STEPHEN DUROS
AEAEA
(Luminescent Records)

 

Guitar fans asking if there’s anything new under the sun will need to hear a 2015 CD release called AEAEA from guitarist Stephen Duros. One part hypnotica, one part a form of New Age, world-beat jazz-fusion mix for the 21st century, AEAEA centers around the inventive flamenco, electric and bass guitars, as well as synth keyboards, of Stephen Duros. It’s a form of aural exotica with the album featuring unique percussion instruments like charango, riq and darbuka, that mix in with Stephen’s guitars, and that are performed by a range of percussionists. Even with so much exotic accompaniment, the accent is mainly on Stephen’s skillful fretboard work. Speaking to mwe3 about the album and the unusual title, Stephen explains—'The title of the album, AEAEA is a mythological island from the ancient poem ‘Odyssey’ and I thought it would be a nice starting point for the musical journey. It’s up to the listener to decide where the story goes from there. That’s what I like about instrumental music, there are no words to tell you what the song is about. The listener can put headphones on, close their eyes and imagine whatever they like when listening and let the music take them away for a bit.' Returning a favor from when Stephen played in his band, guitar icon Ottmar Liebert is also featured, here in a cameo role, playing electric guitar. The CD features 12 tracks and the album works quite effectively, perfectly in fact as the artist puts it, ‘To recount a musical journey or odyssey. The album tells a story, much like a book does.’ Being all instrumental, AEAEA is the perfect soundtrack for guitar fans to feast on. Duros also worked as concert lighting director for the rock band TOTO, and interestingly, just after Stephen did the mwe3.com on September 1st, 2015 he was called by TOTO to come and do the lighting midway through their Summer 2015 tour with YES. Masterful at creating uncanny sonic extrapolations, Stephen Duros takes the guitar into deep and uncharted waters with the phenomenal sounding AEAEA. www.StephenDuros.com



mwe3.com presents an interview with
STEPHEN DUROS



mwe3: Can you tell us where you’re from originally and where you live now and what you like best about it? You’ve done a lot of traveling in other countries as well as throughout the US so what are your favorite cities to visit?

Stephen Duros: I’m from just outside Chicago and currently live in Oakland, California. I’ve lived in California for over half my life now, I moved to LA when I was 19 and lived there for 11 years and that’s where I got my start in the music business. I’ve always loved living close to the ocean, and loved the California vibe and would draw from it to write music. Oakland feels like it’s very up and coming right now, great energy, a lot of new business, great restaurants, a lot of great artists and musicians. I’ve met some amazing people and musicians here and it’s great to hop across to San Francisco, the whole bay area is a beautiful place to live in.

I’ve done a lot of traveling, been to around 44 countries now. There have been so many amazing cities and towns it’s hard to pick favorites as I’ve liked so many of them for different reasons. Here in the U.S. I always love New York City, the food, museums, just going for a walk in that city is awesome, there is something to it that is hard to explain, it’s just great. I have a lot of great memories being there on tour playing at BB King’s and The Blue Note. Santa Fe, New Mexico is another favorite, the food is incredible and the way the sun light shines there is amazing. Probably my favorite place to be during the Christmas holiday season. There is nothing like it in the world. The scent of piñón wood in the night air, the Kiva fire places roaring with warm fires on a cold snowy night, the old buildings glowing with twinkling golden Christmas lights, the colors of chiles. Such a unique and wonderful city.

For international cities, Tokyo, Berlin, and London are some of my favorites. One of the best meals I’ve had was in Lucca, Italy. Melbourne, Australia is a very cool city. Bergen, Norway, Stockholm Sweden, Wellington, New Zealand, the list goes on and on. I love to travel and have been very fortunate in my line of work to be able to do the traveling I have.

mwe3: Can you tell us something about your new CD AEAEA, for example how you came up with the title of the album and what did you set out to achieve with the musical directions on the AEAEA album? It’s very unique sounding and not it’s only guitar music right? It’s more like a musical soundtrack!

