Until I actually met Remco Hendriks, I was one of thousands upon thousands of people who have watched him work his funky bass guitar grooves on YouTube, totally mesmerized by his sheer speed, accuracy, dexterity and phrasing on a fretless bass. I’d read all the quotes folk leave at the bottom… “Is this guy for real?” “Nah, can’t be done, it’s been sped up.”
Remco likes his privacy and own space so, as fans of his videos will know, he’s rarely seen full-face on screen. So I’m dragging my camera gear around Musikmesse, the annual trade show in Frankfurt, Germany earlier this year, when I notice familiar blonde dreadlocks. I’m thinking... is it or isn’t?
Witnessing Remco play live at the show, squashed all the rumours I’ve read, none of the videos are sped up and yes, I would say he is probably in the 1% of the world’s elite bass players.
Over a beer, Remco talks in his Dutch dialect about ‘all things bass’ and that until he checked it out, didn’t realise viewing figures for his videos were in the millions.
“I’d been gigging in various bands for years in Western Europe, which I thoroughly enjoyed, always had a lot of laughs and the money was okay. But I was always writing my own material on the road which in reality, I wanted to play, and when some of the guys I was working with started families, which is not good for the touring musician, the bass player in me said, ok, now’s the time to do some of my own material. I started doing gigs as a solo bass player which went down well and decided to make a few videos in between.
I made about 15 in 3 weeks with just a drummer in my studio. I didn’t edit or produce the videos that much, it was all pretty straightforward. I’d written the bass and drum parts and we just sat in front of the camera, that’s the beauty of the internet. I like the rawness of it, right down to hearing every scuff up. I uploaded them to YouTube gradually but didn’t really check it out until about a year later. I thought people must have liked what I was playing, as the viewing figures were in the millions.
I don’t show my face that much because it’s all about the bass and the song, the camera angles were consciously done so you see the bass fretboard and what I’m playing. I also like the whole mysterious vibe about it.
Right now I’m in a transition phase doing my own gigs and travelling to trade shows and demoing around the world. I feel privileged and very humbled to have offers to work with so many amazing musicians including some of the world’s finest drummers, two are actually here in the Netherlands, a girl called Mira Burgers so talented at just 19, and an amazing guy who used to play death metal but is switching to funk, which gives things a cool, fresh perspective.
I also write all the drum lines for my recorded tracks and videos which are quite complicated, so it’s great to have a respectful working relationship with drummers who are willing to leave their egos aside and are eager to learn the drum lines I want on the tracks. I know where I want every little accent to be, there’s a lot going on and less of a coincidence that you may think.”
Those of you who understand bass guitar jargon will know that a hammer-on and a pull-off is a major ingredient required to play funky jazz grooves. Remco explains,
“I love playing double stops, and chords on a fretless bass and 'hammer-ons' and 'pull offs' which are all part of the technique. You can create so much emotion and expression playing two or three notes together, I’m doing lots of vibratos & sliding the strings all the time for that extra touch.
I love the absolute freedom of a fretless bass. A lot of people are afraid of this instrument and scuff up if the accuracy or the intonation is not so good and they make mistakes, that’s when you have to push, become daring and learn to explore the neck. It’s not like playing a conventional bass, with a fretless you have to play exactly where the fret markers are, learning accurate pitch is essential and, you have to get your muscle memory together to recognise the physical positions and sonic intonation of the notes on the fingerboard. I would say, don’t gig with a fretless unless you are ready for it... when you are, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
My songs are purely instrumental, so timing and phrasing all have an important role in separating parts of the song. I usually start writing around a riff followed by a hook line which would be the chorus if the song had lyrics. I may play harder for the chorus where the tension of the notes alone will highlight the chorus riff. For the listener, of course, the enjoyment is the track, but there’s a lot going on that people may not notice. For example, I might just come off the timing from the 1 beat and hit on the 2 then back to 1 or, I may be playing in 3-4 timing over 4-4, then meet back with the drummer on the 12th beat. Little things like this make the song that you may not notice.
So in reality, I’m creating songs out of grooves whilst trying to be original and construct songs from a different respective and approach that people are used to. For me, that can be achieved by having a flawless groove going on with these little accents here and there instead of just showing off what I’m capable of. I like to put people on the wrong foot so to say… wow what was that… what’s happening, just like when I’m listening to some of the great fusion jazz players.
If you listen now to the likes of James Jamerson and his bass work on all those classic Motown hits during the 60’s and 70’s songs, it’s so inspirational. A lot of those records from the early 70’s were recorded with minimal equipment and in one take, they were really pushing boundaries. I get inspiration daily from those albums, the likes of Stanley Clarke for example on the Romantic Warrior album, Miles Davis, Sly And The Family Stone, the list is endless. It was such an era of motivation.
