Borislav Mitic: Master of Strings
Interviewed by “EvilG”
In my opinion, Borislav Mitic is one of, if not the, best up and coming guitar instrumentalists out there today! This is not blowing smoke, this is how I felt when I heard his debut CD on Shrapnel Records and now with his re-released Fantasy album. I consider this to be one of the better interviews I’ve done so far thanks to the great amount of detail that Borislav took the time to go into with me – especially on the topic of his classical influences and background. So read on, and learn more about this great guitarist.
I’d just like to point out that Borislav will be writing a column in Metal-Rules.com entitled Beyond The Music. It’s part album diary and part guitar lesson so it will appeal to both musicians and to fans curious about the behind the scenes of the recording of an album. Anyway, enough of my inane ranting, on to the interview.
Obviously you have recently re-released your CD Fantasy so I’d like to talk a little bit about that first. Starting out I’d like to know why you decided to re-release this album and why now?
The main reason why I re-released ‘Fantasy’ right now is that after releasing the Shrapnel album, I have been receiving a lot of mail from people who actually like that album, like from fans who are also very interested in what I did before and especially that ‘Fantasy’ album which I only did for the Serbian market in ’96. So, right now because I’m in between two albums for Shrapnel I figured it would be a very good idea to maybe make ?Fantasy? available for those people interested to actually hear it. To give people a little more insight what I was doing before because it was musically a little bit different than what I’m doing right now for the new album and what I did for Shrapnel already. So that’s the main reason why I did it.
Is there any reason why you decided to re-release it yourself rather than try to get Shrapnel records to release it or did you even bother to see if they would release it themselves first?
There is a possibility that Shrapnel will maybe be taking that album later on. But I’m more interested to publish new material for Shrapnel – my latest compositions and present where I am with the guitar and the music right now. This ‘Fantasy’ was more like a special project that I wanted to do on my own as I said before- just to make it available for people who are interested in what I was doing before. I didn’t really want to make it look like it?s my new album so that’s why I even gave it a little bit…of a lower profile than I would normally- just to enough to keep some ?continuity? for the new album for Shrapnel. But there is a possibility that Shrapnel maybe taking ?Fantasy? later on.
When you decided to release it, did you have to re-visit the original recording to do any touch-ups or remixing, or was ‘Fantasy’ basically a straight transfer from what was originally recorded? Or did you have to mess with anything at all?
The mix is completely the same as the original I didn’t do any remixes or anything like that. It’s completely the same the way the songs were and the length of the album was. So everything is completely the same apart from the fact that I re-mastered this version of the album. In fact it does sound different in the way that some EQ frequencies were changed… during the re-mastering we’re adding some frequencies, pushing some up or down and in a very slight way it does change the balance between instruments or maybe the color of the sound but it?s just nuances though. I think that the quality of it is better right now than the original was… it’s more like what I would have wanted it to be the first time that I did it for the Yugoslavian album… That’s the only difference- that it’s re-mastered. The artwork for the cover is also new. People can see the old one at my web page: www.geocities.com/borislav_mitic
I know that in places ‘Fantasy’ features your arrangements or variations of different classical pieces. However, I am not familiar enough with the composers to name exactly what songs on ‘Fantasy’ were inspired by what particular composer so perhaps you can give me a rundown on a couple of the songs and tell me what composer influences a certain piece maybe?
The album altogether was mainly influenced by the violin work of Nicolo Paganini because in my days of apprenticeship with the guitar (when I was practicing, cutting my teeth and chops), I got very interested in classical music after hearing guys like Yngwie Malmsteen. I was intrigued by it. I decided to investigate all the classical catalogue I could which included Nicolo Paganini, Bach, Handel… or it’s better to say the baroque period, the romantic period with people like Chopin, Listz, Shuman, Shubert, and the post romantic period like Debussy? and a whole lot of other composers. I just named a few. I really, really gathered a big collection of almost 500 different classical albums with compositions of various composers and I was analyzing ?in detail? all that!
