IN THIS DAY OF IPHONES AND IPODS, SONGS ARE STREAMED AND ABSORBED IN BITE SIZED PIECES FOR EASY CONSUMPTION. CHALLENGING THAT TREND IS GUITARIST STEPHEN DUROS. HIS LATEST ALBUM, AEAEA, IS A SWEEPING AND PANORAMIC TWELVE PIECE OPUS THAT THROWS BACK TO THE FULL SIDED CONCEPT ALBUMS OF THE 1970S.
HE MIXES FLAMENCO SKETCHES WITH MIDDLE EASTERN SOUNDS AND JAZZ IMPROVISATIONS, CREATING MANY OF THE MOODS AND RHYTHMS HIMSELF. HIS OLD BOSS, GUITAR LEGEND OTTMAR LIEBERT, JOINS HIM ON ONE OF THE PIECES, BUT THIS IS HIS SHOW, AND IT’S ONE WORTH TAKING ON THE ROAD.
WE RECENTLY CAUGHT UP WITH DUROS AND THREW SOME QUESTIONS AT HIM SO WE COULD GET TO KNOW THIS ICONOCLASTIC GUITARIST A BIT BETTER
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET EXPOSED AND INTERESTED INTO MUSIC?
When I was around the age of 3 and 4 I was showing a big interest in music, my family recognize it and played a lot of records for me and even got me a little guitar and keyboard to play. By the age of 5 was quickly picking out melodies by ear that I was hearing.
WAS THERE A TYPE OF MUSIC THAT FIRST CLICKED WITH YOU? DID YOU GROW UP LISTENING TO “WORLD MUSIC”?
Not so much “World music” but there were lots of different styles that enjoyed in those times. I remember not being very interested in music specifically made for kids. I just couldn’t get into a cartoon character singing a song, I really enjoyed instrumental music with the horn as the lead instrument, Herb Albert, Chuck Mangione. I loved the the disco and Motown records we had, I was really attracted to the beats and grooves, I would listen over and over. Roger Whittaker was another artist I listened to, I liked the sound of his acoustic guitar. As I got a little older around 8 and 9 my music teachers turned me on to the band Toto and I started learning their songs, at that time I was playing the organ.
DID YOU STUDY JAZZ GUITAR, FLAMENCO OR CLASSICAL?
When I was 20 I studied flamenco guitar with Paco Arroyo who is a great flamenco guitarist based in LA. Though I had been playing the nylon string guitar for some years before I found his lessons invaluable. It really shaped my playing, I’m not a flamenco guitarist but I wanted to make sure I played the rhythms and techniques correctly out of respect for the instrument and it’s history. I’m still practicing what he taught me. After all these years of playing I feel like I’m finally starting to understand this instrument in a way I never have before.
WHAT CAUSED YOU TO EVOLVE INTO YOUR CURRENT STYLE?
I think along with all of the musical influences I’ve had over the years, another big part of it is life experience. All the traveling I’ve done on tour either as a musician or lighting director has played a big roll in influencing me. The feelings you have when visiting a new country, taking the experience in, there’s just something incredible about that. Also experimenting in the studio with different sounds, sometimes a certain keyboard sound can really influence a certain way to write. Even a new instrument can also influence you in new ways.
USUALLY, WHEN YOU THINK OF “FLAMENCO” OR “WORLD” MUSIC, YOU DON’T ASSOCIATE IT WITH IMPROVISATION OR A PERSONAL SOUND. HOW DO YOU DEVELOP A UNIQUE VOICE WHILE STILL STAYING TRUE TO THE TRADITION OF THIS MUSIC?
Having something to say musically is very personal, I feel if you stay true to yourself and write from your inner feelings, your experiences.. your personal sound and style will shine through. I like to draw from all my musical influences but t’s sometimes easy to get caught up in letting a favorite album or player influence you too much, something to be conscious of when writing.
I think there is plenty of space for improvisation in world music though it’s not the first thing that comes to mind as it would when I think of a style like Jazz. I don’t feel qualified to speak for traditional flamenco but I have the highest respect for it as well as other traditional music. I felt if I was going to utilize the flamenco guitar as my lead instrument, It was very important to me to hold that respect and learn how to play it properly. It’s easy to take short cuts but It takes hard work and lots practice over a span of many years to get certain techniques right and do things properly. I hope that when people listen they will hear that in my playing.
We all improvise every day in our lives and live evolves over time, I think it makes perfect sense that music reflects that.
