Global Bass Online November 2001
Anyone who had the sense to pick up Victor Wooten's 1999 album 'Yin Yang' will recognize the sound of his daughters voice on the record. At one point Victor took a series of samples of Kayla's voice as an infant, and through some skillful editing, turned it into a tone poem. Her childlike babblings and occasional clear words, were painstakingly studied by Victor, tearing each phrase apart and building a bass accompaniment to the child's voice.
Later in the same double album, Victor used a now slightly older Kayla's voice samples once more and had her count the song in, accenting stops and changes throughout the tune. I doubt there is a soul that would not smile when listening to these tunes. The rest of the album is killer as well. Wooten in top form.
So it was rare treat to talk to Victor and hear this somewhat famous young ladies voice talking to her Dad as he tried to balance being the attentive Dad with the equally attentive interview subject. Victor is known, aside from his incredible playing, as a even tempered sort of person that demands a lot of himself.
This is why he does not release crap, demanding his very best at all times. It is the same with Live in America. With this double album, Victor reaches into his musical bag of goodies and pulls 18 great songs together, culled from four years of touring with his brothers Regi and Joseph and long time friend and virtual family member JD Blair.
Global Bass: I understand that you now have another short person in the house, someone perhaps who can provide backing vocals to Kayla.
Victor Wooten: Yup, I have a little boy named Adam. Nine and half months. He's the happiest baby I've ever seen.
GB: Well, it takes a great attitude and a lot of courage to be born into this difficult time.
Victor: Yeah, and we need good people.
GB: Releasing a live album is a task that puts a promotional team to it's tests. For example, how do you tour an album about touring? Will you be doing any for this release?
Victor: Well, we are going to do some touring at the end of January till early February. We are going to go out for a couple of weeks. I believe we start with Bela (of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones) the latter part of February. We had a bunch (of concerts) get cancelled, so this month, we were supposed to be in Europe. Now were just gonna be home.
~As the World Turns~
Nuke `em, spook `em, or learn to listen?
GB: Any idea why the European part
of the tour cancelled, is it a matter of the economy?
GB: It sounds odd to have to deal
with terrorism as part of the decision making for a tour. A constant
reminder we took a turn in the road.
It seems like a new thing because it is starting to hit our country...and the thing we need to realize is that it is not a new thing. It's an old thing...and it's way past overdue in getting rid of this kind of thinking.
It seems like we really do know a lot about how to solve this. As far as terrorism goes, I like the quote that I think Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind."
That really fits for me. To me, our solution to terrorism is not figuring out
why the terrorism happens but instead it's geared towards hitting them
back with terror, so hard that they can no longer use terrorism, what it seems
like is this, if we hit them down again and take out their military places so
they can't use terrorism back...all that does not solve the problem.
GB: If there perhaps there were no hoarding of wealth, in many cases, there would be no basis for this. ..
Victor: But let me say this, money is not the problem. The same way a gun is not a problem, it is how it is all used. Money is not the problem if we spread it around (and I won't even say evenly)...but I will say honestly. Every body does not need to have the same amount of money, but there is enough wealth where everybody can have enough.
GB: Enough food, a place to live, health care..
Victor: Right, why should we have to fight to live? Everybody has been given life freely, so why do we have to fight to keep it? Just for the basic things? We have enough food in this country to feed...now this is my opinion, I don't know about the actual figures, but I believe we have enough food in this country to solve the worlds hunger problems.
We throw that much away. It's really not about the money...it's not about 'I have more and you have less', that's not it. It goes beyond that.
They say they want to take guns away, taking guns away won't solve the problem.
GB: It's the thinking then?
Victor: Exactly, as long as I think I am better than you then you're gonna want something I have. As long as I say my country is the best, that my country does it right, then I'm gonna wanna change you so that you're like me. That is how racism exists, it's how musical prejudice exists and it's found all over. Again this is just how I look at this, I don't claim to have the answers, this is just my opinion.
Until we can look at each other in the way we look at our family, in other words, when I can include you 100% into my family, when I can look at the guy with the turban as my brother, as my sister, as my child and parent, until I can do that, we're gonna have problems.
Now if my kids are arguing, even to the point where they want to 'war' with each other, as a parent I'm gonna go into finding the solution with love in my heart for both sides. Without bias. It does not depend on who is right or wrong. What is most important is that we are a family and a solution must be found. As a parent it goes further than 'well, you were right and you were wrong'. A good parent doesn't approach children's problems by that route. The parent loves both sides equally and they reach a solution from that standpoint. "I love you both, we are family, let's find the solution".
