“I want to introduce to you Joakim – with whom we graduated with Bachelor degrees in contemporary music from ICMP. He’s a very friendly player whose smooth sound never failed to please my ears. Including at his final exam for his Jazz Masters Degree which I was lucky to attend at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I was very happy to hear his own arrangements there and (if I’m not mistaken) some of his originals!

Similar to me – after working and studying in London as a musician he also returned to his home country. So nowadays you can see him working as a guitarist participating in various projects as well as teaching guitar in Norway.” – Neli

How did you get into guitar? 

I grew up in a very musical environment. My mum plays the piano and you could always find several instruments lying around the house. We listened to everything from jazz to Disney music on a daily basis and I was therefore exposed to a lot of music from a very young age. Growing up I sang in the local children’s choir (for a short amount of time), played in a brass band for 5 years as well as started my own punk band at the age of 12 with my best mates from school. I am not a 100% sure why I picked up the guitar, but through family and friends I met several people who could play and I also thought it looked super cool. I picked up a small nylon string guitar lying around the house and my mum taught me 3 chords; E minor, A7 and D major. And that’s how it all started.

Since you have a Master’s degree in jazz music, you are the perfect person to ask – how would you describe jazz music to an aspiring musician experiencing it for the first time?  

This is the biggest cliché around, but Jazz is a language. It is both complex and simple. You can listen to jazz for fun, or you can be the type who analyses the music in the most detailed way. And nothing is wrong with either. I absolutely love some of the easy-listening stuff, as well as the more advanced jazz material I tend to listen to from time to time. When it comes to playing it, jazz is all about improvising, and it is important to realise that jazz improvisation should be fun – not scary. However, in order to improvise you need a few tools up your sleeve, like a good ear or knowing a few scales and how they work over certain chords. This can all be very difficult at the start – at least I thought so when trying to play over jazz standards with my teacher at the age of 14. So my best advice is to be patient, and focus on playing stuff that you really enjoy.

What equipment do you use that has been crucial to your becoming a successful musician?

I have spent countless hours on Youtube and various forums looking for the perfect overdrive pedal, guitar or amplifier. And although I really enjoy gear shopping, I try to spend more time actually playing guitar. I always end up with my trusty Telecaster on most gigs and I can get by with a few of my favourite pedals and a decent valve amp. It is all about making your own gear sounding good. However, like most other musicians I try to stay updated on what is going when it comes to new gear popping up. Find yourself an instrument that you really like playing and you should be good to go. You can always use practice tools like YouTube, Logic, a loop pedal and so on, but this should always be regarded as tools, not a necessity for you in order to have a good practice session or to produce your sound.

Working on the musical “Kristina Från Duvemåla” with Bømlo Theatre, August 2021

In your career, you have been part of several functions and originals bands and also have performed as a session musician, and at musicals. How do you combine all these roles?

I try to be a musical chameleon. I just really enjoy different types of music, and therefore I have chosen not to properly specialise in just one particular style or genre. Some might say that sounds like a limitation, but the more styles and genres I delve into the more I realise how much they have in common. As a result, I am always keen on learning new things, and it keeps me interested at all times. Many of the qualities I have focused on developing over the last few years have also worked as door openers for new projects. I released a songbook about two years ago, which really made me improve my reading skills as well as chart writing. 

How does a performance for a musical come together?

Hard work and lots of it. If it is a big production it will require you to be patient as things don’t always go as planned. There are usually loads of people involved and although people come from different backgrounds and art fields we are all aiming for the best result possible. If everyone is up for going a little bit out of their comfort zone things normally end up really well. 

In 2016 you released the EP of original instrumentals “Spring”. How did it come together?

This was my final project at ICMP. I gathered some of my favourite musicians and we went to a great studio in Dalston called the Blue Studios and recorded 5 songs. A good friend of mine and sound engineer, Nathan Smardina, produced the EP. It was basically a two-day session and I didn’t have a lot of studio experience at the time. I remember learning a lot about session work through this project. Considering how little time you have in studio it is really important to be able to make quick decisions and actually have the skill to play what is required at that particular time. I always think of studio work as a result of that exact moment. Listening back to this EP I am sure there are plenty of things I could, or should, change – but it is what it is; an exact excerpt of those two days in the studio.  

Which qualities do you think make a great musician? 

Personally, I really value two things: Be able to listen and be a nice person. First and foremost I want to work with people who are nice to hang around with. After that they need to be able to play in time, and make their instrument sound good. If a musician ticks all these boxes I’m sure they will have good chances of making a career in the music industry.

What is a thing you’d like to experiment with in music? 

It really interests me how people get emotionally involved in music, either as a listener or performer. Perhaps it’s a melody that you really like, or a groove that gets you going. People find it hard to describe these emotions, and perhaps it would be interesting to study this more in the future. 

Currently Joakim is working on a new album with his solo project – a quartet with him on vocals as well as guitar, and hopefully there will be a single released later this year. Keep an eye out on his Instagram profile @joakimvikanes for more info.

“Georgi is the 1st guitar tutor I met in Bulgaria since moving back in 2019. We met at a blues jam session and I really liked the way he managed to weave beautiful melodies into his improvising and get lovely tones from his instrument. I was also impressed that he put the effort in bringing all sorts of effects to a jam session, some of which I have been eyeing up for quite a while (like the Big Sky from Strymon). We continued chatting on social media and I found out that he has a very similar approach to teaching as me. So, I immediately decided that he’d have some very valuable advice to share with you! Read more about him below.” – Neli

How did you get into guitar?

I was 14 years old when something made me say to my mother: “I want you to sign me up for guitar lessons!”. It was very sudden, I don’t even know where it came from. The answer was that they would do it, but I had to fix my grades at school – and I agreed. However, I really got into it when my music teacher at school gathered us in the school hall and played Asturias by Isaac Albeniz for us on his classical guitar. I had never heard such an incredible sound and was speechless. Then he told us that we could take guitar lessons with him, and I was the first one to sign up.

