Rob Wasserman Encamps on Space Island
JPG: I’ve seen you perform with Ratdog and Lou Reed and there is usually a spot during the set where you take an extended solo. Do you find that it’s more of a challenge to play bass solo or as part of a group of three, four, five other musicians and having to pay attention to what they’re doing?
Rob: For me it’s more fun to play all by myself. It’s not only fun but it’s scary. You never what people are going to think. I play everywhere from 20,000 seat places with Ratdog and Bobby to little bars. You never know when people are going to be yelling their heads off. It doesn’t bother you when you have a drummer but then you’re all by yourself so you have to do something to get ‘em to listen. And that’s a challenge, but I like that.
I like working in bands but I’ve never really been a band kind of guy. To me it’s more boring. It’s just not that challenging to play a simple bass part. It was with Lou Reed in the sense that a simple bass part with him had to be…every note had to be perfect. He was very precise even when it seemed like a rock and roll jam. It was more like sculpture playing with him. But with Ratdog it’s more like anything goes and I have fun with it when everyone’s listening but no one’s listening, which is some of the time, unfortunately, then it’s just like, ‘Who cares?’ The only reason I do Ratdog is because 90 per cent of the time it’s fun. If it wasn’t fun I’d just stop doing it. It’s my fun, no responsibilities, just out and play, get out on the road and have fun. It’s great to have something like that. Plus, I started it so I’ve been trying to see where it’s going to go and it’s starting to go somewhere where I think it’s getting pretty good.
JPG: A lot of people reading this are familiar with your work in Ratdog, but talk a bit about another musical project you’ve been involved in over the past few years, Banyan.
Rob: Actually, it’s a full circle kind of thing. Ross Rice, the keyboardist in Space Island, I’d met him around three years ago. I was doing some songwriting with someone in Nashville. I do that once in awhile, collaborate with people and go off and write. He was playing in some songwriters’ showcase. I was really blown away by him because he writes great tunes. He has his own recording career. He had a band called Human Radio. Anyway, I went up to him and introduced myself. We started talking. We decided to try writing together in Memphis where he lived and we hit it off. At the same time, the producers of Banyan used to be in a band with him called Free World. They called him up and he said he was jamming with me and they wanted to see if I wanted to play on the Stephen Perkins album [which became the Banyan record]. I said, ‘Sure that would be fun, something different to do.’ I like trying new things. Stephen and me really clicked. I had a really good musical chemistry with him.
Banyan’s totally different. Most of the tunes on the last Banyan album came out of jams. We didn’t write with a groove starting. We just played all at once, then we came up with stuff. The live shows were just pretty much go onstage and play. There were no songs. I think there was one motif that we tried to learn from the record. It was really loose. My show, we’re going to play the record, which are compositions. Actually I’m going to do solo bass during my show too. It’s my show, I want to do it. There might be some stuff that’s all improv, but I don’t think it’s going to be leaning in that direction.
JPG: You’ve also put together a band to promote “Space Island.”
Rob: I put together a band for this tour to represent and recreate the record, “Space Island.” There is Ross Rice on keyboards, drums and bass, Tommy D. Dougherty is our dj, and he runs drum loops and plays bass guitar. Everyone is a multi-instrumentalist except for me. They’re all helping me recreate all the parts I made up on the album. (Rob relates that since it’s his band, he’s going to have to introduce everyone onstage at some point and possibly address the audience during the performance.) I never speak onstage. I think I’m more nervous about that than anything else.
JPG: I remember watching you during the Ratdog’s set at Hookahville last May and thought, ‘This man looks like he is extremely in his own world and concentrating or he’s scared to death.’
Rob: (laughs) No actually, I get off in my own world. When a song’s over, all of a sudden I realize the audience is there. I usually don’t even know if they like it. I notice a lot of performers will just stand there and look at the audience all the time. I never could do that because I have to sort of look inward and play my instrument. It’s just the way I’ve always been. So it’ll be interesting being up there and being the frontman and seeing how I do. (laughs) Hopefully, I don’t want to be aloof, but I get absorbed in the music.
JPG: I think most people want at the very least an artist to just turn around at some point and say, ‘Thank you.’
Rob: I’ll say stuff. I just don’t want to be overboard, silly or stupid or whatever. I also don’t want to alienate anyone by being too serious because it’s supposed to be a fun groove-oriented show.