Category Archives: Musician Interview

Kurt Szul blows away City of Los Angeles for Italian Heritage Day

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Kurt Szul

Kurt Szul is a firm believer that in this life, “you get back what you put in.” Working in a field as cutthroat and unpredictable as the music industry, he understands the reality of this motto better than most. Not only does he know the level of dedication and hard work required to stay on top of his competition, he makes it look effortless. His success is largely based on his unprecedented drive; however, it is perhaps his versatility that has earned him a profound reputation amongst some of the best artists in the world.

Szul’s background in jazz music allowed him to master other genres with ease; however, his talents extend far beyond his natural affinity for composing and playing music. He is also a seasoned businessman with a wide range of experience managing and promoting bands. He has an aptitude for preparing music, organizing musicians, rehearsing bands, creating concepts for projects, and ensuring that any band he manages are well prepared to exceed their goals. Beyond managing bands, Szul can be credited with inventing, pioneering, and co-building one of the first and only Nine String Guitars at the young age of 18.

In 2015, Szul shared his talents with Los Angeles’ Italian community when he performed at Los Angeles City Hall Chambers Ceremony for their Italian Heritage Day. The city’s primary contact when looking for an artist, Janet DeMay, was tasked with securing a band to play at the event. Given her prominence in the Italian community, she was determined to acquire a seasoned professional to ensure that Italian Heritage Day was equipped with the highest quality performance possible. DeMay was already aware of Szul’s reputation in the industry and knew that he would be the perfect addition to the event. When she approached him about the possibility of having him perform for the city of Los Angeles, Szul couldn’t resist saying yes.

Szul, who has ample experience performing for high calibre events, knew of the hard work that would need to go into preparing Italian Heritage Day and took careful consideration to guarantee that the session would be a hit. For Szul, opportunities like performing at the Los Angeles City Hall Chambers Ceremony are what motivated him to become an artist and a band manager in the first place. He was both honored and humbled by the experience and eager to make sure that the city would be left speechless when the band were finished.

“Before the performance, I felt excited that I was bringing session musicians that I handpicked, prepared, and organized for such a prestigious event. I felt confident that the band would flawlessly perform the music that I had prepared and that it would be appreciated for this special day. I helped the band prepare in such a way that when we talked over the music and set up, we were able to play exactly as planned and it was very satisfying seeing the crowd enjoy it as much as they did. People loved it and kept moving closer to watch us play. After we finished playing, people kept approaching us to express what our music meant to them and to offer us future work,” said Szul.

Szul’s successes at Italian Heritage Day continued to grow even after the band’s performance. In addition to the verbal feedback that the band received, DeMay went on to receive a Certificate of Recognition honouring the band’s contribution to the event. The entire Los Angeles City Council, including the Honorable Mayor Eric Garcetti and councilman Joe Buscaino of the 15th district, who were also impressed by the quality of the performance. Naturally, DeMay was ecstatic by the event’s reception and knows that its success is a reflection of Szul’s artistry.

“I hand-picked Kurt to perform at the Los Angeles City Hall Chambers Ceremony kicking off Italian Heritage Month because of his ability to perform authentic Italian Jazz music from Native Italian Composers, an ability that is not found among musicians in the Los Angeles area. Because of his early classical piano training and his years of experience playing a variety of Jazz music, he is able to meld two disciplines and traditions into one seamlessly. He has a unique ability that suited our needs perfectly and he is a valuable member of the extended Italian community,” told DeMay.

Szul prides himself on the feedback he receives from any project he completes and continues to labor his efforts toward creating new opportunities to do what he loves wherever and whenever he can. When his competition is fierce, he stays grounded by the knowledge that he is willing to persevere where many other artists would give up. Quitting isn’t an option for Szul and his vast amount of experience has allowed him to find stability in what he does. He puts one hundred per cent of himself behind every project that he works on and in return, he receives one hundred per cent satisfaction from his achievements.

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Drummer Ivan Copelli remains humble in his rise to fame

When hard rock musician, Ivan Copelli, began drumming as a young child, he had no idea of the impact it would have on the rest of his life. For the Brazilian-native, it was all about tending to the passion inside him and exploring himself through his music. The now wildly successful artist is used to other aspiring professional musicians asking him for the secrets to his success, but for Copelli, it is simple. He understands that regardless of whether or not you can be classed as a “good” musician or a “bad” one, you owe it to yourself to just keep playing.

