Photo: Kurt Ozan (www.kurtozan.com)
Name: Isaac Wriston
Location: Clinton, TN
Occupation: Session musician & producer
You’ve played bass professionally now for 15+ years. How did you get into the session scene?
Long before I moved to Nashville, I had the privilege of learning from so many incredible players. Most notably, my own mother. She cut her first record with her family band when she was still in grade school. A lot of my drive came from how hard I saw both my parents work to create a better world for me and my siblings. I started out taking piano lessons to get my foundation, then moved to drums and guitar. I first picked up the bass guitar my freshman year of high school. At that same time I met one of my best friends Johnathan M. Smith (Brothers Osborne, H.E.R., Chris Brown, Ariana Grande).
Once I arrived in Nashville I found out very quickly that in order to stand out in an oversaturated market of incredible musicians, I had to find a way to be more than just a bass player. I had to bring value to every project I was asked to be on so that I was irreplaceable. Any time I was at an album release or showcase, I would always seek out the “smartest” person in the room and made it my mission to let them know I was available, capable and able to adapt. With a little nimble persistence and a healthy survival mentality, I was able to work directly with labels like Warner Music, Broken Bow, Def Jam and Sony. With new connections under my belt, I was able to develop live shows and production while balancing an active touring and recording schedule.
Years of this sort of well-rounded grind led to my big break in the session scene in 2014 when I signed up with AirGigs, a marketplace for session musicians. Thanks to their platform and others like SoundBetter, I was able to connect with producers from all over the world. AirGigs is actually where I first started working with Cardiak. Since then he’s had me on tracks like H.E.R.’s “Damage,” Jazmine Sullivan’s “On It,” G-Eazy’s “Crash and Burn” and “Provide,” Chris Brown’s “Come Together” and “Confidence,” Cordae’s “Wintertime,” “Thousand Words” and more.
You’re also a producer. Tell us a little about your work.
The majority of my production work has been focused on live performance. I’ve also produced cue music and other original compositions for shows and events like Switched At Birth, The Olympics, How I Met Your Mother, E3 Games and networks like ABC, NBC, ESPN and FOX.
Looking back on your career so far (which includes seven Grammy nominations and a whole ton more), what would you say stands out the most to you personally? Any album, gig or event that means a lot to you?
Right here, right now. Being a Grammy-winning anything is just absolutely unreal. It’s something I’ve worked hard at for years trying to get to and being able to share my creativity with other like-minded people is incredibly humbling.
Also playing Beacon Theater with my best friends and having my soon-to-be wife there was a lifetime achievement if you ask me. That was a pretty rad day. I think I even popped the local hands when I parallel parked a 3500 Sprinter with a 12’ trailer in the middle of N.Y.C. traffic.
While many session players hone in on a specific style or genre, you’ve accomplished the opposite and become a go-to player for anything from country to EDM and hip-hop. Is there a genre you prefer, though? If you just sit down to jam or write for yourself, what do you end up playing?
Lately I’ve been jamming on Ben Folds Five’s “Whatever and Ever Amen.” Robert Sledge is an absolute monster bassist who I don’t think gets enough credit, and the work he and the rest of the team did on that record is timeless. That aside, I don’t necessarily have a preferred or favorite genre. I’ll listen or play anything so long as it has conviction behind it.
Switching between all these styles, is there a big difference in how you handle the instrument in, say, a country song compared to a hip-hop beat?
Yes and no. It really depends on the song and its energy. I find that a country track can have just as much bounce, if not more, than a hip-hop or RnB track. For bass, my goal is to stay out of the way and support the dynamic foundation of the song. If the drums start walking around, I’m going to be right by their side holding them up like they’re whiskey wasted. To quote Greg Archilla: “just play the damn song.”
You’re a Superior Drummer 3 user. To you, what makes it your go-to tool for drums and how does it help in your creative process? With Superior Drummer 3, I’ve been able to expedite more ideas by not having to book a studio, a kit, a drummer, an engineer, and some decent mics. It allows me to get an idea out as soon as possible and since I’m a bass player, I like to geek out on making my drums feel as much as possible. To the point that whenever I send a track to someone where I’ve used Superior Drummer 3 on, they always ask “who is on drums?” not “what drums are those.”
Playing on so many sessions, what trends do you see? This is probably the toughest question of them all. I’m pretty excited about spatial audio, or at least the next version of spatial audio. At the same time I feel like we just got high fidelity audio and now we’re all “yeah but now it sounds like you’re sitting in a room.”
Walk us through a regular day “in the life of” – on and off the road.On: Podcasts, coffee, a walk around the venue, I’m probably just laying in my bunk if I’m being honest. The pre-show routine includes stretching and breathing exercises as I still get incredibly anxious and nervous right before a show.
Off: When I’m not working on music for my clients, I’m either outside with my wife in our garden or we’re out with our dogs.