Julie Slick: As Slick as it gets

This story is taken from the Summer 2010 issue of Limelight Magazine.

By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

PHILADELPHIA – Bassist Julie Slick, who makes up one third of the Adrian Belew Power Trio, has just released her self-titled debut solo album. At the young age of 24, the Philadelphia native said music has always been a huge part of her life.

“My parents are such music freaks,” she said. “They would play a lot of vinyl’s for us all the time. Every Friday night we would have music appreciation day. We would have a dance party and my mom would put on the Beatles, Bon Jovi, Billy Idol, and stuff like that.”

The “us” Slick is referring to is herself and her brother Eric, who is only a mere 15 months younger than his sister. She said when Eric was a toddler their parents bought him bongos and ended up getting him a drum set by the time he was five years old.

“He was banging on his crib in perfect rhythm,” Slick said.

She said finding her instrument of choice wasn’t as simple.

“I had messed around with keyboards a little bit and I tried to learn guitar when I was nine or ten, but I was a shy kid so guitar didn’t seem right for me,” Slick said. “I had trouble staying focused with it and learning solos.”

Never feeling completely comfortable with keys or guitar, she was still determined to connect with an instrument. Her father had a Fretless Gibson Ripper bass and when she was 11 years old, she figured she’d give it a try.

“My dad had a super long scale bass and it was pretty much bigger than I was at the time,” Slick said. “I just thought to myself, ‘with this thing I can just hide in the corner and I don’t have to learn any chords or solos.’”

As her skills as a bassist began to form, Slick grew interested in the music of Cream.

“My first main influence would be Jack Bruce,” she said. “My dad showed me a couple of bass lines from songs like ‘Politician’ and ‘Sunshine of Your Love,’ and we had old VHS tapes of Cream concerts we would watch.”

Slick said she even painted her first bass, a Squire Music Master, just like Bruce’s Fender Bass VI Baritone, also known as a baritone guitar.

“I was really into drawing and painting at that time, too,” she said.

Once she really began to excel, her father introduced her to jazz bassist Stanley Clark as well as Chris Squire of the band Yes. Squire particularly inspired Slick because he’s a pick player.

“I mostly play with a pick and I love that Rickenbacker sound,” she said.

By the time she was in high school, Slick began her education at the School of Rock, an after school music program for talented young musicians.

“At the School of Rock, I found kids that had similar interests and wanted to jam,” she said. “I found a really good community there.”

The only person that ever attempted to discourage Slick was a reporter from a local radio station that visited the school.

“He was just being a total jerk to everybody,” she said. “He pulled me aside and was like, ‘don’t you feel weird here being a girl? There are mostly boys here.’ I just wanted to punch him in the face.”

While she may have been irritated for a moment, Slick said she is ultimately proud to be a female bassist.

“It’s not a typical instrument for girls to play,” she said. “I’m a pretty competitive person so I really never let it get to me.”

She said her competitive nature drove her to practice more. Since her brother always was cast on the best songs the School of Rock had their students learn and then perform onstage, Slick made she sure she was cast on the same songs.

“I would work really hard so we could be together,” she said. “We’re very close.”

Over the years, the two of them grew as musicians and quickly became a tight rhythm section. At this time, they were heavily influenced by Adrian Belew’s band King Crimson. In 2006, Belew, an innovative guitarist who is know for his unusual approach to guitar playing, which features bizarre electronic tones, unorthodox playing techniques and a wide variety of sonic effects, asked the two of them to go on tour with him as the Arian Belew Power Trio.

“The tour was booked while I only had five weeks left of school,” Slick said. “Luckily, my teacher allowed me to submit my work online. It was kind of funny because my teacher could see how my music was influenced by playing with (Belew) the last weeks of the semester.”

She said her parents were “super excited” when they found out both she and Eric were going on tour with Belew.

“My parents are my biggest supporters and as soon as I told my mom it was as if I told her I had won the lottery,” she laughed. “My dad was giving us big hugs. They have all of King Crimson on vinyl.”

Slick said because she and Eric have been playing together their whole lives and come from the
same musical background they are very comfortable when performing together in front of a live audience.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I think (Belew) has a lot of fun with that too because he never has to worry about the rhythm section falling apart. He can go off into outer space with his guitar playing and not have to think about what me and Eric are doing. The three of us incorporate a lot if improvisation in our sets and I always look forward to those types of sets.”

While Belew is the composer of the music the Power Trio plays, Slick said she was fortunate enough to be able to write her own bass lines and improvise on a few songs on their studio album, “e”.

“It was really a treat to be able to do that,” she said. “It was an honor.”

After playing with the Power Trio for three years, the band took some time off and Slick used that time to write her solo debut album.

“I actually put on my blog as a new year’s resolution, ‘I’m going to make a solo album this year,’” she said. “I hadn’t written much before but I’m fortunate to have a home studio. I’ve been collecting recording equipment longer than I’ve been playing bass. I captured some of what I had been working on and suddenly I had ‘Shadow Trip’ written.”

Slick said she got “addicted to the process” and had five songs complete after two weeks.

“I had no intention of making the album that soon,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘wow. I think I can actually do this. I can make an album.’”

Because she doesn’t sing, she said the thought of having vocals on her album wasn’t even an option.

“I went into melodies that were singable enough that you wouldn’t really miss the vocals,” she said. “But, I sampled my voice and pitched it up and used it on tracks four and eight because I wanted it to have a human element.”

She said a lot of the melodies on her new CD are actually being played on bass.

“I have this Roland pick up that can convert a signal into MIDI and a Roland VB-99 module which takes that signal and is able to process it and turn it into sounding like a guitar or an organ or various synthesizers,” Slick said. “I would say I’m influenced by (Belew) in that way. He has so many sounds.”

