by Geno Thackara
You don’t always know where to find Julie Slick from one month (or maybe one week) to the next. She could be recording in a studio on either side of the Atlantic, slinging her bass onstage in Adrian Belew’s power trio or her duo EchoTest, or conducting culinary experiments with mad-scientist glee. (At least that’s how I picture it. I think it’s because of the hair.) She’s the kind of musician who can play six impossible things before breakfast, but her eclectic style of mostly-instrumental rock doesn’t have to beat you over the head with ridiculous fretwork. Turning 30 this month is giving her a fine reason to come home to Philly and celebrate in style. Fresh off finishing their third album, EchoTest will be playing a birthday bash with some good friends at the Ardmore Music Hall on Saturday the 30th.
“I never would have thought to put a bass duo together,” she explains, describing how she met Marco Machera at a one-off jam and unexpectedly got back in touch several months later. “I just posted on Facebook, ‘whoever would like to do some shows, I would just like to play more in Europe.’ And Marco immediately sent me a message and said ‘I can get us gigs in Italy.’ So hey – an excuse to go to Italy after the tour, just like that. Great! I just thought it’d be a fun little trip. I didn’t think we would sit down, plug in, start writing some music and want to start a band.”
The sound still stays varied because their basses can sound like anything after going through the digital wringer. This time around they’ve tapped Alessandro Inolti to drum and Mike Visser for guitar, extra bass (go figure) and singing. Including him lets them have “much more vocals on this album,” Slick hints, adding that it’s quite a different affair once they hit the stage. “I definitely think it’s fun to change things. We’re thinking of how to do different versions of this new stuff already.”
Adapting is really a central theme of her life as it is. She doesn’t just tour now and then like your usual live musician; for the last couple years she’s actually lived completely on the road. “I’ve foregone living anywhere. Right now the important thing is making the best music possible and getting it heard as much as possible. Sometimes getting shelter isn’t even the top priority,” she says, sounding a little too serious. It all started with leaving an apartment before a long tour when the lease was up, drifting to different things after it was over, and somehow never quite getting around to settling down again.
It’s a life that’s always colorful even if it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds. “Well, there is the whole thing of carrying around two basses and pedals, all my gear, and also being respectful of other people and not wanting to overstay my welcome,” Slick continues. “Sometimes it’s less than two weeks at a time, constantly in motion with 100 pounds of stuff. I’ll be loading it all onto this little train for the third day in a row and thinking, am I really doing this again? It’s great, it’s romantic, it’s wonderful going all around Europe, but I still have to carry all that equipment. We’ll see how long it lasts. It’s like on Seinfeld, that time when Kramer was test-driving the car and seeing how long he could make it on empty. That’s kind of how I feel right now.”
Luckily we live in an age where a person can travel light (well, light-ish) and stay connected with support systems in all kinds of places. The lack of a label lets her self-release everything through Bandcamp and offer goodies that a record company wouldn’t. Her online Kickstarters have included exclusive recordings, hand-painted flash drives, private house performances, home-cooked dinners or homemade cookies.
“They’re good cookies, so why not?” she laughs. “There are people out there who want to help, so I’d rather offer them cool stuff, T-shirts that I designed or hand-drawn CDs. I’m going to sit around and doodle anyway, so why not share them with my fans and give them some sweet old demos or live cuts? They’re helping fund this next record right now. I can’t thank everyone enough for that.”
Two days after this hometown bash, she and Belew jet off to another European tour with further EchoTest gigs to follow. Not much else is clear at the moment except for trusting what comes. “It’s funny. It’s all worked out in a kind of magical way since I became a nomad,” she continues. “People say, ‘Oh, you can come stay in my guest house or at my lake house.’ So suddenly I’m in a house looking at this lake every day – wow, how’d this happen? Then I was invited to go whale-watching. I would hear that they haven’t seen any whales breach in maybe ten years, and I see four of them breach that day. It all happened in the first week that I decided to do this. So it felt like, hey – this is the right thing to do right now.”
It could be a sign from the universe, or just a reminder that so much comes from simply being open to things. Whatever the case, it looks set to be a wonderful ride for as long as it can go.