Legendary bass player Ethan “EBASSMAN” Farmer had no concerns about whether he could understand the various languages spoken in Europe and Australia where he spent several weeks touring. His challenge was scheduling interview times. “We’ve been trying to lock this Soul Train interview for a minute,” laughs the Chicago native. “I’ve been traveling to all these different countries, and the different time schedules have been crazy! But we’re here now.”
Since first picking up the bass at age 5, Farmer has made very good use of his time. The music director for Christina Aguilera and Keri Hilson, he added loops to his string signature playing with Andrew Gouche, Janet Jackson, Babyface, Hootie & The Blowfish, and Patti Labelle, among several other notable acts. Accomplished behind the scenes as a producer as well, front-and-center with his bass draped across his torso is how Farmer became recognized around the world. He speaks fluently through his craft, his latest articulation found on his critically acclaimed album Wine & Strings.
Soul Train: How do you translate how you speak through the bass to an audience who speaks a different language?
Ethan Farmer: Well…there’s no segregation with music. Everybody loves it, you can’t deny that. You can’t deny it because great music is worldwide. There’s no barrier. So the same translation I get in America is the same way I can translate it in London or Denmark, or Sweden or Australia. Great music breaks language barriers.
Soul Train: Listeners in Europe tend to like their music a little more soulful. Their music is also a bit more electric. So in how you manipulate the strings there’s still no difference?
Ethan Farmer: That’s funny that you say that, because the music going on over there is all relevant to what’s going on in America because of all the dance records. You hear a lot of the styles you’d hear over there on the radio in America right now, but there’s also a huge American influence on them. It all just recycles. It’s one big circle. They spend so much time with American culture and wanting to do American things, when we bring it back over there they see we appreciate what they do.
Soul Train: I think in some places outside the States they feel the music at a wider range. When you’re applying emotion to what you’re playing, is it more about the feeling or technique?
Ethan Farmer: Feeling…always feeling. People always attach more to feeling than technical stuff. Not everybody can be technical but everybody has feelings. Everybody has some kind of emotion going on. So when you play something emotional somebody’s going to relate to it. If you play something from the heart somebody is going to be touched by it. You can be taught technical stuff; you can’t be taught how to express emotions.
Soul Train: That’s true. So when you’re alone playing your bass is there a sound difference from when you’re on stage playing for thousands?
Ethan Farmer: On stage you’re just putting the power amps to what I’m saying. That’s all. It’s like if you put a big microphone in front of me talking right now and broadcast in a stadium or an arena – it’s just magnified.
Soul Train: Speaking of magnified…What’s your impression of a more flamboyant bass player like Les Claypool?
Ethan Farmer: Oh… Crrrazy… crazy! He really, really made an impact in the bass community.
Soul Train: Ethan, you’re involved with the hip-hop community, so you have a unique perspective only a select few can boast. From where you stand, what did jazz and hip-hop lose when GURU passed away?
Ethan Farmer: He was a bridge between jazz and the young generation of people who were listening to hip-hop. A lot of the younger generation and older-school people didn’t have the bridge to meet one-another. If you knew about jazz you didn’t know about hip-hop; if you knew about one you didn’t know about the other. GURU helped bridge it. That’s what I want to do – help bridge it. You gotta have somebody carry on the legacy, carry that torch. I want to connect R&B and jazz, hip-hop and jazz, pop and jazz, make it one big community – all good music.
Soul Train: All communities need respect, too. What is more important to you – building that bridge for creative togetherness or continuing to establish a line of respect?
Ethan Farmer: Both are equal! You want them to respect what’s going on today, and the older generation to respect what’s going on today with technology, the Internet and different social media. It’s so advanced! You have to respect what’s going on because time is moving. And the younger generation needs to respect where this all emerged from. They have to realize what’s been done before; they HAVE to know their history! They need to respect what jazz has done to know where some of these “new” elements came from. You can’t be ignorant to the facts. Without knowledge there’s no power, knowledge is wisdom, and you need wisdom to succeed in life!
Soul Train: With schools cutting music programs do you think the younger generation is losing the intrigue they once had for jazz?
Ethan Farmer: That’s another reason why it’s so important to have respect and bridge the gaps because if they know about it NOW…they’re right back interested in it and you can’t lose their interest. But if no one bridges, of course they’re going to lose it! Where else are they going to get it from? There’s nowhere to get it from if they cut it from the school systems! So it’s up to people like US to say, “Yo, I’m going to make sure you get it!”
Soul Train: Being an artist who is so passionate about their craft, do you find it disrespectful when you encounter a younger person and mention someone like Les Claypool, then they look at you like “Who?!”
Ethan Farmer: Yeah it is, but once you play the music and have a chance to break it down, then they understand it. That’s where the knowledge and wisdom comes in. If you’re a musician or you want to be an artist, that makes you want to do research to be a better artist, a better musician, or better at whatever you want to do in life.
Soul Train: You have to study your trade. Current examples are not enough. You have to look back.
Ethan Farmer: No matter what path you want to take, if it’s something you love to do, if you research and go back to the past you could discover something you’ve been missing because nobody ever told you! Once you do the research maybe you can recreate something because people in your era have never heard it before. Now you’re bringing it back all over again for people who missed that gap. Now you’re building a bridge.
For more on Ethan Farmer, visit his official website www.ethan-farmer.com and follow him on Twitter @ebassman.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of both XPOZ Magazine and The Underwire Interactive Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Hear/Say Now Magazine, Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, MLive.com, and AllHipHop.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker Also visit TheGrooveSpt.com and ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com