DPRP’s John (Jonno) O’Boyle talks with
Solo & Dorian Opera Artist
What follows is a very insightful look at one of my favourite modern keyboard players. A real gentleman in the true sense of the word that has emotion, style and class, that isn’t afraid to challange and loves creating music from the heart. Andrew has taken time out to answer some questions posed to him for DPRP about his work and approaches. For those in the know, will only confirm and agree that Andrew is very passionate about his creations, something that is very evident in how he talks about both solo and band compositions. Ladies and gentleman I present to you Andrew Roussak.
JOHN: Hi Andrew it is nice to speak to you and thank you for taking time out to speak to me and DPRP. You have now got four recordings under your belt – two solo works and two with Dorian Opera. All four being highly regarded by DPRP, three of which were DPRP Recommended something that you must be very proud of?
ANDREW: Hi John, thank you so much for your interest to my music! Of course I feel myself very happy and honoured that my works are so positively reviewed on your site, with the notes given at times being even better than I could expect. Such recognition from one of the leading websites of the progressive world means of course a lot to me.
JOHN: Just so we can get a better understanding of who Andrew Roussak is would you like to tell us a bit about yourself.
ANDREW: I was born in Ufa, Russia in 1968, began to play piano at the age of 7. I had then studied piano at the musical school, later at the State College, and it was all of course very classical. Like many in Russia that time, I was also very influenced by the records of early Deep Purple and Jon Lord’s Hammond work in particular. At my age of about 16, I had for the first time heard The Pictures… of ELP, and The Knights … of Rick Wakeman. So it became clear to me on which way one can put these both worlds – rock and classical – together. In the 90’s, I had worked as a studio musician, also as a musical editor on a broadcast station in my city, and had played with various bands. One can still find on YouTube a video from this period, with the band called Nerve; that video was made by a professional TV-team, and it was then aired many times on a local TV channel, and two or three times even nationwide…
JOHN: You graduated from Ufa State College and then worked in differing musical roles. In 2001 you relocated to Germany, what was the though process behind the relocation?
ANDREW: There was actually no thought process at all – my wife Julia whose is a research scientist (physics of metals), had received an invitation from the University of Ulm to make a research work there in 2001, with a possibility of prolonging of her contract in Karlsruhe. It was a great opportunity for both of us – so we did not think much..)) I became the free-lancer status in Germany as soon as it was possible to do so – concerning that we had to make the language courses first… I had played my first band gig in Germany two months after my arrival here, and at approximately the same time I began to perform solo piano concerts “on various occasions”. So I can’t say that even the first period in Germany was in our case really difficult.
JOHN: One would guess that you moved countries to broaden your musical opportunities. I know that I have reviewed a lot of CD’s from some very interesting Russian bands; at the moment Russia seems to be a hot bed for stunning, intriguing, interesting and amazing bands un-afraid to experiment, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, something that I think makes music exciting and dangerous. Obviously times have changes, what was the music scene like before you left Russia?
ANDREW: I guess you are now speaking of the bands like Little Tragedies, Roz Vitalis, FromUz … I had never heard these names when I lived in Russia, so the fact that they are emerging now, lets me also hope that the things are getting better there. Of course Russian musicians have a huge potential generally, concerning the classical output of this country. Prog rock is not a music for a big local crowd – the targeting audience are truly dedicated fans, people with advanced musical tastes. There must be certainly enough “prog-minded” people in Russia . The specifics is however, there is a huge market of bootlegs and lots of torrent (illegal downloads) websites based in RUS. I think there are still relatively few people in Russia who are ready to pay for what they are listening to. Furthermore, the band touring is also difficult because of the huge distances between the cities – you would think twice if it would worth it, to make 500 km to your next location.
JOHN: Listening to some of your solo work, it would seem that you have been influenced by J S Bach, Chopin and to some degree Gershwin, a reference that can be heard on Strange Tango on the Blue Intermezzo album. Who else are you musical heroes?