As he earned success in his career, after playing with the hit Brazilian band Motores, he learned the true value of remaining true to yourself and to your original sound. He has mastered the ability to market himself effectively and ensure that he doesn’t allow major companies or record labels to take advantage of his purity as an artist. His art is his business and he works tirelessly to grow it wherever possible. He also recognizes that today, with the power of the internet, it is easier than ever before to educate yourself and keep yourself busy. There is no excuse to give up on what you love to do most.

After achieving a series of accomplishments with Motores, including winning MTV Rally’s fierce competition in 2007, Copelli was approached by another up-and-coming Brazilian band, Kiara Rocks. He was familiar with the band’s sound and had attended their shows on several occasions. The band’s lead singer, Cadu Pelegrini, was eager to work with Copelli when he heard that he had left Motores. He wanted a drummer that would attract the attention of a larger audience and to boost the band’s visibility in the industry. Fortunately, Copelli’s work with Motores positioned him well above other drummers of his kind and Pelegrini knew that his contributions to Kiara Rocks would be invaluable. Copelli jumped at the opportunity to lend his talents to the band and it was the beginning of something new and exciting for his already esteemed career.

What Copelli ended up enjoying most about playing with Kiara Rocks, however, was touring around the world and being able to share the band’s music to new audiences in new areas on a daily basis. “For the three years that I played with them, we spent most of our weekends on tour, playing in different cities and states, making new friends, and growing our fan base. We were very close as a band. We didn’t even need to look at each other when we were on stage to know what everyone was doing. We were so connected,” said Copelli.

Copelli’s ability to not only adapt himself to the style of the band he is playing with, but to enhance their sound is what makes him such a highly sought after addition to every project he is asked to work on. After Kiara Rocks appeared on the successful Brazilian web series, Showlivre.com, producer Clemente Nascimento realized just how intangible Copelli’s skills are.

“Across his time with the group, he provided expertise as a top tier drummer. He also appeared in a number of the band’s virally popular music videos. Specifically, in his role as the drummer for the band, he kept the rhythm solid and consistent and while his work does not overshadow the tones of his fellow musicians, anyone who listens to their music notices the harmonious coordination between his drumming and the bass to create a tight rhythm section. He is absolutely vital to any band he collaborates with, more so than most drummers in his field. His contributions Kiara Rocks highlight both his prowess as a drummer, as well as the impact his music had on the band’s incomparable success,” recalled Nascimento.

With Copelli’s rising success, came unexplored territory. When his first single with Kiara Rocks received over 300,000 views on YouTube, he started to see the impact that his music had on the band’s presence in a new light. He could see the difference they were making in the field of rock music on an unfamiliar scale and he was humbled by the recognition they were receiving. All of a sudden, he found himself encountering excited fans in the street, screaming at him and honking their horns. He still gets shivers down his spine when he thinks about it and he credits this success as being the to motivator driving him to create new sounds and bring even more high-quality music to the shelves for his followers.

In fact, it was during his time playing with Kiara Rocks that Copelli experienced one of the major highlights of his career. Being a die-hard rock music fan, Copelli had the distinct pleasure of working with Guns n’ Roses’ drummer, Matt Sorum. Sorum produced what Copelli considers to be one of the most important albums for the Brazilian rock music scene in years. Copelli played his heart out and to little surprise, the band’s fans were immediately addicted. Seeing his work come to life for his fans is just one of the many reasons he continues to play and produce music for a living.

So what does Copelli have in store for hard rock music fans around the world? He has a few projects in the works. Ultimately, however, he hopes to re-connect with some of the artists he has worked with in the past, as well as with new artists, in order to create unique new sounds and albums that his fans will thank him for.

Keyboardist Jose Roman talks Daphne’s Roots’ debut album ‘Enter the Voyage’

Jose Roman is a true musician. He doesn’t just enjoy music, he lives it. He breathes it. He feels it. When his fingers touch the keys of a piano, he is alive, and when one listens to his music, they are alive as well.