I attended classes with him for a year, but we only studied classical guitar. This is a common practice in Bulgaria, which I do not consider good, given that everyone wants to play something different. However, I never waited for the lessons to come – all the time I was trying things by myself, digging on the Internet for information and spending 6 hours a day practicing. This way I progressed a lot.

With years of experience as a guitarist and guitar teacher, how do you take care of constantly developing your guitar skills?

I like for things to happen gradually and naturally – for example, I learn a new chord and think about how to apply it. In general, at this stage I am at the point where I am refining my phrasing more and upgrading my improvisation skills so that I can naturally push an improvisation forward to tell a story – this is the main thing I am working on. Things happen quite naturally because of my inner desire to learn new things.

Also while working with students, sometimes new ideas come to my mind on how to teach better – such as how to explain things like chords and strumming more clearly. I’ve been asked a lot of cool questions that made me realize I can do something better. This is a great way to grow because you also get feedback.

 What do you wish you knew about the guitar before you started learning it?

It would have been great if I knew that playing by notation is not necessary at all. Classical guitar and playing songs have nothing in common, the instrument is different. The classical guitar has a very wide fretboard and it is not convenient to play songs or solos on it. The acoustic guitar, which is closest to the classical one, has a more narrow fingerboard and metal strings. Everything sounds great and natural on an acoustic. With the electric ones, you can get so many variations of the sound, which is also great. I wish I had come across a teacher who had pushed me in that direction initially.

Another thing is, it would have been nice to know a little more theory in the beginning. I studied the theory all by myself – for all these years since I’ve been involved in music, I haven’t found anyone to explain it to me in a good way. I figured out things by myself through a lot of trials and errors. If the theory is brought into a framework and shown through clear examples of what, how and why – it is not that difficult. How to think, how to change voicings, how to serve the song – today I teach these things because it seems like not enough is said about them.

What are some realistic goals that a beginner guitarist should set for themselves?

I think you have to start with the attitude – to be patient. It’s strictly individual for everyone, but playing the guitar takes time – you can’t play any song perfectly in a month. Even if you learn the chords correctly, then you have to fix the right hand, the dynamics, the tempo and many other factors.

A good goal is to learn most of the main chords in the 1st [classical] position in a month or two – like C major, G major, A minor, etc. This again depends – some people will find it easier to start with a scale like the pentatonic, since it is easy to remember because of the serious logic behind it.

Another important thing for beginners is the placement of both hands, to control the right hand and the pick well and not to hit too hard. These are some things that are important to master properly in the beginning.

In addition to teaching guitar, you also work as a session musician. How does a typical session of yours go?

It all starts with a long conversation in which we specify how exactly the record should sound and I offer different options. I’m also a pianist, so if the record is to include a piano, we clarify that as well. I try to nail down the nuance that is being pursued. I try out different ideas, from which in the end remains the best one, which I send. If they don’t like it – I try another one. The main thing is that I try to serve the song. The technical part is not a problem, because I know how to make the recording in the right way with a timbre that suits the song and complements it.

What can we find on your YouTube channel, or maybe expect soon?

I started developing my YouTube channel last December. I decided that this was a natural step for me, because in addition to working with audio, I also work on video production. A friend of mine made me try it and it dawned on me that it was something I could do. I am extremely pleased with the quality and the information I manage to convey.

My channel is focused on everything music. It contains many guitar lessons on topics that no one seems to talk about on the Internet. I also alanyse songs, which is something new for me, and I really enjoy it. I think this is a very cool format. I am also trying to create a catalog with chords of Bulgarian songs. For example, many people want to play D2 songs (a Bulgarian band), but there are no videos on how to play a song of theirs, which I want to change.

How do you choose the themes on which you create YouTube videos?

There are questions that I asked myself as a beginner and I did not find the answers – by this logic I make a lot of the videos. I pick the topics based on things which were missing from my own knowledge back when I was a beginner. But also it depends on what I am interested in on the week I’m recording. There are some weeks when I play the piano more and others, when I am mostly on the guitar.

It is important for me that my content is in Bulgarian – my goal is to make videos for the Bulgarian audience, which give a good feeling and teach something without unnecessary information.

What is your dream music project?

I have been working on it for over a year – my debut solo album, which will include 10 original songs. We are already halfway through – 5 of the songs are ready for recording, and for the other 5 we are working on the lyrics. It will be muso oriented with real instruments, analog sound and songs that I hope will not have an expiration date. I think it will turn out great. I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time and I’m getting closer to the goal of releasing the album. I am very glad that I have found great musicians with whom to bring it to life. I am the main producer, arranger, guitarist and pianist for the project. I try to make it by the American standards – like John Mayer, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Michael Jackson. I hope to be able to do it on the same level and create music for the soul that resonates with people. I hope to have concerts to which fans of my music come. This is the greatest recognition for a performer – someone to set aside money and time to come and watch you.

Check out Georgi’s website HERE, follow him on social media HERE and subscribe to his YouTube channel HERE.

Stumbling upon inspiring people online is great right? Well, Paul is exactly one of those inspiring guitarists that I met on Instagram. He regularly posts guitar content on social media and his attitude and playing is contagious! It makes you want to pick up the instrument some more as well. Read more about him below as he shares some behind-the-scenes stories and some guitar tips.” – Neli

What brought you on the path of a career in music?

Although I was not born into a musical family, I was fascinated by music and musicians as a kid. My parents sent me to piano and violin lessons at an early age, but secretly I was more drawn to the guitar. I remember being in awe of guitarists like Slash and Prince and amazed by their music videos. Even though I was too young to understand what was happening in those videos, I thought the guitar was so cool. Thankfully, I was able to convince my parents to let me play guitar in middle school. I felt the freedom to create through the guitar, which is something my violin and piano teacher didn’t let me do. They told me that to create music, you first had to achieve a level of virtuosity in your instrument. One of my music teachers in high school even discouraged me from auditioning for music schools, which was too bad. It turns out they were wrong. Years later, I attended a conservatory and earned a Masters in Music Composition.

While I was composing, I, unfortunately, didn’t have much time to play guitar. For a few years, I felt like I was neglecting the instrument. Although I’ve used my guitars to record and produce, they mostly sat in my studio collecting dust. That made me feel a little regretful, and I thought I should go back to playing one day. The lyrics “your sword’s grown old and rusty” from “Giving Up the Gun” by Vampire Weekend rang in my head for some time.

