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Freekbass Interview

Good evening everybody, today we’ll be speaking to Cincinnati bassist Freekbass. Freekbass has been a longtime friend and collaborator of funk legend Bootsy Collins. Has worked and toured with guitar hero Buckethead. And is currently on tour with his new album ‘All the way this, all the way that’.

So how did you first meet Bootsy Collins?

This is probably like late 90’s, early 2000’s. I was just starting to get my name around time as a bass player around Cincinnati a little bit. And Mudbone had heard about me, so he had me start playing bass on some of his demos. So Mudbone along with Michael Hampton, Kid Funkadelic from P-Funk were doing a track together and he said “hey would you like to come and play bass on this track?”. And I said “sure that sounds awesome!” And just off the cuff I said “Where are we recording it at? The normal place? Or is anyone producing it?” And he was like “Oh yeah, Bootsy is gonna engineer and produce it and do it at his house” Just kind of off the cuff. And I was like “Oh shit, what did you say?”.
So next thing I know, later that week he was like “yeah just meet me at Bootsy’s”. It was like driving to the bat cave for the first time, I was super nervous of course.

Yes, I bet.

And I arrived and that’s how I met Bootsy for the first time, by way of Mudbone.

And what was your first impression when you met him?

It’s funny because the first time, I remember knocking on the studio door and I felt like I was really small and when Bootsy opened the door he looked like he was a giant.

With the hat on?

No, I don’t think he had the hat on that day. He was kind of in engineer mode. But Bootsy is Bootsy all the time. He’s one of those people who exudes that all the time. But he answered the door, it was his old studio where he used to record on his property. He had a huge smile on his face. He invited me into the studio and immediately we got right into recording. And he had a massive bass rig in the studio. So I plugged my bass in and I remember playing one note and it shook the whole studio. I remember hitting that one note and the whole studio was rumbling and I was like “this is gonna be a good session”.

So what was he like to jam with? Did he get in there and jam with you?

Well he was engineering so that was his priority first. But during the course of the session he went over and played drums and kind of sat there when we got the groove going. The main focus that day was to get the bass track done for the Jimi Hendrix project. But we connected and a couple of weeks later he sent me a message and said “hey man why don’t you come out to the studio and we’ll start writing some songs together?”. So I started going to his studio and we would sit there for hours before we even played music and we would sit there and talk. And he would tell me about the music business and what to watch out for and his experiences in the business. It was amazing. And we would get into recording and he would show me how to get around the studio and how to work the board. It was so…

Insightful?

Oh yeah, it was so above and beyond. I thought when I met Bootsy I’d learn all these cool bass tricks but more than anything else it was about having a career in the music  business, how to survive, how to record, how to produce, a live record vs a studio album. Just countless knowledge. He’s definitely from the school of ‘teach a man to fish and he’ll fish for a life time’ rather than just giving him the fish. And that’s what he did with me. Its memories and knowledge I’ll have forever.

I bet.

It’s invaluable.

And was it through those session he gave you your name?

Yeah. The first session. Me and a guitar player went there. And I was in a band with the guitar player called ‘Shag’. It was my first funk band. And we were both called Chris. So I think Bootsy had trouble trouble remembering our names because he just met us and we had the same name. So he called me “Hey Chris bass” “Hey Chris guitar” and I was messing with his bass effects and he was like “Man you got that freaky thing going on with the bass”. And as the day went on he was like “Hey Freak! Come over here and do this” “Hey Freak bass!” And then everyone in the room, started calling me “Freak” or “Freekbass”.

Like a lightbulb going off?

Yeah! And it seemed to fit the vibe.

And how did you then meet Buckethead was that through Bootsy?

Yeah, that was through Bootsy. And Buckethead and I did some shows together too. I was finishing my second album, Bootsy was producing it and there was a track on there that he said “I think Buckethead would sound really good on”.

That was the song ‘Always Here’?

Yeah, that’s the one. Exactly. He said he’s got this really cool guitar riff that will work really well with that. And that was from ‘The Air is Fresher Underground’ album. So that’s how we started working together.

So were you actually in the studio together when you recorded the track or separate?

We were separate. He did his track out in California and we did the rest in Bootsys house in Cincinnati and then we flew the track in. And then we ended shooting a video for it as well, which Buckethead made a cameo in.

That was Bootsys birthday show?

