electric guitarist Toomas Vanem has a winner on his hands with
the 2014 CD release of his self-titled album. The Toomas Vanem
CD features eleven hard hitting rock instrumentals that expertly combines
both heavy metal rock and electric jazz-rock fusion to a great effect.
Rockers with a penchant for jazz-fusion will love this CD. To these
ears anyway, theres also a slight influence from the late great
Finnish fusion maestro Pekka Pohjola on some of the more melodic tracks.
Clearly, Toomas isnt hesitant about being melodic and romantic
while setting his guitars on fire. With Toomas handling the guitars
and music composition, he gets excellent back up from his band including
Henno Kelp (bass) and Andrus Lillepea (drums). Bass
legend Stu Hamm also appears on a track here. Another neat
thing here is the packaging of the CD, which is first rate and features
track by track stories of each cut here, some of which are quite amusing.
Words are nonessential on an album that speaks a six string lingo
that transcends borders and nationalities. With his guitars ablaze
and a group of instrumental tracks which flow gracefully into each
other, Toomas Vanem redefines the essence of 21st century instrumental
rock fusion. Hard rock fans and fusioneers, give a good listen to
Estonian guitarist Toomas Vanem. wwwToomasVanem.com
mwe3.com presents an
Where are from originally and where do you live now and what do you
like best about it?
Toomas Vanem: I am an Estonian and from Estonia. Its
a very small country located by the Baltic Sea, near Finland. People
have been lived here since the end of the last ice age. Estonia is
very comfortable country with beautiful nature and special silentness.
I was born in a small town called Rapla. Its located in the
middle part of Estonia. I spent my childhood in an even smaller place,
Kohila which is a nice place that has a river and a paper mill and
my parents still live there. When I turned 16 I moved to our capital
city Tallinn and started learning guitar seriously. I still live in
Tallinn and have my own property, a house with a little studio in
it. What I like most about Estonia is the people. We have lived here
in Estonia about 10,000 years, we have survived many difficult times,
and maintained our language. So we are survivors and achievers!
mwe3: Who were your main musical influences and what guitarists
and bands are among your favorites, both vintage and current?
Toomas Vanem: The first guitar player that impressed me was
Richie Blackmore. Back then I was into hard rock kind of music, AC/DC,
Zeppelin, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, etc... During my music studies
in the late 1980s somebody gave me a tape of a Larry Carlton record
and I was totally blown away. I tried to learn every tune from that
tape and discovered all the new possibilities for guitar soloing,
endless jazzy lines and nice phrasing, but Larry did it with a nice
overdriven guitar sound. Those days all the hard rock guitar players
playing was mostly minor pentatonic scales or blues scales oriented
and I was bored with that.
When I heard Allan Holdsworths music, I was blown away again.
At that point I decided that I wanted to combine musical styles, heavy
metal and jazz cause I dig the rock music energy and jazz musicians
note choices and harmonic thinking. There are lot of great guitar
players out there who experiment and combine the same principle such
as Mike Stern, John McLaughlin, Frank Gambale...etc.. Today we have
a lot of great modern players out there; Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai,
John Petrucci, Mattias IA Eklundh, and all the younger generation
guitar players who are fantastic, and I listen to all of them, but
Im trying to stay true to myself and create my own sound.
You are from Estonia. Can you tell the readers in other countries
something about Estonia and how did rock music become more popular
there. Did and do Estonians listen much to music from the U.S. and
the U.K.? Is there a big influence on Estonias music from Russia
and other Eastern European countries?
Toomas Vanem: Estonia is a very small country, population about
1.1 million. Estonia is mostly covered with nice big forests with
a lot of wild nature with beautiful views. Estonia is located near
the sea, so in summer time we have also a lot of sea activities going
on here like swimming, surfing and sailing and stuff. Our capital
city Tallinn has a nice old town city area which is very old, from
the twelfth century. And there are many other cities, islands, villages
and other nice places.
Back in those times, Estonia was a part of the Soviet Union. Soviet
Union was a very closed society and a politically restricting country.
