I had heard of Julie Slick from her work in the Adrian Belew Power Trio, but I became a fan after seeing her band, EchoTest, perform last year at the inaugural ProgStock. The charismatic and brilliant Julie Slick was front and center, donning an ushanka and aviator sunglasses. Julie and her group played a terrific set of complex, joyous, and innovative progressive rock, and it was one of my favorite performances of the weekend.
Whether she is playing bass with the Adrian Belew Power Trio, or writing music and performing with her songwriting partner Marco Machera in EchoTest, or jamming with various other groups like the Crimson Projekt, Julie is a true bass virtuoso and visionary and embodies the progressive ethos with forward thinking compositions and instrumental approaches. We caught up to talk with Julie about her work with EchoTest, what it’s like to play with Adrian Belew, and what we can expect from her brilliant mind in the future!
Tell us about your history with music. What attracted you most to the bass guitar? Who were the bassists that inspired you the most early on, and how have they shaped your playing?
Music has surrounded me my entire life—my parents are hippies that encouraged us with instruments as toys, weekly art classes, frequent trips to the museum, cassette recorders and tiny microphones… my Dad also has an incredible guitar collection. After many failed attempts at jamming with my younger(!) brother on one of these fabulous guitars, I looked to the one bass in his arsenal—a fretless Gibson Ripper… it had just 4 strings, I could be my shy 11-year-old self in the back of the stage, and maybe, just maybe, Eric would let me join in on the fun if I played this instrument instead. It was very natural for me, and I found it made so much more sense… I had finally found my vehicle for making music. Since I had already become obsessed with electronic noises and recording, the pedals and studio construction soon followed… My Dad excitedly showed me Stanley Clarke records and Cream performances—I even painted my first Squier MusicMaster like Jack’s Bass VI.
After a year of playing on my own and having learned a few riffs from my father, my mom signed me up to study with Paul Green, who was teaching my brother’s classmate. His progress impressed her during our jams in the living room, and on the night of his first performance of this hodgepodge “Paul Green School of Rock Music,” my mom informed me that I would be starting my own lessons on Monday.
This led me down the path of learning how to perform live, understanding and loving Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Jethro Tull, and of course King Crimson…it even led to me getting the gig with Adrian back in 2006!
What was it like to first play with Adrian?
It was a dream come true! I was super nervous but simultaneously an overly confident 20-year-old. I still pinch myself, though—I’ll never forget being 13, seeing him on a VHS of Baby Snakes crowded amongst fellow students in Paul’s living room, crooning “City of Tiny Lites”… and then the feeling of goosebumps crawling up my arm during the opening notes of “Frame by Frame,” which was my first introduction the 80’s era Crimson. I became such a fan, and then to get the call to try out for his trio with my brother just a few years later… it’s life-changing, mind-melting stuff. From there I’ve gotten so many insane opportunities, have met so many legendary, cool musicians.
How’d I get the call? Adrian had completed a tour with some of Paul’s All Stars in 2005, during a period where I had “graduated” from the after-school program (and high school) and was studying music at Drexel University. The students impressed him so much that he asked Paul to recommend some former pupils who would be more available to play in his trio… excuse the cliché, but the rest is history.
What are some of your favorite songs to play live, and why?
Adrian Belew‘s “e” is always a blast—it commands some very dextrous and flashy fretboard work. Its main motif is a chromatic line that jumps octaves and then it just goes wild from there, but in a very dynamic and interesting way that is never boring to play.
And of course I love playing every song with my band EchoTest…
How did EchoTest come about? Tell us about the composition process of EchoTest.
Marco Machera actually first reached out to me on Myspace in 2007—he wanted to interview me for this italian magazine… then we met in real life at the Three of a Perfect Pair Camp in Big Indian, NY. Three years later I was touring a bunch with Crimson ProjeKct and I was looking at a way to stay in Europe between runs (mainly because I became nomadic). After making a facebook post, he reached out about performing together in Italy and it was obviously hard to refuse that offer… I arrived without expectation, and was pleasantly surprised at the success and ease of our collaboration… we decided to keep going with the momentum of the bass duo after our shows and we had our first album (“Fourth Dementia”) released by the following summer.
Since we don’t live in the same place, we most often compose by recording ourselves and then we send the ideas back and forth to each other—this project is brought to you by DropBox™. The most challenging part is not adding too many tracks to any particular idea for a song… Even though I’m playing a Lakland Bass VI in this group (talk about another full circle moment) and Marco plays a 5 string which has a lower register, sometimes I start a song with a bass line, and Marco has to find a counterpart or come up with a melody and/or an interesting texture… On some of the new material we find neither of us is actually playing the “bass.”
You recently played aboard Cruise to the Edge with the Adrian Belew Power Trio, and you will be playing again in 2019. How was that experience?
Amazing! It was our second cruise (we played on the Progressive Nation at Sea in 2014) and a real pleasure to be able to experience the comradery of the community again… the weather’s not half-bad either, but I’ll be sure to wear sun screen this time. Anyway, I’m so excited to be back for a third round…
Tell us about your newest record, Daughter of Ocean. (Also, this sounds like it would be a perfect thing to play on Cruise to the Edge 2019!!!)
I’ve actually been working on the theme for this since 2012… it was originally slated to be the concept for my third solo album, however the idea got side-tracked when I started working with Marco. We inspired each other so much that we made 3 records in as many years. Our latest, “From Two Balconies” is such a crowning achievement for our band that we knew we’d have our work cut out for us. I try to always go with the flow, and the next logical step for us was to re-visit my idea, which first was influenced by the myths of Echo, Eurynome, and sirens.
Then I started having some pretty supernatural, ghostly experiences, and soon after I came across some articles about taxi drivers who reported picking up ghosts in areas ravaged by the Tsunami of 2011. Others had visited wreckage and found themselves possessed, having to resort to exorcism. I then focused on this as the main inspiration for the album as a metaphor for depression. It starts with a pretty ambient, lengthy piece that sets the mood. The journey then goes deeper and darker, and it gets downright scary by the end. We want to give the listener the feeling of slowly being submerged under water, swimming into new spaces, being utterly overwhelmed with emotion… it’s rather epic and it would be a perfect soundtrack while crossing the sea (just saying).
You’ve been able to look into prog-rock past (by playing older Crimson numbers) but also gaze into prog-rock future (with music like EchoTest). What do you think would help progressive rock “progress” as a musical genre?
It’s all about the audience/fan-base as well as open minded-ness of booking agents (this is the more difficult part). There is no way to keep making music, to keep moving forward in the genre without the support of the community. And there is no way to spread the word if no gigs are available. So as long as fans continue to see live music, buy the records, the more talent buyers will continue to invite artists to perform. As long as we help each other, we will keep prog alive.
What else have you been working on lately?
There’s this insane 10-piece project called Troot, based on the compositions of pianist Tim Root. Think ELP meets Yes meets Psychedelic Chamber Prog… it even gets thrashy/punky at times. We recorded the album back in October in the midst of our EchoTest tour, and it features the ET power trio (myself, Marco, and our drummer Alessandro Inolti) as the rhythm section. I hope the album will be released by the end of this year… fans of progressive music should be happy.
Who are some musicians that you would love to work with?
Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, oh wait…
If you could instantly know everything there is to know about one topic, what would be the topic of choice?
Check out what Julie’s up to at JulieSlick.com!