Friday, July 29, 2016

A Conversation with Chameleon

Born in 2011, the band Chameleon has steadily been evolving, performing, writing, recording, and ultimately forging it's own very unique path upon the musical landscape of today. Combining a wide array of influences and determined not to be bound by accepted genre barriers, Chameleon has released three EPs to critical acclaim.  I caught up with the band - vocalist Chloe Lowery, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Ross, guitarist Aurelien Budynek, bassist/keyboardist Georgios Pesios, and drummer Gabe Marshall - in their Center of the Universe Studio in New York. Among the topics we discuss are the evolution of the group, their writing and recording process, live performances and their newest epic music video.  We also take a close look at the first installment of their new Black and White album: Black | Part One.

Dan Roth:  Before we get into the new album, I would like to catch up on a little background with the band.  Where did the Chameleon name come from?

Chloe Lowery:  Andrew and I were working with Dr. Robert and the three of us were just so different in our musical backgrounds. Personally, I have always been called a "chameleon" because I was singing pop and then rock; I was constantly being hired to sing in various styles.. I suggested that one day as a name idea because with our band, particularly at that point, we had the rock element, an electronic element and a pop element. We as a band didn't want to be restricted to just one genre because we were more than just one.

In hindsight, we maybe should have picked something a bit more unique and searchable.  There are so many bands called Chameleon.

Dan: Were there any other names in contention?

Andrew Ross: There were a few. "Mayhem and Cheese", "The Baddest Dinosaur of All Time", "Things with Toes on it". 

Chloe:  Andrew, Natalya (Rose Piette), Dr. Robert and I were all playing Catch Phrase! and the names and adjectives we were coming up with to play the game were just so ridiculous! We thought all of them could be potential band names. We kept a list of all the guesses and jokingly were going to pick an official band name from this list. We didn’t, but kept the list on the refrigerator for a solid year and always referenced back as potential options.[Laughs]

Dan:  The band started in 2011 and had a bit of a different lineup than where it is today.  You mentioned Dr. Robert's involvement.  Can you walk me through the evolution of the band to how it is now?

Chloe: We started out as just Andrew and I writing songs together for fun and for the love of music, with no idea at all that we were going to form a band. At one point we were hanging out with Natalya and her (at the time) boyfriend Dr. Robert.  Robert is an amazing graphics designer and visual artist but also an amazing musician. He is an amazing producer with an ear for beats and synth production.   Andrew and I had written and recorded a demo of "L.A. Chameleon" and Dr. Robert heard it and asked if he could produce it.

Andrew:  It was just guitar and vocal at this point. We gave him the track, he went away for a while, and one day he emailed the song back to us with his beats and production work on it.  As soon as Chloe and I heard it, we were blown away - it was really awesome.

Chloe:  So we talked and decided to form a band with the three of us.  It was really exciting at first as we all had the same vision. Working together was just seamless and easy. We released the Something in the Water EP and were playing out all over NYC. After a while though, I believe our influences and natural artistic direction took over a bit. Dr. Robert wanted to go in a more electronic direction and Andrew wanted more organic instrumentation, particularly in the live shows. It was around then that we decided it would be best for Rob to leave and go in his own direction. The split was all very amicable and we are still distant but good friends to this day. We even continued to work together after the split collaborating on songs like, "Zombie" and “Robber, The Ghost.”

Andrew:  He had created the drumbeat for "Zombie" and Chloe and I added in everything else.

Chloe:  After the actual split, we still had some live shows booked with the three of us, so we finished out those commitments. Along the way, we incorporated Aurelien Budynek on guitar and brought in Gabe Marshall on drums for the live shows. Dr. Robert then officially left and Andrew and I finished The Monster EP as a duo act. In the studio and on stage, we started to collaborate heavily with Aurelien and Gabe and then hired Georgios Pesios to mix and add some co-production.

When we came up with all of this new material, we really made the conscious decision to make Black and White a full band effort.  We brought the songs into the rehearsal space with the guys and together we all created the song structures and layers.  That brings us to today, where we are a full five-piece band.

Dan: Gabe, how did you get involved with the band?

Gabe Marshall:  Jason Gianni, the drummer for DareDevil Squadron, hooked me up with Chameleon. They were looking for a drummer and he recommended me. I used to study with Jason at the Drummers Collective and then became friends with him after I graduated. He tipped me off to Chameleon, I heard some raw demos, and immediately wanted the gig.

Dan:  You came on board with Chameleon when Dr. Robert was still a part of the band. He was creating layers of beats and sounds – did you have enough space within that framework to lay down what you wanted to do beat wise? Was that challenging at all, working with another “beatmaker” in the band?

Gabe:  I love playing with other drummers - or beat-makers, in this situation. I marched Drum Corp International with The Cadets for a few years, and marched in a variety of other drumlines, so I'm used to having to fit in smoothly with other percussionists.   There was plenty of room to fit in drum set parts. Plus, Chloe and Andrew were super cool about giving me creative space, so it was a lot of fun. The challenging part was finding something slick that didn't interfere with the rest of the band, but still enhanced the overarching vibe.

Dan:  Aurelien, I understand this isn’t the first time you have been in a band called Chameleon. When and where was the previous one?

Aurelien:  That’s correct. I was in a jazz trio called Chameleon while studying at Berklee in Boston, around 2005. We were playing private parties, weddings, hotel type of gigs… Coincidentally, the bass player Ryan Leach is about to move to Philly after 10 years in LA, and the drummer Mike Reilly has been my roommate in NYC for the last couple of years, after touring around for years. Maybe a Chameleon/Chameleon double bill soon?! [Laughs]

Dan:  George, as the newest member of the band, can you tell us how you got involved with Chameleon? Had you worked with any of the band members previously?

George Pesios:  My first "encounter" with Chameleon was a couple of years back when Andrew called me to record the band playing during a live video shoot at the House of Yes. They were doing a few songs from the first record - "Boom", "Something In The Water", and "Uh Huh"; my job was to capture the band and guest musicians live and mix it. Andrew and I met at a studio I used to work at in Brooklyn a few years prior, we worked on a side project of his you might be familiar with - Daredevil Squadron. Coincidentally that's when I also met Aurelien and Angus Clark, who played a mean solo on Anthem!

Dan: Chameleon is based out of New York City. Is anyone in the band actually from here?

Andrew:  No.  Aurelien is from France, George is from Bulgaria, Gabe is from Missouri, Chloe is from Florida and I am from the Carolinas.

Dan:  You mentioned that everyone added his or her input.  Several songs on the new EP are co-written by the entire band.  Was that a hard transition - going from Andrew and Chloe being in charge of the direction of the band and its music to full collaborations with the others?

Chloe:  Not really, because organically we all had a place and expertise in varying areas..  Andrew and I started with the core of the songs - verse, chorus - and they all brought their ideas to the table.  That part was really easy because we are all such close friends so the communication and understanding of the sound was clear. It was a very open forum when we created this music. Gabe brought his drumming background to the table and defined the grooves. Aurelien is a brilliant artist and had very strong opinions as far as structure and arrangements. George always comes with great musical ideas and is truly the comedic relief of the band, which is super important.

George:  Working with Chloe and Andrew is very easy! Usually they would have a very strong idea for the song and a direction. Many times, they'd even have a demo that we'll listen, jam out, dissect and put back together. As a co-producer, we butt heads here and there when talking about things like should this part be loud or quiet, should this transition be longer, do we need all those guitar parts playing at the same time... We all get attached to the songs and work hard and try to make each of them as good as they could possibly be.

Aurelien:  As George says, typically they would come in with a rough draft of a song, or a couple of riffs linked together. Gabe, George and I, along with Chloe and Andrew would come up with different feels, work on transitions, arrangements, structure, “let’s use that riff as the intro, play it 3 times instead of 4”, or “let’s try this set of chord changes on the chorus, change up the melody a bit”, “let’s write this intricate guitar/drums set of rhythms that we’ll play in the background during the bridge”, “let’s play that strong hit together on the and of 4 but only the second time around”, that kind of thing. We try it, we keep it when we like it, discard it when we don’t. A lot of the details - on my guitar end anyway - are also done during the recording process, where we differentiate the details and “sonic high architecture” from the foundational, meat and potato function of the basic rhythm tracks. Getting a special tone for a certain section, a shimmery effect during a quiet part, a crazy stuttery high register glitchy sound etc… Some of it is kept, some of it gets scratched, we experiment.

Overall, I would say that I try to bring my musical personality in the mix, without too much altering of the original sound, or at least the sound that Chloe and Andrew have in their heads. I’m just trying to help crystallize that sound. But at the same time throwing some spices of my own that I think make for an interesting and different taste. Never overpowering.

Gabe:  It's been a lot of fun! The collaboration has been very familial. The writing/arranging process involved a lot of trial and error. Ideas were put forth that would be really cool, then the same person would put something forward and we'd end up laughing at how goofy it sounded. [Laughs]

Group-writing and collaborative efforts generally require plenty of give-and-take combined with a lot of patience. It's fun, frustrating, and gratifying all in the same session.

My contributions were similar to everybody else's. I'd have some good ideas, and some bad ideas. I wanted to throw out any options that crossed my mind, because you never know when something will land. An example of this is the walk-up before the bridge of "Everybody's Going Down". We were trying to come up with a transition and I looked at Aurelien and said "we could do a goofy jazz walk-up..." and we laughed about it. He ended up coming up with some cool chords and we left it in. It started as a joke, but ended up being something we liked.

It was an overall great vibe and a lot of fun to put this album together as a group.

Dan:  It's been about three years since The Monster EP.  Why the long gap between releases?

