Grooves & Sushi: An Interview with Norm Stockton

Norm Stockton

Norm Stockton is giving music lovers an inside look at musician hangouts and the creation process with a new project called Grooves & Sushi. The concept is simple: he invites world-class musicians to his home for recording sessions and epic roundtable discussions while being fed world-class sushi. Stockton called on artists like Gregg Bissonette, Eddie Brown, Zoro, Brandyn Phillips, Brian Willett, and more to take part in the project, which is currently available as a web series on YouTube.

“While some of us have worked together in the past, this band has never played together and this song has never been performed before this taping,” Stockton says at the beginning of each episode.

It’s certainly an intriguing way to make an album, so we reached out to Stockton to get the scoop on Grooves & Sushi and his insight to the process of making music.

What inspired you to pursue this project?

The long answer is that it was a combination of factors: lots of new song ideas coming to me, a vision to do a different sort of project from my previous ones, the ubiquitousness of crowdfunding (a business model to which I took a long time to warm up), and the encouragement of an engineer friend of mine to leave it to fans of my music to decide whether they wanted to hear new music from me or not.

The shorter answer is: “Hmmm… I wonder if an instrumental music/sushi-based version of ‘Live from Daryl’s House’ would be fun.”

How did you decide who to call? You must have a huge Rolodex of musicians.

Ha – I’m super grateful to have iconic and world-class players that I also count among my friends.

One of the things I really wanted to explore on Grooves & Sushi was the juxtaposition of musical genres. That’s admittedly not a unique concept, but I feel like the version of it that we landed upon is different from anything I’ve personally come across yet.

I love a REALLY broad range of music. What I’d never heard before was this particular juxtaposition, where funk/fusion/contemporary jazz is immersed in sonic elements and textures from modern rock and pop/EDM (I also employed some overt, frequently impolite and occasionally bizarre effects on my bass).

So that informed my choices of players for each of the live video shoot/recording sessions. The players spanned a wide spectrum and I knew each to be fabulous, emotive musicians…but not all were experienced in performing the kind of music we tracked in the shoot.

Were there any surprises that arose during the sessions from putting each group together?

There were several, and they were all good surprises!

I discovered through the process that some of the most stunning players weren’t reading; they were simply listening and responding. Candidly, that was super concerning at first, as we were on a really tight timeframe to track some fairly challenging tunes before the sushi chef arrived to begin meal prep! But also pretty mind-blowing to observe gigantic ears and enormous musical vocabularies emerge and step to the forefront. It took a few passes to solidify, but then it was next level.

Also, jumping back to your previous question, I’m SO stoked with what some of the more pop- and rock-oriented players brought to the table in terms of textures and mood. It was an untested concept that I was confident could work (based upon some early demos) — however, it was still a gamble that could have gone poorly. But those textures injected such a fresh and inspiring vibe; to my ear, it completely updated the sonic palette and made it much more interesting and accessible to folks who might not normally enjoy this sort of instrumental music.

On the topic of knowing lots of players, what networking tips do you give to up and comers?

I think the biggest factor is that I never really set out to network, per se. It happened organically and relationally through years of doing this. There were a few players that I’d never actually played with until this project, but they’re folks that I’d met over the years (at NAMM or various events).

I think the best advice I can give is to just be a nice, friendly, encouraging, authentic, and humble person to all the people you meet. And obviously, practice diligently at your craft and learn the art of playing collaboratively (vs. always turning the tune into a feature for yourself). In my experience, few people will go out of their way to play or hang with an arrogant, difficult or self-absorbed person, regardless of their musical ability level (this topic actually came up over sushi in one of the G&S episodes!). On the other hand, most people enjoy making music with people who have honed their craft AND are uplifting people to be around.

But try to avoid “networking”—it will almost always come off as such and is likely to turn people off.

Did you write the music out, or was there much input from the other performers?

Norm StocktonI did have rhythm charts with melodies and hits notated, but there was much room for interpretation by the other players.

This project brought together musicians who had never performed together, playing music that had never been played before! Add to that time constraints (each shoot had a fairly tight window within which the music had to be completed). So I demoed up the songs ahead of time to allow us to quickly get in the ballpark in terms of parts and sounds.

But there were tons of magical moments that happened spontaneously in the session, for sure.

What is your general writing process like, and was this project any different?

I’ve always had some sort of portable recording device handy (obviously easier today with iPhones, etc.—back in the day, I used a microcassette recorder). Anyway, I’d use it as a musical sketchpad; anytime I had a groove or melodic idea or stumbled upon something interesting while woodshedding, I would sing or play it into the recorder.