If we could see the world that way, look at the planet as our home and realize that we all live in the same house, approach the solution that way, forget the word 'better', forget the words 'for' or 'against', meaning I am 'for this' or 'against that'. 'I'm united with you but I am against them', we must forget all that. Really work together as one family. I believe only then will we really truly reach the solution to the problem.
GB: Do you think there is a chance this can be done?
Victor: 'Can?', yes. 'Will?', no...at least not in my lifetime. But it could be done today! It' s just a thought process away.
GB: Just simply stop thinking that way.
Victor: It's just a change of mind. The mind doesn't need time to change. It's instantaneous.
Now this may not need to go into the article. (Victor later agreed and gave the go-ahead). I don't get into talk about God with a lot of people because a lot of people can't separate the talk of God from the talk of religion. The talk of spirituality from the talk of religion. A lot of fighting today is because of religion.
People will kill everyone because of religion. This is my thought and also a lot of people judge you by what you think...but I am gonna stretch and tell you what I think.
Most bibles tell you that in the beginning, there was God. So that means if you could somehow see the beginning no matter where you looked, at there it was, inside, outside, top to bottom, from end to end and all in between, there was only God. Nothing else.
Okay, so the though arose in me that if in the beginning there was only God, what else can there be since that beginning? Where did everything else come from? If there was nothing but God, think about it...if I have a big ball of cotton. I shape it into a guitar and it's wood and there's strings but I made it from cotton, in the beginning, a long time ago... . What is that thing actually? It's still cotton.
No matter what it has become or turned into since. The origins are cotton. If I take this ball of cotton and I shape it into a car and I can actually drive it...it has wheels that look like rubber and everything. Still, what actually is it? It's still cotton.
So if in the beginning there was God and from that God became planets, became trees, became water, became people...what actually is it made out of? No matter what it looks like. To me, it is purely 100% God. But we are so far away from that, we are caught up in appearances, what things look like.
GB: Caught up in illusion.
Victor: Truly, truly, truly illusion. That's why they say 'don't judge a book by it's cover'. Don't worry about what it looks like. If you get back to what we all truly are, I will go ahead and really stretch and say 'we are all God'.
It's like taking a drop of water, holding it in your hand and saying that it has nothing to do with the ocean. That drop of water is somehow separate from the ocean. Yes, it is, but also, no it's not. If it's true that in the beginning, there was God and just say you called It whatever. Whatever there was in the beginning, that makes me believe that that's all there is since that beginning.
GB: Thanks for these thoughts on an issue that sometimes draws a lot of criticism.
Victor: I am not so comfortable with talking to just every one about that.
Almost 'Triple Live in America'?
GB: On to a lighter subject...was it difficult when putting together the tunes for this double album, to chose to use certain songs over others. Was there the urge to go to a triple album? Four years of concerts to draw from is a lot of music.
Victor: I could have very easily done a triple album. There was so much good material.
GB: Difficult to let some things go, perhaps promising yourself 'maybe later'.
Victor: What I thought about doing is maybe releasing other albums, maybe through my website. I could do a whole album with just guests sitting in. I could do a whole album just on each member of the band.
GB: Speaking of that, you have said things about Regi, (Victor's brother) being a tremendous guitar player. There is a lot of evidence supporting this on this new live album. He plays like a musical roller coaster. Also with JD, (drummer for Vic's band), you and he have really worked tightness into everything. Is there a secret to that?
Victor: He and I have played together for such a long time now. I think now that the first two or three tours that I ever did were just with JD. Just the two of us.
GB: You must have learned a lot about each other and your playing. I haven't seen any video's on this, but I pick up the impression from the album that at times you guys can play at the same time without count-throughs and without even looking at each other.
Victor: That's correct. It gets back to what we were really talking about. Relationships. That's when you can really tell, and again this is my opinion, the better the relationship gets the less you have to talk. Because right now most of us think of communication as talking. But communication is also body language, how you look, how you breathe, move, we're always communicating.
As the relationship grows, the ways of communicating grow. It's not just limited to talking anymore. So talking is needed less. You can really tell the great relationships by how little they have to talk.
JD and my brothers and I are that way. It doesn't have to be a verbal thing. I could play something or anyone could play something and anyone would know what that change means.