This ‘Fantasy’ album is in fact, presenting my impressions from that period (and different aspects of playing techniques I was interested in at the time) focusing strongly on pieces written by Nicolo Paganini – analyzing his caprices and concertos. So, what I was doing was taking out certain phrases which I found very interesting to be played on the electric guitar and made transcriptions – in fact what I did on the ‘Fantasy’ album was not really just transcribing or just arranging, more precisely- I made variations around some of ideas I took from Paganini and added my own parts around it,? but in any case I did give him the full credit on the album. (laughs)
So here we go song by song. On the song ‘Master Of Strings’ I have like excerpts from two Nicolo Paganini?s caprices. I took some excerpts from 17th and 24th. Then in my song ‘La Campanella’ I covered Paganini’s probably most famous Concerto Number 2. I took the theme from it and then added some of my own things like arpeggios and my own harmony parts. In the track called ‘Virtuosa’ I also included some parts of Paganini’s Caprices too. Actually the title ‘Virtuosa? has a story to it. At that time, at the beginning of the 90′s I was into the violin music ?big time? all together I was doing some research on the history of violin and different things related to it and I ran into a photograph of some kind of ?machine violin? and it was called ‘Virtuosa’. It seemed as an interesting idea and that’s why I titled the track like that. I also included a cover of Bach’s composition. It’s his prelude and I believe that the melody on top of his arpeggios was later added by Charles Gounod. It ?s titled ‘Ave Maria’. I just liked how that sounded so I did it in the version ?electric guitar and bass? instead of ?violin and keyboard. ? There is one other composer who is included in my album and that is Handel. The title track of the album- ‘Fantasy? includes a part of his? Passacaglia?. Actually I came to that idea by seeing the violinist Itzhak Perlman on TV once (back in Belgrade) playing that composition. I liked a lot how it sounded. I don’t even know the complete name of it till this day. I just remembered that it was Passacaglia. So I just took that phrase (that I remembered) and made my own arrangements and additions to it- and (almost) came up with my own song in the end.
What about the last song? The ‘Moto Perpetuo’? (Oh yeah) Is that original or based on something?
Yes, in fact that is a complete original. That is an etude for Violin by Nicolo Paganini. It’s a very, very difficult piece to play. I think one of the most difficult! I’m not bragging here or anything, but it’s just like one of the biggest challenges for almost any guitar player to master technically. (Yeah, it was pretty impressive) It’s very long. So it took a lot of practice and I would say that that song is really for people who are interested in technical aspect of guitar playing. It’s really special. I placed it on the end of the album. So if you want to hear something very extreme on the guitar take a look at this one because that composition is full of almost all possible sequences, arpeggios, scales.
One other reason that makes it appropriate to do Paganini?s pieces on electric guitar is that he did play the guitar himself. Considering that he was one of the greatest violin players of all time it?s less known that he was actually very much in awe of the guitar. I also stated that on the inner sleeve of my ?Fantasy? album. He actually did say that – he is the master of the violin, but that his mater is the guitar! If he knew how much us rock guitar players today would be impressed by his violin work maybe he’d be glad!
Do you think he would be playing neo classical music on guitar if he was still alive?
Well, he is alive today (His music) (laughing)! Like with many other musical giants? Later on we had people like Charley Parker on Saxophone for example who influenced many guitarists or jazz piano players. So it?s not only reserved for people who are playing some particular instrument like violin to look up to violinists and it has never been. Paganini influenced a whole generation of classical composers who didn?t necessarily play violin or write for it. Today we see people like Yngwie or maybe myself too (laughs). Not only us neo classical or rock guitar players are in awe of Paganini. It’s also people like Franz Listz who was floored when he saw Paganini. He made a lot of variations of Paganini’s compositions. He got the idea to develop his piano technique from being inspired by Paganini (which I discovered by reading his biography). I think that the same thing was with Chopin. He was also a Paganini?s devotee. So it?s just a matter of keeping ?passing the flame on? and if you get anybody else inspired by it means that you are doing something good. So that’s what I am trying to do, what I think that it’s important today also.
I have one more question on the classical side of things and that is something I’ve noticed that there seems to be a common thread amongst many metal and hard rock musicians who have claimed to have been classically influenced. It seems to be a thread. And that is for example, heavy metal seems to use classical music that are very specific and consistent: For example it seems Bach is more mentioned than Mozart; Paganini rather than Listz; Vivaldi and Albinoni (ah.. forgive my pronunciation if I’m wrong here.. (laughing)) instead of Telemann or Monteverdi. But anyway, it seems there’s some amount of selectivity in what a metal musician will pick from classical music. It seems to be a common thread. Have you noticed this? Do you have any opinion why in general this type of thread exists?
