You don’t have to know who Jaco Pastorus is (not, in fact, a Harry Potter villain) to know Victor Wooten is an incredible bass guitarist. Whether grooving alongside Bela Fleck as one of his Flecktones or embarking on a solo show with his own band, the sound of Wooten’s bass is unmistakable, unique and immediately impressive—a mix of harmonics, pops, slaps and a certain je ne sais quoi capable of rollicking funk or a considerable re-imagining of “Amazing Grace.” Wooten is equally as thoughtful off stage, as he philosophized with us on growth through purposeful mistakes, each person’s inherent musicality and the virtues of singing in the shower in a talk with Reverb before heading to Colorado Saturday.
You can find Wooten this Saturday in both Denver and Sheridan, where he’s slated to put on a music clinic before playing Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom later Saturday night.
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So how’s the tour going?
Well, we’re just gonna start tomorrow. Which means we’ll get started today with loading [gear] and everything, but we’ll play our first show tomorrow.
And you’re in Kansas City?
Yeah. We’ve played here a few times as well as Denver.
You have a Vic Wooten clinic in the works in Sheridan before your show at Cervantes this Saturday. What can people expect at the clinic?
Well, my goal at a clinic—knowing we only have a short amount of time—is to help free people up to play music. In a sense, when you sing in the shower, you’re not signing to be right. It’s not about right and wrong; it’s about pure enjoyment and expression.
When you’re singing in the car, beating on the steering wheel, you’re not trying to do it perfectly—you’re just doing it. In my mind, that’s the proper way to play an instrument. Of course you want to learn some skills to make that better, but you always want to retain that freedom. And most of us lose that freedom.
How do you teach that style free playing?
One of the ways is by bringing up volunteers and giving them alternate things to think about and tricking their mind into loosening up when they play. And really by talking about it, answering their questions and showing them that music is not about an instrument; the instrument is just a tool. The same way that when you talk, your mouth that you talk through is just a tool. What’s more important is what you have to say.
I like to show people [at the clinics] the same thing. And once they realize that what I’m really talking about is a language—and everybody knows the rules to language already—the music becomes easier.
Taking your clinics, your nature and music camp (Vix camp), the fact that you help homeschool your children and your book called “The Music Lesson,” which is not strictly a music lesson, but a kind of fictional lesson on something bigger…
Real information put in a fictional context. Kinda like “Star Wars” or “Avatar”…
Right! With all of this taken together, teaching seems to be a big part of your life. Do you vest a lot of importance in the concept of a mentor?
Yeah, yeah! I look at it more like that than me teaching you what to do, because you already know what to do. Like Michael Jordan knows how to play basketball, but he still needed a coach. So I have four kids, and it’s not like I could ever really teach them everything, but I can guide them based on the experience and love, the wisdom that I might have.
I can guide them into having the same wisdom without having to go through the same experiences that I went through. So, I do the same thing musically. And when it comes time to teach something—whether it’s a technique, a theory, or whatever, I’m ready to do that.
Granted you probably have a music class worked into the curriculum, but homeschooling is so different from the other realms of teaching you participate in. Do you bring that same philosophy into your kids’ classroom?
Absolutely. Because it still comes down to the same core values. My wife handles most of the homeschooling side of things. But with my kids, I’m not as concerned with what they learn as I am with how they learn. In other words, if you don’t learn things that you don’t enjoy just because you don’t enjoy it, that to me is not a good learner. If you’re only good at the things you enjoy, you’re not really good. Your goodness carries terms and stipulations.
I want [my kids] to suck it up and be good even if they don’t enjoy it. When you don’t enjoy it, you need to work harder. And it’s those type of things that I really pay attention to with my kids: how they handle life’s lessons—not just school’s lessons. Of course, they need that, too. But it’s how they handle life, who they are as people—that’s what’s really going to carry them through life, even more than the academics.
And it’s the same for music. Your musicality will carry you through your musical life more than academic music. For example, I’m about to go on tour right now, and who we are as people is what keeps us together and happy on tour. Not the fact that we know a lot of music theory or have good technique. We’re on stage only a few hours out of the day, but we’re together 24 hours of the day.
Will this tour be songs straight off the new albums, “Words and Tones,” and its instrumental companion, “Sword and Stone,” or will it be more improv and jams off of the basic groundwork of the albums?
Well, it’s both! Like, even though that was a pre-formed question, you improvised it by the time you said it. We do the same thing. We improvise over pre-planned forms. It’s the same way that you talk. You improvise every conversation you have, and that’s natural. You wouldn’t even dream of having a conversation that’s pre-planned and you had to read it, unless your in a theatre setting, doing Shakespeare or something.
Our shows are set up so we may have a setlist, but we are free enough to improvise all-around.
Does your time off the stage with one another affect how you jam on stage?
When you hang out with friends and you get comfortable, it’s easier to talk to them, because you feel free to say whatever. And because you know more about each other, you have more to talk about. Music is no different. So as musicians, when we hang out together, we know each other more. We become freer and more interesting to each other, we know more about each other and in turn, we have more to say, whether it’s verbally or musically.