Stephen Duros: AEAEA was my baby, I nurtured that album for 4 years and feel very close to it. It is my most emotional and personal record. I see it as a musical soundtrack, a musical journey and not just a guitar-based album. In fact, I wrote the music with my keyboard and guitar. I wanted to tell a story through music. I wanted to use some of the flavors from my second album, Thira, but wanted to write something entirely new and different. I felt that I couldn’t get enough out of a four minute song, so I decided to write one long song. Like a book, it’s one story with different chapters and that was the inspiration for the foundation of the album.

The guitar melody on “Chapter II” was something I had written at the end of recording my album Thira. I liked the melody so much that I wanted to save it for another album and base the entire album off that melody. In AEAEA, that melody makes an appearance in 3 different chapters. Same goes for a few of the other melodies on the record. The melodies come in and out at times but it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel repetitive, more of a moment of reflection.

The title of the album, AEAEA is a mythological island from the ancient poem ‘Odyssey’ and I thought it would be a nice starting point for the musical journey. It’s up to the listener to decide where the story goes from there. That’s what I like about instrumental music, there are no words to tell you what the song is about. The listener can put headphones on, close their eyes and imagine whatever they like when listening and let the music take them away for a bit.

mwe3: What other albums have you released and how would you say your music writing and guitar style has changed over the course of your different recordings?

Stephen Duros: My first album was Miranda, which I recorded in 1997-1999. I actually re-recorded all the music and added a few new songs to it between 2002-2004. The album eventually was remastered and rereleased on Ottmar Liebert’s label, SSRI, in 2008. It was more of a rumba flamenco based album only with a relaxing kinda vibe. The song “Miranda” on there is a straight up rumba song, one of the few rumba songs that I’ve recorded. My next album, Thira was recorded in 2005-2006 and was a departure into using more synth and chill techno sounds and using a lot of lead octave melodies on the guitar along with a lot of ascending and descending string bending. I felt it gave it a very unique sound right off the bat. My 3rd album, Urban Flamenco, recorded between 2009-2011 was about traveling throughout different cities around the world in different times. I really wanted to touch on some of the music I grew up listening to in the late 1970’s early 80’s. I played some electric guitar on there as well.

I think I’ve really grown musically over the years writing and playing wise. I also feel there is a consistency in my guitar playing where you know it’s me throughout all the albums and I think that’s a good thing.

mwe3: What guitars are you playing on the AEAEA CD? Would you consider yourself as a guitar aficionado or even a collector of sorts? How many guitars do you have and what do you look for in a guitar? Can you recommend certain guitars for students of the guitar as well as performing artists and do you have some favorite luthiers and string makers?

Stephen Duros: I recorded the entire album with a beautiful flamenco blanca made for me by Lester DeVoe and a Steve Lukather signature Music Man “Luke” guitar that Luke gave me back in 2001, both of which I love. I used the “Luke” guitar on the solo at the end of “Chapter 8”.

I love guitars, I can get a bit obsessed with them at times. I’m not a collector, I go through phases where I only want one electric and one acoustic guitar but then other times where I would like a bunch of different guitars. Not for a collection but for different sounds and tones, kind of like having more paint brushes and colors to choose from. Someday I’d love to have a Fender Strat or Tele, a Les Paul, perhaps a PRS but I’m also very satisfied and thankful for what I do have.

I also have a 1995 GVR flamenco blanca guitar that I’ve had for almost 20 years, which was my very first flamenco guitar and has a beautiful tone and feels great when I play it. I have two Jackson guitars that I’ve had since the early 1990’s, which are great guitars, one has neck through construction, which I love the feel of. I had one of them hot rodded with EMG pickups years back. I also have an old Hamer guitar. I don’t play those guitars often but I occasionally pick them up and noodle around on them. Sometimes a different guitar can give you a new song idea just by the way it plays.

I use D’Addario Pro Arte’ normal tension strings, they are the best strings for me and I’ve used those for years. I’ve tried all kinds and always come back to those, very consistent and work great in the studio and on tour.

There are so many great luthiers out there and have heard many great things. I’m thankful to have a great relationship with Lester DeVoe and German Vazquez Rubio over the years. I believe German makes a student flamenco model guitar as well which could be a great option for someone starting out.

mwe3: Can you tell the reader that story of you meeting up with Ottmar Liebert in L.A. and how do you feel Ottmar’s guitar sound influenced you both as a guitarist and composer? Interesting that Ottmar is actually playing electric guitar on AEAEA. How did you bring Ottmar into playing on AEAEA and what guitar is he playing?

