• Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Karl Thesing

    I have previously written about the German composer and piano player Karl Thesing, and today we’ll go deep!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I am from Cologne, Germany

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    The Piano was my „last“ instrument. I started with drums when I was 6 years old or something- but I was never really good at it 🙂 My main instrument was guitar and bass- I also sang a lot. I can not really remember when I started playing piano. I did not had a teacher and just always played Piano when I saw one. It was just always something I liked but never had in mind. I intensively started playing about 13 years ago.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    I always listened a lot to music. When I was a kid I was singing along to operas and musicals, I heard on Cds my parents liked to hear. I really started playing with my first band, what now seems more like a joke, because we were more then bad. I played drums and sing in this group.I wrote my first solo piano composition with 16.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I really started making piano music or neoclassical music at the age of 16.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    My mother told me about a scrapbook I used when I was 6 years old or something. I had a little cheap Casio keyboard. I did not know how to play, but I invented melodies using my own pretty dumb notation system and wrote them in that scrapbook.I am pretty curious how it did sound. Unfortunately I do not have it anymore. Otherwise I may could make some nice rework 🙂

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    It often changes. Right now I would say it is Niklas Paschburg. I can’t get those melodies out of my head 🙂

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    I can’t really play other songs unfortunately and I don’t see the fun in it as well. I am always playing the songs I am writing at the moment over and over again.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I never felt like there are rules at all. When I started playing guitar, a kid from school said I am not good at all, especially my songs, because I did not stay in the right key. When I got my first teacher (an amazing guitarist) he said I can do whatever I want when I write my own music. I believed him since then.

    How do you record your music?
    I always start just by myself, with my piano. Then I change over to Logic and cheaply produce the song with MIDI. When it comes to production, recording and mixing I always work with the same Producer and the same studio. Lennart Damann from High Tide Studio in Hennef (its near by cologne). I can’t do what I do without him. He is the sound in my music. We often spend 10 days mixing the same song together- not because it is always necessary, but we enjoy going really into every possible detail. 

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I used to job a bit in that section and sampled just a few instruments myself. I often changed my mind about them. I think it is a great way to work and it opens a lot of creative opportunities. I don’t want to miss them. But when it comes to my songs and the final production, all sampled instruments have to go.There is not a single sampled instrument in it.

    Anything else you want to share? 
    I just want to say hi to my friends/team and I hope I can soon replan our tour. Lenn, Tobi, Linus, Linda, Dominik, Raffi, Marco, Tommy, Marcel! 

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 

    I am dreaming of the songs. When I wake up my fingers are itching. Then I sit down at the piano and my fingers show them to me 🙂

    Thank you Karl for your participation!

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  • 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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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Casey Crosby

    Today I’m introducing you to American pianist Casey Crosby, which we will get to know better in this Behind the piano article!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I come from Syracuse, NY.  I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains region of Northern Virginia and later in a small town in rural Upstate New York. Since leaving university, my professional travels have taken me around the world. I have worked and played in many countries. In the past 20 years I have resided in Poland, Italy, Ireland, and Germany. Now I live in beautiful Switzerland.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I started taking lessons at the age of 10, so I play the piano since 40 years. I also play the organ.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    My grandmother got from Reader’s Digest a record of Beethoven’s 9th symphony which she gave me to listen to on her record player. The music blew my mind and I asked his mother to get me lessons on any instruments that could get me to play what I  heard. In my parent’s bedroom there was a Wurlitzer Electric Piano and a girl I liked had piano lessons on Wednesday’s so my mother booked me piano lessons on Wednesday’s after school for 50 cents.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    Since I was a teen. 

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    When I was 13, I was asked to provide some dramatic scoring for a play being performed by the school I was in at a statewide performing arts competition. I had to write down the notes for the judges to have. At the end of the competition, though the group did not win a prize, I was given an “honorable mention” for “lively and stimulating” musical support. That kind of got me “kick started” into thinking there was maybe something cool to be achieved with this. I never dreamed it’d turn into a career