During the processes of writing, recording, and producing her album on her own, she felt as if she needed some sort of outside source to bounce ideas off. Naturally, she turned to her brother.

“Even though he wasn’t around that much because he was touring with Dr. Dog, Eric was a major creative consultant for the new album,” she said. “Whenever I was working on a song I’d invite him over or e-mail him a song and ask him what he thought. He helped me a lot with ‘February’ and ‘The Rivalry.’”

For more drums, Eric suggested she contact drummer Marco Minnemann. On a whim, she emailed Minnemann and asked if he would be interested in playing on her album. After getting his permission, she sent him a sample of one of her songs.

“I sent the e-mail, went to bed and the next morning he sent back three different takes of the song already completed,” Slick said. “I was like, ‘this is amazing.’ That’s when I got the idea to ask more people.”

Slick also asked Pat Mastelotto from King Crimson for a musical contribution and although he was in South America, he sent her his track within a day. When she asked Robert Fripp, the founder of King Crimson, she doubted he would be interested. Regardless, she sent him an e-mail and within a couple hours he replied and told her that while he was busy with his own projects, he was more than happy to let her sample some of his soundscapes.

“I was like, ‘you bet I’m going to use some,” she laughed. “I went and picked out a couple of sounds that jumped out at me. Sometimes, the sounds would lead to me changing the direction of the song I was writing.”

With the album complete, Slick has already sold many copies simply by promoting it on social networks online.

“This whole CD was my big experiment and I’m impressed with myself that I could put it out so quickly and got the responses I got,” she said. “If there’s more positive feedback I would definitely consider doing a tour or opening for somebody.”

In fact, she will get the chance to open for Belew at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, New Jersey, on June 30th and at World Café Live her hometown of Philadelphia on July 1st.

“It’s forcing me to put on a one person show because (Belew’s) doing a one man show,” she said. “I hope to play more shows in the future.”

She will also be going on a brief tour of Europe with the Power Trio this October-November, but Eric won’t be with them this time around. Interestingly enough, the replacement drummer is Minnemann.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what it will be like because I haven’t really worked with any other drummers on stage,” Slick said. “It will be interesting, especially the improvising part of the set.”

She did admit she will miss her baby brother while she is on the road.

“It might be different in the van,” she said. “I won’t be with goofy Eric making jokes and acting like Dr. Phil.”

Nevertheless, she said she is excited to go to Europe because she enjoys exploring the area when the band has down time. A few of her favorite places are Quebec City, Australia, and Tokyo.

“In Tokyo, we had a residency where we played at the same club for a week,” Slick said. “During the day, we just got to walk around and I did a lot of people watching.”

She said she spent a lot of time in Harajuku, the fashion district, because everyone was dressed exotically and elaborately.

“I was determined to get a pair of sneakers while I was there and I got this really bright pair,” Slick said. “I still have them and I really like them.”

Unfortunately, she said she doesn’t have the luxury to be able to see the sights in each and every place she gigs.

“I’ve been to Italy twice now and we just passed through it,” she said. “I’m sure if we had a day off in every city we visited I would fall in love with every one. But, what’s cool is we do meet and greet after every show and we get a sense of what the people are like in that area.”

No matter what, Slick said she always makes sure to taste the local food, as she and Belew both love to eat.

“The best food ever was in Turkey,” she said. “We had our guide take us to a Turkish restaurant and it’s funny because it’s such a meat centric diet over there and I’m a vegetarian. But, they just put out 20 courses of the most amazing cheeses, breads, vegetables and spreads.”

She said she tries to find the best places that serve traditional food and when she gets home she is always antsy to cook and recreate the dishes she dined on.

“I love cooking,” she said. “It’s enjoyable and really relaxing. When I was 17, I started watching Food Network obsessively. The first thing I ever made was chicken Parmesan.”

Slick said she thinks cooking is very similar to creating music.

“It is an art form to me,” she said. “It’s just like making a mix or a song. It’s the way you lay out
your components and the way they balance off each other. I have a food blog on my website and one day I’d like to make a cookbook.”

In the meantime, Slick is busy producing Cheers Elephant, a band that also hails from Philadelphia.

“My boyfriend, Matt Rothstein, is the bass player,” she said. “We’ve been dating for six years and we met at the School of Rock. The first time they gigged, I pulled Matt aside and told him, ‘this band is really good.’”

One thing led to another and Slick started recording their album, which will come out on Thursday, September 30, with a special CD release party at World Cafe Live Downstairs in Philadelphia.

“It sounds really good and I look forward to putting it out there and seeing the response,” she said.

With several projects under her belt, Slick still found the time to start yet another band called Paper Cat with her brother and guitarist Robbie “Seahag” Mangano. They decided to form the band right after she graduated from college in 2008 and they ended up recording an album of original music.

“Eric just always likes to play out,” she said. “He gigs like crazy and toured with (Mangano) in Project Object, a Frank Zappa cover band. One day Eric decided to book a show at John and Peter’s in New Hope, Penn., and asked Robbie if he wanted to play with us and he did. We had no material; we just jammed and came up with songs on the spot. Our friend recorded the show and we made the album, ‘Live at John and Peter’s.’”

To find out more about Slick, visit her web site at julieslick.com. Her mother, writer Robin Slick, also has her own web site which not only features her novels, it’s loaded with information about Julie and Eric, plus videos of them performing.

“I actually haven’t read any of my mother’s books because her publications specialize in romance and erotic books,” she giggled. “I guess I just didn’t want to read that stuff coming from my mom.”

No matter what, Slick said she is grateful for having parents who have always been supportive and encouraging.

“They got us into music,” she said. “They are why we are where we are and I just think they are the greatest parents in the world.”

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