Tal Wilkenfeld is a musical marvel; the kind of dynamic young talent whose fresh vision and uncanny intuition puts a whole new perspective on an age-old art form. Like a muse-lit meteor, Tal blazed upon the scene as a teen, sitting in with the Allman Brothers within months of her 2006 arrival in New York City. By the end of 2007, she had released her acclaimed instrumental debut, Transformation, hit the road with Chick Corea, appeared on A&E with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and joined Jeff Beck’s world tour for what culminated in her global breakout moment: Her performance at Eric Clapton’s 2007 Crossroads Festival in Chicago, which has generated more than 10 million YouTube hits.
Unanimous praise reverberated throughout the industry, leading Tal to relocate to Los Angeles and begin a steady recording pace with such artists as Prince, Macy Gray, Trevor Rabin, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Toto, Todd Rundgren and Ryan Adams—in-between high profile tours with Jeff Beck that found her backing guests like Sting, Clapton, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, Buddy Guy, David Gilmour and Billy Gibbons (and led to her role anchoring Pharrell and Hanz Zimmer on the 2015 Grammy Awards). Ever the growing artist, Tal’s collaborations with Jackson Browne and encouragement from Jeff Beck and Herbie Hancock to make her live vocal debut with their bands served as key transitions to her next path as a singer-songwriter. Stellar singing samples include her poignant cover of “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” from the Amazon holiday collection stream, All Is Bright, and her stirring YouTube channel performance of “Chelsea Hotel.”
Tal has now completed the writing and recording of her debut vocal album, which she plans to release in 2016. The music is an intoxicating, intimate reimagining of the singer-songwriter idiom, comprised of improvisational music bloodlines, rock energy and intensity, and lyrics rich in both realism and folk symbolism—all delivered via vibrant, revealing vocals and world-class musicianship.
An Interview With Tal Wilkenfeld
By: Hannah Frank
HF: How do you choose songs to cover/interpret?
TW: Usually it’s a lyric that moves me, since the harmonic and melodic aspects of a song are easier to manipulate. I like to stay true to the lyric.
HF: How did you connect with the Zappa Plays Zappa project? What was your favorite part of the project?
TW: I met Dweezil years ago when I went to go see my friend Les Claypool’s gig at the Greek Theatre. Dweezil then asked me to sit in with him in LA and I asked if Vinnie could join us. It meant a lot to me to play with those two together because of the history Vinnie has with Frank Zappa. It was Vinnie’s first big gig. One of my first big gigs was with Jeff Beck and Vinnie.
HF: How have you enjoyed your stay in Chicago?
TW: I love Chicago. I played Crossroads Festival here in 2007 with Jeff Beck, and that one gig alone has done so much for me as an artist.
HF: What song has taught you the most?
TW: The song of life.
HF: What artists did you admire growing up?
TW: I was only exposed to a handful of artists growing up. Jimi Hendrix was one of them, and probably who I gravitated towards the most.
HF: If you could have a band, Tal Plays ______.
TW: Indian-classical music.
HF: How do you feel about the emphasis on gear in the music industry?
TW: Gear is necessary, and a gift. It’s a pathway to our artistic expression. That being said, some people focus on gear too much, to the point where their attention is taken away from the music. Some people struggle with the opposite.
Ultimately, if you have a musical voice, it can be heard in the worst environment or the best environment. I’ve seen Jeff Beck play a really cheap guitar through a tiny cube amp and make it sound like a million bucks. It’s in his fingers.
HF: The work in Jeff Beck & Tal Wilkenfeld – Mná Na Héireann – [Women Of Ireland] is striking beautiful, and you also do dynamic rock music. How do you rotate between different styles?
TW: The same way you can observe someone go from whispering to screaming. Laughing to crying.
HF: What was your motivation for picking up the bass in the first place?
TW: I really couldn’t explain that to you. It was a feeling I had – intuition. I believed it was my calling to play music.
HF: As an artist who has achieved fame early in your career, do you feel the press and industry accurately reflect who you are and your musical mission?
TW: I feel as though people reflect what they’ve seen this far, which has mainly been me accompanying other artists on the bass.
My path is changing quite drastically now as I start to introduce my singing and songwriting to the world. So far the response I’ve gotten has been positive and supportive. It certainly helps to be in the fortunate position of having Jackson Browne and Pete Townshend encouraging me as a songwriter. I feel beyond blessed.
Remaining Tour Dates:
Mar 10 The Who Hits 50! Chicago, IL
Mar 12 The Who Hits 50! Louisville, KY
Mar 14 The Who Hits 50! Philadelphia, PA
Mar 15 Birchmere Alexandria, VA
Mar 16 The Who Hits 50! Pittsburgh, PA
Mar 18 Brighton Boston, MA
Mar 19 The Who Hits 50! Newark, NJ
Mar 21 The Who Hits 50! Milwaukee, WI
Mar 24 The Who Hits 50! Washington, DC
Mar 26 The Who Hits 50! St Louis, MO
Mar 28 Boulder Theater Boulder, CO
Mar 29 The Who Hits 50! Denver, CO
Photos From Chicago’s Thalia Hall Performance:
Photos © 2016 by: Roman Sobus