Friday, January 13, 2012

Interview with Warwick Artist Andy Irvine

1) Hello Andy. How are you doing? Please tell us something about your latest musical projects. What are you currently working on?

I'm quite well, thank you! Winter is here, and I am a winter person, I live high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in a very small ski town called Fraser, it is similar to Markneukirchen in fact.
I just completed by second album of completely original works entitled "Cant Slow Down" this has been a huge challenge for me as I pushed myself to new levels producing the album. I wanted to compose and record an album that incorporates a wide variety of styles while retaining a common cohesive thread. I blended all of my primary influences into the 10 songs Rock, Soul, Blues and Funk. It will be released in Jan 2012 and then I will start touring with my own group in the USA and Europe to promote it in March.
I'm also gearing up for the launch of my Warwick "Sound Of Bass" clinic tour taking place thought 2012 across the entire USA.

2) You are known as a very skilled and versatile player. When did you actually start playing? Why did you choose the bass guitar as your instrument?

I started playing the bass in 1982 in Webster, NY when I was 12 years old. I received my first bass as a birthday gift. When I put it in my hands within the first moment I knew in my heart that I was going be a bassist for the rest of my life and it would be all I would ever do. I never ever thought of doing anything else from that day forward. I chose the bass because in my area my young friends had a band. They already had the other instruments covered (guitars, drums), so they said "you play the bass Andy". It will be 30 years very soon since that day, and bass playing is all I have ever done. I have spent my whole life so far Gigging, touring, session work, teaching, and live production work. Yes I have taken jobs over the years when I had to just to get by, but only as temporary money makers until my musical opportunities presented themselves. Some of the jobs we're beneficial for other reasons along the way. Hard labor jobs taught me the value of a good days work and made me strong. I learned to cook quite well, and also to operate various heavy equipment working in a gravel pit. All of the jobs made me "Want it" more and by comparison made me focus on making musical strides.
As far as my playing versatility goes, I have been influenced by many styles through the years. I always had an open mind to playing. I simply loved to play bass so much that what ever gig was offered I would take it, I have played it all. I also learned early on that in order to earn some money from playing I would need to be able to play all the styles and be aware of the specific characteristics of each style. For me having an open mind to playing any music is what made me who I am as a player. I have my own style which I'm proud of, I play like me. This style came to be through a combination of many styles mixed together- Heavy metal,hard rock,rock&roll,pop,blues,funk,soul,jazz,gospel,and country.

3) You seem to be very open minded when it comes to musical taste. Do you have any preferences anyway?

I tend to like organic music with real musicians playing together creating synergy. The music style to me is not as important as the feeling and the soul that exists in the music. To re-phrase this idea, I can enjoy all music, especially when I feel a connection between the musicians performing it and a presence of special heart felt emotion. I don't listen to completely electronic music often, sure I respect it as an art form, but it does nothing for my soul, sounds like robots playing to me.

4) Who influenced you as a bassist? Do you still have idols? When did you first come into touch with Warwick and how did that happen?

My bass influences are vast because I have played so many styles over the years, but there are a few bassists that have had a profound impression on my own playing style. Steve Harris, John Paul Jones, Geezer Butler, John Entwistle, Paul McCartney, James Jamerson, Carol Kaye, Duck Dunn, Chuck Rainey, Stanely Clarke, Jaco Pastorious, Rocco Prestia, Boosty Collins and Rodney "Skeet" Curtis to name a few.
All my idols from the beginning are still my idols today, and there are some new ones as well like Jonas Hellborg for example. He's beautiful cat and beautiful player. I have known about him and his work for 25 years but recently I had the opportunity to spend time with him and hear him play in a very personal and up close manor. His playing is so very natural and fluid, it's soothing and warm to me. I can really dig his voice on the bass; it’s highly personal and unique.
For me it has very little to do with if a player has a style that is in any way similar to mine, or if a person is labeled a virtuoso or not. It is more about some special element of style they have and a unique personality in their playing that turns me on. Many of the greatest bassists on the planet are not famous. If I feel something special and instantly recognize a player’s passion and individual voice then I am fully inspired by them.
I first heard about and was turned onto Warwick around 1985 by seeing Norwood Fisher, Jack Bruce and others playing them. I always thought they we're super cool basses. They always had this cool vibe of being exotic and mysterious being hand made in Germany.
I first met Warwick owner Hans Peter Wilfer in 2010 at the Bass Player Live event in Hollywood, CA. Right away we hit it off and spent several hours together talking. He told me all about his company and his passions for achieving the highest quality standards in his basses. I told him all about my passions for playing and teaching. We have been great friends since that day.

5) What do you particularly like about Warwick instruments and how do they affect your sound?

