It's All About Rhythm: Q&A with GussWhat?
Portuguese-born musician and visual artist GussWhat? creates with such vibrancy that his artwork, music and video productions practically leap out of speakers and screens!
In 2020, he won an album artwork contest for the legendary bassist (and Kala Artist) Bakithi Kumalo. Guss went on to design much of Bakithi’s merch, and it wasn’t long before Kala caught wind of his visual and musical talent. We then asked Guss to design the shield logo used on the Kala Bakithi Kumalo Signature Acoustic-Electric U•BASS®.
Guss started performing and recording with U•BASS®, and it was - according to him - a phenomenal fit for his sound and style. Recently, he arranged and produced a gorgeous Paul Simon Medley. We’re happy to share that video with you, along with an interview with Guss about his musical perspective and love of U•BASS®.
Beyond the interview, at the bottom of this page: Enter to win a Bakithi Kumalo Signature Acoustic-Electric U•BASS® (signups end 6/12 - winners will be notified directly by 6/15)!
Who have been the biggest influences on your musical approach?
I was fortunate enough to have some avid music enthusiasts as parents. They showed me a gazillion of different things so my taste goes all over the place.
Paul Simon (and Bakithi Kumalo, of course), NIN, Peter Gabriel, Banda do Casaco, José Afonso, Gaiteiros de Lisboa, Kraftwerk, Bobby McFerrin, De La Soul, Thomas Newman, J Dilla, Ravi Shankar, Nick Drake, Ravel, Jorge Palma, Korn, Sting, Zappa... And I'll probably stop right there because otherwise, this would never end.
On the low end of things, besides Bakithi, I'd say, Tony Levin, Pino, Jaco, NHØP, Lee Sklar, Victor Wooten, Carlos Barreto, and Colin Greenwood. And in more recent days, Esperanza Spalding, Adam Ben Ezra, Eyadou Ag Leche, Tal Wilkenfeld, Rui Pity, and Scott Mulvahill really inspire me.
All of those mixed with a great passion for basketball and horror movies, and there you go. Does it make any sense? Probably not, but it might help explain my wibbly-wobbly musical style.
What was your first impression of the U•BASS®? What do you like most about it?
The first time I put my hands on one, I was more concerned about the commodity and portability of such a thing on the road, but then I plugged it in and - BOOM SHAKALAKA - I was mesmerized.
What an incredible new instrument that is way more than just a "mini bass"; it's a different thing in its own right. Just like the electric bass is - when compared to the upright.
It deserves all the praise, and I think it has a language of its own that will become a new "standard" type of sound just like any other bass instrument.
I'm pretty sure there are already people in studios saying things like "I see more of a U•BASS® tone in this one". I've certainly said that myself, more than once.
And though it has been around for some time now, I still get a lot of astonished faces whenever I take it on a big stage and they hear it through the PA system.
What advice do you have for musicians just starting out?
It's all about the rhythm! If you get good at it, every other thing will follow; "you might miss a chord or a note, but you shall never miss a beat!" Also, theory won't hurt you if you learn it the other way around. Purists might give me an eyeroll for this, but I genuinely believe that you should understand the theory through emotion and not the opposite.
Let's say you gotta, for example, feel the Lydian dominant emotionally before you name it. So if you really like a certain type of sound or song, play with it and only then understand its theoretic core. I'm not sure you'd feel as invested in it the other way around, and that might be the reason why so many people give up on playing so precociously. For me, it should always be about joy, even when it gets hard.
The bottom line is, western music theory is just one of the multiple ways of organizing the wonders of sound. It's pretty useful, though - not gonna lie - and will save you lots of time if you want to do this professionally. Oh, and last but not least: Insecurity will always be there - no matter your level of expertise - so don't get discouraged.
What is your favorite element of music (writing, recording, or performing) and why?
I think they all complement each other, being as different as they are, and I love them all for that reason.
Writing is probably the most challenging one since it feels like you're putting together a puzzle that has infinite pieces. It’s a daunting feeling, so it turns out to be more about what the song isn't, than what the song is. If that makes sense.
Recording, producing and even mixing are nowadays such an integral part of composing, that sometimes they get all clustered together and become indistinguishable. Once again, it's a lot more about choosing what you don't want.
It can also take you a lot of time on trial and error efforts till you get to the place you desire, and it's not uncommon to get so excited about what you're doing that you lose focus on the essentials. In any case, that process, although pretty complex, is thrilling, to say the least.
Performing might be where the most primal fun's at, and if you've rehearsed enough and you're on stage with people you really like and admire. You're just doing what music's all about - giving something to the audience that can make them feel things. Doesn't matter if you're playing your own songs or if you're supporting another artist, there's just a magical thing going on. It can also be a nerve-racking experience but there ain't any other thing like it.
I’d say there’s a moment for each, and there’s a marvel in every single one of them.
What's coming up for you music-endeavor-wise in the near future?
I’ll be finishing my upcoming EP/Album (with tons of U•BASS® on it) while continuing to try new things and uploading new content to the web.