14 Jun Alex Wasily Interview: Trombonist for Dumpstaphunk
The Music Industry is full of creative people. From the musicians on stage playing music with the best trombones, to the artists that make the posters that the promoters use to get people to the music venues learning how to play trombone. All the different people involved in making the music industry work have skill sets to be celebrated.
As the trombone player for Dumpstaphunk, Alex Wasily has been a consistent player at high profile events. As a human, Alex is every bit as memorable as his extraordinary trombone playing. The tall and warm hearted virtuoso has consistently been viewed as one of the best people in the music industry.
Having now toured with everyone from PFunk to The Rolling Stones, we wanted to sit down with Alex and pick his brain about his life as a musician.
MM: SO WHAT WAS IT THAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A MUSICIAN?
AW: I was fortunate enough to have a kick ass band program in high school. Shoutout Savannah, Georgia public schools, man. We had 3 hours of music every day as part of the school day, no after school or 5am jazz band. I had one of the best band directors ever, Michael Hutchinson. He instilled in all of us a drive to be the best and to work hard on our own. It wasn’t cool to be bad at your axe and as students we all held each other accountable. Mr. Hutchinson didn’t hold our hands or baby us at all and our high school jazz band played like 50 or 60 gigs out in the community and across the country every year. I was unafraid of performing in front of others by the time I graduated which is something a lot of younger artists take a long time to get over.
There IS a particular moment that I’ll always remember – when I was 15 I got asked to be part of a gospel clinic led by Stellar/Grammy Award Winner James Bignon at St. John The Baptist “A Mighty Fortress” in Savannah. After a week of learning music completely by ear we did a few services/shows and I had a ball. Making up horn lines with the older cats, soloing here and there, it was really exciting for me especially at that age. A few weeks later a check for $500 showed up in the mail and I freaked out. $500 when you’re 15 years old? C’mon man. I went running to my parents who were (and still are) extremely supportive saying “YO I JUST MADE $500 TO PLAY MY HORN” and they pretty much hit me with the timeless adage of “if it doesn’t feel like work then do that for a living” and I ran with it. 20 years later here we are. Obviously not every gig I’ve done has been the best time ever but I’m grateful to get to be an artist for a living!
MM: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A GREAT MUSICIAN?
AW: Damn. There are so many answers to this and all of them are probably right in some way. The skills that set great musicians apart are attention to detail, concentration, and diligence. When learning new music or writing arrangements you’ve gotta focus and make decisions. The confidence to make those decisions comes from years of studying all types of music and to be a great decision maker you’ve gotta do your homework and that takes time. The older more experienced cats who’ve been in the game for 40 years longer than you have can tell you immediately what’s happening and what’s not. The more you can be around OGs in a musical setting the more you can learn and get better.
I’ve been fortunate to perform alongside some elite players. Those cats pay attention to detail in every aspect. Specifically as a horn player I can tell you that dynamics/cutoffs/durations/articulation MATTER, man. You have to focus on the task at hand. It’s what separates the pros from the not-pros.
I’m also gonna give you a sideways answer here.
I think great musicianship starts with being a good person. It’s never acceptable to be a bad person and that shit is amplified ten-fold when it comes to musicianship. Pretty much all of the stuff I do involves collaboration and working with others and on top of that, you’re spending a ton of time around the same people day in and day out. If you’re difficult to work with it’s gonna be tough for you man. Am I sayin’ you need to just say yes to everything and be super passive? Hell nah. I’m just saying that your communication skills need to be A+ if you wanna work consistently.
I know these answers are lengthy as hell but I’ll add one more thing – the great musicians I’ve been around GO for it at every opportunity. Not one solo/fill/groove/note is performed without 110% of their ability. There’s never time for bullshitting and you’re only as good as your last performance. Even in rehearsals the killers I’ve been around GO FOR IT at every opportunity.
MM: WHO ARE YOUR BIGGEST MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS OF ALL TIME AND WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST OF THEIR DISCOGRAPHIES FOR PEOPLE THAT ARE BEING INTRODUCED TO THEM?
AW: Man. As a professional performer on trombone I can give you volumes of musical homework to listen to that are required listening. Those would be the discography of Parliament/George Clinton (and their subsidiaries-Brides of Dr. Funkenstein, etc) Earth, Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, Sly & The Family Stone, The Meters, George Duke, The Ohio Players, Rufus & Chaka Khan, Ramsey Lewis, and The Gap Band. That list alone right there will completely fuck you up. There is a lifetime of music to love there.
As a casual listener I listen to a lot of funk music and that’s just because I love it. Mostly the bands listed above…but I also really enjoy Lo-Fi instrumental music, hip-hop, and disco. I’ve recently been playing a ton of Neal Francis’ new record, his story rules and I love him to death. His music speaks volumes for people overcoming mountains of adversity.
MM: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A GREAT SONG?
AW: Shit if I knew every answer to this question I’d be a billionaire but I’ll take a crack at it.
If we’re talking technical elements…let’s use “Some Love” by Chaka Khan as an example. I think that song is damn near perfect. It’s a tune that flexes all the strengths of everyone in the band which is something you always wanna do. Always play to your strengths!