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    For me there’s only one real pianist in this genre worth mentioning: George Winston. He was the first and coolest. You could throw around many names, but they all come back to him. We are all store brand generic cola. He is “classic coke”. It was during my university years that I was introduced to the music of George Winston. I attended my first concert of George Winston in 1989 in Lynchburg Virginia, VA. I began studying Winston’s influences of Jazz, R’n’B and stride piano. On a rainy Monday night in half a full auditorium in October 1995 in Utica, NY, I attended another concert of Winston. Winston walked onto stage in his traditional socks-no-shoes and flannel shirt look, sat down at the piano and quietly announced “This is a song by Larry Young called “The Cradle”. It was the only time I remember listening to a song and not breathing without realizing it. I caught my breath somewhere around measure 30. Winston’s music was crucial to shaping who I became as a composer and performer.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I wouldn’t say there are really any rules, so to speak, that need to be broken, but there is a certain mentality that should be obliterated, sooner rather than later. That is the whole lack of passion and due paying process that artists today feel entitled to skip. The desperate need for acceptance from social media and shiny gadgets and “likes”. While social media is important, I believe every composer in this genre should have one aim- and that is to perform for an audience. The balls to risk small crowds yet treat them to a full on 2 hour concert like its 500 people in Carnegie Hall. If I had to choose something other than mentality, it’d be to encourage pianists in this genre to find ways to be unique and virtuosic, and not use the same lame song titles and endless arpeggios for every song. People used to record albums when their ideas were completed. Nowadays pianists write songs in order to have a record. I think quality and individuality would be much better represented by people finishing their theme and “message” and then deciding whether it worthy to record or not.

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
    I only record in label sanctioned recording studios. For example I recorded my latest album “November” in the Powerplay Studios in Maur, Switzerland, and I am planning to record my next album “Calix Meus Inebrians” there too. Artists from all over the world such as the Bee Gees, Keith Jarret or Prince record there. I wanted to have a high quality recording and the Powerplay Studios had everything I needed: A beautiful Steinway B211 Grand Piano (which I need to do some of my songs that use muted strings), all the technical equipment and a great engineer (thank you Reto!) who also mixed and mastered the album. It was totally worth it because I think the high quality result I got from recording in such a place played a part in getting “November” several awards, since they also value the recording quality of the music.  

    Thanks for participating in my Behind the piano series Casey!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Kaleidoscope of Colours

    A while back I wrote about the track Mimosa by the German artist Kaleidoscope of Colours, and now it’s time to get to know the person behind the name a bit better!

    What’s your real name? 
    My name is Susanne Geisler. I’m a songwriter and and neoclassic composer, but a lot people know me from my artist project „Kaleidoscope of Colours“, under which I compose and perform neoclassical and minimal piano pieces. 

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    I’m a synesthete, which means, when I listen to music or play my piano I immediately perceive colours, that are evoked in my brain. A lot artists have it – Pharrell Williams, Lady Gaga. But because I had difficulties with traditional note reading, I startet my own way to compose – entirely on base of colors. My projects name is related to something Tori Amos once said, when she was asked how she would describe music (she is a synesthete as well), and she said something like „ … I’ve never seen the same light creature in my life. Obviously similar chord progressions follow similar light pattern, but try to imagine the best KALEIDOSCOPE ever!“ I was so impressed by her biography and life, that I decided to use it as artist name. I knew from a very early age that I have that colour thing going on, but I didn’t knew that it was something special.

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I grew up in Eastern Germany. I live and work in Berlin, which has a huge vivid neoclassical scene. People like Nils Frahm, Hauschka or even Max Richter, for whom I worked a few years, live here, getting inspired by the city. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    More than 25 years now.  I also play the guitar and sing. But honestly, I wouldn’t see myself as piano player. I see myself as musician. I keep it with Victor Wooten and what he said in his book „The music lesson“: that we are not pianists or guitarists or singers, but musicians. The music is already inside us and our instruments are what they are: tools to express ourselves. 

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    When I was about 8 years old, I discovered my parents’ guitar and just started jamming, and when I was 14, I got a keyboard, with which I started playing my favorite songs from the radio by ear. I am entirely self-taught. I have always been able to memorize tones and sounds, but it was many years later that I really understood that I associate music with colors and that the colors are the reason for my good orientation. I remember myself sitting with my guitar and keyboard, it were calm, happy moments, everything felt natural. I had access to me. I didn’t have that when I was among other people. I was quite shy and an introvert nature, struggled with playing roles. Its like this with music until today. Thats why I became a musician. 