About three years ago, I broke 5 bones in my right hand and wrist. It was a tough recovery process, and I lost a lot of muscle mass on my right arm and shoulder. I was really worried that I lost the ability to play guitar. So as soon as I got the clearance from my doctor to resume normal activities, I picked up my guitar to relearn it and see how far I can advance. After regaining mobility in my right hand, I began actively auditioning for bands and ended up in Between Skies.

What is the story behind your stage name?

Hmm, I think the story might not be too interesting. I’m actually a private person, and I wanted to create a slight barrier between my stage and social media persona and my private life. Although anyone with Google can easily look up people’s real names, I thought I should add just one layer. For a while, I loved the cartoon Adventure Time and loved the character Marceline’s songs. Cartoonist Rebecca Sugar wrote them, and they are super catchy. I think I was playing guitar one day, and someone said “sweet tone,” and it clicked!

Also, I didn’t want those familiar with my work as a composer to influence their expectations of my guitar playing or any of the bands I’d perform with.

You are on the verge of releasing your debut EP “Horizons” Between Skies. How did the creation process for it go?

Oh, it had a lot of starts and stops! I think, like every musician in the world, the pandemic really put a halt in the process. Guitarist Tommy Scales is the main writer for Between Skies. I mostly contribute guitar solos and a few supporting riffs. Tommy began writing the songs in “Horizons” before Between Skies was formed. After he formed the band, we were hoping to record and release it by 2020. But thankfully, we were able to persevere and find a way to finish recording remotely during the quarantine. We are so excited to share it! It’s a short EP, but it took a while to make, and great friendships were born out of the process.

How did the band come together in the first place?

Around 2018, guitarist Tommy Scales was a bartender, and bassist Ranpal Chana was his regular customer. They discovered they both loved metal and decided to jam together and start a band. They posted some ads, and eventually, I auditioned, followed by vocalist Oscar Derderian. Before the pandemic, we began performing with our former drummer Pedro Herrera, who left for personal reasons. Our last gig was in a venue called the Midway Café on March 10, 2020, the day many states in the US declared a state of emergency. Now that our new drummer Edson Lacerda joined, we will resume live performances after the release of Horizons on August 3, 2021.

Is there a certain message or emotion you want to convey with the “Horizons” EP to the audience?

The songs in “Horizons” explore themes of delusions of grandeur that can spiral into paranoia. We’re pretty nerdy guys, so you may hear some nerdy references in the lyrics. But overall, we wanted to create an unfiltered metal record. Although each member listens to different styles of music, we all have a love for metal and especially classic metal. So we wanted to create something that sounds new while paying homage to our influences.

What effects do you use on your electric guitar? How do you choose them?

My favorite guitar effect is a good spring reverb. Although I have pedals, they are mostly drive, reverb, or delay pedals. I have a couple of funky effects that I might use to create some Instagram content. But, I really shy away from other effects and instead try to create effects with my hands. For example, I may use my whammy bar or left hand to emulate the wobbly effect of a chorus pedal.

Personally, when I choose pedals, I go for ones that have the least amount of knobs. Although I appreciate the level of control that some pedals have, I get overwhelmed with the options and worry I might kick a weird setting on a dark stage. But, I believe it’s all a personal choice. Some people love playing with all the knobs and adjusting every parameter. That is totally cool too! I just prefer simplicity.

For many years, I used to play totally pedal-less. I just plugged straight into an amp with a good drive channel and a spring reverb tank, and I was happy with that! 

Having years of experience as a musician, how do you personally set goals for the continuous development of your guitar skills?

Honestly, for many years I felt that I was stuck and stagnant with my guitar skills. But in the back of my mind, I was not satisfied and wished I was advancing more. By advancing, I don’t mean turning into a shredder. I felt like I was doing the same things over and over and wished I could see the guitar differently. For me, breaking my hand was a turning point. When the possibility came that I could never play guitar or advance in guitar due to an injury, my perspective changed. Now I feel like I have a good mentality for practice and trying new things. When you practice, it’s not about just repeating the same thing over and over. You need to learn how to practice smart and make sure you are evolving as you go. I think I advanced more dramatically in the months after my injury than the years before it. I like to set short-term goals like learning a new song or working on a particular technique. Over time, the short-term goals add up. It’s cliché, but it’s true.

I’m sure other musicians will say this, but listening to different kinds of music really helps with goal setting and expanding your sense of what’s possible. You don’t need to become a fan of every style of music but developing the skills to actively listen and try to understand the music that’s new to you really helps. Personally, I feel like I have so much more room to grow on the guitar. I live near the Berklee College of Music, so I feel like I’m surrounded by 10,000 guitarists who are better than me. Maybe they are 10,000 people I can learn something from.

What is your dream musical project?

Oh, this is a hard question! As a guitarist, I would love to jam with someone like Thundercat or perform with an innovative artist like Erykah Badu. As a metal guitarist, I would love to be a Nameless Ghoul in the band Ghost and perform in one of their huge arena performances. 

Now that the Between Skies line up is complete and the band has a new drummer, Paul is looking forward to creating and recording new music. He recently joined the funk/smooth jazz band Midnight Motion. They are planning on recording a debut EP, so look forward to that.

Photo by Nicole Mari Photography

He also has a bunch of unfinished electro-acoustic instrumental tracks that could end up with a more electronic or maybe a more guitar-centric sound. He is planning to finish them as a solo project. You can find some clips on his Instagram now!

Follow Paul and his bands here:
Website: wearebetweenskies.bandcamp.com
Instagram: @paulsugar.music
TikTok: @paulsugar.music

“Meet someone very dear to me. Someone who made moving from the small country of Bulgaria to busy massive London a much more pleasurable experience. The 1st musically like-minded person I met in the UK and the person with whom I shared my 1st ever band performance on stage – Alex Farry! A very intelligent and technical guitarist who was my motivation to keep improving through the 1st year at uni. He has done a lot of varied projects in music and if you’re curious about what the band we did together was like, you can check out this gem from the distant 2013:” – Neli

How did your musical journey start?

