Guitarist of the Month: Alexandra Zerner

“Who was my 1st electric guitar teacher? Meet Alexandra Zerner! To be fair, I feel like she’s a name that I don’t need to introduce too much, but I’ll tell you who she is to me. Apart from teaching me how to hold my pick correctly back in my teenagehood, she has also been very inspirational to me. A virtuoso guitarist and musician, she has created some beautiful music and is also a very kind person. Alexandra is a true inspiration and I value her continued support in my guitar development. I treasure every conversation I get to have with her and I think you’ll find her interview to be a very interesting read.” – Neli

I will take you way back – how did your musical journey start?

When I was a child, I had three dreams regarding my future occupation – a scientist, a pilot, and a musician. Music has always taken a significant part of my environment, also the fact that my cousin started playing the guitar when I was 7, contributed to my musical development. I began just before turning 8. In the first 3-4 years, I was playing classical guitar but my soul was longing for rock and metal and consequently, at 12 years of age, I switched to electric guitar. Several years later, I felt the need to advance and broaden my musical knowledge and I started playing the piano, then the bass, I was taking drums lessons, years later I started playing the mandolin, and consequently and flute. Today, I still have a huge desire to play many instruments but unfortunately, neither my time, nor my strength suffice.

What challenges did you face as a musician who started their career in Bulgaria?

I know that it would sound quite discouraging for the musicians in Bulgaria but my experience, from the standpoint of a non-privileged person, is that it’s always been a long and ponderous struggle, full of frustration and broken dreams, as I’ve often been on the verge of giving up. I’ve been playing with a multitude of bands and musicians and sooner or later one faces a slammed door, behind which only the “more equal” ones have access. There is also a fair amount of contempt coming from artists and companies from the Western world when they become aware that a given band or an artist comes from Bulgaria. What’s worse, however, is that once a musician from Bulgaria manages to emerge on the international scene, the attacks and hatred come predominantly from Bulgaria and such a thing is capable of bringing the artist to a breakdown. It’s especially hard when it comes to women in this field since they often become victims of overly patriarchal and patronizing attitude and this can be lethal to the artist’s self-esteem. That’s why I am content that I moved again to the Czech Republic where most of these problems aren’t present.

Photo by: Sofia Zasheva

How would you describe the prog genre to an aspiring musician who is discovering themselves and trying to navigate the sea of genres?

The progressive rock and metal are predominantly the freedom one has to use various musical approaches even if they aren’t attributed to rock and metal. Initially, the term “progressive pop” has emerged to describe the brave and colourful creations of artists like David Bowie, the later works of The Beatles, the beginning of Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, etc. For many people, these styles would be even equal to eclectic, especially the prog from the 60s and 70s when the listener is exposed to a complex mix of classical and jazz approaches, combined with instrumental virtuosity and conceptual albums with tracks exceeding 20 min of length. In a nutshell – if a musician finds genres too confining for their creativity, yet they still gravitate around rock and metal, the prog is the field to thrive in.

You have four albums – 9 Stories, Aspects, Opus 1880 and Silhouette. What does each of them represent as part of your creative path?

Each of my albums reflects my interests and mental state at the given time. “9 Stories” is a musical translation of several novels and films that impressed me very much back then and all of them have common plot elements, thereby it’s a concept album even though it might not seem such at first. In the album, dominates the so-called “neoclassical shred” which is the reason why this album is still the most favoured one amongst my fanbase. The progressive elements in it are not so prominent since I was afraid that it might repel the audience. For better or worse, I came out to be right since with every following album wherein the complexity prevailed over shred, I was losing a share of my old fans but I was earning new ones.

“Aspects” is based on astrology and describes my personal experiences in terms of love and relationships. From a certain standpoint it could be interpreted as a collection of musical archetype portraits. I would say that it’s darker and heavier than “9 Stories”, and it’s also more prog. It’s also a “whirlwind” of my 8-string guitar which I acquired around the end of the recording process of “9 Stories” which is also the reason for the heavier sound. 