Despite working on many successful projects and working alongside many artists, Roman’s claim to fame is with the progressive/alternative rock band Daphne’s Roots. Besides playing the keyboard, Roman writes songs and arranges high quality keyboard parts to the musical ideas of the other band mates. Once these ideas are polished, and the songs are completed, he is an outstanding studio musician, bringing his ideas to life. He always consistently delivers versatility and a wide range of musical abilities.

“Working with Jose is an amazing experience. He is so full of energy and creativity that makes you feel good and motivated. He is a top-notch player which makes him extremely reliable. He has an extensive musical knowledge which is very useful. For instance, we wrote together some percussion arrangements and he always surprised me with his creativity and talent,” said Felipe Restrepo, drummer of Daphne’s Roots.

In 2012, Daphne’s Roots released their first album titled Enter the Voyage. Being the founder and main songwriter for the band, it was Roman’s idea to start working on the ambitious project. For a long time, he had the concept of the album in his head. It is the first part of an epic story, told through different songs. The album was the breakthrough for the band, and to this day, one of the most exciting experiences of Roman’s esteemed career.

“It was extremely exciting and thrilling to work on this project all the way through. From the writing process to the studio time, the motivation to deliver an amazing album was always there. The atmosphere on the studio was always electric and inspiring. I would write new songs and then show them to the guys and then we would work on them all together. It was an unforgettable experience and we are very proud of the result we accomplished,” said Roman.

As the founder and leader of my band Daphne’s Roots, Roman motivated my band mates to start working on this project. They had a repertoire of songs that they played together, and together they choose the best songs and wrote even more in order to develop the album. Roman’s role, in addition to playing the keyboard on every track, was to write the remaining songs in order to complete the first part of this concept album.

“Writing all the keyboard parts was a lot of fun for this project. I used many of my different keyboard influences to enhance as much as possible the songs. Once at the studio, the recording process of the keyboard parts was very exhilarating. It was very cool to experiment with different layers of keyboards that we could put in the recording. At the end, I was very satisfied with all the keyboard parts on all of the songs,” he said.

The album ended up being a large success. Not only did fans love it, but upon its release, Enter the Voyage was awarded “Best Album of the Month” by the popular radio show La Zona del Metal.

“We were very gladly surprised and honoured to know our album did so well. It is always gratifying to know we connect with many fans as possible with each project we release. We are very grateful to be recognized by this prestigious radio show that we admire very much,” said Roman.

None of this could have been possible without Roman’s contributions. Daphne’s Roots is a very keyboard driven band, and it was very important to get that part of the album right. There are a lot moments on multiple songs where sometimes the keyboard is all by itself, responsible to evoke a very emotional part. Without the presence of the keyboards on this album, the structure and sensitivity of the songs would not have worked.

“Still to this day, I hear a lot from fans that the keyboard parts are their favorite parts of the songs and that is very rewarding,” he said.

The best part for Roman, however, about working on Enter the Voyage, was not the awards or the fan reaction, it was getting to work alongside his friends, doing what he loves.

“One of the most gratifying experiences about working on this album was writing a couple of the songs with my good friend and band mate Manuel Sambour, who is the main singer and lead guitar player. The way we complemented each other was rich and creative. This is true not only with Sambour, but with the rest of the band as well. The chemistry in this band is very powerful and I believe that is the main key element responsible for this project success,” he concluded.

Bassist Yasutaka Nomura talks Smokey Lenses’ new highly-anticipated album

Yastuaka Nomura is lucky enough to love what he does. There is no “back to work grind” that so many face on a Sunday night for him, or dull days filled with no real feeling of accomplishment. His job gives him joy, a sense of purpose, and adrenaline rushes. That is the life of a professional musician.

Having worked with several bands, such as Mammoth, Squanky Kong, and Voodoo Kungfu, Nomura has worked on a wide variety of genres for a professional musician. He enjoys this, not wanting to pigeon-hole himself into one specific type of music. The guitarist and bassist is recognized for his undeniable versatility and talent, which is why when the Indie Rock/Alternative band Smokey Lenses was looking for a bassist, he knew he had to be a part of it.

