Posted on January 30, 2023

Finding joy: an interview with VCC alum and award-winning bassist Colin Sankey

Colin Sankey plays bass by the beach

Fresh off his win at the 2022 Phil Jones Solo Bass Competition in New York, Colin Sankey returns to VCC for Alumni Music Week (February 8-11) with a masterclass workshop that will cover solo electric bass techniques. Any musicians – not just bassists – are invited to attend this free event.

Colin is an accomplished musician and bassist whose debut album Reawakening was released in the fall of 2022. The album is the culmination of three years’ work and includes musical contributions from fellow VCC Music alumni. One of the compositions from the album is the original solo bass piece that won Colin the top prize in New York.

In the following interview, get to know Colin as he talks about competing in events, what set him on his path to music, and why he believes “the joy of music” is what’s most important when starting a music career.

First, congratulations on your most recent achievement: winning the 2022 Phil Jones Solo Bass Competition. Tell us about your experience in New York.

They selected 12 finalists from a bunch of submissions across North America and invited them out to this guitar shop in New York to compete. I played an original from my debut album Reawakening called “Musica de la Noche” and it really impressed the judges! One was Paul Simon’s bass player. My parents were also there and they overheard one of the judges saying, “I guess they do it differently in Canada, eh?” 

Thanks for representing us so well! Have you competed in other events before?

Yes, mostly online. Some bassists have huge followings on YouTube, and every time they put up opportunities for people to enter submissions for a collab or contest, I always try to get something in because it will introduce me to new audiences and help build my following. 

At the very end of 2021, I entered the BITE Bass Contest, hosted by the great Charles Berthoud, and won second place against over 300 contestants from around the world! Two days after Christmas, I was gaming on my computer when I suddenly noticed a YouTube notification from this guy saying, “Congratz on your new Glarry bass!” I searched it up on YouTube, and there I was, right at the beginning of the video, playing the bass on Charles’ YouTube channel!

What a thrill to see your work recognized that way. How did you get into music?

My older brother is a drummer and introduced me to some of the bands I grew up to love, like Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails. When I was 12 or 13, I started really getting into music and discovered classics like Led Zeppelin IV, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and ACDC’s Back in Black. It was around then that my brother got Rock Band and Guitar Hero for Christmas, and after a few hours of playing, I decided I wanted to pick up an instrument for real […] I took lessons and just started practicing all the time. 

I remember in one particular guitar lesson: the instructor sent four of us home to practice “Santeria” by Sublime, and I loved the song so much, I went and practiced it every day until I could play it perfectly. When I came back next week…I nailed it note for note. The instructor pointed at me and said, “That is exactly what I want a student to do: to go home and practice the material and come back having learned it.” Then he turned to me and said, “So you’re planning on starting a reggae band, eh?” From that point on, I devoted my life to music, and I’ve never looked back.


"I also loved the feeling of community at VCC, and how there was so much collaboration between musicians."


You attended VCC between 2012 and 2016 to complete your Bachelor of Applied Music degree. What did you enjoy most about your time with us?

The music program at VCC introduced me to so much new music. My instructors introduced me to a lot of jazz, which has so much harmonic and rhythmic depth, and uses the language of music in such a sophisticated way. I learned how to conceptualize music in a way that helped me expedite my learning process when transcribing tunes. Playing in jazz ensembles, learning theory and arranging, and opening myself to new genres of music helped me to grow as a composer as well; I added a lot more colours to my palette as a composer and arranger. 

I also loved the feeling of community at VCC, and how there was so much collaboration between musicians – I’ve heard that some music schools have a very competitive atmosphere and that people cut each other down to get a leg up, but that was not the case at VCC. People were happy to collaborate in Performance Techniques Class, and the jazz ensembles were always incredibly fun. We got to play shows outside of school and I really bonded with a lot of the people [at VCC] over time. The other artists I met at VCC are still my professional contacts seven years later. We call each other up for gigs, record on each other’s albums, and start bands together. 

What advice would you give someone starting out?

You won’t progress in a meaningful way unless you find joy in what you do. You will be more motivated to put in the effort to progress if you really love it. Find music that inspires you, find songs that you like to play, and just play! One of my favourite bassists of all time, Victor Wooten, says that music is a language. We’re meant to speak it and converse with each other. That’s how we make music. If you have fun conversing with others using the language of music, you will progress no matter what.

For more information about VCC’s performing arts programs and courses, including enrolment in the Bachelor of Applied Music, visit our Music and Dance page.