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Tal Wilkenfeld is best known as a go-to bassist ever since her appearances with Jeff Beck at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007, as well as the DVD Live At Ronnie Scott’s and being onstage with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page jamming an instrumental version of “Immigrant Song” during Beck’s solo induction ceremony into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Wilkenfeld originally traveled from her home in Australia to Los Angeles to study guitar at the LA Music Academy. She only pursued bass after other guitarists and instructors mentioned that she should try the instrument, since she was already using bass techniques such as slapping in her guitar style.
As a teen, she packed it up and moved out to New York to develop her jazz chops, eventually being invited to sit in with The Allman Brothers Band when they played the Beacon Theater.
Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta made the original recommendation to Jeff Beck, which then led to several tours and recording sessions including those with Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Macy Gray, Steve Lukather, Toto as well as recent stints with Jackson Browne. Browne has even extended an invitation to record in his studio. For those who remember, Browne let Stevie Ray Vaughan record what would be his first release, Texas Flood, at his studio back in the day.
Wilkenfeld comments, “I’ve done some stuff at [Jackson Browne’s] studio. Jackson has been really supportive with my music and helpful, so it has been nice.”
Early on, Wilkenfeld had the chance to record a jazz album titled Transformation, which she describes: “Yeah, that was different. The whole record was done in just a couple of days and it’s on an Australian label.”
Getting out on the road with so many well-known players led to working with producer Paul Stacey [Oasis, The Black Crowes, The Finn Brothers] when she decided to step back into the world of the guitar as a songwriter with a very personal lyrical style that lends to her the Amy Lee – Fiona Apple range. The question is: how will the fans react to the big change?
Tal ponders, “I guess this record is something different than what anybody is expecting. It’s something on the journey where I just needed to do it the way that things in my head were doing it. Otherwise, how would anybody really know what I would do or that I would be a singer/songwriter, playing guitar or any number of these things?”
In addition to her well-known Sadowsky five-string bass work, utilized several instruments on the new recordings: “I’m using a lot of different instruments; I found a really great 1969 P-Bass on my last trip that’s sort of my favorite instrument at the moment. I’m playing a Harmony bass which I thoroughly enjoy and there is a baritone acoustic guitar that is actually handmade and a Gibson acoustic, that I enjoy, with a cutaway. I’ve got quite a lot of instruments; I play a Sadowsky 5-string strung E to C which the public has heard on that cover of ‘Chelsea Hotel.’”
While the new album is in the can, finding the right distributor is taking some time. Tal looks at it this way: “I really hope to do so in the summer [release the new album], perhaps. I have a lot of music that I’d like to share with the world. I’m at the point where I pretty much need to get it mixed and mastered. So, I am hoping to do that and get it out as soon as possible.”
As a working musician, Tal was able to exercise control over how things were going. “We are still looking for the right situation to get our music out. I really wanted this to define what I am doing and not have it be something that any corporation would do. You know, straight from my heart. I wanted to do it that way – self-finance it – so it takes time and you have to work and then you have to spend the money on your own thing then you work again and you spend it. It’s not like having a record label do it for you.”
Dynamics were a big issue going in; with a wide palette of influences, this was an exercise in melding things together – much like a Joni Mitchell project. Tal relates influences: “I like albums that have that huge dynamic range and stylistic range. You know what I mean? You don’t hear that as much anymore but back in the day that was common, you know? The Beatles did it! Jeff Buckley did it! He went from really hard, heavy-hitting songs to singing ‘Corpus Christi Carol.’ I just enjoy that. It’s fun and it’s real. It’s kind of what was happening to me.”
In the meantime, she will be out on the road opening up for The Who and playing selected club gigs, giving Tal the opportunity to road test the new material as a headliner. She is excited, saying, “Actually, believe it or not this is my first tour. I am really excited to do it. I’ve done some scattered touring under other artists, but as myself it’s all pretty new for me.”
On the road, she’ll have some flexibility on stage with her new band. “Yeah, I play acoustic while my guitarist plays bass or, you know, I might play bass and he plays guitar. My keyboardist plays lead guitar. We kind of switch it up quite a lot on this run.”
If there was any thought she was hanging up her bass chops and going after this full time, she just mentions, “Writing songs is a journey, that’s for sure. And I enjoy playing bass, too. It’s going to be whatever comes and how I can fit it in, you know, schedule-wise, but I enjoy doing all of it.”
Just when you think there is something she hasn’t tried yet, Tal mentions, “I was just in Nashville, probably in August of last year. I recorded on Keith Urban’s [latest] recording which just came out. There is a song called ‘Break On Me’ – it’s a radio song and there is a little bass intro that’s pretty funny. I love Nashville, I love it! It’s the best.”
Okay, she has done it all.
Follow on Twitter @talwilkenfeld
photos by Shane Lopes