Points North is an instrumental, power-trio, consisting of three brilliant musicians: guitarist Eric Barnett, bassist Uriah Duffy (ex-Whitesnake), and drummer Kevin Aiello. Last month, the band released their second recording on Magna Carta Records. This self-titled record is one of this year’s most impressive releases. The band has an undeniable chemistry, coupled with world-class musicianship and well-crafted compositions. Barnett’s clean, lightning fast leads and progressive rock stylings, coupled with Duffy’s funk and rock influenced bass, results in a truly unique fusion sound.
What follows is an exclusive interview with Points North bassist- Uriah Duffy.
Rock Music Star: I’ve had the new Points North CD for about two weeks, now. It’s been stuck in my CD player – on constant rotation.
Uriah Duffy: That’s a good thing.
RMS: I have followed your career since you were in Whitesnake and I’ve been keeping an eye on what you have been doing. Points North is just insane. It’s all of my favorite types of music all merged into one.
UD: Where are you from?
RMS: I’m in Buffalo.
UD: Ah, you’re in Buffalo. I’ll never forget the first time my dad threw me and my brother in the car and said, “Hey, you wanna drive up to Buffalo?” We did.
RMS: Really? From where? From Rhode Island?
UD: From Rhode Island, yeah.
UD: Going back to what you were saying about liking all of those influences- growing up on the East coast – my name is Uriah, my brother’s name is Yes- we’re all about the classic rock there.
RMS: Right. I can hear, especially in the first track “Ignition”, you can definitely hear some Rush, especially in that one break. That’s such a Rush part; it must be the chording or something.
UD: Yeah. One of the cool things that happened was, with Points North, they had another bass player who was awesome. They dabbled a little bit with doing the Rush tribute band, called “Fred Barchetta,” and I ended up replacing him in both bands – Points North and Fred Barchetta. We would be at rehearsal for Points North, and then we would try to stump each other with B-sides of Rush songs. And so, Fred Barchetta has become a thing now, and we love doing it. People are very impressed with how we do Rush. I mean, I’ve been to probably 40 Rush shows, myself.
RMS: Wow. Would you say that that’s one of your major influences?
UD: If not the biggest, yeah. I mean, I went, just as a spectator as a kid, and I would sneak my micro cassette recorder into the Providence Civic Center, and listen back, and just get everything, not realizing, at the time, that I was listening to one of the best bassists in the world. I just kind of copied it and played along.
RMS: Yeah. I bet the quality of that micro cassette recording was really great (laughs).
UD: Hi-fi. (LOL) You know, it wasn’t the best recording, but it didn’t matter. Maybe that helped train my ears. I mean, I had no “slow down” motion. I just had to use my ears and get stuff through the distortions. If you listen to the bass break in “Ignition,” that’s straight up Billy Sheehan, who I saw open up for Rush on their first tour. It was the same kind of thing. I rewound my micro cassette recorder to get that riff.
RMS: Speaking of Billy Sheehan – he’s from Buffalo – and I grew up seeing him in the clubs all of the time. I definitely heard that Billy Sheehan influence in your playing, as well. Especially with the tapping, and everything. So, I’m assuming he was a huge influence, as well.
UD: Yeah. I didn’t follow exactly everything, like I did with Geddy Lee. But, for sure, his techniques were awesome. Actually, there’s a harder rock, too.
RMS: I think any bass player that does that tapping is assumed to be influenced by Billy Sheehan.
UD: Absolutely. Sheehan, you can get the techniques from him. But, if you look deeper, he’s just a free, free player. He doesn’t know, theoretically, what’s going on. He doesn’t have a jazz background. He just goes for it and smiles, and makes people feel good. It’s amazing. I definitely got a lot of that from him.
RMS: Yeah. He maybe doesn’t have that technical musical background, but he played bars all the friggin’ time. That’s how he learned, by playing out over and over and over again before he became a household name. I also like the fact, with Billy, that he brought the bass back, and made it a main instrument. Your bass is definitely a main instrument in Points North. There’s no denying that.
UD: Oh yeah, definitely. It works with Eric (Barnett – guitarist) very well. Another one of the hugest things I’ve learned – it might not be obvious – my other biggest influence is Larry Graham. When you’re young and playing, people are telling you to shut up or hold the bass down. Then you’ve got someone like Larry Graham, who never loses a groove, but he’s playing a shit ton of bass. So, that kind of philosophy is something I’ve added big time. How can you play and still have fun as a reasonably intelligent player without losing the groove or losing the crowd with it going over their head? That’s something we’re very conscious of.
RMS: When your career started out, you were playing in funk bands, weren’t you? You weren’t in a rock band right away.
UD: Well, I started playing when I was about nine or 10. I started gigging when I was about 10. So, it’s been everything across the board. My first gigs were musical theater. Got into jazz band and high school band, marching band. But, at the same time, outside of school I was in funk bands and fusion bands. So, it’s kind of a mimicry of my normal life right now. Or my normal life is a mimic of that. I’m trying to think of the first bands that I did that would have made a mark. It’s hard to say.