From a very young age, about 8, I was a metal guy listening to the likes of Slayer, Black Flag, Rage Against The Machine and Sepultura from Brazil. This taught me some values in life as the music they were playing was like a cultural thing. Then there was a sudden change as I got into melodies and harmonies and started listening to The Beatles big time, and then funk in the form of George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic from the 70’s and 80’s. Clinton was the Holy Grail of funk, while bassist George Porter Jr. and his band The Meters influenced the full soul groove for me.”
During our third beer at Musikmesse Remco has to make a phone call but noticeably has trouble dialling.
“Sorry,” says Remco, “It’s just that my fingers are covered in calluses, they are so bad now that I can’t work the touchscreen on my phone. It’s all down to the fingerpicking style I play that includes all four fingers and thumb on my right hand. I originally hadn’t intended to play in this style, though it just made sense to use my thumb within fingerstyle playing. Then I started getting asked about this technique so I thought I may be onto something here and I started to develop it further. The thumb approach is not a slap as in bass slapping, it’s a percussive pluck.
For me, the economy of motion in this kind of technique that features chords, double stops and triplets with speed and accuracy, is far greater than any other percussive style on the bass guitar because my right hand is just sitting there, always ready to attack. This offers some great options where I might just use my thumb for one string whilst my index finger is muting the same or other strings and vice versa. You don’t have this option when you play slap or regular fingerstyle.
The American jazz fusion bass player Gary Willis is doing this to a certain extent in his band Tribal Tech wearing a thumb pick and session bassist Abe Laboriel who, like Gary approaches this style in their own way. I discovered the darker side of the internet and learned quickly to get a thick skin because a lot of people did not believe the speed of my playing.”
When it comes down to the hardware, Remco also has his favourite choices.
“I’ve always been a bit sensitive about the amps I use, the choice is huge, but it’s not only a personal thing, it’s also about the right amp for the job. I’ve been using Eich bass amplification now for a while, built by Thomas Eich based in Herborn, Germany. I feel they are the best sounding bass amps available at this time, I’m very pleased how they perform. My rig is an Eich T1000 thousand watt head, it’s so compact, sturdy and lightweight to carry. I’m running this through one of their 212S cabinets loaded with a pair of 12in ceramic speakers, which again, is compact and yet with the head, is loud enough for any gig. I’m using a direct output from the amp to the mixing desk combined with one of the new Integral analogue mikes from SAMsystems which works really well.
For live work, I’ve been using Hammersmith basses extensively gigging around the world and demonstrating at trade shows in many countries. I have a fantastic relationship with this relatively new company based in Toronto, Canada. Hammersmith also organises jams after trade shows where the public are not allowed in like the NAMM show in LA. This again allows me to perform with some of the world’s finest musicians. I had a blast playing at the Viper Room earlier this year for example, in Sunset Boulevard West Hollywood jamming with monster drummer Davyhon Canada.
For me, Hammersmith makes the Fender bass that Fender does not make. I actually have four of their basses, for my signature model, I asked for a combination of swamp ash for the body and maple for the neck, the perfect blend of tonewoods to enhance snap and sustain of the bass notes with separation and speed which is what I need for my style of playing.
I like to play with roundwound bass strings which also wear the fretboard a little, flatwound strings are less abrasive, but they have a totally different sound. For some jazz gigs, I may use flatwounds.
I also asked for rosewood for the fingerboard especially on the fretless models, it’s more resonant with a darker sound. Maple is fine, but since I like to really dig in, after a few months, I have to get the grooves that I’ve made sanded down & get the fingerboard coated with epoxy or superglue. If you buy a Remco Hendriks Signature bass, there’s a free Skype lesson, videos and a generous goodie package inside the case.
I’ve just taken delivery of a beautiful bass built by BNJ guitars in Italy with a really nice red willow body, 5 piece maple/padouk neck and active circuitry. This is a high-end bass and probably one that I wouldn’t have risked travelling with until I got my Fusion double bass gig bag.
I’ve been travelling for several months with two basses in my Fusion Urban Double Electric Bass Bag. I’ve had gig bags before but never felt as confident about the safety of the instruments as I do now. The basses I take are different sizes, but I can mould the internal Velcro padding to the body shape and neck outlines so there’s hardly any movement at all. The design team at Fusion certainly know how to put a cool gig bag together. Two basses together weigh quite a bit, but as the balance is perfect, carrying it by hand or the back straps is effortless, and with all the gear I can fit in the compartments, without doubt, this is the best option between a flight case and a heavy solid case.”
When I say to Remco that he plays bass with a level of dexterity that most players would give their left arm for, he drops the final bombshell.
“Well, I actually broke my left arm in a snowboarding accident, it was several years ago now, but I was out for about a year and more or less had to start again with my fretboard technique, I’m fully recovered now.
Practice is good, but the stamina is from endless playing and jamming, so my hands are free from pressure when I dig in. I always tell my students to get their strength from playing a lot and never just do exercises without going for the groove."
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