I hate that I’m just now getting to this blog entry since it was a few weeks ago, but I’m finally getting a chance to write about my first trip to Europe, which was to Germany for Warwick’s annual Bass Camp. I can honestly say that of all the experiences of my life thus far, this has been in easily the top five of them. It has always been a bucket list goal of mine to be able to go to Europe eventually, especially Germany. I have a lot of ancestry from there, and of course, I’ve always wanted to be able to see the Warwick factory, for obvious reasons. Well, thanks to the kindness and generosity of Hans Peter Wilfer, the owner of Warwick, I was able to make another dream a reality this year. I’m truly humbled and extremely thankful for the invitation, and I’ll always cherish the experience!
My trip started off kind of rough, courtesy of United Airlines. I won’t go into detail, but because of “weather” related cancellations and maintenance delays, I got to Germany a day later than I was supposed to. Needless to say, I wasn’t very happy about it, but what can you do right? However, when I got there, it was definitely worth it. I got to meet up with my good friend and buddy Ryan Martinie (Soften the Glare, Mudvayne), and we all rode in the same van with Chela Rhea (Coal Chamber, White Empress, The Awakening), Jeremy Kohnmann (The Awakening), Anthony Wellington (Victor Wooten), and some other cool cats. It was an exhausting eight hour flight and four hour van ride to the Markneukirchen/Bad Elster area, but the scenery and surrounding area were beautiful. The hotel Konig Albert that we stayed in was just as beautiful, and after getting cleaned up, Ryan and I headed over to a local restaurant overlooking a cool lake with awesome landscaping and some killer Schnitzel, then walked around the town for a bit. The thing that stuck out the most to me about this area was how quiet it was. It was so peaceful and serene, and there was hardly any sound pollution in the area. The birds were even quiet. It was definitely different to take in, but a really calm and aesthetically pleasing area.
Shortly after, we caught the bus to the Warwick Music Hall and had dinner with a ton of our Warwick friends, including Nick Schendzielos (Job for a Cowboy, Havok, Cephalic Carnage), David Sanchez (Havok), our rep Jon Giroux, Estelle and Nicolas Wilfer, Chela Rhea, and tons of others. I also got to meet some cool new people I hadn’t met before, including Jeroen Paul Thesseling (Pestilence, Obscura), whose bass was the inspirational design for my seven string, and another killer seven stringer, Jeff Hughell (Six Feet Under). I also got to meet Stuart Zender (Jamiroquai) for the first time, and he had me rolling the first second I was around him. The dude is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met! The dinners and lunches they had catered in each day were nothing short of amazing, and I probably easily gained at least ten pounds over the week I was there (yes, a lot of those were liquid calories too). After hanging out there for a good while, we caught the bus back to the hotel, and it was there that I got to meet and hang out with one of my favorite bassists, Justin Chancellor (Tool). Justin is a super class act dude, and I’m happy to have gotten to know him some and become friends with him during our short time in Germany. I also got to meet Liam Wilson (Dillinger Escape Plan) for the first time, and Scott Reeder (Kyuss) again, who were super cool to get to know as well!
The next morning, Ryan and I hopped in the car with Justin to head to bass camp. Ryan had an interview that morning, and Justin and I sat in on Alphonso Johnson’s class, which was pretty cool. We were running a little late, but still managed to make it after going around 110 km/h down winding town roads (yeah, I was grabbing the $hit handle). After that, Justin tried out my bass, and I got to play his vintage Fender P-Bass that he brought with him, which was set up perfectly. It was another one of those really neat musician-to-musician experiences that I never thought I’d have, and it’ll probably always be one of my favorite memories. Later, we went over to the factory to check things out and take a tour, then we met up with some of the other Warwick crew. The other guys had interviews and different things going on, and that day was mainly spent just hanging out, grabbing lunch, and then heading back to the music hall for dinner. More fun conversations were had, and eventually we all ended up back at the hotel for more beers and hang time at the hotel bar. That night, I got to meet another super cool bassist, Yolanda Charles (just look her up, her cred list is amazing, and too long to list). She was a sweetheart to talk to, and we had a great conversation about all kinds of things, all of which actually had very little to do with music or bass (which she’s brilliant at by the way). It’s always nice to meet new people who can engage in intellectual, calm debate about different things, especially when they can bring new perspectives and experiences from a different point of view, especially when meeting all kinds of new people in a short amount of time. All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by how down to earth she and most everyone taking part in Bass Camp was. It’s further positive reinforcement that I’m in a great musical family!
