Q&A with Australian bassist Tal Wilkenfeld

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Q&A with Australian bassist Tal Wilkenfeld
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By Jennifer Powell (Photo/Timothy White)

The talented Tal Wilkenfeld is not yet 30, but she has already built quite a resume, performing and touring with the likes of Jeff Beck, Chick Corea, Sting, Eric Clapton, and she even anchored Pharrell and Hans Zimmer at the 2015 Grammy Awards.

Once exclusively an instrumentalist, Wilkenfeld has evolved into a passionate singer-songwriter, whose intoxicating rock and folk vocals have resonated with millions of listeners. Currently in the midst of her first tour as a headliner while also opening for The Who on their North American tour, Wilkenfeld took some time out in Toronto to talk with the Times.

Alexandria Times: How did you get started so young in music?

Wilkenfeld: I picked up the guitar when I was 14. It hit me in a flash then that I knew that was what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. I was so passionate about it. It was kind of a bizarre experience to go from not being really surrounded by much music at a child to just picking up a guitar one day and, boom, it’s all there.

Two years later I moved to Los Angles to pursue a music career. I was still playing a guitar at that time. I ended up switching to bass after a lot of observation from my peers that I played the guitar like a bass player. They would say, “Why don’t you just be a bass player?” So I did. Within a few months I had moved to New York and was playing in clubs. Then The Allman Brothers saw me playing and I played alongside with them, then Jeff Beck, and it has all moved pretty quickly since then.

Who are your influences and inspired you musically?

I wouldn’t limit it to who inspired me as a bassist. When I was young, I was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine and Herbie Hancock.

You seem so at ease in your performances. What have been some challenges for you on the road?

The hardest thing for me to do is to wind down after a show. I have so much energy. I just want to write or hang out or talk to people. It’s challenging when you have to get up the next day for a show. It’s so much adrenaline that you almost don’t notice it until the end of the tour and you’re done.

When did you develop your vocal chops? I would have guessed you were always a singer.

I started when I first picked up the guitar, I was singing. When I then moved to America to go to a guitar school. I’m the type of personality that wants to put everything into whatever I am doing. So when my focus became the instrument — guitar, I didn’t want anything else, such as singing or songwriting, to distract me from honing in on the craft of guitar playing, which then translated into bass playing. I got so into it that I started playing instrumental music. I just wanted to focus on honing that craft. I did that for years. Next thing I knew, I was on tour with all these legendary musicians, playing with the best musicians in the world. I am so grateful for those opportunities.

You really do learn when you are on a gig, when you are actually experiencing playing music with great musicians. It’s not really something you can do practicing at home. You can practice technique at home. Technique is a means of expression — the pathway to expression. The expression is learned or channeled from your soul. You learn how to express it with other people on a stage while being on a stage. It’s the only way to learn it. So I am grateful for that.

It just hit me at a certain point: “Oh wait a minute. I forgot, I’m actually a singer-songwriter, and I kind of abandoned that. I should really go back to my roots here.” There was a calling for that. Hence that is where I am at now with the current record of songs I’ve written over the past 4 or 5 years, recording in between touring and doing sessions with other people. I really feel that this is my true voice and an expression of my soul where I am at right now.

What is your process for songwriting?

I wish I had a process for song writing, but I just don’t. I know what it takes to get into a creative state. It is affected by my environment and my surroundings, but it is also quite random. It is usually when I’ve just let go of everything that is going on in the outside world and I can just sort of look inward and just be present with myself or whatever, whomever I am with.

It’s enough to just listen to what is already there. The inspiration, the music is always inside of you … if you are willing to listen to it. If there is a lot of chatter of any kind going on around, you won’t listen. I find that when I am exercising, driving, showering, cooking, cleaning the dishes or the house, a lot of ideas come to me, because I am a little bit on autopilot, which frees up my ability to receive information.

Is your band comprised of your friends? How did you come together?

My guitarist, Owen Barry, was recommended to me by Jeff Beck about seven years ago. My drummer, I actually met at a bar. He approached me and asked me if I wanted to jam sometime. Normally, I would just say no, but I got a sort of sense that he was good at what he did. So I looked him up online and was impressed with the videos I saw and so I did take him up on his offer and thought he was the most appropriate drummer for my music.

What are you most excited for on this tour?

People to finally hear what I have been working on for years and haven’t had a vehicle to express, publicly at least. I’m excited for people to hear this new music and for me to be myself in front of everybody.

Your online performance videos have garnered millions of views. Do you have any plans for music videos to accompany your new album?

I really do hope there will be music videos. Right now, it’s just a matter of how I am going to release [the music]. So far I’ve done everything independently. I’m in the process of working out the best way to release my music. I’m actually working on a pledge campaign, where people can pre-order my record.

Tal Wilkenfeld will perform March 15 at The Birchmere. Tickets are $25. For more information, visit www.birchmere.com.

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