Wojtek Pilichowski’s bass guitar journey began when he was just 14 years old in Warsaw, Poland, not only as an artistic pursuit, but also as a means to a better life.
“I desperately wanted to be creative,” he recalls. “Having listened to all kinds of music on the local radio station, I thought, ‘This is something I want to try’. I never regretted this choice - music was my destiny.”
Practically speaking, however, music was simply another way to keep Pilichowski away from crime.
“We lived in a dangerous district and my dad was frequently in penitentiary,” he confesses. “My mom and grandfather saw the opportunity to nurture my interest in music as a way of steering me away from the local community.”
Pilichowski adds that he gravitated towards bass due to its masculine, eminent power and eventually tried music school, but admits he didn’t have enough persistence to follow his teachers.
“No doubt they were professional, but I chose different mentors,” he explains. “Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke, Sting, Mark King, Pino Palladino, John Patitucci - these were my real teachers. and broadened my thinking. Now, when I teach or discuss education with my colleagues, I stand by my approach: find your own sound. The goal is not to mirror someone else, but to open yourself up and play your music.”
Today, the 49-year-old Pilichowski is clearly adhering to his own principles on his latest solo release, Vandal. It’s an eclectic blend of fusion, rock, jazz and traditional Polish music that features his singular-sounding, prodigious slap technique on stylistically varied tunes such as ‘Old Fashion Show’ and ‘Check Up’, among others.
Recorded live, Vandal features the talents of Tomasz Machański (drums), Michał Trzpioła (electric guitar), Adrian Latosiewicz (Minimoog), Michał Rorat and Wojtek Olszak (piano), Michał Dąbrówka (xylosynth), and guest appearances by luthier Adrian Maruszczyk on fretless bass and Julita Zielińska on vocals. We recently caught up with Pilichowski in Warsaw to discuss his creative approach to the genre-bending music on Vandal.
Tracking a Vandal
Your tone on Vandal is killer. How did you track your bass?
“I’m very lucky to be using the Aguilar DB 751, which is a charm when looking for a dream sound. The recording gear also included AKG D112 and Neumann U87 mics mounted on Aguilar DB 410 speakers. The signal then went to a Neve 1081 preamp. We also used the line-in of the amp.”
What effects are you using on the slap solo in Old Fashion Show and how much experimenting with it did your final take require?
“I recorded this song using the Wowee-Wah from G-Lab and an Abigar MK-2 from Taurus. It took a bit of experimenting to complement the guitarist’s strong riffs. It was challenging, but we worked it out. I have the honour to work with friends, so even if we show off a bit and compete, eventually, we rub shoulders.”
Do effects inspire musical ideas or songs, or do you apply them to ideas and songs after the fact?
“I always apply effects later in the process. Effects can improve good sound, but won’t replace creativity. My initial concepts don’t involve them. Basically, I want to be able to play everything I compose, live. I like to be sure that I can deliver a good gig without any pedals whatsoever.”
Can you talk a bit about how you use specific effects?
“I use a lot of compressor without even thinking of it. But chorus, for instance, is a different animal. Usually when I hear it in the mix, it means there’s too much of it. Reverb, on the other hand, supports me only when playing with fingers, but it doesn’t work with slap. Also, I like to keep the wah-wah handy, rather as a filter, helping to phrase the playing. That’s the main setup, maybe with distortion, but not very often.”
Has it been a goal to incorporate traditional musical elements with modern bass sounds?
“At first, I thought to have folk violins only in the openings of songs, a combination of ethnic sounds with electric fusion arrangements, but it was too good to stop there. I asked a folk band from the Polish highlands to join me in the studio and play their material, and I tried to mingle in. They started with W Pieninach Się Mrocy, and it was the bomb! I later sent the recording to Adrian Maruszczyk. He came up with a beautiful solo on his fretless bass. Adrian lives in Germany, so we created this bridge between different cultures, feelings and styles.”
What about Gdybym Ja Gdybys Ty?
“That’s inspired by The Wish, Op. 74 by Frédéric Chopin. I wrote it with Julita Zielińska. It began as a jam session but came together when she came up with the lyrics. I then reached out to a female folk band to support us, and while working on it, during a break, they spontaneously sang a traditional song from the highlands. It was like capturing lightning in a bottle.
“I asked them to sing it again, so we could record it. It worked immediately. It was incredible - I still don’t know how it happened, but this is the magic of music that cannot be explained.”
- Basses: Maruszczyk Wojtek Pilichowski Signature, Maruszczyk Frog
- Amps: Aguilar DB 751, Aguilar AG 700
- Speaker Cabs: Aguilar DB 410 Strings: IQS Wojtek Pilichowski Signature π (.035, .055, .075, .095)
- Effects: Taurus Abigar MK-2, Taurus Tux Silver Line Compressor/Limiter, G-Lab Wowee-Wah, Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Distortion
Vandal is out now on Universal.