On Saturday, they had their big concert, the Reeveland Music Fest. It was the end of Bass Camp, and they had several bands play it, including Rex Brown’s band, Kill Devil Hill, and Victor Brandt’s band, Entombed A.D. They also had the VIP guest autograph signings throughout the day, and I got to sit in on one of these sessions for the Warwick family that day during the 4pm time slot. I got to sit next to Kai Eckhardt during the session (also a killer bassist with a ridiculously long cred list), and it was kind of funny and surreal at the same time getting to sign my own autograph cards for people coming through. It was a fun experience (even though I admittedly felt a little out of place doing it), and I loved meeting all the different nationalities of people who were there to check out the fest. Later that evening, the VIP dinner took place in the other music hall, and as usual, the food was amazing. Different artists performed while everyone ate, and after the festivities were over, they had an incredible fireworks show that put most 4th of July fireworks shows I’ve seen to shame. Afterwards, everyone hung out, talked, danced, and then most said their goodbyes to friends and fellow musicians, since the majority of the guests there had to catch shuttles to the airport a few hours later. It was a bummer having to say goodbye to some of my old and newfound friends, but all good things eventually come to an end. We finished the evening by checking out a band at the other main music hall, then went back to the hotel, where we stayed up long enough (around 6am) to say goodbye to Justin and some of the other friends we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to at dinner.
Basically, by this point, I was beyond exhausted. I slept quite a bit of Sunday away, then Nick, David, and I went to check out the hotel pool. I’ve not seen a setup before like the one they had there. They had three outdoor pools, all of which led into indoor pools that could be accessed through small openings in pool lanes leading indoors. They also had an outdoor hot tub, as well as a small circular doughnut-looking pool that spins people around in circles when the jets in it are activated. Naturally, we had to spend some time in that, since it was too damn neat. I also managed to sneak some video of spinning around in it before the pool police told us they didn’t allow cameras and pictures around the pool area. Shortly after, we headed back to our rooms for another short nap, then met up for dinner at another local restaurant just up the road. There, we got to hang out more with Stu Zender, John B Williams, and the rest of the Warwick crew. I had an amazing steak dinner and WAY too much red wine, which I ended up paying for later. The conversations were fun though… We discussed Star Trek vs. Star Wars, musical views, and got to enlighten John on some new metal bands. That was probably the coolest part of the conversation, and it was refreshing to hear an older Jazz style artist be open-minded and eager to learn about a new genre that he hadn’t yet explored. Then, it was back to the hotel bar for more German beer and conversation, followed by another few hours of sleep before having to be up early again in the morning to head back to the Warwick factory to do promo video and audio stuff.
Monday was a busy day overall. We spent a lot of time filming Nick and David’s video, then it was my turn after them. Their video was pretty funny, and I enjoyed getting to help with it. They’re great dudes with an equally great sense of humor (which you’ll get to see some of soon enough)! Having helped with their video filming, I was less apprehensive about doing mine, but I was still a little on edge about it turning out ok. Filming it turned out to be another great learning experience, and I learned that even with the simplest of parts, sometimes the red light fever jinx can still be a bitch to deal with, as was evident by my numerous flubs followed by subsequent expletives. We picked out five different custom shop basses, and I proceeded to play the same few basslines on each one to demonstrate the tonal differences each bass had to offer. Despite the fact that what I was playing was easy, I messed up I don’t even know how many times. All I could do was laugh at myself and shake my head for how dumb I felt at the time. I also had to eventually have Michael (lead videographer) set a piece of paper in front of me with the list of all the woods each bass was made of because I kept forgetting mid-sentence. I also played a couple of riffs from two of the On the Shoulders of Giants songs on my bass, so all in all, by the end of it my hands were cramping from tensing up and I was sweating my ass off from the hot lighting fixtures they were using during filming, but I got through it. They said it should turn out fine, so hopefully they weren’t just being nice (special thanks to Michael, Patrick, and Jonas for their patience during that process)! After I got done, I met back up with Nick and David, and we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We ran into Rex Brown (Pantera, Kill Devil Hill) shortly after and rode together to dinner at a local Italian restaurant. I had some killer fettuccini, and after hanging out there for a while, we headed back to the hotel bar. Rex was nice enough to buy us all a round before we called it a somewhat early night, and we talked to him a bit before going our separate ways for the night.
