Behind the piano

Behind the piano: Alstad

A while back I wrote about the track When we lost it all by the composer and piano player Alstad. And today; we go behind the piano to get to know the person behind the track a bit better!

What’s your real name? 
My name is Cory Alstad

How did you come up with your artist name? 
When I started producing instrumental piano-music, I decided to separate my other music (mostly singer/songwriter stuff with full band, studio recordings, etc) from this particular music. So under ‘Alstad’ at this point, the music will all be instrumental and will feature piano as the main instrument.

Where are you from? And where do you live? 
I’m a Canadian and have always lived in Canada. I grew up in a few different places, but spent most of my early life in Winnipeg, MB, which is in central Canada. Years later, my wife and 3 kids moved to where we live now about 14 and a half years ago. We live in a city called “Langley” which is basically kind of a suburb of Vancouver. 

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well? 
I’ve played piano for many years…I started lessons when I was 7 years old and have played ever since. My parents forced me to take piano lessons, even later on when I begged them to quit! Now I’m thankful that they wouldn’t let me, but we had lots of fights about it…I can play a few other instruments as well, but not at the same level as the piano. I can play guitar, a bit of the drums, bass guitar and can ‘fake it’ on a few other  instruments. I’m also a singer. 

Tell us about how you started playing music.  
I grew up in a home where my dad was quite musical, on the piano and with vocals. I took lessons from a young age, on. I did the whole classical “Royal Conservatory of Music” route and actually ended up going to the University of Manitoba School of Music, where I completed a Bachelor of Music. But from the very beginning I was drawn to songs that I heard on the radio and loved. I have a good ear for music, and so I would often  learn the songs by ear and focus on that in my practicing, much to the annoyance of my piano teachers! I would also often ask them to play a piece that I was supposed to learn, so that I could have a head-start in learning the piece by ear! As I grew older and developed as a musician, I began to write music as well and that quickly became a real passion for me, which it continues to be, today. I also grew up attending church and was very much involved musically in that context, as I continue to be. 

How long have you been making piano music? 
Probably for 30 years or so.

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself! 
I think that I was writing/making music from very early on – writing all sorts of terrible songs on the piano at a young age! But, they got better as I got older. I think that one of the turning points for me was when I was attending a college near Winnipeg (before my university days) and I showed my music professor a piece that i had written. He loved it and was super encouraging to me and urged me to continue down that path. i think that was a really good ’nudge’ in my life and I started to take it more seriously after that. Having someone believe in your music is such an important thing in any musicians life, I think.

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
I would have to say that Olafur Arnalds is one of my favourites. He’s fantastic. I also really love the music of Joep Beving, Peter Cavallo, Nils Frahm – and many others!

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
Hmmm. I made up a fun arrangement of “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson a few years ago with a guitarist friend of mine, so I often will jam to that!

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
I think that it’s good to know the rules before you break them. But I think there are lots of rules that can be broken. Of course, part of the challenge is, depending on what genre you’re in, the rules change 🙂 If you’re writing a piece in the baroque era/genre, you’re going to have to be careful about sticking to their rules, or else you’re not going to actually be making baroque music. I’m drawn to chords that have dissonances to them. Like a suspension 4 chord (say a Gsus) that still has the third in it – so you’ve got that beautiful tension of an 11th chord (without the 7th and 9th necessarily). So maybe you’d call that a G add 4…lots of subjectivity around chord labels. I think that anyone who claims that there are hard and fast rules about what can be included or not included in music isn’t correct. It can all be music – it may just not be great music 🙂 

How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
With my Alstad stuff (piano instrumental) I started out collaborating with a friend, but for the last little while I’ve been doing it all on my own in my little studio in my garage. So very much a solo thing.

Whats your take on sampled instruments?
I love sampled instruments! I use them all the time. There are so many legit sounding instruments out there right now and it’s never been easier to have a great sounding piece/album without needing to do it in a big studio with a real piano, etc., which costs a lot of money.  Obviously, using a real piano is ALWAYS ideal – sometimes just for the feel of it (which of course affects how you’ll play the piece) if for nothing else. But there are lots of great sampled instruments out there.

Anything else you want to share? 
I appreciate the chance to be part of this blog! If people are interested in my music they can definitely check me out on Spotify, Apple Music, or any other music platform. Also, I curate a great little playlist called Chill Evening Music that’s filled with beautiful and reflective instrumental music. 

The last question is asked by my 6 year oldson
Where do all your songs come from? 
Ha ha – beautiful question! I think that my songs come from my heart. I really believe that we’ve all been made to create and it’s one of the ways that we speak about the things of the heart and the soul. Words often don’t do a good job of articulating what is going on in our inner lives and so music can really help us there. There’s an old, obscure passage in the Bible that says that God has placed eternity on the human heart. I think that when we make music, we are reaching for that eternity – we’re made for it and can’t help ourselves. So, I think that my songs come from a deep place of longing and of reaching towards the Divine! 

Thanks for participating Cory!

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