Well, it is true what you?re saying but it would be hard to give a precise and detailed answer which would explain that. Maybe it’s the fact that some works by Bach are more… not easier to copy, but more approachable to the style of the guitar players… It’s very hard to answer that really… (laughing) I guess one can see a common thread when reading interviews by some guitar players who seem to mention a lot of common influences. But I think that there are also some guitar players who are influenced by some different classical composers too. I’m not naming anyone especially but maybe some guys who are just naming composers like by Bach or Paganini heard ?some? guitar player they liked and they maybe read somewhere that he was influenced by those composers. They would actually listen to Bach or Paganini in order to get closer to the guitar player that they like so that they will find the ?secret? of his playing. They hope to be more like him or reach his level if they listen to what he was listening to and they are maybe not very interested to analyze some of the music of other composers. But I’ve also heard a lot of rock- fusion- metal players who were influenced by different composers. We even had a guitar player like Tony Macalpine who was playing piano pieces of Chopin. It wasn’t always the case that it was Paganini and Bach! Actually, I never really heard anybody taking Paganini as an influence ?all the way?. But I can speak with certainty only of myself. I was influenced by a lot of other different composers too which I haven’t really presented as well as all the sides of the influences I had from classical music. Maybe I should mention more people like Mendelson, or Bruch who are (their violin works) more obvious influences on my previous Shrapnel release. Mozart is my big influence too which is I hope noticeable in a few compositions on that album also. But that’s just my taste. As for other people well, maybe they are not curious enough or something, so I hope they will become. Maybe they will rediscover some old music, get new inspiration and bring some different music. And it’s not only about classically influenced musicians I think that same kind of rule applies for any style, whether it is a certain line of blues players or a line of rock players, when there seems to be a ?usual catalogue? which musicians are stating as their influences and they go ?I like that one, this one?.?-and it?s the same people for everybody. They usually have two or three names going around all the time. But as I said in the beginning, it’s a subject that we could go very far in discussing. We could almost dedicate few hours just to that topic. So, what I’ve said is basically giving my view on that.
OK, onto your new album that you’ve been working on. It’s coming out in 2001 on Shrapnel records. Do you have a release date or month in mind yet or is it still open ended as in when it will come out?
I don’t have a release date or anything very precise for that one because it?s still in the preparation phase. It will most probably be somewhere for 2001, hopefully for the first half of 2001. But as I said, you know, I’m still in the working phase of it. The compositions are still being brewed, made, crafted and so on and so forth…
About how much do you have written so far?
Well, the thing is I work in a way that I make a lot of different compositions and I ?explore? a lot of different styles and then I just pick out what seems to fit that certain album (at that certain time) the best?. That’s why it’s taking a little longer and I always try to go for something different every time…. People can hear a big difference between ‘Fantasy’ and my Shrapnel album for sure. I am trying to make the same kind of difference again right now for the new one. So I’m working on it… Well, it’s just that I’m very persistent on making a noticeable progression musically, technically from album to album. I always enjoy to give something completely fresh for the new albums compared to what I did previously so that’s why maybe it takes a little longer for me to get through that? waiting period? between the albums but I hope that the results will be worth the waiting.
So do you have any idea what direction the new album will take? Will it be some vocal songs maybe or will it be more shredding, more blues? Do you have any idea of like a certain direction or will every song kind of be a little bit different?
First of all I think stylistically it’s going to cover even more, much more ground than the previous one did. That is kind of putting a big pressure on me because I have a lot of different influences that I have to now blend into one whole piece of music. I mean, just balancing the whole of the album because I tend to incorporate a lot of different influences from blues jazz,… The album will have a lot of variety to it…of course the strongest part of it will be the metal and the neoclassical part but it will not be only that. It’ll be a lot of other things like? threading in? with the different influences. As I said I will keep the classical, the different ethnic music influences, and I’ll also include maybe a bit more of a bluesy, jazzy type of thing and even go places like ambient music and traces of techno music direction but sometimes it’s hard … hard for people to… I’m better in expressing myself with the music than in words because I can say some things and some people could maybe (which are not big fans of certain types of music) have their? hair up?… (laughing). “Oh no, he’s going to do an album like this or like that!” which is not really the case. What is sometimes one thing for me it’s different for others. When I say fusion, I don’t mean fusion like it’s a stereotypically understood. To me it can be something new or a little different than what people consider that style to be. But I think the best thing would be to wait and have a little more patience and hear the music when the album will be out. For the vocal part of it I have a set of vocal songs from a while back that I’m still re-arranging and polishing. It will not be like primarily vocal album but it will include a few vocal tracks. Especially these days it?s necessary to have at least some vocal songs included on the album. And it’s something I’d like to do in any case.