All the music and art making generally was strongly and politically
controlled by the government. So rock music become popular mostly
through foreign radio and pirate tapes. Sometimes somebody was lucky
enough to get an LP record from foreign countries, so everybody was
recording that LP to their tape recorders, and that is how the music
Nowadays of course situation is totally different and I think Estonians
listen to a lot of US and UK music. Estonian rock music is not really
influenced that much from Russian music because of our language and
cultural differences but it is more influenced by maybe Finnish and
UK and US music I guess. All Estonian musicians were mostly looking
towards the west those days. At the present time there is much more
freedom of choices.
mwe3: How did your new solo album take shape? How long did
it take to write, record and finish the album and who plays with you
on the CD? Whats the chemistry like there musically for you?
Toomas Vanem: At one point of my career as a guitar player,
I discovered that I have performed and recorded a lot of great music
by other artists, but have released nothing under my own name. I decided
to change that, and started to write my own tunes. And I discovered,
that it was not a really hard thing to do, actually is was pretty
natural and fun. I was lucky to have some friends, the great musicians
to dig my tunes, so at one point we started to do gigs with my instrumental
the same time I started to record those tunes at my little home studio,
where I also later finished all the material. With the help from my
dear friend in the local musical industry, Mati Vaarman, I had the
luxury to record live drums at a big studio with a great drummer and
a friend of mine Andrus Lillepea. Some of the bass by a fantastic
player, Henno Kelp was also recorded during those recording sessions.
Then I transferred all the recorded material back to my home studio,
and finished all the guitar parts there. I also played keyboard stuff.
There is also quest artist: Mr. Stuart Hamm featured on my album.
The story behind that is that Stu visited Estonia back 2010 and we
did two live shows together with my band. We played 3 - 4 songs from
Stus albums, Stu played his solo stuff, and we played some of
my music. I asked Stuart if he could play on my CD and, as the fantastic
person he is, he agreed. There is also wonderful Rhodes solo in tune
called Summer Samba from our great old man, jazz legend
Mr. Sergey Pedersen.
As a composer I tried to develop strong melodies and phrases as they
appear in vocal music. So almost every tune has its own verse and
chorus parts, sometimes a bridge part, and solo parts. I tried to
stay away from constant shredding and create beautiful music and strong
On the chemistry side, every tune is grounded on a particular personal
philosophy that inspired me to create my music. You can get familiar
with them from the inside cover of my album. Each tune has its own
Your guitar playing sounds very influenced by both heavy metal, jazz-rock
and a spacier kind of prog- rock instrumental. How do you balance
such a wide range of musical styles and how do you feel that comes
out in your music?
Toomas Vanem: Thank you! As I mentioned earlier I like mixing
music styles, be it metal with jazz or country with whatever. At the
moment I am really into Indian Carnatic music that comes from the
south part of India. I dont think I have to carefully balance
styles. On the contrary! I take some metal riff, mix it with Indian
rhythmic structures, and just go crazy with it and then suddenly
boom! Ive got something completely different. The same is with
jazzy stuff. Of course I need to use my ears and trust them to remain
certain, to some reasonable extent, that the music I create does not
end up like a big mess or noise. I think musical taste and preferences
has something to say here as well.
mwe3: You have played with a number of artists over the years.
Who were some of the other musicians you played with and recorded
with in Estonia and elsewhere? What were the most memorable sessions
Toomas Vanem: I think the most memorable gig was actually with
Stu Hamm. We did the songs as the set list says, and suddenly Stu
started playing some bass groove and walked to me and said, show
me what you have. I was kind of nervous too, because of my respect
for the man but realized that he wants to jam on stage with me. I
started immediately playing something, from the note where my finger
accidentally was, not realizing really in what key Stu was playing!
I was like in some weird space really, like someone else was playing
my guitar, and I resolved everything like unconsciously into the right
ending of our jam. And when I listened to it back, it was not bad
at all, what I played.
In Estonia I have played with a bunch of people, actually almost with
everybody, cause we are such a tiny country. As a session musician,
which is how I make money for living, I have played shows with a lot
of our famous singers: Ivo Linna, Anne Veski, pop artist INES, etc.
