Skill, Grace and Style – Catching Up with Janelle Monae Bassist Brandon Gilliard.
Get ready to meet a rising star who is as down to earth as they come.
BY: Stephen Russ
Tell our readers a bit about what you do.
I play bass with an artist named Janelle Monae, she’s signed to Atlantic records and was just on the Grammys. I’ve been playing with her for about a year. We’ve done a lot of different shows. Everything from the White House, to the Sydney Opera House, we even did a show with Prince. That was great. Every show’s been something pretty special. When I’m not on the road with her I play with pretty much anybody else.
How long have you played bass?
I’ve been playing since I was eight. I’m old now (laughs), I’m 29. Growing up I always played in church, played in my daddy’s quartet group, stuff like that. I did marching band. Marching band’s not really a gig, but you know (laughs). I was a music major and I gigged when I could, when I didn’t have class. Then after college I moved to Atlanta and I’ve been hitting it pretty hard since then. I had been gigging full-time for six years before I ever got my first road gig with an artist signed to a big label.
Who’s the coolest person you’ve met so far in your travels?
I met Prince. Prince is really cool. He has a really deep voice. He… he’s Prince. (laughs) He’s always Prince.
Who are your favorite artists besides Prince?
Brad Paisley. Funny enough I like a lot of the country artists. For one thing, in the music the bass players and the drummers really lock a lot of times. So you know, all of Brad Paisley’s albums have been great, I guess that says a lot about him but it says a lot about all of the session musicians too. I love Miranda Lalmbert, I love Earth, Wind and Fire, I met those guys in California. It was cool.
What got you started listening to country?
As a bass player my job is to make the music feel good. If the music doesn’t feel good and I’m playing on it then that means I haven’t done my job. Listening to different kinds of music helps. Sometimes I turn on the radio and whatever catches my ear, that’s what I listen to. The new country music, everything that’s coming out of Nashville or LA now, a lot of the new country stuff always catches my ear because it’s just pocket, groove oriented music. I guess it comes down to anything that grooves I like it. The new country stuff is really grooving right now.How does your religious background help your musical life?
I’ve been on staff at Atlanta churches ever since I graduated from college. Right now I play at Historic Ebenezer which is Martin Luther King Jr.’s old church. I’ve been on staff there for five years now. If I’m not on the road, I’m there. As far as my beliefs, if I didn’t have a relationship with God I would probably be a crazy person right now (laughs), I really would. Music, I’m not going to say it’s the easiest thing ever. You have to have something, somebody to lean on and I’ve had a lot of times where if God hadn’t been there for me I wouldn’t have had anything. God has helped me through a lot of things and all these different things I get to do, without Him I would have never gotten to do them anyway.