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Shez Raja & Guthrie Govan - an Inspired Collaboration!

19 February 2024

Shez Raja Guthrie Govan Pizza 825x540 2024 by TG

Thanks to the always inspiring bassist and bandleader Shez Raja for doing this interview with us in advance of his upcoming 606 shows on Thursday 7 and Friday 8 March! Both of these nights, which feature Shez' latest musical collaborator, the phenomenal guitarist Guthrie Govan are already fully booked, but we hope that this is just the beginning for this tantalizing musical partnership. 

Photo by Tatiana Gorilovsky.

Shez Raja - Anything is Possible 

Q: Shez, your musical career has been nothing if not eclectic! From playing with artists such as MC Lyte, Loka & Elephant Talk, followed by various intriguing collaborations on your own albums with Randy Brecker, Mike Stern & others and, last but not least, your record working with musicians from the Punjab, you are seemingly on a journey of endless exploration. What were your early musical influences as a young person, what styles of music did you imprint on in your formative years?

A: Ultimately, I drew a huge amount of inspiration from some of the great contemporary jazz bass players such as Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten and John Patitucci. But some people may be surprised to learn that my journey started quite differently. As an early teen, I was heavily into hard rock and metal bands. I really loved Iron Maiden and their bass player Steve Harris and also Metallica and their bass player Cliff Burton. The rock scene in the 90s got really interesting with the rise of new funk/rock crossover bands like the early Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Fishbone, Living Colour and Infectious Grooves. This led me to checking out the legendary funk bands like Parliament, Funkadelic, Tower of Power and Defunkt. And from there I discovered jazz and immersed myself in everything from bebop to fusion which was when I discovered Weather Report, Jaco and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. In parallel with all of this I would listen to my dad singing Indian ragas around the house which I think permeated my subconscious and influenced my approach to composition. Later in my teens I branched out into world music, and all styles of music really – anything and everything that resonated with me – and my musical tastes remain pretty eclectic to this day.

Q: Your latest collaborator is the incredible guitarist Guthrie Govan (Guitarist Magazine’s Guitarist of the Year). You seem to have a knack for putting together these amazing musical connections. How did you meet Guthrie, and what about him stood out as someone you would like to play with?

A: I’ve always loved guitarists and I think there’s a guitarist’s sensibility to my own playing. I’ve been fortunate to have collaborated with some of my favourite guitarists in the world including Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz and John Etheridge. Guthrie is also someone I’ve hugely admired over the years. I always like to play with musicians who have their own distinctive voice and he’s a true visionary and super creative. I connected with Guthrie through a mutual musician friend. It's always fascinating to play with a new musician for the first time. Even though I’m familiar with Guthrie’s playing, you never quite know how the story is going to unfold and what the chemistry’s going to be like. Our first gig together was therefore a bit like a musical blind date. We connected, and sparks flew! It was an exciting energy and I can’t wait to share this experience with the audiences at the 606.

Q: You were voted one of the ‘hottest bass players in the world’ by Bass Player Magazine. How would you define a hot bass player, what are the attributes that you have focused on developing as a professional musician?

A: Some people have interpreted this ‘hot bass player’ accolade as someone who looks good in their underwear [laughs]. I think though that being a hot bass player is like cooking the perfect curry. You need the right blend of a few key ingredients, strong groove, great technique and a dash of showmanship. More generally, I believe the key attribute of a successful musician is to be authentic with your emotions and share your joy with the audience in a way that hopefully moves and inspires them.

Q: It seems one quality that is important to success in music is confidence. Is that something you have naturally, and how has it helped you?

A:  Interesting question. I’d say I’m naturally quite confident and yes, I think confidence, or at least conveying confidence is important in many situations in music. Sometimes I borrow confidence from the future, for example visualizing a great performance if I’m feeling nervous before going on stage. I had a very flattering review once that suggested I’m fearless as a musician. I’m grateful for the sentiment but of course no-one is truly fearless, fear is a basic human instinct and also one that can work against us as musicians, for example in the form of anxiety on stage from the thought of being judged or making a mistake. I think confidence often comes from tackling fear head on, rationalising it, considering the worst case scenario in a given situation (which is usually not that bad) and having a plan for when something unexpected happens. As well as playing bass I also run inspiration and creativity masterclasses and a creativity-boosting idea I share is all about the benefits of making mistakes and then harnessing them to reveal fresh musical ideas. I do have some practical approaches to lifting my own confidence. I once read a quote along the lines of ‘Fear is just excitement without the breath’ and I find that focusing on my breath (for example 7/11 breathing where you breath in for the count of 7 and breath out for the count of 11) can quickly calm any anxiety and increase confidence. A final thought on being confident in the music world is to recognise your uniqueness, be grateful for your achievements and to focus on your value and worth.

Q: Along with many other industries, the music world is being affected by technologies such as AI. How do you think it will impact artistic creativity, as well as the economics of the music industry itself?

A: Another interesting question! AI is already sparking new creative dimensions in learning and composing, but we musicians need to keep the soul in the machine. While AI can assist us, it can’t replace the emotions and unique expressions that artists bring to their craft. 

On the economic front, technology has altered the landscape. Streaming, algorithms, and virtual concerts have changed how we earn. It's a double-edged sword – wider reach but sometimes thinner pockets. As artists and humans, I’m confident that we’ll adapt without losing the essence of our art.

Q; Your upcoming 606 shows on the 7th and 8th of March with Guthrie are already fully booked. Given the obvious interest in this partnership, do you have plans to take it to the next level, e.g. make an album or something along those lines?

A: The interest in our collaboration has been overwhelming. We’re very excited about the upcoming 606 shows and there’ll certainly be more live collaborations. I’d say at this stage that anything is possible!


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