I guess their names dont mean much to you, because they are
local stars. But I had gig with Nico Mc Brain, who is the drummer
of Iron Maiden, Richie Kotzen came to Estonia and I supported him
with my band. This year Mattias A Eklundh was here and I had a chance
to play with the man. In Russia, I have played and recorded with the
band Dialog in the early 1990's. This was a band that played progressive
rock music, and we had gigs actually all over Europe. So Ive
been lucky enough to work with lot of great people.
mwe3: What guitars are your favorite to record with and what
guitars work best in a live concert setting? Do you have a guitar
endorsement deal in Europe or elsewhere?
Vanem: I dont really have any endorsement deal with guitars
because I am not a worldwide famous guy and I really dont know
any guitar player in Estonia who has an endorsement deal. I own lot
of guitars, but nowadays I play mostly the Ibanez Prestige
series guitars. I have different models, and each one of them sounds
a little different. What I like about those guitars is that they are
really good quality, the playability is super, the floating bridge
stays in tune perfectly... What I dont like about those guitars
is that I dont have an endorsement deal! (lol)... Just kidding,
but talking seriously, my black one with basswood body and EVO pickups
has something magical inside, it sort of sings and has a sustain from
mwe3: Are you a gear head of sorts? As far as guitars go, what
it like for guitarists in Estonia? Are there other bands playing instrumental
jazz-rock and how about the influence of Finland which is very close
to Estonia right? One of my Finnish friends used to go bird-watching
in Tallinn! Have you listened to Pekka Pohjola? He sadly died at the
end of 2008. I hear a little of him in your music!
Toomas Vanem: Yes I think I am a bit of a gear head. I like
the technology and the new stuff that they come up with constantly.
I like most of the tube amps and I use them all the time for their
warm sound. Actually, I have built one myself, the little Fender Champ.
And they sound perfect with just a guitar plugged in. But for some
strange reason I have also bought a lot of pedals and effects over
the years. I just use a few of them I and the rest just stays on a
shelf forever. Yeah, but its me, I could be so excited about
some new super duper guitar product that they just came out with,
then I have to buy it and later when I have it, all the excitement
suddenly disappears. So why did I buy it? (lol)
As a guitar player for me living in Estonia is great actually. I make
a living playing guitar in different bands and projects. Sometimes
it is more fun, sometimes it is less, but it changes all the time
and thats what I like about it really. I produce my own music
and do some guitar teaching. From time to time I write guitar lessons
for local magazine called KITARR - guess what that means?
(lol) There are actually quite a few bands playing also instrumental
music in Estonia, but there is not really lots of places to play that
kind of music.
So we reach for other parts of Europe and Finland is really close
to us. Pekka Pohjola is one of my favorite instrumental music gurus.
I dig a lot of his musical vibe. Too bad that he passed away. And
you are right I guess my music has been influenced by him among other
stuff that I listen. A couple summers back, I went to the Pori Jazz
Festival, which is in Finland, to see Jeff Beck. One the same day,
there was a Finnish band, who played a Pekka Pohjola tribute project.
For me, that was an even bigger thing than Beck was! I dig Pekka's
music a lot and my favorite album of his could be 1985's Space
Waltz - what great music!
mwe3: What other amps, strings and sound effects do you use
to color your guitar sound on your solo CD? What was involved in the
post-production work done on your CD as far as overdubbing, mixing
the tracks and then in mastering? Did you supervise all of those aspects
and who else was involved in the making of the album?
Vanem: As I said, I am a big fan of tube amps, when it comes to
my guitar tone. I have an old Laney 30W combo and Carvin Legacy. A
100W all tube head with a Legacy 4 x 12 cabinet. I recorded most of
the material with those amps. But the trick that I did was that I
recorded the direct signal from my guitar. This way I could have more
control over my tone later on when I mixed. And it was good that I
When the Kemper Profiling Amp came out I bought one for myself last
year and I re-amped almost all of the rhythm guitar parts with the
Kemper. Lead parts I did not touch that much, cause I was happy how
they sounded. As far as effects, I used just a little bit of delay
on my leads, and thats all that was needed. During mixing I
spent a lot of time to get the drums sound right. I did not want to
use gates, because they sound unnatural to me, so instead
all the drums by hand, to take that noise away, from especially the
tom tom tracks. I cut the unwanted noise and made fade in and outs.