Andrew:  Well, a lot happened.  My Dad got sick.  We actually were going to try and tour a little bit out of state, which is always challenging for us.  We had a few dates booked and we were going to give it a try.  Then I got this call from my sister that sort of blindsided us.  We talked to the guys and cancelled all of the dates and Chloe and I moved to South Carolina to be with my Dad.

This is where Black and White really was born, as it turned out. We rented a house down in Abbeville.  This is where we met Bailey (a german shepherd) - she came with the house and we adopted her.  Now, there is nothing to do in Abbeville.  Everything closes by 9:00.  I would visit with my Dad and help him out, but there were all these hours where we had nothing to do.  Chloe and I just started writing songs.  We must have written 30-40 songs.  We had a drum kit in the living room. Neither one of us is a drummer, but we pretend sometimes. [Laughs]

Chloe:  We wrote all of the songs there. When we came back to New York, we then had to head out on tour with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and everyone else was so busy with what they were working on.  So we didn't really get a chance to start recording any of those songs until the following year.Plus, we didn't want to rush it.  There was no point in rushing, since we weren't on anyone's deadline.  We just wanted to take our time with it and make sure it sounded right. 

Andrew:  George works all of the time, so he would come over on the weekends to work on the mix. Aurelien and Gabe would work on it whenever they had breaks in their schedules. So, slowly but surely...

Dan:  What about who you are as people and as a band now can we hear on this new material that may be different from past efforts?

Chloe:  I would say that on this record, lyrically, we are actually speaking of a deeper message in a lot of the songs. I feel like the past EPs - particularly Something in the Water - were more light hearted and fun. All of our records have been more or less a reflection of our lives at the time. Those songs obviously had meaning, but I feel like because these new songs were coming from an even deeper personal place for Andrew and I, it's a more "grown up" record. Everything's a little bit more mature. Even musically we have evolved, so this record really shows that.

Gabe:  Well, I like to hope I've developed substantially as a player since the last record, so hopefully the overall level of my performance has risen in its entirety.  More specifically, I've tried to free up my headspace so I can be more creative without worrying about making mistakes. To me, too much worrying during a performance - live or in the studio - can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I start blowing parts when I think about them too much. [Laughs]

On a personal level, I went through a few perspective-changing experiences that I believe affected how I approach music. Chameleon is such a special group with special people, and I really want to maximize every opportunity I have when I play with these guys. The group means a lot to me and I think that comes through in the music.

Andrew:  They always say to never talk about politics and religion. But this new EP is very political and we also touch on religion.  I am not very religious at all, but here I was with my Dad while he was dying and sometimes I would be looking up at the sky asking what was going on.

From a musical standpoint, you hear a lot more of an Aurelien influence.  You hear more of the other guys.

Dan:  Aurelien? It's been a while since The Monster EP.

Aurelien Budynek:  Since the last release, I have been involved in many recording projects and live productions, sometimes on a creative level and most of the time on a performing level. I’m always learning and I always try to give my best whatever it is I’m doing. Now if I were to re-record my parts on the previous Chameleon release now, I’m sure a lot of it would be quite different. But every recording is a reflection of a point in time, a document of the present, “this is how we sound like now” kind of thing. A lot of things that you will hear from me on another upcoming Chameleon release, the White counterpart shows more of an evolution on my end, or at least some more unusual sounds like some 12-string electric guitars, a lot of banjo, some string quartet approach guitar arrangements, and some more ethereal textures.

Dan:  Can you tell me about your musical influences?  When listening to Chameleon, can we hear those influences shine through?

Aurelien:  Well, I’ve been playing for 25 years now, so my influences are a giant melting pot of players, bands, styles, education… all of which somehow comes through in everything that I do, to some level. Chameleon is close to home because I grew up playing and listening to rock music in a broad sense, so that naturally shines through. A lot of my musical upbringing was listening to virtuosic guitar players and there are elements of that in Chameleon, even though these days I’m much more interested in building and creating compelling guitar parts and interesting tones that serve the song. But it’s fun to just rip once in a while if it’s remotely appropriate, you know?  I’ve always been into epic, strong rock n roll presentation with music that is scripted, details that work and help break the repetitive nature of the music, like a painting - staged, calculated, beautiful in the same way every time you look at it. At the same time, improvisation is my religion and I will take any chance I get to play with something that is flexible, a solo, a section, an ambiance - like keeping a small spot in the painting where the color would change every time you look at it.

Chloe:  I am definitely the most "pop" person in the band. I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Barbra Streisand. I also grew up listening to some Broadway (Thanks Mom!). As I got older, I started discovering other genres like jazz, electronic, rock and classic rock, which had a huge influence. I toured with Big Brother and the Holding Company right out of high school and got an education for sure. I think the big epic singing you hear, stems from those influences. I am also very into Goldfrapp , The Kills, Muse etc... I also have a love for current pop and hip hop music that’s on the radio today, not going to lie. [Laughs] However, Goldfrapp is where we got some of the idea for the Black and White albums. They make these incredible records that are heavily dance influenced and then they do these dreamy atmospheric records. Part of Andrew’s influence falls heavily into the acoustic/ bluegrass category, so we wanted to incorporate that in this new project, which is what you will hear on White: Movement One. (Coming Soon)

Andrew:  I grew up a thrash-head - Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer.  I also had this big bluegrass influence because of where I grew up and I learned to play the banjo and the mandolin. I have always said that Bluegrass is very similar to thrash - both are very technical and fast.  And you will definitely hear both the metal and bluegrass sides come out from me. But probably the most obvious influence on my guitar playing and vocals has been 90’s Grunge and Black Sabbath.

Gabe:  The first rock album I bought on my own was Down on the Upside by Soundgarden. I was 13 years old and I flipped out when I heard it. That sent me down the modern rock/heavy metal rabbit hole, which you can hear all over the Chameleon recordings.  I also grew up listening to James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Earth, Wind and Fire because my parents love those bands. Some of that funk shuffle comes through in the Chameleon stuff.

As I said, I did a lot of marching percussion when I was younger. You can hear that influence in "Anthem" and "Stay Wait". It also makes its way onto the new album a bit.

"Movement One", which will come out on the White album, provided space to draw upon a lot of different influences. I pulled ideas from Brazilian grooves, jazz grooves, and even a few Tool-inspired moments. It also required a lot more finesse and creativity. I have a background in jazz - I'm getting my masters in jazz performance at the Aaron Copland School of Music - and I had to draw from that side of my playing to come up with some of the parts.

Dan:  Chloe, you mention the "epic" singing and you cited several epic singers as influences.  With Chameleon, you have several songs - some from each release - that have a huge "epic" feel to them ("Something in the Water", "Stay/Wait", "Up There").  They seem almost like a test of endurance, where you start out almost with a whisper-like vocal and then as the song builds, you are belting out full force.  Are those songs challenging to perform for you?

Chloe:  One thing that I pride myself on and what I think people recognize me for is my emotional content when I sing. I really try to connect to the messages of each song while bringing the technical aspect of the voice. I love performing songs like that and I take really good care of myself so I can continue to do so. Singing in some ways is like being an athlete, so it’s important to treat myself as such. I still take vocal lessons and practice daily. 

Andrew:  Sometimes she will not speak at all for two days for vocal rest.

Chloe:  Are they challenging to perform? Sometimes when I'm tired, sure, but I like it. One beautiful thing about writing your own material is organically I write melodies that suit my voice.  The only thing I don't like is when I can't hear at a live gig - if the sound in the monitors isn't balanced right.  Then I feel like I over-sing and possibly strain.  That's what you get sometimes though when you are playing smaller rock clubs. 

Dan:  You mentioned earlier that you had a plan to tour a bit outside of the New York area before you got the news about Andrew's dad.  I wanted to ask you about that. The band certainly has built up a nice following in the New York region from your many live concerts here, and you have a devoted online following as well with your music videos and social media activity. For all of your fans outside of this vicinity that are beckoning you to come to their area to perform, can you talk about the challenges of taking Chameleon on tour?

Andrew:  The main challenge is that everybody is doing other things. Aurelien is on Broadway all of the time and works with The Dan Band, Stratospheerius and others.    George is working all of the time. Gabe has stuff going on.  It's hard to drop everything and go on tour because all of us are active working musicians. It's hard to get five people on the same schedule. 

Chloe:  Well, especially for 2016, we don't have a tour planned because we are all super busy at the moment. I personally have a bunch of other things happening that I need to be available for. As for the rest of the band, they are in a similar boat. We all have other projects and “jobs,” that are taking priority right now. Even for one gig here in the city, it can be tough getting everyone together. Hopefully the stars will align here at some point and we can work out some dates.  It's also a bit of a financial burden.  Andrew and I fund everything ourselves and it would be a sizable commitment to fund a tour at this point.But it is something we hope to do in the near future.

Dan:  At your Black | Part One Release Concert, you streamed bits of the show live on Facebook.  Have you thought about doing more of that? Or maybe performing a concert for your fans online on a site like Concert Window?

Chloe:  It is something we are totally open to. That was our first time trying it, but the signal at Rockwood Music Hall was terrible and we kept getting knocked offline. We are definitely looking at doing that again and trying some other things online. We definitely want to figure out a way for our fans outside of NYC to see us, so we will get on that! If we can’t come to you, thanks to the internet we can come to your living room! [Laughs]

Dan:  Are there any particular Chameleon pieces you especially enjoy performing live, and why?

Andrew:  My favorite to perform live is "Jesus and Guns".  It's rowdy and has sort of a punk edge.

Gabe:  "Jesus and Guns" is a blast to play because it has a lot of vibe. Otherwise, "White Movement One" is my favorite so far. We haven't actually played that live, but there's a ton of depth to the piece, both musically and personally. The piece means a lot to each of us; it's hard not to get too emotional when I play it. 