I love all the Warwicks because they are completely thought through and no element of the quality and performance is ever overlooked. The primary and most important element is the wood. The care taken to select and prepare all wood prior to ever becoming a Warwick bass is why they are perhaps the single best bass builder in the entire world. The heart of music is in the vibrations, and the heart of an instrument is in its wood.
The instrument is a vehicle to transfer the feelings from my heart, mind, and hands into sonic tones with which to create musical harmony with other musicians. The instrument is a delivery system and creates the personal voice for channeling ones musical soul. The basses built by Warwick embody all the physical details to be the perfect vehicle of delivering my personal emotion. The passion I have for playing the bass is equally present in those who carefully craft the Warwick basses-it's a perfect fit. They understand how passionate I feel about my playing, and they understand that in order for me to achieve my own musical nirvana I require and deserve an instrument that is flawless.

6) You have obtained some beautiful custom shop bass guitars from Warwick. Could you introduce them to us and tell us something about their special features?

I have 4 wonderful Warwick Custom Shop basses. 3 of them are based on the Streamer Stage 1 5 string model, and the other is a 5 string Triumph electric upright. Every player has certain requirements for an instrument that will enable them to play their best. All my Warwick basses have a neck shape that compliments the size of my hands, electronics for my specific tonal needs, and a look that is pleasing to me.
There is a very important fact for people to understand regarding Warwick bass production in Markneukirchen Germany. ALL the basses are built in the custom shop. This includes all the German standard Warwick series basses. If an individual orders a bass to be built to their own personal specs it is created alongside all of the other Warwick series basses. There is no specific division between the two. So in other words,every German Warwick series bass is in fact a custom shop bass. The point here is that the same exact quality control and personal attention goes into every instrument produced there.
My basses are all built out of various types of high quality maple tone wood as primary materials. They all have through body broad spacing necks with a custom extra slim profile front to back, and have 34inch scale on a 24 fret 2 octave neck.
There is an important element of the instrument in providing the player a visual presentation that also compliments his or her personal style and personality. My basses are all different in appearance via selected finishes but share the same body design and materials, neck shape, and electronics. The level of comfort is very important, the instrument needs to provide even balance, a comfortable weight and size, and ergonomic elements for a perfect fit.
All of these elements I have mentioned we're taken into careful consideration creating my custom basses. There are also many features in my instruments that are standard to all German Warwick series (or "custom shop") basses: Brass Just-a-Nut 3 fully adjustable nut, bell brass frets, ergonomically angled tuners, quick release truss rod cover and back panel cover, 3D adjustment two piece bridge system, and locking strap security system.
Two of my custom shop Warwick basses feature "Fish Eye" inlays on selected high quality AAA flame maple and Birds eye maple finger boards. In addition they both have Blues LED's built into the fingerboards on the front and side position markers as well as the Warwick W logo on the head stock.
I also exclusively use the Warwick Hellborg Bass System, as well as amps, cabs, and combos from the Warwick WA, WCA and BC lines.

7) You mentioned that you also use Warwick amps, cabs, and combos do you have any personal impressions of the Warwick amps designed by Jonas Hellborg?

The amps are amazing, my biggest need is for an amp to go loud and be clean the whole time. Because special care and intelligent thought has been put into the engineering and design, the amps in WA head and the BC combo line are 100% on the money.
There are a few simple things that when done correctly make for an amp that performs effectively. Class A preamp-allows for clean input stage and quite operation through the whole range of the input stage volume. A broad band mid sweep enables you to utilize the EQ with perfect results. They all have the DDL dynamic distortion limiter; this prevents the amp from ever clipping, and gives you the ability to run the amp on 12 all day with no stress to the amp or speakers and a clean powerful sound. And finally the speaker’s enclosures are built extra deep-this is key in getting the maximum low end fundamental. In short, the small amps sound big, the bigger amps sound huge, and the biggest ones sound massive!!
As for the Hellborg Series Amp System, this to me is the single greatest bass rig ever to be designed and built in the world. It is truly remarkable. It's sound is 100% transparent so you only get the pure sound of your bass with no coloration from the amp. This is achieved through the design of a system built with only the highest quality studio grade HiFi components. It's a simple yet genius signal path, Low z mic pre with 60 db of huge headroom gain and low noise, coil based EQ with stepped mid-range settings and fully variable controls for Low and Hi mids. Power amps with massive output transformers like found on tube amps, and various speaker enclosures with coaxial drivers for massive tight lows clear focused sound like that of high end studio monitors.
The sound and feeling when playing through the Hellborg System is like being in the control room a top notch studio. It's just like playing your bass through a strip on a Neve console, into a HiFi audiophile amp then into giant coaxial Yuri studio monitors. And now here's the great part, this sound that is so coveted and usually only found in the studio, with the Hellborg System can easily be made to go from moderate club volumes to VERY loud. You now have the most amazing studio quality tone with huge amounts of ultra clean stage and large venue filling volume. There are a wide range of compatible speaker enclosures to combine for the perfect size rig required for the gig.
So just like the basses, the same amount of intelligent thought and quality control is equally found in the Warwick amps, and that's why I use them.

