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The Victor Wooten Method

A little earlier, you mentioned your heroes. Who are your musical heroes?

There are a lot. It starts with my brothers. I’m the youngest of five, and literally when I was born, my brothers knew that I would be a bass player. Especially my older brother Reggie…he started teaching me right away. But again, teaching me in the same way that you were taught or not taught to speak.

They started speaking music with me, and allowing me to freely speak back. That’s how it started. They put a toy in my hands, and they would play. I looked up to my four older brothers, and I would sit down and play too. I was just strumming on a toy. Because you really couldn’t play with everyone else. I was strumming along in the same way a baby would baby talk with the family. It’s not about English, it’s about communicating. We don’t care if they use the right words; we just care if they communicate.

That they’re part of the conversation…

Exactly. We know that it’s going to come together later. So my brothers would just give me a toy. It wasn’t about playing the bass, and putting my fingers in the right place…

Like a toy bass?

It was like a Mickey Mouse wind-up guitar. A ukulele type of thing. It was just about feeling the music, strumming, and learning music with an instrument in my hand. The same way a baby is learning a lot about communication when we don’t realize it. Like how you could say the same words, but in one case it’s a question that could also be a statement. How do you explain that? You’ve never had to explain that, but you know it very well. You learn it organically. A lot of times in music, we’re learning things we don’t know yet. I could learn a C Major scale, but I don’t even know how to play a song in C. That’s backwards. That’s like learning to spell apple, but not knowing what an apple is. That process does work, it just takes a whole lot longer, in my opinion.

So, my brothers—long answer to that question—my brothers were my first heroes. They still are. But as I grew, I started listening to all the music that was on the radio in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, which was a lot of Motown. And at the time, I didn’t know who those bass players were. I didn’t care. I just had to learn their parts. But those bass players helped shape my style, because that was the music I grew up on. I was much, much older when I found out who they were. So bass players like Chuck Rainey, James Jamerson, Carol Kaye, Anthony Jackson…I can name a bunch of them. And then as I got a little older, I started getting into the jazz world, with Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller—people like that. Fortunately for me, because my brothers were playing different instruments, and they were listening to different musicians around the house, I was hearing a lot of great musicians like Chick Corea, Charlie Parker’s saxophone, and even the Grateful Dead and other rock.

What are you listening to now? Any newer acts?

There are a ton of newer acts. Because of social media, it’s hard not to see them and find out about them. I just finished a new record, TRYPNOTYX. When you’re doing that, you’re in it, so now I’m kind of trying to debrief, you know? But some of the bands out there that I really like are people like Snarky Puppy. They’re amazing. There’s another band that maybe aren’t as popular, but they’re called the Nth Power. Love those people. And then there’s this YouTube phenomenon solo guy, Jacob Collier. He does all this solo stuff. He plays almost every instrument, but I think he became popular by using an app to sing harmonies with himself. So there are a lot of great groups out there. And now that I have four young kids, they keep me up to date on what’s new [laughs].

You mentioned your new record TRYPNOTYX. Tell me a little bit about that.

Yeah, it’s a trio record with a great drummer named Dennis Chambers, who’s played on everything. And a wonderful sax player that lives in New York named Bob Franceschini. Bob is not as well-known name-wise, but everybody has heard him; he’s been on everyone’s record from Paul Simon to J-Lo to George Benson. But this record is called TRYPNOTYX. I put it out on my own label, Vix Records. It’s mostly instrumental, but we do have a few fun voices on there. I found a woman off of Facebook named Varijashree Venugopal from India. I’d never met her in person—just through the internet. She’s singing some Indian stuff on there, it’s amazing. A great comedian slash impersonator sound effects guy named Michael Winslow, from Police Academy…

Yeah! He’s doing some cool music stuff now…

Oh my goodness. He’s calling himself a “voicetramentalist.” So instead of an instrumentalist, he’s a voicetramentalist. And I’ve gotten a chance to play a few live shows with him. After that, I knew he had to be on this new record. So he’s doing some fun stuff. He’s really funny, but he’s so musical. So he’s on there, my kids are on there. My kids have been on every record since before my first daughter was born—I had her heartbeat on the record.

I just want to quickly talk about how you’re playing with Béla Fleck again. How does that feel? You guys have a bunch of tour dates announced, and you’re even going down south somewhere to one of those destination events, right?

Yeah, it might be the Snarky Puppy thing they’re putting on that we’re going to be a part of. It’s always fun. I think next year is going to be our 30-year anniversary with the Flecktones. And so playing with them all the time is like being back home. I don’t know if we’ve ever gone a year without playing, but we can go a long time without playing, and get back together and fall right back into it.

Béla is a genius, and I’ve learned a lot from him over the years. Not only about musicianship, but how to lead a band. He’s a great bandleader. The way he teaches us his songs—he calls himself “a leader among equals.” He knows that he’s the leader, but everyone has a say. I look forward to the time that we get to play together. And I know we have at least two touring periods next year. But it’s also fun now that everyone’s older, and Béla himself even has a child and he’s touring with his beautiful wife, Abby. Everybody gets to do their own thing, and everybody gets to really express different musical sides of themselves.

Obviously you have the TRYPNOTYX album, and Béla and Abigail are doing their thing. It’s super cool that you guys can separate and then come back together stronger…

Exactly. It’s better when we come back together after we’ve been away. It’s like when you’ve been on vacation and come back home, and home is nice again.

Last thing I want to ask about. You were here in New York playing one of the late-night shows.

I did it last night. I did The Tonight Show and had the chance to play with The Roots for the whole night, live.

How was playing with those guys?

The best. They’re so loose and free. They don’t worry, or it doesn’t seem like it. The way they do it—their process is really, really cool. It’s my second time doing it with them. But just the way they get in early in the day, and just jam through some numbers. And then when the show is going on and Jimmy is doing his monologue, they’re playing one of our jams in our ears. And I’m like, “Okay, yeah I remember that.”

So then you can just kick right into it?

Kick right into it! And then after the commercial, we play a little more, and then Jimmy starts his next skit, and the next jam is playing in our ears.

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