Aurelien:  I really enjoy performing the new material. "Jesus and Guns" and "Everybody’s Going Down" are my personal favorites, they’re really high and intense energy, and they sort of embody my perception of a rock show/spectacle.

Chloe:  For me, I have to say "Stay Wait". We had that one show at the Rockwood Music Hall earlier this year where the audience was singing along. It was so moving and so inspiring.  I also really enjoyed singing "Barbie" when we debuted that at Bowery Electric. The song flowed perfectly in the set and I feel the crowd responded to the intention of that song.

George:  We haven't played it in a while, but I love the last song from the Monster EP "The River". It has a really haunting melody that I just love. From the new material I really enjoy playing "Record on the Floor", which I believe will be part of Black | Part Two.

Dan:  Aurelien, your first appearance on a Chameleon record was on the epic “Something in the Water” from the first EP. The band now plays an instrumental piece in concert that is based on this song, with your guitar work taking center stage. Can you talk about how that instrumental piece came to be?

Aurelien:  As far as I remember, we were all in a rehearsal room practicing for a show and Chloe suggested we do a short instrumental hint at the melody, chord changes and general vibe of that song, with the guitar being featured. We played it a couple of times and she encouraged the Pink Floyd/David Gilmour aspect of it, with the rhythm section supporting and following the build and the intensity of the guitar. It’s fun!

Dan:  George, during live performances, you play keys in addition to bass. Do you have a preference?

George:  Little known fact is that neither of those are my main instrument! Guitar is my first, which is why I prefer playing bass. I definitely have the most fun and feel most expressive. I've been playing keys since I was six years old and I keep going back to it all the time. It's definitely a huge part of the song-writing process for me.

Dan:  In the past, you often had a horn section playing with you at your shows - Justin Surdyn and Lena Lien.  They also made appearances on your first two EPs, but are not on Black and haven't been at recent gigs.  Will we be hearing from them again?
Cinematographer Jimmy Negron and Chloe Lowery
Filming on location for "Up There"

Andrew:  On the first two EPs, we had certain songs that really leant themselves to having horns. With Black | Part One, we just really went in a harder rock direction with the core band.  We're still great friends and we have a song or two that are being worked on that may need some horns.

Dan:  Both on the new release, as well as during your live concerts, you make it a point to have no space between songs, creating musical interludes between each song. Is that important to you?

Chloe:  We like it on the albums, but we also like to do that live.  I hate awkward transitions between songs when performing live. I think the musical segues make it like a journey for the listener.

Andrew:  I did it on my solo EP and I love records that never stop, just seamless. Side 2 of The Beatles' Abbey Road album does that. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, etc.

Dan:  The band seems to have a real love and flair for making music videos. Do you enjoy making them?

Andrew:  Love it.

Chloe:  I feel like it can be hard to get people to sit and listen to music. I think they are more interested if there is a visual aspect.  We have a great relationship with our video director, Jimmy Negron.  We met him when he was a student and our relationship has continued to grow and evolve. Our video for "Anthem" was his final thesis for school. The work he is creating now is just on another level and we feel very fortunate to have him on our team. He is so professional and super creative. He’s also a genuine fan of the music, which makes his involvement a bit more personal. He really delivers epic work!

Dan:  Did he work on the video for your current single "Up There"?

Andrew: Yes!  So in this video, we took three different people that are portraying a trying circumstance in their lives and the video revolves around them and follows each of their stories.  All of the actors in the video really did go through what they are portraying. We have an amputee dealing with PTSD, a woman dealing with domestic violence, and then Bob and Linda Carey dealing with breast cancer.

For those who don't know about Bob and Linda, she has been battling breast cancer and at one point, to cheer her up, Bob dressed up in a pink tutu.  He then started posing for photographs in various settings while wearing this tutu to help him cope with things, and it has turned into this great awareness hub for people dealing with breast cancer.

We wanted this video to be about the message, so the band is barely in it.

Dan:  I understand you guys made a video for "Stereo".  Will we be seeing that soon?

 We have sort of a love/hate relationship with that video.

Andrew:  [Laughs] It's a crazy video.  It is a bizarre amalgamation of things.

Chloe:  The video came out a little too goofy. It has no purpose or point.  Andrew wanted to shoot a video and it had the guys dancing, Natalya was dancing and singing in it, it just really was goofy.

Andrew:  I think we're going to put it out at some point though.

Chloe:  It is on the backburner for now.  Some tweaks need to be made.

Dan:  I find Chameleon's music genre tough to pin down.  Each of your releases contain songs that are great, but not necessarily identifiable as a "Chameleon sound". Are there any genre styles, be it metal, jazz, electronica, etc, that you would like to incorporate at some point in Chameleon that you feel the band haven't touched on yet?

Chloe Lowery and Cinematographer Jimmy Negron
Filming "Up There" on the Brooklyn Bridge
Chloe:  We really don't think of it like that. I don't know what we will write next, but I am sure whatever we are listening to at the time and what we are going through emotionally will have some influence. We might go a little more dance, maybe a little more prog.  Whatever comes out of us is what we will go for.

Andrew:  Well, "White Movement One" is very acoustic, singer-songwriter driven, which is a side of that we hadn't focused on before.

Dan:  Describing Chameleon's music to someone who hasn't heard it before can be challenging, since you have such divergent sounds, from danceable electronica to emotional message-laden power ballads to full-on rockers.

Chloe:  That's part of the reason we went with the name Chameleon for the band.  Organically, we didn’t fit into one genre, so we thought why not have any musical confinements and just weave in and out of them all. When we started we were massively influenced by The Kills, especially their first record. They are still one my favorite bands out there and you can hear their influence in our music. We have since fused other influences which you can hear. As far as other bands that you could compare us to - maybe some Heart and Muse?  

Dan:  Chameleon is really sort of its own thing.

Chloe:  Yes, and I am proud of that. I like not being labeled or grouped in with a "sounds-like".  The core genre is rock and we circle around that.

Andrew:  We don't make each song sound different just for the sake of being different.  It is just what comes out of our collaborations.  
I think there is a through line that keeps it all together and that is the vocals and the words- the lyrics.

Dan: With now several writers contributing to each song, can you walk me through the process? Does someone come in with a musical or lyrical idea and then you work from that? Or does it always start with one particular person?

George:  The writing process usually starts with a riff that Andrew would play on guitar, or Chloe would have a piano or a rhythmic idea and then she'll just ad-lib some stuff over it, make up words as she goes. That's how the melody is born, which is really most of the song already.

Chloe:  I really like writing songs on the bass.  I don't like to start off with too many chords or too many notes because then I can't hear the melody.  I just want to hear something simple and from that, some babble melody will come out.  Andrew will hear that and put some lyrics together to that melody. He will then change the chords so it starts sounding a bit more musical.  That's pretty much how Black started.  Then we brought what we had to the guys.  Aurelien is really a genius - he came up with different chord structures and different arrangements.  Gabe would chime in and tell us "I want this drum here" and "I want this stop" or "I want this kind of beat here".  And George has such a great ear and he comes in with his suggestions.

Andrew:  White Movement 1 started with me and that guitar right there (points to his black Martin acoustic guitar hanging on the wall).  I tuned it to DADF#AD. We were sitting around our rented house in Abbeville and I was playing acoustic guitar and recording it. Chloe was singing random lyrics and melodies as I played this guitar.  We wound up with a bunch of files that we condensed to six songs. It is very much in the vein of my solo EP, The Letter. Like that EP, the music never stops - it just runs seamless from one song into the next.  Very much a stream of consciousness work.  I cannot wait until this comes out and everyone gets to hear it.

Chloe:  "Up There" is my baby.  "Barbie" is another that is me.  White is Andrew.  I contribute to some of the melodies, but but overall it’s  really more Andrew.  As Aurelien mentioned earlier, he really loved White and wanted to produce and mix it. He came in a added guitar layers and an atmospheric sounds that really sculpted the piece. I know you haven’t heard it yet so it’s hard to describe, but he magically morphed all the songs together at the end in this epic way that gives the movement a “finale” if you will that is incredible. It’s truly a beautiful record.

Dan:  How was the overall creative and recording process for each of you on this new release – Black | Part One?

Chloe:  Well, on The Monster EP, we were working with beat elements and then layering it with actual drums.

Andrew:  We started with chords and vocals first.

Chloe: I mentioned earlier that we all got together and worked out the songs playing them live in a rehearsal space. As for the recording, we then do it all separately. It starts with Andrew and Aurelien laying down the guitars, then George came in and laid down the bass parts.

Gabe:  We then went to Dennis Leeflang's studio and recorded drums.  The recording process for the drums had to happen pretty quickly. Dennis lived out in New Jersey, so it took us a while to get to his place. By the time we were set up and ready to actually record, I usually only had about five hours to get five songs down. Because of this setup, I had to make sure I knew the songs really well before I got to the studio. So, I practiced a lot in the weeks leading up to each session.  As for creating grooves, my primary MO was to support the overall vibe of the band. I wanted the songs to feel good. Everything else I did was secondary to the feel and vibe of the tune.

Aurelien:  We took a few days and sat down and went through as many things as we could, tried things. The songs in this band tend to get sonically busy pretty fast, so I try to keep to the essentials and the foundational, then focus on more textural overdubs. A lot of it can be seemingly unnoticeable, until you mute a certain track and you go “wait, something is missing and sounds empty”. They all play in the overall sonic architecture. We experimented a lot with different pedals and sounds, doubling some existing parts with more extravagant, over the top tones to pepper in where we felt it was appropriate.

I also recorded some tracks in my own studio, most of it were fixes or stuff that we found out were missing, after living with working versions of the songs for a while and feeling the need to fill out some blanks here and there.

Chloe:  Once all of that was down, I would lock myself away in the studio and record my vocals.