8) You took part in the Bass Player Live Event recently. Could you share some of your impressions with us, please?

I was thrilled to be a part of Bass Player Live this year, and representing Warwick was an honor. The artist roster at Warwick is made up of some of the greatest bassists ever, several of which we're also on hand performing. Lee Sklar is a titan of bass session work with 2900 recording sessions under his belt and he also is a great guy. Of course Jonas Hellborg who I have mentioned that I really dig, and also Steve Bailey is another wonderful player and person. They were all on hand to name a few. Perhaps for me the biggest thrill was during one of my performances I invited my good friend (who also happens to be a huge hero to me) Norwood Fisher up, and we jammed together, that was killer. The entire Warwick team, from the artists, to the people who build them, to the people who market them are all a family and that is very true. The other rewards I felt we're in the contact I had with young players and the sharing with them during my clinic segments.

9) As a session musician in strong demand, you could surely tell how Warwick basses fit in a band context. Have you experienced any differences to other instruments you have played so far?

Yes, I travel a great deal earning my living playing bass touring, doing session work, doing bass clinics and so on. The biggest factor for me and the thing that really stands out with the Warwick basses has to with the wood and how stable it is. I put my basses through a wide variety of climate changes regularly, and the necks remain completely consistent. The wood does not constantly move and bend requiring truss rod adjustment depending on where I am in the world. This is because they have the brains, insight, and commitment to dry the wood correctly in the first place prior to building the bass. This is a very important fact about Warwick basses that is not taken into consideration to the same degree by other bass builders.

10) As we are doing this interview you are visiting Warwick’s headquarters in Germany. You have seen the production and the whole company. What are your thoughts about it?

Yes, being here and seeing the production first hand is amazing, all the things I had discussed with Hans Peter Wilfer in the past now have become very real and to see these production methods in person is fascinating to me. There are 5 key elements of Warwick bass production that are completely unique, and no other company is going to this length of commitment to quality. It is these 5 elements that in my mind, is why I believe Warwick is building the highest quality basses on earth.
1) At Warwick all wood is very carefully selected in log form, purchased and then brought to Germany from around the world still as rough logs. Then it is cut in house down to various sizes. Then it is stored in climate controlled environments for at least 3-5 years and in some cases up to 20 years before ever going into production. No other company does this.
Others buy their woods already pre-cut and have no real idea as to exactly how long it has been dried, they usually quickly kiln dry it and then it goes into production within 2 months. As a result their necks warp.
2) After several years of natural drying the wood is ready to be moisture tested. Using high tech sensors every piece of wood that enters the factory for potential use is measured for content of moisture. The wood passes over the sensor and it is determined if it has been dried properly before it can continue into production. The measurement is to exact standards. 8% moisture is correct and ready for production; this wood passes though ready for use. Any wood that is 9% and above is too wet still; it is removed and put back into climate controlled areas for further drying. All wood passing over the sensor with a moisture of 7% and under is too dry, this wood is also taken out and placed in areas of the production facility where moister is constantly added to the air to create a consistent 8% humidity. Wood naturally takes on the moisture of its surroundings so before too long the moisture level comes up and it can be used in production. No other company in the world goes to this length to be 100% certain of the moisture content of the wood prior to accepting it as ready for use in instrument production.
3) At Warwick the frets are installed in a unique way that ensures they are perfectly even, the finger boards provide better strength, maximum comfort of playing, and outstanding tonal transfer takes place over the entire neck.
Usually during fret installation with all other manufacturers there is a slice cut across the entire finger board and then the frets are pushed in. When this is done as the frets are pushed into the slot they separate the wood and by the time all the frets are in, the finger boards is bowed. Then it is necessary to completely re-level the frets to make them even and re-crown them to make them playable. Also the frets then stick out a bit and are felt when the players hand slides up and down the neck. This is standard.
At Warwick it is done differently. The fret channels when cut into the fingerboard do not extend all the way to edge, there is wood left intact on top and bottom to create structural integrity and provide improved transmission of vibration down the whole length of the neck. This also eliminates the need for re-leveling and all frets are perfectly even from the start. The surface area where the string makes contact with the fret is always perfect not requiring nay re-crowning. Because the frets don't stick out the sides of the fingerboard there is a consistent smooth feel to the touch, soft and comfortable. With a Warwick basses you will never have the harsh sharp edges of frets like is often found when installed using common standards.
4) At Warwick they have developed a unique material and method of lacquer application. The lacquer material was developed in house by Warwick master painting specialists and is water based. This material is engineered to be perfectly clear, nearly as affective as light passing through a diamond at 100%. What this means is that there is no cloudiness or fog within the clear coat, instead a perfect finish that is completely transparent, bringing out all the 3D and beauty of the wood grain below.
The finish is then dried using a specialized high power UV light chamber, which in a matter of 30 seconds dries the lacquer to a hardness that is 2 times as hard and scratch resistant as any other method used. This unique material and process also enables the clear coat to be applied very thin, providing huge tonal benefits.
5) At Warwick the methods and materials used are based solely on superior quality, not on ease of manufacturing, or to be cost effective. They go to lengths and great expense to have a completely climate controlled production environment, and all the instruments once built are stored in completely climate controlled environments. The state of the art equipment used in the production is second to none in advanced technology.
 All the materials used are of the highest quality found anywhere on earth. A great amount of time, effort, and expensive methods are used to care for them, and prepare them, prior to and during production.
It is truly a matter of pride at Warwick to create the highest quality basses in the world. Yes they are expensive, but for dam good reasons. To produce instruments with this level of quality and materials is not cheap, you get your full value in the finished instrument, and each is a work of art resulting from 30 years of development.

