As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 21 – Fall 2022
Haitian-American bassist Sterlyn Termine is about using music as a form of self-expression. A graduate of Howard University, Sterlyn is someone whose creativity can be heard in the progression of her notes. To Sterlyn, it’s about finding your inner voice and letting that be heard through your craft; it’s about becoming confident in your skin and exploring what makes you happy. She’s a musician who takes inspiration from her surroundings; from jazz to Kompa to R&B, Sterlyn believes that creative growth is learning what you like and honing your craft. In this interview, she details her songwriting process, tips for staying positive, and how she got into music.
Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to pick up the bass.
My name is Sterlyn; I am a Haitian-American electric bass guitarist, pianist, and composer from Brockton, MA. I graduated from Howard University with a degree in music composition and a minor in saxophone. I studied saxophone for years before picking up the bass guitar in 2018. After graduating college, I was motivated to give my dreams a chance and began working full-time as an electric bassist, and here I am today!
Like many musicians, the process of crafting your tone can be everchanging. How would you describe your sound(s)?
I have a few different sounds. I would describe my bass sound as being locked in and rhythmic in a rhythm section setting. But as a soloist, I am pretty lyrical. I often take the “singing approach” when playing freely on bass. I like to think I am a combination of melodic jazz fusion and highly rhythmic bass sounds in the world of music.
What musicians inspired you to play bass guitar? Are there genres of music that speak to you the most?
Esperanza Spalding was my biggest inspiration to play bass guitar as an adolescent, but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I finally started playing. Jaco Pastorius was a massive influence in my early years. Later, I would discover bassists such as Tal Wilkenfeld, MonoNeon, and Derrick Hodge.
In terms of genres, I enjoy the sounds of Kompa (a Haitian musical genre), hip hop, contemporary R&B, and classical music. These genres speak to me the most and influence my voice as an instrumentalist and composer.
Let’s talk about gear; what amps, guitars, pedals, and pickups are a part of your rig right now?
My main bass guitar is a four-string Fender American Professional II Jazz Bass. I also play a five-string Sire V3 Jazz Bass. I mainly gig through my Markbass Mini CMD 121P 1×12 Bass Combo Amp. My pedalboard consists of a series of MXR pedals, including their envelope filter, preamp, compressor, and chorus.
Scooting over to another side of being creative, tell us about your songwriting process. Do you find your musical yield fruitful with your current process, and how do you stay creative through it all?
As a composer, much of the creation process begins with hearing and creating sounds. I enjoy experimenting with keyboard and bass patches to provide more texture as I build. Once the right sound “shows up,” it will inspire me to create accompanying chord progressions and melodies. I often record this process, then take a step back to listen and develop these fragments into a song with more structure. I find that my most genuine music comes out of this process, and it is then that I can speak most truthfully from within.
Staying creative is highly vital to my mental health and musical fitness. If I am swamped with gigs, stuck in the never-ending cycle of learning setlists, and unable to produce new music, it feels soul-crushing. This can sometimes lead to feeling depressed and uninterested in music. To avoid this, I set aside time to play bass and piano leisurely (jamming to my favorite music) and make it a habit to produce new ideas on a digital audio workstation (DAW). As a working musician, I am very supportive of the concept of “noodling” on your instrument; it’s good for the soul. It keeps the inner child in me excited to play music all over again, and as musicians, we need to like playing.
What does your practice routine consist of?
Currently, I am preparing to go on tour for a musical production called “SIX,” so much of my daily practice is studying the show. I am also a full-time musician, so most of my routine is learning setlist music for that week’s gigs. I still work closely with a metronome playing scales and patterns using finger techniques such as fingerstyle, slapping, and palm muting to keep my approach fresh. I also try to find time to transcribe records and different bass players. Lately, I have been studying more piano because of the growth I am experiencing in understanding harmony. It has also widened my perspective on music, furthering my skill in the bass.
What do you like about performing live versus playing in a studio setting?