Andrew:  And then I would come in and layer my vocal parts in.  Sometimes we would then re-record the guitars if we didn't like how they were sounding with the rest of the components.

Chloe:  One of the great things about having our studio here in the house is that we can easily go in and re-record parts.  It's also a bad thing sometimes because we are never satisfied and it winds up taking a long time to actually finish it up. 
We are always striving perfection.

Andrew:  And then George comes in and starts mixing.  He is so great and has such a great ear.  He really makes the sound of Chameleon with his effects and layering.

George:  The rest of the song elements, including my bass parts, extra keys and other production add-ons kinda happen on the spot. Many times, Chloe would be looking for "space" or "brightness" or something else abstract and then we'll come up with a new cool keyboard part, or a reverb or delay thing. Some songs like "Up There" for example, got to me in pretty finished form and I just polished the parts and added my own vibe to the performance.

Dan:  George, several times your name came up here as working on the mix. Is Music and Audio Tech your specialty? Is this your background?

George:  Yes, I've been recording and mixing since 2004. I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts from City College, specializing in Audio Production. I've been doing a lot more performing than recording these days though.

Dan:  Aurelien, you have been collaborating with Andrew for some time now in DareDevil Squadron and on his solo EP. Any differences when working with him on Chameleon material?

Aurelien:  Every musical context is different. DDS is a very specific sound with a canvas that we limit ourselves to - we work within the metal and classic hard rock genres. Andrew’s EP was an interesting process because we almost entirely worked separately. He provided me the basic tracks and I worked on the architecture of the arrangements on my own, until it was done. It wasn’t a collaborative effort in the sense that we were in the same room together bouncing ideas around. We barely even talked about it at all! But we very much get along musically so everything fell into place organically.

With Chameleon, it’s yet another sound and a different set of parameters to work in. A lot of times, the songs are pretty fleshed out and already have a sound, it’s just a matter of getting together and sculpting the raw material, making it sound like a band and bringing it to life with details, edges, choices.

Dan:  Chloe, you talked about how it's hard to walk away sometimes and say it's finished.  Do you enjoy being your own producers?

Chloe:  Oh yes.  I'm a control freak particularly with the vocals. I will sing a line a million times over to make sure I get one crack or one emotion that I feel is crucial to the song. I’m a drill sergeant with myself and good is never good enough in my book. It has to be perfect in my mind. [Laughs] When I work with other projects, I do have a bit of a hard time letting go of control. I know my voice so well and instinctually know when I’ve nailed a part or not.

Dan:  Your new project is called Black | Part One, which is part of the larger Black and White album.  Is there a meaning behind the Black and White name?

Andrew:  Someone who had reviewed The Monster EP described it as the first half being heavy and the rest of it acoustic. He went on to say that people don't understand music unless it is in "black and white" - in other words, it all has to sound the same.  I don't think that's true. Why can't people listen to a band that does different genres on the same record?  That is what inspired the name though.  And for this album, Black is the heavier side, while White is the more acoustic side.

Chloe: Black | Part One is more of what Chameleon is known for: Straight forward Loud Rock. Black | Part Two is a bit more fun and there is more of a dance element. White is completely acoustic and a different side of Chameleon that people haven't heard.

Dan:  The idea that this would be released as a double album was initially floated out there.  Now you are releasing the music in this series of EPs.  Why?

Andrew:  I wanted it to come out as a double album.

Chloe:  Gabe suggested that we release it a little bit at a time. It is more of a singles market these days.  It can also be hard to get people to listen to one song, let alone twelve songs.  Additionally, it does take us time to get these songs down and recorded the way we want them, so this way we can release them at our own pace.

For those looking for the physical CD, we will be putting that out after all three EPs have been released digitally, so you will be able to buy the complete Black and White that way.

Dan:  Let's talk about the songs that are on Black | Part One.  The first thing we hear when listening to the opening track "Stereo" is the radio voice of Asheville North Carolina radio broadcaster Scotty Rhodarmer. He was a radio legend there, broadcasting there for fifty years. Where did this soundclip come from? And why?

Andrew:  My step-dad sent me a large collection of tapes that his parents had recorded over the years and asked me to digitize them. His parents were musicians, so there were tapes of them playing but there were also tapes where they had recorded the radio.  I heard Scotty on one of these tapes and I remembered being a kid in Asheville and hearing that voice and felt that it would go perfect with "Stereo".  So that bit is from one of these tapes of his broadcasts from the late '80s.   But, the jazzy music underneath Scotty's voice is actually Gabe.  He was working on a jazz project for a class he is taking and let me hear some of it and I thought it was perfect to put underneath Scotty's voice.

Dan:  This opening song, quickly followed up by "Jesus and Guns", make up the heaviest music that Chameleon has released so far.

Andrew:  I think that comes from the fact that this is the first record where there are no electronic drums at all.  Gabe is such a heavy hitter and that energy comes across.  I think as a band, we are really playing up to Gabe on those songs.

Dan:  Lyrically, it starts off with “Change your ways, Change your way, You’re on display, So mind what you say”. What is this song about? Who are you talking about here?

Andrew:  Kanye West.  It started with him, but even later I started thinking about other super famous pop stars and then even  politicians and the platforms these guys have.  At some point, people are going to watch the Hillary/Trump debates and many people are going to think, "Why am I listening to this?  Because these are my choices?  I am going to turn it off."  It's the same with music. We as people have the power to turn off the TV and turn off the stereo.  Think for yourself - that is the message of the song.

Dan:  At the end of the song, someone yells “Yeah!” and Chloe is laughing. What is happening?

Andrew:  I was recording Chloe and we did several takes because she really wanted to get it right and she just absolutely killed the ending. So that was me yelling "Yeah!" at the end of that take and then Chloe laughed.  Normally we would have taken it out, but we thought it was funny to leave it in.

Dan:  It seems like you guys have a blast performing this at live shows.

Andrew:  Oh yeah! It is so fun to play!

Dan:  As that song segues into "Jesus and Guns", we hear someone singing the Gospel standard “Thank You Lord for One More Day”.

Andrew:  That is a field recording from the subway. Gabe heard this woman singing in the subway somewhere in Harlem and he recorded it and sent it to me. We were looking for a segue into "Jesus and Guns" and I thought this fit in so well.

Dan:  "Jesus and Guns" has a lot of Andrew on vocals, which is somewhat unusual for a Chameleon song.

Chloe:  It has been a nightmare trying to get him to sing more on Chameleon songs; he is such a great singer.  When we work on the songs, he is always telling me "You can sing this".  With this one, I told him "I am not singing this!" [Laughs]  We were in South Carolina and I was on the drums and I wrote the chorus "Go Get Your Guns, Go Get Your Guns" and came up with the beat.  I had to fly back to New York and by the time I got back, Andrew had written the rest of it. When I heard the lyrics and how clever and funny they were, I knew Andrew was the only person who could sing this and I am so happy he did.

Dan:  And we are hearing some banjo rocking underneath, which helps give it that southern feel to it.

Andrew: Exactly. The song itself came from our time in the South. There is such a weird dichotomy of people that are so religious, so into Jesus - a pretty peaceful guy - and then so into their assault rifles. Some of the people we met are preppers, collecting their beans, canned goods and ammunition for some sort of Apocalypse, Hyperinflation collapse or terrorist invasion scenario. I really hope this song doesn’t offend too many people, it was meant as playful satire. I was just observing. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and religious freedoms. However, there is nothing funny at all about the rise in gun violence and religious persecution happening all over the world today. I just had this image of Jesus returning to earth with an AR-15 to fight evil and thought it would make an interesting song.

Chloe:  This is a bit of a generalization, but so often when we would talk to “this specific group of people,” somehow in the conversation Jesus and or guns would come up; their form defense or justification. In all honesty though, the song is supposed to be a good laugh with no ill intention or disrespect.

Andrew:  So we said, "Jesus and Guns are Your armor on us."

Dan:  "Everybody's Going Down".  Can you talk about that one lyrically?

Andrew:  It's about death. We're all going to die.  So, Why are you breathing if you are not going to live your life the way that you want to? Before you're old, try something new, because Everybody's Going Down.  Life is such a gift - that is something that really came out of watching my father slowly die. This song is really about making every day count.

Dan:  There is a spoken quote that transitions this song to "Up There".  "We're all bozos on this bus. There's not a one of us that is not a bozo in one way or another. We're all striving for an elusive goal. If it weren’t elusive, then what would life be?"  It sounds simple, but quite profound at the same time.

Andrew:  That's my father speaking. He was very nostalgic and liked to record all kinds of things. After he died, I found a tape in his office that was labeled "To Drew, when he is 18".  I had never heard this before.  I sat and listened to it and it was him explaining why he and my mother divorced.  He had so many of these tapes of him just rambling, but so much of what he was saying was brilliant.  That quote from him just struck us as perfect for that segue.

Dan:  "Up There" is such a wonderful song and lyrically perfect to follow "Everybody's Going Down".  Can you tell me a bit about this one?

We had this song for a while, but we have never really finished it.  I think it's a universal feeling that when we are feeling lost or if we don't know what to do, to look up and ask for help. No matter what or who we believe in, there are times that we ask, "Is anybody up there?  Can somebody help me? Because I am lost."  I know I have felt that way several times in my life, and especially when we were going through the loss of Andrew's dad. What I have realized since writing it is that it's not what's "up there" but what it is within ourselves and within people that we love that we can find hope and the answers.  And that is what is really conveyed in our music video for this song.

Andrew:  We are all in this together.  Let's help each other out. There might not be someone up there.  There could be.  There might not be. We really need to rely on each other.

Dan:  The EP wraps up with "Barbie".  The line that stands out to me there is “I don’t want to be nobody’s Barbie. So take your love away and don’t you follow me”.

