Interview - Wesley Allen
Wesley Allen is a creative, and award-winning bassist, composer, and educator, from Toronto, Canada. He has played with world-famous Juno and Grammy-award winning artists such as: Kellylee Evans, Molly Johnson, Jackie Richardson, The New York Voices, Andrew Craig, Larnell Lewis (Snarky Puppy) Mark McLean (Nikki Yanofski), Grammy nominated producer Matthew Burnett, three time Grammy Award winner Ricardo Voght, Whitney Rose, Mike Stern, and has recorded with Daniel Ceasar for his past two releases. Wes is currently working on his own record, which will be available in the spring of 2016.
What are some important musical and other lessons you've learned that you can pass on to aspiring bassists?
- Try to love the process, never say when I get better I’ll be happy, strive to be a happy person who is also getting better.
- Don’t be difficult to work with. Almost every bit of work I’ve gotten has been based on referrals.
- Be professional - On time, prepared, dressed appropriately etc…
- Learn how to say no. This is the hardest one for me and I have definitely learned the hard way that if you don’t say no to some things and end up being too busy you will sacrifice the first three points I mentioned. I think it’s really important to play a lot and take as many opportunities as you can manage, but know where the line is, and try to keep your priorities in mind when accepting work.
- If you’re turning down a gig for any reason, be careful not to be rude about it. People care deeply for their music, and can be sensitive.
- If you’re stressing out on a gig, focus on your feel and tone. If you know the material the rest will fall into place.
- Be yourself.
What are three of your favourite recordings that you consider essential for any bassist to check out?
I wouldn’t say that they’re essential for any bassist. I love that no one sounds the same, and I feel like if we all lifted the same lines things would get pretty boring around here. But these are some records that have really inspired me.
- What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye. Jamerson is sublime on this record. I’m having a hard time putting into words how much this record means to me, but if you don’t like it, don’t tell me.
- Joel Quarrington – Garden Scene. I used to feel like classical musicians weren’t as musically expressive as jazz or RnB players because they’re not improvising. Joel ripped that idea out of my head and ate it. Also, Roberto Occhipinti produced this record, and though I think Quarrington would still sound great if you recorded him with a potato, Occhipinti certainly did an amazing job behind the glass.
- The Oscar Peterson Trio – We Get Requests. A swinging good time. Ray Brown’s feel is as amazing as usual, and the bass is really well recorded.
Can you share some practice ideas? What should aspiring bassists focus on? What worked/works for you? I realize this is a very broad question that varies with individuals' needs, but I'm looking for some general ideas, and in particular what worked for you.
- I have noticed lasting improvements from periods of time when I was able to practice the same concepts every day for at least a few weeks.
- Make sure you are applying what you are practicing every day. For example, if you are learning some new tunes, make sure you play them with people.
- Only perfect practice makes perfect. So try to set small goals for yourself and really make sure you are accomplishing them as perfectly as you can before you move on. This can be difficult when you’re at school because you’re being asked to learn so much, but make sure you keep it in mind.
- Record yourself.
Do you have any advice for overcoming difficulties or obstacles?
- Talk to your friends, and talk to your teachers.
- Remember hard work gets rewarded, even if it doesn’t pay off immediately or in the way you thought it would.
- Remember that ups and downs are normal and healthy.
Do you have any gear advice (specific pickups, strings, amps, etc. and what to look for)?
- My favourite piece of gear is my DPA 4099 microphone for my double bass. The microphone enables you to have a very loud, and very acoustic sound out of the double bass, which is very hard to get when you’re being asked to play at high volumes.
- Other than that, I love my precision bass and like playing on D’addarrio Chromes.
- As for what to look for, use your ears!
What's coming up for you and how can we follow you (website, social media, etc,)?
I’ll be releasing my own record in the spring of 2016, and my upcoming performances are posted on my website.
Any other thoughts to pass along?
- Try to think long term, and remember that the relationships you develop with your friends and teachers, your reputation, and your constant dedication to your craft matter more than if you’re getting called for every gig you want right now.
- Take the time to eat healthy and exercise. Being a musician can be very taxing on your body, so when you are able to, be good to yourself!
- Listen to a lot of music!