sounds pretty good. It would be cool to play this stuff live. So we started to do a couple shows here and there, around Cincinnati and up in Columbus, OH, around this area. The shows started going pretty good and then we started doing Indiana and West Virginia. We started branching out of our circle a little bit. Long story short, zap ahead a few years, this booking agent out of  Boston, Massachusetts, Simon Say's Booking had heard about the little buzz we were kinda creating throughout the Midwest and he flew down to Cincinnati to see a show of ours and signed us up. Since then, this has been about 2 1/2, 3 years ago; we've been touring coast to coast everywhere. So what started off as this studio thing ended up becoming a full blown touring thing, which is great with me because I always say that I have that trucker gene in me. I love being in a band and I love being in a different city every night. So I was more than happy to oblige.

Junkyard Waltz, is this your third album?

Freekbass: Correct.

HGMN: How would you compare it to your previous two? Is there anything drastically different?

Freekbass: Well, of course when you do something new you always think it's your best. I was trying to be semi-unbiased about it. 'Body over mind', which was our first CD, was more...songs. We really tried to be more song oriented on it. On 'the Air is Fresher', there were obviously songs on that as well, our second CD, but there was also a lot of production too. We stretched it out with different production ideas, really pushing the gambit on what you could do, both with live playing and studio technology. I think 'Junkyard Waltz' is the combination of the two. I really wanted to be more song oriented on it because, as well as all the grooves and all that kinda stuff, which is what got me hooked into funk and stuff, it was also the great song writing - Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, obviously Bootsy, George Clinton & P Funk and bands like that. It's always been about the song just as much as it's been about the groove.

HGMN: Obviously, you've had some deep funk influences growing up. Do you have any favorites outside of the Funk genre?

Freekbass: Oh, definitely. In the Rock realm of things, I'm a huge Radiohead fan. I'm also a huge hip-hop fan. Hip-hop and funk are kinda interrelated but my dream, I've always wanted to work with Dr. Dre. My next CD, knock on wood, hopefully we can at least do a song together. He's one of those people in the industry that has such a great sense of groove but also has a great sense of song. His production style is just so amazing. He's like the Quincy Jones of Hip-hop. I'm also a big Beck fan, My Morning Jacket, Frank Zappa and Charles Mingus.

HGMN: Any major plans in the near future for Freekbass?

Just like always, continue to enjoy a lot of touring. One thing that kinda happened last year but it's starting to take off right now, which is strange in a weird way but this company out of New York, actually Bernie Worrell hooked me up with it, called the Rock House Method. They do instructional DVDs; learn how to play funk bass or heavy metal bass, guitar player, keyboard player. Bernie had done a keyboard thing with them. So freekbass4about a year or so ago we filmed two 'learn to play funk bass with Freekbass' DVDs, which was really wonderful. I teach private lessons when I'm not on the road already and it was neat to bridge with what I do on stage with teaching as well. Anyways, those DVD's have kinda taken off in a weird area. It's almost like being tied with a label but their doing like a different aspect of your career. That's kind of a neat thing. They work the DVD just like you would a label but it's more for the musician's type market. So that's kind of a neat little thing that's started taking off. We're already starting to lay down some stuff for the next CD already. So yeah, that's about it.  We're probably going to go out and do some more of the James Brown tour as well but probably not as much as we did last year, may do some spot gigs here and there. When we do that Freekbase will just go out and play for about twenty or thirty minutes because there's always so many acts on the bill. At the end there would be this big jam session, like where Bootsy will hand me his bass and then he will go out, the crazy Bootsy guy that he is, and hypes the crowd up. It's a pretty neat thing. It's great to see all those original cats play live. It's pretty mind blowing sometimes. So yeah, just going around spreading the Funk, the same mission that it was a couple years ago.