Chloe: I wrote this kind of in retrospect because I don't feel this way anymore or have the same angst I did as my younger self. When performing I can go back to how I felt when I wrote it. The underlying message is not wanting to be controlled or made into something I’m not. Something I feel many of us can relate to. It's angry and I get really into it; it's a form of therapy. In my life, I have had people try to mold me and dictate who I should be instead of just being who I was.  It is almost a letter to myself:  "Oh conscience, I think we agree. This world is not for the weak.  I can't be what I never was; you got the best of me".  It's me saying that I don't want to be this mold that you want to make me into.  Be yourself.

Andrew:  That song came together so quickly. Chloe was just improvising lyrics and I was playing guitar and we recorded it.  The same exact structure that you hear on the EP is what we did for about five minutes that one day.  It almost wrote itself.

Dan:  Do you have a long term goal for Chameleon?

Chloe:  It's so hard to make a projection and say something is our end goal.  The music industry is so strange, so I am not going to set myself up for disappointment.  I feel like Chameleon is constantly evolving.  We are even at a different place now than when we wrote Black and White. We will continue to make music and hopefully more people will hear it and want it. Our intention is really just to make great music and be honest.

Andrew:  If one person hears our music and gets it, that's all we can ask for.

Dan:  Chameleon and the new release is the subject of our discussion here, but is there anything else that you are working on musically (live or recorded) where we might hear you soon?

Chloe:  I just shot a big PBS special called Rocktopia with Rob Evan.  We shot it in Budapest and it is epic and amazing. That should be airing on your local PBS stations in November and December.  I am also working with Dina Fanai on my solo project.  I cannot give you a release date yet, but it is very exciting. I am also working with Heather Holley and Bob Kinkel on this album.  And I will also be on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour this fall.

Dan:  You were saying what a control freak you are with Chameleon's music and how you love being your own producer.  Is it hard giving up some of that control for your solo album?

Chloe:  Dina is like a family member to me. I completely trust and love her. I trust her opinion and she is so positive to work with.  Dina and Bob believe in me so much, so I feel very safe with them. Having that trust makes it easy to let go of some of the control and listen to the opinions of others.

Andrew:  The second DareDevil Squadron record is finished and it is fucking awesome! We are actually shooting a music video for it in August. We obviously took our time with this one and it is a lot more heavier and progressive. I think the title will be Breakneck Speed. The cover art is completed - you know how on the first record we had the five planes flying?  On the new one, there are five motorcycles and you can see a crashed the background. So it's like we are picking up where we left off - the planes crashed and now we are on old Nortons and Triumphs.

I also did this musical project with Jason Wooten, Goodbye, Dali, which should be coming out soon. I think I am going to work on a sequel to my solo EP, The LetterThen of course I will be back on tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Aurelien:  I am also on that new DareDevil Squadron album. It’s been in the works for a lot of years and we couldn’t be happier with how it came out. Also, back in January 2016, I spent three days and three nights in a recording studio in Las Vegas with Cindy Blackman-Santana and her band, and we recorded an album’s worth of music with no preconceived ideas, completely from scratch. It is high-level improvisation and spontaneous interaction and arranging, with a compositional aspect, with some of the very best musicians in that field. It will come out soon as well.

And lastly, while in New York, I’ve been fortunate to be a regular replacement for Robin Macatangay, the guitar chair in the Broadway show Hamilton. It’s been a really great experience to be involved in such a massively successful creation; it demands an extreme high level of discipline and focus.

Gabe:  Suspyre, the prog metal band that I was in a few years back, has been talking about recording some more tunes, but that's very uncertain at the moment. And I've been working as a freelance drummer ever since I moved to NYC.  Otherwise, I'm considering recording my grad school recital, but that'll fly pretty far under the radar. (Laughs]

Dan:  Well, good luck with Black and White and all of your other projects!

For more information:

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Monday, June 20, 2016

A Conversation with Vitalij Kuprij

Ukrainian-American maestro Vitalij Kuprij is a classically trained virtuoso, equally at home playing Beethoven's 4th Concerto on a grand piano in a concert hall, or in an arena shredding on one of his neo-classical rock compositions surrounded by a full rock band.  Kuprij is no stranger to either genre of music, having released solo albums of him performing classical compositions alongside albums from legendary progressive-metal bands Artension and Ring of Fire with Kuprij rocking on his Korg keyboards. I caught up with Vitalij in his suburban Pennsylvania home to chat about his extensive musical training, his adventures in the prog-metal neoclassical world, his recent work with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, along with news of some exciting new music from Mr. Kuprij.

Dan Roth:  I'd like to kick things off by talking about your musical background.  I understand your father was a trombonist?

Vitalij Kuprij:  Yes!  A professional trombonist.  He wore many, many hats. Trombone was his main instrument but he was also a music teacher, a director of a music school and a director of a House of Culture.  He also had his own band; he was a bass player.  My Dad was the one who got me into trouble. [Laughs]

DR:  How did you know that you wanted to focus on piano?

VK:  That is a funny story. A very good friend of my Dad had wanted me to study accordion with him.  The accordion is a very, very popular instrument in my country. My Dad signed me up for accordion lessons for that September. The day before I was to start lessons, my Dad took me to work with him. He was doing some writing for his folk band and I ran to the upright piano that they had there. My Dad told me later that I started to jam! My fingers just went naturally on the piano keys.  My Dad called his friend and told him that he was switching me from accordion lessons to piano lessons.  Totally changed my life!  I am so grateful. Nothing against the accordion, but the piano is the king.

DR:  With learning piano in the Ukraine, are Ukrainian-born composers part of the training?

VK:  The classical training was basically the traditional Western Music.  I studied the greatest composers from the 17th and 18th century: Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and so forth.  Yes, we do have some great Ukrainian composers and we were taught their music in the school.  There are some great, great piano pieces that I learned and stayed with me to this day.  It was influential of course.  We had Levko Revutsky who was a great composer - what a soul he was! His music is very folk-oriented, just like my country. But the main foundation of my training was the music from Germany and France.

DR:  Is there one composer that you can say had the biggest influence on you?  Or does that change?

VK:  It always changes. They are all so different and if you want to master your instrument and your true classical training skills, you have to broaden your vision and not focus on one thing.  I will say that the one composer that did stand out for me was Chopin.  Chopin wrote mainly for piano. At that point, when I was young, Chopin was my idol.

DR:  At 11 years old you moved away from home - to Moscow - to continue your musical training and subsequently became the youngest person ever to compete in the All Union Chopin Competition, winning first prize.  Can you walk me through that time?

VK:  In the Soviet Union, at that time, any training you could get was Big.  Whether it was military, or music or painting or anything else, it was done like the Army.  It was very rigid.  We lived in dorms, five people in a small room, no privacy, everything is public. Showers were two days a week for guys, two days a week for girls.  That was the most bizarre thing that I have experienced, but I am grateful for it at the same time. I got the discipline that I needed.  Lessons weren't done once a week like it's done in Western Europe or here. I would go for two or three hour lessons a day, every second day. The rest of the time would be taken up with practice.

We studied all of the composers, but as I said earlier, I was so in love with Chopin at this time that I didn't want to play anything else.  That was like telling the government "Screw You!".  I told my teacher that I didn't want to play anything else, so the faculty at the school had debates over whether or not I would be allowed to focus just on Chopin. They finally gave me permission to concentrate on Chopin's music if I could represent the school in that Chopin Competition. 

Winning that competition really opened up some channels.  I toured the Soviet Union for three months when I was 13 years old, travelling by train.

DR:  That had to be an exciting time though, competing in such a prestigious competition.  Any special memories from that?

VK:  You know, everything is sort of bizarre in my history with classical music. The Chopin Competition was in Kazan, which is in the north of Russia. This was my first time flying and it was in the middle of a severe snowstorm. 

They also had a drawing to see who would perform first, second and so on.  You usually don't want to go on first. It is so hard to play first. You are starting the whole thing, plus there is so much music to come and so many more candidates have to play and the jury doesn't have you in the front of their minds any longer.

DR:  And you drew that opening slot?

VK:  No!  I drew Number Two. Not too bad, right? But the girl who had drawn first fell in the ice and snow on her way to the competition and broke her wrist!  So I end up going on first. [Laughs]  Nothing was ever normal; there was always a story to go along with everything I did as I learned classical music.

DR:  Over the years, I have seen many articles and news sources refer to you as a "Russian" keyboardist.  You seem pretty proud of your Ukrainian heritage. Does it bother you when someone identifies you as "Russian"?

VR:  No. I understand that for the most part, people are misinformed.  These days, it has gotten a little better, but I do make a point to correct anyone who thinks I am from Russia. Russia and Ukraine are two different countries that were under that one big umbrella, so I understand the confusion.

DR:  It's clear that you had a pretty rigorous classical upbringing, but I understand that it was a particular Yngwie Malmsteen record that opened your eyes a bit to other music.

VR:  Yes! Well I certainly had watched my Dad perform in his folk band and do other things, but I was a total classical nerd.  Back then, there was only one record company in the Soviet Union - Melodiya. My brother had gotten me the Trilogy album by Yngwie. I put it on and listened to that song "Liar" [sings guitar melody of "Liar"].  Immediately I wanted to put a band together. I started asking my friends.

While it was that Yngwie album that grabbed me, there was also a Beatles album that was released there called A Taste of Honey and some Queen as well.  All of that is what I started listening to all of the time.

DR:  What was it about that Yngwie Malmsteen album that so grabbed your attention?  His neoclassical guitar chops? Or as a pianist, were you listening to the keys on there from Jens Johannson?

VK:  Well, Yngwie didn't feature a lot of keyboards prominently.  Johannson, you are right, but maybe more on his earlier albums.  It was Yngwie's playing! It was so technical and melodic at the same time. I loved the expression and the harmonies.