GB: It's tempting to once more consider that music comes through us and not from us.
Victor: You hit it right on the head. I can't understand how anyone could not see it that way. Everything that we produce is already there. We either had to find it or it had to find us. We have to let it through, but it's always already there. This is why I say everybody that wants to be a great musician is already a great musician.
GB: Vanity is always the first clue that someone does not understand this. They honestly think they are musical geniuses, iconoclasts, they truly think it is them creating the music. Understanding this is rare.
Victor: I believe I do understand this. I am not just saying that I understand all of it, but there are some things that I understand that make my life more enjoyable.
GB: What amazes me mostly is that we never stop learning.
Through the Eyes of a Child
Victor: Exactly, a lot of times they say 'Have the eyes of a child' because a child can see things purely. It gets back to TV or handguns or whatever, to a child they are just things. They have learned labels, 'Oh, that's a good thing', 'That's a bad thing'.
GB: We teach them to load these things with emotion and carry that with them, oft times to their detriment, for the rest of their lives.
Victor: We are usually the ones that teach them that.
GB: We are really good at that though,
GB: If we truly love our kids, perhaps on this issue we have to teach them to not learn what we learned.
Victor: That's my goal! My daughter likes
to tell people, "Oh, my Dad's always joking with me, he's always teasing
me." She loves it. The thing is, I do tease her a lot. I will tell
her things that are so clearly wrong...and we just laugh at it.
So When is it Time to 'toss' the Teacher?
They have to go through that point of walking on their own. They have to go through a point where they have to try things out on their own. It's like playing music. You can have your teacher, but after a while you have GOT to get away from that teacher. You've gotta take your own risks. When there is a question you have to NOT call someone for that answer. You have got to get to the point where you are on your own...and then, once you've succeeded at that, you go back, because you want to thank that teacher. That'll happen.
GB: Which brings us to the Bass Camp...this balance you try to show between the creativity of nature and of music...would you say that part of the message is that balance.
Victor: It's definitely about balance. That's one of the messages from the Camp. A lot of these musicians want to be so serious about it. They say, "Man, you know, I eat, drink, breathe and sleep music. It's all I do, you know." I tell them, "Man you're gonna burn yourself out if that's all you do.! Think of music as a language, think of someone who talks ALL the time..."
GB: No one wants to be around them...
Victor: NO ONE wants to be around them. So what kind of life are you gonna have if all it encompasses is music? If you think of music as a language, you NEED something to talk about. Think about all the best writers in the world, you might think of Emerson, Shakespeare or anyone. What are they writing about!! They are writing about life and their own experiences. They are not writing about writing. You use writing as the tool to describe, to relate experiences. If you go out there and have an amazing experience then you'll have something to play.
GB: So it's safe to say that when you roll into the driveway after a tour, the bass case gets tossed into a corner and you set about the business of being a dad, a husband, being a family.
Victor: I do that all the time. If I am at home, I am rarely playing. But, the differences is with me is that I am one of the luckier musicians that is playing all the time. I am out on the road so much, that when I am off the road, I don't wanna play.
Setting up at Bass Camp
The other part of the Bass Camp, is showing these people who they actually are. When they come to the camp, here's the best way to put it...From the first Camp, the best quote (from the students) that stuck out was:
I loved that.
GB: He can take that home with him and live that.
Victor: He really was (shy). He was a loner type.
GB: So you do get students that you can tell are troubled or come from troubled homes and lives.
Victor: A lot of times you can even tell that from their application. We make sure that there a few people like that. The idea of the Camp is getting as wide a variety of people as possible. We have beginners, people who have been playing for six months, people who have been playing for thirty years. Male, female, people that have an interest in nature, people who have NO interest in nature. We just bring that all together.
So we make the Camp up of as wide a variety as possible. So that people can say, "Wow, there are people here like me and there are some people here I would like to be like". So because of this we learn more than if we were in a room with people who were all like us.
GB: Needless to say, then, you have to make choices to not accept applications.
Victor: Yes, for the most part I keep myself out of that process. My wife does most of that for me. She knows what we're looking for and I would say that her intuition is better than mine anyway.
I let her go through the applications. People can write whatever they want, you can fake an application. But you really can't fake it.
GB: She sees through it?
GB: So you see this going on for quite
some time then?
"Is This Thing On?"