ANDREW: I would first off name Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Patrick Moraz; my jazzy influences are mainly Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner and to some extent George Shearing. From the classical world, I would also add Sergei Prokofiev to the “top” list. I am also a huge fan of baroque and renaissance music, so one can mention various works of Haendel, Purcell, Corelli, Palestrina and John Dowland.
JOHN: Another interesting bit of information I came across was that you put an entry in for the solo spot on The Tangent’s forthcoming album COMM. How did this come about?
ANDREW: Well, our common online friend Jill Lerner had attracted my attention to the link on the solo contest! Due to Facebook, some really good things are within a mouse click away at times:)).. It was fun to record that solo, because the band had provided such an extremely groovy backing. And as a result, it happened that I made an online acquaintance of Sally Collier and Andy Tillison and then was at their gig in Colos-Saal, Aschaffenburg in May 2011. A really fantastic band, and very nice people. Hope that my entry will find the appreciation of The Tangent’s online fans – I would be of course delighted to be featured on the upcoming release!
JOHN: How did you get involved with the Decameron Project “Ten Days in 100 Novellas” something that I am really interested in hearing?
ANDREW: It is a project supervised by Marco Bernard ( Colossus Ry Finland ) in a cooperation with MUSEA Rec. France. There are 33 bands participating, each band had to choose a novel from the first part of Decameron of Giovanni Bocaccio and then to write a song based on it. Marco wrote a review of my first solo album No Trespassing for his magazine some time ago , and possibly he didn’t forget it . So he had contacted me last summer and asked whether I was interested – he needed a prog piece with the 70’s feel, the renaissance touch and acoustic instruments were also welcome. I said yes, of course ! My guest musicians for this work were Hagen Bleeck – vocals, Matthias Richter – guitars ( former member of Alias Eye ), Alan Graham – acoustic guitar ( he played also on No Trespassing ), Wolfgang Fetzer on bass ( Dorian Opera ) and Jochen Blum on drums. Hope the listeners will love the result! And I am looking forward to recording a complete album with this newly formed band in the nearest future, because the experience was such an exciting one.
JOHN: History seems to be a theme that very much interests you. You participated in The Grand Piano Extravaganza album, a concept based on the epic poem Iliad (the Trojan War) and obviously Dorian Opera’s new opus “Crusade 1212”. How do you approach / come up with the idea of writing an album about such an events?
ANDREW: It is indeed a very interesting field for me, European medieval and Byzantian history in particular. Many historians see the Crusades as the most important common venture of the medieval Europe, which contributed a lot to the forming of the European mentality (as a “side effect” so to speak). The story behind our album is a so-called Children’s Crusade of the year 1212, an event which really took place in the 13th Century. Before writing the lyrics for the songs, I have made myself a bit more competent on the subject – that is, I have read The History Of Crusades of Steven Runciman, and one another – a fictionary, yet historically very good written – book on the events of 1212 especially.
JOHN: On the other side of the coin, instrumentally, writing a piece to convey an emotion, story or scene can’t be easy either. What is the thought process for this? I mean book 6 (Swap Amour) and 8 (Divine Withdrawal), passages layered and swathed with emotion, from the Iliad can’t have been easy to manipulate as soundstages. Where you give free range to come up with the pieces?
ANDREW: Both famous Homeros’ works, Iliad and Odyssey, are anything other than easy reading, they are so long and terribly boring for their most part… But, once you are concentrating on the essence, then you are able to see the real people and their fates behind those long passages. The Trojan war had undoubtedly taken place, so at least the key scenes of it must have been truly represented in the epos. One of the main episodes of the Book 6 is the scene of farewell between Andromache and her husband Hector. Andromache knows that she will never see her husband again – quite like other countless soon-to-be widows in other countless wars. So the central theme of the Book 6 tells the story of passion, love, memories and silent grief of the war widow. This theme comes back again as an echo in the Book 8, whereas the main motive of it is gods’ withdrawal ( on the order of Zeus ). So I thought a solemn and majestic intro would do well in this piece, something working like Bach’s cantatas. I have therefore written a “fuga-like” opening part to the Book 8, the voices of which are being furthermore varied in a jazzy way throughout the whole piece.
