Wonder Women: Liza Carbe

Liza Carbe

“You want to be ready when there is an opportunity, and you want to be able to make your opportunities.” – Liza Carbe

In this month’s installment of Wonder Women; Stories from the Women Who Play Bass, we’re checking in with Liza Carbe. Liza is perhaps best known as one of the co-founders of the internationally acclaimed, Billboard-charting Latin-guitar-world-fusion group Incendio. She’s a multi-talented author, composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist whose career includes both composing for TV and film (Entertainment Tonight, The History Channel), and extensive work as a touring musician (Vixen, Lindsey Buckingham, Leon Patillo).

Tell us about yourself.

I come from a musical and artistic family. My Sicilian-born father made his living as an animator and illustrator, and my parents met singing in a choir. I started singing when I was very young and was in my first musical production at age five.

When we moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles, I started studying the classical guitar as well as accompanying myself singing pop songs. My first guitar teacher was Burdell Mathis, who taught Spanish guitar, as well as fingerstyle and Jazz.

While getting my music degree at California State University Northridge, I started playing bass in rock bands. I immediately loved the instrument! I performed at all the rock clubs in LA like The Troubadour, The Whiskey, Madame Wong’s, and all the rest. When I graduated, I started touring and recording with the female metal band Vixen. I recorded an EP with them that was used in the 80’s movie Hardbodies. That was my entrance into ASCAP and understanding the importance of royalties.

I had also recorded with The Neoteric Orchestra on the album “The Pillory” by Jasun Martz, singing and playing an instrument that I had invented called the Zil – so the studio wasn’t foreign to me. One of the tracks I played on that album was for Zil and bowed cymbal, played by Paul Whitehead, best known for creating the Genesis album covers.

While living in Eureka, I apprenticed with an artist named Stan Bennett, who welded kinetic sculptures. After my music professor at the time, Stephen Ruppenthal, found out I welded, he asked me to create an instrument for one of my class assignments. That is how the Zil came about. I also developed a love of modern classical music from that same professor.

I continued playing in clubs and studied bass with Bunny Brunel and Jeff Berlin. Then I started touring with Leon Patillo from Santana on his “Love Around the World” tour. He had an all-female band, and we toured throughout the US, Canada, and Australia. It was very fun and funky music where we were all featured on our instruments and vocals.

I went on to put out an album with my own eclectic folk/jazz trio, Red Van Go, doing two tours of Japan.

In 1992, I was hired by Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac to be one of his guitarists and sing background on his Out of the Cradle tour. On the second leg of that tour, we opened for Tina Turner in Stadiums around the US, concluding at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. We then went on to Maui spending two-and-a-half weeks recording new music ideas with Lindsey, which years later ended up on the new Fleetwood Mac album.

I’d always been steering myself towards production and writing, so when that tour ended, my husband Jean-Pierre Durand and I started writing music for “Entertainment Tonight.” We continued writing for music libraries like Sonoton and Frameworks and scoring music for The History Channel and others.

In 2000 we joined forces with our partner Jim Stubblefield and formed our world music group Incendio. Since then, we’ve put out 11 albums of original music and toured all over the US and beyond, averaging about 130 shows annually. I also record and tour with the Carbe and Durand duo.

In July 2020, I released a book I wrote called “Thrive and Survive in the Music Business.” I broke down in detail how to successfully book your band and everything you need to know about royalties, complete with links and names. After coaching many clients and colleagues on these topics, I decided to put it all down in an easy-to-read-and-understand book to help my fellow musicians.

When I’m not touring, I am still writing music for production libraries, TV, and film and producing other artists. I am currently writing music in collaboration with Ballet Fantastique out of Eugene, Oregon, whom we have worked with before, on their upcoming modern ballet performance of the story of Robin Hood.

I endorse MTD basses, AMPEG amps, and Savarez.

I’ve been inspired and influenced by many bassists over the years, including Percy Jones, John Paul Jones, James Jamerson, and Mark King. Although there are so many great players who I love, Abraham Laboriel is the one bassist that I admire not only for his musicality and incredible groove, but his energy lights up the stage and everything he does.

Who were your influences?