Oh well there that was too. I forgot about that. That was a whole different thing as well. We did a video for ‘Always here’. That song.

Oh, ok.

But yeah a few years later there was a show at the Cincinnati University and they were doing a big show for Bootsy’s birthday. So Bootsy had all these people come in and play and I was one of them and Buckethead was too. And there’s a song of mine called ‘Minute to Forever’ which Buckethead had been using for his nunchuck and dancing routine. So we kind of went back and forth that way. Because he asked about using that track for that.

So he did ask you about using it? Because I was going to ask that.

Yeah, well I guess he had started using it. I hadn’t heard about it yet. And then we did the Bootsy show you mentioned. And that was the first time we met face to face. And he said “Hey there’s a song of yours I’ve started using called ‘Minute to Forever’ which I use for part of my show”. And he said “do you mind if I continue using it?” and I said “of course you can!”. And the song worked perfectly for what he was doing. Because I had started getting emails like ‘I think I heard your song at a Buckethead show’ and I was like “what?”.

And I think that’s where a lot of your fans come from, from people hearing Buckethead using that song.

Yeah! And it started showing up, like before Spotify. That song started getting all these plays on iTunes and stuff, it started showing up higher in the charts. And I was like ‘I wonder why it’s getting all these plays’. And it was because Buckethead was using it and people were getting turned onto the song through his show I guess. And he was touring quite a bit at that point. That was just after he had finished with Guns N Roses. So he was really out there hitting it hard.

Because I think when he was on your first album, he was actually in GNR.

Yeah I guess he was at that point. And so was Richard Fortus, who’s still currently in Guns N Roses. And we just got done doing another a ‘Headtronic’ album. And actually Richard Fortus, the guitarist from Guns N Roses, who joined when Buckethead joined Guns N Roses, just did that tour with us too. So that’s another weird little way that the dots connect in the music business.
But yeah now it’s coming all back to me. I remember I had already done some live dates with Buckethead. The birthday show wasn’t the first time me and Buckethead met. We had already done some live dates. We played a show in Cincinnati, Detroit and a few in Michigan together.

Yeah, I think it was 2006.

Yes, that is correct. And not long after that was the Bootsy birthday show. And at the end we had a big jam session together. Buckethead, Bootsy, Catfish. It was amazing.

And they put that on DVD right?

Yeah it was called ‘a Sliver of Shiver’. Our first live DVD. And that was the show. You got it!

So when you were doing shows with Buckethead, did you actually travel together or separate?

Um. We were traveling separate. We had our van and trailer with our things in. So we would meet at the venues.

So did anyone ever kind of say about his privacy or anything like that? Because obviously he’s quite reclusive and private.

Not really. The first time I met Buckethead, he was opening for this band called ‘Particle’. Which were like a jam band. And the keyboard player from particle is Steve Molitz who we started Headtronics with. Again it’s…

…a small world.

It really is. So Bootsy brought me down, Buckethead was playing in Louisville, he was opening the tour for ‘Particle’. It was right after he left Guns N Roses I think. So he bought me to the hotel to meet Buckethead. And when I met Buckethead he was just regular Bucket. No mask. Just wandering around the lobby. And we talked for a second. It was pre-show.

So how was he when you spoke to him? Relaxed?

Soft spoken, totally relaxed. Speaking in the lobby. And he was saying “thanks for coming out to the show” and it was very chill. And even at the Bootsy birthday show it was very very chill too. There wasn’t any kind of weirdness or anything.

So how did you then hook up for the next album? Because I think he done another song with you called Bang Bang Bionic?

Oh. Big Bang Bionic. Yeah. So Bootsy’s engineer is a guy named Toby Donahue. Tony and I a few years later ended up doing a side project together. But Bootsy suggested I use him for engineering my next album. He’s an amazing engineer! And uh, same kind of thing. Buckethead has this cool guitar riff that we both felt would be really good for this Freekbass song, wihch ended up being ‘Big Bang Bionic’ from the ‘Junkyard Waltz’ album

Which is one of my favourite tracks!

Oh thank you. That’s actually with Mike Gordon from the band ‘Fish’. We did that together. So Buckethead had this cool riff and so he sent it over and I started creating this bass line and melody around it. And we had this hip hop artist that came in and laid some vocals down with a hook. And we did some scratching and producing on it and that’s how that song came to be.

