Keep up to date on the latest Wes news. Subscribe to the Wes email list here »

ActiveBass Interview – by Chris Tarry

A View To A Thrill

Wes Wehmiller expounds on bass life with Duran Duran, influences, equipment, and the essence of being a professional musician.

For the last four years, Wes Wehmiller has been holding down the bottom for the seminal synth-pop band, Duran Duran. ActiveBass’ Chris Tarry caught up with the Wes man to get his thoughts on being a successful sideman, the LA studio scene, and the importance of playing selflessly and in context. Considering the fact that Wes and Chris were once roommates at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, it wasn’t hard for the two to fall back into the same familiar groove. Here’s the discussion that ensued:

Chris Tarry: Hi Wes, and thanks for hangin’ here with us at ActiveBass. Can you tell us a little bit about your bass playing history?

Wes Wehmiller: Well, the only thing that makes my “history” a little different is that I started at an unusually early age. I guess it didn’t do me much good though. When you’re a little kid, you have mental and physical limitations, and I still, to this day, lack some vocabulary among other things.

Other than that, my time line is pretty typical: junior high school dances, high school jazz bands, garage bands, cover bands, useless original projects, etc. I spent 2 years at the Berklee College of Music, and I regret leaving before I could get a degree. However, I met quite a few valuable people, both students and faculty, many with whom I’m still working.

CT: You have amazing facility on the bass, and I’ve seen you play almost every kind of gig. How do you approach a more roots kind of pop gig like Duran Duran?

Wes: Duran Duran is a very comfortable musical environment for me to approach. When I started working with them in 1997, I found it to be one of the easiest situations I’ve ever had to settle in to, both musically and socially. I consider myself to be a simple-minded “commercial” bass player (when I play bass). And, there’s nothing more fulfilling for me than to put a foundation on a well-written song. Duran Duran has a ton of amazing songs, and good music is the easiest music to learn. Good pop music is very predictable, and I mean this in a good way. I’m extremely lucky to have been a part of that for the last four years.

CT: What kind of equipment are you using these days?

Wes: The older I get, the less I like to think about equipment, and I hate having to turn around to tweak something. So, every year I’m stripping my gear down to less buttons, bells, and whistles. My rig has always been 100% SWR, with nothing but 10″ speakers. I’ve always liked how practical their stuff is, and the fact that the factory is here in LA and that I’ve got personal connections there. They also have loaner stock all over the world. And, oh yeah, it sounds great.

I finally acquired my dream bass from Jim Tyler of Tyler Guitars. It’s a beautiful sounding long-scale 5-string, and it’s the first instrument I’ve ever been able to use exclusively. I’ll never get rid of my P-bass, or my Ernie Balls, or my Sadowsky, or anything else, but I can grab the Tyler in pretty much any situation.

And, of course, the people at La Bella Strings have been wonderful since I hooked up with them.

CT: I know you also do a lot of session work in L.A. What are some of the more important aspects of being a successful session bassist?

Wes: Actually, I fell out of the studio loop when I started touring a lot. But to be honest, I was about ready to give up on session work even before that. I’ve always liked the idea of staying in town and making ends meet without having to tour, and I love studio work… but after a few years of trying to do that, I realized that there are a small handful of guys in LA that get all of the calls, and they’re all older, more experienced, recognizable names, and have paid their dues doing what is still a hard door to open for someone as young as me. An occasional studio call is a bonus for me these days, but I have to be realistic about it.

CT: What kind of advice would you give to a player wanting to break into a pro career?

Wes: The most important thing I’ve learned is to always think about what’s pleasing to the ear. Not many musicians realize whether they are “playing to practice” or playing to intrigue others. You have to think about what music is, and what it’s for. It’s entertainment. And if you listen to all the music you’re playing, rather than just yourself, you’ll be more aware of what your job is. Only think about filling in empty spaces, and never let your ego stand out.

Also, remember that even if your “employer”, as far as you’re concerned, is clueless, you have to give them what they want, even if it means doing something you think is completely absurd. Your boss is always right, no matter what.

CT: Who are some of your main influences on the electric bass?

Wes: I guess the types of players I’ve listened to and learned from have changed as I’ve gotten older. These days, whenever someone asks me, I just mention the “Gods of the Gods”, like James Jamerson, John Paul Jones, Paul McCartney, Nathan Watts, Anthony Jackson, “Duck” Dunn, Will Lee, Pino Palladino, just to name a few. The guys that have been around for a while and have a huge resume seem to influence me the most.

CT: Man can not live on bass alone. What else do you enjoy when you don’t have the axe in hand?

Wes: I find that my life in music stays fresh if I stay active in other ways. I love staying in shape playing hockey, hiking, water skiing, softball, photography, whatever. There have been times in my life when I was focusing on nothing but music, and it seemed to make things very stale for me. You need to stay active to be healthy and happy. And if your life is enriched with other hobbies besides your livelihood, your music will be much more enjoyable when you come back to it.

CT: I notice you also do some backup singing in Duran Duran. Is this something new for you?

Wes: Not at all. I was doing a ton of backing vocals right from the beginning. However, I’m doing it less and less these days. A lot of the material in our set calls for more sequenced backing tracks. Some female parts have to be retrieved from the masters, and there are other parts that are virtually impossible for me to sing while playing certain bass lines, so Simon sings the harmonies to tape.

On another note, it just so happens I will be leaving Duran Duran after our mini Japan tour in late June. The band is doing a reunion tour featuring all five original members. It has been a wonderful four years, working with a great bunch of guys who have become family to me. I’m sad to see it go, but I can keep in mind all the amazing things I did and the spectacular places I got to see. I have to remember that in order to establish a name for myself, I have to move on and add other experiences. Duran Duran’s guitarist, Warren Cuccurullo, will also be leaving the band to reunite the original members of Missing Persons and has asked me to play bass. I’m extremely excited and looking forward to working with Dale and Terry Bozzio, and of course Warren, who’s like a big brother to me.

Clip from a Warren website

Q. What other solo shows has Warren done?
A. Here is a list. More details will be added soon:
NYC-HMV (record store) – Mar. 26, 1996 – Wes Wehmiller, Joe Travers
NYC-Under Acme – Mar. 26, 1996 – Wes Wehmiller, Joe Travers
L.A.- Tower (record store) – Mar. 28, 1996 – Wes Wehmiller, Joe Travers
L.A.- Velvet Room – Mar. 29, 1996 – Wes Wehmiller, Joe Travers
London – Royal Albert Hall (opening for Joe Satriani) – June 29, 1996 – Wes Wehmiller, Steve Alexander