I had a lot of different influences growing up. I listened to pop music like The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, and Led Zeppelin. I was studying Spanish guitar, so I listened to Sabicas and Segovia, and my parents were always listening to opera. So I had a wide range of music that I loved. I would say that with all these different styles, the main thing that I connected with was beautiful melodies. Whether it was Joni Mitchell, Puccini, Federico Torroba, or Led Zeppelin, it was always the melodies that I connected with. I started playing bass in college so my bass influences came later on. I was at a Brand X concert where I was sitting right above Percy Jones, and I really connected with the bass lines he was playing. It was right after that I started to play the bass. At that time I started listening to Mark King (from Level 42), Stanley Clarke, and Jeff Berlin, but the guy that I have always really connected with on so many levels is Abraham Laboriel. I love everything about his musical approach and overall vibe.

What are you woodshedding right now?

I’ve been doing so much writing and producing lately that I’ve been woodshedding orchestration and different production techniques. I’m currently writing music in the medieval style for a ballet that I’m working with. In college, I was a classical guitar and voice major, so I played and studied early music by composers such as John Dowland, Thomas Campion, and others. I’ve been getting my early orchestration chops together. On the bass side, I’ve been listening to a lot of Steely Dan and plan to start digging into their songs again when I get some time. I love those bass lines.

I joined a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band for a while and learned those bass parts. I was never way into that band, but I had a great time learning those bass lines. They are funky and really challenging.

We usually hear about the downsides of being a female in the music industry. Let’s flip the script; do you see any benefits?

Like most female musicians I’ve experienced the positive and negative sides. Over the years, I’ve played in several all-female bands. There was always a lot of excitement around those acts. There were people doing things for you and wanting to get involved in helping you in one way or another. There were labels checking you out to see if they were going to sign you and producers getting involved. It was fun. For the most part, all the women I played with were great musicians, and being a female band was still a novelty. Then, of course, there were groups that were specifically looking for a female musician to hire, so being one was an advantage! Haha!

What I have noticed is that when male musicians are good and secure in themselves, they don’t care or pay much attention to what gender you are. They are there to make great music and if you can do that, then that’s all that matters.

How are you handling working through the pandemic? How has technology helped (or hindered) you? Any tips to share?

My two groups, Incendio and the Carbe and Durand Duo, have developed a very nice following over the years. My husband, JP, and I also have a studio and are both pretty tech-savvy so when the pandemic hit, we started streaming concerts the very next Saturday after the lockdown. We promoted it to our mailing list and on social media; we did a concert once a week for about five months, then sporadically through the summer. We kept refining the sound, our gear, and our repertoire. Then we reached out to places that we normally performed and asked if we could do a streaming concert in conjunction with them. They’d advertise to their mailing list and we’d stream from our house. That way we’d get a new audience as well as the people that already knew us.

I had started writing a book called “Thrive and Survive in the Music Business” and was able to finish it because I finally had the time to focus since we weren’t on tour all the time. So we put that out on Amazon and then started teaching people how to implement the strategies about which we’d written. We helped artists establish their publishing companies and showed them how to get their DBA’s so they could open a bank account and control their publishing. We taught them about royalties, PRO’s, and how to get their music on all the streaming platforms.

We also started producing other artists that had wanted to record and now had the time. We recorded quite a bit of our own new music. We released through CD Baby, and have more on the way. It was a busy and very productive year. We had to quickly reinvent ourselves, but I think we did OK under the circumstances.

We are at a time when there are many tools available to us as musicians that we never had before. There are so many ways to promote yourself, book yourself, and record your own music that were not available even 10 years ago. It’s so important to focus on all the positive opportunities and take the time to learn about what’s out there. The one thing I always tell people is this, don’t wait for someone to do something for you, jump in and do it yourself! You will learn as you go, and find people that give you ideas; you will fall and you’ll get back up a little wiser than you were before. Keep asking questions and keep learning.

Any current projects that you can tell us about?

Currently, I’m working with Ballet Fantastique from Eugene Oregon, writing music for their upcoming performance of Robin Hood. They usually choreograph to existing music, but we didn’t have anything in the dark medieval style so I’m composing original music for the performance. Due to COVID, we don’t have a solid date but it will be performed sometime this year.

JP and I have been recording a series of duo guitar versions of songs that we enjoy to add to our catalog. We are now starting to work on a new album of our original music. This will be more fully orchestrated.

We just finished a modern metal album for one of the music libraries that we write for. That was fun!