“I wanted to work with Smokey Lenses because I liked the songs, but also because the music they play is something I usually don’t get to play, even though I always liked listening to that kind of music and I always wanted to play it with a band with original material. I was very excited when they asked me to play in the band,” said Nomura. “I usually don’t get to play the kind of music that Smokes Lenses plays so I was inspired to do a completely different musical approach than I usually do in my other projects. I was definitely a new challenge for me.”

Initially, Nomura had heard the band was looking for a new bass player for their album recording through his friend Aliyar Kinik, the drummer of Nomura’s band Mammoth. The band’s drummer needed a substitute and Kinik was filling in. He mentioned to the band that he new a good bassist, and after hearing Nomura, they knew they had to have him.

“Recording the album was great. We recorded total of 12 songs and I’m happy with all of them. The songs were already great before arranging but I think the work of the band is making the songs sound even better. I can’t wait for the album to be released and to listen to it,” said Nomura.

When recording the album, they did all the basic tracks live at once, with everyone in the same room. This is not a common way of recording. Because of using this style, the tracks have a lot of energy and organic feeling, according to Nomura. Recording like this allows there to be more energy, with better dynamics and conversation between each band member, just like a live show.

“It was awesome. I barely knew the band members at first but we got along very quickly. Everyone in the band was very easy to work with and fun people. We always had a great time at the recording sessions. I cannot wait to work with them again,” said Nomura.

The album is expected to be released later this summer, which is highly-anticipated due to the release of the first single Candle Glow, which was released May of last year. The single received positive reviews and was featured by popular music blogs like Speak Into My Good Eye, That New Jam, and Revolution Tunes.

Candle Glow is definitely one of my favorite songs from this album. It has a nice catchy melody and lyrics. I’m really happy with the recording too,” said Nomura. “The success it has seen since being released is great. We started off the album recording with this song. It was the first time I could even play with the band since our schedule didn’t match before the first recording session, but I think we were already locked in at the first session.”

As a guitarist and bassist, Nomura typically plays progressive rock, metal, funk, R&B, jazz, and fusion. He says progressive rock and metal require a lot of technique, with the sense of odd meters and solid timing. Funk and R&B require a nice 16th note time feel and a good sense of call. Jazz and Fusion require great skill with improvisation, nice swing, 16th note feel, pocket and of course sophisticated technique. The music that Smokey Lenses plays is far different from these genres. It doesn’t require either an amazing technique or the skill of improvisation but a good time feel/pocket on mostly 8th note beat, importantly the skill to stay on the groove and not overplay, technically speaking. Many musicians so familiar with other genres would have found themselves overplaying and not staying on the groove, which would interfere with the vocal melody. This was not the case for Nomura. He even tried to sing on everything he played on bass. His adaptability was appreciated by the band, who may not have been able to make the album or see the success that they say with Candle Glow without Nomura.

“Yasutaka is very professional and easy to work with. The work process went smoothly and he produced exceptional results. Yasutaka is a professional musician, so he understands the importance of being excellent at his craft and has a dense knowledge of music theory. He is respectful, focused, observant and learns extremely quickly,” said Singer and Guitarist Adam Oberst.

With talent like this, there is no doubt Nomura will continue to come through our speakers for years to come. Listen to Nomura’s work and Smokey Lenses’ song Candle Glow here.

Check out Nomura’s YouTube, Instagram, and Soundcloud to hear more.

DAHOV AND JEREMIH BRING MUSIC FANS TOGETHER

 

The Arts are often the key to a universal experience and language among all people of the planet. While the accent of different paintings, cinema, and music may reveal their point of origin, the ability of these mediums to convey emotion and a connection with others is often beyond the words and language they might contain. It has often been said that the work of an artist is that of bringing all peoples together by conveying the emotions we all share, regardless of our background. As technology brings the world closer, the assimilation of different cultures and their artistic contributions is clearly evident and results in a decrease of noticing the differences and an increase in the appreciation of what these differences offer to the collective global experience. The Canadian percussionist/drummer/entertainer knowns simply as Dahov performed at a concert with American artist Jeremih (Jeremih Felton) exciting the crowd at the Olympia Theatre in Montreal. Jeremih is a Chicago native whose multiple high charting hits like “Birthday Sex” and “All About You” broke into the top five on the Billboard charts. His legions of fans are based in the R&B/Hip Hop world while Dahov is a solo artist known for House, EDM, and various other musical forms with which he infuses Latin and Middle Eastern rhythmic ideas. While both artists share a love of percussion from their early teens, each of them has cultivated and evolved into their own style and brand of musical entertainment. Their performance together at the Olympia Theater shows how these artists brought their fan bases together for a night of thrilling entertainment, proving that we can appreciate the differences we have while recognizing a common thread.

