Australian Musicians (feat. Patrick Farrell)

Bass Guitarist Patrick ‘PW’ Farrell is a solo artist, session musician, producer, composer and educator.

In 2011 he released his critically acclaimed debut album ‘The Life Electric’, which he composed, produced and marketed independently.

PW currently holds a teaching position at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music (Griffith University) and is a contributing writer for Bass Musician Magazine.

He is active on YouTube with his channel ‘PW Farrell’s Bass Lessons’, providing information on a range of bass related topics from technique, theory & transcription through to gear reviews.

This interview will look at the ways Patrick manages his time with his large scale of commitments whilst remaining a diligent student, partner and a good hang. It will also cover Pat’s tips for up coming musicians seeking a career in the industry and what he’s learnt from a number of his personal experiences.

Can you please clearly outline all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?

I am a member of Jackal. A group based on a trio of Keys (Cleon Barraclough), Drums (Luke Pammenton) and Bass (myself). This lineup can be expanded as needed. We have taken something of a hiatus from original work of late as we focus on building group chemistry as the house band for the Wednesday night jam sessions at Doo Bop Jazz Bar.

I am the house bassist for the Doo Bop Jazz Bar jam night every Wednesday night and every second Thursday night. The jam happens every night but these are the ones I’m on. It’s a great gig because when really well paid gigs clash with these nights there is the flexibility there to sub out with minimal drama. Doo Bop has a roster of players they trust which you select your sub from. If you think about it it’s a really smart idea. I can see it as the beginnings of a new model. An almost neo-union type of thing where venues have their own stable of musicians.

I am very fortunate to receive corporate gigs consistently from the four dominant ‘spec band’ agencies in the area. It’s great that they don’t put the same pressure on the sideman/woman to be ‘exclusive’, I have heard such demands being made of the front people. ‘Spec band agencies’ are those using the model whereby instead of promoting seperate acts in the traditional agency sense, they use a stable of musicians and singers to create multiple instances of the same “band”. I.e. ‘band X’ is really just a brand name, the actual performers change all the time, meaning ‘band X’ could be playing in 20 different places at the same time. It sounds totally disingenuous but it has proven to be a much simpler and more effective model for all involved.

I am a collaborator with Gospo Enterprises, a South Australian based vocal organisation. Last February I was band leader, chart writer and bassist for their ‘Jackson VS Jackson’ show at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. We are in talks at the moment re a second show.

I am a composer and producer and have years of material sitting on my hard drive waiting to be released into the wild as an album. I haven’t released anything since ‘The Life Electric’ in 2011.

I am a member of ‘The Church Collective’, a groove based improvising collective that performs regularly in West End and encourages collaboration within the community.

I manage and perform in two bands: Moneypenny and The Phats. We specialise in making covers gigs more of a concert experience. We endeavour to showcase real musicianship in an empathetic setting so that audience members can relate to familiar music and danceable grooves while having their palette expanded. It’s a delicate balance.

I teach bass guitar, jazz improvising and coach ensembles at the Queensland Conservatorium – Griffith University.

I teach bass guitar at the JMC Academy

I teach bass guitar for my business http://www.brisbanebasslessons.com

I am currently a doctoral student and Griffith University exploring the concept of ‘Big Picture Practising: Developing Melodic Intuition in the Aspiring Jazz Musician Through Immersive Study of the Melodic Invention of Great Improvisers and Composers’

How do manage your time to make room for each of these commitments whilst keeping yourself financially independent?

Most of these commitments are financially rewarding. Jackal and my own music are definitely scaled back at the moment and they are also the least financially rewarding. I am philosophical about the cycle of musical output vs musical input (practise/learning) and I find myself deeply excited in times of musical input. I feel there is enough mediocre music being released into the world these days so I’m content to use my down time shedding so that the music I create is a true expression of deep musical practice/reverence/soul searching. My teaching commitments are well paid per hour which means I don’t need to work long hours. I try to keep Thursday – Sunday free of any daytime commitments. At the moment in my doctorate I am focusing on personal practise and the research component and that takes up this free space. Later in my doctorate I will flip from musical input to musical output and this time will be used for creating new music.