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I startet pursuing a professional career beginning of 2016. The piano is still my favorite instrument. The variety of the sound range also including its body has expanded incredibly in the last decades, from Prepared Piano, John Cage to Hauschka or Nils Frahm with the more percussive and experimental parts. I am always surprised to discover new sides at this instrument. 

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself
    I don’t remember a specific moment. I think it just happened naturally, when I started playing around with all my favorite songs. I started imitating, then jamming, becoming more free, and with jamming you automatically generate own ideas and then you use what you like most to develop further ideas. And at some point I don’t even need that. Now I just get inspired by nature and our environment, melodies, stories, feelings. I know a lot people started like I did. That’s how we wake up our creativity. Its like a muscle that needs to be trained. But it started with simple imitating, jamming, trying etc. 

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I like Yann Tiersen and the way he just does his thing, with the way he writes piano pattern. He is one of the most authentic and innovative composers I know. His ideas and hand pattern revolutionized the modern contemporary piano compositions. But also Philipp Glass using polyrhythm for piano or Hauschka, using the piano as percussion instrument. I wish there would be more women among the composers in this genre though. Its still mainly men who are present and visible. 

    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? 
    Not a song, but certain colours and shapes, which I guess can be named as certain inversions of Major 7 Chord progressions. It start in my brown scale (Bflat major – my favorite scale) and then just follow certain colour hues. Scales, chords, notes, they all have certain colours and I just start painting 😉 

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    The rules of music notation! Definitely! I struggle a lot with that. I’ve read that Tori Amos was kicked out from school, because she struggled with reading it too. Maybe its a synesthetes thing.  Its like I have to learn a new language, every time I write for orchestra. I found a way to colour it, so that my brain understands it faster. I’ve read an article that in Japan they have made tests, using colours and shapes for writing down a song of the Beatles. It turned out that people who failed or had difficulties reading the traditional note system, could read the notes much faster. Maybe worth a try to open the rules for written music a bit. It hasn’t changed since Renaissance.

    How do you record your music?
    I work in a collective here in Berlin. I often work with my friend and producer Maxi Menot, one of the few female producers. And I have a little studio where I play and record ideas on an old steinway. For my upcoming EP I went to Lake Stechlin, which is the clearest sea in Northern Germany, and recorded several sounds to include it on my new EP.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    Everything that helps us expressing our ideas and pursuing our creativity is worth using it. The market has developed very fast in the last years and sampled instruments help us creating, expanding our ideas, especially when you don’t have access to certain resources. I know, a lot people probably see that differently but for me its not so much about the tools or instruments we use, its what we use them FOR. For me it’s the creative result that matters. 

    Anything else you want to share? 
    Thank your for this great interview. I really enjoyed these questions!

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    Haha, that is a great question! From inside myself, I guess. First I get inspired by my environment, sounds, noises, stories and then I try to „translate“ it into my music, using my feelings and the inspiration. Its one of the best ways to spend your life time 🙂

    Thank you Susanne for sharing your story with us!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Stephen Weber

    A while back I posted about the track Ever so still by the composer Stephen Weber, and now its time to take a look inside the mind of the piano player and organist from America, or Canada?

    Where are you from? And where do you live? 
    I was born in Winnipeg, grew up mostly in Indiana – which I still call home – and I currently reside in Oklahoma.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well? 
    I started piano lessons at age 7. I’m also an organist and have performed on some fabulous pipe organs in the United States, Europe, and Asia. I play a little guitar and sing, but not well.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.  
    My parents, both of whom were very musical, required that myself and my two brothers take piano lessons. I loved the learning process and the collaborative body/mind experience of practicing and performing. I was fortunate to grow up in a home where music was an important part of life and an appreciation for the arts was fostered.

    How long have you been making piano music? 
    Well, I’m giving up my age here, but I’ve been performing or composing piano music for 53 years now. Piano and composition were integral components of my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees. My dissertation focused on piano etudes and included eight original compositions, fiendishly difficult, which I recorded on the Opus One label back in the 1990s. Many of my piano compositions are available through publishing or Sheet Music Press. I use my own works with my piano students occasionally. Piano has also been my therapy. I’ve suffered from severe tinnitus and substantial hearing loss since age 9, and the piano has provided a tremendous release from that. 