Stephen Duros: It’s interesting how it all worked out when I met Ottmar Liebert. I was the local house lighting designer at the Key Club in LA. Ottmar was scheduled to come through the venue in 2004. I remember not wanting to work the show and asked a friend of mine who worked there to cover. He thought I was crazy because he knew how much Ottmar’s music had inspired me and tried to talk me into working the show.

You know, it’s funny, I was in such a musical funk at that time, it probably sounds ridiculous, but sometimes people get down. Especially when you work very hard at something for years and you feel like no one really cares about it. By then I had been turned down by several record labels and had an entertainment attorney shopping my demos out and getting no love back from anyone. I think I got to a moment where I needed a break to recharge and get back in the game, I’ve never been one to quit anything, I work very hard, but I was feeling the burn of the music business, and at the time I knew I would have wanted to be playing on stage playing with Ottmar and didn’t want to feel discouraged with where I was at in my life.

But a few days before Ottmar’s show at the Key Club, my friend called and said he couldn’t cover and that I have to do it. So I did and remember feeling happy it worked out that way. I think there was a part of me that was hoping to have a nice conversation with Ottmar though I’m always one to typically leave the artist along. If anything, I just wanted to thank him for the inspiration he had given me over the years. I think working that show gave me a lot of inspiration to keep going and so much to the point that I quit working at the club a few months later so that I could focus on my music and finish my album Miranda.

Before sound check at Ottmar’s show, I was able to thank him for his inspiration and we ended up having a very nice conversation about music. I bought us both a coffee at the local coffee shop. It wasn’t until a year later that I had come back from Indonesia with Toto and decided to get in touch with Ottmar. Six months later I was on tour with Ottmar doing the lighting on his Winter Rose tour and brought my guitar along. That following summer I was playing in the band! It was an amazing time in my life, I had just started to date my soon-to-be wife, and was touring with Ottmar. It was like an entire new chapter opened up. The vibe on the tour was incredible and his Winter Rose album is by far one of my favorite albums today. Every time I hear that record I think back to that tour, the snow on the ground, the vibe in Santa Fe in the winter holiday season and the food. It was truly an amazing time for me.

His album Opium was always a big influence on my song writing. He has such a tasteful approach to everything he does, weather it’s music, photography, album design, you name it. I’ve really learned a lot from him… he’s not only a musician, he’s a true artist. He had played a solo on my Thira album so I thought that I’d love to him as part of the musical adventure and asked him to play a solo on AEAEA. I gave him the choice of what instrument he wanted to play and when I heard the electric guitar solo, I was blown away. It was so unique and trippy, it took that entire chapter to a new level. It’s one of my favorite sections of the album and one of my favorite electric guitar solos of all time.

mwe3: Tell us about your band on AEAEA and how you decided on these players. I was also interested in the lush strings sounds that accompany these tracks, especially on the second track here. Were the strings synthesized? Did you use some special apps to get that sound? They sound so real to me. Is working with real strings something you’d like to further explore?

Stephen Duros: I had some very talented friends play on parts of the album. Andrew Reissiger played the charango as he did on my previous album, which I love… it is such a pretty yet haunting sound. He brought in Louis Romanos, who he knows to play drums and percussion. In the last year I’ve been playing with an amazing Haitian percussionist, Jeff Pierre who played conga solo on the album. He and I also have a band we’re just starting called Path Of Light. Jeff is also a great singer so it’s fun trying something new along with my solo stuff. All the players really added some wonderful additions to the album and helped bring it to life.

