What is more challenging: performing for an audience, or working to create in the studio?
The short answer - performing for an audience is more of a challenge. Like actors who do theatre versus film actors, live musical performers have one shot to get it right... it's real time and there are no 2nd takes. It's preparation and confidence. Because I do over 90% of my work in my own studio, I have few time constraints. The creative process of composing material, recording it, editing and mixing it... all of that can be reviewed and revisited as needed. You can go for more takes or edit the ones you have. For me, the biggest challenge in the studio is knowing when something should be "fixed" or left as it is. Decisions, decisions...
What artist or artists have been influential to your versatile career?
I get asked this a lot, and my answer usually surprises people. I guess they expect me to name instrumentalists in genres like smooth jazz or new age. There are some unbelievable players in those genres for sure. But I have to say, to this day, my main musical influences came when I was in school. Back then, I had studied classical, some jazz, and also loved playing rock. I was drawn to rock players who were either very versatile or stylistic. I really liked Alex Lifeson of Rush. I loved his approach to the guitar and the fact that he wasn't shy about blending their bombastic-progressive rock sound with the occasional acoustic or nylon string guitar. I also love what the Edge does for U2. He plays such fantastic, shimmering and unique rhythmic parts that always inspire me. But most of all, I think it was Rik Emmett from Triumph that I related to most. A great singer and rock player in his own right, he also showed his talent on classical and acoustic guitar on every album. He wrote excellent pieces of instrumental music and put them in the middle of a hard rock album. And that's what I was back then - a rock guitarist with classical and jazz training. When I listened to those albums, it was like he was saying to me, "Hey, it's ok to want to play rock and classical and jazz...if you like it, then do it all."
You're not only a musician, you're also a writer - do you write about music? Or are those two creative worlds separate?
Well, I did write a novel and some who've read it have indeed labeled me as a "writer". I'm very appreciative for the compliment, but I'm not sure I'd go that far. I wrote a novel simply because I love to read, and I wanted to see if I could put down on paper a story that had been bouncing around in my head for a while. So no, my novel has nothing to do with music... it's fiction.
When you're not composing, performing or writing, what is your favorite downtime activity?
I love to read and also love a good movie or documentary. I suppose I'm drawn to the concept of "escape". Imagination can truly be the greatest nation. Ok, so when I'm not being a couch potato, I love to fish. Nature. Mountains. Forests. Lakes. Far far away from anything man-made if possible.
What advice do you give new artists who ask you how to get a break in the music business?
I've lectured about this at universities and spoke about this briefly on CNN when they were covering the NAMM show in LA. I could easily speak on this multifaceted question for hours, but for the purpose of this interview, let me share this. If a young musician wants a career in music, wants to compose his or her own material, wants to be an "artist" and make CDs and get paid for it, they have to be versatile and self reliant. Now more than ever. I'd say, learn to be competent on more than one instrument... learn several if possible. This gives you independence from having to rely on other players when you're composing. Learn to play and compose in more than one specific genre of music and embrace several. I started out as a rock player, but found more success in instrumental guitar and I was prepared for the opportunity. Also, this point is invaluable if considering any potential work in scoring for TV or film. Perhaps the biggest tip I can give is to learn about how to record your material at home. Embrace the revolution in music technology and invest in a computer-based home studio. It's affordable and getting more so every year. Learn the software, learn the basics of being your own sound engineer, learn about production, learn about gear... get to the point where you can compose and record demos at home. Hopefully, one day you'll be able to make final product CDs at home... and maybe even make extra cash recording other artists.
Finish this sentence: I can't go a day without... ?
Hugging my dogs, doing something that's creative, learning something new, and finding something to laugh about.