At 29 years old, Australian fusion musician Tal Wilkenfeld has a resume that musicians 40 years her senior would kill for. After releasing her first album, “Transformation” in 2007, her first major outlet as a musician was accompanying keyboard legend Chick Corea on his tour of Australia. She has gone on to play with many other great musicians throughout the last nine years – Herbie Hancock, Ryan Adams, John Mayer and Prince among them – but her true break into the public and musical consciousness was during her tenure in the trio of blues and fusion guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Beck. Her performances with Beck were captured in significant recordings such as Beck’s live album “Live at Ronnie Scott’s” and the “25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts.”
After nearly a decade of growing musically alongside heroes and legends, Wilkenfeld is asserting herself as a virtuoso and bandleader, preparing a new album and embarking on a slew of headline tour dates. She will visit the DC area twice this month, headlining the Birchmere in Alexandria on Tuesday, March 15 and performing at the Verizon Center on Thursday, March 24, where she will open for The Who. On Tap spoke with Wilkenfeld in anticipation of her touchdown in the District come mid-month.
On Tap: Did either of your parents play instruments or records around the house [when you were growing up], or was it something you had to come to on your own?
Tal Wilkenfeld: I discovered guitar on my own. Neither of my parents are musicians, but my mum has a very musical ear and is also a great visual artist. My dad also has amazing taste in music.
OT: When did you know that you were meant to be a musician?
TW: I knew music was my primary method of expressing my creativity after (or during) the first time I strummed a chord on the guitar.
OT: You started out as a guitar player. Was there something more freeing about the bass, a pattern of creative thinking associated with the instrument that fit you naturally?
TW: Everyone around me, myself included, recognized that I played guitar like a bass player. I was always the first one to run to a drum kit or a bass; I think I was just born to be a rhythm player. And that doesn’t exclude rhythm guitar.
OT: What drew you to fusion? Was it listening to musicians like Herbie, Chick and Jeff Beck – was there something in their playing that resonated with you?
TW: I admire and enjoy their desire to move toward limitless musical expression.
OT: Did playing with [these great musicians] change your perspective on how you write and perform your own music?
TW: Musically, interacting with these greats has informed my instincts; the way I respond in any given moment to what’s musically thrown my way. In reality though, everyone I interact with informs my perspective on music. They don’t even need to be a musician!
OT: As a bass and six-string guitar player, you had one of the best possible teachers in the form of Jeff Beck. Did playing with him in a trio change the way you approach guitar and bass?
TW: He was a walking reminder that one doesn’t need to open their mouth to sing.
OT: When you think about music you make now as opposed to on “Transformation” and before, has it changed?
TW: Thankfully, it’s forever changing.
OT: So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. You are opening for one of the biggest acts in music of the last century: The Who. What are you most looking forward to about that tour?
TW: I like elephants. I heard The Who was going on tour and I decided to email Pete Townshend and share some of my new songs that I’ve been working on. These are songs where I’m singing and playing guitar and bass. I told him if the opportunity was there, I’d love to open for The Who. He was extremely complimentary and supportive of this new music and invited me to open for them.
OT: You’re also going on your first headline tour around the same time. Who is in the band? Introduce us!
TW: First is Owen Barry, a very talented guitarist that Jeff Beck introduced me to; then Tamir Barzilay, a super versatile, grooving and interesting drummer that I actually met randomly when I went to see a friend of a friend perform in LA. Finally, the multitalented Chris Price is playing keyboards, guitar and singing. He’s our “everything man,” and he’s great at it.
OT: What will make these shows different experiences for people who have been following you? What are you looking forward to most about your solo shows?
TW: I really just can’t wait for people to hear these new songs! They really are the truest expression of my soul at this moment in my life. After working on and off on this record for so many years now, it’s super exciting (and a relief) to finally go out there and play!
Catch Tal Wilkenfeld at the Birchmere on March 15 for $25 or with The Who at the Verizon Center on March 24 (check Ticketmaster for ticket prices).
THE BIRCHMERE: 3701 Mt Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; 703-549-7500;www.birchmere.com
VERIZON CENTER: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200; www.verizoncenter.com