I’d always had an interest in music, which I think I inherited from my dad. He was always entertaining guests playing piano or guitar and singing, generally the same three songs. I had guitar and piano lessons but my teachers were unreliable and I never really made any progress until I was 13 and decided to teach myself. I took out my old acoustic ¾ length and looked up the tabs to Californication by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and never looked back.

You were a part of several original bands. Do you still write music?

I loved the writing process for my original bands, particularly when you find someone you connect with on a musical level, I still go back and listen to some of those songs now! I’ve definitely put writing on the back burner recently to focus on self-improvement, both on the guitar and on the computer. My time has instead been spent learning new music and techniques and exploring the music tech side of things, and once I feel more confident with them I can go back to the more creative side of things.

What is something one should look out for when writing prog music?

Find your voice and write for the song. The diversity of progressive music has led to bands with incredibly distinct styles which ironically makes it easy to be over influenced by them. There are many artists out there effectively trying to write the next Dream Theater song, and I have absolutely been guilty of being one of them. Draw from these influences but think outside the box.

Can you share an interesting story from when you were playing on cruise ships?

The playing was usually the least interesting bit! Getting to see the world definitely outshines playing the Beatles for 10 OAPs at 5:30 in the evening. One funny moment though was when we were playing a set on Halloween one year. Everything was fairly normal until these two guests wearing those big T Rex costumes with the giant floppy heads started running through the venue we were playing. We all ended up laughing so hard we had to stop the song!

What is a thing about being in a functions band you wish you knew when you were first starting?

Particularly for a cruise ship band that plays three times a day with only one day off every fortnight, you can never have too many songs! And make sure you all enjoy the songs at least somewhat. There are many songs we all dread to play now and it can make those boring early afternoon sets feel much longer.

What equipment do you use for your varied projects?

My two main guitars are a Fender Strat and an Ibanez Jem 7V. The Strat for the serious stuff and the Jem for the fun stuff. I also use a Line 6 Helix LT for effects. I don’t think anything beats analogue pedals but for ease of use and transport the Helix is perfect for a cruise ship guitarist.

For a brief period of time you were doing uke covers of pop punk tunes. Are you planning on playing ukulele more?

After a while the ukulele became too powerful for me and I’m going through a deep and lengthy process of recovery and training to face the instrument again.

How do you practice to make sure you keep improving your technique and guitar skills?

I have a super short attention span so playing unmusical drills and patterns is my worst nightmare. I usually just find a part in a song that I want to learn that revolves around certain techniques, whether it’s alternate picking, sweeping, tapping etc, and break it down to learn it. Once I have the notes I’ll take the song into Audacity and slow it right down. Once I can play it clean at a certain tempo I’ll speed it up until I’m back at the proper tempo. Super basic but I enjoy the satisfaction of being able to play along to something I struggled with before.

What is your dream musical project?

Either have my own prog metal band or become Lady Gaga’s touring guitarist.

Follow Alex on Instagram at @alexfarrymusic.

Lalo de PIlar is a world-class Flamenco guitarist who began his musical career with his first performance at age six in his hometown of Lugo, Spain. For over four decades Lalo has performed as an accompanist and as a solo artist. He toured throughout the world until the early 2000’s.

Since then, Lalo has been residing in Houston, Texas composing for film and television. He has not only been asked to present awards for best music in film, but he has also performed at The Gulf Coast Film & Video Festival on several occasions.

For approximately 7 years he was with the University of St. Thomas where he taught guitar and music as well as lectured about the ins and outs of flamenco.

Lalo treasures his Spanish heritage and his love for Flamenco. Therefore, he continues to push the boundaries of this beautiful art by creating a unique repertoire that reflects his culture, energy, creativity, and passion.

Being self-taught and reaching such heights in guitar mastery – what was your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge was when I was a child and had to put countless of hours of practices on a daily basis. It was a good and productive challenge. I was always very studious, so I studied diligently. However, at times it was a very lonely time for me although inspiring. I am very glad that I did it.

How would you describe what a flamenco guitar is to someone picking up a guitar for the very first time?

As an instrument that may take him or her away to places that they may never have dreamed of visiting. I would also describe a flamenco guitar as the best form of discipline one could ever acquired on an instrument.

What is a thing about flamenco guitar you wish you knew when you were first starting?

I wish I would have known that it would have been a never ending lifestyle. Peradventure I would have studied more diligently. It has been a wonderful time, a wonderful experience and I learned how to be very disciplined doing something I deeply love. I am very glad that I spent all those years perfecting my craft.

Having years of experience as a musician, how do you personally set goals for the continuous development of your guitar skills?

Although setting goals for oneself is a very good thing, I no longer set goals for myself. I am past that stage of my musical career and practice. However, as a seasoned professional musician I did set goals for myself, such as how to handle rehearsals and the repertoire of a future concert. There were even goals set for the scheduling of a tour.

What I do is practice scales daily for continued strength and stamina. That I shall have to do for the rest of my life. I work diligently on compositions in order to perfect them. I no longer have a set goal for what I am going to do or practice. This is perhaps because everything that I do is internally very inspirational.

After a few years of experience, things fall naturally into place because of what I have learned due to my tremendous discipline.

What are some realistic goals a beginner flamenco guitarist should set for themselves when first starting?

I find that technique is an excellent place to begin. Still, it all depends on the individual. I always start by teaching beginners scales. A simple C scale is always a good place to begin.

I then move on to arpeggios and thumb, alzapua, exercises. Certain arpeggio exercises are excellent for building a strong and flawless tremolo.

While teaching these techniques, I also have the student work on compás, rhythm. It is vital for them to do so. The compás is the foundation of everything in flamenco.

How does your process of writing music for film and television go?

I often begin by asking the producer and/or the director about their project. As they speak and describe their project, I either begin composing in my head and/or I begin quietly playing my guitar. Something usually comes up as I am playing even if it is a small idea.

You also teach at the University of St. Thomas. How did you go about creating your curriculum?

