Have Bass, Will Travel! The Many Music Adventures of Andy Stoller

~ Current Bassist for Heart’s Ann Wilson

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – Bassist Andy Stoller’s stellar music journey has taken him from coast-to-coast. Immersed in a wide range of genres and platforms; from participating in platinum-selling and Grammy Award-winning album projects with Tracy Chapman, to touring around the world and chalking up multiple television and movie credits, to currently performing with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Ann Wilson of Heart. Andy has come a long way from the kid growing up in the Washington, D.C. area and taking violin lessons at age five.

Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Andy Stoller 1. Onstage with Ann Wilson (photo by Anna Knowlden-Friel) 2. Rehearsals with Jackson Browne and Graham Nash 3. Onstage with Tracy Chapman 4. Andy in the studio

“I played violin at an early age – like five or six years old – the Suzuki method. In retrospect, I am certain that this had a positive influence on my musicianship,” Andy Stoller said in a recent Standing Room Only interview. “I discovered rock-and-roll and begged for a guitar at age 10 and from there, I was off and running. I picked up the bass around 15 and then, seeing Jaco Pastorious at the Blue Note in 11th grade kind of changed my life. I started getting serious... I wanted to do that!

"That said, many bassists have had a great influence on me. James Jamerson is in a category of his own. So is Paul (McCartney). Phil Lesh, Larry Klein, Tony Levin...all of these guys are so unique. It's the ones who play for the song, but still have a voice. I realized early on that this is difficult. It's most important to lock with the drummer. The bassist and drummer need to dance with each other. It's a push and pull, a give and take. And if your partner isn't able to do that, you have to go where he/she is and not fight it. That is the secret skill that makes you great. It's hard to describe; but when it works, it's magic. It's a gift."

Another big influence for Andy early on was his teachers simply exposing him to new music. “My teachers were basically giving me records and tapes and saying ‘learn this,’ so that’s what I would do. I also started sneaking into bars in Georgetown to hear jazz quartets and stare at the bass players, trying to absorb what I could.”

Stoller also realizes the value of being exposed to a variety of styles and genres. “Looking back, I really feel lucky that I was turned on to many different kinds of music. I have a real passion for Dylan and Neil Young, but also modern jazz and improvised music… artists like Howlin’ Wolf, John Coltrane, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Thelonious Monk… and when I think of musical influences, it’s certainly not just bassists.”

Stoller was attending the University of Michigan and although not a music major, was taking music classes and would be encouraged by one of his professors. “I had this great music teacher who believed in me,” Andy said. “I was getting ready to graduate, I didn’t know what I was going to do and she just handed me a catalog (Boston’s Berklee College of Music), application and scholarship information and told me ‘this is what is next for you’… so I did what she said! Yes, great teachers can change lives, so I packed my bags and moved to Boston.”

The Berklee experience was invaluable for Stoller, as he immersed himself in music, seven days a week, like never before. “I was interacting with some of the best players in the world. This helped shaped my ear and my understanding of how song and harmonic structure works, and I certainly feel my time at Berklee helped give me an edge as I moved to my professional career.”

After his time at Berklee, Stoller moved to Los Angeles and endured a couple of “lean years,” but played with some great musicians and gained some experience in the studio. Then, Andy made a key connection with Grammy Award-winning artist, Tracy Chapman. “My connection with Tracy came about when she signed with Gold Mountain, a management company where a good friend of mine happened to work.

“She was putting a band together and I had always loved Tracy’s music. After getting an audition and the gig, I moved to San Francisco and we immediately went into the studio for a couple months to workshop new songs for a record. I ‘went to work’ every day, for the first time in my life (I think I was about 25), and just played and created with a single goal… and it was so great!”

During this exciting time, Stoller immersed himself in the San Francisco music scene and did a short tour with Chapman, before they went back into the studio to record the New Beginning record. “It was a whirlwind,” Andy said. “We had a ‘Top 10’ album and single, and we toured all around the world a couple times and really had a blast. Around 2000, I stopped touring with Tracy, but I did participate in a few more records after that.”

