Victor Wooten: Sword, Stone, Words and Tones
The album is going to be released on your own record label, VIX Records. Why did you start your own label?
The biggest reason was so that I could own my own creations. And even more importantly, so that my kids could own my creations in the end. It doesn’t make sense that a record label will own things that I create. And in the end, their kids own my creations in the end. It also doesn’t make sense that a record label will make most of the money from something someone else creates. So a record label won’t even tell the artist where the money is going. For example, if a record sells for $10, no one except for the record label knows where that $10 is going, the big part of that $10, unless they’re owning their own label. And I’m not trying to make record labels seem bad – they’ve done a lot for us, good and bad – but nowadays it’s easier than ever to own your own product, sell it, and reach your own fans. So that’s what I’m doing.
Right now I’m not really looking for other artists, but I did release a record on a drummer, a longtime friend of mine named J.D. Blair. His record is called 2012? . Not the kind of record you’d expect from a drummer. This is very – no disrespect to any drummers – but his music is very, very great, very danceable and listenable. I’m not searching for artists because I don’t have the time or the money to do what many artists deserve, but I do have a lot of longtime friends who would never get a record out unless someone comes and helps them out. And if I can do that, then I will step in and do that.
You have a pretty extensive summer tour coming up. What does the lineup of your band look like? Will you focus on both the vocal and instrumental material from your forthcoming records?
We will be taking turns, yes. We have an incredible female vocalist on tour with us, Krystal Peterson, and she sings two of the songs on the record. And I also have some of the musicians on the record, J.D. Blair and Derico Watson. I’ll have both drummers. This time I have a totally different band – the first time I won’t have my brothers. But I have incredible musicians. My longtime friend Anthony Wellingon, who has always been my second bass player in my band, a friend I’ve always done a bass duo with named Steve Bailey, he’ll also be there. And another longtime friend, who is also a teacher at my camp, Dave Welsch, he’ll be on this tour. But the interesting thing about this is that all of these people are known as bass players but what people might not know is that Welsch also plays trumpets and keyboards, Steve Bailey also plays trombone and keyboard, Anthony Wellington plays keyboard and guitar. And I play cello and a couple different things, so we’ll all be playing different instruments in addition to bass. So in the middle of songs, we’ll be switching instruments and picking up horns. It’s going to be a visual display as well as an audible display of musical virtuosity. And even our vocalist will play keyboard.
You are a founding member of the Flecktones and you’ve worked with Stanley Clarke, Dave Matthews, and many other renowned musicians. In what setting are you most comfortable?
Well I’m most comfortable playing R&B, funky soul music – because that’s how I grew up. But I’m also very, very comfortable playing the style of music that the Flecktones play, because we’ve been playing it for well over 20 years. But I’m also very comfortable in my own band. But I’m really a support type of bass player. People know me as a soloist and for flashy things, but I’m really good at supporting other musicians.
I caught the Flecktones at the Town Hall in New York late last year. It was honestly one of the best shows I’ve seen in a very long time. The Flecktones are on a hiatus right now. Can we expect anything new from them in the future?
I hope so, I would expect so. But we’ve been going pretty hard since 1988 and everyone deserves to do something different. I’ve got four kids who are growing up with their dad on the road, and I want to make a change with that. In another couple of years, I’ll actually turn 50 years old and, at that time, I’ll take the next two years off. Instead of doing it right away, I’m going to work up to it. And I’m going to take a couple years off to really give my family and my kids my time. And then maybe the Flecktones will get back together and do something after that.
Let’s talk a bit about Wooten Woods. What prompted this concept of a music and nature camp? Is the importance of music in the lives of kids an important aspect to you, especially since you grew up in a very musical family?
Absolutely – but I want to say that the word ‘camp’ makes people think of kids. But most of the programs we do are for ages 15 and up. So far, the oldest has been 74. We just finished the camp that had some people in their 50s and 60s. But we do a few camps every year with kids as young as 8 years old. But I understand the importance of nature in anything that we do. Even with you writing article and doing interviews, you want to be natural in what you do. You don’t want to overthink or overwrite anything. The word ‘natural’ means being like nature. So in our quest to become natural, whether we know it or not, we’re really trying to be like nature, because nature just flows and does it thing without our interference. A bird will learn to sing. I don’t even know if they learn it, they actually know it. A squirrel knows how to build a nest. As humans, we have those same natural tendencies, but a lot of the time we don’t tap into them. Especially in music. We lock ourselves in a room in order to become natural, as backwards as it comes. You can’t learn a language in a room by yourself, and music is definitely a language. So we just reintroduced nature into our learning process.
We make nature not only our model for learning but also our classroom. For anyone who even takes a walk through the woods, it slows you down and it opens up your mind and you speak softer. When we make that our learning atmosphere, things open up. It’s unbelievable what happens to these people when they spend a week in the woods with us. They just open up. I got this idea in 1991 when I took a class with a man named Tom Brown Jr. He’s known as the Tracker. He’s written a lot of books about nature and spirituality. I started studying with him and hearing him talk and teach about nature and tracking, it was music to my ears. I said, this man he doesn’t know it but he’s teaching music. And more importantly, since no one else was doing it, I chose myself to be the person.