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Friday, February 19, 2016

Chicago musician Mike Zabrin keeps the funk coming on latest album


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

On his album "Funktastic," acclaimed bass player Mike Zabrin surrounds himself with an all-star group of musicians, including members of The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown, Kool and the Gang, Parliament-Funkadelic and Fishbone.

I had the chance to talk to him about his current activities.


Q - Great talking to you. I know you are touring in support of your latest album, "Funktastic." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

As a sideman, you are mostly stuck in the norm of playing other people's music. So for me, writing my own album was ultimate freedom.

With "Funktastic," I wanted to write a collaborative album that captures the voices of the more than 25 musicians who recorded on it. I remember thinking to myself how I wanted to record an album that showcases me, but not have the end result a "solo bass" album.




In fact, some of the most fun I have had recording was working with other's creative input. It can be as simple as them coming up with a melody, or lyrics I would never had thought of...that's what kept it fun for me!

So, yes I had definitely accomplished that goal. When one goal is reached though, I am always thinking about achieving my next goal. I think that is the mentality musicians have to have for those who want to sustain a career in music. 

Q - The album features several prominent musicians, including members of The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown, Kool and the Gang, Parliament-Funkadelic and Fishbone. How did you get everyone to be on the album? Did any of these bands shape you musically?

That's a funny story. I was in Anaheim, California, at the NAMM Show and I was showcasing a bass that was built for me at the Warwick booth. Someone picked up a bass and started jamming with me, and we really dug each other's playing.

I later learned that his name was John Heintz, ringleader and producer of The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown (a collaborative funk record featuring George Clinton, members from Kool & The Gang, and more).

We had stayed in touch for months. I eventually showed him a couple of the songs I had recently recorded, and John told me that he would like to use some of the Big Ol' Nasty Getdown musicians on my record.



So next thing you know I am in Los Angeles tracking idols of mine over my songs. We recorded vocalist Kendra Foster in the studio, then raced her back to her soundcheck with Parliament Funkadelic!

It was also a blast to collaborate with Michael Ray from Kool & the Gang and Norwood Fisher from Fishbone.

All of these musicians have helped shape the musician that I continue to grow into. These are the bands that encouraged me to start playing bass when I was 15 years old.

Their arrangements, their production skills, and groove is what I still listen to often. 

Q - Who are your biggest musical influences and what kind of impact did they have on you?

Sly and The Family Stone, Erykah Badu, The Roots, and Snarky Puppy, to name a few. These are bands where the bass is an essential ingredient in the music, and wouldn't be the same tune without that certain bass line.



No matter what instrument you play, you will walk away from listening to Sly and The Family Stone thinking about Larry Graham's percussive bass lines. They completely changed my perspective of what the bass is, and how bass supports the music.

It is all about FEEL and GROOVE!

Q - Your bass playing has earned rave reviews. What have you tried to do that makes your playing stand out from other bass players?

I studied jazz in college, so I was always listening and transcribing horn players and would try to emulate them on my bass. I also don't really play piano very much, so I would often figure out different chords and harmony on my bass.

I also  try to be as versatile as possible. I think people are sometimes surprised when they listen to "Funktastic" and it's not just straight funk music.

Q - I understand you have been playing bass guitar since you were 15. What drew you to the bass in the first place?

I was a freshman in high school and auditioned to play electric guitar in the jazz band. The band director told me I didn't make the audition, but I could still be in the jazz band if I played two strings less and played the bass!

So I  started playing upright bass in the high school orchestra and jazz band. The rhythm section in the jazz band all loved rock music and wanted to start a band. I went out and bought an electric bass, and stuck with it ever since!

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I really didn't know how big the Chicago music scene was until I started fronting my own band. Within the Chicago music scene, there are so many circles and different genres of musicians.

While it's impossible to know everyone in it, I think Chicago truly has a great music scene. There are lots of opportunities to work in Chicago and many people who support live music.



I am lucky that a lot of my gigs are in the city right now. When we do play outside of Chicago, even into the suburbs, I think the audience really appreciates that we can bring the "Chicago scene" on the road to them.

Q - It seems like "Funktastic" was a dream project for you. Do you have any other dream projects or collaborations?

My main project right now is my live group, Mike Zabrin's Funktastic. We just headlined the Metro Feb. 19, and I am very lucky to have a regular group of amazing musicians playing with me regularly.

We are already halfway done with the next record. Another dream of mine includes touring regularly with Funktastic.

Outside of my group, I also tour around the U.S. with Chicago Blues Hall of Famer, Joe Moss.