Interview- Amanda Ruzza
Amanda Ruzza album debut, “This Is What Happened” left many who appreciate quality music in awe. We caught up with Amanda and got some back ground info on Amanda’s past and the making of the album.
BPU:When did you get your first bass:
AR:I got it in Brazil, at the age of 12, after falling in love with the instrument a few months earlier, in Chile.
BPU:How did you start playing, and where did you study bass, or self-taught?
AR:I had a dream to play drums since the age of 8. Before that, I remember that my grandfather would tell my mother all the time “she has long hands and should play the piano,” but my mother never took me to piano lessons. That would imply buying a piano, which in Brazil was unaffordable during the country’s long economy recession and its weak currency against the American dollar, plus a 75% taxation rate over imported musical instruments.
Despite my grandfather’s ideas, I always wanted to play drums. For four years, I begged non-stop to my parents, but they kept telling me that there was no way: “a drumset is too expensive, and you’ll make a bunch of noise for a month and give up on it.” So, when I was 12 years old, I spent an entire month in Chile, at my grandmother’s house in ‘Costanera’ Avenue, which is also the name of the third song on my record – and had really nothing to do, since my mom was busy working and no one else was around. One day, after walking for hours and taking the subway to random places in Santiago, I discovered this ‘rock n’roll music school.’ After hanging there fora while, I managed to cut a deal with the owner of the school. I gave him all the money I had for an entire month, and he allowed me to have lessons every day, for two weeks straight.
Plus, after my lessons, I could stay as long as I wanted and practice with their instrument. When he asked me: ‘What instrument would you like to learn?’ I thought about it for a second, and realized that, ‘if I’ll never be able to play drums, I might as well be next to a drummer, so I guess, I’ll play bass.’ I had one lesson, played the instrument for a few minutes, and..fell in love with it. Since that day, all I wanted to do was to play bass. It’s a real love story! While living in Brazil, I studied privately for many years. Then, after moving to the U.S., I studied for two semesters at Berklee College of Music, but got a double degree in Jazz Bass Performance and Liberal Arts from The New School in New York.
BPU:What where your inspirations and trials you ran into?
AR:My early inspirations were the rock and metal bassists. Then, one day, when I was 13, someone played “Trem Bala,” by João Bosco, and I heard Nico Assumpção play all that crazy stuff on the bass – to think that that stuff was being played live on the FM radio! I really couldn’t believe what I heard from his bass, so I realized, this guy was everything I wanted to be and do. That’s when I started to dig into his music and everything that inspired him. Eventually, I got into Jaco, Marcus, Anthony Jackson, Ray Brown, and all the great bassists.
Years later, I met Nico. I showed him many transcriptions that I had done of his work. Nico got super excited and said: “I’m going on a world tour next week, and when I come back, in 3 months, we’ll get together, hang out, study and write a book together.” But then, a month later, Nico was playing a gig, felt a terrible pain, he was taken to the hospital, and two months later, he died. I never got to see him again. He was one of the biggest geniuses of Brazilian music, and my biggest musical influence.
My trials..well they were many, but now looking back, I feel that they all turned out to be a blessing, as they made me a stronger person and musician. One of the biggest ones was trying to make a living playing bass in one of the biggest macho countries in the world. It’s not that people were against me being a bassist, but many times it was obvious that other musicians felt uncomfortable to play music and be on the road with a girl. I lost some gigs because people expressed that.. ‘I don’t wanna have to pay for an extra hotel room for you,’ or, ‘I feel embarrassed about telling my wife that there will be a woman on the bus,’ etc. Interestingly enough, I just came back from a tour in Brazil and think that nowadays, things are way better for female musicians. ‘Globalization,’ Internet – or just time itself – made substantial changes in this Brazilian macho culture. I had a hard time starting from zero when I first moved to America. I had to deal with culture shock, making a living playing music and as a consequence, having to learn so many musical styles and grooves that I had no idea they existed – in almost no possible time.
Despite all my struggles, I’m so glad I had them, as they made be appreciative of what I have now, and a more well-rounded musician. For example, I had to figure out on the fly the difference between a Texas and a Chicago shuffle. Such situations made me learn about shuffle in a deeper and more meaningful way than just buying a book and reading about it. I had to really learn this “new music, ”as my livelihood depended on it.”
BPU:Can you tell us a little bit about your gear?
AR:I love and adore gear! I only play 5 string basses, and my main instrument is a Ken Smith, ‘BSR Elite.’
The great luthier Mas Hino just made me an awesome new bass – I named this instrument ‘Mr. Blues’ as it’s sparkly baby blue, and grooves very hard. He made the pick ups, and it has an Aguilar OBP-3 Preamp. As for my amplification, I use an Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 head, which is also a killer for studio work. It’s the lightest head I have ever lifted, and sounds amazing in the studio. I’ve been doing many recording sessions here in New York with it and really love how it makes my sound better and more defined, without taking away the personal sound of my hand touching the instrument. My cabinet is an Aguilar SL112. I also love effects and use most of the Dunlop, MXR, and Way Huge, like the Bass Octaver, Swollen Pickle, Fat Sandwich, Envelope Filter, Bass Fuzz, Stereo Chorus, Compressor, or Carbon Copy. Plus, I use a Pigtronix Mothership for some funky crazy stuff.