Do you prefer to mix it that way? Where you have different pieces coming on or would you prefer to all be in the studio together?

Ultimately I’d prefer to be in the studio at the same time. I mean, it’s a cool way of doing stuff and it’s kind of the world we live in now. It’s just a different way of producing it and I like that too. But ultimately I’d prefer to be all together, like the way we did this new album called ‘All the way this, all the way that’. The whole thing was recorded live in the studio straight to tape. Real analog tape. And we’d do a whole take and if someone made a mistake in the last 10 seconds we got back and do the whole thing again. To me, it’s like all those funk records we’ve talked about. That’s the real kind of stuff.

Through jamming and working it out.

Yeah! Especially with a bass player and drummer. So many of our fills are from us bouncing off each other. So if a drum beat is already done you can’t do that. You can work around it but when you’re doing fills based on what the other person is doing, that’s where the special stuff happens. And that’s how all those classic funk albums were done. So that’s my favourite way. Plus when it comes to playing the songs live it makes it super easier. A lot of times you’ll do something in the studio, and it’ll sound great but when you do it live it’s like ‘oh we’ll just play like we did in the studio’.

Just jam on it.

Yeah, exactly.

So when was the last time you seen Buckethead, 2006?

Um, no. I’m trying to think. I’ve seen him since then. I think it might have been at Bootsy’s. We might have done a session a few years after that. I think we might have done a show together since then, like a festival. I think we played a festival. We were on the same festival, like 2010 or 2011. But its been a few years for sure.

So where would you rank him as far as musicians go?

Oh gosh. I mean, he’s one of the best ever. The thing is a lot of people know Buckethead for his amazing guitar licks but he’s such a rhythm machine too. That’s my favourite aspect of his playing is his rhythm guitar. I love his lead stuff too and that’s amazing and inspiring. But what he can do with rhythm and the rhythms he creates too. I love the project he did with Bernie called ‘The Bucket of Bernie Brains’.

Oh yeah!

its such a really cool project and he really got to shine on that. Because everyone created this big rhythmic force and he was part of that.

And Praxis with Bootsy too, that was another one.

Yeah! And what’s amazing with that Praxis album, is that it sounds like it came out last week.

Yeah I love it.

It’s so groundbreaking and fresh and original. You could play it for someone today and be like “hey listen to this new album”. Even today it sounds ahead of its time.

Yeah, it’s like a musician’s album. If you’re a musician you’ll love it 100%.

Oh, no doubt.

So how did you do the James brown tribute a few years later?

Oh the James Brown tribute tour? Yeah that was super incredible. Well, after James passed the year after Bootsy wanted to reunite the original JB’s. So he invited myself out. He invited Buckethead out. He invited Chuck D from Public Enemy out. And everyone would come up and do a 10-15 minute set in recognition of James Brown. Whether it was their songs or songs that influenced them. Whatever the case may be.
And it was a really big night. An amazing night. I still remember, one of the memories etched in my brain on that opening night of the James brown tribute tour was standing on the side of the stage. It was myself, Buckethead and Chuck d. And the band JB’s played ‘Superbad’ by James Brown and you would’ve thought we were 3 young girls at a Justin Bieber concert. Even Buckethead was showing more emotion than I’ve ever seen. And Chuck D was losing it. I was too. It was so incredibly funky.
And just like with Bootsy getting hooked up with James Brown. It’s kind of the same situation with me years later, hooking up with Bootsy. Obviously that’s how I met Buckethead and also Bernie Worrell.

Yeah that was my next question, how you met Bernie Worrell?

Yeah! Bernie had already played on one of my albums. It was more of a thing of me sending him some tracks and he added some stuff on top. But the really exciting part was Bernie was at Bootsys house and Bootsy called me and was like “Bernie’s in town and he has some free days, would you like him to do some recording stuff with you?”
So Bernie came to my house and stayed with me for a week. And lived at our house. I remember being upstairs and saying like ‘oh my god, Bernie Worrell is downstairs sleeping right now’. It’s like the weirdest thing.

What was he like as a housemate?

Oh he was wonderful, he was great. Well, we were in the studio from the second we woke up to the time we went to sleep. So it was that. Just getting to work with him from the beginnings of songs, not like songs that were already done. The writing process and seeing how his mind worked. The word genius is used a lot in this business. But Bernie, that guy was a genius…and is a genius.

