Welcome to our new People of WaterBear series. A chance for you to get to know more about the industry veterans you'll learn from at WaterBear. Asking everything from how they got started, their inspirations, lessons from working in music and much more.
First in our series is Head of Guitar, Sam Bell, a leading UK session guitarist and educator.
When I was 5/6 years old, I was obsessed with early Rock’n’Roll and I saw the West End Production of the Buddy Holly story. I love the show, but I was more pre-occupied by the musicians recreating the sound of the music I’d listened to on my parents' vinyl player at home. It was magic! I wanted to do that. I started writing cheesy little songs, playing for family & friends. I'm still doing that now!
Life in general! I love being in nature, I love 90’s video games, I love abstract art and comedy. Musically, I’m really into what top session players get up to, how they can be creative under pressure. I keep going back to Hendrix, Paul Gilbert, Vai, Tame Impala and Talking Heads. It's cheesy to say that I love all music, but I can find something I enjoy in most genres as long as it's got heart.
I write tunes for progressive metal band Mask of Judas - we have an album called ‘The Mesmerist’ which I’m proud of. It's very over-the-top 8-string guitar stuff. I’ve also released my own singles/EP’s of progressive instrumental guitar music. A few years ago, I made a low-fi synthwave-inspired EP called ‘The Earth Completes Another Rotation’. I’ve also been involved in creating lesson courses for LickLibrary. This is always fun; last year I taught a course on Rush’s ‘Moving Pictures’ album. Previously I’ve made courses featuring Paul Gilbert, Paganini’s 16th Caprice on Guitar, 7-String Guitar Secrets, Tapping Arpeggios and much more. I'm currently creating a course on David Lee Roth’s ‘Eat 'Em and Smile’. I’ve played many guest solos on various people’s albums, mostly in the Instrumental Metal/Rock genre. And I’ve done many sessions from home for all kinds of things - from Rock Operas to Singer Songwriters. I love it. I also helped structure the Guitar Techniques course for WaterBear!
I’ve been fortunate to have had some wonderful times in music. To be honest, I’m always proud of the people I get to play with, hearing how it all comes together. I feel lucky to play and work with some wonderful people. That’s what I’m proud of. One moment personally that took me back a bit was getting the job at LickLibrary. Andy James got me in to do some 8-string stuff for the magazine. From that moment my career changed a lot. He was very kind to give me that opportunity.
One of my tutors in my early 20’s was a fantastic player and all-round super gentleman Paul Bielatowicz. He put me forward to Bruce in the very early days of the creation of WaterBear. Meeting Bruce and learning about his vision for WaterBear was very refreshing; I’ve learnt a lot from Bruce. I love the vibe of the whole thing and I love being part of this amazing team. It’s a huge honour. The students are wicked, they keep me on my toes. They always introduce me to new music and ask really insightful questions. The standard of player these days is fantastic. It's an honour to play a small role in helping students on their musical journeys.
There was a time that I had drunk so much Matcha Tea before a show (I had previously done a 500-mile round trip as designated driver) that when I went on stage, after the curtains opened, I couldn’t move my feet or legs! I couldn’t feel my heart beating and everything was super slow. I thought I was passing out! Don’t overdo the caffeine!
Deep down I feel as though there is going to be a huge return of live music after this pandemic has passed. People are thirsty for it. The shows might be in smaller venues, there may still be restrictions. But I think everyone is going to appreciate it much more. It's going to mean more to a lot of people here in the UK.
Michael Sembello – ‘Bossa Nova Hotel’. He wrote ‘Maniac’ (which is on that album). He learnt guitar from Pat Martino, who wrote a bunch of stuff for Michael Jackson, George Benson and many others. He played guitar on Stevie Wonder's ‘Songs in the Key of Life’.
Big thanks to Sam Bell! Check out our unique departments and other amazing tutors here.
I grew up in Munich in Bavaria. Music was always very special to me from a young age - I remember one Christmas at a ski resort, I went out and played Christmas songs on my balcony to spread the love on my recorder! I believed that when people get in touch with their emotions and feel their heart, there’s less room for aggression. I was also really into strict Catholicism and decided to become a nun. I was so strictly disciplined with myself for years, but when I was 17 and went to the convent they told me I couldn’t enter because I didn’t have an apprenticeship. From that point I moved away from my mother, started to question the church because of conflicting values and basically ran wild like Janis Joplin! I think for 10 years I was really struggling to live in this world, and went through lots of therapy and holistic healing.