YOU SPENT QUITE SOME TIME RECORDING AND TOURING WITH OTTMAR LIEBERT? HOW DID YOU MEET HIM AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN PLAYING WITH HIM?
I met Ottmar at the Key Club in Los Angeles back in 2004. His band was performing and I helped assist for their light show. We stayed in touch and a year later I did the lighting on his Winter Rose tour and brought my guitar along. The following summer I joined the band for the next 4 years.
I knew right away I had a lot to learn and how could I not feel that way when working with someone who has so much experience and someone that I had looked up to musically for years before hand. His album “Opium” and “The Hours Between Night and Day” were on regular rotation at my place so I felt like a sponge wanting to soak up all the knowledge I could. I’m not just talking about the technical and studio side of things which he is brilliant at, I was actually more interested in the “art” side of things. He has this incredible artistic side to him (I could tell that just from listening to his music and looking at his photography on his website) so things like going to the art museum with him on tour, to great conversations about music and art, photography and meditation was an incredible experience for me along with everything else I learned on the musical end of things. I felt I really grew as an artist and as a person during chapter in my life.
YOUR NEW ALBUM IS QUITE WIDE RANGING! WHAT WAS THE IMPETUS FOR THIS IDEA OF MIXING VARIOUS WORLD SOUNDS?
I really wanted to write music with no boundaries, not follow any current trends and that was the mind set that put things into motion. It has been my favorite and easiest album compose to date, it was a great period where the ideas kept flowing.
T’S VERY RARE TO MAKE A CONCEPT ALBUM THESE DAYS, WHERE THE SONGS GLIDE INTO EACH OTHER. WHY DID YOU DECIDE ON DOING THIS TYPE OF RECORDING AS OPPOSED TO A COLLECTION OF INDIVIDUAL SONGS?
The musical ideas started naturally flowing into one another. When a good fried that I trust with my music took a listen to what is now the first 10 min of the album, he suggested I keep going and see where it leads to. Perhaps one long track and I loved that idea. That was the birth of my concept album.
THE ALBUM HAS A “SOUNDTRACK” FEEL TO IT. HAVE YOU EVER WRITTEN OR PERFORMED FOR OTHER MEDIA?
Yes I agree that it does have that feel to it. Composing for film is something I’m very interested in and I’m currently exploring that road.
HOW DO YOU PERFORM THIS MUSIC IN CONCERT, SINCE YOU PLAY SO MANY OF THE INSTRUMENTS ON THE ALBUM YOURSELF?
I’m currently looking for the right musicians to play with. I feel starting small first is best, perhaps a trio or quartet. Granted the production on the album is more on a grand scale though I feel a lot of the pieces can be played with keyboards bass and percussion, perhaps a little different arrangements to fit that size band.
WHO IS LISTENING TO YOUR MUSIC?
I hope anyone really, I don’t feel my music is specific for one type of crowd. I feel it crosses boundaries from people who like the rumba flamenco rhythmic music, classical, world, movie sound tracks etc.. There is some R&B and funk influences in my previous.
WHO HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCE BOTH MUSICALLY AND PERSONALLY?
I’ve been very blessed to know and work with 2 of my biggest influences musically and personally. Ottmar and Steve Lukather. Both whom I adore as people and who have taught me invaluable things in life and music.
Vicente Amigo and the late Paco De Lucia have have been favorites for a very long time. In my late teens, Oystein Sevag and his guitarist lakki Patey was another big influence. There is something about the way Oystein can play one note or one octave on the piano. There’s just something to it, the way it fits into the music he writes. Sometimes one note says it all versus too many notes. It taught me a lot and I think at times I still need to focus more on achieving that, perhaps in the next album. I love artists like Meshell Ndegeocello, great grooves and so much emotion in her music, I listen to all kinds of music.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE GOALS?
To keep experimenting with music on future albums, composing for films is on my radar and performing live. I’ve been very busy raising my two amazing young daughters, trying to fit a life in music in with family has it’s challenges but all of it has helped shape me into the person I am today and Im truly grateful for all the love and support from them and the experiences I’ve had in my life. I look forward to see where the future takes me.
THE MIXTURE MOODS ON AEAEA TAKE YOU ON A SONIC NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC JOURNEY. SOME OF THE MUSIC WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO DANCE, OTHER PARTS JUST TO SIT BACK AND ABSORB. ISN’T THAT WHAT MUSIC IS SUPPOSED TO DO?
CHECK OUT THIS INTRUIGING CONCEPT ALBUM AND CONCEPTUAL GUITARIST. www.stephenduros.com