Adult Education: Rock Camp
Interview with Electric Rock Bassist Bjorn Englen
and Music Director Valerie Ince
By Thomas Amoriello,
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair Elect
Our average NAfME member may have an idea of what traditional band or music summer camp is about from their unique experiences. This article is meant to share a different perspective on the summer camp music-making tradition. Music camp is not just about a certain style of music or just for teenagers!
When Swedish-born, LA-based electric bassist Bjorn Englen is not touring the world as the backup musician for some of the world’s leading guitarists, you can find him educating adult students as a camp counselor at Rock’n’Roll Fantasy Camp. His role at the camp involves prepping enthusiastic campers to perform in rock ensembles and as well as providing instruction to the amateur seeking the therapeutic recreational music making experience away from their normal routine. You can visit www.rockcamp.com for upcoming camp dates.
What was your music education like?
I started playing bass when I was 13. I first started on drums for a couple of months, but for practical and noise reasons (neighbors kept giving me dirty looks—laughs) I decided to play bass. It was a natural choice as well, as most of my friends played either drums or guitar. I thought bass was just as cool and didn’t understand why no one played bass. After watching a punk band rehearse across the street, I was fascinated by how the bass player would make one note sound so huge. Then after hearing bassists like Ian Hill (Judas Priest) and Cliff Williams (AC/DC) playing all those simple but heavy bass lines, I was sold. At age 15 I discovered Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) and Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth), and I knew what my future would be like: I was determined to get in a great band and tour the world.
I was more or less self-taught growing up though. I would buy records and play along with them right away. This helped me to develop a great ear, which I have had a huge benefit from ever since. The very few lessons I had were great and showed me correct technique and helped me create good habits. This is something that I stress to beginners and parents all the time: Don’t look for the cheapest teacher. Look for the right one! Bad habits and improper technique can often take a lifetime to correct.
I strongly believe in being open to and learning different genres of music. This will hugely benefit any player regardless of style.
I moved to Los Angeles to attend M.I. at the age of 21. It was a great school and I learned a lot of theory, reading and different styles such as Latin, jazz, and reggae. I strongly believe in being open to and learning different genres of music. This will hugely benefit any player regardless of style. I have since then returned to the school several times to teach master classes and live playing workshops.
You have performed as a touring bassist with many legendary guitarists, such as Yngwie, Uli, MacAlpine. What was your role in this band setting?
My role with all of them was as a hired side man and band member. They were in charge, and the boss and I were totally fine with that as I knew that clearly going in. It’s like playing with any solo artist. I enjoyed working with all of them very much.
What was life like on the road?
The tours were professional in manner, with very little partying and sometimes totally sober. Lots of travel with very little sleep is common, so it’s important to eat as well as possible. Picking up healthy items before hitting the road is a good idea as most stops on the road often will be airports, fast food joints, and truck stops, and the healthy choices there, especially truck stops and gas stations, are slim (no pun intended) to none.
Please talk about a few of the groups you play with, session work: Living in California and earning a living as an electric bass guitarist.
Most of my work is worldwide tours and recording sessions. I do a lot of tracks from my own studio for various artists around the world. I do everything from rock, pop, progressive, metal, blues to Latin tracks. I have my own group Soul Sign, and we are currently writing for our next album. Since 2012 I also tour with Dio Disciples, which is basically Dio’s band since the ’90s (Craig Goldy, Simon Wright, Scott Warren) plus me and Ripper Owens (Judas Priest) and Oni Logan (Lynch Mob) on vocals. We are looking at possibly making an album later this year. I’m also working with Plenty Heavy. In 2015 I did an album with Blackwelder, which ended up high on the charts in a few countries. A second one is in the works.
I’m personally doing fine, but in general the music business is very rough and if I knew going in that one day you won’t be able to sell recorded music anymore, I most likely would have chosen another path.
Please describe a typical camp participant experience at Rock’n’Roll Fantasy Camp?
Almost everyone is extremely grateful and excited. Many of them nervous, which is very natural. I envy their courage of getting on a big stage with major artists in front of a lot of people. But we encourage everyone to have fun, and that should be the prime reason for attending.
Can you share a memorable teaching moment with one of the camp participants?
