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An Interview with Thomas Risell, the Man Behind MarloweDK

Thomas 'MarloweDK' RisellIf you’re a bassist who spends any time on Youtube, there’s no doubt you’ve run into at least one video by MarloweDK.

After watching all his great playalongs and lessons for over a year, we decided it was time to find out more about the man himself, Thomas Risell.

Here’s our interview…

We know you attended the Copenhagen Music Conservatory. Tell us about your education there.

I took the Music Teacher Education program at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen. It was 4 year education with focus on teaching, but I also graduated in eartraining, arranging and theory.

What’s your day job?

Well, I’ve been a web designer and a teacher of web design programs for many years. Currently I’m trying to make my online bass lessons a full-time job. It seems very promising. I’m also doing gigs with local artists.

Do you/did you learn to play at all by watching videos?

Apart from the odd Louis Johnson, Jaco Pastorius videos, I’ve learnt to play by being in a band and by replicating my favorite bassists’ bass lines (from a turntable, of course). Now I learn new techniques and get inspired to play from watching videos on Youtube.

How did you decide to start posting instructional videos and playalongs on Youtube?

A friend introduced me to Youtube in 2006, and after a short period where I just used it to find favorite concert clips, I began to record playalongs, playing on top of mostly 70′s funk tracks. Many of the playalong songs I had been playing 20 years earlier, but they (and I) needed a serious “dust off”. I was at that time in a playing rut, had not practiced for years since I had been so involved in web design. But then it became fun again to practice, in order to perform on videos before a growing virtual audience. I didn’t really expect to get that popular, I mainly did it for my own sake.

What do you feel were the biggest reasons for your huge popularity on Youtube?

It was the “playalongs” first and foremost, I mean not many people played these tracks on Youtube. I apparently inspired the youngsters who discovered “new” old music, and also a lot of “retired” bass players of my own generation got inspired to play again. I also think that my enjoyment of playing bass shows!

We remember when you were banned from Youtube, due to the copyright claims. What are your thoughts on the issue of copyrights and playalongs?

Generally, I of course think that copyright should be respected. But in the case of my playalongs I believe that I was actually promoting the artists songs since a lot of my subscribers went and bought the original recordings, especially the older stuff that got rediscovered by young players .

How does your instruction-based site (playbassnow.com) work in conjunction with your Youtube videos?

Most of my own videos are the same on both sites, but playbassnow.com has additional sections with practice/playing advice, recommendations and reviews of learning material and free downloadable backing tracks and transcriptions – more than 600 pages of content.

And of course PBN also have a lot of lessons from talented guest teachers from around the globe.

You’ve shown plenty of bassists how to play plenty of the great bass lines ever recorded. Which ones do you count as your favorites?

There are of course many, but among the favorites are:

  • Nathan Watts on Stevie Wonders “Do I Do”
  • Bobby Vegas on Sly Stone’s “I Get High on You”
  • Larry Graham on Graham Central Station’s “Pow”, “Release Yourself” and “Hair”
  • Louis Johnson on Brothers Johnson’s “Get the Funk Out Ma Face” and “Mista Cool”
  • Francis Rocco Prestia on Tower of Power’s “Ebony Jam”
  • Neil Jason on Brecker Bros’ “East River”

Again, I could continue, of course…

Who are your biggest influences in music?

Prince, Larry Graham, Stevie Wonder, Jaco Pastorius, Rocco Prestia, Neil Jason, Verdine White, Bobby Vega, Marcus Miller, Louis Johnson…

Again, I could continue, of course…

MarloweDK's basses

Anyone who has watched your video knows you have quite an impressive collection of basses. How many do you own? What are some of your favorites?

Well, the collection changes from time to time, recently i swapped a Double bass for an electric bass i never really got to be friends with. How many do I own? Well, let me see… in order of “appearance” / what I’m playing right now (favorites are prone to change):

  • 2003(?) Fender Jazz bass – Marcus Miller signature model, made in Japan: Great axe with a great neck, this has been my main workhorse in recent years.
  • 2010 Sandberg California JJ: a jazz bass type with a very fast neck too, very easy to play.
  • 1971 Fender Jazz bass (the red one): hand painted by me after seeing Neil Jason With the Brecker Brothers. Very twangy!
  • 1963 Fender Jazz bass: my relic, has the warmest sound you can imagine.
  • 1977 Music Man Stingray: I finally got the “Louis Johnson” bass a couple of years ago, but it needs a major overhaul.
  • 2006 Rickenbacker 4003: I use it mainly for my rock jobs and where looks count… a very special bass that sounds really great with a pick.
  • 1976 Fender Precision: Right now strung with Black Nylons for a old school sound, not easy to play, but has that “Oooomphhh”!

I also have a Godin 5 string, a SX fretless, a SX shortscale bass which i use as Piccolo bass , a Maison electro acoustic bass for “bass around the campfire”, a Yamaha TRB 6 string and a German double bass i get a lot of fun out of right now.

I also babysit a Alembic and another 70′s Precision bass for friends.

What do you look for in a bass? Is there one you want that’s not already have in your collection?

Playability is my main concern, i like fast necks with low action especially for slapping. I would love to have a Höffner Beatle bass or maybe the Höffner Club bass for some muted picking. Otherwise I’m fine right now, though there is always room for one more bass in my studio!

What’s next for you?

I’m working on 2 albums with local artists, Love Shop (electro-pop) and Al Campos & Soulharmonic (soul and funk). And I’m constantly refining my online teaching. I am aiming for that “perfect” lesson that gives the most people that light bulb moment! My plans for world supremacy also include turning Playbassnow.com into a portal of great bass lessons from many very different players.

And maybe a DVD or book might be the next natural step since i do love to “preach the gospel of bass”.

For more, check out playbassnow.com and Marlowedk’s Youtube channel.

No Treble contributors Flemming Dørken and Phil Wain contributed to this interview.