After several years, I’d have 2-3 hours of ideas to sift through. Some of it wasn’t great, but the ideas that stood the test of time would be set aside, transcribed (if needed) and worked through to see if they were compatible with any of the other ideas to possibly form the foundation of a song.

That’s the process I’ve used on every project I’ve done as an artist, including Grooves & Sushi. There are folks who can sit down on schedule and write something brilliant and inspired; that’s not my preferred mode! I much prefer to let the inspiration come when it may, simply document it, then do the discipline and work of crafting/refining/arranging those inspired moments later. I also find it invaluable to be able to listen with fresh and objective ears much later. Anything that still sounds good a year later…just might be!

With 7 episodes and singles released so far, is the project nearing completion?

That’s a GREAT and timely question!

I’ve completed 3 of the planned 4 shoots and am currently at a crossroads; either wrap it up now or do the last shoot (slated to include drum phenom Chris Coleman and guitarist Lincoln Brewster) for a total of 11 songs, with 5.1 surround mixes, etc.

I’m short on funds to do that last shoot but sent out a final ask to my mailing list & social media early this week…and the response is once again incredibly generous. My sponsors are also stepping up in an amazing way. I’m making a very exciting announcement on FaceBook Live tonight (Thursday, 9/26/19) at 6 pm PST. Suffice it to say that if anyone reading this is looking for some great deals on fabulous gear, you’ll want to tune in.

So I’m holding the whole project with open hands. If sufficient funds don’t come in, I’m so grateful to have come this far and will wrap it up with the 9 songs and zero regrets. If the funds do come in, I’ll dive in for one last bombastic shoot. I’m candidly hoping to do the last session because one of the tunes slated for that shoot is one of my faves of the entire project…so leaving it on the cutting room floor would hurt, for sure.

Can you give us a rundown of your gear?

Norm StocktonI enthusiastically used everything listed below for this project. This list includes a lot of equipment from my longtime endorsement relationships that continue to be my absolute favorite gear with which to make music, while some other pieces are recent acquisitions that I just think are great.

  • MTD Norm Stockton Artist Edition fretted 5-string bass
  • MTD 535 (#252) fretted 5-string bass
  • MTD 735 (#552) fretted 7-string bass
  • All of my MTD’s are equipped with Bartolini pickups and electronics
  • Kala U-Bass fretted 4-string with LR Baggs electronics
  • Gallien-Krueger 1001RB head
  • Gallien-Krueger Neo 112 cab
  • A-Designs REDDI tube direct box w/ Essential Sound Products power cable
  • Peterson StroboClip HD clip-on tuner
  • Gruv Gear Solo Strap
  • Gruv Gear FretWrap
  • Dunlop Super Bright stainless steel roundwound strings (45-130 tapered B)
  • API A2D mic pre
  • 64 Audio A12 in-ear monitors
  • BackBeat
  • Sinasoid cables
  • Radial JDI & J48 direct boxes
  • Radial X-Amp Reamper

and for effect pedals:

  • Matthews Effects Conductor
  • Matthews Effects Chemist
  • Matthews Effects Cosmonaut
  • Aguilar Filter Twin
  • Malekko Charlie Foxtrot
  • Earthquaker Devices Organizer
  • Red Witch Zeus
  • Amptweaker Tight Drive Jr.
  • Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2

I recently shot a clip that will be posted to YouTube and comprehensively covers all the gear I used on Grooves & Sushi (including lots of sound bites). It should be published in the next month or so.

What’s your favorite sushi roll?

Ha! Pretty much impossible for me to answer…kind of like, “Which of my daughters is my favorite?”

Having been born & raised in Japan (I’m half-Japanese), sushi is probably embedded in my DNA. What was cool is that Chef Kevin Garrison (“ronin.chef” on Instagram) prepared absolutely spectacular meals for us…so there was no acting required or reflected in our enjoyment of the sushi and sashimi!

Ok…since you asked: as far as rolls go, I am partial to spicy tuna, as well as my childhood fave, kanpyou maki. But I mostly love nigiri: toro, ikura, sake (salmon, not the beverage), etc.

Now I’m getting hungry!

In closing, thanks again for inviting me back to No Treble! To anyone reading this: please consider this a personal invitation to join me and the guys for some very fun music, as well as some compelling thoughts on music, creativity, funny road stories and more…over some amazing sushi! God bless you.

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  1. MikeyM.

    I’ve totally been enjoying Norm’s video series as he posts them. As well, I’m a fan of his in the Worship setting with Lincoln, and his Grooving for Heaven instruction dvds. He’s a incredible player and a cool cat. I meet him in Redwood City at one of the BassQuake Conventions several years ago. If you haven’t seen or heard him play, grab some sushi, a Sapporo, and enjoy!