When performing live, I love that the music can unpredictably come to life. Great chemistry with band members is the best way this happens, and the euphoria that follows an excellent performance is second to none. Many musicians will call it “going there,” and when it goes there during a performance, it goes there. For just a moment, the four walls in a venue disappear, and I feel like I’m flying with my fellow bandmates on board. This experience can also happen in a studio ensemble setting, but it is further intensified by an audience there to enjoy the ride. In a studio setting, I like the focus I can have without the external factors of a live performance to distract me. The varying sound acoustic quality, the audience, or even the pressure of maintaining stage presence can take away from my precision. In a controlled setting, I can zone in on the music and focus on clean and intentional playing suitable for a record.
Who are some artists you enjoy performing with?
This past year was my first year pursuing music full-time, and I loved the different artists I worked with across the country. I worked with many artists, such as Tori Tori, Lilah, Jakari JB, Lisa Bello, and Brent Faiyez. I loved each artist’s individuality and excellence in the craft.
My matriculation at Howard University was full of new experiences as a sideman and musical director. It was a gratifying experience. I played for artists such as Rolanda Carter, Indigo Una, Halo Wheeler, and more. These are musical experiences I cherish.
The music industry has not done a great job of providing spaces and opportunities for female musicians (specifically those of color) to share their talent and have those gifts appreciated and acknowledged. What has been your experience being a woman of color working in the music industry, and in what ways do you believe the industry can better recognize the contributions of women of color?
Being a young Black woman in the music industry is incredible, and I am grateful for the support I receive from my community in Boston. I am honored when people (especially young Black girls) light up seeing other Black women playing instruments on stage. I love being part of a changing culture where all identities are represented and inspired to join. I always dreamed of working in the music industry but ignored my desires because of fear. I hope to be someone’s reason to go after their dreams.
Over time, I learned to build my confidence behind the instrument. I know I am where I am, not because of how I look but because of how hard I worked to get here. The negative comments and diminishing of our skills and accomplishments persist, but as a Black woman in the industry, I let my skill speak for itself. I believe Black women can be better acknowledged and recognized for their talent and skill by being in higher positions of power. Though we might think that work ethic is all you need for success, like most industries, the music industry is about who you know, and the folks to know are often in a “boy’s club.” That can be pretty hard or uncomfortable to join. We cannot wait for folks to bring us to the table. We have to create our own. We have to be in places of power to make the calls and bring other Black women into the room. That room also requires more respect for Black women — which means no tolerating sexist comments or brushing sexual harassment and assault under the table. These are real issues that persist in the music industry and directly affect us. We’ve come a long way, but there is always room for improvement.
What advice can you give aspiring musicians trying to find their niche as bass players?
My advice would be to discover what you like as an artist and develop YOU. Your niche will come to you if you are playing at your most authentic and best self. You will attract what you put out; if you want excellence, that is what you need to be. In the same breath, be versatile and study. Learn different styles of music because you never know what you might be called to play and want to aim to do it all. Finding your voice and strengths will set you apart in this industry.
Do you have any passions outside of music that help you to stay creative?
I am a giant nerd, and I love learning about the world. I can study Google maps, read articles or watch documentaries about different countries for hours. It’s not a passion of mine, more than just a subject I am fascinated with. I am discovering that I love humanity. People are incredible, and so is their home, geography, language, food, music, and culture. It inspires me to stay fresh and think outside of myself.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years, and what goals do you hope to accomplish?
I hope to see myself playing bass and traveling the world. I will travel around the country very soon, but I always aim to go higher. I want to see the world that I have been watching through documentaries my entire life. I also want to have original music released. I think I have something to say, so I am eager to discover and share it with the world. I must share this gift and use the opportunity to help someone. It is also a big goal of mine to use what music has given me to create a lasting impact outside of it. This means establishing strong financial roots outside of performance work so I can sustain myself and my descendants to come. Ultimately, I want to see myself happy and in love with music, just as I was a kid.