    Chopin Monument, Pere Lechaisse Cemetery, Paris

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself! 
    I was a “closet” Scott Joplin fanatic as a youngster, but my piano teacher wouldn’t let me learn the Joplin rags because she didn’t consider them “real” music. In defiance I checked them out at the local library. I loved ragtime so much that at age 13 I wrote and notated my first composition, a rag for piano. 

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”? 
    The piano has such a rich and diverse history, it’s hard to single out composers and artists. I can, however, relate some that were influential. I’ve always had a kindred spirit in Frederic Chopin and his music, so much so that I made pilgrimages to Paris and Warsaw to see his graves (yes, one for his body, the other for his heart). The piano music of Franz Liszt, Ludwig van Beethoven, J. S. Bach, and Claude Debussy have also been influential. I listen to quite a few contemporary composers and artists as well, many of which are quite inspiring.

    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? 
    Not really. Honestly, I don’t keep much music “in my fingers”. I’ve worked really hard on improvisation over the past couple years, culminating in the release of my latest album of 18 piano improvisations, and I’ve found just sitting down and letting emotions, images, thoughts, and ideas happen spontaneously to be very gratifying.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken? 
    I think there’s a misconception that music has rules. Those pursuing formal study in music are taught “common practice” often as rules. They’re really not; they’re just what composers and theorists have done historically. I guess one thing that seems a mandate these days is that music must be categorized, or put into a specific genre. That bugs me. I think we’re seeing some movement away from that, but the industry seems to demand that artists and their music be categorized by genre. It’s kind of shame.

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc. 
    I have a full time job as a professor and administrator in higher education, so the things I do at my Digital Audio Workstation are just a hobby. I have a very modest setup, do all the creating, performing, mixing, mastering, duplication, graphics and such with a master controller keyboard, interface, mic, monitors, and computer with Logic Pro X and Finale along with various instrument libraries. Oh, and publicity/promotion; I have that part. I’ve also done collaborations with various instrumentalists and included their contributions on my albums.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments? 
    I have mixed feelings about this, of course. As a purist, there’s nothing like the action and sound of a fabulous Steinway concert grand. When I want that, I use the one at the university. But, I truly appreciate the technology that allows me to access all kinds of instruments. I sometimes write large scores for orchestra; since there’s no way I could afford to have those works recorded, using orchestra libraries allows me to at least archive the composition and get an idea what it sounds like. 

    Anything else you want to share? 
    I think I’ve been pretty long-winded already. I guess a parting thought is mentioning the intrinsic value of creating music. It’s hard for everyone to get heard in today’s world, but what’s ultimately important to me is what the creative process gives back to me; I discover, learn, experiment, grow, and continue to find my own voice, release, and modes of expression. It’s hard to find that elsewhere.  

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    Your son has gone right to the core of something that is very mysterious to me, the creative process. Honestly, where compositions come from continues to elude me. A complex answer is one’s “essence” or spirit, the combination of the mental, emotional, and physical self. The simple answer is somewhere deep within. I can say with certainty what inspires or instigates the creative idea or process; for me it’s nature, beauty in its various guises and manifestations, images, experiences, and curiosity.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Shawn Kerr

    A couple of weeks back, I wrote about the track Fluke by the Canadian composer Shawn Kerr. And this weeks it’s time to step into the mind of Shawn!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I’m from a small town in Canada called Parry Sound. I moved to Toronto to dive into the vibrant music scene and have been loving it. Although Parry Sound will always be my home.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    Piano is something I’ve been picking back up pretty recently. It was the first instrument I learned when I was about 7, but it never really stuck. Drumset was my first love when I was about 13, I joined some bands in highschool and played all throughout University as well. I’ve been playing guitar since I was about 18 and after going through phases of one instrument or the other, it feels like now I find joy in playing piano, guitar and drums whenever I can.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    Growing up I followed most things my older brother did. Music was definitely one of them. My brother bought a drum set and I would make frequent visits to his room to smash away on them. It became a nightly habit that stuck for a while. 

