Bass phenom ready to represent
Former high school track-and-field athlete Nik West isn’t in the hunt for gold anymore, having long ago swapped her Nikes for a Fender bass guitar.
Nowadays, the 20-something musician, instantly identifiable by her fluorescent crest of hair, sprints between airport gates as she tours the world as an indemand side player and solo artist, wowing audiences and fellow artists alike with her nimble fretwork and animated stage presence.
The bass phenom touches down in Memphis for a concert Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Halloran Centre. Even as she just catches glimpses of the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro while touring, West says she does share at least one goal with such Olympians as Allyson Felix, Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky.
“I like to go around and inspire girls to do something more with their lives,” she says during a rare down moment at her family’s home in Phoenix, Arizona.
West’s mentoring impulse led her to start the annual “Queen of Strings” competition to encourage young female guitar and bass players. And she has helped other girls in quieter ways, such as the oncetroubled Detroit-area teen to whom West gives regular bass lessons via Skype.
“She’s actually going to be playing on stage with me in Detroit the day after Memphis,” says West. “That’s the part of it I really love doing. … My dream has always been to open up a school and just teach other kids. If I wasn’t doing music, I would have been a math teacher. So any opportunity I have, I’m on the lookout for some girls who need some help and some mentorship.”
Growing up in Phoenix, West found plenty of mentors in her large, talented family, which includes two uncles who competed in the Olympics. Besides athletics, she excelled in academics, studying chemical engineering in college. Her father put her in a singing group with her sisters when she was 3. Soon she learned to play as well — guitar, clarinet and violin. But one 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Halloran Centre, 225 S. Main. Tickets: $49.50-$55.50; available at the Orpheum box office (901-525-3000) and through Ticketmaster. For more information, visit orpheum-memphis. com.
day she actually sat down and listened to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” with the popping bass line of bass legend Louis Johnson on the lead-off track “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and she knew she had found her true passion.
“I am an overachiever, and the thing is a lot of those things I didn’t have to work hard,” she says. “Picking up and learning an instrument was the first thing I actually had to work at, so I figured that would be my career path.”
She had to find her way onto that path through unconventional means, however. Throughout college, West honed her chops, but she couldn’t find work playing music.
“Nobody would give me a gig,” she recalls. “I was a solid bass player. If someone said play ‘Déjà Vu’ by Beyoncé, all I had to do was listen to it, and I could pick up on it and I could play it. But for some reason, in my hometown they were like, ‘a chick bass player? What’s that?’ Which is the reason my name was shortened to Nik because I would go on Craigslist and try to get gigs, and every time it was Nicci or Nicole, nobody would respond, but when I put Nik, I got all these responses.”
West’s big break came not through shows in Phoenix-area clubs, but with the help of the Internet. She built a website with videos of her playing to serve as a calling card. Then one day she reached out to the Fender guitar company with a technical issue. The folks at Fender looked at her site and, seeing how good she was, offered her an endorsement deal.
West was featured on Fender’s website, where she was found by Dave Stewart, one half of best-selling duo Eurythmics. At the time he was putting together an all-female band to back Michael Jackson. That project never came together, but Stewart ended up using West on his own solo project and became something of a mentor. Through him, West’s career horizons opened up, winning her high-wattage industry vets like super producer Glen Ballard, bass legend Bootsy Collins, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler as fans.
Someone else she met through Stewart was Australian guitarist Orianthi. A frequent collaborator, Orianthi is featured on West’s just-released new EP, “Say Somethin.’” The record is the follow-up to her fulllength debut, “Just In the Nik of Time,” but she says the two efforts are very different.
“The first album is kind of about me working with a friend and a producer that kind of said, ‘We think you should sound like this. You should go for the Erykah Badu kind of thing,’” West says. “This EP was all about me writing and me producing and just doing what I wanted to do. So you see a variety of different things.”
Bassist and bandleader Nik West plays a show Thursday, Aug. 25 at the Halloran Centre.