11) Andy, you are going on a clinic tour next year – “The Sound of Bass”. Please tell us a little bit about this event. What can visitors expect from the tour and what do you expect yourself?

I created an educational clinic program over the last few years to share my gifts with bassists young and old, I get a great deal of personal rewards and satisfaction from giving back and turning people onto my passion for playing. I really wanted to expand my educational reach and Hans Peter Wilfer saw this passion in me. Together HP and I created the Warwick "Sound Of Bass" clinic tour taking place throughout 2012. It's a dream come true for me and I'm very excited about my program growing wings, I'm so very grateful to HP for standing behind me. The clinic tour will be a fun and educational experience for all musicians (not just bassists) to learn about the Warwick basses and amps and also my personal journey as a professional musician. I will play with various musicians and demonstrate my techniques, talk about touring, session work, and my lifelong passion for playing. I will also go into detail about my gear and why I choose to play Warwick basses and amps.
The tour will hit select retail music stores in 25 major cities throughout the entire USA. With the generous support of Warwick, US Music, and EMG I will be giving away for FREE, thousands of dollars worth of gear. For example, at every one of the events there will be tons of FREE Warwick and EMG door prizes, and a grand prize given away by random drawing at each event of a Warwick Pro Series bass.
All the events are FREE to the public and will be a blast! I strongly encourage all musicians to attend, because it's really not just about bassists, the topics I will cover will have benefits for all musicians regardless of primary instrument.

12) You work as a clinician and are dedicated to teaching. What would be your first advice to a beginner?

Have fun! Music is an individual journey and the amount of success is only measured by that individual’s ability to realize personal passion. I would tell them to start creating their own voice as a musician right away, and to never be afraid to break the mold. I would recommend developing some good habits of practicing and encourage them to check out all music styles. I would encourage them to have an open mind and take care in learning the characteristics of many styles. I would recommend getting some personal private lessons with a teacher and to gain insight into at least basic music theory. But more than anything else I would simply tell them to have fun and enjoy it; the most beneficial growth and personal rewards come through the simple joy of playing not rigged study.

13) What are your plans for the future? Do you already have some new projects in mind?

Well I'm always quite busy and working towards the future. I will be touring quite a bit internationally throughout 2012 with my own group and also Eden Brent. Eden is an award winning Mississippi based piano player who I have toured with for 4 years now. I always continue to compose and record, in fact as my second album "Can't Slow Down" is being released in January 2012, I'm already 70% done recording and producing my third album. I'm always doing gigs as a side man and playing in my home state of Colorado with various artists. I intend to take my Warwick clinic series to Europe and Asia and anywhere else they would have me.I'm always practicing and working to grow in my own musical journey, this is my primary focus always.

14) Thank you very much for the interview. The last words are yours.

It has truly been my pleasure, come see me at the Warwick booth at the 2012 NAMM show in LA. I will be there every day-all day, talking to the public about the killer new Warwick amps designed by Jonas Hellborg and answering any questions people might have regarding the amazing Warwick basses. I encourage all to visit and start planning your dream bass from the custom shop. Warwick is a family owned business and everyone that chooses to play a Warwick is part of that family, a family I'm very proud to be a part of.

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