Do you have a method or personalised criteria to help decide whether to take on a new project or opportunity?

I used to have a policy of ‘never say no’ but now I use the triangle.
The triangle has three sides: money, mates, music. If 2 out of 3 sides are happening it’s almost always a ‘yes’, if only 1 side of the triangle it might be a ‘no’. If 0 sides forget about it. Obviously the ‘music’ side of the triangle is subjective. For me, more and more I’ve become comfortable admitting my musical biases and not taking on work that isn’t really in my playing to begin with.

I have changed the way I manage my life lately. I’ve learned that relationships also need to be prioritised and scheduled. So I try to keep one day free per week to spend with my partner. So this is another reason why I am becoming more selective about what gigs I do and don’t do.

Have you ever considered relocating abroad for opportunities outside of Australia?

Yes I have long desired to live in New York or Los Angeles but I am hopeless with money. I spend way too much money on food and drink and after visiting New York and Los Angeles a bunch of times it’s become pretty obvious that the local music scene here in Brisbane is one of the best paying in the world. Of course the glaring hole in our scene is any kind of recording/touring/television industry. I lived in Melbourne for 6 years and that’s where I did all my work with ‘famous’ people. For me, the idea of those gigs is better than the reality.

I need to be musically excited. What’s so great about being the no name person blurred out behind a homogenous pop star playing homogenous bass lines and getting paid the same as you get paid on a wedding gig but having to put in so much extra work dealing with social politics and having to look the part? I’ve never really understood that obsession. I’d rather spend my time trying to get really scarily, disgustingly good at music-ing.

Are you currently getting lessons from any other musicians?

I am about to commence a long term study with Matthew Garrison.

What are your thoughts on the Australian music scene and in particular, Brisbane’s? For example, how has it change throughout your career and where do you see its future heading?

As I said earlier, the glaring whole in the Brisbane music scene is the lack of a recording/touring/television industry. Acts coming out of Brisbane that play festivals etc are self-made. Meaning they are conceived and self actualised usually from a social nucleus, not a professional industry nucleus. This makes for some great music but it by and large has no room/need/time for professional session musicians. The only time I’ve been hand picked to join touring bands, festival bands and TV dates was when I lived in Melbourne. But I came back to Brisbane because after visiting here briefly between cruise ship gigs I had more well paid work and more understanding of who I am as a player and what I offer that is unique.

In Brisbane musicians are free to develop their own sound. In Melbourne I felt that pre conceptions regarding bass in particular were rife. There is definitely a scene down there that blurs genres etc but good luck also getting paid… Unfortunately it is a double edged sword and I see lots of musicians regularly gigging in Brisbane that are below par, and we have nothing here like what exists in Melbourne in terms of world leading stylistic specialists. Last time I was in Melbourne I went to see Chris Bekker, Andy Da Silva and Johnny Salerno playing a tribute to Prince at the Corner Hotel and it was truly world class. The room was packed and the sound was incredible. We just don’t have the depth here in that scene because that scene doesn’t exist here. But what DOES exist here is the opportunity to pursue your own sound and still get well paid gigs without having to totally reinvent yourself and/or play a social game where personality and looks are of paramount importance. When I look around Australia and see the kinds of bass players I love the most they’re almost all from outside ‘The Industry’. Guys like Dane Alderson from Perth who developed his ridiculous chops by listening to music he loved, practising his ass off and now he plays for The Yellowjackets. To be fair he DID have to move to USA before getting a look in.

Of all your skills (performing, teaching, recording etc) can you specify the order in which each of these skills pays relevance to your income? For example, does performing make up most of your income etc..

At the moment it’s about a 50/50 split between performing and teaching. This is by choice because now that I have the teaching gig at the Con I no longer stress if I have a weekend night off with no gig. I use this time to practise, create or be a good partner.

How do you divide your time to keep improving each of your diverse skills? Do you use a schedule, does work/life dictate what you focus on?