For his appearance in Montreal, Jeremih and his management were seeking out a Canadian artist who would both be familiar to the crowd as well as be exciting enough to create a feverish tone for the concert. Patrick Farah (owner of Sky Entertainz) was consulted and he immediately suggested Dahov. Patrick and Dahov have worked together on numerous large scale entertainment events in Canada. Farah declares, “Dahov’s unique style and looks are definitely a selling point. With such passion in what he does, he sets the bar at a complete different level from others in this business! He is also such a wonderful person and he reflects his personality in his work ethic. He is the type of musician and entertainer who creates a special bond with his audience. Rather than setting himself above the audience, Dahov has an amazing ability to pull everyone in and making them feel as if they are in an intimate party, relaxed and able to have fun.”

STUDIO11 taken by ARA SASSOUNIAN (well known artistphotographer)

(Photo courtesy of Ara Sassounian)

This event featuring Jeremih and Dahov is a template for how different artists can create an experience for an audience that is eclectic and yet relative. While Jeremih is a singer/rapper, Dahov is a percussionist who does not sing. Both artists perform with DJ’s and/or tracks and, at least in this situation, both had dancers joining them onstage. Very similar production styles but very different content. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Dahov’s ability is that he is able to entertain the audience by playing a hand percussion instrument know as a Darbuka. This middle eastern “goblet drum” is the core and essence of his one-man band (supplemented by tracks). It is truly amazing to see how this talented artist can drive a crowd (in this case, the 700-member audience that packed out the Olympia) to a literal feverish pitch. His technique and musicality is mesmerizing while his ability to hold the crowd in the palm of his hand and create the excitement equal to any outdoor EDM festival is…well, jaw dropping. The synergy between the artists’ performance was a great success but was not necessarily intuitive. At a meeting prior to the performance that night, Jeremih and Dahov discussed how to approach the differences in their musical styles in order to insure a cohesive quality for the crowd. While much of Jermih’s music is more relaxed in tempo (sometimes even romantic), Dahov is known for his upbeat party vibe style. Dahov explains his approach to manifesting the appropriate vibe for the evening, “We wanted to do something different than the usual upbeat show, so I used Arabic oriental techniques. This style usually calls for you to play for belly dancers and, even though there are faster beats, we performed the slower beats using the derbake percussion because it allows for very intricate and interesting rhythmic ideas. It was a perfect match to afterwards fade with Jeremih’s first song.” Dahov readily admits that, just as the crowd was exposed to different musical influences at this performance, the percussionist/entertainer himself also gained an even greater appreciation for his fellow entertainer. He notes, “Jeremih is truly an amazing talent. It’s always educational for me to see how another artist relates to the crowd, how they design the rhythm of their show, and how the crowd reacts to what they do. Anyone who has seen Jeremih perform has seen the evidence first hand of how great he is. I knew his music but seeing him live gives me a deeper understanding of his talent. I like Hip Hop and Rap but I am more into a club house, EDM, Latin kind of music. I love the feel of the beat, the melodies, especially when I perform to these kinds of music it feels like I am actually inside the music…producing it! I like Bachata, in particular Romeo Santos. Bachata is such a relaxing type of music. I enjoy listening to it whenever and wherever. It makes me feel like I’m somewhere down south sitting on the beach and watching the ocean! Another type of Latin music that I like is reggaetón. Reggaetón is all about the party; the positive mood and tropical paradise! EDM and house artists like Calvin Harris and Tiesto are my favorites. I have seen them both perform in Las Vegas and their music is on another level! Their collaborations with other artists are perfect! The melodies and sound samples they integrate enter your ears and gets your emotions jumping. I’m hoping to come to the US and pursue my own version of the path that these artists have forged. I have proven to myself and the people of Canada that a drummer can perform by himself and command the attention of sold out crowds. Performing and communicating with American artists like Jeremih has only made my desire to become a part of the great American music and entertainment industry even more attractive…and seem more possible.”

