It's easy to say a performer was born for the stage. It's harder to remember how much room is up there, though. Tal Wilkenfeld has spent most of her life up on-stage, but it's primarily been on the sidelines – she's served as a bassist for the likes of Jackson Browne, Jeff Beck, Chick Corea, Macy Gray and even the late, great Prince.
2019 is the year that changes, however, as the 32-year-old takes centre stage for Love Remains, only her second solo album and her first to include vocals. Although it's been 12 years since her first album, Transformation, Wilkenfeld reveals her sophomore had been quietly in the works for several years leading up to its March release.
“There's a song on the album, 'Corner Painter,' that I originally recorded in 2013 and I put out as a single back in 2016,” she says. “The rest of the album was primarily recorded throughout 2014. The next year, I added strings and woodwind, then I got it mixed and mastered. The whole thing was entirely self-funded – I was using my work as a session musician, and my work on the road, to be able to fund the making of this record. I was going back and forth between my two different worlds for quite a while.”
Wilkenfeld attributes the delay in releasing Love Remains to both her busy touring schedule – which included a run opening for The Who in 2016 – and a period of mourning after losing some of her closest friends in quick succession. “I needed to take some time to myself,” she says. “I had a lot that I needed to figure out, and it took me about a year before I felt like I could really settle back in. These things take time, and every album has its process. It's definitely given me a real appreciation for what it takes to be a solo artist.”
The process for Love Remains also included putting together a key troupe of players to be enlisted in her band. Among them were current Death Cab for Cutie keyboardist Zac Rae, former Noel Gallagher drummer Jeremy Stacey and Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench. “It all kind of happened over sushi,” explains Wilkenfeld with a laugh.
“I knew Benmont first, and we went out to dinner together. Benmont invited his friend Jeremy, who in turn brought along his brother Paul. While we were there, I mentioned to them that I was working on a solo album. I literally played them songs in my car, and they were all really excited about them. We decided to go into the studio, just to try it. We got the rest of the guys in, and as soon as we laid down 'Corner Painter' I knew that I had to make a whole record with this band.”
Having played bass for some 15 years, and guitar for even longer than that, Wilkenfeld is widely regarded as one of the best instrumentalists working today. She achieves her sound through the use of vintage equipment, deployed throughout the recording of Love Remains. “I had to borrow a few bits and pieces here and there,” says Wilkenfeld on the album's gear and set-up. “For instance, I didn't have my own [Fender] P-bass at the time, so I borrowed one from Jackson Browne.
“There's a song on the record called 'One Thing After Another,' where I'm playing an early ‘50s Epiphone. It's really interesting to get to play these sorts of instruments, because you're dealing with a really different feel to something like my Sadowsky bass. That's what I'm playing live, and it still made it onto the record – there's one on 'Haunted Love,' because that's written on a five-string bass. You can't really get a vintage five-string, unless you move over to a Fender VI or something like that.”
With Love Remains finally out in the world, Wilkenfeld is currently in rehearsals with her touring band, who will accompany her on a run of dates throughout 2019 that will hopefully see her return to her native Australia in due season. “We're trying to make it all happen as soon as possible,” she promises.
Love Remains is out now via BMG.
(Photo Credit: Eric Townsend)