Behind the piano: Mikael Oterhals

Behind the piano: Mikael Oterhals

A while back Mikael Oterhals released his EP Association Vol. 1. and I wrote about the track Eskil here. So today we go Behind the piano to get to know more about Mikael and his music.

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I’m Mikael Oterhals, and I’m a 24 year old pianist and composer located in Stockholm, Sweden. I grew up in the Swedish town of Uppsala and lived there until I was 19 years old when I moved out to study classical music (and a little bit of jazz music and composition). 

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I have been playing the piano for about 18 years, but it wasn’t very serious until I was about 14 years old (which is 10 years ago). Apart from the piano I can play a little bit of guitar, but it always ends up in me prioritizing practising the piano so I’m not very good at it to be honest. 

Tell us how you started playing music.
I started playing when I was 6 years old because my parents gave me and my brother a small keyboard as a Christmas gift. My entire family is very musically interested so music has always naturally been a big part of my everyday life. I took piano lessons for a couple of years when I was that age, but ironically I didn’t like it very much so I quit playing for several years after that. I didn’t pick up the piano again until I went to high school and my new music teacher inspired me to start playing again. I started arranging piano covers of songs that I like and I think the reason why I loved playing again so much is the fact that I realised I could play pretty much what I wanted to, instead of going to piano lessons to play music I’ve never heard of because someone else told me to. That’s why it is super important to me, who’s a piano teacher for kids and youths today, to inspire them to play music they like themselves and to make the lessons enjoyable and not only something they HAVE to do, but something they WANT to do. 

How long have you been making music?
When I was 19 years old music was such a big part of my life and I decided I wanted to start studying classical music full time. During those years I also studied a little bit of jazz music and composition, which resulted in me writing my own music. This took a whole new level when I at age 22 began to sell piano music to customers on the Internet, who ordered all different kinds of piano compositions. This was a great way to improve my skills as I was forced to learn writing music in different genres, styles and emotions in order to satisfy my customers requirements. 

What are your favourite artists in this ”piano genre”?
There have been a lot of people who have inspired me throughout the years. I enjoy listening to, and playing, all kinds of genres and there are of course too many great musicians out there, who’ve made a huge impact on me, to mention in this interview. But in the piano genre a few big names for me are Frédéric Chopin, Ludovico Einaudi, Joel Lyssarides and of course all of the great piano teachers I’ve had in recent years. The list is endless so it is an impossible task to name only a few favourites, but those people were the most spontaneous choices that popped into my head in this moment. 

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
Not really, I don’t have any one song that I keep playing, at least not anymore. There was a period in my life, about 8 years ago, when I loved playing the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean. That track really followed me for a couple of years and I learnt a lot from it. But nowadays I would rather say I stick to a few pieces until I’ve reached a level where I cannot learn much more from them, at least not for the moment, and then I change. That process could take anything in between a few weeks to many months, and it also occurs that I resume old pieces I’ve played before, but I can not mention any one song that I keep going back to. 

What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
The biggest rule that needed to be broken for me in order to make my own music was that a composition does not always have to be complex, technically difficult or even musically theoretically “correct” to be good. The most important part of creating music for me is to deliver some kind of feeling to the listener, and that can be done with any kind of musical ideas. I spent a lot of time trying to achieve theoretical perfection when I started creating music, but it often resulted in very emotionless and dull compositions. I got so much more satisfied with my music when I started writing stuff based on my feelings. I do not say that it is not important and educative to study different kinds of composition styles and musical theory, because that knowledge makes it a lot easier to be able to turn you ideas into music, but at the end of the day your primary focus when creating music should not be to please other people, but letting your own feelings and ideas flow in order to be satisfied with the final product yourself. At least that is my perspective on the matter. 

How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio?
I mostly record my music by myself at home, but I’ve recorded some things in studios as well. I prefer to play on a grand piano because with sampled instruments it is sometimes hard to reach the same level of control and of course realistic sound. But with that said I must emphasize how great it is to have access to such a high level of sampled instruments, as today’s technology allows. It makes it so much easier for everyone to create high quality music, not only those who have access to big expensive studios and gear, including myself. 

The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from?
Hehe, great question! I must say that most of my music comes from feelings and thoughts in my head, which in its turn often comes from people around me, memories, places and other peoples music. My lastest release ’Association Vol.1’ is an example of this, since each song title on that EP is a name of a person who inspired me to compose that piece of music, in different ways. 

Thank you very much for this little talk Mikael!

For more information and updates, check out these following links:
Facebook / Instagram / Spotify