You know, many years later, Yngwie called me and asked me to be in his band.

DR:  Really?

VK:  Yes.  I could have been on his Alchemy album. He called me and offered to fly me to Florida and have me play the keyboards on this album.

DR:  At that point you already had a couple solo albums out along with a couple albums with Artension, so you were certainly building a following.

VK:  Yes, and I was also trying to break through in the classical world as well and I was broke as a skunk at this time. I politely refused the offer. I would have loved to have worked with Yngwie but I didn't want to give up what I was doing on my records and Artension records to play two or three chords while he shreds. As I say, I would love to work with him, but I think it would be great to put together a neoclassical monster with a guitar/keyboard revolutionary shred! I think a record like that would be amazing musically.

The next thing I knew, he was trashing me in the Japanese press, saying that I had no experience. Well "Duh!", I was just starting out in the rock world and didn't have a lot out yet. And he didn't even really know me. You don't trash me in the press just because I didn't say "yes" to you. [Laughs]

DR:  How long after you listened to that Trilogy album did you dive into that neoclassical style yourself?

VK:  It was gradual. Not everything was accessible in my country. Most of the Western rock bands got music released there much later. We didn't really have a rock culture in my country  - there were a few bands (Aria, Black Coffee, and others) that tried.  But I eventually started picking up on whatever my brother got his hands on - he was collecting a lot of Western music - and I listened to develop my own musical style.

DR:  Back to your training for a moment - So you were in Moscow then touring the country after you won that competition. You then went on to Switzerland for further training?

VK:  Yes. I attended the Basel Academy of Music for four years there on full scholarship.  I studied with this famous Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder.  He taught me much about the Western style of performance and discipline. With me coming from such a Romantic environment with much bigness and Russia, Buchbinder polished me with that Western European disciplinary attitude.

DR:  It was while you were studying in Switzerland that you met guitarist Roger Stafflebach?

VK:  Yes.  That's correct. Roger has been my friend now for almost 25 years. I was living in a little town in Switzerland through the summer and there was this piano bar that I would go to and jam. Roger came in and introduced himself to me. There was a bit of a language barrier as I could not speak German, but Roger was looking for a keyboard player. He and I hit it off and started playing together. Monday through Friday I would study music at the Academy of Music an hour away by train, then Friday night I would take the train to Roger's and rehearse in his garage for the weekend.  Then Sunday night I would go back to the Academy - you must do whatever it takes.

Roger and I formed this awesome instrumental rock quartet with two more Swiss players; we called ourselves Atlantis Rising. I started writing neoclassical music and we would put any money we had into making cassettes. We must have made 300 of these cassettes and shipped them all over. We were broke as a skunk; we were just hungry boys wanting to do a CD!

DR:  Did one of these cassettes wind up at Shrapnel Records?

VK:  Yes, Mike Varney at Shrapnel heard it.  Roger and I both came to America. I came to Philadelphia to audition for the Curtis Institute of Music while Roger was on the West Coast.  After my audition, I flew to Roger and we then both flew to Novato, California to meet Mike Varney.  At that time, Mike and Shrapnel were releasing a lot of music that was similar to what we were doing.  Mike signed Roger and I and we would become Artension.

DR:  So here you are enrolled at one of the most prestigious, challenging music schools in the world, forming Artension and releasing their first album and then the next year releasing your first solo album. How did you balance everything while going to Curtis? 

VR:  Building a big career is difficult when targeting both fields so passionately. I didn't care how difficult it was; I just believed that it was possible.  I would go through semester and then while other students are on break, I would be writing on the piano and remembering what I was writing. I would then fly to California, record with Artension, then fly back and return to my classical studies. Curtis is a tough school; probably number one in the world.  I believed - and still do - that music has no limitations as long as you have enough passion for it.

DR:  How did vocalist John West and the rest of the folks join the band?

VK:  Mike introduced us to John West and he brought Kevin Chown (the bass player) and Mike Terrano, the drummer.  Up to this point, we had all instrumental music and Mike asked me to write some music that was suitable for a vocalist and we cut our first album (Into the Eye of the Storm).

DR:  Artension released a total of seven albums - so far. Does any one of them stand out as a favorite?

VK:  With each one, there are certain things you like and certain things you don't.  It's not so much the album that stands out but rather the process of making the record and the experiences. Sure, everyone likes to see the finished product with the cover art, but you as an artist will never be satisfied - and you shouldn't be! If you are satisfied, then you stop growing as an artist.

I think Phoenix Rising is great and of course Into the Eye of the Storm is most memorable, but I really do like Forces of Nature. It has a different feel to it because of a new bass player and drummer - Shane Gaalaas on drums.

DR:  Did Artension ever tour?

VK:  No. Artension never played live.  We almost did though as we had much success in Japan. Our first album almost went Gold in that country.  We planned a tour of Japan, but the tour manager screwed up my paperwork.  I was still young then and had a Soviet Union passport and did not know what sort of privileges it carried when travelling in Asia.  I wound up in a hotel in San Francisco hoping for a work Visa to come through while the rest of the band were on their way to Japan. Since I couldn't make the trip, the rest of the band did some promo appearances and then flew back.

DR:  Did the band have opportunities to tour later on?

VK:  Yes, we had some offers but it just never worked out.  It must not have meant to be.  I would still love to grab the guys and go tour - we have enough material to play.

DR:  I want to ask you about three particular instrumental piano pieces that you have spread out across those Artension albums. They are named "I Don't Care", "I Really Don't Care" and "I Really, Really Don't Care."  Can you tell me about these?

VK:  [Laughs] The first one was "I Don't Care". I sat down and jammed it out. Mike Varney really appreciated my chops and wanted to showcase me a bit. I had to have a solo piano piece on the album.  Then the next one I wanted to continue the concept. It's cheesy but it's funny. [Laughs]

DR:  In 2001 you started working with vocalist Mark Boals on his solo album Ring of Fire.

VK:  Yes.

DR:  By this point in time, you had released several solo albums as well as albums with Artension,  Despite all of this experience, were you at all starstruck working with the vocalist that you first heard all of those years ago on Yngwie's Trilogy album?

VK:  It wasn't starstruck, but of course much admiration! He sung on that album that was of such importance to me and here he was inviting me to perform with him! That was fun.  I had such a great, great time working with Mark. We turned that into an actual band, named after that solo album. I wrote the music with Mark writing the lyrics and melodies.

DR:  The band released two studio albums and that great double live album recorded in Japan.  By the time the third studio album came out, you were not on it.  What happened?

VK:  Mark and I had some misunderstandings in several ways.  Nothing dramatic, just certain things we did not agree on.  Artension was a little bit close to my heart in terms of how it started and I told Mark to go with another player while I continue to focus on Artension and my own material.

DR:  Understandable. But in 2014 we were graced with a brand new Ring of Fire album (Battle of Leningrad) - nearly twelve years after the last one that you were on. What spurred you guys to work together again?

VK:  It was totally random. Mark and I had reconnected and during some conversations we talked about doing a new album. It had been a while, we decided to throw some music together and see if the spark was still there between us and see what happens.

DR:  Was it your idea to focus on the Russian history as the album's theme?

VK:  You know what's funny?  Johnny Lee Middleton got me hooked on the band Accept, in particular their Stalingrad and  Blood of the Nations albums. I was just loving those and I also am really interested in World War II history.  It came to me that we should do an album about the Battle of Leningrad - it is a real important story. I am a very intense individual and said "Hey, Let's go to war, Let's capture that feel through music."

The concept came from me and Mark researched some of the facts from this time and those tragic events and put together the lyrics.

DR:  Can you talk about the keyboardist's role in these bands?  Your solo albums are mostly instrumental where there is plenty of space for your solos and keeping the keys out front. With Artension and Ring of Fire, you are working in a band format with a vocalist.

VK:  Sure. Because I wrote most of the music, it was always somewhat keyboard-oriented. I was also exploring the opportunities to write vocal material.  It may have been limiting in terms of me being flashy, but I can do that through my solo albums.  As the albums progressed, they don't have as much of me being prominent because I was really focusing on the power of the band itself.  But they all will always have that touch of me on them.

DR:  Nine albums have been released under your own name.  There was a period from 1996 through 2004 where you released your first five solo albums, seven Artension albums, and all of that work with Mark in Ring of Fire. Since you wrote most of the music for all of these, how did you approach the writing process when you sat down at the keyboard? How did you know that what you were writing would be right for each project?

VK:  It was different each time. There was a time where I would sit down and write specifically for Artension. I would look at it as developing the flavor that we created on the earlier albums and continue to push that.  I would also be very conscious when writing, knowing the range of John West, knowing the band's styles and the chemistry in the band between the players.  And similarly with Ring of Fire and my own band.

Now, I just write and want the music to have a very powerful and emotional feel. I focus more on the composition, get it to a higher level of maturity. I utilize all the knowledge that I collected from the experiences I went through and I write plainly without targeting a specific band or project. I just want to capture my writing, preserve it, save it and then develop it, change it up, and come back to it.  Writing music is just phenomenal. I love it because it is such an innocent process and you give birth to new information.  You start from nothing and end up with this musical, spiritual information.that is accessible to others.

DR:  When I look inside of this Ring of Fire album for example and it says "All music written by Vitalij Kuprij", are you writing out the guitar, bass and drum parts as well?

VK:  I write all of the music - all of the parts - on the keyboard. So there are guitar, drums and bass played in keyboard-form to give the rest of the guys a clear direction of what they should be playing.  Especially with the later albums, they get to be more thought-out. I try to leave out improvisational stuff and leave that to myself, that way I am in control.  But structurally, it is pretty well thought-out when the guys get together to record.

DR:  When you write for your solo albums, quite often we will hear a direct quote from a classical piece. Other times there are runs that are inspired by classical composers. Are these done on purpose, or just naturally in the writing process?