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THE STAR BEHIND THE ROCKSTAR

The throngs of adoring fans at concerts are almost always unaware of the professional workings of their favorite artist; the organizational and musical preparations necessary to create the inspiring events that they desire. Movies often show a romanticized and unrealistic scenario in which the artist calls some friends to play with them when, magically and immediately, everything falls into place. The musicians who live this amazing life will tell you it is magical for them but far from immediate. Any great performance takes talent, but it also requires preparation, professionalism, social skills, and a strong work ethic. The greats have earned this moniker through dedication as well as artistry. While many people have heard the title Musical Director, the specific duties required of an MD are vague at best in most individual’s understanding. Kieran Kiely is the respected musician who served as MD for Sinead O’ Connor from 2007 to 2012. As MD, he performed many roles to enable Sinead to focus on the expression of her music without being weighed down by the numerous other variables which might encumber an artist of her renown. At a certain level of fame, an artist’s career becomes similar to any other large and global pursuit. This means that artists such as Ms. O’ Connor and her peers require a musician whom they can trust to safeguard the integrity of the music and its presentation. A Musical Director is perhaps the most trusted advisor for any artist, meaning that the responsibility placed on them is reserved for the most valued and respected musicians.

In the mid 90’s, Kieran was playing in the Irish Celtic Punk group Shane MacGowan and The Popes. Kieran recalls, “One night while hanging at the Popes usual haunt, Filthy McNasty’s Pub in Angel, London, Shane asked me to go to a club with him, without knowing where we were going or whom we were meeting. When we got to the Club(The Atlantic Bar, SoHo) there was Sinead with Shane’s girlfriend, Victoria. I ended up chatting with Sinead. The next time I saw her was a year or two later when I was asked to play on a record. Somebody from the production recommended me for the session. It turned out to be a duet with Sinead and Terry Hall from The Specials, with Dave Stewart producing. This was the first time I met Dave. It took place at The Eurhythmics Church recording Studio in Crouch End, London. I played Low Whistles (Irish Flutes). Sinead loved the sound of those at that time. I continued to meet Sinead from time to time at gigs and festivals and she then asked me to play on her record Faith and Courage, and subsequently some of her following records.” Conflicting schedules prohibited a closer and more permanent working situation between O’ Connor and Kiely until 2007 when she asked him to assume the role of Musical Director for her. Largely known as a pop/rock artist, O’ Connor was intent on making use of Kieran’s mastery of Celtic instruments and their approach to her music. While he would add authenticity to the music that supported Sinead’s intrinsic Celtic vocal stying, Kiely would also be required to assume various roles as MD.

One of the most vital roles of an MD is to find the proper band members for an artist. It is not as simple as finding great players, although that is a requirement. Band members must be well versed in the style of music they will be performing but not void of other influences as they may be called upon to “stretch” or “flex” their approach. With touring artists, there is an understanding of the lifestyle which can mean long periods of time away from familiar people and surroundings. Touring musicians are the nomads of the music world. This requires someone whose personality meshes well with the sentiments of the artist they work with. It is similar in many ways to dating. There has to be a certain spark to the interaction. In his role as MD for O’ Connor, Kiely assembled a group of elite musicians respected throughout the world; an outstanding achievement for any MD. The band consisted of: British Session Drummer Ash Soan, Guitarist Dave Randall (recognized for his atmospheric sound), Yolanda Charles (renowned Bassist, praised as one of the best in the world), and legendary guitarist Robbie McIntosh. Sinead’s music is quite eclectic and emotional, requiring musicians who play at the highest level as well as those who listened intently to match the dynamic level and energy. Because these band members were so sought out, Kieran took an especially benevolent, yet professional approach. He states, “I like to try and create an environment where everyone feels very comfortable so they can be creative. In regards to parts, I was pretty specific. I knew Sinead’s material really well and created new arrangements of her songs that were sensitive to Sinead’s performance style. To achieve this, I had parts worked out for the players in advance. We also had a new album to promote and so had to be true to those songs. I wouldn’t say it was difficult though; when you have that caliber of musician to work with, it’s a pure joy.”