Have you decided on who’s going to sing or is that still top secret kind of stuff? (laughs)
Well I have a few possibilities but I would still keep that one open. I wouldn’t be able to say anything definite on who’s going to be in charge of the vocals.
Are you looking more towards having someone who people in the hard rock/metal realm will recognize or would you prefer to have a new person that people probably haven’t heard of yet?
The most important thing is that the songs will fit nicely with the style of the persons singing. Though it?s still not decided who will actually be in charge of vocals it could happen that it will be somebody new, or maybe somebody who is known, very good, but not very much exposed until now. But I really, really couldn’t say anything more about that part of the next album because it’s still in the preparation stage.
Have you decided who’s going to be playing bass and drums on the album and will it be the same guys who played on your first release for Shrapnel or you haven’t decided that yet?
That’s another thing that I’m also still thinking of. If I will be collaborating with the people that I did the previous album with, or if I will include some other players I?ll yet have to decide. Maybe it will be a bit of both like having different backing for different sections of the album or for a few songs at least. I’m still undecided on that part too. It’s usually the thing that gets finalized almost just before you are enter the studio.
So do you hope your new CD will open even more doors for you?
Oh yeah, definitely.
Would you say the end goal is that you’d like to make it, I guess, as an instrumentalist or do you hope this is kind of like a resume type thing that will eventually lead to you joining a band or something like that?
Well, I would like to have my own thing and my own career as a solo artist or gather a band around me. But if I had an offer from a band whose music I was very interested in… and whose style and the approach to music is fitting me? Then I would enter in a collaboration with that band and be an equal part of.
What is your take on the instrumental, metal rock scene? The reason I ask is because the average listeners out there usually don’t go for or appreciate very much non vocal music so how do you overcome this factor or is it something you just have to accept?
I think that the vocally oriented music scene has more, let?s say publicity, than the instrumental one. Which I think is the thing we can’t really deny. But on the other hand I believe that there is also an audience for the instrumental type of music too. We can see that there are artists that are very successful with that particular line of music. I’m not really speaking only about the electric guitar or metal guitar, it can be different types of music and artists like Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre or Mike Oldfield? They’re selling a lot of records. I think they have a lot of fans, their concerts are very visited also. There is an audience for that type of music! Sure, I agree that for some people who approach music in a different, simple way and for whom it doesn’t have same place in life like for someone extremely interested in an instrument and playing …for them it will be ?easier for the ear to hear? something with lyrics which plays on the radio and goes well with driving a car or, I don’t know, doing laundry with (laughing) and doesn’t require much thinking. But for driving a car- which music would be better than Joe Satriani anyway? (laughing) It all depends on the media and which kind of style and which kind of musical direction they are going to give more attention to and which kind of artist will be more in the focus of that? eye?. The media I think is also creating the public view in a sense that it decides? for people? what will be appreciated or not…like what is in fashion today…what is apparently in the charts, what is? in? and what is not? But the fact is that a lot of people are kind of coming back to that ?musician approach?. To real musicians, to the people who actually really love what they do and who are actually living the thing that they are working- it?s everything! It?s something that is an essential part of their being. Not something they do for this, or that reason (which doesn’t have much to do with the music). So I just feel that there is a generation of people who are becoming I would say tired of superficial things and are really going back to something that has a real value. In any case I noted that Carlos Santana is again one of the most sold artists lately (which is great) and… he’s a guitar player too (laughing)! Yeah, that’s true. (laughing)
I’d like your opinion on something that’s related to this and it’s something that kind of puzzles me, and offends me and makes me angry all at the same time and that’s when I go into a store I pick up a Guitar Magazine or Guitar Player or Guitar For The Practicing Musician – magazines which I used to buy probably ten years ago, I picked them up now and on the cover I see a band like Limp Bizkit or Korn and they’re mentioned, you know, these are today’s top guitarists on the cover. I think, are these people deaf or something? Like these guys don’t, they wouldn’t know a lead solo if it hit them over the head yet these magazines put them on the cover. And you know, someone like Yngwie will put out a new album and, he’s not on the cover anymore. Why aren’t they featuring, say, your new CD or at least reviewing it or mentioning it? But it seems completely backwards like it’s not focused on talent, it’s focused on flavor of the month. I would have thought a magazine that’s dedicated to guitar and not trend of the month magazine would have a little bit more integrity and would feature people that can actually play and are not the flavor of the month type of artists. What would be your opinion on that?