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I’ve been writing piano music for a couple years now but my new track “Fluke” was the first piano composition I made that fit into my EP “Blue Light” I was working towards. Right now the piano seems to fit quite well sonically in everything I’m working on so it’s here to stay for the time being.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I can’t say I remember a particular moment, but it’s more of a feeling I chase after. I remember in the early days how stoked I would get when you finally get that lyric or that riff you’ve been hunting for. Most of the time it feels so out of my control. Wait for that wave to come and catch what you can when it comes your way.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    A few of my biggest inspirations I would say are Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and Niklas Paschburg.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    I love reworking some of my older songs, transposing them from guitar to piano. There’s this song I used to have called,” Waves” and I’m really enjoying the arrangement on piano.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I think you should break whatever “rules” you want if those rules are holding you back from fully realizing your vision. I think “rules” in music are only useful if you know how they serve a purpose and knowing when that purpose may not be beneficial to your idea.

    How do you record your music?
    I have a small studio set up in my bedroom in Toronto. It’s pretty DIY and I love it that way. If I ever need to record drumset, I’ll rent some studio time for the space. I also only have midi keyboards in my room but for writing and recording piano, but there’s a café down the street that has a beautiful upright piano. The owner has been kind enough to let me in after hours and do some writing and recording. 

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    Whatever can get your idea from out of your brain and into the computer fastest is extremely valuable. For writing, sampled instruments are such a practical solution for trying out ideas when you are a solo artist or you don’t have the means to have the real thing at your disposal. I do feel differently towards releasing something with heavy sampled instruments. It’s completely personal though. If you love the way your sampled strings or sampled drums sound, go for it! There’s far too many reasons people don’t release music they are working on and only having access to sampled instruments shouldn’t be one of them.

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    That’s a great question! One I ask myself most of the time haha. Whenever I get back from a trip or some kind of grand experience, the juices are flowing and I’m just trying to grab whatever I can that flows out.  

    Thank you Shawn!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Matt Stewart-Evans

    I have written about multiple songs by the British composer Matt Stewart-Evans before, and now it’s time to get to know the person behind the name a bit better!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I’m originally from Nottingham in the UK, but I’ve been based in London for the past 15 years.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing for the last twelve years, having decided after University to teach myself and complete all the exams up to Diploma level.

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    I had two or three years of piano lessons as a child which taught me the basics and was hugely valuable in picking the instrument back up years later. At 15 I got my first pair of turntables and mixer and that was my main musical outlet for the next ten years, but piano slowly took up more time and become more serious once I’d set the goal of completing all the exams up to Diploma level by the time I was 30 (I was a couple of months late, but managed it!).

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I’ve been improvising since I first took the piano back up, and decided to start recording the pieces around ten years ago and putting them on Soundcloud. That early feedback was a nice encouragement to keep going.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I’ve always loved improvising and creating music of my own, but in the early days I was frustrated that my lack of technical ability meant I couldn’t make anywhere near what I was practising from real composers. I therefore made improvising and creating my own pieces my “reward” after getting through piano exam practise each day. I found that made my ‘noodling’ a lot more effective.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I’ll name current top 5 as there’s way too many to mention. Nils Frahm (of course), Lambert, Chilly Gonzales, Hania Rani, Poppy Ackroyd

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    I try not to get to stuck into playing one particular piece, although the latest album is fresh in the mind – ‘Glow’ is my favourite to play of the release. Greig’s Ballad in G minor has also been haunting me for a while as it’s 20 minutes long and a beast to learn.

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I think every individual will have their own rules and habits as part of their music-making process, and breaking those ones that are hindering creativity is all important.

    How do you record your music?
    All recorded myself in my home studio. Sadly it’s not practical at the moment to have an upright and/or grand in the studio, but it’s a future goal.

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    As much as I prefer the sound and feel of real pianos, I’d be nowhere without sampled instruments. Long may they continue.

    Anything else you want to share? 
    My latest album COLOUR / SHADES is out now on 1631 Recordings and you can take a listen here.

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 
    Head, heart and fingers.

    Thank you Matt!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Charley van Veldhoven

    Some time ago I posted about the tune Vortex by the composer Charley van Veldhoven from the Netherlands. Today, I put her again in the spotlight to let all of you get to know her better!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I am from the Netherlands. ‘Holland’. And I live in Utrecht! A very cute city in the center of the Netherlands. 

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    From the age of 7 I have had piano lessons but I know I started playing a bit before. From the age of around 8 I started composing and entering composing competitions for kids which was really fun! I also sing a little bit and I play the accordeon! And a little guitar, but not yet as good as I want it to be. 

