Bassist Spotlight: Justin “Gwomper” Burdick (Avail)

Photo: Ken Penn

I have always loved Avail. Justin "Gwomper" Burdick agreeing to this interview made me love them and him even more. Avail is just one of those bands that are timeless and stir me up every time I hear any song.

Their shows are always wild, kinda scary, but if you got knocked down in the pit, you get picked up immediately by someone with a smile on their face. One of the best live bands you'll ever see.

Of the hundreds of great memories Avail has given me, the most memorable is being on spring break my freshman year of college in Panama City. My college roommate, Scott Fears, and I drove down the strip blasting their music to the thousands of spring breakers every night. I didn't know or care if they liked Avail.

A while back I texted my other former roommate, Endpoint manager, and front of house/sound engineer badass, Andy Tinsley (Deftones, Alkaline Trio), and he helped me get in touch with Gwomper for the latest installment of my Bassist Spotlight interview series for No Echo.

I hope you all enjoy Gwomper's story a much as I did, and will go blast Avail immediately after reading this. 

Introduce yourself to everyone.
Hi. I’m Justin, but everybody calls me Gwomp. Usually it’s preceded with “Fuckin." 

IE: "We are out of coffee, fucking Gwomp drank the last of it". Or maybe.... "Fuckin Gwomp kept me up all night"

But it’s not all bad, sometimes it goes ...."There’s no weed, who’s got weed?" "Fuckin Gwomps got weed!"

Either way, it's my name and I’m stuck with it. 

How did you discover the bass guitar?
I wasn’t cute enough for the guitar, not stable enough for a drum set, can’t sing for shit. But I could play every Black Sabbath record back to back by ear on an acoustic guitar, also I had no problems living in a van for months at a time.

Then, the Avail boys needed a bass player. It took never-ending set practices and plenty of added homework. Fortunately for me, Chuck McCauley (who played the bass on Satiate, and Dixie records) sat down with me and went over some of the harder spots. There were some spots that were harder than others.

Chuck's bass lines are so good that it took about a year before I even felt like I was getting anywhere, but along the way, I kept my head down and kept working at it. I couldn’t help but pick up little tricks he used and eventually I got more consistent and confident.

As time went on I stopped thinking of the bass as a 4-string guitar and more of a four-stringed drum. 

Avail (Photo: Chris Boarts Larson)

Did/does your family support your music?

My mom bought me an acoustic guitar in ninth grade, she’s stoked on me. The rest of my family are blue-collar conservatives and don’t see any value in it. I think they would be happier if I was a retired trash man who received a gold watch for 25 years of service upon retirement.

I don’t know it’s tough out there, but you can be damn sure I’m always at the Thanksgiving table talking shit and giving it back to my naysaying uncles talking tour stories and letting them know how fun life can be. 

Do you play any other instruments?
I can play home sweet home intro on the piano, and I like fiddlin on the guitar. I’ll bet you 20 bucks I can air drum better than anyone you know, but unfortunately, I’m not allowed to touch any drum set, any time, ever. 

It’s a rule we should all have to live by. Fucking people who can’t play drums need to stay the hell away from em. 

Has there been a typical way you write your bass parts over the years? Also, do you keep the first versions of riffs you come up with or work on them away from practice? 

Honestly, when we were in the band room writing songs, it was always fast-moving, when it came to arranging. They were always steps ahead of me, so I was always doing homework just trying to keep up. We also had a saying "no ego" if the part didn’t fit and someone else had an idea that was better for the whole of the song, that’s what we would go with.

For example, if we had a part we were working on and I wasn’t filling up the space the way the other dudes were hearing it, we would pass the bass around so everybody could get a little input, but let me tell you, that shit doesn’t work with everybody.

Most people can’t dumb their ego down enough to take critiques from other members. Also, I must give a shoutout to Chuck who showed me all the parts. So really he was ripping off the band, Rites of Spring and I was just ripping Chuck off. Along with Tim (Barry), They deserve the accolades for Avail's bass sound. 

The majority of your bass parts are their own hooks in the songs. Memorable forever. Did the band lean on you for those parts, ie: ask you for super melodic hooks, or did you put them in the songs either way without even thinking about it?

Like I said I give credit to the other guys, I just was interpreting what they heard. 

What are your opinions on playing with a guitar pick versus with your fingers?  
Except for Daryl Jenifer of the Bad Brains, real bass players play with fingers. The rest is just guitar parts. Avail's bass lines are impossible to play with fingers.

When you are playing, do you upstroke, or downstroke more? 

Early on it was a lot more downstrokes and incorrect hand positions and ego-stroking. After all these years of joint and arthritis pain in my back my shoulder My elbow, wrist, hands, and fingers—I’ve learned to ease up. Some shows I have such bad muscle cramps in my hand and all I can do is hit the root note on the 1. 

Is there a bass player who has inspired your technique over the years?

Both Daryl Jennifer from the Bad Brains and Lemmy from Motörhead come to mind.

Are there any drummers in your life that make you change the way you play?

I feel like you need to write your parts based on what the drummer's foot is doing, some drummers like it on the beat and snappy, some ahead of the beat and get going off to the races. Some stay behind the beat and add power, either way, I’m usually reacting to what they do. So yes 

What is your favorite amp, bass guitar, and pedal set up?
Ampeg amps (rip) 
Fender P bass 

It ain’t groundbreaking.

Is there any songs in your repertoire that kick your ass to play live?
Mostly that comes from me overwriting the basslines, trying to be all extra, or trying to force guitar parts and make them into bass parts. When I’m listening more to the others instead of just my parts and letting shit breathe, then there are no parts that kick my ass. 
I have been in many situations throughout my life where an Avail song has come on be it a bar, someone's house, a tour bus whatever, and I and the people I'm with have completely destroyed the area and pounded on each other while singing every word. 

How does it feel writing songs that will have that effect on people forever?

I definitely have a lot of pride from being a part of such amazing times and people, but thinking about stuff like that only stymies my creative process. It doesn’t matter what I did then, only now. Blah blah blah.

Avail shows in Louisville, Kentucky were some of the best memorable, rowdy, and joyous shows I’ve ever seen in my life. Do you have any favorite shows in Louisville you can tell us about?
I missed all the OG early '90s shows with By the Grace of God, I did play a few shows there, the fest is one I clearly remember, but I will say that the boy’s in the band never forgot how big the Louisville scene was For touring bands. 

You have toured everywhere, is there a city you would like to live in before you're 100% settled down?

No, I figure I’ll never find a home. Once you get the travel bug, it doesn’t go away. 

How are you and your family handling COVID?
The first 4 months of this plague were spent in Costa Rica isolated and surfing until I was broke, the last 4 months I have spent up in Mendocino County isolated on a mountain working on a farm.

This whole shitshow has really shown me what I want and what I don’t want in life. I am definitely ready to sell everything and get out of the city forever and go build a cabin in the woods. 

Avail (Photo: Patrick West)

Is there anything new musically happening for you that you can tell us about?

I don't have any plans other than keeping it fun, getting in the band room with Erik Larson, and keeping up the chops for some post-COVID Avail shows in 2022. 

Finally do you have any words of wisdom for someone picking up the bass guitar for the first time?  
It’s not a guitar, only Cliff Burton can do bass solos.


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Tagged: avail, bassist spotlight