When I was around 24, I was in France and someone tried to sexually assault me. I reacted with a cool head and thankfully I got away. With the money from the court case I decided to do something that I really wanted to do - dancing. I went to school back in Munich, and my teacher there encouraged me to do classical singing too. I was very busy during this time; learning the electric guitar, learning more about recording, and at one point I was also studying English Literature and Human Rights in Cologne.
In the year 2000 I headed to London, just me, my guitar and a sunflower. I just knew I had to be there and I started singing in rock bands. I loved heavy metal rock as it was an outlet for all my anger and frustrations. I’ll never forget when I went to see The Prodigy at Rock Am Ring festival and thinking “oh my god, how can they express all these feelings I have inside me”. What’s crazy is years later I lived with Keith Flint and The Prodigy where I met Kieron Pepper, the drummer, who introduced me to WaterBear! But back to the story. I worked with a guy who had a home studio but couldn’t hear well in one ear which encouraged me to learn how to operate the studio myself. I went on a sound engineering course through job seekers where I had to do an internship.
I rang up Mark “Spike” Stent (who's worked with Madonna, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Coldplay... the list goes on!) at Olympic Studios in Barnes and asked if I could go help out. He had too many assistants at the time but said I could go and ask questions (I still have the paper with the questions on!). After that, as soon as a job became available as a runner, I applied for the job and I got it. That was one of the main chapters in my life. The first project I worked on was a recording session with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, still using tapes. Keith Flint also did a solo project at Olympic Studios and I lived with him and members of The Prodigy, who had bought the house next door to the studios. This was the first time in my life where I felt I belonged and didn’t feel weird. People accepted me.
In 2009 I moved to Switzerland as my father was getting older and I wanted be closer to him. After he passed away, I continued the work he’d done researching the story of his mother who was killed during the Nazi times. I got back in touch with the same people and wrote the story, and got it developed the story into a script with songs. Writing is also a big part of my life - I started documenting my life when I was 10 years old... I have about 45 diaries now! In total I spent 7 years living in that house on the Swiss mountain, developing my music and production. It was painful at times as my songs weren’t commonly structured and had no timing – I called it intuitive production! I felt like I was in exile, but that’s how I had to work which actually made it more original as there was no one around I could ask for help or their thoughts.
By 2016, I knew I had to find my people. I’d stayed in touch with Kieron Pepper, and he told me about studying at Metropolis Studios where I recorded all of my material professionally. It was mind blowing because I wasn’t the assistant anymore, I was now the artist who was being looked after! I remember being scared about what would happen after I’d finished, but that’s when Keiron mentioned WaterBear. As soon as he said the name, it was like a flash through my body, I knew this was the next door I had to go through. Plus I already knew Rasha, and she’s the only person who can get my brain to work in an academic fashion.
My initial focus of my MA was to get my project BeArte out into the world and build a fan base, but I kept hitting a brick wall. Especially with Facebook. I couldn’t do it for ethical reasons and I like to take time to build relationships with people - online it has to be so fast. WaterBear was fantastic because all my assessments were geared towards finding my own route to market but with ethical considerations. Now I’m checking out if I can do lectures to raise awareness about digital ethics and offer solutions on how to protect one's privacy using alternative platforms.
Going forward I’d like to get into the routine of performing using projections and visuals and collaborating. I’d like to produce music for documentaries and spooky movies, which would work well as my music is atmospheric, conceptual, and a journey. When people watch BeArte, they claim after the show, to have been drawn in completely. What’s important to me is helping to connect with our feelings, especially the painful ones to transform them. BeArte takes people on a journey into their own inner landscapes. I just prepare the space and let them do their own thing. I am a storysinger and soundpainter.
I started playing the trumpet at school when I was 9, but then I transitioned into learning the guitar and bass when I realised playing the trumpet as a teenager wasn’t that cool. I grew up on the Isle of Wight with my parents who are Baptist missionaries, so most of my upbringing was playing in church with church bands. So every weekend I had a guaranteed gig. I left the island when I was 18 to go to London to study at bass tech, so I didn’t start gigging or taking music seriously until after I was 18. However, I dropped out of my course after the first year, as it wasn’t working for me - I just wanted to gig rather than learning theory. I then moved to Southampton where my parents had relocated to and joined a metal band, which was hilarious as I’m not really into heavy metal.
