Wes Wehmiller expounds on bass life with Duran Duran, influences, equipment, and the essence of being a professional musician.
For the last four years, Wes Wehmiller has been holding down the bottom for the seminal synth-pop band, Duran Duran. ActiveBass' Chris Tarry caught up with the Wes man to get his thoughts on being a successful sideman, the LA studio scene, and the importance of playing selflessly and in context. Considering the fact that Wes and Chris were once roommates at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, it wasn't hard for the two to fall back into the same familiar groove. Here's the discussion that ensued:
Chris Tarry: Hi Wes, and thanks for hangin' here with us at ActiveBass. Can
you tell us a little bit about your bass playing history?
Well, the only thing that makes my "history" a little different is
that I started at an unusually early age. I guess it didn't do me much good
though. When you're a little kid, you have mental and
limitations, and I still, to this day, lack some vocabulary among
Other than that, my time line is pretty typical: junior high school
dances, high school jazz bands, garage bands, cover bands, useless original
projects, etc. I spent 2 years at the Berklee College of Music, and I regret
leaving before I could get a degree. However, I met quite a few valuable
people, both students and faculty, many with whom I'm still working.
CT: You have amazing facility on the bass, and I've seen you play almost every kind of gig. How do you approach a more roots kind of pop gig like
Duran Duran is a very comfortable musical environment for me to
approach. When I started working with them in 1997, I found it to be one of
the easiest situations I've ever had to settle in to, both musically and
socially. I consider myself to be a simple-minded "commercial" bass player
(when I play bass). And, there's nothing more fulfilling for me than to put
a foundation on a well-written song. Duran Duran has a ton
songs, and good music is the easiest music to learn. Good pop music is very
predictable, and I mean this in a good
way. I'm extremely lucky to have been a part of
that for the last four years.
CT: What kind of equipment are you using these days?
The older I get, the less I like to think about equipment, and I hate
having to turn around to tweak something. So, every year I'm stripping my
gear down to less buttons, bells, and whistles. My rig has always been 100%
SWR, with nothing but 10" speakers. I've always liked how practical their
stuff is, and the fact that the factory is here in LA and that I've got
personal connections there. They also have loaner stock all over the
world. And, oh yeah, it sounds great.
I finally acquired my dream bass from Jim Tyler of Tyler Guitars. It's a
sounding long-scale 5-string, and it's the first instrument I've
ever been able to use exclusively. I'll never get rid of my P-bass, or my
Ernie Balls, or my Sadowsky, or anything else, but I can grab the Tyler
in pretty much any situation.
And, of course, the people at La Bella Strings have been wonderful since I
hooked up with them.
CT: I know you also do a lot of session work in L.A. What are some of the more important aspects of being a successful session bassist?
Actually, I fell out of the studio loop when I started touring a lot.
But to be honest, I was about ready to give up on session work even before
that. I've always liked the idea of staying in town and making ends meet
without having to tour, and I love studio work... but after a few years of
trying to do that, I realized that there are a small handful of guys in
LA that get all of the calls, and they're all older, more experienced,
recognizable names, and have paid their dues doing what is still a hard door to
open for someone as young as me. An occasional studio call is a bonus for
me these days, but I have to be realistic about it.
CT: What kind of advice would you give to a player wanting to break into a
The most important thing I've learned is to always think about what's
pleasing to the ear. Not many musicians realize whether they are "playing to
practice" or playing to intrigue others. You have to think about what music
is, and what it's for. It's entertainment. And if you listen to all the
music you're playing, rather than just yourself, you'll be more aware of
what your job is. Only think about filling in empty spaces, and never
your ego stand out.
Also, remember that even if your "employer", as far as you're
concerned, is clueless, you have to give them what they want, even if it
means doing something you think is completely absurd. Your boss is always
right, no matter what.
CT: Who are some of your main influences on the electric bass?
I guess the types of players I've listened to and learned from have
changed as I've gotten older. These days, whenever someone asks me, I just
mention the "Gods of the Gods", like James Jamerson, John Paul Jones,
Paul McCartney, Nathan Watts, Anthony Jackson, "Duck" Dunn, Will Lee, Pino
Palladino, just to name a few. The guys that have been around for a while
and have a huge resume seem to influence me the most.
CT: Man can not live on bass alone. What else do you enjoy when you don't have the axe in hand?
I find that my life in music stays fresh if I stay active in other
ways. I love staying in shape playing hockey, hiking, water skiing,
softball, photography, whatever. There have been times in my life when I
was focusing on nothing but
music, and it seemed to make things very
stale for me. You need to stay active to be healthy and happy. And if
your life is enriched with other hobbies besides your livelihood, your
music will be much more enjoyable when you come back to it.
CT: I notice you also do some backup singing in Duran Duran. Is this
something new for you?
Not at all. I was doing a ton of backing vocals right from the
beginning. However, I'm doing it less and less these days. A lot of the
material in our set calls for more sequenced backing tracks. Some
female parts have to be retrieved from the masters, and there are other
parts that are virtually impossible for me to sing while playing certain
bass lines, so Simon sings the harmonies to tape.
On another note, it just so happens I will be leaving Duran Duran after our
mini Japan tour in late June. The band is doing a reunion tour featuring
all five original members. It has been a wonderful four years, working
with a great bunch of guys who have become family to me. I'm sad to see it
go, but I can keep in mind all the amazing things I did and the spectacular
places I got to see. I have to remember that in order to establish a name
for myself, I have to move on and add other experiences.
Duran Duran's guitarist, Warren Cuccurullo, will also be leaving the band to reunite
the original members of Missing Persons and has asked me to play bass. I'm
excited and looking forward to working with Dale and Terry
Bozzio, and of course Warren, who's like a big brother to me.