Originally published January 2004
Greta Brinkman- Bassist
By Rob Watts
Photos By Russ Bryant @ redstarphoto.com
Hello! Our Throwback Thursday interview is with Greta Brinkman. Greta is a very talented bass player who has worked with an impressive line up of bands and musicians over the years such as L7, Debbie Harry, Unseen Force and as of late, Moby. Greta also had a metal band called atomizer and the music rocks. She was kind enough to do an interview with us right after she got off tour with Moby so please enjoy what this lovely and gifted musician had to say to us.
Rob-Where are you from originally?
Greta- First of all, thank you for your interest. I was born in South Africa and lived in Trinidad for a few years, we didn’t come to the States ’til I was 7 so I have always traveled a lot!
When did you start playing bass?
It was kind of an accident. Someone had left a bass behind in the rooming house where I lived when I was 16, and I just picked it up and started playing along to the Ramones.
Did you take lessons or were you self taught?
I learned basically by playing along to simple punk rock records, and then joined a simple punk rock band. It was a great time to be a beginning musician because you really didn’t have to play very well!
Are there any musicians in your family at all?
No, I just always loved music.
Do you play any other instuments or are there any instruments that you’re interested in learning?
I really wish I played guitar, not because I love the sound so much but because it’s a way better instrument for writing songs. I dabble in keyboards a little but would never consider myself a keyboardist!
You’re right-handed, however, you play your instrument left-handed. Is there any specific reason behind that or is it natural ?
When I first started in that simple punk band, I knew NOTHING about anything. It seemed logical to me that the fat string should go on the bottom, and I found it easier to finger the neck with my right hand (that first bass was a real piece of crap). As a result, I’m one of about 5 bassists that I know of worldwide to play left-handed upside down. It’s completely “wrong” , of course.
Growing up, what bands were you influenced by?
I really loved the stuff coming out of England in the late 70’s- early 80’s. Bands like the Stranglers, Ultravox, and the Cure were hugely exciting to me and I still have a soft spot for rock bands with keyboards.
Could you tell us a little about the first few bands that you played in?
Oh, now you’re going way back! First was a series of punk and HC bands, which was great because I got to learn as I went. Later on I moved to pop bands and even a Bossa-Nova/punk band. My third band, Unseen Force, actually put out an album and did a tour of the States, this was back in the day (1985/6) when you’d pile in the van and stay on people’s floors. It was a great time in the American music scene!
In 1994, you played bass on Debbie Harry’s solo tour. How did that gig come about?
I met Chris Stein (Blondie’s guitarist and Debbie’s partner for many years) when Unseen Force played in Kansas. Chris was visiting William S. Burroughs, who lived in Kansas at the time. Chris and I stayed friends until 1994 when Debbie needed a bassist for a tour in England.
I’ve met Debbie Harry and she seems very laid back as opposed to when she is performing live. What is your best memory that comes to mind right now about touring with her?
I absolutely love Debbie. Besides being very professional she is very gracious to her fans, and is also hysterically funny . One memory that sticks in my mind from that tour was in England, where they drive on the left, and we had an American van with the steering wheel on the usual American side. One day Deb and I went to the local flea market or something and she drove. She’s a very good driver anyway, but I was totally in awe how she navigated the roundabouts from the WRONG side of the van, on the “WRONG” side of the road, while I fed her french fries (they call them “chips” there). There’s no big story here, no car crashes or anything, but for me it was a really unique, special moment.
What was your biggest learning experience on that tour?
It was quite an eye-opener for me in many ways. I’d never been around someone with such devoted fans and it was really something to see people travel from all over and sleep in their cars to see show after show. Also, up to then I thought of “big time” show business as some kind of magical distant world, but I came to realize that people are much the same at all levels. Everybody gets cranky when they don’t eat. Everybody gets tired from touring. Things like that.
You’ve played bass on L7 “The beauty process” album, as well as a number of other cool bands like The Nuns on the “God that rules me” album. Was it intimidating in the recording studio with those bands or were you pretty much at ease during the recording process?
