An Interview with Damian Erskine
A: Wow. I could likely write another book with an honest answer to that question! In some ways, I feel like I’ve come quite far but, in most respects, I feel like I’m just now beginning to understand what my role in music is. Knowing my personality, I’ll likely always feel like I’m just now finally getting somewhere on the instrument and within music. I do know what I want to sound like, which is key, and I’ve also come to understand my voice on the instrument. In the bigger picture, I just look forward to seeing how far I can go before time runs out, and where it leads me.
The chops come with hours spent on the instrument via muscle memory, especially if you are focusing on challenging music and rhythms, like I did. I tell most of my students to never play anything faster than they can play cleanly. When practicing, focusing on playing things cleanly, articulately, slowly and controlled builds proper muscle memory. Long story, short? Focus on tone and feel. Be a great bass player before you worry about being anything else on the instrument.
A: Pete and I met while he was still living in Dallas. I was passing through on a tour with Tony Furtado and was lucky enough to meet Pete and I got to try a few of his basses. The most interesting part of that story is that Pete asked to play the bass I was playing at the time, which was a Zon 4 or 6 string. I can’t remember which bass I had on that tour. While Pete and I kept in touch, we didn’t talk too much about a build until a few years later when I realized that I really wanted to go back to wooden necks for my 6 string bass. I never liked the C string on a graphite neck. It was just a little too brittle for my ears. Pete actually remembered an incredible amount about how I had my bass set up and totally understood what I was talking about when we spoke of what I was, and wasn’t, getting out of the bass. He then sent me one extra bass he had laying around just to get my input on what I would change, which I thought was pretty amazing in its own right! The best part was when I told him what I liked and what wasn’t quite right for me, he married that with what he knew of my other basses and got to work on my first custom built Skjold. He absolutely knocked it out of the park.
The thing that I find unique about Pete is his ability to really hone in on exactly what a player wants. Not only that, he understands my very-NON-technical descriptions of what sound I want, how I want it to feel and, because he is a player himself, is able to translate that into a tactile and aural representation of what it is I meant in his instruments. He can turn my, “I want it to sound like chocolate, but defined, not brittle… but defined, punchy, but not to much burp” type descriptions and absolutely nail the sound. Combining that with the fact that he remembered how I like my bass to feel and was so willing to work with me on some things that I had on my wishlist for the body and just nailed it on the first try. I was sold. Every instrument since has been the perfect manifestation of what we set out to do with it. He’s pretty spectacular and very attentive to the needs of the player. He’s not just trying to make basses and move product. He’s trying to make your dream bass and he’s very, very good at what he does.
A: I may have answered much of this already but it’s his attention to detail and the function of the instrument as it relates to the players needs. Every Skjold bass I own feels like the best bass of its kind that I’ve tried, the best 4 string, the best 6 string, and so on. He’s given me everything I wanted in the function of the body, such as easy access to the upper register of the fretboard, a lower bout that sits the bass well and in a good position on my leg while also balancing perfectly, and a slim neck that is also stable. He’s also given me everything I wanted sonically, a 6 string that sounds even from top to bottom, and a four string that growls and articulates just so. He just builds me what I want and what I need. Every time, and without fail.
Q: I really like the idea of an album being able to be labeled as belonging to any of the featured players and it would still make sense. Great concept. As a final note, we know the catacomb option largely exists because of the close collaboration between you and Pete. Is there a possibility of any future innovations between you two in store for the future?
The Catacomb, I’m excited about because I’m already floored by my Catacomb 6 string, which was Pete’s first attempt at such an instrument. It blows me away, so when he tells me that he’s improved upon it greatly, I can’t even imagine it. I’ll just have to wait and hear for myself!
Q: All of it sounds great. Thanks for your time Damian!
A: Thanks for having me!
Visit Damian Erskine at www.damianerskine.com
Interview conducted by Jared Morante