Rehearsals are always a good barometer for the mixing of skill and personalities but the real evidence surfaces when the artist and band tour. The incredible ecstasy of performing in front of thousands…even hundreds of thousands can be offset by the disconnect from familiar faces and places. Many musicians are defeated by the road. While Kieran is a veteran of the road and the studio, each new group introduces a number of variables. Early communication proved positive as he tells, “After I had taken on the role of MD and we did our first few shows, she sent me an exuberant text message, saying “who knew we were both so F**king amazing. She was very happy, which of course meant that I was happy.” Kiely continues stating, “You don’t just phone it in with Sinead, you have to be present, in the moment, and extremely sensitive to dynamics and tempo. She gives you everything you need in her voice; you just have to listen. On the intimate songs, I learnt to be comfortable with my playing being super exposed, where every expression and articulation could be heard. That sort of experience in front of 10’s of thousands of people over a period of time really hones your performance skills. Putting together a band that understood this in the same way that I did was a major achievement for me.”

While performing the role of MD was essential to Sinead’s live performances, Kieran was also a valued recording musician for O’ Connor. Selling in excess of millions of copies, Kieran recorded five albums with Sinead: Faith & Courage, Sean Nos Nua, Collaborations, She Who Dwells, and How About I Be Me. These recording are proof to Kieran’s masterful musical talent as well as O’ Connor desire for him to be a part of creating her sound. This desire was shared by others as Kiely relates, “She [Sinead] called me late one night to come play on a track. When I got there, she introduced me to Wyclef Jean, who was producing the song and said, ‘This is Kieran, he is the soul of my album. (Faith and Courage album).’
I later worked on Wyclef’s own record, Masquerade, at his NYC studio, and with his sister and brother.”

Kieran now resides in Los Angeles where he has taken to composing and orchestrating for film. His work creating the music for Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman proves that he is still using the sounds for which he is recognized to contribute to the success of artists. He still fondly recalls his time with Sinead O’ Connor and notes one obvious memory, “Nothing Compares to you was a highlight. It’s such a famous song. The audience are always waiting to hear it, so it’s a great moment for them. It wasn’t unusual to see people crying in the audience. ‘3 Babies also’. Sinead can conjure up such emotion when performing. What’s important to Sinead is that she connects with the song.” Kieran Kiely also connects to the song…and the art, in a very leading way.

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THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF MASTERY TRANSLATES GERMAN INTO CELTIC

Almost every aspiring musician has this dream; a huge band playing a show at a gigantic venue suddenly needs someone to fill in for a show, then they like you so well that they ask you to stay on the gig. It never happens, right? Wrong. Yes, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of but it does happen from time to time. The part that isn’t so highly glamorized is the crammed preparation and the nerves that can make one “lose their lunch” hoping that you’ll make it through that first gig without everything crashing down on top of you (to say nothing of those dreams in which you arrive to school only discovering you are only wearing underwear). The true music professional can only hope that his years of preparation have honed their instincts to a point where all will be fine. A great example of this is the tale of German guitarist Stefan Hillesheim. As a celebrated Blues, Rock, and Jazz guitarist in his homeland Stefan was enjoying a fulfilling life as a musician when he was asked to fill in for the internationally popular Celtic Dreams. The incredibly popular touring musical show Celtic Dreams features a unique mix of modern rock with traditional Scottish, Irish, and Celtic folk music, with an eclectic mix of dancers and other visual performers. Celtic Dreams regularly perform to sold-out audiences all over the world, and have been the subject of many press articles in Europe and abroad.