I got a job working in a guitar shop, which led to a job working for a bass guitar company, Warwick Bass. This position allowed me to play at guitar conventions and demo products, which was cool, but not what I wanted to do at this point in my life. After this, I ended up joining my favourite band ‘Ozric Tentacles’ through going to see them play, chatting to them, and to a point pestering them. I’d only been married a few months and was just settling down into a day job when this opportunity came along. It was an enlightening experience, I was very young and my expectations were higher than what was realistic. I’d never toured either. When I left Ozrics, the sound engineer was tour managing for Black Label Society with Zakk Wylde and they were looking for a bass tech. I’d just left a band and was available so of course I said yes. There were only a few weeks between me not having a band, to supporting for Black Sabbath.
I then went on to bass tech for Megadeath which gave me a good reputation which led me to guitar tech for Lamb of God, and the list just grew and grew. But even though I was working in the music industry and being a part of some amazing tours, my playing had taken a back seat, which I was unhappy with. I just wanted to create my own music. So, I started my own project Keepers Brew. In 2015 I was on a long tour with a lot of death metal bands, I wasn’t taking the best care of myself and I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep (which is the nature of being a stage manager). Everyone was partying, and even though I was exhausted, I wanted to join in.
My brain became tired and during one show at the sound check, my ears failed on me. This was harrowing. Gradually more and more frequencies were disappearing, and I felt very dizzy and drunk. After the show, my wife took me to the hospital, and I was pumped with many heavy-duty steroids to try and fix what had been damaged. At this point, everyone assumed it was damage from volume but we found out later on that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my ears, and there never had been. But I was completely deaf! It was a condition called conversion disorder and basically, it was the only way my brain could think of to make me stop and take a break. And because I was pumped with all of these steroids, it actually brought to light a mental health disorder that I’d been suffering with but never really paid attention too, which was Bipolar disorder.
There was total silence for a while, but thankfully I could communicate with people using sign language and hearing aids, because my daughter is deaf, which meant we were used to having subtitles on at home and making sure everyone could lip read. This lasted for the duration of 18 months. I went back on the road once my hearing was almost back, still as a bass tech, but once the show had started I went to the bus and waited until the music was over to protect my hearing.
So now, Keepers Brew is my main focus. I’m part of a studio project in Southampton and we’re refurbishing a four-room studio where we’ll be doing a lot more production work. I’m also writing an album for Rob Chapman. I’m also starting my Master’s degree with WaterBear, which I’m really looking forward to. My hope is that this will validate what I’ve been doing for 20 years.
Touring is a hard thing to balance; it’s so key to figure out what your limitations are. The hardest advice I ever got was to just slow the hell down. But that is truly what people in my position need to do. Even just leaving the room and getting fresh air and taking a step back sometimes. Talking to people is best thing to do if you’re suffering with anything, especially mental health related.
I was born in the Soviet Union, in Moscow. I think my family was quite unusual - both of my parents are biology professors so from early childhood I was surrounded by books and interesting people, living a life of Russian intelligentsia stereotype with “underground talks to smuggled records in a smoked filled kitchen”. There were always enthralling conversations about science and sometimes politics because life in the Soviet Union was not much fun. Everything was scarce, for example, my mum would make us clothes and we’d have different amalgamations of buckwheat and rice for every meal for years, and to get bread my parents would have to stand in a line for hours and present their bread coupons with mine and my brother’s names written on them (kids need bread). One gets used to it but I always had a feeling that life could be better than that. I loved reading and it has always been a form of escape for me, I spent years in my bedroom devouring books by Russian and foreign Greats.
When I was 6 my mum sent me to dance classes. When I was 8 we went on tour to Germany which was like being on another planet, such a surreal experience. Going on these dance tours as a child was eye-opening and it gave me a feel for independence. No one really learnt foreign languages at that time as people thought they’d never use them (the Iron Curtain and all that), but my mum sent me to a lady who privately taught me English. I read Somerset Moem in the original and memorised texts about Westminster Abbey which I thought I’d never see in real life. My English was basic but it meant I was able to get jobs as a self-proclaimed interpreter and earn a bit of money to do something nice for my family.
I was a good student at school as I love learning but it was kinda boring and didn’t seem to have much meaning. I liked history and reading so decided to do Slavonic literature and languages specialising in Polish at Moscow State University. I did actually want to be a journalist, but my mum convinced me to study something that at least seemed broader, hence the choice of the degree. Having quickly learnt another language I was being able to get more jobs as a Russian-Polish Interpreter at different literary magazines and international trade shows. I took a gap year when I was offered a Polish government scholarship to study in Warsaw. After returning to Moscow and graduating from the university I bought a ticket to Kabul, without informing anyone in my family, where I started working as a (self-proclaimed again) journalism mentor at a radio station.