Right out of the gate you hear that the band is funky. Shit, the band was funky before the first downbeat. Bass player sets the tone and the band is grooving before any words even happen. When Chaka comes in it’s guns blazing in full harmony and you always know she means business because she’s giving her all! It grabs your attention – and keeps it – and that isn’t easy to do but it sounds effortless. Another element of a great song.
I’m a sucker for a fully orchestrated track. The horns are perfectly laced in between the vocals – a critical element. The horns should ADD and not take away. If the horns are all over the place it’ll weigh down the tune and that’s not happenin’. The full orchestra on this track fills in the gaps between verses and keeps me on board for the ride. I also think the sax solo at the end is perfect, even with the use of a pedal.
Clearly I’m an instrumentalist because I mention the lyrics last! The songwriting is about how love isn’t aways what you expect it to be and that sometimes shit just doesn’t work out even though it was hot to begin with. It connects to audiences worldwide by telling a vivid story that we’ve all felt at one time or another.
All these elements combined make it clear to me that a group of people worked their asses off to make a work of art. That, to me, makes it a great song.
MM: IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A GREAT ALBUM?
AW: Man. To me, a great record is an organized, thoughtful statement that shows me a piece of whatever that artist or band is made of. A great record says something from someone who has something to say. It sounds hella cliche but to put it simply, it’s a vessel to my ears that can tell me about someone or a group of people without words. It can tell me where they’re from without saying it. It can tell me who their influences are without me reading it in an article. It can express how they’re feeling about the world with or without words. As an instrumentalist, the lyrics can often be second place to the music to my ears on an initial listen-and I’m working on that- *laughs* but I love trying to figure out who someone is through their music. A great album makes all of that stuff easy.
MM: WHAT WAS THE FIRST ALBUM THAT REALLY GRABBED YOU? WHAT WERE THE SPECIFIC THINGS ABOUT THE ALBUM THAT MADE IT SPECIAL FOR YOU?
AW: Phew. When I was in middle school my step-dad gave me That’s The Way of The World by Earth, Wind & Fire to check out. You’d be insane to call that album anything but a masterpiece. Just like I said earlier, you can really tell what kinds of people EWF are from that record. The songs are full of hope, optimism, love, unity, and the importance of sticking it out through tough times.
As an adult listening back to it now and knowing the struggles of those musicians, especially the black musicians and musicians of color on that record, their optimism in the face of adversity has a deeper meaning even now.
That, and the guitar solo on the title track is a perfect solo. Period. Find me a more musical, lyrical, melodic solo ever and I will argue my point with you forever. If you know it you know it. That solo is a lesson in patience and the importance of taking your time and saying something if you’ve got something to say.
MM: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE PEAK EXPERIENCES OF YOUR CAREER? ANY FUN STORIES YOU CAN SHARE?!
AW: Dumpstaphunk recently performed two sold out nights at Madison Square Garden opening for Dave Matthews Band in November and at The Gorge in September. I’m definitely still feeling the glow from those epic shows! I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity to kill it with such legends all the time…but to do it for those crowds was an experience I’ll never forget.
A wild story from the show at The Gorge – we found out literally hours before the gig that Carter & Stefan from DMB tested positive for Covid. Like, after our set and before theirs. It was nuts. I’ve never seen a production that enormous be able to turn on a dime and completely change an entire weekend of shows in a matter of minutes. THAT type of decision making comes from decades of experience and that entire camp (musicians, crew, hands, managers) is about as good as it gets.
The band immediately called Tony from Dumpsta (who used to play with Dave) and our drummer Deven into the rehearsal room and they worked out the entire set. Dave came out and did his solo thing for the first few songs, then added Tim, then Tony and Buddy on drums, who normally plays keys in the band. Buddy if you’re reading this you’re a badass. Then Rashawn & Jeff joined and by the end it was Dumpstaphunk + DMB ripping through some songs. The crowd of 27k people was trippin by the end man. It was crazy to solo with that kind of energy on stage. It was electric and I’m grateful for that moment! What could’ve been a tragically canceled weekend turned into a really unique experience for the band and the fans.
It also doesn’t hurt that Dumpsta got some new fans as well! *laughs*
MM: WHERE DO YOU SEE THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IN THE 30 YEARS?
AW: I can comfortably say that the demand for live shows and the concert experience will only increase. Large music productions nowadays are incorporating some pretty radical tech and that’ll only get bigger and badder. It’s definitely exciting…but it makes me hope that the medium and smaller venues of the world (that just fought tooth and nail to stay alive through a pandemic with little to zero help from the government) can keep up. *laughs* I’m optimistic. This country is loaded with badasses working their asses off and the people are ready for shows.
The way folks consume music nowadays is a fascinating subject. I often semi-joke about ‘back when people bought music’ but it’s deep, man. It’s been wild to see the pendulum swing back in the favor of physical vinyl records and some cats are even putting out cassette tapes. I often wonder if it’s a temporary thing and definitely hope it’s not. Call me old-school or whatever but I love physically owning a piece of art like a record! I hope the analog trend sticks.