I did teach at UST for seven years. I was on faculty there. Although I have been asked to return to teach at UST, my time there ended when Paul Krystofiak sadly passed away. I had many wonderful times while there and Paul made it comfortable for me while I was there.

My curriculum has been established since I was a boy. What I have first learned has always stayed with me and has continuously been perfected. Therefore, it is very easy for me to refer to my internal curriculum whenever I fancy to do so.

What is your dream musical project?

My dream musical project is to compose for an orchestra, perform with that orchestra and conduct it. That would be the epitome of my musical career. Wish me luck!

Currently Lalo is creating a course of all what he has learned and mastered throughout his musical career. He is putting things together that shall eventually come together naturally in the form of a book, CD or both. Stay tuned also for Lalo’s return to the recording studio where he will record and produce a variety of music that he has composed over the years.

Contact Lalo via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/lalodepilar/ and subscribe to his YouTube channel here.

“How do you introduce someone who is a talented musician and artist, who has many skills and is probably knowledgeable on most topics of interest (well to me at least!)? I guess I’ll just say the thing that wouldn’t really be obvious from interview questions – Alex is a lovely person and a great friend. Reliable, with great eye for detail and full of ideas. It is a joy to do projects with him and soon you will probably see another one! Check out the last time we collaborated HERE.” – Neli

How did your musical journey start?

It started in 1995, when I took up the piano at the age of 4. Then I picked up the classical guitar and the flute at age 12 and started playing at local community orchestras. A few years later I started playing also the electric guitar and got seriously interested in different contemporary genres, which motivated me to explore the same stuff on the piano.

So you play the piano, guitar, and flute. How does knowing multiple instruments change your perspective on music?

Being a multi-instrumentalist allows me to appreciate music more and in a different way and be open-minded to various possibilities of taking up new challenges. It also gives me opportunities to play in different musical contexts, e.g. the versatility of piano and guitar allows me to be in pop and rock bands, duo gigs, etc. whilst the flute has given me chances to play in classical orchestras and jazz big bands which I would never get to do had I only played piano or guitar. Due to the piano I learnt much more about theory and can be in control of harmonies. When it comes to the guitar, due to its popularity, it is fun to play and gives me lots of teaching opportunities outside of my gigging life. 

What is the reason you picked up those instruments in particular?

I started with classical piano at a young age as advised by my parents. I only got seriously interested in it after taking up the guitar and discovering more contemporary genres. It was just very natural to me to play lots of things on the piano by ear at first, it just sounded good whenever I played a popular melody on top of some chords I could naturally harmonise on the spot. I picked up the flute as it’s my favourite sound in the orchestra/woodwind family. Then I got even more interested in the flute when I discovered how well it works in modern jazz (especially post-bob, latin and modal). 

What is a thing about being a multi-instrumentalist you wish you knew when you were first starting?

I wish I had seen other instruments as more “equal”. When I took up the guitar, I used to see it as a “superior” instrument to others and would associate a strong sense of identity with it. Having learnt, played, and gigged on three different instruments now, studied them all at degree levels, and by knowing the efforts required and mindsets needed for different instruments, I’m now a lot more open-minded and appreciate all instruments across all genres.

Having years of experience as a musician, how do you personally set goals for the continuous development of your guitar skills?

In regards to my guitar skills, I set goals by simply thinking about what new sound from new releases I could copy and learn. I no longer want to stay “loyal” to just a few favourite bands/artists and associate my playing style with them like I used to do. I constantly look for new sounds I hear from new music and think about how I could imitate them on the guitar. This applies to the other two instruments I play as well. 

How does your process of writing and arranging music for different projects go?

I don’t normally have a flow-chart type of process when it comes to writing and arranging. I usually have a wide picture of what I’d like my new arrangements or compositions to sound like, choose a starting point, and then strategically and creatively execute my plan to make things work. 

Which is your favorite part of being a musician?

My favourite part of being a musician is the cliché of getting to do what you love all year round. I love the fact that I also get to learn new things from what I do and others I work with constantly. 

What is your dream musical project?

A dream musical project would be a large-scale musical collaboration with as many of my best musician friends recording/filming something that could showcase all our unique musical strengths (regardless of personal favourite styles, abilities, etc.) 

Currently Alex is working on a cinematic orchestral soundtrack that involves orchestrating wind and string instruments, with some cooperation of modern jazz harmony. 

Follow him on social media: facebook.com/alexdannmusic
Also check out his website: alexdan.co.uk

“Meet the man who many thought was my brother through our Higher Diploma course as I met him – The Count! Later I learned that he also had a normal human name – Joseph 😀 He’s an awesome guitarist with lots of pizzazz who has created awesome rock and metal shred instrumentals and also released an acoustic track recently. A multiinstrumentalist, teacher, composer… read more about his music journey below.” – Neli 

How did your music journey begin?

I started playing when I was 15. I was inspired by the guitarist John 5, of Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, but it was his solo work that really inspired me. He has a great command of the instrument and seems to be able to play a huge range of styles. I certainly never intended it to become my career choice, but I instantly got hooked! I was lucky to have a lot of excellent teachers who inspired me to work hard. 

What is the story behind your stage name The Count?

I wish there was a better story for this! Two huge influences were Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson so I thought if I was going to be a musician I needed a stage name as well! I was watching ‘Dracula’ and just thought ’The Count, that’ll do!’ I’d love to tell you that I’m a real Count living in a castle in Transylvania but sadly not!

Does the inspiration for your unique fashion style come from music?

To some extent, yes. The highly theatrical performers I mentioned above certainly inspired that. Jimi Hendrix is also a big fashion influence, I have a replica of his iconic military jacket. I think being a musician gives you permission to be a little more flamboyant! 

You have obtained multiple qualifications in Guitar. What advice would you give to an aspiring guitarist, who is wondering whether to pursue music as a formal education?

It’s a difficult one. I am glad I did all the qualifications as it made me learn things I wouldn’t have looked at otherwise and some of the teachers I had were extremely inspiring. However not all music courses are created equal, some of them do more essay writing and music business which is fine if that’s what you’re after, but they won’t help you get better at your instrument. It’s worth looking through a course’s curriculum before committing yourself to anything. 