RMS: I read that you played with Christina Aguilera in 2002. That’s pretty impressive. How did you end up getting that gig?
UD: So, I was doing the classic rock and stuff in New England. My mom lived in Berkley, California. So, I went back and forth every other year. So, Berkley, California, around Oakland, San Francisco – that’s where I definitely learned the urban stuff and the R&B, the funk and the gospel. Just like anywhere else, you start networking and one thing leads to another. I was playing with Tony! Toni! Toné! at the time, and this guy D’wayne Wiggins is in that band. He produces a lot and he knows a lot of people. “Here you are, come down and do this session.” So, it was an Alicia Keys session, Christina Aguilera session, and I was very lucky to be on that album.
RMS: That’s incredible. Did you play bass on the entire album, or just on some selective tracks?
UD: No, just on selective tracks.
RMS: I’d like to speak a bit about your time in Whitesnake, as a lot of people know you from Whitesnake. What was that experience like; playing in a rock band of that stature?
UD: It was awesome. It was kind of strange to me because, I kind of live my life not knowing what I am doing. I kind of just go ahead and play bass, and keep moving forward. I never really had a solid goal, per se, or a vision board. But one day, it clicked to me, in 2008, when I was on stage with Whitesnake, with Def Leppard – on Def Leppard’s stage – and I was like, “Wait, this actually is the dream I had as a kid, watching these videos on MTV.” To stand in front of 30,000 people every night and play my bass with my hair down. Whitesnake was one of the stepping-stones to get there. I don’t know what’s next. But, it was a big rock band. It was like everything you saw on MTV: the hair down, the leather pants. The only difference now is that it’s the legacy years- there’s no cocaine and hookers backstage. We had organic burritos and I was the youngest guy by 12 years, so I was inherently the asshole that wanted to go out all the time.
RMS: One of the tours that you played on was the Judas Priest tour, where they played ‘The Bridge of Steel’ album in its entirety. That must have been pretty cool.
UD: (It was) My first time ever seeing Judas Priest. It was amazing to see them night after night, and watch from behind the stage and see what goes on, and see how rooted Ian Hill stays. He doesn’t move his feet. He just digs in.
RMS: Yeah, he’s almost like a Cliff Williams of AC/DC, where they’re not playing a ton of notes, but they have their technique down.
RMS: In being with Whitesnake, how did that influence you, in your playing and in the way that you perform?
UD: It’s very strange. The rock thing came natural to me. We didn’t have any stylists or any people picking out clothes. It was like any other freelance job. I had to just figure out, naturally, what the temperature of the water is and go swimming. I don’t know, I just kind of went for it, and it came naturally. I loved it, it was great. It kind of just gave me more experience, I guess.
RMS: Did it kind of teach you what an audience expects on a big arena tour? Did you learn, “Hey, when I do this, the audience goes nuts,” or, “I need to incorporate more of this in my playing,” or anything like that?
UD: No. I want to say it taught me that, but I had already been playing like, hundreds of shows a year with other things, as well. Also, I’m not the lead guy, so it really wasn’t up to me to really pull the crowd. I got to really stay safe in my bass zone. Anything extra I do was bonus.
RMS: You played with them for a few years. Why did you decide to leave Whitesnake?
UD: Well, it’s a revolving door. I think I was the 47th member, or so; maybe the 37th. Somewhere in there. I could look it up on Wikipedia. I was the longest lasting bass player at five years. I think my new friend, Michael Devin, is going to outlast me. He’s been there for about five years now. It was a time when David and I thought that we should part. It was in between tours. He gave me a call and suggested it. I was like, “Well, do I want to keep living his dream?” I did get a lot of notoriety. I did get to travel the world. What’s next for me, what’s next for him? He definitely has a shorter attention span, and he needs to keep moving, which he has all the right to do. Some people call him out for it, but it’s his band. It’s not Whitesnake, it’s the David Coverdale band called “Whitesnake.” He can do anything he wants to do.
RMS: Yeah, that’s very interesting. After you departed from that band, were you asked to join any other established rock bands, or did you just want to concentrate on your own music at that point?
UD: No, actually. No one really contacted me for anything. I live in sort of a catch 22 now, where I either get a lot of notoriety and people think I’m unavailable, or I’m just doing smaller gigs around town. So, as a freelancer, I take what I can get. There’s an experience in everything, even if there’s not money. Points North came along just at the right time. I wasn’t in Whitesnake anymore. I love all of the music.
RMS: Points North is really a great band. What are your plans? Do you plan on going out on tour? Maybe hooking up with some band as an opener?
UD: We’ve been doing a lot of local openings up and down the West coast, and it’s been great. We are sticky; we convert fans. We’ve gotten standing ovations opening up for the Winery Dogs. It’s fabulous. We played for Steve Morse, and people came up to us afterwards and said, “Oh, we don’t even need to see him now,” which is just amazing to me. Our problem is scale. We would love to tour. We would love to get this music to more people. Our current video is doing really well, and I see that every day it gets a few hundred views. We’re already over eight thousand views in a week and a half. I think people want music again. They want the Dirty Loops and Snarky Puppy; kind of like the newer fusion players. And, we’re on the rock side of that. People are getting a taste of the new candy pop.
