Questions asked by Jon Wilde, added to Rock Realms 24th February 2011.
London based guitarist Phi Yaan-Zek has just released his 4th solo album "Dance With The Anima". Featuring world renowned drummer Marco Minnemann (Paul Gilbert/ Modern Drummer Cover star) and keyboard virtuoso Lalle Larsson (Agents Of Mercy/Karmakanic), the music is a film score style prog rock/fusion journey put to Minnemann's live unedited 51 minute drum solo.
We caught up with Phi to find out more...
Hi Phi, thanks for taking a moment to answer these questions.What’s your musical history? How and when did you get into guitar, and when did you realise you had a real talent for it?
Phi: I got into playing guitar when I was 14 via a friend at school, Phil Hudson, who had a real natural talent for the instrument. We were both into rock and metal and he introduced me to a lot of great guitar players. The technical aspect of playing guitar didn't come as easily for me at first as it did for Phil, but I was dedicated and passionate about learning.
What came easily was writing music - from the first time I picked up the guitar I was creating songs and melodies. In one sense I still feel like a beginner - playing guitar just takes you into endless depths of learning about music, and not just in a theoretical sense - the more you know, the more you actually realise you don't know.
Do you come from a musical family?
Phi: No, not in this lifetime. Maybe my ancestors were musical but never got the opportunity to discover it.
Who were your early influences? Who do you really rate these days?
Phi: Guitar wise my very early influences were Van Halen and Akira Takasaki from the band Loudness, after that it was Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Ronni Le Tekro and Marty Friedman. These days I still love Joe Satriani's music, and Jeff Beck is a real inspiration - he just embodies musicality on the guitar.
Onto new album “Dance With The Anima”... how did you get to know and end up working with drummer Marco Minnemann and keyboardist Lalle Larsson?
Phi: I've known Marco since 2002 when we first hooked up in Germany to start work my album "Solar Flare". We've stayed in touch ever since and have been recording together on and off since then. Most recently I've been recording in San Diego with Marco, Steve Vai bassist Bryan Beller and multi-instrumentalist wizard Mike Keneally (Zappa/Vai/Satriani). The first album from these sessions - a rock vocal album which should be out later this year. Lalle and I have been close friends since our teens when we were both students at the American Institute of Music in Vienna.
The concept of the album is live improvised drumming with the other musicianship layered over the top. Where did that idea come from, and why the choice to do it that way rather than constructing songs in a more traditional style?
Phi: The whole concept has given rise to great music that wouldn't have been created any other way and was totally Marco's idea. He often records his drum solos, and tours the world giving drum clinics - so he has a real talent for very musically engaging and technically astounding drum performances. So it seemed like a natural idea to him to use one of his improvised drum solos as the basis for creating new music over the top. This particular solo was called "Normalizer 2" and Marco invited some of his favourite musicians to be part of the project, including Mike Keneally, Alex Machacek, Trey Gunn, Jason Saddites, John Czajkowski and myself among others. When I first heard about it, I immediately said yes! I was really excited about the challenge of writing and recording music to a live solo while keeping it musically exciting and engaging. Its these kind of artistic challenges that really keep you on your toes as a musician!
Do you find it an easy or challenging way of creating music?
Phi: The composing side actually came together quite easily - Marco's drumming is very musical and so I found myself very inspired when writing the music. The recording part was another story and it was a real performance challenge at times locking into Marco's intricate poly-metric rhythms, which being a live 51 minute uninterrupted drum solo was done freely without a click track.
How does this new record compare to your other solo records?
Phi: Because of the nature of the project, a lot of the tracks are quite short as I'm having to follow when the drums change, so the music is very dynamic to say the least and has a lot of shifts in mood and energy. But I feel I succeeded in making it such that you really don't notice its based on a drum solo - it just sounds like Marco is playing to my music, but music that has a kind of film soundtrack feel due to the varied changes of rhythm and pacing.
Do you do anything special or unusual in the studio to get your sound? Are you an effects junkie or do you like to keep it plain and simple?
Phi: I'm a plain and simple kind of guy - just guitar, amp and one or two pedals. I might add some additional effects in the mixing stage if the guitars need it.
Do you think there’s any chance you’ll tour this music, or would it simply not work on the stage?
Phi: I've adapted and rearranged some of the tracks on the album, such as "Ecstasies Of The Starlight Self", so that they can be played live as a quartet (guitar,bass, keys & drums). But the album as a whole would be really difficult to tour, especially as its such an elaborate production with the addition of brass, harmonica, choir, strings and elves!
Are there any particular tracks you’re especially proud of on the new record, or is it all brilliant?
Phi: I have so many favourite moments on the album - the title track is intense in a James Bond chase scene kind of way is and very John Barry inspired. "Ecstasies Of The Starlight Self" always makes me smile and I love how my acoustic gypsy style guitar solo in "Maid with Spanish Fly" turned out. I'm also real happy with my solo on "Melodies of Me Too" which captures my guitar style and also Lalle's keyboard playing throughout the album is totally amazing. So yeah its all brilliant in different ways.
Do you enjoy the whole studio/creative experience, or do you prefer getting up on the live stage?
Phi: I love writing music - that's just an endless flow of fun, and I enjoy practicing and recording too. But the mixing side can get to be a drag, listening to the same part again a hundred times to balance and EQ the levels... *(Nick jumps in and remembers Phi, getting stressed out over the mixing on facebook :P ) Plus I have a low tolerance for computers - and they hate me too. So playing live is always a preference to that!
What have been the highlights and lowlights of your musical life so far?
Phi: The highlight is simply the joy of playing music everyday - the lowlights are when the computer crashes...
Any question you love being asked that I’ve missed? If so, what’s the answer?
Phi: What was it like working with elves on the new album?
They are a wild and unruly bunch, so it was a real challenge getting them to all sing in time and in tune on "Ecstasies Of The Starlight Self". We did about 4 takes before they just started wrecking the studio too much and we had to give up. Luckily we managed to edit together a good performance out of all that chaos in the end. Phew!
What are you up to once you’ve finished answering these questions?
Phi: I'm working on the companion remix album to "Dance With The Anima", called "Deeper With The Anima" which should be out in spring this year and then I've got to prepare for a gig tonight.
Anything else you would like to mention?
Phi: Please visit http://www.phiyaan-zek.com/ to check out all my albums. Thank you for the interest in my music!
Thanks again to Phi for his time.