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From funk to Fishbone, bass wizard Mike Zabrin reveals creative influences for new album
(Published: December 27, 2015)

Q: What is the primary inspiration for Funktastic, which is quite eclectic in musical styles?

A: I wanted to put out an album that would achieve a deeper listening experience when listened to from start to finish. The first track, "(You Are) Extraordinary," is a R&B/neo-soul track with a rapper. By the second half of the album, like on "The Other Side," horns are introduced and Kendra Foster from Parliament is singing.

I grew up inspired by artists who use jazz as a platform to branch out into other styles of music. I wanted to achieve different genres with the same musical depth and complexity.

Q: How long did you spend composing the songs before recording the album? What was that process like?

A: I spent about two years making Funktastic. When I was in music school I joined as many ensembles as I could so I was always being inspired by different musicians. I would go to school during the week, and spend my weekends recording new ideas.

Sometimes I would write a melody on my bass and not think about it again. Then if I remembered how to play it a few months later, I knew that it was good enough to record. In the studio some songs started off as just a bass and drum track. I would call up musicians that I had already been gigging with to lay down parts.

I guess the end product of all my songs often turns out to be very collaborative one, which keeps it fun for me. With Funktastic, I found myself often writing for vocalists. I loved the idea of giving them complete creative freedom.

Q: When did you learn to play the bass?

A: I started playing bass when I was 15-years-old. I had already been playing electric guitar for a couple of years and had auditioned for the school jazz band. The director told me that someone more advanced then me had been chosen for the jazz band.

I was disappointed, but he said if I want to play something similar and with two strings less, that they still had a spot open for the bass. I remember my orchestra teacher saying, "It's going to take me all day to restring this upright bass and make it left handed for you so you better not quit!"

Q: How were you able to get Norwood Fisher of Fishbone to play on your album?

A: That's a funny story. I teamed up with my friend and ringleader of The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown, John Heintz, to help co-produce a couple of tracks for Funktastic. He flew me out to Los Angeles where I found myself in the studio with some of his session musicians, including Kendra Foster (Parliament Funkadelic), Michael Ray (Kool & The Gang), and Norwood Fisher.

I've always been inspired by Norwood and thought it would be really cool to have him sing on a track that I played bass on. The tune with Norwood on it is called "Fact Fiction."

One of my favorite memories is bringing him into the studio for the track I wanted him to sing on and watching him listen to it for the first time. I was watching his head bob back and forth and said, "so, Norwood, do you dig the track?" He took off his glasses and screamed "fuck, yeah!" and ran to the vocal booth. I went to his band's rehearsal later that night and he yelled, "Get your bass out and plug in man!" One of the nicest guys you can ever meet.

Q: Creatively, how have you evolved through the years?

A: Throughout all of the different jobbing gigs I do and the gigs being a band leader, I have evolved by playing music in the "big picture." No matter if it is a slow bass line or a fast bass lick, it has to propel the music forward. Part of growing on your instrument can sometimes mean what knowing not to play.

Q: When did you decide to become a musician, and who were your biggest artistic influences?

A: I knew I wanted to be a musician when was 13-years-old, the day my parents bought me an electric guitar. It's funny; I remember being in high school and being completely shocked that other kids didn't know what they wanted to do with their life.

When I was growing up I was really into blues (Albert King, Otis Rush, etc.) There is no better way to ground yourself as a bass player then learning blues lines. My biggest inspirations now include Jeff Berlin, RH Factor, Snarky Puppy, Michelle Ndegeocello, John Patitucci and Bootsy Collins.

More Information: http://www.mikezabrinmusic.com/

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