Tuesday came so fast, but I got to achieve another bucket list goal that day, thanks to some arrangements that Hans Peter’s assistant Tordis helped make for me. I had told her before the trip that I’ve always wanted to see a castle, so during a break on Monday, she was nice enough to ask if there was anything she could help arrange for me to see or do on my last day, and subsequently arranged for a driver to take me across the border to the Czech Republic to see Castle Loket. I was super excited, and Nick ended up joining me on the ride over despite only getting an hour of sleep, which I was grateful for. After all, experiences like that are best with good company, so I’m glad he toughed it out and still came with me. The scenery on the drive over was epic, and we also passed a huge coal mining area that was so excavated that it looked like the surface of the moon. It was pretty damn crazy looking! It took about an hour to get there, and to our surprise, they were filming part of the movie Einstein when we arrived, so we had to park a ways away, then walk over the bridge to get to the town area. This area had been used in other movies before, such as James Bond’s Casino Royale, so it was neat to get to be around the area while another movie was being filmed. The castle itself was really interesting. They had part of a meteorite on display that had landed there a long time ago, and seeing all of the antique furnishes, armor, weapons, and paintings, was awe-inspiring. It’s hard to fathom how items that are that old can be so well maintained through the centuries! The most intriguing, yet bizarre and horrifying, part of the castle on display was the section with all of the torture devices. It’s crazy to think that such awful and crude devices were used during humanity’s history, with some methods still even being used today, but they were. This part of the castle was also the inspiration for the 50 Shades of Gray books (not really, but probably). As bad of a thought as it is, it does make a person wonder if our crime rates would be substantially lower if they were used in our country these days. I know I don’t ever want to end up in jail as it is now, let alone if they were allowed to burn me with hot irons, put me in an Iron Maiden, break all of my bones and throw my body up on a wheel in a big pile for carrion food, or lynch me to death. I’ll pass on that, thanks.
After getting back to the Warwick factory, we were invited to Hans Peter and his wife Flo’s house for dinner that evening. They have an amazing home, and can sure cook up some amazing grub! We were joined by some of the other Japanese clients that were in town for business, and we talked most of the evening about travel experiences, music, and business related odds and ends before heading back to the hotel bar (I know, I know… What can I say though, I like German beer!). We talked to some of the Japanese guys there for an hour or two, then headed to bed to get ready to catch our shuttle back to the airport the next morning.
5:30am came quick, and before we knew it, Rex, Nick, and I were on the way back to the airport. I got to talk to and get to know Rex a little better on the way, and after a few pit stops, we were back to Frankfurt’s airport after the four hour or so drive. Fortunately, it wasn’t too much of a hassle getting to where we needed to be, and we lucked out with our flights being in gates that were right next to each other, so we got to hang out and talk some more while we were waiting on our flights to board. Rex played around some on my bass while we were waiting, which was another surreal moment for me, and before I knew it, it was time to board the flight back to Chicago.
I’ll just end the trip synopsis by saying that United Airlines and Chicago O’Hare screwed me again on the way back home by deciding to get rid of a couple of my flights, then leaving me with no choice but to fly into St. Louis and rent a car to drive myself back to Evansville. I ended up getting home at 5:30am the next morning when I was supposed to get there at 8:30pm the prior evening, so needless to say, I wasn’t happy. They’ve since reimbursed me somewhat with a travel voucher and gift card, but my travel experience to and from Germany was beyond piss poor overall. However, I made it home, and it’s been nonstop ever since getting back between catching up on housework, going back to work, training a new Harris hawk (topic for another blog), family life, and so on and so on.
I hope you enjoyed hearing a little about my experience. It hard to describe in many ways, because there’s not many cool experiences like it, but I did my best. I’ve already thanked them all in earnest, but I appreciate the world-class treatment that Hans Peter and the Warwick family extended to me, and I’ll never forget it. They go above and beyond what I’ve seen any company do for their artists and for many other members of the bass community, and I’m very proud and humbled to be a part of the family. I know there are people that I didn’t mention or accidentally left out, but I definitely haven’t forgotten you! To those who read this that were involved in that amazing week with me, THANKS AGAIN SO MUCH !!!!! You all have helped to inspire and reinvigorate me, and I’ll never forget you for it!!
Until next time, take care and rock on!!!
P.S. I’m still getting around to posting pics of the trip, so head to my Instagram account and keep a look out! Link is on the homepage..