A Few Words With...Julie Slick

Interview and photos by John A. Wilcox

Every now and then you come across a musician who has that spark of something special. Julie Slick is one of those players. Her muscular bass playing in Adrian Belew's power trio is vibrant, colorful, and more than a bit threatening. Still in her early 20s, Slick has the mental process of a player well beyond her years. Progsheet shared spiritual bubble tea with this extraordinary musician...

PS: What was the first bass you ever bought, and why did you choose that particular one?

JS: The first bass my parents ever bought me was a Squier Musicmaster reissue bass. I was 11 at the time, and playing my Dad's fretless Gibson Ripper (as one would imagine, it was a pretty comical site to behold) and struggling to navigate the neck. The Musicmaster is a short scale bass, and well-suited for a short scale player. It was the only model that felt comfortable to me, besides an EB-0 (which I lusted after, being that Jack Bruce was my first major influence), but the folks weren't about to drop a couple hundred on my first instrument, so we compromised with the Squier. They promised me that if I took it seriously and practiced, that they'd buy me a better model in years to come. They were so proud of my improvement that next year they got me an Ernie Ball Stingray (which I fell in love with at the store because it had a purdy blue burst finish - they were so popular in the 90s). I still idolized Jack Bruce, and I painted that Musicmaster like his Fender VI. I still love that bass.

PS: What made you choose the bass over other instruments?

JS: Well Eric had always been a drummer - he was bangin' away in the crib. He had also always been my best friend, being that we grew up on a loving Hippie household and were only 16 months apart in age. By the time he was 9, he started bringing other friends over to jam and to be honest, I got really jealous. I'd interrupt, pick up one of my Dad's 25 vintage guitars (you don't even wanna know what we did to his 60s Jazzmaster case...), turn up the gain, and wail away - distortion hid the fact that I didn't know how to play. I'd get the death stare from everyone in the room - like I'd stumbled into a he-man woman haters club meeting. After that, I asked my dad to show me a couple things on acoustic - I planned to one day surprise them all with my skills, so that they'd surely have to let me in the band. I'll admit, I got easily frustrated with shaping my tiny hands into chords, and one day I looked up at the Ripper. "Hmm, " I thought "that only has four strings, and I don't have to play chords, or solos." No matter that it didn't have frets - I didn't even know the difference. That night my Dad showed me how to play Politician by Cream. The rest is history - because as every body knows, the world always needs more bass players!

PS: What was the first concert you ever attended?

JS: Fittingly enough it was Paul McCartney. I still remember singing Get Back with my parents... it was 1992, so I was six. They conditioned us young....

PS: What was the first CD you ever bought?

JS: Oh, this is embarrassing... Bush's Sixteen Stone. I was ten at the time, and Eric and I would frequent the Tower Records on South Street. It's sad because it's now a Walgreens... Anyway, he bought The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. We played both of those albums all of the time, especially when we came home from school. Rather than do homework or watch TV, we'd learn their drum parts and bass lines. I did this on the old Ripper, and Eric had a little four piece from the time he was three. We planned to be the next big Alternative Rock group... "Rot."

PS: What drew you to Lakland basses & what do they allow you to do that other basses did not?

JS: Well, until I had gotten this gig, I had been playing my Rickenbacker 4003 a lot. When I started to learn Ade's tracks, I realized that I needed to be using a more versatile instrument - one that could handle not just picking, but finger-style, slapping, and tapping. Luckily, I also own a Fender Jazz, and I used that for the first 18 months of touring with this group. After a while, though, we started realizing that there were some serious dead spots on the instrument. It was especially evident when we started to mix Side Four (Live). I knew that I wanted a Fender-style instrument, but figured that the large company would be too inaccessible - and I also feared that the bass I got from them would NOT have been a vast improvement over the Jazz. I also knew that I wanted a P-bass - I'd always loved Wetton's growly tone on the 70s Crim material, and besides, I already had a Jazz. So I began researching companies that made Fender-style basses... Then I remembered the show we had played with Umphrey's McGee the year before. Ryan [Stasik] suggested I try out Lakland basses, a company that he endorses. I checked out their site - and there it was: the perfect looking P-style bass: The Bob Glaub model. We were on tour at the time, and I immediately found the closest dealer so I check those puppies out. We found a shop in San Francisco and once I put my hands on one of those Glaub's, I knew I was in love. I wrote to Dan [Lakin] on a total whim, and he surprisingly responded almost immediately, "I'm a huge fan of Adrian's!" It was meant to be, and the rest is history. I actually have changed a lot of my techniques now that I have that bass and I think it had made me a better player - it practically plays itself.

PS: How, if at all, did the School Of Rock change how you approach the music business?

JS: Well, Paul is an extremely competitive person, and that is reflected in his approach to teaching. He'd always pit us students up against each other, and try to challenge us so we'd feel the pressure to perpetually improve. It was a technique that really worked for most of us. Luckily, I am almost as competitive as Paul, so I had a goal to be one of the best bassists in the school - no matter if I was a girl or not. (Of course at the time I joined the school there was only one other bassist, but the more the school grew, the more I kept practicing with Eric...) Paul emphasized to each of us that we should never feel like a part/theory was unplayable or incomprehensible. Anything is possible - as long as you really, truly believe that, you can do almost anything.

PS: What does being a musician bring you that nothing else in life does?

JS: It's extremely gratifying - and we're so lucky - we get to have fun, and bring the joy to others. Cooking for friends gives me the same sort of satisfaction, if not even more intimate.

PS: While recording the e album, did Adrian have specific bass parts in mind, or were you left to your own devices or a bit of both?