I also have a project called Elkwood Lane that I’m doing with my friend Lisa Bueno. We’re calling it a lullaby album but it’s really evolved into more of a mellow pop project. We’re recording songs like “Rainbow Connection”, “Pure Imagination” and “As the World Falls Down by David Bowie”.

There are some other things in the works but I’ll announce them as they start taking shape.

Dream artist or band to collaborate with?

Peter Gabriel. He is such a dynamic performer and I love his voice, compositions, and production style.

Important cause or issue that you support?

I am a big supporter of Defenders of Wildlife and Greenpeace. I support animal and environmental causes. Jane Goodall and her group Roots and Shoots is another group that is very effective in helping to protect our environment.

What would you want to change about the music industry?

I’d like to see more venues so that musicians can play live music. Musicians, particularly young ones, learn to perform by playing live. It seems that here in the USA, there are less and less places to perform, as it has become more expensive to keep venues open. I’m not talking about showcase venues or having to pay to play, which is an awful concept. I’m talking about bars and clubs where you go play 4 sets a night and get paid; that opportunity should still be valued somehow.

Any new/emerging (or new to you) artists that you are into that we should all know about?

A group that I really love is Larkin Poe. They are two sisters that are very talented musicians, singers, and performers.

Any early experiences that shaped you as an artist now?

There have been a lot, but here are a couple. Touring with Vixen was my first gig out of college. It was eye-opening in many ways. We’d pull into these venues in the middle of nowhere to soundcheck. Sometimes they were big barns with a bar. I’d think “who is going to come out here for a concert?”. But sure enough, every night was packed with enthusiastic fans that came out from the farmlands. It was a lot of fun! I also started to learn about how the music business worked while I was with them. I recorded on their first EP that was used in the movie Hardbodies. I was a co-writer along with Tamara Ivanof on one of the songs, “Give It A Chance”, so I joined ASCAP and started receiving my first royalty payments. Tamara Ivanof was the rhythm guitarist at the time and one of the best songwriters that group ever had.

Years later I got a gig with Lindsey Buckingham on his first solo tour after leaving Fleetwood Mac, and that was a life-changer. He brought a 200% game to every performance. Playing guitar and singing right next to him every night was an incredible inspiration. He performed every song with such commitment and intensity. I would see the way the audience responded to that and how that level of commitment inspired all of us. It didn’t matter that he had played those songs thousands of times or that we were different musicians than he had performed with for years, he left everything on stage every night. It wasn’t just the musical performance either. He would run around the stage and engage with all of us. Lindsey pushed all of us to do our best and really put on a performance. It was an amazing time in my life. He inspired me to bring that level of commitment to my live performances. Once Incendio started touring regularly, I would always try to be engaging in my stage performance as well as musically. I really learned that from Lindsey and seeing it first hand every night.

Also on the second tour with Lindsey we opened for Tina Turner, so before our bus would head out I’d watch the first part of her performance. Every night she sang, danced, and performed with unfaltering commitment and passion for what she was doing. I am so thankful that I had that opportunity and learned so much from her.

You know bassists are all about the gear. And I’m definitely a gear nerd. So I have to ask…any recent game-changing acquisitions to your toolkit?

I play an MTD 5 string bass. I have two of them that I really love. I get a tone that is punchy and well-defined and also has a lot of low end. Live, I play an Ampeg PF-800 through a 4×10 cabinet, but also play an SVT-4 or SVT-7 at larger venues. I’ve been through a lot of different gear over the years but this MTD/Ampeg combo gets the sound I like. I have been with MTD a long time and I’m good friends with Michael. I like him as a luthier and a person and that means a lot to me. The folks at Ampeg have also been very supportive over the years.

I also have three Hanewinkel basses that I sometimes record with. He is also a great luthier and human. His basses are much heavier than the MTD’s so I only use them in the studio. When I record, I go direct through the Avalon 737SP or sometimes through my old original pre-Fender SWR 220. I use a variety of plugins when I mix. It really depends on the recording.

I use the Fabfilter Pro C2 compressor, the Waves Audio 1176 & CLA-2A compressor, the Renaissance compressor, the API 550 equalizer, the MOTU Masterworks eq, and others, of course. I found, after working with another producer, that these plugins allowed me to tame and focus my sound so it sits nicely in the mix.

