Nikolo Kotzev of Brazen Abbot
Interview by Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Stefan at Atenzia Records for the help
Also thanks to Frontiers Records for providing the promo-pictures.
Brazen Abbot have recently released their new album MY RESURRECTION which is their 5th album. I had a talk with the band leader Nikolo Kotzev and asked him about Brazen Abbot, which is celebrating a decade as a band, and of course about his own career as musician and producer.
Hi Nikolo, would you please like to tell the readers a bit about yourself, for those who don?t know who you are?
Hi everyone. I am born in Bulgaria in the family of professional musicians. I started playing violin at the age of five. Started playing the guitar when I was around ten. Joined the first rock band at the age of 14. Now I have a Master?s degree in music. I founded Brazen Abbot In 1995. To this day I?ve released five studio albums and one documentary DVD/CD.
How come you moved to Mariehamn on ?land (an island in the archipelago between Sweden and Finland)?
In 1985 I toured Scandinavia with a Top 40 band. We played on the island and I met my future ex wife. So, after few years I stayed on the island and still live there.
Can you tell us how you ended up as a member of the Swedish band Baltimore? You did two albums with Baltimore?
I met with the singer when the band played a show in town. He needed a guitarist, I needed a singer. That?s how it all started. We made two albums in my studio. Later on we took separate ways and I started Brazen Abbot.
What do you think of Sweden and how many languages can you speak? When I wrote to you you wrote back in Swedish.
Sweden Is ok. A bit cold for my taste. Stockholm is great in the Summer. I speak Swedish, English, Bulgarian and Russian.
My bio proclaims you a guitar virtuous, how do you comment that?
Well, it?s OK when others call me a virtuoso. I don?t mind, ha,ha? However, to me it all comes down to the music I write. I am much more interested in making good songs, than shine out with my guitar playing.
Your main instrument is guitar but how many other instruments can you play besides guitar?
My main instrument is violin. I play also piano/keyboards, and bass. When your life is concentrated on music, it is inevitable that you pick up some skills on other instruments. I went to music schools for countless years and there I held exams even in accordion and clarinet. It was in the curriculum. I held exams in orchestra and choir conducting and orchestrations and arrangements.
For how long have you played guitar? And was there any particular reason or person that made you start to play guitar?
When I saw for the first time a guitarist on stage, I kinda knew that this is what I really want to do. I simply found it more interesting than the violin. I?ve played the guitar for about 33 years now.
Do you get a lot of mail from fans, what do they think of the new album?
Both the press and the fans like the album and that?s very good. For me making a new album must fulfil a certain criteria. Both me and my fans and media must like it. Otherwise my art will be too subjective and there would be no point of making new albums. Every artist likes to show his creation to the public. Some don?t care about it?s opinion, some do. I care for my fans and get very happy of a positive response from them.
You did a rock opera, Nostradamus, in 2001, do you have any plans on doing a follow up to that?
I am not planning on a follow-up, but I am writing a new one. It will be of a similar format ? eight singers, symphonic orchestra and a rock band. I?ve written 5 out of 22 songs. Whenever I get the time, I concentrate on writing. The story is great ? I have put together some ideas from some folklore tales and one story I read, so it is now perfect. I am very excited and look forward to getting it ready.
Do you have any studio by yourself? If so where is it located?
Yes, I?ve always owned a recording studio. It?s in the basement of my house on the Island in the Baltic sea. The city is called Mariehamn.
You have also worked as a producer, how did you get in on doing that and is that something you are going to continue to do in the future? Is there any particular album that you?ve produced that you?re especially proud of, is so which one(s)?
It was a pure accident. Some of the people I knew in Germany urgently needed a recording engineer. They asked me few times and finally I agreed. I like making records for other people. I learn a lot from working with other bands. There are no specific albums I would mention, but some of the records I?ve been involved in have made it to the European and US charts, so it?s been fun to achieve that. I like producing and I look forward to working with other bands in the future.
How do you work when you write material, what comes first the music or the lyrics?
It?s always the music that comes first. The lyrics come much later.
How much have you toured through the years, do you have any idea?
Not as much I would like to, actually. BA has not been a touring band, but more of a studio project. Only recently I have developed a taste for being on the road and I hope to get BA on the road for longer periods of time.
Is Brazen Abbot a band or a project?
It was a project, now I would like to make it a band.
Why the name Brazen Abbot, how did you come up with that?
The word ?brazen? has two meanings ? made out of brass and shameless, rude. Combining these controversial meanings and use them with the word ?abbot? gives me a lot of artistic freedom ? I can be serious and true, but also rougher and heavier, almost impertinent with some songs. I like that possibility.
