The 2016 Canadian Country Music Awards nominees were announced recently and among the sizable Calgary contingency was Justin Kudding, who is up for “Bass Player of the Year.” With the awards set to happen in September, we caught up with Kudding for a chat that’s all about that bass.
Congrats on the Bass Player of the Year nomination. How do they come up with the nominees in this category? Is it based on a specific project, or on overall performance?
“It’s voted on by peers that are members of the Canadian Country Music Association and it’s based on your general participation inside of Canadian country music. Some people are playing a lot of live shows with different artists, some are predominantly playing on records and working in the studio, so it’s not really one type of performance, but more so has to do with your contribution to Canadian country music on your specific instrument.
The fact that it’s a peer-nominated award must make you feel pretty good.
“It does feel awesome and I’m thankful for it.”
What projects are you currently involved in?
“Right now, the main artist I tour around with and most of the live shows I play is Brett Kissel. Other than that, I freelance a little bit. I kind of came up in the country scene working with guys like George Canyon and a band called High Valley. When I’m not on the road I spend a lot of time in the studio playing on records and singles and demos and that kind of stuff.”
What are some of the albums you’ve contributed to?
“I’ve been lucky enough to play on some albums that have been nominated for Juno awards, which is really cool. A few years ago I played on a record for an artist named Joanna Borromeo, which received a nomination for R&B record of the year. Two years ago I played on MacKenzie Porter‘s album, which received a Juno nomination for country album, and then this last Junos I played on Brett Kissel’s current record, which also received a nomination for country album. That’s probably my favourite part of what I do, getting to create music in the studio and play on something that’s lasting, that’s out there forever.”
If you’ve played with Joanna Borromeo then obviously you’re not limited to playing country music.
“Country is a pretty new thing for me, I only got into it about three or four years ago. I came up playing a lot of different styles. I grew up playing in church with gospel artists or I would play R&B, even a little jazz. Country music is a newer thing and it definitely takes up the majority of my professional career now – at least a good 90 per cent – but I’m thankful for it because it’s filled with incredibly talented people. It’s more of a challenge and more rewarding than I ever thought it would be.”
Did you take lessons to learn to play the bass, or are you self taught?
“I’m self taught. I tried to find teachers growing up but it never really stuck. I just found that I never wanted to sound like the guys I was learning from. As much as they were amazing, I just thought, I have my own voice on this instrument and I’m not going to learn that from anybody else. So instead I used Google and I used books to teach me some of the technical things, and other than that I just tried to create a sound that was me.”
In terms of country-music bass players, who do you really admire?
“My favourite country-music bass player is a Nashville session guy by the name of Jimmie Lee Sloas. He’s just kind of a full-time session player and he’s played on a lot of records that I’d consider my favourite country albums.”
As someone who plays country music professionally, you’ve probably spent some time in Nashville?
Yeah, I was very close to moving there in 2010. I was spending about four to six months a year there, working with some artists that were based there and touring around the United States and doing much more work out of Nashville than I was out of Calgary. It got to the point where I had to decide whether or not I wanted to make Nashville or Calgary my full-time home, and for a lot of reasons outside of music I ended up deciding that Calgary would be home and I’d make the Canadian market where I wanted to stay, which I definitely don’t regret. But Nashville is a cool city. I’ve got some great friends there. Learned a ton about music and played with some just world-class, outstanding musicians in different genres. I think those experiences really helped carve out my sound and my ability and allowed me to move into a professional role here in Canada.
If you’re in Nashville and want to go see country music, where should you go?
“Really, the easiest place is anywhere on Broadway. Practically 24 hours a day there are country bands playing in every bar up and down the strip. I think some of the best music is found in little spots you have to ask around about, maybe not as touristy as Broadway, but that’s the most accessible. You can go down any time of day and check out some country music.”
Why hasn’t “air bass” caught on like air guitar?
“I feel like you can’t be as animated on an air bass as you can be on an air guitar!”