VK:  Both. I always believed that there shouldn't be a set formula. You have to aim for something, but things will happen naturally. They will just pop out of you because that's you. 

When I am performing a classical work, my performance or orchestration of that piece will be different, based on how I will develop it with my flair.

DR:  Speaking of classical works, you have released three classical albums. Do you see yourself recording or performing more music in this vein?

VK:  Absolutely. I would love to do another classical album. What I don't know is whether I will do another album of works of the great composers or an album of my own classical material.

DR:  I had read that you were writing a piano concerto to honor your father.

VK:  Yes! It's been going for so long. It is something so important to me that I don't want to rush it. It is written, but there are parts that will probably be re-written.  I will finish it, but this one takes time.

DR: I would like to talk to you about Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Your first tour was with the East touring group in 2009. 

VK:  That was a totally "out of the blue" scenario. I woke up one morning, got my coffee, and checked my emails. There is an email from their management asking me to come down to Florida to meet with Paul O'Neill.  I am not sure how exactly they first heard of me. I know Paul was looking for a keyboardist that could do everything and be flexible. He had called someone that he had worked with in the record industry and that person recommended me. A few weeks later, I was there. 

DR:  Can you talk about your audition with them?  Did you play your own work or some of theirs?

VK:  Let me tell you how my audition went. I arrived to the studio and knocked on the door. Bob Kinkel opens the door and I say "How ya doing, brother? Do you have any beer?" [Laughs]  Bob showed me around a little bit, I played some Mozart Figaro and that was it. I didn't play too much. They had a beautiful grand piano there, so I jumped on that and started having a good time. After this, I wound up talking with Paul for hours into the night.  The next day I flew home and a few months later I was in Omaha for the tour rehearsals.

DR:  Were you familiar with TSO or Savatage before all of this occurred?

VK:  I knew Savatage, yes! What a great, great band. I was even featured in Burn Magazine one time in the same issue that Savatage were. I have a kick playing Savatage material.  If I could go on tour with them and just play their music, I would leave now. It is so rockin' and fun - really my cup of tea.

DR:  Had you worked with any of the Savatage/TSO musicians at all before being hired by TSO?

VK:  No, but I had heard so much about Chris Caffery because he was good friends with John West, but didn't meet him till I got to those rehearsals in Omaha.

DR:  On your first tour with them, you only played the second half of the Show, while Bob Kinkel played the first half.  
Vitalij Kuprij with TSO
Toledo, OH  November 2009
Photo courtesy of James Marvin Phelps

VK:  I was so nervous when Bob would introduce me. The very first time that I came running out, my transmitter for the in-ears fell out as I hit the stage, and here I am picking it up off of the stage, blushing. [Laughs]  I care so much about the music and treating it with respect and here I am looking like a clown up there.  But once I was on the keyboard station, I was at home.  That's what I am here to do.

DR:  Bob mentioned that this splitting the Show between you and he was about transition.

VK:  Bob wanted to still do the rock opera - Christmas Eve and Other Stories - but Paul wanted me to be on the more technical stuff in the second half.

DR:  Since you have been on the West touring group, you have been on "Keyboard Two", with Jane Mangini on the front-of-stage "Keyboard One". Can you talk about the differences at all?

VK:  We both play a lot of the heavy strings.  Jane plays that flute part and most of the piano during narration.  I also play a lot of piano because sometimes we just switch. Sometimes there will be parts that Jane is not comfortable with and she will ask me to cover it.  I do a lot of the whistles, bells and strings.  Strings are very important.  An organ was added for the last couple of tours and I have been having a blast shredding on the organ!

DR:  How do you mesh with Jane? She comes at the keyboards from a different place than you, with more of a bluesy groove to her playing.

VK:  I love Jane so much. She is an incredible human being. She is so humble and nice and never asks for anything. She is also the hardest working female musician that I have met in a long time. If I had to sum Jane up in one word, it would be "strength". I so completely admire her.

DR:  Do you enjoy the "keyboard duels" that you and Jane do as part of the Show?

TSO West Keyboard Duels 2011 and 2012

VK:  They are great fun. We did it one year (2012) where we were running around to each other's keyboard rig, sometimes having trouble seeing the stairs because of the fog [Laughs].  We are cracking up the whole time. Fans really like the piano duels because it is very entertaining, and sort of an "exhale" from the seriousness of the Show. But also for Jane and I right there on the stage, it is entertainment for ourselves.

DR:  As the two keyboardists in the band, do you and Jane spend a lot of time rehearsing together?

VK:  We spend most of our time working individually.  Jane will do her thing, and I do mine.  We do get together though where we try out some things. 

DR:  You mentioned the fog earlier and watching for the steps. Is it challenging to play keys with such an elaborate light show?  They have to cast shadows on the keys?

VK:  They try and make you comfortable but sometimes there are some dark spots.  Sometimes you will see me with my nose almost to the keyboard. [Laughs]

DR:  Do you use foot pedals to trigger the sound patches?

VK:  No, they are all programmed and you just have to go through them from song to song.  It is demanding but I remember them well.  The pedals are used more for dynamics.

With TSO, the show has to be exact.  It has so many moving pieces and everything is on cue.  You really have to be sharp and on your game from the first note to the last. The focus level really has to be there because there are so many components to the Show. From pedal work to how you articulate your playing to when you turn the keyboard to even when you have to communicate visually across that big stage.  Sometimes Jane and I are communicating with gestures to each other.  You really cannot lose your concentration.  Once you take your last bow, you are back on your own and can breathe again.

I often play the hardest parts without breathing, and that is wrong. I will take a deep breath and play - I will exhale - but I do not breathe normally when playing something challenging.  It's fun though!  It's worth the fight.
Vitalij Kuprij with TSO
Beethoven's Last Night Tour   April 17, 2010
Photo Courtesy of Chris Sweda

DR:  Do you have a warm-up routine?

VK:  I have a keyboard in the dressing room and I have finger exercises that I go through to get the blood moving, but that is pretty standard for a classically-trained keyboard player. But it's all about the mental focus before the Show.  I shut down about ten minutes we are to hit the stage, I close my eyes and get into the adrenaline and responsibility mode.

DR:  Any particular TSO songs over the years that you really enjoy playing live?

VK:  I was such a big fan of the Beethoven's Last Night tour, and not just because I had the role of Beethoven in terms of the piano. I find fun in every song, because I have to. You play two and a half hours twice a day, it can get to you after a month of touring. [Laughs]  Sometimes you get to a song and think "Oh fuck, not this shit again!" [Laughs], so you have to make it fun.

DR:  Credits on TSO albums are known for being vague. Many musicians are listed with no specifics as to which song they might be on.  You are listed on the Dreams of Fireflies EP - did you play on it?

VK:  Yes, I played piano on "Winter Palace" and also on "Time You Should be Sleeping".  Jon Oliva played the original piano parts and Paul gave it to me to bring it to life using Jon's parts as a reference.

DR:  There is a song on TSO's 2015 album Letters from the Labyrinth called "King Rurik" that you got a writing credit on. Can you tell me a bit how this song came to be?

VK:  First of all, it is an extreme honor to get a writing credit on a TSO record. Paul knows me really well - he knows my culture and he knows my music drive.  Same with Jon Oliva and Dave Wittman.

Let me tell the background.  It was the summer of 2013. I knew I would be touring on the Lost Christmas Eve tour on Keyboard 2. Then when the tour is over, instead of flying home, I would immediately be flying to Europe to start rehearsing Savatage material for the TSO tour over there where I would be on Keyboard 1 in an entirely different tour. Plus, at the end of that tour I would be flying into a war - I was going home to Ukraine and visit my family while there was all of that unrest going on there.  I knew I would need a lot of juice - both physically and mentally. I connected with John Schaeffer, who is an amazing Fitness and Conditioning Trainer. John put together a personalized training program that was specific to me and what I needed.  I worked out twice a day with this very hardcore program, getting myself in shape for what was to come. 

So I did the Lost Christmas Eve tour, the European TSO tour and then to the war zone with my family. When I finally came back, Paul got me right back to Florida to work with him. I shared with him what I had just seen and experienced in the Ukraine. We started collaborating and put together "King Rurik". Then Paul came up with the story that goes with it. Working with Paul was one of my greatest experiences musically. Not just because he credited me for the song, but because he let me pour out and express myself. It turned out to be a great situation for the album and being able to showcase the story. It is really a blessing for me to end up in the credits; I am truly honored.

DR:  Are you playing all of the keys on "King Rurik"?

VK:  I'm not sure about that. I am certainly on it, but I would rather not comment about that.

DR:  Do you play on any of the other songs on this new album? 

VK:  Just "King Rurik".  But I am such a big fan of "Past Tomorrow"!  It is so moody and Jennifer Cella does such a great job on there.

DR:  With the vast bulk of your work - your solo albums, Artension, Ring of Fire - you wrote or co-wrote all of the material. With the TSO Shows, you are playing music written by others. Does performing with TSO bring you the same level of satisfaction as playing music that you had a hand in creating?

VK:  It is really about the experience. The TSO Show is really a one of a kind. You are playing in an arena twice a day! To me, I have to ask "Does it have artistic integrity? Does it have that punch?". Paul accepted me and works with me so closely. I have gained so much information, knowledge and experience touring with this Show.

This Show helps me survive as an artist and to be able to reinvest in my own vision. I still have plenty of opportunities where I can be more in control of my vision as a musician, writer and performer. Progression - my new album - is a perfect example. It's like I am back to my own vision.

DR:  You have worked with so many talented performers on these TSO tours. Any one of them really surprise or impress you?