The Brazen Abbot debut came in 1995, and was followed by albums during 1996 and 1997, what did you do after that?
I started working on Nostradamus, completed my studies in the Music Academy and produced few records for other bands.
Why have you used so many members in Brazen Abbot? I mean many people have come and gone through the years.
Well, everything in life has to change now and then. BA has been a project, the only constant member in it is me. I like that freedom, cause I don?t like being dependant on someone else in my professional life. I?ve tried to keep the line-up as constant as possible, but times change, Brazen Abbot too?.
You have also have a lot of Swedish musicians as members in BA, why?
I believe that since the mid 80?s Sweden is the main source for good rock musicians. I happen to live close to Sweden and of course I am using that advantage to a 100%.
Is there any member that have been in BA with you all the way?
G?ran Edman has appeared on every album I?ve made.
What has the media said about the first albums with BA? Did you read any reviews?
Of course, I always read the reviews. The media loved it. I was very, very lucky to be able to get Glenn Hughes on that album. It was a fantastic start for BA.
Who owns the legal rights to the older album? Are there any plans on re-releasing them today?
I own all the rights and license them to record companies. In fact, Live And Learn, Eye Of The Storm and Bad Religion were re-released by SPV on August 22nd. I believe you can buy them everywhere, where SPS has a distribution.
You did the rock opera Nostradamus in between the BA albums, how long did it take to write the opera and how did you come up with the idea to make an opera?
It took three years to complete the opera, but not all of that time went in working. I had long pauses due to lack of time, money or waiting for someone?s schedule. I always wanted to make an album where I could combine symphonic and rock music. When I saw the chance, I grabbed it. Nostradamus was a cool theme for the opera, because with his predictions he gave me freedom to interpret his writings the way I wanted. So, I didn?t feel trapped in 16th century but could allow my fantasy to tell me what to do.
NOSTRADAMUS came 2001, is it still available today?
SPV has the license till 2008. It should be available, at least on order. It sold very well and to this day I get new guests on the Nostradamus forum, (www.nostramusic.com) who had just happened to discover it.
What did the press think of the opera?
They loved it. Hundreds and hundreds of great reviews. Amazing?. www.nostramusic.com/interviews.htm
Why have there been so many different singers in BA?
Everything in life changes. The new singers give me freshness and positive energy. Their talent becomes an asset for Brazen Abbot. New people always bring something new to the table. I choose these people very carefully and make sure that whatever they have is what BA needs.
2003 saw the release of a new BA album, which members was featured on that album?
Well, the line-up was fairly the same like on the previous albums, but with the addition of J?rn Lande, who replaced Thomas Vikstr?m.
That album brought you out on the road for the first time, how long did the tour last and what did the fans think of witness BA live?
The tour was not long. It was made especially for to collect some live footage for the documentary DVD and to promote the album. We only did three shows, but I recorded them all and later on released the documentary. The audience loved it. We enjoyed it too.It felt great to play in front of such cool crowds.
The lead singer on that tour was Joe Lynn Turner, why did you pick him to be lead singer on that tour?
Joe is the classic voice of that style of music. We did also some Rainbow and Deep Purple stuff, which pleased the crowds. Joe had never before been in Bulgaria, so the fans got their first chance to see him live. Joe is a great singer and friend too ? it is always a pleasure to have him on the road.
Last year came a live album and a live DVD in order to celebrate your 10 years as a band, what do you think of the final result of the DVD and album?
Well, it is not LIVE, it is a documentary. I was not happy at all with the fact, that the record company sold it as ?live?, because it was not made to be a live DVD. What I wanted with it was to make a documentary about BA and release it in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the band. My idea was to make a documentary DVD. The CD was meant to be included in the package just as a bonus, including the live sound only, so people who wanted to hear only the music would have that chance. However, the record company decided to sell the CD separately, which was not my intention. When I want to make a live record, it will be completely different.
That album was also your first release on your new label, what do you think of Frontiers? On what label were you on prior to Frontiers?
I was on SPV and I still am with them for the BA back catalogue and Nostradamus. Frontiers are a good company, they do a good promotion and work hard for moving their catalogue around the World. I like them.
Now it?s time to unleash MY RESURRECTION, how long did it take to write the album?
Only a few months. I started in September and was ready in February.
Who has written the music and lyrics and what are the lyrics about?
I wrote all the music and lyrics for one song. The rest of the lyrics were written from the singers. We concentrated on modern subjects, social issues, personal philosophical dilemmas etc. etc. There are almost no love lyrics on this album. It was intentional, as I wanted the album to sound heavier, rougher and more brutal than earlier BA albums.
