I’ve interviewed many extremely interesting and talented professional bass players who offer just the right amount of content to make for an interesting article about movements with their band’s new album, gear and often a side project or two. I’m often fulfilled with a sense of well being (there’s a song in there somewhere) and always felt confident that I’ve not left anything out... until interviewing professional bassist and Fusion endorsee, Becky Baldwin.
I talk with Becky as she unpacks her gear from a hard week touring Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in one of her bands called ‘Hands Off Gretel’ an energetic, alternative, grunge rock inspired 4 piece outfit that takes no prisoners. I say ‘one’ of her bands as up to the time of our interview, she’s a permanent member as bassist in at least 4 (and counting) professional bands and also lends her abilities to external projects.
“I only have this weekend to sort out my luggage,” says Becky, “As we are touring the UK next week to promote our new releases. It’s all a bit frantic as I’m playing bass for Will Blake’s rhythm and blues band this weekend so it’ll be tight, then it’s back out with ‘Hands Off Gretel.’ This band lives throughout the UK, so photo shoots and rehearsals can take some organising, but that’s relatively local compared to my other band DORJA, a 5-piece all-girl guitar, bass and drums rock band, where the members are from around the world.
Whilst I’m based here in Bristol, DORJA’s drummer Anna Mylee is from Belgium, Rosie Botterill (guitarist) lives in London and Sarah Michelle (guitarist) travels over from Ireland. Our vocalist Aiym Almas has the biggest commute as she’s in Los Angeles, so we have to arrange tours and promotional events around the length of time her visa allows.
We’ll fly her over, but there’s not a lot of time to relax when DORJA tours outside the USA. Rehearsals are more or less an hour or so before we go on stage, although we will have all played along to tracks we have swapped over the internet. I have heard of bands having live rehearsals over the internet, I’m not sure how that works with the delay over the airwaves. We released our first DORJA EP called ‘Target Practice’ in 2017 and on the back of that, we’ve been really busy touring to promote the new album called ‘Gemini’ which we hope to release for general sale before the end of 2018.
We’re all writing a lot now in Dorja bringing creative ideas to the table as they say, whilst in ‘Fury’, the vocalist and guitarist write most of the riffs and handle the lyrics, while I have free reign to add my bass lines.
I was originally just depping on bass for Fury but enjoyed the UK tour so much I decided to stay with the band when they asked me to join full time. It worked out well as I love playing real heavy metal bass, and the metal band I was with at the time called Triaxis was slowly coming to an end.
It’s quite apparent that whilst Becky’s bass and vocal style is predominantly pure rock, she effortlessly adapts herself to any style of bass playing… handy that…. as she’s also a fully qualified music tutor at the Bristol Rock Centre. She continues,
“I teach at Bristol Rock Centre, where I’m a co-founder of the organisation. It’s mainly rock bass tuition, the clue is in the title, but I’ll teach any style of bass playing as long as the student is eager and willing to learn which makes the lessons so much more enjoyable. Funk is popular, of which I’m a fan myself and I have my reliable double bass to hand if a student is into a particular jazz style or rockabilly.
I teach all ages, sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle for very young students with small hands but it’s all good background as they get older. I love teaching adults, this is my most common age group. I’m talking about 40-year-olds who maybe have their career sorted out and have some cash to buy equipment. They seem to be organised, far more than I am” she laughs.
“They’ll keep a practise diary and are focused about the whole concept of progressing on the bass guitar. Sometimes the younger student who has a natural talent for bass, will zip through the grades and get ahead of themselves, then they realise they need to slow down and work at it and maybe pick up the slack. That’s not all students of course. I offer lessons online, but I prefer a one to one in the studio at the Bristol Rock Centre.”
For Becky now, life is all things bass, but those almost mandatory school piano lessons don’t really ring home.
“The piano at school was my first instrument which was ok, but I did find it all a bit of a chore. The songs we were learning weren’t exactly exciting however, it was certainly a great learning curve and an introduction to seriously learning to read music which I became fluent in after studying at the Bristol Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) and gaining a BA Honours Degree in professional musicianship.
At school though, a lot of my friends played instruments, mainly guitars, I wanted to join in but not on guitar or drums. I realised that a lot of the cool rock guys in bands were the bass players who also influenced me to take up the bass, buying my first one aged 13.
I studied the likes of Lemmy from Motorhead, Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler, Steve Harris in Iron Maiden and Metallica’s Cliff Burton who all played an angry bass, often in a fingerpicking style that’s way up front in the mix rather than just backing up the rhythm and lead guitars.”
You play Rickenbacker basses which are known for their tonal versatility and also their cutting-edge sound.
