What is one of the top questions a musician is asked in an interview?
Who Are Your Biggest Influences?
Four years ago when I did my first interview on a progressive rock radio station with host Nick Katona, not only did I freeze, answer a lot of yes and no, and left a lot of dead air but when he asked me about my musical influences and what artists inspired me, I just drew a blank. I never had considered the question before and over the years now, every so often, I ask myself what I would have said.
Musical Influences: Looking to the Past
I haven’t listened to a lot of new music since becoming a composer. But, recently when I was hanging out with some friends, going through some old vinyls, I finally could see, in retrospect, which artists I enjoyed listening to before I started making my own music
Approach and Style
In my teens – the lead/rhythm guitarist in the heavy metal band Scorpions, Matthias Jabs soloing technique and his temperament made an impression on me. He played what needed to be played for the song, unpretentiously, but not without dramatic epic leads, fills and softer textures when needed.
Another was Tom Waits, I enjoyed his performance style and audacious interpretations. He performed his songs in a very distinct, non-conformist way and allowed natural sounds to appear in his recordings, like trains and birds, which I relate to as an artist.
When I was younger, I was very intrigued by Michael Jackson’s performance and dancing. He seemed to shine like no other every time he was on stage, you knew it was “him”. I don’t play the same music — but for me, he was the perfect performer — you really can’t take your eyes off him when he is on stage.
To be honest, when I held a guitar in my hands for the very first time — it came pretty easy to me — maybe too easy. I could play chords, notes and songs, but once I attended the conservatory, (which I did for 2 years), I felt like shit.
I felt I would never be able to reach a point — of perfection — in time. At the conservatory, success was measured according to what pieces you can play, the detailed way you play the scales, the notes, your knowledge of theory and harmony, how to name each element and recognize and analyze every part. Like if you play C major you need to play this chord or that after. There were so many rules and so much stress to be perfect, exact. And, though those skills are vital as a base. I couldn’t imagine how all of those details could fit into your head and still leave room for any inspiration. Though, I passed through a couple levels quickly, I felt I was getting molded into the “teacher’s groove” and whatever raw inspiration that was still alive in me would be lost forever. So, after a few years of the basic training, I left the conservatory.
One interesting observation my teacher made at conservatory about me was that he said, I was a ‘composer’ — It pissed me off then because at that time, I just wanted to be the best guitarist and violinist I could be but — he was right, finally. I am a composer and that is what I am most enthusiastic about.
In the beginning after I left, it was hard. I practiced scales on my own. But it really came together for me when I started soloing.
Blues, Jazz and Metal
There was one song by blues guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan that became my practice routine then.
One piece, an instrumental “Tin Pan Alley” — I soloed on top of this every day. It was at that moment I realized how much you can do on top of 4 or 5 chords.
I particularly liked metal bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest but my practice really started by soloing on jazz.
When I was 14, I made one of my first mixed tapes of jazz guitarist, Joe Pass’ recordings and would actually sleep to it every night. His album, “Portraits of Duke Ellington” was the one I listened to most.
I also made quite a few mix-tapes of Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery‘s music, I listened to them while walking to school — and even during class!
My teacher at conservatory gave me a vinyl album by Kevin Eubanks, a jazz and fusion guitarist and composer who later was the leader of the Tonight Show Band. The album, “Heat of the Heat” which was produced by George Benson, had a soft jazz song called ‘Palace of the Seven Jewels’ — I repetitively practiced soloing on. I realize now after listening to this vinyl again after so many years that I was greatly influenced by his playing style.
My baptism into prog was from one song by Pink Floyd called, “Dogs” from their 1977 album ‘Animals’ and specifically that part [7:59-13:09] which was mesmerizing at the time.
For vocals, there are no specific influences, but Etta James and Maria Callas are some of my favorites.
Classical and Soundtracks
Most of all though, I was especially moved by classical music like Samuel Barber’s, “Adagio for Strings” for example and scores from movies like John Corigliano’s “Red Violin”, Niki Reiser’s “Nowhere in Africa” and Rachel Portman’s “Chocolat”.