An Interview with
I had a mail from Kerry Hiles in June 2005, which was forwarded from Stuart Watkins. Stuart had got to know about the South African Bass Players Collective because of something we both have in common – we both want to supply Bass (and guitar) strings to the needy in Africa. I got chatting to Stuart via e-mail to see if we could join forces in this venture and naturally, I wanted to know a little bit more about him. Here was a Canadian muso that had studied in Africa, which was very interesting, so what better way of finding out more about this bassist known as Stuart Watkins than to interview the man – and that’s just what I did.
How long have you been playing Stuart?
I’ve been playing about 17 years. Since I was 13. I’m almost 30. Oh god, I should get practicing….
How did you get started?
Junior high school. It beat the hell out of playing the flute. Somehow the bass didn’t produce the female attention I thought it would…perhaps I should have stuck to the flute.
Seriously, I loved the electric bass from the moment I played one. Still, the most satisfying instrument in a group setting.
Do you come from a musical family?
Nope. Save for an uncle and cousin who play a little guitar, I’m the only musician in my entire family.
Do you play any other instruments?
I try and keep my guitar and drumkit chops up . Percussion too. I think it’s really important to understand how a rhythm section functions, chordally, percussively, so that everybody is aware of limitations, spaces.
What’s your favourite band / solo artist?
Short and sweet! Who else do you listen to?
I really dig Mbalax (from Youssou to Nder), but I can’t easily share my appreciation with too many Canadians. I began playing in reggae bands early on, so I’m re-listening to a lot of old roots and lovers rock. Brown, Isaacs, the classics.
Lately, I’ve been trying to listen to everything I can get my hands on. I go to the public library every week and pick up 5 CD’s of artists I’ve never listened to.
I try and listen to pop-radio too. Good to know what the kids are listening to these days. Some really beautiful records coming out.
What are the amps and instruments you currently use?
Fender Jazz Bass 5
Fender Jazz fretted 4
Fender Jazz fretless 4
1975 Czech Upright
1985 EUB (she’s a weird one)
I just became one of Eden’s newest “Emerging Artists” and I now use:
Elixir Strings.- I’ve been an endorsing artist for Elixir since 2003.
I interviewed Evan Marien a couple of month’s back. He’s also got an endorsement deal with Eden Amplification – do you know each other or don’t you get to meet up with the other endorsees?
I haven’t met Evan yet, but through degrees of separation I’m sure I will! But, no the endorsers don’t get to meet. Unless there’s some annual thing I’m not privy to. Like an Eden BBQ. My relationship with Eden is very new, but everyone is cool and very helpful.
I see you’re a four and five string man. What do you think of the extended range basses?
I think you need the right tool for the right job. If a 7 string is what’s going to get it done, then go for it. I’ve been using my 4’s lately and that’s been plenty. I like the 5, but only in certain situations say, when there’s a drummer with a heavy foot, or when the keys are getting in my range. If you drop a low C, it adds some necessary dynamic.
And what about headless and double necked basses?
I’m not crazy about the way headless basses look. You need something solid like a headstock to knock into cymbals accidentally at gigs.
Double Necked ?– too heavy man! (but secretly cool.). Can you imagine what a gig bag for one of those things looks like!
What instruments would you like to have if money were no object?
A tuba. No really, those things can hit some serious notes. Oh yes, and a pile of vintage Fenders that I would actually play and ding-up badly (on cymbals), loan to friends.
Yeah, Tubas are pretty cool now (for some reason). We have a guy down here, David Houghton, who plays Bass, Tuba and Guitar. When I show the pix of him playing Tuba, the other guys go “cooool”!
Exactly! And they’re so shiny! You could fix your hair in reflection while playing.
No batteries, cables, strings, amps, speakers. You use 3 fingers. Beautiful.
What have you been doing for the last five years or so?
Gigging and recording like mad. Trying to travel as much as possible. Reproducing.
Are your offspring showing signs of musical talent yet?
Frighteningly so. My 3-year-old daughter keeps asking me when I’m going to buy her a “small black bass” like mine. Fender makes these little half-pint Squire P’s, so I’m getting her one. If she’s got half the talent I think she does, she’ll put me out of work in no time. I’d feel more comforted about her financial future if she was interested in engineering or doing my taxes.
What recordings that you’ve played on would you recommend for listening?
The Mighty Popo’s latest record Ngagara (CBC/Universal). That guy and his producer Ross Murray bring out the best in me.
Was this the first time you worked with him?
I would usually get the call from his regular bass player to sub for festivals, and always get a call when a new record would be coming out. I’m active in the African diaspora musical community here, so am exposed to lots of styles and get called for some fun stuff.
What’s been the low point in your career so far?
All the time I wasted not knowing when to say “no”.
So you were a music slut were you?
I prefer the term ‘bass whore’. Someone once told me to play everything you can get your hands on. Do it all. So I’m trying everything I can. The cultures, food, languages you’re exposed to…you can’t beat that kind of education.
And what has been the high point?
Studying with Habib Faye in Dakar, Senegal. Habib is probably the heaviest bassist I’ve ever seen. His work with Youssou N’Dour however, is futher reaching than simply playing bass. Check him out if you haven’t already.
Playing at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece,
Playing at the Olympics must have been so cool!
We played on the rooftop of the Canada Olympic House, which had the best view of the Parthenon in all of Athens. Amazing experience. I’m now working on 2006 for the Olympics in Turino, Italy and Commonwealths in Melbourne, Australia.
What are your goals currently?
Balance! Music, family, work, life. Finding practice time. Australia, Europe…South Africa?.
You’ve visited our website in South Africa www.bassplayers.co.za – what do you think of the overall presentation?
Fantastic! The statistics are hilarious. There are some heavy players on there! I really hope to get to South Africa someday soon to check out the scene. What really strikes me most about you guys is the level of player, the attitude towards professional appearances. Really sets you all apart. Very cool.
What does Stuart Watkins do when he’s having a break from music?
Spend time with my family, read the paper, waste precious time doing nothing.
Thanks for the Interview Stuart, I appreciate the time you gave me.
My pleasure Martin. This was fun. All my best to everyone at the SABPC!!
Check me out in the