In addition to guitar, you have also mastered the sitar, piano and mandolin. Is learning a second instrument easier than the first or is it confusing?

Certainly a lot easier! Particularly with the stringed instruments, the mandolin requires the same technique as guitar, just on a smaller scale. I think with piano, though it has very little in common with the guitar, I still had a head start when it came to finger dexterity and the fact I could already read music. It’s worth saying I don’t dedicate equal time to all of them. Guitar and piano certainly get more focus than the others. 

Do you plan on learning other instruments?

I bought a banjo over lockdown as something to do which is a lot of fun! I don’t currently have any plans to learn another one, there’s only so many hours in the day! It’s always interesting to try out different instruments, I learn a lot I can then apply to the guitar, it’s a great way of breaking away from familiar patterns.

So far you have produced one album “More is More” and one EP “Aqua Hands”. How does your writing process go?

Very slowly! It’s often several months from the initial idea of a song to the completion. A lot of the material for Aqua Hands was actually written away from the guitar. A lot of the guitar solos were inspired by classical piano music by composers like Liszt and Chopin. I have a huge library of sheet music and often I’d take a pattern from something they’d written and reworked it to suit the song. After I got a sound I liked I’d then try and work out how to play it on guitar. Most of the time this was extremely difficult as the patterns don’t suit the guitar’s tuning at all. Sometimes a few seconds of music could take me weeks to practice. Though it’s a difficult, and often very frustrating process, it creates idea’s I’d never come up with if I only wrote while sitting with the guitar. It’s very easy to get stuck in familiar patterns.

What changed in your style and creative process between the two projects?

The two projects were done 5 years apart, so quite a lot! ‘More is More’ is my first attempt at writing music, so I was still trying out a lot of things. Everything was recorded with my friend and former guitar teacher Sam McCune at his home studio ’Skull Sound Studios.’ He mixed and mastered the whole thing. I learned a lot while doing it, some of the tracks are not the sort of thing I’d write now, but I think that’s all part of the process. He certainly helped me to understand what works and it was a great experience.

When it came to Aqua Hands I had my own recording set up so everything was done from home. My friend A-Siege then beefed up the production, we added lots of orchestration and had a lot of fun seeing how over the top we could make the tracks! Some of them turned out quite differently to how they were originally written. The song ‘Riptide’ was intended to be a straight ahead rock song but it ended up as a synth filled, Van Halen style track! It probably ended up being my favourite track on the EP. It’s sometimes good to suggest some different ideas, it can produce some great results! 

The track “Stringkiller” from your first album features a guest appearance from television legend Bill Oddie. How did that come around?
Bill is a good friend of my dad’s, and I’ve met him a few times. I know he’s a big fan of classic rock music and thought it’d be fun to bring a bit of a comedy edge to it! He was very pleased to be involved which was great as it made the track into something unique, and added some much needed humour. His part was actually recorded by my Dad at a charity event in a hallway! 

Is there something you’d like to experiment with in music, but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

I think I’d like to learn orchestration to a better extent and perhaps try writing music for instruments other than the guitar. I’ve started branching out with the track ‘Lotus’ from Aqua Hands, which was written for the sitar. They’ll also be two solo piano pieces on my next EP.

Due to the pandemic The Count has had a lot of time to work on several projects of his own. The song ‘Roswell’s Night Out’ with Dannyjoe Carter from Las Vegas – that includes plenty of high-speed shredding and showing off – is now out.

On the other end of the spectrum, he has also written another EP with two finger-style guitar pieces and two piano pieces which show a new side of his work. And he also released a brand new EP with the band The Jupiter Gallery. Follow him on social media and check it all out!

Follow him on social media at:
Spotify, iTunes – linktr.ee/thecountguitarist 
Youtube – youtube.com/channel/UCmTGui7BwhA1dEIz4hhha3A 
Instagram – instagram.com/the_countguitar
Website – countjosephbarnes.com

“Someone thanks to whom I went to some cool small punk gigs, someone who was out to play anything rock and just enjoy themselves in London through our year together in Uni – meet Tom Rawlins! Here’s his story in his own words 🙂 “ – Neli

“I am Tom, a 27 year old Guitar, Bass and Ukulele player and teacher who fell in love with the idea of playing when I saw Marty McFly play Johnny B Goode in Back to the Future. It still took me a few years to actually pick up the Guitar and dedicate time to the instrument but since then I have gone from knowing nothing to running my own local guitar school (Medway Guitar School in Kent) and playing in cover bands as my job and it is a progression I am immensely proud of.”

What were you like when you were first starting on guitar?

I started playing properly at age 15 and though I could already piece together a few chords at that point I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I could not afford a tutor despite wanting one and did my best to piece together what I could from online lessons, books and live videos. I probably had more confidence in my ability than what was warranted but that misplaced confidence did get me a long way so I cannot say I regret it.

You are the founder of Medway Guitar School. How did you decide tо make your own music school?

During my years at Uni I realised I had a love of teaching; whether it was teaching my peers who played other instruments or breaking down theory, I enjoyed the feeling of seeing something click in someone and seeing someone develop as a player. I could feel an immense amount of pride in them and myself from that development and that feeling is very addictive. It made sense to me that when I left University that it would be a key part of my income as a musician..

What makes for a smooth transition from being a guitarist to also teaching others how to be guitarists too?

Just get started, maybe try with a few friends and family first and then develop out for teaching for a small fee, try not to massively undercut the market but enough to reflect that you are a new teacher. Remember the pupil is always number one. You have to keep in mind that we all struggled with areas of our development as players at one point or another and that we have interests in completely different areas. I always meet the pupil where they are at in terms of ability and interests and develop their learning around those aspects. Always be patient and encouraging and help them find their own voice on the instrument. Trying to create mini versions of yourself is the quickest way to dissuade pupils from playing.

What are some realistic goals a beginner should set for themselves when first starting?