As for the strings, I used my keyboard and soft synths. I didn’t use anything special, just what’s available on the market today. I would have loved to hire a string section to play the parts or even one or two to over dub, but working with a small budget, I just couldn’t make that work. I put in some long hours picking out the right string sounds and mixing a lot of tracks together including brass and woodwinds. I think the first 10 minutes of the album is something like 72 tracks because there were so many different instruments and sections going on. For the orchestra sections, I did a lot of volume automation to get the right feel and different reverbs. It took a lot of listening and time to get it the way I wanted it. Working with real strings is something I’ve always wanted to do and hopefully some day will get the opportunity.

mwe3: What was it like working with co-producer Andrew Riessiger on the making of AEAEA? How did you meet him and what did Andrew bring to the table musically and vibe wise? What do you look for in a producer and co-producer to enhance the sound of your album? Also, who else was responsible for helping you get such a unique sound on AEAEA, including studio engineers and mastering engineers?

Stephen Duros: Andrew is a man of many talents and he’s a great friend. I’ve known him a long time now. He plays multiple instruments, he produces, he’s a sound engineer and he’s also currently the Music Program Manager for The Nile Project.

I liked what he played on my last album so much that I knew I wanted the charango back on this one. It has such a unique sound and I love the way Andrew plays the instrument. We have a great working relationship and while I was over in his studio one evening listening to some of AEAEA he said “you know what, you should have my friend Louis Romanos come in and put some live drums and percussion down in this section.” I thought about what he said and thought, man that would be really cool, lets try it. And it went on from there. He suggested I bring my bass over and re-track the bass through some of his real nice pre amps and get a fatter tone, and while I was playing bass he had some great suggestions. I think if you have a great and honest working relationship with someone, and they have great ideas, it’s only a win-win situation. In fact, he’s the one who came up with the funky bass part in “Chapter 1”. I liked it so much that I extended that entire section and added the flamenco guitar grooving over it with Arabic style strings. It’s now one of my favorite sections in the album.

We had started to mix in his studio and planned on mixing it together there but it conflicted with his tour schedule with The Nile Project, so I brought the tracks to my studio and mixed the record. I had a very clear vision of the over all sound I wanted when mixing the album and you have to put as much care and time in the mixing as you do on the recording end so it can take some time. I had been studying a lot of audio engineering over the past few years and I felt it really helped but even then, there is just so much to engineering. I have a lot of respect for a great audio engineers. Engineering is truly an art.

mwe3: The AEAEA album seems to transcend musical genres and is a combined a futuristic World Beat kind of album, a flamenco flavored guitar album and a hybrid of progressive fusion music. How do you feel about mixing all those genres and descriptions? It very much sounds like you had the idea to do something very unique and daring from a musical perspective.

Stephen Duros: Yes, AEAEA has multiple styles, rhythms and time signatures that it flows through and I feel a lot of times they are not so noticeable, which is a good thing. I learned from drummer and producer Simon Phillips years ago that you don’t want odd meter to feel awkward, it should be smooth and almost not noticeable. I’ve taken that advice to heart as I have with the advice of the late Jeff Pocaro and Mike Pocaro. Years back when I was on tour with Toto in Papeete having an evening hang at the hotel bar, Mike Pocaro, was telling me that Jeff would always say that it’s so important for a guitarist to work on having solid rhythm. Mike was also telling me to check out horn players to get great ideas for guitar improvising. I’m also truly blessed that Mike had played bass guitar on my song “Cirrus” years ago, he and Simon are both on that track. It’s a very special track to me.

As far as mixing all the different styles together through out the album, I was very happy with how it flowed. It was one of those things that was either going to work or it wasn’t. In a time where a lot of music seems to be 2.8 minutes for radio I wanted to go in the opposite direction. I remember sitting down and listening to albums when I was young, there was just something special about putting on a record. I miss buying records at a record store. I was hoping people would sit down, put this on and enjoy an entire album.

mwe3: You also have recently said that you are currently listening to classical music. How about classical guitar? Can you mention some of the classical guitarists and albums that have influenced you both as a listener and a musician? Seems like there’s so many genres of classical guitar and an equally number of diverse genres in the Flamenco world too. So much great music has been written for the guitar over the past few centuries! I wonder where the guitar will be in 2115!