RMS: I agree. I was trying to come up with a style of music, and it’s difficult to kind of pigeonhole Points North. You could say it’s a fusion band. You could say it’s prog rock. You could say it’s rock. There really isn’t a definite way to describe the band’s music.
UD: It’s tough, it’s tough. I almost call it “Anti Prog,” in a way because, we’re definitely filed under “Prog,” and we have facility on the instruments, but we don’t have 17-minute songs that drag you through the murky waters of Morador. We don’t do a sax solo for 20 minutes. It’s very short, concise; get in, get out, and part oriented. So, in a way, it’s anti prog. Oh, and we have a lot of female following, too. So, that’s also anti prog.
RMS: (Laughs) I’ll say. I’ve always wondered this, and I’ve never thought about asking this question until today: How difficult is it, to come up with a name for the title of an instrumental song?
UD: Yeah, that is kind of hard. We started learning how to do working titles, and the working titles stuck with us for a long time. “Ignition” was called “Lobotomy.” That was kind of an easy one, just because of the state I was in when I wrote it (laughs). But, the other songs, we just kind of… it’s tough. It took a lot of ironing out between us.
RMS: There’s one vocal track on the CD, “Colorblind.” Was it a difficult decision, to put a vocal track on? Did you think that you might lose the continuity of the record, or did you think that putting it in the middle would be cool?
UD: I think it was a little forced. I could see the perspective of our label wanting to do that. The vocal element is something that touches people beyond music. It runs the appeal and doubles your audience and all of that. But, none of us were really ready for it. So, I feel that it’s a little forced; it’s not horrible, it’s not great. Could we do it better? Yeah. If we went into it with the intention, I think we could do it. We definitely went into it feeling that the vocals will be another instrument, not a lead thing, like a normal singer would. But, I’m glad it’s there. I’m actually really happy about it- that we have something there. It’s something to talk about, and another experiment to do. I think our next one will actually be greater.
RMS: Well, it’s really a great CD. I think that you’ve been realizing and finding out first hand that when people hear it, they’re going to be blown away by it. It’s just getting people to hear it, I guess, at this point.
UD: Yeah, there’s so many options. Dillinger Escape Plan has an album called ‘Option Paralysis,’ and that phrase keeps coming up to me. There’s so much to listen to and so much to do. I shut down and don’t do any of it.
RMS: I hope you guys can get over to Buffalo area sometime soon. I would love to see you guys live, and considering your record label, Magna Carta Records is based out of Rochester, New York, I’m hoping that you at least do something close to here.
UD: Yeah, we have enough anchors over there – we have you, we have Rochester. I’m from Rhode Island, Eric is from New Jersey. There’s Rush fans in Toronto and around… Maybe, between all of that, we can set up a mini tour one of these days. That would be really great for us, to get to the East coast and our old friends.
RMS: Or, even do something like follow Rush around, because Rush is playing this summer. If you guys did like, after show parties, or something like that, in the areas where Rush is playing. That would be pretty success.
UD: That’s a great idea. I’m glad you thought of it (laughs).
RMS: Uriah, I appreciate your time. Like I said, I really love the CD and Rock Music Star.com will do everything we can to help promote it.
UD: Oh, dude, thank you so much. This has been a pleasure. Thank you for following us and the crazy stuff that I do. The bass just takes me around, and I let it. The fact that you even know what I did in the past is pretty cool. So, I appreciate it, man.
RMS: You’re a real talent. I’ve been checking some of the YouTube things, and watching some of the Michael Jackson songs you play on the bass. I mean, you’re one of the top bass players out there right now, without a doubt.
UD: Coincidentally, I just re-watched the YouTube video of me that just came out. I got a Google alert right before you called. It’s horrible. I want them to take it down (laughs).
RMS: What one is it?
UD: Oh, it was at the NAMM Show. The NAMM Show is very interesting because, you wake up in the morning, and it’s florescent lights. They’re filming you, and you’ve gotta play. I invited a buddy of mine to play, and he’s just a whoop ass bassist. And he’s like, “Well, I don’t do that song in this key. We do it in this key and at this speed. Go!” And I’m like, “I’m playing a foreign bass. It’s not mine, and I’m going to change the key to this Stevie Wonder song. Go!” So, my timing is off and all that stuff. It’s a “TC Electronic” video. It’s probably one of their latest ones.
RMS: I will look that up. I don’t know if you know about this but, Jake E. Lee’s band – The Red Dragon Cartel band – they had a new lead singer that started with them like, five gigs ago, and I guess he actually sang all of the wrong words (and melody) to one of the songs, and it’s all over YouTube. They are just slamming on him for that.
UD: Oh! People don’t realize: people are people. We are humans. We aren’t manufactured like TV.
RMS: It was his first gig, too, so I’m sure he was crazy nervous about it, as well.
UD: Yeah. That shit’s real!
For more on Points North, click here.
Also check out other great releases on Magna Carta Records at www.magnacartarecords.com
Special thanks to Barbara Lysiak for setting this interview up. Also thank you to Dana Kaiser for transcribing it.