GB: The songs from the album were taken from over a four year period, can you hear in your own ear how you have grown or changed, or even how the technology has changed in that time?
Victor: Yeah, I can. There's not a whole lot I can tell just by listening to what I played, but there are lot of times, where on a couple of the tracks, it was just me and JD. So I know that was back when JD and I worked alone.
I don't think we used anything from when it was just Regi, JD and I touring. A lot of times, even when I listen to my records that were done a long time ago, a lot of the differences I hear are in the production.
I've gotten better equipment, learned how to get better sounds and things like that.
GB: Do you record most gigs.
GB: How about with Bela Fleck and
GB: Your library must be huge for all this work you've done.
Victor: There is a huge library, that's why I say there are so many projects that could be put out.
GB: Do you find that you wish there were about 700 days in every year?
Victor: (laughs) The year is fine, I just wish there were more hours in a day sometimes. The more I think about if though, there's time...
GB: You told Orin Isaacs (guest writer for GB and bandleader/bassist for the Mike Bullard Comedy Network television show), that the Flectones give you the financial freedom to record and release your own solo music on your own schedule, it allows you to be honest with your music.
Victor: It lets me work. We have the freedom to do that too.
GB: Freedom in all it's forms means a lot to you then.
Victor: Oh, man, definitely...and it should to all of us. It gets back to what we were talking about earlier...there is enough money and food around, we just don't spread it around.
People should be free enough to have something to eat.
GB: But there are people out there that don't want others to be free. They thrive on the imprisonment of other souls.
Victor: Of course, there are parents that are like that with their kids.
"On the Road Again...?"
GB: Nobody could ever accuse you of being lazy. You never stop. With this new album brings interviews, do you have your publicist actively setting them up.
Victor: Yeah, I have been doing quite a few interviews. Normally when you have a new album, you hit the road. I'm kinda doing the opposite right now. I had the opportunity to NOT be on the road. The Flecktones were taking the whole month of October off and that was really the time I should have hit the road. But, I haven't been home for a month in since I don't know when.
I needed it, my kids needed it, my wife needed it...our house needed it. There were lots of things that needed to be done. I just thought, 'You know, I just need to deal with life first.'
Then all of November was cancelled. So now I'm off until the end of January...and I'm lovin' it!
We went to Disney World, Kayla's 4th birthday, this is just great. I am enjoying just being home. I'm thinking, you know, 'I'll tour when we wanna tour'.
Just When You Thought the Water Was Safe...
GB: You have the project with Greg Howe and Dennis Chambers, you are just putting the finishing touches on that now.
Victor: I've finished my stuff. I've sent that to Greg and I guess now Greg's just gonna finish his parts. I look forward to hearing that. There's some good music on there.
GB: When that's done, do you think you
might tour it?
GB: It begs the question, with all
these projects, how can you possibly keep all this music in your head?
GB: With such a busy schedule do you map out a time plan, 6 months, a year, 2 years?
Victor: We do that somewhat. We don't do it strictly, like we don't say 'Well in 6 months, this is happening'. But we kind of look at it vaguely so that she knows there is time when I am gonna be off. So that I know it also.
We don't have to do a whole lot of planning, things just kinda happen.
GB: Have you ever encountered an interview you had to walk out on.
Victor: Well, I did an interview with a guy who didn't know how to do an interview. He was a just young kid, it may have been his first interview. He was doing it for a school or something...and so he was asking questions and he was basically telling me more about himself and his music...basically he was answering his own questions.
When I would talk he wouldn't write anything down. I am very particular about what I say. Usually if it comes out of my mouth it's what I meant to say. If I am talking about anybody and I say 'Well, I wish he could do this', I don't want someone to change it to 'I wish he would do this'. I hate it when one word gets changed like that `cos it changes the meaning.
Anyway, I am doing an interview with this guy and he is not writing anything down. After a while I said, 'I notice you are not writing anything down. I know you don't have a tape recorder.' He said, "Well, I'm an English Lit major, I have a good memory."
I said, 'No, well I wanna tell you a few things about doing an interview because the next person you do an interview with may not be as nice as I am gonna be to you. First of all, to not write anything down and to not have a tape recorder and to say your gonna remember it because you're an English Lit major, that's enough right there to end the interview'.
I said, 'Most musicians don't like critics anyways and don't want to be interviewed, they don't want to make the time for an interview for someone's first interview for a little school paper and then you're not gonna write anything down.'