VK:  I hate to leave anyone out, but I must talk about Chloe Lowery. Chloe is one of the bad-ass female singers of all time. I am such a fan of hers. When she opens her mouth to sing, it is just ridiculous. 
Music to me is a language of emotion and should be something that audiences not just hear, but see and feel as well. You are assured of experiencing all of that when Chloe sings.

And of course I must mention our musical director, Al Pitrelli.  I love working with him.  I hope someday to do an album with Al - The Pitrelli/Kuprij Project! That would be awesome.

DR:  After seven years of touring with TSO, any particular show or memory stand out?

VK:  One funny thing happened during my first year. I was on Bob Kinkel's spinning keyboard stand playing "12/24". Everything was going great; I was hitting every note, I just had that feeling of everything going fantastic! I am spinning that keyboard stand around like crazy and suddenly the top keyboard flies off the stand. [Laughs] All of the cables are now fucked up. The bottom keyboard slides off and I catch it on my thigh. I am still jamming on it - no sound is coming out because all of the cables ripped out. But there I am with this keyboard balanced on my leg and I am still playing it. [Laughs]  The crew still gives me a hard time about that.

DR:  In the summer of 2015, you performed at the Wacken Festival in Germany as part of Savatage. How did you wind up being part of the Savatage line-up for that gig?

Vitalij Kuprij performing with Savatage
Wacken Open Air 2015
VK:  I was asked! I love those guys and their music. That was another memorable moment for me. Forget that it was Wacken and the magnitude of the event. Playing Savatage music was such a thrill for me. It reminds me when I first met Roger and we put Atlantis Rising together. We were in Florida rehearsing for this and I was literally jumping around while playing.

We would be playing "Jesus Saves" and I would be jumping around, sweating and just having so much fun. It was great playing all of that Savatage music on the 2014 European TSO tour, but playing it here as part of Savatage for all of these fans that love and came to see Savatage was really something special.

DR:  Was that the biggest show you have been a part of?

VK:  Oh yes.

DR:  Once you were joined with the TSO band on the adjacent stage, was it challenging to play with so many musicians playing at once?

VK:  Yes,  It was pretty sick, but we all knew what we needed to do. Everybody was all-hands-on-deck.  I took the whole concert very personally. I wanted to have a blast playing the Savatage songs and just feel that energy!

DR:  How did you and Jon Oliva split up the keyboard duties?

VK:  Jon would do what he needed to do and whenever he needed me to do anything, I followed along. Savatage is Jon's vision and I just played whenever and whatever Jon wanted.

DR:  In the liner notes of many of your albums, where it normally lists what keyboards you are playing on the record, it will usually state that you used "Knowledge, Experience and Confidence".  Tell me about that.

VK:  Those are the tools that I use to improve myself. Knowledge is something you gain as you do it. You apply your knowledge and get experience out of it. Confidence is something you need in your vision to survive and to defend your point of view as an artist. Otherwise you are just a copy machine or a shallow artist.

DR:  Did you ever consider just focusing on the classical side and making a name for yourself as a classical pianist?

VK:  Of course, when I was younger. You know Vladmir Horowitz is my idol!  I have performed in Europe with orchestras. I have performed recitals and held master classes. I have performed Brahms' First Piano Concerto, Rachmaninoff's Second, Beethoven's Fourth! But to answer your question - Yes, but I spread myself out like a tree.  I want to do what makes me feel the power and the joy of music. I am blessed to be classically trained, but I have so many choices. I can play classical and I can play neoclassical shred.  Whatever is bringing me that joy of music.

DR:  Since you mention Horowitz as an idol, who are your influences on the rock side?

VK:  Coming from my country where much of the rock music was not available, I really started from Square Zero in terms of that kind of influence.  I came to realize that if I study the discography of all of the great rock keyboard legends - whom I admire and respect - I would lose something of my own. I try to do this completely like hunting in the dark.  Some of that great music would subconciously sink in and I would lose a bit of that "raw me".

I certainly have great love and respect for Keith Emerson, Jon Lord and Rick Wakeman. And for current players, I can say that I do respect Jens Johansson. He was so funny and so cool in his days. He is amazing in his own right. I am also a big fan of Mike Pinnella. And I love Jordan Rudess. I used to be skeptical with his approach to the art form as he focuses so much on the technology.  I like to write and then record in the studio; I am old fashioned that way. But despite my admiration for these players, I am not influenced by them. Often when you ask an artist they might say "If it wasn't for this person and this person, I wouldn't be doing what I am doing."  I am not like that.  I just don't want to stuff too much in my head because I would not have room to focus on my element. 

DR:  Have you ever explored jazz or other non-classical music?

VK:  Absolutely.  All the time. I love exploring different genres of music, whether it be jazz, hip-hop or whatever. I write all of the time and have played and written music in these styles. Music has no limits.

DR:  I want to ask you about Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, a classical piece that is widely recognized. You incorporated parts of it into your own "Piano Overture" from your Forward and Beyond album. You played it on an Artension album. You played part of it on the live Ring of Fire album. Then when you got hired by TSO, you are now playing a version of it with them. 

VK:  It's a masterpiece in it's own right that has become commercially accepted through the centuries. I have been playing this stuff for many years.  That's just me. It is such a great piece; I might do it again. [Laughs]

DR:  Do you teach piano students?

VK:  I don't teach much. I used to. Some students have come to me wanting to win a competition. Some have come to me wanting to really grow. I do occasionally teach and I am not the most fun teacher. I don't care how perfect you are playing a piece of music. If I don't feel it, you are disrespecting music. 

Truthfully, I would rather be writing than teaching. I feel somewhat paranoid when it comes to my time as a musician.  There is so much that I want to say musically that I try to preserve it and make it last.

DR:  Are there any bands in today's music scene that you really enjoy?

VK:  I love Dream Theater. I know every album and have met all of the guys. I was into their album "Images and Words" back in 1993 while I was still in Switzerland. I also love Gary Moore, Queen and Sting.

DR:  You have worked with a number of incredible shred guitar players on your solo albums - Greg Howe, Michael Harris, Tony MacAlpine, George Bellas. What's it like to work with such a level of guitar players and hear them play music that you write?

VK:  It's been a phenomenal experience because I love guitar and I love how everyone has approached it. I love working with those guys and they are so different. Plus, it's been a great learning curve for me!

DR:  You made two albums with the late, great Randy Coven on bass. He never became a household name, but he worked with so many and was highly respected by musicians everywhere. We lost him unexpectedly in 2014.  Any particular memories of working with Randy?

Vitalij Kuprij's band 2005-2007
(L-R) Randy Coven, John Macaluso, VK, Michael Harris
Photo Courtesy of Kyle Cassidy

VK:  Oh Yes! Randy was the funniest jack-ass on the planet [Laughs].  God Bless Him. I invited him here and he came on his bike with his girlfriend and totally let me know what a rock star he was. When we were recording, he showed up to the studio with a giant pot of his home-made stew for us.  He was a total redneck but such a good soul. He always made sure we were fed. He never took care of himself but he took care of others.

DR:  I would like to wrap this up by talking about the many current and future musical endeavors you are involved in. Progression is your new forthcoming solo album?

VK:  I have been working on this for so long. 
I am so proud of it though.  It has really turned into an expensive album because I don't work the modern way. I would book the studio and a producer for two or four weeks at a time, and that gets expensive.  I also want to show my musicians that I want to treat them well. I don't care how famous they are, I want to pay them to follow my vision.  The album is finally recorded, so just be patient - it will be out sometime in 2017 on Lion Music. I love working with Lars Mattsson at Lion - I feel like he really believes in my stuff. 

DR:  Can you give me an idea of who is playing with you on the record?

VK:  On drums, my longtime drummer Jon Doman. Angus Clark, Chris Caffery, and Bill Hudson are all playing guitar.  Dave Naccarelli, who played on my VK3 album is playing bass.  He has such an incredible feel. And also for this album, I am adding a second keyboardist. The album is a blend of High Definition and VK3 styles, with more of a progression to where I am today musically.

I want to go play live with this new music after such a long break. I am creating a vision of emotionally, powerful music that should trigger a reaction and bring a new fresh air to the music scene. I hope to play some clubs and smaller venues to bring my music up close and personal to my fans and hopefully make some new ones.

DR:  You recently performed at a benefit concert for your trainer John Schaeffer where you and the band played quite a bit from Progression. Was this the first time these new songs have been performed live?

VK:  Yes! This was the first time for those and first time in a long time that so much of my solo music has been performed. I put together a killer band for this gig and it was so much fun. 

DR:  You recently announced that a new Artension album is happening. The last Artension album came out in 2004. How did this reunion come about?

VK:  Artension is my baby and it never really went away. Everyone was getting busy with other things and I had some opportunities to get involved with.  We all just went on our own and did our own things. For this re-birth, I spoke to Chris Caffery and we are adding him to the band, so we will have two guitarists. So it will be me, Roger, Chris and John.  

DR:  Any word on the rhythm section?

VK:  That is still a puzzle. The writing process has already begun and I have my ideas and preferences of who I would like there, but that decision hasn't been made yet.

DR:  I understand that you are part of Mistheria's all-star Vivaldi Metal Project?

VK:  Yes!  That's awesome.

DR:  I understand he has put together a lineup of some of the world's greatest rock musicians.

VK:  He has everyone on there. I played one part on the recording. Giuseppe is a great soul. He is like a "European Me".  He is really passionate and I wish him all the best. This is a very unique project. I have to give him so much credit for the endeavor and the risks taken.

DR:  Well sounds like we have quite a bit of music to look forward to.  Vitalij, thanks so much for finding the time to sit down and discuss your career and your vision with me.

VK:  Thank you, brother. So glad we got together!

Vitalij Kuprij with TSO
November 26, 2014  Sacramento, CA
Photos courtesy of Patti Hoffman

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