Feel the funk

A contributor at Bootsy Collins’ online music school, alongside Victor Wooten, Stanley Clarke and Verdine White, New Yorker Andy Irvine has made a huge impression on the bass playing community. His flair for soloing and his aggressive yet funky style have made him a successful touring musician, educator and session player, and he has conducted multiple bass clinics worldwide.

andy irvine

Andy’s playing experience ranges across so many musical genres, I wonder how he adapts his playing to each style. He explains, “I usually go on instinct and try to trust my initial feelings in terms of genre, and I reflect on my experiences of listening to, and playing most forms of popular music. Over the years I’ve accumulated a pretty in-depth understanding of specific style characteristics of most genres, so I try to make the glue stick using the correct vibe, feel, and tone.”

He adds: “I approach each song individually, deciding what is the best possible way that I can treat it and honour it as a singular entity. First I evaluate the feel and harmony, and then I set to creating a supportive line, determining the best groove. I always focus on making it feel good first, and then the basic harmony function is established through a process of elimination.”

andy irvine (3)Irvine points out that tone is crucial too. “Of course, the right tone is being experimented with as well at this point. I might weave the lines to dance with the melody if it is musical and creates a special synergy. In terms of the dynamics when building and laying back, playing fills, or dropping out all together, these details are considered last: I usually find a tasteful musical place to set up new sections as the song form moves along.”

So how does a player retain his or her own identity when adapting to different genres, we wonder? “I don’t have to think about it really,” he chuckles. “I have a long-established  playing voice and personality and it is present whenever I play a bass, so regardless of what genre I’m faced with, I always sound like me. It’s primarily about subtle left-hand nuances, right-hand feels, and a matter of touch. I drive the grooves hard and play right up on top of the beat. I’m greasy and funky, usually, and I tend to sound soulful and bluesy. I take gigs and session work only with people who know and like the way I play. I’m more selective these days and it’s far better for everyone.”

Irvine is also known for his working relationship with German bass and amp makers Warwick, and describes how it all came about. “I met the founder, Hans-Peter Wilfer, at the 2010 Bass Player Live event held in Hollywood, California. We began
to talk and in a very short time we made a great connection. That evening we talked for hours. I told him about my love and passion for playing, educating, and the fledgling clinic series that I was devoting all my energy towards at the time. He in turn told me about his devotion to the craft of building beautiful basses for the last 30 years. We became friends that night and have been very close ever since.”

He continues: “After some discussions the following summer, I was invited to be an endorser/ artist at Warwick. I accepted, and together Hans and I formed a plan that would give my clinic series a long-term place internationally in Warwick’s marketing. I became fascinated with production and visited the factory in Germany several times, gaining insight and training. Now, a year later, my involvement with Warwick has evolved and I’m a product specialist for the company and clinician. In 2012 the Warwick ‘Sound of Bass Clinic Tour’ visited six countries and I presented roughly 60 clinics.”

andy irvine (1)Warwick basses are well known for their craftsmanship, of course. Irvine explains: “At Warwick there is a complete devotion to creating the highest quality instruments available. This starts with the woods used and the methods in which they are selected and naturally air-dried, plus the care taken in pre-production preparation. I’ve played many basses over the years, and some of them were quite nice, but it wasn’t until I came to Warwick that I finally found instruments that fit me perfectly. They came through for me on all levels, where in the past others had fallen short in one way or another.”

You’ll see Irvine playing various Warwick basses these days, including several Streamer, Fortress Corvette and semi-acoustic Star Bass models, as well as the Triumph electric upright and Alien acoustic basses. He adds, “My main tone source is the amazing Hellborg preamp, which is connected to various power amps including the Hellborg Monopower 500, WA600 and WA300 series heads. I use various speaker cabs and combos depending on the venue and application, including the Hellborg BigCab, WCA410, WCA210 and WCA115. In addition I use the smaller BC20, BC80, and BC300 combos for rehearsals, practising, and for small venue performances.”

Last year Bootsy Collins personally asked Andy to become a ‘professor’ at his Funk University, which would be a hugely humbling experience for any funk lover. “I met Bootsy at the 2012 NAMM show while hanging at the Warwick booth. We
were showing each other our new custom Warwick basses. I was telling him about my clinic tour, and he said ‘Wow man. That’s totally hip, why don’t come over to Funk U and contribute?’ I was floored. This is perhaps the single highest honour that any self-proclaimed funk bassist could be presented with in this life. I accepted, of course, and to this day I continue to contribute lectures and lessons to the current curriculum.”

As an educator, how does Irvine approach the needs of students who vary in ability and knowledge? “I teach with inspiration,” he says. “I encourage personal style development, and focus on uplifting musical concepts that involve the true essence of what music is all about. I teach the healing powers of music, and the freedom of self-expression. I try to give people the power and courage to be themselves as players, with a unique voice.”

andy irvine (2)

Irvine concludes, “I’m not an expert at music theory so I don’t teach it. I’m not an expert on any other player so I don’t teach about other players. There is only one thing I’m an expert on, and that’s me and my experiences, so that’s what I teach. I share the things that have worked for me, and also the things that have not. I always make time and tone the focus. People tend to get way too hung-up on notes: I’m all about getting in the pocket and copping a killer tone. I visit the basic fundamentals of the bassist’s job. I’ve taught bassists of all levels, from highly acclaimed pros to brand new players, all of whom thank me after my clinics, so I know that what I’m putting out there is the real deal.”


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One comment on “Feel the funk
  1. carol irvine says:

    Wild thing – I think I love you ! – wow I am impressed baby boy

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