I said, 'I wanna just tell you a few things that are gonna help you if your learn these things. First of all, you are answering the questions, not me'. I started to say, "When I...", and he cut in again. He said, "Oh yeah, I'm bad about that, I do that all the time".
I said, 'You're doing it right now. Because you're not writing it down and the fact is, you're doing most of the talking, you're gonna write your answers, not mine. Here's an example...you asked me, "Who were some of your influences". I named two and you named four. Those are the four you're gonna remember, you're not gonna remember the ones I told you. And your four may not be right.'
He kinda felt bad at the end but he apologized and thanked me for going through that with him.
GB: Do you think he learned?
Victor: I hope so. I mean he had the opportunity to learn.
GB: Even at Bass Camp, you must have students that have no room for new ideas, they are so full of their own ideas.
Victor: I do a little thing at the end of the Camp and we won't put this in the article...(so we won't. Suffice it to say, attend the camp and find out. The lesson is an excellent example on how to allow room for new ways of thinking and doing things, making room. Editor)
At the beginning of the Camp, I talk about a thing called Natural Law versus City Law. These are things we learn living in the city. Laws that we live by in the city. Laws that we live by living close to nature, I might call it Jungle Law or Natural Law...and how they differ and how they are sometimes the same. The bulk of the conversations I have with them is I show them how you can take Natural Law and use it in the city to survive, where you may have a harder time taking City Law and having it work in nature.
City Law will cause you to want to keep things. Once we get something we don't want to lose it. Natural Law will cause things to empty out. Once you release it, that's when you really learn what you have learned. There is truth in the statement, 'If you love something, let it go'.
Try to hold water, sand, anything, you have to hold it loosely, you can't squeeze it. Using City Law, we would try to keep things as they were. Use Natural Law and nature empties itself. (and refills again according to what Victor is teaching~ Editor). It's a neat little thing to talk about at the end.
GB: In a section not included in this article you do mention you are involved in writing. Do you mean a journal or something along that line?
Victor: I have a book, it's not really a diary, I don't do a daily diary thing. I have a book where I do keep quotes, I keep ideas and conversations I have with myself. Questions and answers. I have found that in doing that I get into a state of mind where I can start thinking outside of myself, out of my own box. So I do that quite a bit, writing questions and answers. It may get put into a book one day.
GB: Right now it's for you.
Victor. Right now it's for me and for my closest friends and I'll read some of it to them.
GB: A funny or interesting story to close this off, maybe from the road.
"Look Mom, No Hands!!!!!"
Victor: One of them that I look at as funny now was when I almost knocked myself out on stage once. Doing some of these bass antics that I do. I do this one thing where I spin the bass around my neck. Not the one that most people see me do, but another one where I take my arms out of the strap and just swing it around my neck. I swing it really wide, I can usually get it going a couple of times.
Well, we were outdoors in Nashville, in front of our home audience. It seems like something always goes wrong when we play in Nashville. Well, I was sweating, so instead of the strap sliding around my neck, it stuck and wound up around my neck. I sling this thing really hard and when I swung it, it wound up and the horn of the bass, the upper horn came up and caught me in the left side of the jugular vein. It just hit there really hard and I went black. I mean I just totally lost everything.
GB: Did the guys in the band notice anything?
Victor: Well, nope, there's a mandolin player by the name of Sam Bush, he was playing with us that day. Everybody was off stage watching, except for my brother Future Man and me. Sam said to Bela, "Did Victor just hurt himself?" and Bela said, "No, he does this every night."
It was probably only for a split second but it seemed like it lasted for a full minute. It was so funny, I had read a book about Mohammed Ali, and he talked about being in the ring with Joe Frazier and being out on his feet. Having to keep going and make it not look like he was out. He said that he would start hallucinating and he would be in this room with all these animals floating around! It's funny but that was what went through my mind at that time. I started to think about Mohammed Ali. I started thinking, "Well, what would Ali do!?"
One last word (for now) from Victor on his music: "I can see that
this music, I don't really look at it as my career. This music is leading to
Victor: Well, I might know what that is...I won't say I am sure what it is, but I will say I might know what it is. To me, my life is far bigger than the music. The music is the vehicle for something else.
Catch Victor's new double live CD Live in America on Compass Records.
You can visit Victor at his own site at:
Info can be found on all his releases and the Bass Camp at his site.
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