MM: FOR THE SERIOUS MUSICIANS OF THE WORLD, IS THERE A REAL PRO TIP YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE, BE IT AN EXERCISE, A LICK, A PRACTICE HABIT, LIFE ADVICE, ETC.?
AW: One of the things that I find myself constantly having to do is learn new music. As a horn player I have the privilege of getting to perform in all kinds of bands with all kinds of music. Being efficient in how you go about learning new music is a crucial skill and can be the difference between keeping your gig or losing it. As much as we try to learn things in advance… we all know damn well that tunes get called last minute.
One of my strategies is to start counting rests right outta the gate when listening to the tune. I find it’s best to learn the overall form of the tune first. If you can isolate difficult parts or lines on that first listen that’s great but focus on the overall form THEN hone in on notes and lines. You may think you’re superman but your brain can only handle so much info at once. Take your time with it, the band will thank you.
That, and if you ever sit in anywhere with anyone, play no more than TWO tunes with the band and DO NOT say that you know a tune if you don’t. The cats on stage will know real quick if you don’t know it. It’s better to keep the horn in the case on the sidelines and show up prepared next time.
MM: WHAT GEAR ARE YOU USING THESE DAYS? FEEL FREE TO SHOUT OUT SPONSORS, DISCUSS NEW ADDITIONS OR FAVORITE OLD GEAR. CAN BE YOUR MAIN INSTRUMENT, ACCESSORIES ETC.
AW: I’m an endorsed artist with Conn-Selmer on King Trombones and I perform on a King 2B.
I am also endorsed by AR Resonance Mouthpieces and currently rock a silver-plated bronze mouthpiece. Endurance is a huge part of performing a brass instrument and I’ve yet to perform on a mouthpiece that offers the control and endurance that my AR does.
MM: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE VENUES TO PLAY IN THE WORLD? FEEL FREE TO SHARE AN EXPERIENCE THAT MADE IT SPECIAL
AW: This is a tough one…but I gotta say there’s something special about performing at a sold out Tipitina’s in New Orleans. It could be day 14 of Jazz Fest at 3am and it’ll still be off the chain. The fans combined with the city’s culture make it a kick ass experience every time.
Also this sounds insane to say out loud…but everything they say about performing at a sold out Madison Square Garden is true. All of it. It’s something else. Walking past frames of Michael Jackson, Aretha, Bowie on the way to the stage, it gives me goosebumps to even say it. Even the security guards hype you up in there, man. When we got off stage they were like “You just played the garden, fella! How’s it feel?!” We were playing an opening set it still fucked me up pretty good. New York is already at the top of the game and to play The Garden…it was something I’ll never forget. Can’t wait to do it again someday.
MM: IN ALL YOUR TRAVELS, WHAT IS THE BEST MEAL YOU EVER HAD?
AW: Oh man. Performing with a band from New Orleans is already the dopest because I get to be there so often to eat all the best food…but if I had to pinpoint ONE particular meal on the road…there was this spot in Barcelona when Dumpsta toured europe in 2017 that was just crazy man. The promoter brought us PILES of seafood paella, spanish chorizo, Iberian Ham…pretty much a collection of the best Spanish food ever. And…wine. *laughs* I can remember it like it was yesterday though. Food rules and it’s an awesome window into other cultures!
MM: HAVE YOU DISCOVERED AN AWESOME RESTAURANTS WHILE ON TOUR THAT YOU WANT TO SHOUT OUT! WHAT MAKES THEM SPECIAL?
Ramen Hoshinoya in Japantown, SF, Crossroads Kitchen in LA, Mayahuel in NYC, Sushi-Den in Denver, RPM Italian in Chicago, and El Pavo Real, Peche, and Vincent’s in New Orleans.
These are killer restaurants that just give a damn and kill it every single time!
MM: HAVE YOU DISCOVERED AN AWESOME HOTELS WHILE ON TOUR THAT YOU WANT TO SHOUT OUT! WHAT MAKES THEM SPECIAL?
AW: Ah man…normally we’re only spending a few hours in the hotels so this is a tough one…but… The Paper Factory in Brooklyn, Gold-Diggers in LA, and The Curtis in Denver. I love a hotel with killer unique rooms and it doesn’t hurt to have a badass bar/restaurant walking distance from your room.
MM: COFFEE, TEA OR JUICE?
AW: Coffee. Period. Espresso if you got it!
ABOUT ALEX WASILY:
Catch me touring around with Dumpstaphunk full time or my own band, Alex Wasily’s Very Good Band.
I’ve also started Very Good Mondays™ at Gold-Diggers in East Hollywood – a pretty off the chain funk jam featuring some of the baddest musicians I know in LA. It’s off the chain. Some artists that have stopped through include Anderson .Paak, Leon Bridges, Maurice Brown, Eryn Allen Kane, and many others! It’s a hang!
https://www.alexwasily.com for cocktails, jokes and hella music!
—–Read more music interviews, and from trombonist Caleb Windsay!