“Opus 1880” is an album which I was planning for a long time but I was afraid to tackle since it seemed too brave and grandiose to me. I worked on it for 2 and a half years and I paid a big price for it, not only financially but also from a health perspective. It’s also an avant-garde idea to create a soundtrack to a book and as such, it’s very colourful and therein one can hear everything from acoustic ballads mixed with Western-European folk, to complex compositions and low metal riffs. I worked on it along with the writer Slav Georgiev as I developed the main concept, the plot, the locations, and the characters and Slav wrote everything in a wonderful way, adding numerous interesting details that I haven’t even thought of.

This album is planned to be a part of a fiction trilogy addressing interesting philosophical ideas, as it’s again containing elements based on personal experience.

I was writing the lyrics simultaneously with the book so they can be optimally synchronised. The composing process was going along which was making it harder than usual because one has a particular assignment for each track which makes it similar to film scoring.

“Silhouette” is something which I initially didn’t even intend to release. I planned it to be one track at the length of 20-30 min with the purpose of musical self-therapy. The reason is that since my childhood I developed chronic depression and anxiety, and later also PTSD which is to a certain degree connected to the second question but also with domestic abuse I was exposed to for a long time. I wanted to express all of this by music but I thought that it would be too burdening to my audience therefore I played it only to a few of my most loyal fans and they were excited by it and motivated me to finish it and release it, hence that’s something I owe to them.

Photo by: Sofia Zasheva

 How does your music writing process usually go?

My most valuable ideas come when I am in a specific state of mind which was very well described in one of my favourite books as “relaxed attention”. Steve Vai calls it “ultra zone”, the Eastern philosophy names it “state of Zen”, science defines it as “alpha state” due to the specifics of the brainwave’s frequency. It’s said that in this range one achieves optimal connection between the ratio and the subconscious hence creative impulses and innovative solutions are generated.

 Thanks to my decades long musical occupation, these ideas come in a relatively cooked form – melodies with harmony and rhythm – it’s left to me to translate them as quickly and accurately as possible into a recording which I use afterwards to refine the composition and bring it to a finished product. Sometimes the ideas come unfinished and I feel tempted to force them and finalise them using my knowledge but this never gives a good result therefore with the time I learnt to let the muse come back on its own. I’ve heard a lot of compositions by big artists in which one can hear where the muse has gone and the writer has forced the inspiration. When working with producers and deadlines that’s understandable but that’s precisely one of the advantages of being an independent artist.

And how did your style and creative process change over time?

Since my first album, I’ve changed a lot, both as a person and as a musician and that’s inevitably leading to changes in my creations. In “9 Stories” I had a certain need to prove myself – in the end, this was supposed to be my first “business card” in front of the world and I felt the need “to shine”. After “Aspects” I had less and less desire to conform with the ongoing tendencies and started relying entirely on the composition and what I want to convey by it. That’s why today I feel completely distinct from the modern guitar heroes. Perhaps I am just getting old.

In which ways did the pandemic affect your way of working?

I work in my home studio, the pandemics didn’t really affect me negatively in a professional aspect. After all, my main source of income are the lessons, the YouTube videos, and the session work for different artists and bands. In the last months I am re-evaluating my opinion on playing live and I am not certain that now I have the same motivation to do it as I had before. Nowadays, releasing music and touring has become a bit of a thankless job.

 

 

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a single with the singer Maja Shining with whom I worked in “Silhouette”. The song is an interesting prog ballad which is going to be released very soon and I intend to make limited edition CDs and vinyls, again using crowdfunding as I did with my last two albums.

Is there anything left that you would like to experiment with in music?

There are a large number of things I would like to experiment with and I reckon that this is wonderful because if one doesn’t have such a spark, so their creative path has ended.

I would like to play many more instruments, I would like to master more compositional techniques and styles, to advance in orchestration. These are merely the things that come across my mind at the moment and I don’t think that this list will ever end, which is optimistic.

Follow Alexandra Zerner here:
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Featured photo by: Tsvetelina Kostova

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