JS: It was definitely a bit of both - I had certain motifs to learn (i.e. the main chromatic line in e, which is transposed in c). There are other sections, though, where the trio does (in my opinion) what it does best - improvise (i.e. most of b). This makes for great, unique live performances of the music every night. It's really wonderful, because it's impossible to get bored of playing such exciting pieces.

PS: How long did the album take to record?

JS: We did the whole thing at StudioBelew in 6 days - one song tracked per day, and on the last day, we fixed any grave mistakes and added overdubs where necessary.

PS: What's the biggest lesson you've learned working with Belew?

JS: That if we make sure we eat right and get enough sleep on the road, we can do almost anything. We all get cranky if sleep deprived or not fed (or fed well), so that's partly why I've taken over as "Tour Social Director." Of course there's also the fact that I'm a total foodie, and when we travel to some of these places, I make it a goal to at least get one fabulous meal in...
Another very important lesson is that you don't need to be super famous to make a living in the Music Business. Playing stadiums and getting chased around by Paparazzi seems nightmarish to me now. I'd much rather live happily and comfortably, making music that I love.

PS: When you play out in the trio, how many of the bass parts are set in stone, and how much is open to interpretation & improvisation?

JS: I'd say it's about 70-30 (set to improv), though I think everything is up to my interpretation - I'm the one playing the bass, so it's automatically going through the "Slick filter." I can't help but make it my own - I'm don't really play like Ade, Tony or Les, so why try to imitate them? Eric and I are just two young'uns trying to fill some BIG shoes - but I think that's part of what makes it so fun for our fans to see and hear!

PS: How did you come to decide that the vegetarian lifestyle was the one for you?

JS: When I was 17, we had our senior class trip to the Pocono Mountains. Along the way we passed a truck full of pigs on their way to the slaughter house. I remembered what my pig-raising friend had told me earlier that year, "They're smarter than dogs, you know." I forced myself to look harder and saw them tightly packed inside, all scraped and bruised, on the way to their demise. That was the end of pork for me. For the next three years, I confused a lot of people, "... so you'll eat chicken and beef? What makes a pig so different." Tired of having to repeat my explanation, I decided that I really should try and go veg all the way on my 20th birthday. It was almost more of a test of will-power, but I found myself feeling better and healthier. I eat way more interesting stuff now - it's not just a boiled vegetable and lentil diet, like many carnivores like to believe. In fact, they're the ones eating boring "meat and potatoes" every night! Just check out my blog (julieslick.blogspot.com to see some of my culinary adventures)... and to be fair, I still eat fish and shellfish, but I'm currently working on cutting that part out of my diet too.

PS: Is there any 1 food or dish you never would have discovered if you hadn't been on the road?

JS: Hmm - I guess I never would've known about Okonomiyaki - a common Japanese peasant dish, which is a savory pancake, studded with raw and leftover cooked vegetables and topped with thick, sweet barbecue-type sauce. They made it for us one night while we had a week-long residency at the Blue Note in Tokyo - we liked it so much we asked for it again, and the chef gave us his recipe. I still haven't made it, but I know I should - it's a good excuse to go to the one of the many Asian groceries in Philly... I'm almost out of Sriracha anyhow.

PS: What do you miss most when you're on the road?

JS: I miss my family, my boyfriend, and my kitchen. Sometimes we pass through the most amazing farmer's markets on tour, and sometimes I just want to be able to buy some of the stuff I see and cook a fabulous meal with regional ingredients. I got to do that in West Palm Beach because they put us up in apartments. Without even needing to ask, Adrian stopped at a peach stand along the highway and I go a bushel. That night we had a fantastic cobbler to celebrate the end of the tour!

PS: How much does the atmosphere of the venue and the vibe of the audience effect your performance?

JS: It definitely effects me - sometimes it's hard for me to get into it and move around (of course if the stage is small, that becomes a deciding factor), but there are also times when a sit-down crowd can be a drag. They're just too darn polite! But there have been instances (like at these Massachusetts art centers we just played), where the audience has been seated, but rambunctious!

PS: What's your live setup for the current tour?

JS: I play a Lakland Bob Glaub into a Keeley 4-Knob Compessor->AMT Fatal Tube (purchased in Russia with Tony Levin)->Korg AX3000B->Line6 DL4->Gallien Krueger Fusion 550->Ampeg 8x10 SVT cabinet. I also run a midi pickup into a Roland VB-99, which is DI'ed - I use this for guitar and upright emulation.

PS: Any Julie Slick songs in the works? If so, what sort of music are you writing?

JS: I haven't written any songs in a really long time - I write parts often, or have scored things in Logic (for school and leisure), but haven't delved into it too seriously. Eric's the one trying to write a string quartet...

PS: What are your plans once this tour winds down?

JS: I'd love to finish recording Cheers Elephant's second album, so that I can do some mixing/arranging on the road (since we leave again in the beginning of October). Of course I'll also be cooking away - I miss my kitchen and it's best time of year for our local farmer's markets!

PS: Please tell me 6 CDs you always love listening to.

Radiohead - Kid A (I think Colin Greenwood is an underrated player - he writes very tasty lines)
Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (I became a fan instantly after seeing them live in Madison Square Garden on New Year's Eve '05)
Cheers Elephant - Self Titled (Yeah, I produce this band, but they write some darn good songs)
Cornelius - Point (Cornelius cites Adrian as one his major influences, and it's very apparent in this release)
The Beatles - Revolver (they're all great, but this one is my favorite - love the Ric and sliding techniques)
King Crimson - Discipline (of course!)


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