MOMENTS AFTER ARRIVING FROM A LONG MORNING flight from Chicago, Andrew Gouche steps into his Los Angeles home studio for a bit of work before spending an afternoon with his family and then hopping on a plane back to the Midwest. But first, a trip to the gym. “I’m 54 years old, man, so I work out every day, and I play bass every day,” he says as he settles in. “I’ve gotta keep healthy on both fronts.”
Gouche’s weekend began in Chicago playing bass with Prince at George Lucas’ wedding party. That led to a marathon 2 am after-party show, followed by a morning rehearsal to prepare for Prince’s upcoming performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Even for a man who has worked tirelessly to rise from playing church halls to become the guru of gospel bass, musical director for Chaka Khan, and a firstcall session cat, this workload is heavy. When asked where he finds the time and energy for it all, Gouche laughs. “The music supplies the energy, man. You find that passion and it’ll keep you going.”
Through the last year-and-a-half of work with Prince— along with hefty contributions to Snoop Lion’s latest, Reincarnated—Gouche has found time to write and produce his first solo album in his almost 40-year career, This Is Who I Am. The record displays Gouche’s mastery of slap and seemingly endless bass runs, while journeying through jazz and gospel changes that only a musical veteran of Gouche’s caliber could compose. While Gouche admits that his playing favors busy lines over simplistic ones, that’s exactly what his fans have grown to expect.
What is it like to work with Prince?
I have a new respect for the term “work ethic.” This guy has more energy than anybody I’ve ever seen. He has so many things going on at once. He may have one band rehearsing in one studio, another band rehearsing in another studio, and be mixing a record in a different studio, and he’ll just jump back and forth between them all. It’s hard for anyone to sit around and talk about how they’re overworked or tired, because he never gets tired. But the shows are incredible, and the music is like no other. For me to be playing as long as I have and to land a gig like this is truly a blessing.
How did Prince approach you to play with him?
I was Chaka Khan’s musical director for six years, and in 2011 we opened for Prince on a tour. Shortly after that, Chaka decided to fire the whole band—I don’t know why. But the week after she fired us, Prince called me and said he was doing some things and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. It’s reminded me that you can’t be bitter about anything that happens to you, man. I mean, if I hadn’t met Chaka, I would have never met Prince.
What have been the most challenging elements of this gig?
I have my own style and I do my thing, so the biggest challenge personally is to play these songs exactly as they are on the records. It’s been a huge area of growth for me. There’s no embellishment at all; I have to play through every song with no improvisation, so I can’t put a lick at the end of eight bars with that music. I played the two shows this weekend and never played a bass fill once. That is a gigantic achievement for me—anyone who knows my playing style knows that!
Did you have to change your tone at all to fit his vibe?
My tone is my tone, and that is one of the main reasons why he called me. He told me he never heard bass as deep as mine. I use my MTD signature basses on that gig, and they fit in with the music perfectly. My tone tends to be a top-end type of heavy that’s really bright. My favorite frequency for treble is 6kHz, but a lot of times it doesn’t stick. So with Prince I’ll roll off a little high end and maybe even some low end. I’m using some envelope filter effects and some octave effects, so I have to set my tone around those, too.
Prince has such a vast body of music with a lot of varied bass work on it. Was this a difficult gig to prepare for?
He has so many songs; as soon as you think you’ve learned them all, you find more to learn. He does slapping and plucking in a very original way, and I try to emulate exactly the way he does it. On “Purple Rain,” he has a very specific way that you have to play it. I’m not trying to impose my will on anything with Prince; I’ve never been in an environment like that before, and it’s helping me grow. And besides, Prince has no problem picking up a bass and showing you exactly how he wants it to be played.
And how is Prince on bass?
He’s funky, man! Super funky. Prince can play everything well. He definitely has his own style on bass; nobody can top him at what he does. There’s griminess in the way he plays. You know it when you hear it.
It must be refreshing to hop from such specific playing to the freedom of working on your new album, This Is Who I Am.
It definitely is. This is my first solo record. I’ve been working on it for years, but now I’m in the mixing phase. It’s what I’ve been focusing most all of my time on. Any break I get away from Prince, this is all I do. And it feels great just to do my thing and not put boundaries on my playing—although I do like the balance of both sides.
What can we expect from the album stylistically?
My career has encompassed a lot of different genres of music, and I tried to embody them all with this record. I grew up in church playing gospel, and that side is in this. Then the other parts came into play, like jazz and R&B. I had to put all of that in there, because that’s who I am. I had to come to realize who I was as a player, and not try to be playing like anyone else. It’s easy to get influenced by the people I listen to like Marcus [Miller] or Victor [Wooten], but my whole life I’ve never wanted to sound like anybody else. So I had to get comfortable in my own self and get over my own insecurity of letting people hear my own music.