JOHN: How does the process of writing music for your solo project differ from that of Dorian Opera?
ANDREW: As I am working solo I write normally everything myself , so guest musicians are given the lead sheets with ready-to-go chord progressions . The sound choice, solo parts etc. are free , of course – so there is still enough room left for experiment and creativity. With Dorian Opera it is different, because the igniting ideas come very often from Oliver Weislogel ( guitars of DO ) who indeed has written the most of Dorian Opera’s music. Oli is a virtuoso guitar player, classically trained and both at home with classical and electric guitars. He usually delivers the riffs to begin with, or chord progressions for the song, whereas I concentrate myself on the vocal themes and harmonies or I would add some extra instrumental parts to the composition. There are songs on both albums written completely by Oliver and there are others written completely by myself, still I think our best songs are always result of our tandem work (Tell Me Your Lies, Truly Yours, Carthago…).
JOHN: In saying that, releasing your creations as with other musicians, seems to be the hardest process of the creative journey these days. You have had albums released by MALS and MUSEA and Solemnity Music, how do you feel this works for you as an artist / band?
ANDREW: Well, the question “to be or not to be” signed with an indie label is something that each musician should consider basing on his specific situation. It is anything other than a major deal, because you have to make 99% of your promotional work yourself anyway. Still, a CD released on MUSEA works on a potential customer generally better than a self-released album – to some extent a justified approach , because the customer sees the label as a kind of reference in this case. So I think that, all other things being equal, the signed album will have the better sales than a no-name-self-release given the same promotional effort. The rule is however, the more fans you get, the less you need the backing of the third party.
JOHN: Obviously the intent is to hit the biggest audience possible maximizing the impact of each release?
ANDREW: Of course, one should use all the opportunities possible to promote his music. CDbaby alone offers about 300.000 albums of indie artists – the competition is simply enormous. The present situation of any indie musician is : you have to be able, to deliver a world-class production basing on a pretty low budget – and then you have to be ready that you will be compared by reviewers with the top artists having the backing of the major labels. On the other side, Internet gives enough opportunities of building an own fan-base – provided that you can offer to your fans something at least a little bit special.
JOHN: It would appear that your solo albums allow you to indulge more in your passion of classical work, where as the band environment appears to be more restrictive in that role per se, although the influences are still there, but just appear more subtle. Is this by design you operate these two differing identities separately, which allows you to do this?
ANDREW: Well, I think I simply write down what comes out and then look what I can do with it…)) Classical influence is something what will be always there by me (which is good), and some ideas grow and work better as a piano music, whereas others sound better in a band context. I am also a sound freak to some extent – I would dig in my Kurzweil K2500’s endless external libraries hours long, which inspires me to some new pieces in turn. On the other side of this, many classical pieces work just brilliant being performed on Moog, or Hammond, whatever. You can destroy the piece with this, or you can give it a new shine – it is only the matter of your taste and skills. At the end of the day, all great composers of the past were always keen to use the newly invented instruments (like a hammer piano vs. harpsichord).
JOHN: What was the thought process for re-recording All Good Things for the Blue Intermezzo album; the original version was really good yet the newer version certainly felt like it had more depth and soul being an almost unplugged version, for the want of a better description?
ANDREW: This is a piece telling a story about the good things that stay in our memory after someone dear to us is gone. This composition is very personal to me, because I had written it as my grandmother had faded, back in 2004. And as I was working on Blue Intermezzo in 2009 , an incurable form of cancer was found by my mom. Though it was not the reason why I have revised the piece. The original version was recorded with a grand piano plug-in, and the version on the Blue Intermezzo is a live grand piano performance recorded with two mikes. Of course this remake works better and deeper – no plug-in can ever come close to a real instrument.
JOHN: It must be difficult to decide when such creations are the completed piece; I guess as a musician you are always trying different ways to enhance the feel or tone?