One camper I worked with was very nervous, but also a bit “rusty” and hadn’t played or practiced in many years. He was very respectful and paid attention to everything I had to say. I gave him a lot of tips and pushed him really hard. He ended up performing wonderfully and in just a couple of days of rehearsals came a LONG way. I will never forget. That was very rewarding for me. In fact, I have had many rewarding experiences teaching at the camp.
What have you learned by being in the same environment as the other camp counselors, students?
A lot! Most counselors use a slightly different approach, just like any bandleader would, but they all work because of their amazing personalities, experience, and proficiency. The campers are wonderful people, and I have made lots of friends. They’ve been awesome and done a great job.
Though the camp title puts the word “Fantasy” in the marketing, please tell me about the “real work” that students experience.
Rehearsing and getting ready for the shows can be a challenge, but that’s also what’s rewarding for them in the end. Having that “deadline” just like a real professional puts pressure on them, but it makes them practice and be ready to do a fun and successful show.
Valerie Ince, Director of Marketing and Operations
“Bjorn has been a counselor at many camps over the last couple of years. He is an amazing musician and an even more wonderful person. His campers always love him, and he does an amazing job. He is a great fit for RRFC.”
Please fill me in on the type of musician your camp caters to.
Rock’n’Roll Fantasy Camp is for ALL musicians—from beginners to advanced, we are open to all skill levels
If you can, talk about the final performance.
The camper bands prepare, through the guidance of their rock star counselors, such as Bjorn, and Vinny Appice, Rudy Sarzo, etc., for the camp’s finale at the legendary Whisky a Go Go on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. It is a real thrill for them to play this stage, where bands like The Doors, Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen have all played . . . it’s the most famous rock and roll club in the world, and they perform there on the final night of camp.
I take it there is no S’mores, fishing, campfire sing-alongs?
No way! This is rock and roll!!! It’s all music . . . all day . . . all night!
Can you discuss the “continuing education” or “adult enrichment” aspect?
We offer amazing master classes at camp. We want our campers to leave better musicians than when they arrived. We recently had drum legend Gregg Bissonette teach a special two-hour master class, and all of our incredibly talented rock stars teach master classes at camp. The topics range from techniques, to stage presence, to how to get along in a band, and everything in between. We have recently implemented a new master class that we call THE ROUNDTABLE, where our campers can bring their original songs and work on them with a group of counselors. It’s been such a big hit, we now have them several times during camp.
What states and countries have campers been from?
All over the world . . .
Please discuss the “social” non-instruction down time/friendships that campers have experienced.
People attend camp and make friends for life. Some end up coming back with the entire band they were placed in at camp. Campers leave camp and stay in touch with their band members, counselors, the production crew, camp staff . . . it’s a family and everyone is welcome . . . and once you’re in the RRFC family, you’re in for life . . . it’s an amazing experience with amazing people . . . over 50% of our clientele return. One of our campers has been to 26 camps. At this last camp with Nancy Wilson of Heart and Steven Adler of Guns N’ Roses, we had a camper celebrating 10 years of coming to camp . . . it’s an addiction. 🙂
Any philosophy, mission statement?
It’s an honor to make people’s dreams come true through music, and that’s what it’s about . . . we get to enrich and change people’s lives . . .
It’s an honor to make people’s dreams come true through music.
Read “Higher Education and the Young Guitarist, Part III—Popular Guitar Studies” by Thomas Amoriello and Matthew S. Ablan in the May 2013 issue of Tempo magazine to learn about other popular music schools.
About the author:
Thomas Amoriello is the Guitar Education Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association and also serves on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education as the Chair-Elect. He teaches guitar for the Flemington Raritan School District and Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. Tom graduated from Shenandoah Conservatory with a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance. He is the author of the children’s picture books: A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo & Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand, both available from Black Rose Writing. He recently made a heavy metal recording with a stellar roster of musicians including former members of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and Cacophony and that will be released in February 2018 on H42 Records of Hamburg, Germany, on 7-inch vinyl.
Read past articles by Thomas Amoriello:
- Empowering the Musician in Your Classroom
- The Opportunities Guitar Education Brings
- Heavy Metal Guitar: Neo-Classical Style
- Heavy Metal Guitar: From Times Square to Netflix and Beyond
- An Article for Jazz Educators: Interview with Guitarist Kevin Eubanks
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Elizabeth Baker, Social Media Coordinator and Copywriter. December 14, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)