Bass phe­nom ready to rep­re­sent

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - LISTENING LOG - By Mark Jor­dan Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

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.

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