Well, I guess that’s mainly a question of the editorial politics of the magazine. And the musical direction that the magazine is going to cover and what they want to write about and I guess it’s their personal view of the scene. For me, honestly it doesn’t make much sense- I mean, I’m not saying that everybody has to like or dislike certain bands – it’s a personal taste. But noticing that when people like Steve Vai, Joe Satraini or Yngwie and a lot of other guys like Alan Holdsworth, Eric Johnson or whoever – put out a new album and we do not see them on the covers of the guitar magazines is a worrying trend for me. I must say that it does confuse me a bit. I don’t know the answer to the question what is the reason why that is done. As I said it is a conscious decision of the editorial of a magazine which knows why it’s doing that. I just hope that it will change. I would like an answer to the question – why for example, my album is not featured in those kind of magazines which are specialized for guitar- I don’t know! I would just ask anyone who likes my music or my albums to write to those magazines and to ask them “why is this person doing something and you are ignoring what he is doing? He does exist you know! (laughing)”. I think it would be very progressive and very valuable to have some kind of acknowledgement and approach from those magazines. At least to cover you in a way that they dislike, or they like what you do. You are doing that (making guitar albums) and you have an audience and people are interested in you-they should be able to read about you!. I just have a feeling, it might not be so, but I seem to be one of the leading new guitar players, especially in that instrumental line, and it is a little bit of a riddle for me why there is not more interest from that type of media (guitar magazines). But as I said, I hope that in time things will change. We all know the styles and the winds of today are also very changeable. We just have to stick to things we believe in and what we are about and why we are in it for from the first day. It?s what I believe in and what I like to do. I hope the rest will come in time.
On a different note, what is a typical day like for you? Do you practice and write music all day or do you work like 9-5 and music is kind of something you do on nights or on weekends or are you teaching guitar lessons?
It’s quite different depending which period of work I’m in, if I’m preparing an album, or if I’m in a moment when I’m ?after an album? then I’ll be concentrating more on promotion parts. Right now, I’d say I do a lot of practicing during the day and then I have to invest a lot of time working on compositions, arrangements, searching for new ideas and it does take usually a working time of the day but sometimes even more because working music is difficult if you have a daytime job approach to it. In a way it is even harder because it’s a thing which is taking non-stop devotion. So, you don’t work only from 9 to 5, you know, you work from 9 to 5 then you work from 5 to 8, then you work from midnight till three (laughing) during one day. It’s just a very demanding thing. I guess that I would usually practice guitar just to keep up my technique for a few hours then I would investigate new phrases, new ideas, new concepts I’ve came up with then I would like spend a few hours to see how to incorporate that into new compositions. Then I’d have to work with the compositions themselves?To see what is done well or is it good enough, melodic enough? How are the rhythm parts done?etc. That would be a short description of work required for making an album. Apart from that I still do other things. I also find time to give guitar lessons.
Cool. Roughly how many students do you have? Does it take up a lot of your time?
Well, I have to adjust that to my current music work involvement so when I’m more preoccupied with something else I have less students and it’s the other way around when I have more time- then number of students increases.
That’s all the questions I had. Is there any other news or news items that you can tell me about that you want to let people know about?
Well, we actually covered all the things, all the novelties that I’m preparing for the future concerning the new album for Shrapnel which I already said is probably going to be for the first half of 2001. That is what’s in preparation. For all the other info and latest news I invite people to visit my web page where they will have all the information about my latest works on the music and in general. They can also have all the details about the ‘Fantasy’ there and how to get it. I guess that would be all for now. My best regards to all the guitar loving audience out there!
Thanks to Borislav for taking the time to answer my questions and for the extra time to help me with the spelling of the names of some of these classical musicians haha…you rule brother! Again, I’d like to thank Skyklad from www.MetalGospel.com who is now the official “transcriptionator” for Metal-Rules.com. YOU STILL RULE!