    Tell us about how you started playing music. 
    My parents had a big old upright from some bar with really yellow keys etc. but I remember always being drawn to it and playing on it trying things out. 

    How long have you been making piano music?
    Since I was 8. I have a recording from a piece I made for a competition that was then performed by professional artists which sounds AMAZING! But probably mostly because they made it sound nice, haha. 

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    I think this realisation came quite quickly as I always kind of improvised on the piano and I was always looking for ways to alter songs in a different way. So if I had a song that I had to learn for pianolessons that was in a Major key I would transform it to a minor key. Stuff like that. 

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I am a big fan of Hiromi Uehara and Chick Corea. I love their playing and their style! Listened to them bigtime. 

    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? 
    Not really… I often start someting new immediately. I have a couple of chords I wrote a while back that I use often because I really like them but don’t really know how to make a composition of it just yet. 

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    All the rules and also no rules! I think whatever sounds good sounds good and a lot of it depends on how you play it. You can make even the ‘strangest’ chords sound good if you play them in the right musical way. I love to go to the most crazy places when I am improvising and I have composed a lot of atonal music in the past. However I also love pieces that might be a bit more ‘conventional’ with melodies that come from old classical music. I do think that  exploring the instrument a bit more could make very interesting music. 

    How do you record your music?
    Always myself! And usually with a little help of my friends that also work in music production. For my latest album I recorded it on 3 different pianos and eventually chose the recording I liked the most!

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    I think a lot of it depends on what you do with it (how you mix it) and how you use it. In lots of electronic music a  sampled instrument might even sound better. However for solo piano I do prefer when an artist has a great recording of the piano. But I also know this is not always possible for anyone. 

    Anything else you want to share? 
    Thank you for interviewing me, haha! And also I want to encourage pianists (especially classical pianists) to experiment with their instruments, find new sounds! You might get to crazy places with it you never thought you’d make!

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 

    My songs come from a very dreamy place in my mind! ❤️ I always go here when I feel emotional or sad and then I play and make new music. 

    Thank you Charley for participating in my Behind the piano series!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Julia Andersson

    A while back I introduced you to the track Tilia Cordata by the Finish composer Julia Andersson, and now it’s time to get to know the person behind the name a bit better!

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I grew up in a small town in Southern Finland. Then I moved up a further bit north to study and work, to the west coast (Ostrobothnia), where I now live.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I’ve been playing the piano on and off for about 16 years, since I was 9 years old. In my teens I practiced playing drums, guitar and bass as well. Eventually I got more and more interested in piano and wanted to focus all my energy on piano instead :). Oh and last year I actually started with cello lessons, which I hope to be able to continue in the future. But right now, I can’t find the time.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    It actually all started with me, as a kid, hearing someone play ”Für Elise” on the piano and I was mesmerized, haha – so I asked my parents if I could start with piano lessons. But you know, It was one thing to start going to classical piano lessons when you’re around 9 years old, where everything is quite strict, there’s many rules and there’s a definitive right or wrong way to play. It’s another thing when you actually find the spark within you to create music. Then you start improvising, playing and composing without any boundaries or rules. That was only a couple years ago for me – so maybe I would say that’s when I started playing music.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    It’s hard to say, because for a long time I had a lot of compositional ideas, but I never really recorded or wrote them down. But to put it more directly, I would say it’s been two years since I started making piano music.

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    Oh wow – that was actually quite an amazing and enlightening moment for me. Because for a long time I was so afraid of what people would think, or that it wouldn’t be good enough, or that no one would even bother to listen to my music. Then I realized none of that matters, and I’m just going to compose music that I like to play, because I find it meditative, and calming. It was a place for me to put all my emotions and feelings that I had bottled up. A few people came along and said they really liked what they heard, that’s when I decided to record it and thought; I want to release some of my works. Maybe others would find it soothing too.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    Hania Rani is definitely a big inspiration for me. Her debut album ”Esja” is just breathtaking. Some others of my favorites include Bill Laurance, Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Joep Beving and Benjamin Gustafsson.

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    I love playing Erik Satie’s works, his Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes. Also, there’s this one of my new songs I’m currently playing a lot over and over, it’s called Wings and I really enjoy playing it. I performed it a few times live already but haven’t gotten around to recording it just yet (but soon!).