For strings, I play the Dunlop Nickel 0.40 -125. I try to change my strings as much as I can, since I’m really into a bright popping sound. Besides the live stuff, I do many recordings from my personal home studio, for producers and musicians all over the world. I track with a LexiconFW810S interface, many DBX compressors, such as the 160SL, and the Lexicon LXP Reverb Plug-in. Also, if I’m not using the Aguilar Tone Hammer, I’ll either use a BSS D.I., or the MXR Bass DI +.
BPU:Your album “This Is What Happened” represents a diversity of talent. Can you tell us about the making and inspiration of the album?
AR:“This Is What Happened” – the album was named after the last song of the CD. I wrote “This Is What Happened” – the song – in the New York subway, thinking about little kids when they are between 4 and 7 years old. They’re so genuinely happy about life and anxious to tell their parents about their awesome day in school, soccer or baseball practice that they can barely speak. Kids at that age talk so fast, that at the end of the whole story all you understand is “and..this is what happened today.. in school.”
However, “This Is What Happened” – the album is basically a storytelling. It’s the story of my life, being told through music. When I left Brazil, I remember crying at the airport, saying goodbye to some of my dearest friends, not knowing when I’d be able to come back – all because of my dream of wanting to learn music. After all the ups and downs, well.. “This Is What Happened.” This record is very personal and emotional. I feel very blessed to have amazing musicians helping with this storytelling-dream of mine. The people in the record are all musicians that I played with in different bands in New York, and realized that we had a perfect chemistry. These guys are my band, they are my friends and we get along musically and spiritually. This record would have never existed without the help and suggestions of my co-producer and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. He’s a genius, one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met, with a beautiful vision of production, arranging and groove. Plus, I wrote most of the grooves thinking of him and how I knew he would totally get what I wanted.
Pianist Mamiko Watanabe played a major role in the album. We had been playing together in different bands here in New York, and started doing some sessions. Right out of those sessions I felt a strong connection with her sound. Mamiko is really amazing; she’s not only one of the best pianists I’ve ever played with, but she’s also one of the most creative artists I’ve ever met – we have a natural artistic chemistry, as she’s Japanese and I come from the city with the biggest Japanese population outside of Japan: São Paulo. So, Mamiko really manages to bring these artistic elements of a São Paulo neighborhood into my music: she connects Japanese art with Brazilian music. ’Gin,’ her funky-afoxé-asian composition, the album’s sixth track, is a great representation of this Brazil- Japan connection. Other great musicians and friends who played in the album are: Alex Nolan, amazing guitarist, who really listens to the music and manages to compose beautiful things around a busy rhythm section, Chris Stover, trombone virtuoso and incredible composer, plus David Binney and Lucas Pino doing the saxophone magic. Finally, my great friend, mentor and one of my biggest influences: Cliff Korman, one of the most groundbreaking musicians I’ve ever heard.
BPU:What type of music do you enjoy playing most?
AR:I love music – doesn’t matter the style, funk, r&b, rock, jazz or Latin. If it’s beautiful music from the heart – as cheesy as it might sound – I wanna play it!
BPU:What is the biggest thing to recommend any bass player at any level?
AR:Learn how to play piano, and drums – or if you, like me, never had the possibility to purchase a drumset, spend a lot of time transcribing drummers and try to teach yourself how to think from the angle of a drummer, a harmony player and a melody player. Everytime I’m learning music for a new gig, I always ask myself “If I was the drummer, how would I want my bass player to play this music?” or, “Of I was the pianist, how would I want my bass player to play this music?”
BPU:What types of strings and fingerboard combinations do you like? What do
you look for in a bass?
AR:I love the sound of bright nickel strings and a dark sounding rosewood neck. For me, a bass needs to feel good and effortless while sounding the way my ear hears things. I’m super picky about it.
BPU:Can you tell us about future projects in the works?
AR:I’m working on more tours and New York shows with my sextet: Mauricio Zottarelli, Mamiko Watanabe, Alex Nolan, Chris Stover and Lucas Pino. Plus, I’m working on composing new music for a second album. On the other hand, as a side musician, I’ve been very active in studio, doing many recording sessions here in New York while playing many local shows with several artists and bands, who go from a variety of genres like jazz, rock n’roll, world music and funk.
I’m also developing an entire course – or ‘classroom’ – about ‘locking in with a drummer’ for TrueFire’s online learning website called “Guitar Sherpa,”which will be launched soon.
Adam Phillips([email protected])