ANDREW: My work flow is pretty similar to that of many others today – my host software is Cakewalk Sonar , at the project stage I use the most “light” plug-ins, such as Steinberg’s Hypersonic. You can make a pilot track with it within minutes. At this stage , it all sounds pretty flat and cheap – but if the piece works and grooves well with such sound already, it simply can’t fail when the real things come. So the next stage , when the song gets flesh and blood, is of course the most exciting one. For the final mixes – both me and Oliver had made a lot of improvements after having listened to the rough mix on the car’s speakers. It is weird, but the mix that might seem to you pretty well balanced in a studio, may reveal some serious drawbacks when being played back on your car audio system. So it is always worth it, to burn a couple CDs more for such a “reality check”…
JOHN: Dorian Opera your band, tell us a bit about how the band came into being and a bit about each band member.
ANDREW: Oliver Weislogel (guitars), Joe Eisenburger (bass) and me had already had an experience of playing together in a local cover band in 2005-2007. In 2006 me and Oli also took part in a (failed) attempt of a comeback of Stormwitch – a melodic metal band which was pretty famous in the 90es. Later that year my first solo album No Trespassing was finished, and Oli had a lot of his own prog compositions still unpublished – it was only natural that we had decided to record an album together. Then we needed an appropriate drummer, and I had contacted Harry Reischmann – who was probably the most fantastic drummer I had ever played with and whom I knew from one another band back in 2003. Harry said – yes! – and so Dorian Opera was born, our debut release No Secrets was published in 2008 by MALS Rec., Russia.
In 2010, Joe Eisenburger decided to leave the band in favour of his career as a classical musician. He had to be replaced as a lead vocalist and as a bass player, so we had managed to won Sven The Axe on mike ( the founder and leader of Solemnity ) and Wolfgang Fetzer on bass, with whom Harry and I had also played before. The band had really grown with these both changes. We had also Alexandra Goess featuring as a female vocalist on the Crusade 1212 – her wonderful performance was mentioned by many reviewers already.
JOHN: Your latest opus Crusade 1212 is a dark concept based on a true event. Tell us a bit about the concept for those who may not be familiar with the story.
ANDREW: In the year of 1099, the 1st Crusade had conquered Jerusalem and some other cities and fortresses on their way from Constantinople southwards – but in 1187 Jerusalem was lost to Saladin, and all succeeding Crusades had failed to win it back from Moslems. The so called Children’s Crusade was one of such attempts – a pretty weird one, though. It was supported neither by the official Church, nor by any European court – thus the records about it are rather sparse. It is known that in the year of 1212, some thousands of French and German young people made their way to the Holy Land in order to take Jerusalem not by the sword, but in a hope on the God’s wonder. They were led by a boy named Stephan ( the German Crusade was led by Nicholas ) who had envisioned that the waters of Mediterranean sea would make a passage for them when they reach the shore. Many of Crusade’s participants were frozen to death as they were crossing the Alps in Winter of 1212; and when the survivors reached the harbour of Marseilles and the waters did not part, two local merchants had offered to Stephan, to bring the Crusade to the Holy Land on board of their ships. The merchants had something other in mind, though, and in the open sea the children were sold to berberian pirates, so the Crusade had taken its end on the slave market of Carthago. This is a story without any happy ending, of course, and we have tried to see it all through the eyes of its two participants – young people Jan and Constance.
JOHN: Can we expect to see Dorian Opera or Andrew Roussak touring in the not too distant future?
ANDREW: Dorian Opera has now better chances, because our live set is already being rehearsed. We hope to get it onstage coming Autumn – some club gigs are now being planned. We have brought out 2 really good releases as a studio project, now we must grow together as a live band. I will shout out loud on Facebook when it comes to the gigs – because I am waiting with anticipation for this moment.
Thank you so much John for reaching out, and thank you to all DPRP readers for taking the time to stop on this page!
Interview for DPRP by John (Jonno) O’Boyle