"It’s funny, I started learning so early that I don’t really remember ever not playing the bass. I wanted to play music but I never really picked the bass - it sort of picked me!”
Divine intervention or musical magnetism? Either way, six-stringed finger sprinter Matt Brooks of blues-rock trio Wille And The Bandits has had nothing but bass on his mind in living memory.
Brooks is a musician’s musician and a demon of a bass player. Prior to joining WATB in 2011, he had already established a career for himself as a professional musician. However, after many years of persuasion, he dropped everything when guitarist/ vocalist Wille Edwards of the Devon blues outfit made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. With mainstream recognition, Glastonbury appearances and a mammoth touring schedule, no bassist in their right mind would pass on such an opportunity.
Asked for details, Brooks says: “I’d known the guys for years, before the band had even formed. They were mates of mine through other people: I was actually at the first gig they ever played. They asked me to join quite a long way back, but I couldn’t afford to do it at the time.
“As time went on, they went through a couple of bass players and then asked me again. They said the money was good enough to make a living out of, because they play something like 200 to 250 dates a year, which is insane. I was really pleased I could say yes and get on the road, because I’ve always wanted to tour.”
Brooks’ finger-pounding Jaco-indebted style is insatiably groovy, with a driving heaviness that is helping to cement British blues-rock for a contemporary audience. Was applying his ambitious sound to the band a gamble, we ask?
“I wasn’t sure it would work, and neither were the guys,” he admits. “Before I joined WATB, the main thing I was doing was playing electric bass in a funk band. I was playing a lot of sixteenth notes like Jaco’s playing style. I had to bring myself back from that and simplify my playing, while keeping it creative at the same time. I’ve had to learn how to adapt my style, but I’m more interested in making the song sound really good these days.”
WATB’s latest record, Steal, has some pretty delicious bass lines to chow down on. One track to take note of is Atoned, a juicy dollop of dirty blues goodness with a killer bass intro.
“Yeah, that was a really cool jam we came up with. We sat on that and we thought, ‘Wow, that is so driving and powerful.’ It goes further than any other of our albums, but for Steal it definitely fits because it’s a bit of a heavier record. We just loved that groove and formed it into a song, but it’s hard work to play live. It’s a proper workout, that one.”
For bass gear, Brooks has stayed by the side of his beloved Yamaha TRB-6 since he was 14. Since there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned love story, how did these two meet, we wonder?
“My brother used to get Bass Guitar Magazine way back in the day. I used to flick through it, and I came upon this picture of this Yamaha TRB-6 and as soon as I saw it, I had to have it. I loved it!
‘By the time that I got one, it was the Mark 2, which - to my disappointment - didn’t come in a natural wood, so taking matters into my own hands, I took a chisel to it and pulled the lacquer off, putting a matte varnish on it afterwards,” he laughs.
“That bass has done thousands of gigs, it’s ridiculous. It’s been an absolute workhorse. It’s actually started to rot in one place because I sweat a lot on stage, so I’ve had to put some rot stopper on it.
“It still sounds amazing. I’ve never had to change the pickups, the electronics or anything. It just goes on and on and on. It’s a chunky beast - in fact, the only thing that I regret about that bass now is that the older I get, the heavier it seems to become!”
Wille And The Bandits' new album Steal is out now via Jigsaw.