Not long after, my then husband got a scholarship to study at the University of Glasgow, so we moved there for a while. We returned to Kabul in 2009 and set up our own media company implementing projects for UN and USAID. This was a difficult time for me as a foreign woman, as I was vulnerable to being kidnapped so I spent months working from a room 12-14 hours a day. It wasn’t a war zone then, but it was still quite dangerous. Even now when I hear a helicopter I automatically think of hiding. When my first son was born I didn’t feel that staying in Kabul was a great idea. We moved to the UK on Highly Skilled Entrepreneur visas and ended up setting up Rocket Science toy and bookshop at the bottom of Trafalgar Street here in Brighton. It was very DIY but I loved working with publishers, art suppliers and collaborating with local artists. I ran it for 5 years until my second child was born.
Around 3 years ago, my eldest son wanted to learn the piano so I took him to Under the Bridge studios – a community music school with local musicians. I loved it there so much (but also got very competitive with my own child), I started taking piano lessons too. Through this I started going to gigs and meeting lots of musicians and I instantly knew I wanted to be part of that world and also get back into education in some way, so WaterBear was a great fit. This is when I realised there was so much life to live and I wanted to be my own person.
A year ago I started the MA programme at WaterBear which was great – being with like-minded creatives and doing everything on my terms. My partner Ben, a very talented multi-instrumentalist and fellow workaholic, and I started up Fresh Lenins; an over the top music and art promotion company putting on commie cocktails (as we jokingly call our gigs) around Brighton, bringing together bands and solo acts that sound very different but complement each other. Going forward, we have Napoleonic plans for Fresh Lenins - more and bigger gigs, setting up a studio, getting our own venue and conquering the Universe. Just wish there was more time in the day. I also still do my art and enjoy teaching. My MA dissertation was somewhat about connection and people doing things together creatively and that is what I intend to carry on doing. The past year of facilitating musical and artistic madness was a lot of fun - the number of fantastic people we’ve met and befriended sometimes seems unreal and although there is a lot of stress affiliated with our line of work, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I was born in Kuwait to Egyptian parents and moved to Bangor in N. Wales aged 3. At age 9 we moved to Saudi Arabia, because of my Dad’s work. Saudi is (Rasha pauses and chooses her words carefully and finally decides on..) patriarchal. Women weren’t allowed to drive or vote when I was there. Plus, they didn’t nurture creativity as it was a ‘call to the devil’. It felt unfair and it turned me into a rebel, however I was a rebel that got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and ended up rebelling on my own health…
Anyway, at 17 I had a chance to get back to the UK to study. I did everything a teenager did, just a bit compact. I had a lot of fun and the parties took over from the studying. One day I got a knock on the door, it was the police. I was in the UK on an Egyptian passport with a student visa and they wanted to deport me for not attending college. Biggest reality wake-up ever as I had no idea how fragile my passport was and just thought I was like any of my friends who were also experimenting with occasionally bunking off college.
I appealed and at the same time I began to question my identity. The appeal went on for two years. In the meantime, on the way to Glastonbury via Bristol I met a band called The Moonflowers, they taught me how to play music. it was like WOW; my freedom of expression had begun. I started to play in bands and tour, but it couldn’t go anywhere because of this deportation thing, so I decided to leave first and sort out my papers, before they kicked me out.
I went back to Egypt and it took three years before I could get back the UK. I came back with a quest for all things music. I was searching for the answer to the question ‘What do I need to know to keep this expression going?’ I did a music technology BTEC, a degree, 2 masters and I played in umpteen bands, usually about 5 bands at once. I put on shows and tour managed and also taught music (performance, technology, culture and business). It was a holistic approach to quench my thirst for knowledge.
Interestingly, teaching gradually took over as my passion. Teaching kept teaching me plus it felt like a gig and I could really challenge peoples, and my own, ideas. I became obsessed with the next question which was ‘how can we flourish?’ I wanted to know how humans could sustainably self-actualise which is what I’ve ended up focusing on in our Masters programme.
In our Masters, we get to explore sustainability in the creative industries. We define our own measures of success, explore our values and what motivates us and unpack the reality of our ever-changing industry. With this foundation we visualise our chosen future and design the steps we need to get there?
Our current masters students are about to hand in their final submission and what I’ve learnt from them is that there are just no boundaries in terms of possibilities. The jump of knowledge, potential and confidence in their future has been … just amazing and a privilege to witness!
- ‘Water bear’ is the common name for a Tardigrade.
- Tardigrades are micro creatures, found everywhere on earth.
- They are the most resilient creatures known.
- They can survive and adapt to their surroundings, even in outer space.
- Their resilience and ability to adapt and survive inspires us in everything we do. We love them.