Honestly the smaller the goal the better. I always start with a few basic tabs often as simple as a single string tab. It is massively encouraging for a pupil to walk away from their first lesson having already made music. From there I continue to use tabs to develop the pupils coordination and dexterity whilst introducing them to basic open chords to play a simple song of their choice. Don’t start with chords right away, they are crucial in the early stages of playing but you need to develop some confidence and familiarity with the instrument first and nothing is better for that than basic riffs and melodies via tab.

As a guitar teacher with years of experience, how do you personally set goals for the continuous development of your guitar skills?

There are huge number of things that go into choosing a goal. As a professional there is also income development to consider. In the last couple of years for example, I have branching out into covers work, my focus has been much more on singing and song learning. But I keep small part of practice to one or two small developmental goals. Keep the goals simple, small and suitable to the amount of practice time available. Avoid overwhelming yourself. You may want to increase your repertoire, develop your technique, chords, aural perception and rhythm all at once but if you only have an hour practice a day you will make little to no progress. One thing at a time, for example I am currently working a single exercise daily for my alternate picking (my playing to this point has been more legato and economy picking based) and a single exercise for developing altered licks whilst improvising either side of my song learning practice.

Music theory scares many beginner musicians. How do you approach the matter with students who are overwhelmed by the theoretical part of music?

I often find music theory is less scary for pupils and more that they assume it could potentially damage their expressiveness as a player. When you are learning the fundamentals it can seem like a bunch of rules rather than what theory actually is, which is an explanation of how music works. I do my best to explain this through a demonstration to show how theory has impacted my own playing and development, explaining how those who do not understand theory often end up falling into the trap of “following the rules” without realising. I then work through the theory very slow step by step, I always test a pupils knowledge continuously making sure they understand the current step in full before moving onto the next goal checking in and gently encouraging them all the way.

What is something you learned from your students?

I am always learning from my students. Believe it or not just going over the fundamentals of playing with them has taught me a lot. You come into teaching believing that you already know these concepts in and out and while you definitely understand them explaining them and answering unexpected questions around the fundamentals can get you to think about them in a way you never imagined before. It can certainly help you to reinvigorate their use in your playing. The fundamentals can seem boring sometimes but even the masters worked on them well into their playing development, just because you know them does not mean there is not more to learn about them.  

Is there something you’d like to experiment with in music, but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

I keep meaning to sit down and practice more keyboards. While I understand what is theoretically going on and I can string together a few chords and scales my muscle memory and technique is not developed enough to perform proficiently and I do really need to get a decent keyboard and work on it. I believe it will help me look at music in a completely different way and potentially open up future performance opportunities.

Before lockdown Tom’s function band Slam Dunktion were about to get started on gigging. The lockdown put a hold on that for now but they are currently working on a video for when the gigs get going again, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Check out Tom’s music school:
Contact him at:
Follow him on social media at:

“The most fun I had playing gigs thus far has been when I was the guitarist for UK’s Tool tribute band. They just had the best audiences! But the person who was our singer and organiser of all sorts of things at the time – Andy Vozza – is one of many talents and projects. He has been all around the London urban rock scene and I thought he’d have some very interesting stories to share.” – Neli

What were you like when you were first starting on the guitar?

When I started playing the guitar, I was a chubby insecure Italian kid with a lot of negative thoughts. Learning how to play was great therapy for me because while everyone was into football, I had my own thing back then.

What is a solo technique you’d recommend for a new guitarist?

Practicing slowly with the metronome. It’s not a technique, but it opens all doors to any technique you are interested in. I love the legato, because of its fluent sound.

You recently released an EP. What does it represent?

Yes, with my band Elyn. It’s called “I Broke My P.C”. It’s not a concept album. It represents various stages of my life. However, it’s not what it represents to me, instead, it’s what it represents to the listeners.

How was Elyn created?

The idea of Elyn was born after a gig gone bad in India. 4 songs into the set and the speaker tower on my side of the stage collapsed because the crowd kept pushing the security, which eventually made them lose balance and fall. When I went back to London, I started setting things up. My plans for the future are to market it a bit harder as soon as lockdown is over and perhaps attempt a European tour.

What is your process for writing music?

I write lyrics first, with no melody or chord progression in mind. I do this because otherwise, I feel limited in writing lyrics when the music is ready.

You play as Slash in a Guns ‘N’ Roses tribute band. How did that come around?

I used to. I stopped in 2019 to focus full time on Elyn. I still work as a substitute with them from time to time. It all started in 2016. I met Gavin, the singer in Metalworks (the legendary metal event that used to happen every Sunday before the lockdown). He asked me if I could play for Guns 2 Roses if he needed a guitar player. Fast forward to Valentine’s day 2017, he asked me if I could play the first gig with the band on that weekend. Two weeks later he asked me if I could join the band full time and I said I was gonna do it only for 2 years as I want to focus on my original music.

How does it affect you being constantly compared to a legend?

I take things professionally. That was my source of income back then. I enjoyed playing with the band and I treasure their friendship.

In your line of work have you encountered the “rockstar attitude” phenomenon?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, more often than I have ever expected. Have you ever heard the say “what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas?”. That applies to what happens on tour as well. I’d rather not discuss the rockstar attitude in-depth 😀

Does the inspiration for your unique fashion style come from music?

Is my fashion style unique? I guess Bowie and Prince are the biggest inspirations on that.

What are your goals in music for 2021?

I wanna bring my band Elyn to the spotlight.

What is your most precious memory of playing the guitar?

Hmmm, there are so many. Probably that time when in university I played a song by the band Extreme and Charlie Griffith from Haken said that was as close as it gets to Nuno Bettencourt. Being compared to one of my idols from a guitar legend was priceless.

Check out Andy’s website here: andyvozzamusic.com
Follow Andy on his personal social media channels here: linktr.ee/andyvozzamusic
Follow the band Elyn here: linktr.ee/elynband
More: www.siclickstudio.co.uk

“Meet my 1st singer in London – Nicole van Niekerk! She is a highly intellectual and multitalented human originally from South Africa. She recently released her awesome debut book “Mother of the Fire” (which I’m currently reading) and I wanted her to tell you about it and delve further into how she expresses herself.” – Neli

Nicole van Niekerk is a multitalented creator and author from South Africa. Her artistic pursuits have ranged from the world of theatre – which took her to England to study – through music, and to creative writing. ‘Mother of the Fire’ is Nicole’s debut novel which showcases her fascination with history through an exploration of familial expectations, gender roles, cultural identity and the importance of artistic expression. Nicole now lives with her husband in the South of France.