Yeah, everybody I’ve spoken to say’s the same. Just how good he was, underappreciated really.

He was amazing. He would take the simplest idea and make something unique out of it. It wouldn’t have to be a super busy line. It could be 2 or 3 notes and he would make it unique. The way his mind worked in case of simplicity and melody. It taught me so much about writing and producing. He had all these crazy Moog effects and he’d let me try them. And h’de be like ‘Hey Freak, why don’t you plug your bass into this stuff and see what you can get”. And we would get the coolest tone. And Bernie is one of my favourite bass players. I know he’s a keyboard player. But he’s one of my favourite bass players. Even when he’s playing keys, he’s written some of the best bass lines ever. There was many songs we would be playing bass simultaneously and I was bouncing off what he was doing.

And you done some shows together. How were the shows?

Oh it was amazing. We did a whole tour together. I have a side project called Headtronics. And there’s a keyboard player called Steve Molitz and he wasn’t around to do this leg of the tour. So we asked Bernie to come out. And we did about a week on tour, mostly festivals and clubs. So yeah that was pretty amazing too. Whenever Bernie would come through on tour I would sit in sessions with him. The drummer I play with now, him and I met through Bernie. He had him sit in on the song Red Hot Mama. And that’s Hhw I met him. That’s kind of how that happened.

So just meeting so many greats and hanging around and learning?

Yeah the funk circle is a pretty small circle. Everybody kind of knows everybody. Especially in the p-funk side of the world. So yeah, everybody works with everybody. It’s a pretty neat place to be in.

And everyone’s always so talented when they come from that group. Whoever works with each other, they suddenly become better than they were before. Like, it rubs off.

That’s a great analogy, you’re totally right. When you work with people, It’s like funk osmosis. That would be a good name for an album. That’s how it feels. You start feeling the groove and get some of their ideas and they start permeating into what you’re doing.

So when did you start working on songs for the new album?

Within the last year we started releasing some singles first. We did a song called ‘Stepping out of line’ and a song called ‘love in your pocket’.

What lead to you putting it out on vinyl? Coz I know that’s something Buckethead is doing too. Do you think vinyl is coming back?.

Yeah, well that’s the record label ‘color red’. The just release vinyl. So what they did was, they flew me and the whole band out in February and we were there for 4 or 5 days and we would get up every morning at 8am or 9am and start writing music from 9am-1pm. And by then we’re arranging a song and by 3pm or 4pm that day we were recording it to tape. So we did about 5 songs in 4 days. It was amazing. Literally from 9am-midnight. It was non-stop in the studio.

So, not like a ‘Chinese Democracy’ taking 13 years or whatever it was to make?

No, no, no. It was bing bang boom. Eddie was producing this stuff. He’s an amazing producer. That’s really what makes this album special. You always feel excited for a new album, but this one feels different than anything I’ve done. It feels like a culmination of things, that’s why it’s called ‘All the way this, all the way that’. One side of the album is kind of retro and the second side is more futuristic. This is a culmination of everything I’ve done my whole career.

How much did Sammie garret add to it? It feel like a natural fit.

Yeah she’s amazing. She tours in a band called ‘Turquoise’ from New York.
We do the same touring circuit. And they would occasionally have me onstage if we were playing a festival. So, she and I started talking. I always loved the way she sounded. A lot of the songs we’re writing felt like they needed female vocals. So when I was working on the singles, we did this song ‘Love in Your Pocket’ and our friend was like “we need to get some female vocals on this” And I was like ‘”I know this lady named Sammie garret. she’s amazing”. So I gave her a call and then she ended up recording the vocals on that. And I was like “maybe we should do another one”. And we kept doing them. And Eddie and his band and Turquoise did the same tour together. So he knew Sammie really well too.

Small world again.

Yeah small world again. So we started connecting the dots and now we’re doing shows together all the time. So she’s a big part of the Freekbass and Bump Assembly equation now. She’s a star in her own right and its great.

So is it permanent thing or you’re not sure yet?

Oh it’s definitely a permanent thing. She’s part of the bump assembly, which is the freekbass band. And she’s a big part of it. And I have another vocalist called Reilly Comisar, who’s also on the album. So when Sammie’s on tour with turquoise, she’ll come on tour with us. We’re just fitting in our schedules.