I was actually quite nervous about the L7 recording for a couple of reasons. There was a serious time constraint, they were already over time at the studio and really needed to get everything done in 2 days. I was playing along to the tracks which were already recorded, so there were no other band members in the room. And this was my first recording on a major label record, with a producer who was very detail-oriented. It turned out OK I guess, but as always, I wish I had had more time.
The NUNS project was the exact opposite. I was playing along to prerecorded tracks again, but this time with a live drummer (the amazing THOMMY PRICE from the Billy Idol band), and it makes a huge difference when I can actually look at the drumer as we play together. And the atmosphere was a lot more casual, as it was an independent project.
So now after playing music for 18 years, Moby contacts you to tour for his “Play” album. Would you say that this was a big turning point for you? If yes, how so?
It was HUGE. The Moby gig had an enormous impact on my life in many ways. For one thing, I got to tour for 17 months nonstop and see many parts of the world I’d only dreamed of. I got to see how things work on a really big level and understand just how much work goes into a major production like that. And most importantly, it got people to take me seriously as a musician. As a direct result of my Moby gig, I now have happy relationships with all my favorite gear companies, and people like yourself ask me questions about my life!
What was supposed to be a six week long tour, turned out to be almost 2 years playing and touring with Moby. He must have been impressed with your work ethic.
I gotta tell you, if anybody should be impressed, it’s me being impressed with Mo’s work ethic. That guy works harder than anyone I’ve ever known. When the rest of us were too tired to leave our beds he’d be out there making an appearance at the local radio station or record store, it still boggles my mind.
Any future plans to work with Moby again?
I would be delighted to work with Mo again, at the moment he’s taking a (much-deserved!) hiatus from the road though.
Is there anyone specific that you would like to work with in the future?
This may sound cheesy, but I find something to enjoy and learn from with every person or band that I work with. That being said, I like touring and really enjoy the energy of a live rock show, so I would love to be one the road with someone like Queens of the Stone Age or the Melvins.
What type of bass guitars are you using these days?
I have a very friendly relationship with the CARVIN company, and they build guitars for me (nothing too ridiculous though, I don’t need a different guitar for every song or anything). I like Carvin because it’s an American company and the guitars are super comfortable and very light.
What advice would you give to a young musician starting out?
Well, first, it’s good to be clear about what you’re after. If it’s your dream to be a studio musician and work with lots of different people, then it would be good to read music, and you’ll need to move to where the action is: NYC or LA or maybe Nashville. On the other hand if it’s your dream to be in a band with people from your hometown, then good for you! Just make sure that you have all your agreements in place BEFORE people are offering you deals, because once there’s money to fight over things are going to be very different. Very, VERY different.
When you’re not playing music, what do you do for fun?
After years of wishing I could control my own website Bassgoddessgreta.com (see links), lately I’ve been teaching myself Dreamweaver and a little HTML so I can update my site at a moment’s notice. It is SO MUCH FUN and I wish I’d started a long time ago! Now my entire website is all homemade by me and it’s a great feeling!
Do you have any upcoming projects or are you on a little downtime now?
Since the end of the last Moby tour I’ve been working with a terrific metal band called ATOMIZER. We recorded our own independent CD and I’m very proud of it, there are MP3s on my website too…
We are based in Boston Ma. , so I have to ask….what is your best memory of our beautiful city?
I’m sorry to say I haven’t had much chance to really spend time in Boston, the times I have been there were just to play and leave again. But I’m impressed with the amazing music that comes out of there. My favorite album of the millenium, “Oceanic” , came from Boston, it’s by a band called ISIS.
We look forward to seeing you on tour again and wish you the best of luck with everything. Any parting words for the readers before we wrap up?
Can’t think of a thing, I think you covered it all! If anyone has questions or just wants to say hello, I have e-mail on the website. Thanks again for your interest.
All the best,
Interview by Rob Watts