Would you consider this a “bass album”?
I wouldn’t totally call it a bass album, because it’s so musical. There are vocals here and there on it, although there are a lot of instrumental pieces, too. When I think about my style, it’s more like a singer than a bass player, because that’s who I’m inspired by. I’ve worked with so many singers that it’s built a large portion of my style. We’ll see what people think when they hear it.
What techniques did you use on the record?
It’s pretty much a mix of all the techniques that my life in music has encompassed. You’ll get some slap, some fast finger technique—the whole package. Larry Graham is the reason I started playing bass. I grew up thumping and plucking, and there’s a lot of that on my record, although not a preponderance because it’s very melodic.
How would you say you’ve evolved to this point in your playing?
The thing I try to do is just keep growing as a player; I’m always evolving. I see these kids coming up doing things that are really impressive, and I want to try to learn how to do that, too. My ego isn’t too big to learn from them. So I just keep up on whatever is current, but while always being myself. It’s a never-ending journey. You never get to the point where you’ve fully arrived. I give every situation I get into the same level of respect. There are no big gigs and there are no little gigs for me. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to put my whole heart into it or not do it at all.
How do you approach the role of musical director?
Part of what you do as a musical director is surround yourself with people you want to work with, who will get the job done and respect the music. Coming up in the business I had to earn my respect. I don’t play keyboards, but I do have perfect pitch. If you play a chord, I can tell you the names of all the notes, even if I don’t know theory.
You’ve never studied music theory?
I can’t even read music. People always ask me about scales, but I don’t know any of that stuff, because I came up through the church. I do what feels good to me, and I’ve been blessed that people have gravitated toward what I do. I did study theory for a little while in high school, but I never used it, so I lost it. I’m actually getting ready to start studying theory with a music professor who goes to my church.
What went into the design of your MTD signature series bass?
I met Mike Tobias in 1987, and we’ve been friends ever since. It was his idea to do a signature bass for me. If you ask me what kind of wood my bass is made of, I can’t tell you. [It’s alder with a maple burl top.] It has a purpleheart fingerboard with a neck that’s a little thinner from top to bottom, and the string spacing is a little wider than he usually does. But those are the only things I told him specifically. Mike knows my sound so well that he just does it. He knows the wood combination that makes the sound that I like, and all of the internal stuff that helps define my tone.
What attracts you to 6-string basses?
I started on 6-strings in 1991 because all of the notes I need at a given point are in the same position— I don’t need to go all over the neck for different octaves. It also came when I was starting to experiment with chords, and I could do more on a 6-string than I could with a 5. I’m more comfortable playing my 6, even though with Prince I played my 5 primarily because I don’t need a lot of the high stuff.
You’re often regarded as the pioneer of modern gospel bass.
There’s a style they call gospel bass that didn’t exist when I first started, and I am who I am. Even Marcus Miller asked me about my playing style and where it came from. I told him there was no precedent when I was coming up; I set my own. Gospel music runs so much of the music business now. Ninety percent of the cats that are doing all the gigs started off in the church. Gospel bass is everywhere—R&B, jazz, hip-hop— all of that music came from gospel. I just don’t put the title in a box and seal it as one thing.
Many players cite you as a mentor. What inspires you to help guide them?
The biggest thing I remember years ago is that somebody gave me a chance. I remember what it was like to need that chance, so I want to give that to other players. I’ve learned that the blessings come from giving. I’ve given away a bunch of my basses; I’ve given away amps, strings. I remember what it was like going to Guitar Center and looking up at that wall of nice basses and wondering if I’d ever own one. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d have my name on one of those basses; that’s still surreal to me. I have amp and string endorsements now—I remember when I was boiling my strings because I couldn’t afford a new set. I remember what it’s like to not have things.
What advice do you have for young players trying to get where you are?
The main thing I tell young cats is to respect every position that you get into. Come in with a good attitude, and realize that when you get to a certain point where everyone is good, it’s not about how good you are; it’s about how you work with others, and how hard you work. Most important, be prepared. Don’t let anyone wait for you to get your part right. I’ve hired a lot of people and I’ll hire someone who isn’t as good as the other guys, but he’s better prepared and has a better attitude. Those things go a long way.
Andrew Gouche, This Is Who I Am 
Basses MTD Andrew Gouche Signature 5- and 6-strings
Rig Epifani UL 902C, 2 Epifani UL D.I.S.T. 410 cabinet
Strings Dean Markley SR2000 Light