What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

My advice is to be careful because I have small feet. No seriously, my advice would be to practice and get out there and play. Nothing replaces performing for getting your chops together. Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself centered. Work out, do yoga, read. Keep yourself mentally and emotionally healthy, and always keep your goal in mind and keep reaching for that goal. Surround yourself with positive people that are also passionate about music and their career. Negative people with unhealthy habits are detrimental and will bring you down. Learn as much as you can about the business. This will be very helpful to you in your career!

Also, don’t complain and focus on the negative part of the industry or life in general. I’m not saying to not acknowledge it – you have to be aware of it – but focus on how you navigate and use the positive aspects around you to move forward. Stay excited and enjoy the journey.

What drew you to the music industry?

Well, music drew me to the music industry. I wanted to play, write and perform music. I knew nothing of the business until I started working in it.

What’s an average day like for you?

My days are structured around what projects I’m working on. For instance, I’m writing for the ballet, so based on what I’m writing that day, I listen to music in the style that I’m writing. I immerse myself in that vibe. Then I’m in the studio writing, recording parts and everything that has to do with conceptualizing and producing that music. I will often have meetings with whomever I’m writing or producing to talk about where we are and what needs to be changed.

I will talk to other clients to find times when they can come in and record, and then coordinate other musicians to play on our tracks or on tracks that we are producing for other people. That can consist of finding a time for them to come in, or, if they have their own studio, then I have to make stems of the recording to send to them so that they can control the mix they are recording to.

If someone has sent me a track to record bass or guitar on then I have to import the stems and set up a template to record my parts on their song and send them back.

I might make a live video of me playing to put on social media. Then I’ll make a lyric video of songs I’ve written or produced in Final Cut Pro to promote them on Youtube and or Facebook and Instagram.

I try posting different projects I’m working on semi-regularly on FB and Instagram

If I’m getting ready for a gig or a tour, I start practicing all the songs I’m going to be playing. After that, I have to make sure that I have all my gear in order to perform.
Then, of course, there is advancing the show, making sure that all the contracts are signed and taken care of. If we are touring, we are making sure that all the planes, cars, and hotels are taken care of. This is making me tired thinking about what I do…lol.

I try to walk the dog and work out or do yoga to break things up. But anyway…the day continues like that. I like staying home and writing and producing.

What’s your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite part? Why?

I would like to see the musician, composer, creator valued and treated with more respect. Far too often, the people doing the business end of things take advantage of the people that create the products that they in turn make money off of. They treat the creator as something they can toss out and find another one.

My favorite part is writing and producing. I’m in one place and have control over creating something. I don’t have to deal with a lot of different people or situations and I love writing. That being said, there is nothing like a great live performance, when everyone in the band is soaring and you are really connecting with the audience. It’s a great feeling and it reminds me of why I do what I do.

What was the first instrument you learned how to play?

My first instrument was the piano and I started taking lessons when I was 6. I sang in my first musical when I was around 5.

Where can we find you on the interwebs?

Any final thoughts?

So as far as final thoughts, I’d say find what you love and are passionate about and commit to it. Do it every day!
I was talking to my friend Kirsten Beyer who is one of the writers for “Discovery” and “Picard” and a co-creator of Picard. She said that she would make sure that she wrote at least three hours every day, even when she didn’t have a gig.

When my husband, JP, and I would go have dinner with her and her hubby, David, who is also a musician, we’d always ask what she was writing. I looked forward to asking her this. We’d go sit outside so she could have a smoke. Then she’d rock back and forth in her outside writing chair and tell me in spellbinding detail the story that she was writing. She’d explain the character development and how they tied into the other characters. I loved listening to her and watching her mind work. That was the way she perfected her craft. She also loved Star Trek “Voyager” so she studied every aspect of that series. Because she knew the canon, everything about the story, and the characters she became an integral part of Star Trek “Discovery” and now “Picard”. Her nerd-like tendencies and commitment to her craft is now paying off.

So even when you have to do a job that isn’t your favorite to pay the bills, make time to develop your craft. You want to be ready when there is an opportunity, and you want to be able to make your opportunities. Focus on what you love, and don’t let the bullshit in life distract you. Do this and stay positive.

Brittany Frompovich is a highly regarded educator, clinician, blogger, and bassist who currently resides in the Washington DC/NOVA region. For more content from Brittany, check out her blog, her YouTube channel, and her Bandcamp site. She also offers handmade unisex music-themed jewelry through her Etsy store.

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