Sean O’Bryan Smith has become a house hold name to music industry, being internationally recognized producer, composer, clinician, record label executive and even freelance writer. Sean’s ability to adapt to virtually any musical situation is why he has become one of the most in demand musicians in the industry. Sean has played or recorded with some familiar names in the industry such as:Lady Antebellum,Rascal Flatts, Kenny Rogers,Esperanza Spalding,Brian Bromberg, Victor Wooten, Rick Braun, and many more.
BPU:How did you start playing bass ?
SOS:I started at age 12. My mother was a professional jazz singer and I would watch her left hand and put bass lines together from that. It put me on the path and I started off knee deep in STAX albums listening to Duck Dunn. His lines fortified the fact that I was going to spend my life playing bass. Freddie Washington and Chris Campbell from The Silver Bullet Band were huge influences in me getting started as well. I’d spend hours with old 8-Track tapes picking out their parts and it evolved from there.
BPU:Where did you study bass, or are you self-taught?
SOS:I’m completely self taught. I did have a couple of band directors in junior high and high school that helped hone me and taught me to read music but my path has been my own. It’s been an interesting combination of creating my own style and learning on the job from some of the best musicians around the globe.
BPU:Could you tell us about some of your inspirations?
SOS:The aforementioned Duck Dunn was a huge one but my inspirations are extremely varied and were growing up as well. I listened to everything from soul to jazz to classical and it all played into the forging of my musical style. I’m an odd duck in that I listened to John Williams as much as Marcus Miller so it helped me forge a love for all genres and styles.
BPU:What was your first bass?
SOS:An early ’70s Fender Musicmaster and I still have it. I used it all through high school and attempted to mod it while living in Seattle in the early ’90s and butchered it. It sat in a case for years and I finally restored it properly in 2008 and I now use it on sessions ranging from rap artists to Hyundai commercials.
BPU:What were some of the trials you’ve run into?
SOS:Great question. How much time have we got? There are plenty. Being in the music industry means you’re always scrambling to make your way. For me it has been an interesting journey because I knew to reach my final goals I was going to have to take multiple journeys. Obviously the challenges of getting established as a pro sideman were interesting but the biggest trials were being accepted by the industry when I shifted my persona from sideman to being an artist. The jazz community in particular took a number of years to accept me as an artist but luckily I didn’t lose faith and I’m not one to give up easily. I kept coming and they have accepted me as one of their own. I’m currently doing the same thing with the realm of film composition and electronic music.
BPU:What is the most fundamental advice you would give to a bass player, at any level?
SOS:Use your ears and don’t pigeon hole yourself in one genre. Listen to everything on the market and be prepared to create it accurately. This has kept my phone ringing for years.
BPU:What types of strings and fingerboard combinations do you like?
SOS:Strings are easy. I prefer light gauge nickel strings with a 40 on top. I’m currently using Sfarzo strings on my basses and they are stellar. Fingerboards vary for me. I have an extensive bass collection but my primary basses are maple fingerboards. I prefer the extra top end from maple to capture my articulation. This is why I opted for a maple board on my Signature model Rybski.
BPU:What are your current projects you are working on?
SOS:Multiple projects at the moment. As I mentioned above. I listened to John Williams as much as Marcus Miller. That path has created my film composition side. I’m currently working on a couple of independent films doing film composition. In addition I am heavily involved with the European electronic mucks scene doing live bass tracks on a number of albums for European artists as well as prepping for a Fall European tour with some of my label mates. Finally I’m featured on a number of new albums from artists including Grammy nominated Joe Taylor and German electronic virtuoso Matzumi. I’ve recently just wrapped the first track for Grammy winning vocalist Sidney Barnes that features the one and only George Clinton. That was a blast!
BPU:Let’s talk about your last album, “Reflection” Where did the inspiration come from?
SOS: Reflection kind of created itself. My faith is a huge part of me and as I was writing what was to be my second album I was heavily playing at my church in between tour dates. The more I thought about it the more I wanted to do Reflection. It is a collection of classic hymns and worship tunes that I arranged for my style. The best part is I enlisted the help of friends including Randy Brecker, Gerald Albright, Chuck Loeb and one of my best friends Malcom-Jamal Warner.
BPU:Can you tell us what it was like working with Johnny Neel and Tony Colton?
SOS:Great question and folks don’t ask about them to me often. Both of them were a blast. I met Johnny years ago and was cutting a soul record at his studio. Johnny was coming in and out since he was touring but finally decided he wanted to play on the album as well. It was arguably one of the funkiest tracks I’ve ever done and we just went in and vibes off of each other. One of my greatest compliments came from Johnny. Some folks don’t know he is blind and I love the fact that he kept asking the engineer if I was white. I’ll take that any day. I met Tony in the late ’90s and he was a blast. He was my first super songwriter I’d worked for and I’ve been able to work for plenty since. He always had great stories and we tracked plus performed live together. He is one of many of my connections to The Allman Brothers which has been an interesting dynamic to my career.
BPU:You’ve worked with so many great artists over the years. At this point, who would you like to work with?
SOS:This is a great one. I’ve been blessed to work with folks as varied as Keith Urban, Larry Carlton and George Clinton. It has been surreal. Immediately I’m blessed in that I’ll be doing more with George Clinton. As far as other artists it all boils down to genres. For jazz I’d love to work with Mike Stern and team back up with Randy Brecker. For electronic and ambient I’d love to do something with David Arkenstone and Loreena McKennitt. Of course if funk legends call I’m in as well as songwriter elite like Shawn Colvin. My film comp side kicks in too and I’d drop everything to go collaborate with Hans Zimmer.
Rybski promotion video for Sean O’Bryan Smith’s Signature model!