I treat the Conservatorium as my work space. I leave my instrument there as much as possible so that I can cycle to and from work. My doctorate is focussed on memorising, performing, extrapolating and re-imagining melodies from the improvised jazz canon. At the moment I’m working through John Coltrane’s solo on ‘Countdown’. I’m so inspired by this material that I have no need to schedule it from day to day…When I’m at the Conservatorium I’m constantly practising outside of teaching hours. I also think it’s good for the students to see that to play great you have to practise great.

If you could simply create more time for your music/studies, what would you use it for?

If I could add 10 hours to every day I would definitely use it to create new music.

Regarding the digital world, how much time and energy do you invest in social media/online presence vs face to face meetings, networking and branding etc

I am hopeless at online presence in the sense that it is sporadic and unorganised. I have a YouTube channel that gained some notoriety and then I suddenly stopped making videos because I didn’t feel inspired. Also the videos take about 2 full days to make and I barely have that kind of time at the moment. I haven’t posted on YouTube in over a year. One of those vids has 90, 000 views and I get comments all the time popping up in my inbox and I feel more and more guilty. I love social media, I’m an addict and I hate that. Instagram mainly. I’ve got no sense of branding, I just post what I like.

Do you spend time transcribing other musicians?

That is what my doctorate is all about. At the moment I’ve hacked the process because I’m using the Coltrane Omni-book but after these few solos have been worked through my methodology I’ll be gleaning material the old fashioned way.

What’s the most valuable career investment you’ve made to get to where you are now?

Practising my ass off.

Is there anything you wish you did differently that in hindsight you feel would’ve positioned you better?

I am much better with people now and much better at seeing the big picture of music projects and genres. I think I’m a much better sideman now. I also feel that I am far less concerned with what other people think about me and my playing. I wish I’d had this disposition when I moved to Melbourne because there are definitely opportunities down there I missed because I was going through some mental struggles.

Did you ever have an 8 hour a day practice schedule before working full time?

No. I had a 4 – 6 hour schedule, timed with a stopwatch. I would stop the stop watch on every break, whether a toilet break or a planned break. I did this religiously for about 15 years. When you time a 4 hour practise this way you’d be surprised how much time it actually takes. I’d bet that most people who claim to have practised 8 hours per day actually don’t know how long they were ACTUALLY practising.

If you could only practice three things what would they be?

Everyone has different musical needs but in my experience there are two approaches to musical practise, one relevant to the developing instrumentalist and one relevant to the proficient musician.

The partitioned practice approach. In this approach you partition music making into topics such as “time”, “technique”, “theory”, “sight reading”.

Using this approach it’s easy to answer your question. I’d say “time” (this encompasses groove, styles etc), “technique”, “theory”.

But for someone who has gone through that approach extensively there’s a need to step back and practise larger scale subjects.

For me this involves delving into the music of our musical pioneers and understanding why their music worked. Specifically I’m currently exploring the playing of John Coltrane and how I’m can apply that to my own playing.

Where would you like to be in 5 years?

I would like to still be happily with my partner. I would hope that my family are healthy and happy. I would hope that I can consistently improvise and perform all music in the flow-state and create music (whether in solos are bass lines etc) that speaks to people and makes sense.

If you had to play in one band only, who would it be?

Jackal.

What would you say to up and coming musicians who wish to have a fulfilling career as a full time musician?

Play music for the joy of playing music. Don’t expect to be ‘discovered’. Develop a spiritual and or philosophical backbone to your life. Your are valid by default. You don’t need to be good at anything in this world. You are valid by default, but if you are going to do something, do it well.

Have you ever wished you weren’t a musician or felt stuck?

I’ve felt stuck and worried that I am in fact a terrible hack of a musician and that everyone who has ever told me otherwise is either completely inept themselves or in on some big joke.

But I have never wanted to be anything except a musician.

What drives you to work on your craft/skills everyday?

The thought of not playing at my best makes my skin crawl.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests outside of music?

Cycling and gym. I’m a sports fan, mainly Rugby and NBA at the moment but I do like NFL.

I like to ponder the fate of society and skim read select pages from big books and pretend that I’ve read and understood the concepts whilst in the presence of impressionable people.

If you could study with any musician who would it be?

Matthew Garrison.

Any other comments or insights you wish to share?

The universe began with a sound.

For more information on Pat head to his website at:

http://www.pwfarrell.com

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