Celtic Dreams tour manager was in a high pressure situation when the guitarist for the show was suddenly unable to perform. This extremely popular show relied on the professional execution of the complicated musical pieces to excite the audience and support the dancers and other performers. The guitarist was essential to every performance due to the fact that Celtic Dreams takes on a contemporary rock influence with their traditional music, making it more accessible to a wide age range of audience members. The fact that the music was quite complicated and required flawless execution of the many transitions from piece to piece further exasperated the situation. Celtic Dreams tour manager Oliver Stahl needed to find not just “a guitarist” but, “an amazing guitarist” who could read complex charts and play shows to huge audiences with basically no rehearsal. Luckily for Stahl, he was in Germany and was able to contact Stefan Hillesheim. Although not focused on traditional Irish music, Hillesheim was particularly enabled to take on the task of this music for Celtic Dreams as he reveals, “I started listening to Irish folk bands like the Dubliners, the Pogues and the Fureys when I was about eight years old. My Uncle is the lead Singer and Guitarist of the well-traveled Irish folk band Limerick. My Parents took me to his concerts from my early childhood on. When I started playing electric guitar in my early teens, I really got into Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher (both are Irish guitar legends). I love the way they combine traditional celtic music with Blues and Rock.” As an accomplished and lauded guitarist in Germany who also possessed an understanding of the inherent lilt of traditional Irish music, Stefan was an easy choice to fill in for Celtic Dreams. Oliver Stahl comments, “Stefan performed as a lead musician and guitarist on multiple occasions for Celtic Dreams. His knowledge of both modern rock styles and traditional Celtic folk music made him perfectly suited for us. I truly could not have asked for a more versatile musician. Stefan was with us for multiple performances, all of which were held in major venues in large cities. I must note how versatile a musician Stefan is and how this added to the success of each of these shows. His ability to jump between and blend styles on both acoustic and electric guitar (and occasionally bass) was astounding! It brought a fantastic energy to each of our performances. The shows that Stefan played in were performed to sold out audiences and I’m positive that his playing was a major factor in garnering these huge

audiences as well as the press and great reviews. Stefan played a lead role in ensuring the success of every show he performed and has been an essential player in boosting Celtic Dreams reputation and success as a whole. Stefan is known throughout Germany as an incredibly skilled and accomplished musician who has made a name for himself as both a session player and bandleader.”

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While Stahl was nervous until he found Hillesheim, Stefan’s uneasiness began at this time. You could almost say that Stahl “gifted” his concerns to Hillesheim. That’s not to say the guitarist wasn’t excited to play with Celtic Dreams…quite the opposite. Stefan was contacted three days prior to his first performance with the band and had to learn three hours of music; including medleys and complicated transitions. Daunting task ahead of him, as a true professional, Hillesheim understood that the production was depending on him to fit perfectly into an ensemble that was already running smoothly. In respect to the music, Stefan wanted to play authentically stating, “Every genre of music has its appropriate vocabulary. When you play Irish or Scottish music you have to stick with certain clichés because this kind of music has a long tradition. Even though there is room for interpretation and improvisation, it wouldn’t be authentic if certain elements were missing. For example, the typical triplet based rhythmic in Irish step/tap dance music is the foundation of this musical language and is a requirement. For traditional Celtic Folk tunes like ‘Scarborough Fair’ or ‘Star of the County Down’, I would definitely play an acoustic guitar because that is what people expect and want to hear. Modern Irish music like the Corrs or the Cranberries often features electric guitar so that would be my weapon of choice in that case. Overall it depends on the ‘Vibe’ of a song. I play the instrument that fits the song best and compliments the singers as much as possible rather than playing what I personally prefer, even if that sometimes means committing to a less ‘flashy’ or interesting guitar part.”

Hillesheim is more often seen performing in a Blues club (with popular German band BlueSide), at a large outdoor musical festival, or even at major concert venues (as he did recently with Liquid Blue at the Staples Center in Los Angeles) but all of these ensembles are the contemporary Blues or Rock bands with which he is more commonly known to perform. Having spent decades in groups of this type, Stefan is extremely familiar with them and points out one major difference that he had to adjust for in playing guitar with Celtic Dreams…dancers. He remarks, “Celtic Music has a lot of colors to it. Many of the tunes are quite danceable and have sort of a jumping, galloping character to them; others are almost hauntingly emotional, melancholic, and full of heartache. I had the advantage of playing behind a number of great vocalists before so I was familiar with that role but the Dancing/Step Dance groups added another component to the show and I found myself playing behind a line of dancers.” Stefan more than exceeded the hopes of Celtic Dreams producers and performers as proven by the fact that he was immediately asked to finish out the tour as their guitarist. Not content with expressing this “accent” in his guitar playing, Hillesheim has currently relocated to the US to pursue his career and further his exploration of the American musical style of the Blues. If Stefan’s history tells us anything, we can be certain that this internationally acclaimed guitarist will be recognized amongst the latest generation of Blues guitarists.