Stephen Duros: Yes, I have been diving into classical music and have a lot to explore. It is such amazingly complex and beautiful style of music. There is so much emotion in it. The changes are insane in some sections, it just bows my mind. Being a nylon guitarist oddly enough I haven’t explored much classical guitar though I respect it very much, it’s a beautiful sound. There is so much great guitar music out there and I too wonder where it would be in 2115.

mwe3: How do you stay in shape as a guitarist and a composer? Are there exercises and practice routines that you work on everyday to keep your skills in peak shape? Does music writing influence your practicing or does the practicing influence your writing more?

Stephen Duros: I used to have a routine where I would practice with an old wind up metronome almost every morning, I loved that time. But life gets busy, I have a five year old daughter and another one on the way! So, there isn’t as much a dedicated time to practice, but I still have to practice, it is very important. There have been times where I’ve put the guitar down for 6 to 8 weeks when going on a tour with Toto to do lighting. I would listen to music constantly when gone. I found that there is so much to learn from just listening.

I always feel like “practice, practice, practice” is stressed, but you’d be surprised how much you can learn from doing some concentrated listening. Now, I don’t recommend going that long without playing, it takes a week or two, sometimes longer to get back in shape but I think it’s important to just listen as well. I found I would often play better after an experience like that because of a greater understanding from what I had learned from listening.

mwe3: What artists, bands and guitarists into to these days? You mentioned working with Lawson Rollins too. How did you meet Lawson and what was it like working with him on Lawson's Traveler CD? Speaking of great guitar albums, you guys represent the best of the guitar!

Stephen Duros: Well, thank you very much! I don’t feel worthy, I still feel like a beginner on the guitar, there is just so much to learn. Yes, Lawson has this amazing technique on the instrument. I’ll sit there and watch him play and then ask, could you slow that down so I can learn that? Lawson is very a talented musician, he lives across the bay from me and we get together frequently to get a good hang and jam session in. Some years back when I was performing in Ottmar’s band we played a show in San Francisco. Lawson was the guest of the percussionist in the band and came down to see the show. A few days later I had received a very nice email from him, which I appreciated very much. Within the next year I got in touch with him and let him know I moved to the Bay Area and was looking to meet new musicians in the area and received such a nice warm welcome from him and ever since we’ve been good friends.

He had heard some of the techno style ideas I was working on and invited me to co-produce and play on his album, Traveler. I worked on what he calls the “Urban Trilogy” section of the album. It was a lot of fun and he brought me down to Santa Barbara to help finish the record in the studio where I met and worked with producer Dominic Camardella. We all had a great time in the studio. I’m very honored he asked me to join his project and it turned out to be an awesome album.

mwe3: What are the challenges for guitarists to really reach an audience these days? The internet has shrunk the world but not the planet. Traveling is even contentious on a range of levels these days. Having fans of your in remote corners of the country and the world must seem comforting! Seems like futuristic time travel in centuries to come will solve that, at least if you use Star Trek as an model!

Stephen Duros: That’s a great question, I think it’s really difficult and there are many challenges, even with the internet. Sure, the internet has opened up a door to give access to people around the world to new music with a click of a button. At the same time, it has opened that door for everyone so it makes it more difficult to stand out, but I do think the way to stand out as a guitarist is through hard work. Yes, it would be great to be able to “beam up” to another country and play a gig.

mwe3: What do you do to unwind and relax from the pressures of the music world? Do you have outside interest and hobbies that serve as a diversion for you or it is music 24/7 all the time? Can meditation help you be a better musician?

Stephen Duros: There are just so many skills required to stay afloat in the music business that there has to be some unwinding time for sure. I love to spend time with my family, I also enjoy a walk and bringing my camera along. I meditate… meditation is a great way to unplug. I enjoy reading about audio engineering, the latest music gear that’s out that kinda stuff.

mwe3: Also do you find movies relax you and take you away from the world? What are your favorite movies and movie sound tracks? Is the guitar used enough in movies?

Stephen Duros: I love movies, I’m a movie buff. On one of Ottmar’s summer tours, I think I must have watched Casino Royale a dozen times or more. Some of my favorite movies are the Coen brother’s Burn After Reading, - I can’t stop laughing throughout that movie, The Game, - I really dig the Michael Mann movies The Insider and Heat. Any of the Quentin Tarantino movies, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, LA Story, any 1980’s movies, I love the early “007” movies with Sean Connery, and the original 1971 Andromeda Strain is great, Indiana Jones. The list goes on...