I spent long hours doing that. And if you get the drums right, it
is almost like half of the sound is there. Just add the bass, leads,
keyboards and rhythm guitars in a right amount, and you are done.
After I was happy with my mixes, I decided to have a second opinion
for the sound. So I called on my good friend and collegue Indrek Patte
who works at the big studio Matrix Audio. We listened
to my mixes at the studio where Indrek works and did some minor tweaking
and that was it for the mixing. I did not want to master the CD myself,
so I did it in Finland at a mastering studio called The Chartmakers.
It cost me a lot of money, but it was worth it and Mr. Svante Försbäck
did an excellent job. With the DDP master my friend Johannes Lõhmus
helped me out. He also has a great home studio, and he has great ears
for mixing so I wanted his opinion also.
The artwork for the CD was done by Taavi Torim and we did great photo
session with an absolutely talented photographer, Krõõt
Tarkmeel. She happens also to be my relative, my cousins daughter,
which is nice. There are more people who supported and helped me to
release this CD and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
As for strings, I use a very regular set from ,009-042 and I play
what gets into my hands, cause I am not endorsed or anything! (lol)
Just kidding... Ill try out the new DAddario strings that
are made with some new technology, and maybe Ill start using
those if they are good.
mwe3: Do you perform concerts in Estonia and other places or
do you most play in the studio? Can you tell us what your concerts
are like? What music did you play before live and what is a current
show like? Where else do you like to play live?
Vanem: Well it is this and that. As a professional guitarist I
need to get my income monthly, to pay the bills, taxes and so on.
So sometimes I have to play the music that I dont necessarily
dig so much, like pop and dance music, but many people like it and
are ready to pay for it. So it is okay for me, and it is one source
of my income.
The other thing is studio work. As I mentioned I have my own studio,
which has everything to produce and record good quality guitar tracks.
So I do a lot of that too. If some producer needs a guitar track for
their tunes, they send me a song, and for a reasonable amount of bucks,
I produce guitar tracks for them and make my living from doing that
As a studio worker and session musician I also get hired on TV shows,
with some other great studio musicians, and we do whatever is needed
for the show. As I can read music, sometimes I get calls to do shows
with the orchestra so it is really a lot going on with my musical
career. With my own project, we have managed to play some great live
We opened for the Rock Summer 2013 festival in Tallinn on a big stage.
For that show I also invited a percussion player and rhythm guitar
player to join us and we had like an XXL band! Our normal live set
is 4 people onstage. As I said earlier sometimes we do support gigs
for big names that happen to come to our tiny country and it is always
great experience to talk and communicate with other great musicians,
share opinions and stuff. So the festivals are definitely the places
where I want to play live with my own band.
mwe3: What plans do you have for your next album? Do you have
early ideas of possible directions you might be going in? Any other
news of other musical activities youre involved with this year
and going into 2015?
Toomas Vanem: I am writing music for my next album at the moment,
doing demos, and half of the material is there. I will keep basically
the same directions with my new album, maybe add some Carnatic Indian
stuff because I am inspired to do that at the moment, because of its
rhythmical possibilities. But we will see which way it turns. Another
thing is that I decided is to work faster on this album, because the
previous one took about 5-6 years. It is too much.
other thing that I am involved with is that some producer, a good
friend of mine is trying to put together a show on Tchaikovskys
music played with guitar and big orchestra. I was invited to do the
guitar parts. I am a big fan of Mr. Tchaikovskys music and it
is a massive thing for me to do and of course we need to rearrange
the music for guitar. So let's see how this one will turn out. But
I will try to release my next album in 2015 and let's hope everything
will work as I planned. Thanks for reading this, and good luck to
Thanks to Toomas Vanem @ www.ToomasVanem.com