“Yes, I also think they look great and are used by a lot of my favourite bass players I mentioned. I have a black 4003 which I bought in 2010 and a more recent I got my hands on a white 4001 from ’77. Both basses, as well as my Fender bass, now look very unique with metal scratchplates handmade by made byAlperious pickguards. These basses, fitted with D’Addario strings, suit my aggressive approach to fingerstyle playing, the unmistakable Rickenbacker tone is perfect for the bands I play in. I’m touring extensively, so I’ve scaled down my rig, I’m just tired of massive bass cabs, so I’ve opted for 2x10 cabs and a GR One 1400watt bass head. Gr Bass is a new Italian company making fantastic amplification.
They’re both light and compact but really powerful. The head is actually small enough to fit into my Fusion Urban Series bass gig bag along with leads, tuners and effects pedals. I’m currently using an MXR Overdrive pedal to push the front end of the amp a Programmable Sansamp Bass Driver for a little extra EQ. There’s so much room in that bag. Ricky bases are big and a bit vulnerable, so it’s nice to know it’s well protected when I’m travelling.”
In 2015, you were listed in Metalholic Magazine's Top 15 Female Hard Rock and Metal Bass Players, quite an achievement as there's an endless list of female players now covering just about every musical genre from country to punk to Death Metal.
“Yes, I was really pleased about being in the list for the top 15 female bass players. I wasn’t really aware of the earlier players when I was growing up, I’d heard of Tina Weymouth in Talking Heads and Suzi Quatro who was pretty cool and energetic which I liked. There’s a whole new generation of female bass players out there now. I love the style of Nik West she’s more of a funk player, and to the extreme, there’s Fernanda Lira of thrash metal band ‘Nervosa’.
Do you think it’s hard for female bass players to be taken seriously, or any female musician for that matter?
“I would say it’s certainly harder for female musicians to be taken seriously, especially in the world of rock music, you have to take the good with the bad and roll with it. There are so many ways to self-promote now, especially with social media which has been a game changer. The days where you would be relying on big bosses deciding if they will or won’t feature you or your band in a magazine are long gone. We aren’t relying on that big company promotional push now if people find you interesting, they will follow you on social media.
I don’t think it matters either way whether a female artist is young or mature. I sometimes think there’s distrust from record companies. By that I mean, if they are older, as in over 25, they think they won’t be in the music industry for long before they want to settle down and start a family and then it’s harder for a more mature woman who has a family, to now get into the frame. Maybe male musicians are seen to have fewer responsibilities these days, I really don’t know.”
Becky is also a ‘natural’ in front of the cameras narrating and interviewing artists, luthiers and manufactures in the music industry for the UK film company Britain’s Rare Guitars, as she explains,
“I met up with Mike Berry the owner of Britain’s Rare Guitars about a year ago in Birmingham’s Somerfield studios, where we record and make short films for the company’s own YouTube channel. This has become very popular over the last year or so. I really like this as it’s also an opportunity to meet a host of very talented luthiers and artists, there are so many out there now.
This last year has flown by, I’m so busy with all the projects and have way over 100 gigs in less than 12 months, I love it. Hands Off Gretel, DORJA and Fury, all have new albums, singles and videos out in early 2019 so Spring for me looks like it could be one long continuous tour.”
We’ve only really touched the tip of the iceberg, so follow these links to keep up with Becky’s busy lifestyle in the world of rock bass guitar.
Interview by Lars Mullen.
Here's the gig list for the rest of the year:
05/10/18 – Hands off Gretel at Butlin’s Great British Alternative Festival, Skegness
06/10/18 – Fury at Corporation, Sheffield
11/10/18 – Hands off Gretel at The Giffard Arms, Wolverhampton
12/10/18 – Hands off Gretel at The Met Lounge, Peterborough
13/10/18 – Hands off Gretel at The Wagon and Horses, Birmingham
20/10/18 – Fury at Raffs Bar Wellingborough
25/10/18 – Hands off Gretel at The Lantern, Halifax
26/10/18 – Hands off Gretel at The Globe, Newcastle
27/10/18 – Hands off Gretel at The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh
28/10/18 – Hands off Gretel at Audio, Glasgow
03/11/18 – Fury at Scruffy Murphys, Birmingham
10/11/18 – Fury at UrRock Festival, Stans, Switzerland
20/11/18 – Hands off Gretel at Louisiana, Bristol
21/11/18 – Hands off Gretel at Hoxton Square Bar, London
22/11/18 – Hands off Gretel at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
24/11/18 – Hands off Gretel at Manchester Club Academy
28/11/18 – Hands off Gretel at Stereo, Glasgow
19/12/18 – Fury at Exchange, Bristol
22/12/18 – Fury at Marrs Bar, Worcester
27/12/18 – Hands off Gretel at Old School House Venue, Barnsley