So what did Bootsy think of the album? Because I saw you on twitter, you played the record for him.

It was amazing. The day the album got released, May 31st. We wanted to do something special. So we called up Bootsy. We wanted to have a listening party. So we went live on facebook, instagram, twitter. And Bootsy came over to a house and we played the album. And I got to play the album for him. All the tools that I learned to help create this album and write it, he was such a huge part of that. As we’ve talked about my career in this interview, it was like me wanting to show the guy who kind of help raise me. And show him what I was doing now. And it was, again, another moment that will be etched in my brain forever. It was really special. He was really digging it and digging the sounds. I’m still pinching myself. That was only a short time ago too. I’m still riding high from it.

Any plans do to anything together again? I know he’s stopped doing live tours because of his hearing. But any plans to do an album or guest spot?

Yeah, we’re always working on something, He lives about 15 minutes from me and we talk on a regular basis. He’s such an entrepreneur type mind. He’s always got so many things happening. So, I know him and I will work on something soon. We don’t have anything set but it’s just a matter of time. Once I get through this album cycle, I’m sure we’ll do some new sounds.

So talking about some of the videos you filmed. Where did the Freekro doll come from?

Oh yeah, Freekro. It was a concept by Angie Wilson, whose my manager. She does a lot of the creative stuff you see. She had this idea. There’s a song we have called ‘Freekronomicon’. And she had this idea of creating this freekro character. And freekro now has his own instagram. He’s got the little fan base. We sell the freekro dolls too.

Yeah, I seen the plush dolls.

Yeah! Maybe we’ll get him a guest appearance on Sesame Street.

Crazy how small things like that take off.

It is crazy. We played in Columbus Ohio last week and we had a freekro doll there and someone was super excited about coming there just to get the doll. Freekro will have a bigger fan base than me one day.

How did the video for ‘Your love is always on time’ come about? Coz you shot it in the Cincinnati museum right?

Yeah, well Jenny, who’s an amazing film director. She heard this song and had this concept for it. Originally we were thinking about doing a band video, like a lot of music videos do. And I started thinking that this song had this timeless feel to it, so I said can you think of something where the band doesn’t have to be in it. Because I was worried that if we were in it, people might be thinking about us. And I wanted it to be about the song. So Jenny came up with this thing about these 2 workers in an art museum. It was filmed in the Cincinnati museum.

How did they get permission for that? Because normally museums hate that stuff.

No, they were super intense. So Angie and Jenny had to get in touch with the museum and go in there before it opened. So I think they opened like 11am and they went it there like 8am and filmed. Some of it was done when it was already open, but mostly it was filmed before the doors were opened. And of course people were there watching and making sure they didn’t break anything. But the end result was amazing and I’m super excited about that video.

Any favourite road stories from throughout the year. Or bloopers, onstage bloopers or anything?

Well, I have one of those at least once a night it seems like. Um, at the end of our show we kind of do this big swell and go ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ and I jump up and end the show. And we were doing a festival outside and they had these rails where the lights were hanging on. And it was the end of the set and I normally look up to get the lay of the land, but I wasn’t paying attention because I was so into the music. And I jumped up as hard as I could straight into the air and jumped straight into the rafters. And it literally knocked me out. And it was the end of the set, so people thought it was part of the show. Me falling straight down. All I remember is people standing over me like “are you okay?” It was like in the cartoons with the birdie tweeting.

Yeah, Looney Tunes.

Total Looney Tunes! And I got up and had blood all over me. Coz I hit my head, I didn’t hurt myself too much but it probably looked pretty bad. That’s was crazy. It’s like hurting yourself for…

for the cause.

Yeah, you get so much adrenaline in you that you don’t even realize what you’re doing sometimes. The funk will do that to do. The funk will knock you out.

The funk will funk you up.

That’s right, that’s why ‘knuckle sandwich’ is the first song on the album.

So there’s no footage of that, you hope?

There’s probably some iPhone footage somewhere.

Someone will have it.
Well alright, it’s been really nice talking to you, thanks for taking the call, its much appreciated and to hear all the stories, it been a pleasure.

Oh I appreciate everything you’re doing. Thanks for having me. Once you get it up and live we’ll spread it with all our folks, have an amazing weekend. It’s been great talking to you. Enjoy the rest of your night over there, I’m gonna keep drinking the coffee and keep the day moving forward.

 

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