Ever since Ole Kirkeng fell in love with the bass guitar, his musical journey has been one of craft and intense study. He has studied under and collaborated with Susan Rogers, who helped produce some of the biggest records of the 80s with Prince and the Talking Heads.
The theory behind his music is just as important as the music itself, and the end-product is all the better for it. Kirkeng’s EP, ‘People and Places,’ features smooth, creamy tracks that send the listener to an alternate universe of groove and clean melodies.
He’ll soon be heading out on tour with Courtney Marie Andrews, but Kirkeng was able to find some time to speak with us about the importance of the small details that go into making his music.
Do you have a steady bass/amp set-up for all of your live gigs?
Kirkeng: The type of gear I use really depends on what kind of feeling I want to chase and the playing circumstance I’m in. I love playing my bass through vintage tube amps, because I love how warm it sounds, and how you can use it to break up the tone a bit. An Ampeg SVT head paired with a 4×10 or a 8×10 cab is my go-to situation when it comes to playing live. I usually try to have more of the other musicians in my monitors during a live show, and instead I’ll turn up my own amp and hear myself from the cabinet. In the studio I would opt for something more like a B-15 because I don’t need the same amount of power as I would on a festival or a bigger club. The only effects pedal I would use is my Noble Preamp DI and a tuner.
Can you tell us the story of your first studio recording session? Were you intimidated? Did it make improvisation difficult?
Kirkeng: The very first studio session was in the recording studios in college. I remember learning so much about my own playing by hearing it back through the Neve console and professional studio equipment. After my first session I discovered how much I loved being in the studio, and it really prepped me for later sessions in New York. You start to notice that sudden changes in note length, tone, and time really can have a huge effect on the track. I think one of the quickest ways to grow as a musician is to record yourself as much as possible.
Which artists and albums do you look to when crafting your own unique bass sound?
Kirkeng: James Jameson and Donald “Duck” Dunn, two very prolific
Motown/Soul-bassists have had a profound influence on my bass tone and groove. That dark, woofy, big sound. Their grooves and basslines are basslines I will never get tired of listening to or playing. I remember learning the James Jamerson bass line for “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and then realizing the depth of Jamerson’s playing. He kind of set the bar for me in terms of what to aim for in my own playing when it comes to groove, tone and feel. He was also called up to play on so many Motown records, and I’ve found that the bass players who are busy touring or recording on albums share those common factors.
How do you cope with the extensive travel that goes into touring? Do you have any rituals or habits while on the road?
Kirkeng: This can sound a little boring, but when I travel for weeks at a time the one thing I really try to focus on is trying to get enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. I also try to make a point of using downtime to walk around the town we are in or to go on hikes if we have a day off.
And do you tend to bond a lot with your fellow bandmates while on tour as well?Why and how is the bonding on tour important for live performance?
Kirkeng: Most definitely. When you spend so many hours together it kind of evolves into a little family when you’re on the road. Touring is one of my absolute favorite things to do, and I’m lucky to be touring with very kind and warm people. It is really special to perform with people who are also your friends. It’s a sense of trust between each other and you feel like you are performing as one big unit. It’s amazing to see how people’s personalities comes through in the way they play, so when you know the person well you can connect on a deeper level musically. It’s also very fun to share and create special musical moments together with your friends, and look back on those moments.
What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned since becoming a professional musician?
Kirkeng: For me, it’s important to treat playing music as a full-time job and always make sure that I am working on my craft every day. I try to establish a good practice routine and set new goals that push me farther. Especially since I am a freelance musician, I will kind of always be my own manager. So making sure that I stay busy with either writing, touring, or playing shows with other people is very important. I get really inspired by fellow musicians, so by putting myself in an environment where people work hard it tends to rub off on my own sense of work ethic.
How do you feel about the portrayal of musicians in TV and movies? Does it seem accurate or exaggerated?
Kirkeng: It is a much tougher profession than what I thought it would be. It is definitely tough in the beginning to make a start and stand out, but the more and more I did it and the better I got at my craft, the easier that got. Once I started touring, I heard about how long my fellow musicians had been doing it, and most of the time they have worked hard for years to create a strong foundation for their career. If you’re in it for the long run it takes a lot of work. For me, that’s fine. I don’t mind the work at all.