I think one of my favorite movie soundtracks is American Beauty. There is just something to Thomas Newman’s composing that really touches me and strikes emotion immediately. I find him to be an amazing talent and would love to work with him some day. He has this way of playing one note, or one chord and it can blow me away, there is a certain touch, and when the melody comes in… wow. Motorcycle Diaries and Babel are also amazing soundtracks.

mwe3: How do you feel the internet has impacted your music and music in general? A lot of musicians are complaining that music is too easily downloaded or stolen with CD sales down in the world do you find that to be the case or is there a silver lining for artists and musicians who work so hard to make a good product only to have it downloaded by a 3rd party? Are there safeguards in place for that thing on YouTube or is that just scratching the surface? Seems a shame for the artist to lose control over this!

Stephen Duros: I think the internet has opened doors but I also feel it has made it more difficult for artists with all the streaming and illegal downloads. Sometimes I feel like the internet is the wild west. I think it’s important to educate people of all ages that downloading for free is part of a big problem that is killing off artist’s careers, or artists trying to start a career. There needs to be a stronger appreciation for music rather than it being taken for granted to the point where some people almost feel justified downloading it for free because they can’t afford it. As for streaming, I’m not sure what to think of it at this time, it would be great if it worked well for financially the artists and the consumer, perhaps some day but right now that just doesn’t seem to be the case for the artists, at least with my experience. We shall see...

I don’t know where streaming is going, It’s hard for me to be excited about it when there is barely any money to be made from a stream. I understand it’s convenient but I just don’t know about it right now… I just don’t see it working in positive way for the artist. I hear the argument that “it’s a great discovery tool” and sure, I get that, but is that enough to justify the price of devaluing music? I also think that line is right up there with someone not wanting to pay for a song or live performance and saying “It’s great exposure for you!!” I think people, companies need to realize they need to pay for music as much as they do for groceries or clothes at a store.

mwe3: You’re also a well known performance lighting director having worked with Toto for years. How did you get into that area of music concert lighting and are you still pursuing that career avenue or is it mostly music and recording these days, especially with your new CD out now?

Stephen Duros: When I moved to LA when I was 19 I needed to find work along with playing guitar. I’ve always been interested in lights. In fact my first word was light. I used to play in a hard rock band in high school and would always setup our own lights. I soon got a job working at the Roxy Theatre on Sunset Boulevard, which eventually lead to me working at Billboard Live, which turned into The Key Club. I was very good with the timing of the lighting because I was a musician. I used a very musical approach, not just flash and trash. And when Toto performed at the Key Club in 1999 I did their light show and they liked it and offered to take me with them on tour. The next month they flew me to the East Coast to try me out. 16 plus years and a few hundred shows later, including multiple countries, a recent live DVD TOTO - Live in Poland that has my light show on it and went number 1 world wide, I’m glad I took that chance. It’s hard to put yourself out there and do something that you’re nervous about, but once you do it and work through that fear, great things can happen. I even have a cartoon rendering I did of Steve Lukather, that is now on his Signature guitar pedal ‘The Luke’ from the award winning company Tone Concepts! It’s such a cool pedal and very proud to be part of that.

These days I’m really trying to push hard with my music and playing in a separate project with Jeff Pierre. I’ll always be in touch with my friends in Toto and be there if they need me.

mwe3: Are you always writing and recording and/or getting new ideas for music? What directions would you like to go in next as a composer and recording artist and would you consider taking your music around the world as a live performing artist? How are you planning to take the next step forward as an artist?

Stephen Duros: Right now I’m trying to figure out how to get my music out to as many people as possible along with currently writing and doing a little recording with Jeff Pierre and our project Path of Light which has been a lot of fun, separate from my solo stuff. It’s hard to say where I would want to go next as a composer, I feel like I’m in uncharted waters at the moment. I’ve been picking up the electric guitar a lot more lately and really want to dive into something with that as well. I would of course love to perform AEAEA with an orchestra someday… that is a dream of mine. As for the next steps, I think I just need to keep working hard, keep the faith and trust that there is a future in music for me.



 

 
   
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