In which studio did you record the album?
Everything except the orchestra was recorder in my studio on the Island. The orchestra was recorded in the best studio of the Bulgarian National Radio in Sofia, Bulgaria.
You have produced this album, what?s the difference between producing yourself and being produced?
I produce all my albums. I guess when I produce for my self I am very clear with the direction I want to follow, which makes me very fast and efficient. When I produce for others I must really find out what is the band all about and adjust my recording philosophy accordingly. That?s the difficult issue of producing other bands ? finding out who they really are and making the best out of it.
Who has done the mastering and mixing and where did that take place?
I do all the mixing and mastering myself in my own studio. With the help of today?s technology I only need some skill, knowledge and clear view of what I want to achieve. Mastering is no longer an expensive ritual?
Who has done the cover art-work, what?s the thought behind it and what do you think of it to me it looks like a power metal cover?
It is a Swedish artist called Carl Andr?. He is working for quite many rock bands. I like the cover of the new album. He also made new covers for my older albums, which were released by SPV on August 22nd, so the old albums are out now with completely fresh artworks. I like them very much.
Does the title mean anything special?
Not really. The song ?My Resurrection? happened to be a strong song, good for opening the album, so I said: what the hell, it?s a good title, so let?s use it. That?s it.
You have worked with the singers G?ran and Joe which was featured on the earlier BA albums, but you have also worked with new voices for BA, Tony Harnell and Eric M?rtensson, did you know them from before and what do you think of their efforts on MY RESURRECTION?
I didn?t know them from before. Both of them a great singers and I enjoyed working with them. They both brought something new and special to BA, which I like a lot. Erik is singing an unusual for him song and he?s doing it very well. For the next album he?ll get power songs and there he will really shine. He is a great talent. I am constantly looking for new singers and check out quite many of them.
You have featured a whole string orchestra ? The Sofia String Orchestra, why have you chosen to use strings on this album?
I wanted a touch of something extra. I believe that new effort must be made for every new release. Something needs to be changed, expanded, new directions must be explored etc? Having the string orchestra on the album makes it very special ? it sounds huge and powerful.
There are also some new musicians in BA, who are they and what have they done before?
Nelko Kolarov (keys) is a classical conductor and pianist.
He conducted the recordings of Nostradamus. A fantastic musician. We played in the same rock band 20 years ago.
Wayne Banks played on the BA tour. Very good and solid bass player. I have worked with him on other occasions too. I saw Mattias Knutas (drums) play in a club with a band and liked a lot his energy, timing and technique. He is a great drummer.
Are there a steady line up in BA now with those members?
Well, I don?t know that. I like keeping the same people, so I probably will ask tem to play in the future.
Are you content with the album or do you feel that you should have done anything different now that you look back on it?
I like it very much. I am e perfectionist. I would not release a record if I wasn?t perfectly happy with it. Of course, there are always things that could be done differently, but when a decision must be made, I always make it in the most rational way and after that I try to learn to respect my own decision, so I can get by easily..;-)
Is there any plans on taking out BA on the road again? And if so which musicians are you going to use?
It is too early to say now. I want to play live, but it is not always up to me. We will see when the moment comes.
How are you going to solve the string issue then, are you going to have strings with you?
No, that would be a logistical nightmare?.I guess the keyboard player will play them on a synth. This doesn?t worry me at all ? it is easy.
I?d say that BA plays retro 70?s hardrock influenced by melodic hardrock, but how would you describe what kind of music you guys play?
I would like to call it progressive hard rock.
Are we going to have to wait as long for a new BA album as we had to wait for this one?
Well, it?s been only two years since the last studio album, but in between there was ?A Decade Of Brazen Abbot?. So, it has not been long at all ? there?s been a new release every year since ?Guilty As Sin?. I hope the new one will come out quite soon..
Have you done a lot of promotion for this album?
Yes, Frontiers are very good on that. I gave many interviews and the record is quite visible on all the catalogues and Internet sites.
Have you got any numbers on how many copies BA?s albums have sold until today?
No idea. I don?t think I will ever know that. Obviously not enough for me to become financially independent, but quite OK for me to get by fine?;-)
What are the plans for both BA and Nikolo Kotzev for the rest of 2005/2006?
Writing new music. The new rock opera and a new BA album.
Thanks a lot for answering the questions and is there anything you would like to say to the readers of metal-rules.com?
Thanx to everyone for the support. One think I would like to tell all the rock fans pout there: Fight the illegal music downloads ? they kill musicians! If you want to support your favourite artist ? go out and buy the album.
Read the CD reviews on Brazen Abbot here
More info about the band