Although the Chapman gig was certainly his first “big break,” Stoller is truly grateful for all the wonderful music experiences he has shared over the years, including working with songwriter Chuck Prophet and wife Stephanie Finch, composer/pianist Wayne Horvitz’s Electric Circus, Lee Oskar from the band War, Star Anna, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam and many other talented musicians in the current Seattle music scene.

Andy’s prolific television, stage and movie credits include: The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, Conan, Rosie, VH1, MTV, The Grammy Awards, Good Morning America, The Paris Concert for Amnesty International, New York Undercover, A Very Special Christmas from the White House, and the Broadway musical, A Night With Janis Joplin. 

“I’ve had so many fun times over the years,” Andy offered. “Chuck Prophet is one of my favorite songwriters and I did a record with him called The Hurting Business, produced by Jaquire King. I worked on another record fronted by Chuck’s wife, Stephanie Finch, called Go-Go Market. If you haven’t heard of these artists, please check them out.

“I occasionally sit in with a band called Electric Circus (with Horvitz) that is amazing and wild, and I love playing with so many of the superb Seattle bands and musicians... I encourage your readers to check them all out!” Some of these artists include The Electric Landladies, Star Anna, the aforementioned Mike McCready and Wayne Horvitz, Lee Oskar, Shawn Smith, The Garth Reeves Band, Urban Achievers, Jen Ayers, House of Thee Unholy Band, Jelly Rollers, Jeff Fielder, Musicbox, Andy Coe, Pete Droge, Tayla Lynn, Ian Moore, J.R. Rhodes and The Angel Band.

Stoller also participated on the recent solo album by legendary session guitarist, Steve Hunter, titled Before The Lights Go Out. “After being in Tracy’s band for a few years, she shuffled things around in the band and had brought in Steve,” Andy added. “We did the Lilith Tour that summer and various festivals including a couple of the Tibet Freedom Concerts and a few of the Fleadh Festivals.

“After that, Steve and I played on a couple of Tracy’s records (Telling Stories, Let It Rain), although we were never in the studio at the same time. He is one amazing musician and whenever I mention his name to guitar players they say ‘The Steve Hunter?’ Working on his solo record was a treat, and Steve pretty much knew what he wanted from me, but, as with all good producers, he left it a little open for me to explore, while guiding with direction… a real pleasure.”

Currently, Stoller is working with the legendary Ann Wilson of Heart, whom he met through the aforementioned Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. “She is really incredible,” Andy stated. “I had done a couple things with Mike up here in Seattle and he does a benefit gig every year with his band Flight To Mars. He has a different group open each year, and he had planned something with Ann, doing Led Zeppelin tunes. At the last minute, Stefan Lessard from Dave Mathews Band had to drop out, so I got the call.

“Soon after, Ann invited me to join her band that she was putting together and it’s been such a great run! We’ve done a couple recordings together and we are about to start a new full-length record next month. She’s very musical and open to ideas and parts that everyone suggests. I’ve certainly learned a lot about singing by standing next to her and getting to harmonize with her every night!”

Wilson just released a feature documentary/concert film, titled Ann Wilson in Focus. Andy is included and has also been working on a soundtrack for a movie called Sun Up, Sun Down, written and directed by Reese Lane and soon to be released to the film festival circuit.

“Yes, I have been very fortunate and honored over the years to have performed with many of my musical heroes. When we were in Nashville (with Ann), Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss sat in with us for a few songs. Emmylou is one of my heroes and we did the Gillian Welch song "Orphan Girl" her Wrecking Ball album. One of my favorite albums and songs - what a treat! Another great memory - when I was with Tracy Chapman - as playing “Give Me One Reason” with Tracy and Eric Clapton at the White House. Now, that was a trip! I was standing right next to his (Clapton’s) amp and if you look at the video, you can see that I'm in heaven.

“The Amnesty concert also stands out. We opened the show with the Bob Marley song 'Get Up, Stand Up,' featuring Tracy, Peter Gabriel, Y'oussou N'dour and Bruce Springsteen. That one was with Steve Hunter as well. Also, playing with Hiram Bullock and Junior Wells at the Grammys, and all my Seattle experiences including playing at the EMP Founders Awards with Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Robbie Robertson and Shawn Colvin. All are such great memories.”

To learn more about Andy Stoller and his upcoming activities with Ann Wilson, please visit his website at http://andystollermusic.com.