You are a multitalented artist – musician, actress and a writer. How do you combine all these artforms?

Ah, thank you. That’s kind. Well, I try to mix them all organically as I feel they are all forms of expressions coming from the throat or the mouth. In “Mother of the Fire”, you will see that music, writing and theatre plays a very big role in the story and in the life of the strong female character, Louisa. I think it is very important to express ourselves and we often have to overcome great adversity with it. I also try to show some of this in “Mother of the Fire”. 

 Your debut novel  “Mother of the Fire” is now published and available worldwide as an e-book. How did you decide the story of a fictional illegitimate daughter of  Charles II is the plot you want to explore in your first book?
Honestly, I didn’t really “decide” it. I love history and specifically the restoration period so I just started writing one day. But I like writing about important events in an unexpected way so choosing something like the fire of London, meant I could play around with the events in a way that no one would expect. (Well, perhaps some would) Charles the II had twenty-eight illegitimate children so it wasn’t that far of a stretch to create Louisa.  

Did you have the whole plot set before starting to write the book?

Absolutely not. This is going to sound strange but sometimes I just have an idea for a character, an event or just an image in my head. I start writing and it feels like the characters and the story starts to write itself. Sometimes it’s very difficult and I wonder why I’m doing this but then suddenly, I’ll have an idea and off we go again. Sometimes while I write a chapter or re-read a chapter, I’ll get a new idea based on something that happened in that chapter, or a previous chapter. The hardest thing about writing is to stop yourself judging what you’re writing as you write it.

What were the inspirations behind the characters you created – besides the ones who are real historical figures. Are they also based on real people?

Yes, Will Cartwright’s character is a character I combined from real actors during the time period. Alphonse and Louisa are also characters I made up. A few people have commented that some of Louisa’s characteristics are somewhat like mine, and I realised that Alphonse was a lot like my husband, bearing in mind I wrote this before I met my husband, so it is purely coincidental. Or perhaps fate, depending on how you look at it. He looks a lot like him too. I really don’t know how this happened. Haha

How did you achieve the impressive level of authenticity in the book – the characters and plot seem so real, that it is hard to tell which parts are fiction?

Thank you! That is immensely complimentary as I do like to write in such a way that people cannot be truly sure if it’s real or not. Some of the events and characters are of course real but as I wasn’t there in 1666, it’s educated guessing as well as complete fiction at times. I’m not sure how I achieved it but I can tell you that an impressive amount of research went into it. To the point where I thought if the police are tracking my internet searches, they may think I am an arsonist. Examples include: “How long does it take someone to die from asphyxiation?”, “Does thick wood char or burn completely?”, “How long does it take for a wooden house to burn down completely?” and more. 

What reader would enjoy your book most – does one have to be familiar with the era in which the events are set, in order to comprehend the story?

I think the ideal reader would be someone who enjoys history but not only because the story stands alone. Of course the historical part is huge but you could enjoy it for the character arcs, the wit and the emotional ups and downs.

 So rather someone who enjoys something a little out of the ordinary. I chose to self-publish because most agents and publishing houses told me that they could not take on my book because it wasn’t mainstream enough. And one told me that it was downright strange. Haha, thank you. I shall take it as a compliment. I am nothing if not daring. A few people who have read it thus far have told me how surprised they were that the book was so accessible to them and that they actually started to like historical fiction! So that to me is extremely inspiring. 

 What advice would you give to an aspiring author who wants to dive in the historical fiction genre?

Wow, I’m not sure if I’m experienced enough to be giving advice on how to dive in but I would say write, write, write. Don’t judge your writing as you do it. Don’t let people’s negative opinions make you doubt yourself, they are, after all, subjective. There is a market out there for everything so don’t try to write to fit a specific genre. Write for yourself and you will attract your audience. Lastly, get a great editor that you trust completely. I recommend Emily Snee. https://www.emilysnee.co.uk/

Writing music and fiction are two completely different things, but are there some similarities in some way?

They are different but they are both stories. Music is just a shorter story than a novel is. Both have difficulties and simplicities. I don’t prefer one above the other, either. They are both forms of expressions and both are very personal. They show something of our souls and that is what makes art such a vulnerable profession. Support your artists, we truly need it. Tell us how good you think we are, we haven’t heard it enough. 

Who are your biggest inspirations when it comes to writing?

I knew this big question was coming! I’ve always truly loved Anne Rice. She writes fantasy but she writes so authentically that you’re like, “of course vampires and witches exist!” For historical fiction, I admire Kate Mosse, Phillipa Gregory and Charlotte Betts. All strong female writers and very inspiring. The first writer I ever loved was a South-African writer who writes in Afrikaans, my native language. Her name is Fransi Phillips. Her daughter is one of my best friends and we grew up together in Pretoria. I still love her work and read it often. She read one of my stories when I was a child and though I was only thirteen, she told me that there’s no doubt that I’m going places. She also told me that I’m completely crazy but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Do you plan on writing more – a sequel to “Mother of the Fire” or maybe a completely different story?

Yes, of course. I’m always writing something, whether it is published is another story. I am currently writing a different book about my family’s experience living under the British Immigration system. We had a very difficult and traumatic time and it partly inspired me to write about all the identity issues in “Mother of the Fire”. I’m not sure when it will be finished though. I may write a prequel to “Mother of the Fire” at some point, or perhaps about another character from the story but I’m not a fan of sequels so that is probably not going to happen. I like stories that can stand by themselves and that don’t rely on you having read something else. 

Get Nicole’s debut novel “Mother of the Fire” here: https://www.kobo.com/fr/en/ebook/mother-of-the-fire

Check out also her:
Website – http://www.nicolevanniekerk.co.uk/
Blog: https://nicolesvanniekerk.wordpress.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/NicoleVanNiekerkExpressor
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/nvanniekerk/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/NvanNiekerk
Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/user/ohblondishone