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    All of them! Write/make music that sounds good to you. Trust your own ears. Dare to think outside the box. Also, don’t get stuck in thinking you have to adapt to a certain genre; just do whatever you want!

    How do you record your music?
    Just by myself, or with help of friends and acquaintances, at school. I’ve been enrolled in two different music schools, one in Denmark and one here in Finland. So far I’ve been recording my music with the school’s equipment and their pianos. However, my dream is to one day set up my own home studio with an upright piano (and preferably a lot of synthesizers!).

    What’s your take on sampled instruments?
    So far I haven’t used any sampled instruments. I prefer the real deal! Especially with the piano. All the details are in the acoustics – pedals, hammers, resonating strings, maybe a little out-of-tune keys, squeaky chairs and all of that! I love it. With all that said, I know VSTIs and samples are of really good quality nowadays – they offer endless possibilities which can give a real creativity boost, for people who are into that kind of thing.

    The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from? 

    Such a good question. I have wondered that myself. Usually music comes to me when I am away from the instrument. If I’m looking at a painting, or I’m outside in nature, sitting by a lake, maybe even in my dreams when I’m sleeping. So essentially, I would say they come from the forest, the trees and the sky and everything else around me.

    Anything else you want to share?
    As we are currently going through difficult, uncertain times, I just want to say to everyone; be gentle with yourself. You are good no matter how you are managing this experience. You don’t have to feel as if you have to be as productive, or effective, and that’s okay. This will pass!

    Thank you very much for this Julia!

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  • Behind the piano

    Behind the piano: Umeå Bodø

    I have previously posted about songs from the composer Umeå Bodø, and now it’s about time to get to know the person behind the name a bit better.

    What’s your real name?
    Udo Peter Mike Mechels

    How did you come up with your artist name?
    Since my music is inspired by beautiful landscapes, pure nature and the sea, I chose two Scandinavian cities as an artist name. And just for fun: when you combine the first letter of Umeå and the last two of Bodø, you can form my first name. 

    Where are you from? And where do you live?
    I am from Brussels, living in Antwerp.

    How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
    I started playing piano and clarinet when I was 8, but my main instrument has always been my voice.

    Tell us about how you started playing music.
    Like most kids, my parents sent me to a music school, but I was more interested in sports at the time. I really started playing the piano and singing 3 or 4 hours a day when I was 16 years old.

    How long have you been making piano music?
    I wrote my first song Sunken Dreams some 3 years ago during a rehearsal of a play about suicide. I played the song to my wife (who is an actress), her fellow actor and the director. Since they burst into tears, I knew I had something there… 

    Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
    Oh well, I guess I wrote my first songs and melodies when I was 16 or 17. The first time I put real emotions into a song, was when my dog and best friend died. Until now, some 25 years later, that’s still one of the things I do; putting emotions into songs.

    What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
    I met Joep Beving on a tv-show and his music and his personal story inspired me to write and release piano music myself. I could easily list some popular names like Yiruma and Ólafur Arnalds, but I have to say that since I have a Soft Piano Spotify playlist, I discover a lot of talented people from all around the globe.  

    Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
    No. I write a lot of pop music for different artists, so I always play new themes. Though I have to say that sometimes I play some boogie woogie stuff from the sixties, haha!

    What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
    I think that writing music is about feelings, about instincts, so there shouldn’t be any rules. Even when you try to write commercial music, you are allowed to break rules (progressions, structures, tempi,…) and invent new ones.

    How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio?
    Both. For my next piano EP, I would love to invest in recording on different acoustic pianos.  

    Whats your take on sampled instruments?
    It’s common in commercial music. Don’t forget that youngsters learn to make music on their computer and that plug-ins are getting better and better. Some young talents make incredible music based on samples.

    Anything else you want to share?
    I just want to wish everybody a good health in these special times. Keep the faith, keep making music and stay safe!

    The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
    Where do all your songs come from?
    Haha, that’s the best question! Well, I have a secret room in my heart, where all kinds of tiny melodies are living. Sometimes I open that door and when a melody comes out, I will give it all my love and play with it the whole day. We make a lot of fun, we eat chocolate and cake and we drink a lot of milk so the melody can grow into a beautiful new song. 

    Thank you a lot for participating in my Behind the piano series!

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