Your career has been very versatile. You recorded numerous records, commercials, film scores, trailers and jingles, produced pop as well as hard rock albums. The choice for your first solo album fell on jazz and R & B inflected West Coast pop, why?
A good question. I have a very diverse background. I studied classical piano and my father was a big fan of jazz. He always encouraged me to listen and learn all kinds of music. Keep my ears open. I’ve learned to like almost everything…classical, pop, jazz, ethnic, metal, movie music, r&b, rap…you name it!
I think every musician has some thoughts about recording a solo album and I’ve toyed with the idea numerous times. At some point I thought I’d like to do an orchestral album…or baroque pop, with Strings, harps, celeste etc…or perhaps some kind of rock band album…or how about synth pop?
But fortunately Gabriel Raya solved this: “You’re going to do a westcoast pop album”. I’ve never liked to pigeonhole music and the funny thing is that I think I ‘ve not produced a pure Westcoast album before “Fly Away”. I didn’t even know about the term until I was in my 30’s. Of course I’ve loved many of those records, but for me it was just great pop music!
In 2009 you produced and arranged the highly-acclaimed tribute album to the legendary writer, producer and pianist David Foster, “Fly Away”. How did this project come about? Was it a preparation for your solo album?
It kind of is. In 2005 Gaby suggested the first time that I should do a solo album. But I was quite busy at that time with my producing career and didn’t find time to come up with original material. Then he said to me “How about doing an album with covers of Foz’s songs”. I said no! I’m not a big fan of cover albums because the original versions are usually perfect. Then I made quick demos of three tracks and they didn’t sound half bad. So, I started to work on that. I thought we would be ready in a couple of months. Then three years later the project was released…
You composed or co-wrote most of the song material on your solo debut “Walkin’ On Air”. Did you collect the songs over several years or did you actually compose them for this project?
Everything was composed for this project. Usually I compose & arrange pretty quickly. However it takes time to get the right musicians, so many players are nowadays on the road for a long time. After basic recording, getting all the nuances right takes time. Sometimes can change the arrangement completely at the middle of the project. If something doesn’t work, it’s better to start over, For example “Through the fire” on the Foz album was changed just prior to the mixing. Ole actually recorded the vocals while we were already mixing. The original version can be heard on the Japan edition of the record.
I want to start this question with a quote of one of your early role models. Duke Ellington said: “The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen”. You worked on “Walkin’ On Air” with an impressive cast of musicians – to name a few: Simon Phillips, Jason Scheff, John JR Robinson, Neil Stubenhaus, Robbie Buchanan, Eric Marienthal and Brandon Fields. According to which criteria did you choose the musicians? Was it very difficult to win them for your project?
It was surprisingly easy. Most great musicians are pretty nice and easygoing and if they like the music, there’s a good chance to get them. Many played for free or at a reduced fee. The casting is always very important. You must know the strengths and possible weaknesses of every player. If you study the musician’s style you know, what kind of material will suit him/her. I must say I’m so humbled for having the opportunity to play with the greatest players on the planet! I’ve seen their names at the covers of my favourite albums as a teenager. You don’t get THAT sound without having that actual person playing it. But I have to state that I’m also extremely proud of our local players & singers. Everyone poured their amazing skills & hearts and souls to this album and I’m so humbled to have them involved!
We hear Warren Wiebe’s elegant vocals on “Show Me A Sign”. The beloved vocalist and session artist died 1998. Where did the idea come from to a make a duet with his voice and the Polish songstress ZoSia?
You know, Gaby won’t release an album without some Warren Wiehe on it. It was so hard to find this material. Warren passed away almost 20 years ago and most of those multitracks have been destroyed. But fortunately we were able to get this fantastic song from Hank Easton. We’ll owe him so much. I think it was Gaby’s idea to make it a duet. Fortunately we got Zosia to do that. She’s an amazing polish singer and I liked her voice immediately. A total pro! She can sing everything effortlessly…not just ballads. She’s a talent to be reckoned! Btw, oon the second album there will be a song with Warren too…and it’s going to be a duet!!
The title track – featuring former Chicago singer Jason Scheff on vocals and bass – is on the best way to become a new West Coast classic. Is this song one of your favorites on the album? What inspired you to this song?
Thank you for the kind words! It’s impossible to pick favorites, but I like that one. I think I got the idea while I was jogging. When I got home I just made the demo…I played and just arranged it in the fly. That’s why the structure is a bit weird – after the second chorus comes a long instrumental jam. I just enjoyed playing the end vamp so much that I couldn’t stop. So, the keys and the arrangement are pretty much what I played at the first or second take. I tried to re-play it but it didn’t work that well for some reason. Most songs on the album have those early takes as basic tracks. Sometimes I fix some notes which are way too off. But the vibe is everything. Unfortunately I can’t write lyrics at all but we had amazing lyricists on this project. Jackie Kavan wrote the lyrics for this song.
Your critically-acclaimed album “Walkin’ On Air” stood on countless “best album of the year” lists. Did this success surprise you?
Actually it did surprise me. You never know how people will respond to your music. I think most musicians are a bit insecure…at least I was for sure. When I produced artists I was always amazed at their nervousness before the album release, now I know better! But I’m extremely humbled that so many people have actually liked it. It always means a lot to me and I can’t thank enough those people who’ve sent their encouragements! I’ve gotten so many new friends! And the vibe has been so positive.
Walkin’ On Air was released on Gabriel Raya’s renowned label Contante & Sonante. How did this cooperation come about?
I’ve known Gaby for years and it all happened easily. He just asked and I said, OK, and then I went to work. Usually record business is full of pricks, but Gaby really is one of the good guys!
Your follow-up album scheduled for late 2018. What can we expect?
Hopefully we can expect that in 2018! Herbie Hancock has said “Never make the same album twice”. I would like to expand the formula a bit so that the second album has it’s own identity. We actually have a 10 minute fusion piece with Vinnie Colaiuta , Luis Conte & Alex Al. It’s pretty ambitious – many solos and weird time signatures. And we have a couple other surprises as well. But of course there are some familiar sounding westcoast songs too with a stellar cast. Frank is doing one song…Ole Borud did one song, then we have Bill Cantos, Marilyn Scott and many more.
A last question: Do you have a personal formulae for timeless songs?
I don’t think I have any kind of formulae. I think my music is a combination of all the things I’ve listened throughout the years. I’m a genuine music fan and still love to listen and find new music, every day! I’m still learning! It’s a way of life for me.
This interview was first published in 2018.
Photo: Tomi Malm