music is life, music is breath, music is us

A conversation with my buddy Alex DePue (oh yeah, he was also nominated for a GRAMMY alongside Steve Vai…)

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( A little while ago I had a chat with my friend and fellow musician Alex DePue. Alex is a versatile musician, able to fiddle, play classical or rock or really anything you throw at him for the violin. Our chat covered his time with Steve Vai, his current creative projects, piracy, and much more. Have fun reading, I had fun doing this-Derek).

Derek Kortepeter

Alright. So first off I just want to know what you have been up to lately as far as music is concerned?

Alex DePue

Well. I have been producing/mixing The DePue Brothers Band Christmas recording. That has been my main objective over the course of the last two months (this month, make it three) and we’re mixing our way into Christmas recording history, man. No one knows that, yet… but like, Mannheim Steamroller? That’s the kind of happiness we’re talkin’ ’bout here. Alongside that, my duo, “DePue/De Hoyos” has been performing all over the country and have recently picked up a new agent… as well as new management! So, things is great! Just as beautiful as life can offer.

Derek Kortepeter

So for people out there who don’t know, what is the musical goal of the Depue/De Hoyos duo? What are you trying to bring to the table creatively?

Alex DePue

What we have together is a sound yet unparalleled. It is comprised of an authentic Mexican drive, add the rather American rocked out fiddle… and then you’ve really got something to write Grandma about.

Derek Kortepeter

You know that’s all that matters. This brings up an interesting idea in my ethnomusicologist brain. What is the challenge to musicians that are trained in completely different traditions culturally in playing together? I mean, I see all the time how different people approach fusion, and for some it is quite difficult.

Alex DePue

That’s a great question.

The main challenge is in getting the other party (be it Miguel or I) to understand and/or interpret grooves which are indeed “foreign” to the other. For example, Miguel and I were out one night after the gig here in Mexico, and over the sound system came this really HOT band… but the bass player sounded totally drunk to me. I said, “Miguel, is that bassist drunk?! Like, why is he avoiding the downbeat?!” It was at that point I learned from Miguel about the style of music we were hearing… called “Huapango”. It is a style indeed native to Mexico and felt in groups of three, yet the bass actually plays only on the second and third beats! After having that knowledge, I then could truly appreciate that “foreign” groove for the beauty it demonstrates! Until that point, I could not make sense of the madness I was hearing.

 

The same becomes true whenever Miguel is subjected to my “foreign” grooves. Even something that, to us, is considered nothing more than child’s play (say, a 4/4 rock groove)… for him, this becomes a huge mountain to climb in not only understanding the groove, but then executing it in such a way as to lead the listener to believe he has been performing THIS style for decades… and this is very important, of course! We don’t want Billy Joel’s, “The Stranger” coming across to our listeners as originating from Mexico! But, and inevitably, some of that feel (Latin-ish) does bleed in… yet, after thoroughly understanding the groove, when this “bleed-in” does happen, it’s just delicious! There cannot be the exclusion of our separate heritages within any of our arrangements… or we would not possess the intrinsically different sound being admired right now by so many!

Derek Kortepeter

Yeah I see that in my own music. I use the Japanese concept of Ma, where silence is important to give the concept of “negative space” but when western ears hear it they sometimes think my piece stopped abruptly (laughs). So let me ask you, since we are on the topic of different music styles coming together, how do you manage fiddling, classical, rock and other styles as one musician? It is pretty normal for composers like me, but classically trained violinists not as much?

Alex DePue

It is certainly NOT as much! For sure! As a matter of fact, I would say that I am one of the “pioneers” in demonstrating that all styles can live within the one player. This may be why I’m schizophrenic as well…(laughs).

In any case, I was the FIRST Classically trained violinist to appear on the national “fiddle” competition circuit. Suddenly, the “fiddle contest world” was very perplexed! They were hearing their own tunes from so long ago, suddenly amped up on steroids! So, needless to say, I did quite well in the competition circuit! And, although they have since caught onto my game, I won just about everything there was to win before they did. All they knew was, “Holy crap, who is THAT?!” Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was using those same Classical chops to infiltrate and dominate every other style of music that appealed to me on a personal level. If I could do it with a style for which I was not so fond, i.e., “Contest Fiddle”… or, God forbid, the holier than thou, “TEXAS” fiddling?! Then, I could very easily integrate those chops into rock (which I love, of course), jazz (love it), bluegrass (like it a lot) and/or you name it… I can play it.

I realize this all sounds rather arrogant. And I don’t mind… I worked hard; I paid my “dues”, even ending up on the streets to do so… and the end result? Alex DePue thank you very much.

My most recent recording, All 4 1, is being hailed as the most diverse and eclectic fiddle/violin album ever recorded.

Derek Kortepeter

Doesn’t sound arrogant at all, you’re a badass (laughs), I’ve witnessed that personally. Speaking of seeing you live, I first became aware of you when you toured with Steve Vai in 2007. He is one of my biggest influences for guitar playing, and in all honesty Sound Theories was the album that made me start my journey of auto-didactic composition. I didn’t have any “formal” instruction until last year at UCLA. Since that concert was really the best concert I have ever been to, I know you so there’s no need to suck up (laughs), can you describe what it was like to be a musician in the string theories band? I know Vai’s music can be extremely complex in both meter and melodic passages, not to mention he is kind of a perfectionist, so did that present a unique challenge?

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Alex DePue

Patience. Patience with myself as a musician. Rehearsing with Vai is very demanding and on a very personal level as a musician. You get to test your own boundaries and/or “limitations” with a musician of Steve’s caliber. Yet, he is always such a patient teacher/coach. Our rehearsals for the European leg of the tour were longer than the actual tour! We banged out the show ten hours (minimum) per day, six days per week for a full month before we called that show “ready” and the rewards for that kind of hard work and effort continue to pay off… not so much in the form of monetary success… but more so in exactly how much I can expect out of myself musically with regard to all of my musical endeavors. Rehearsing and touring with Steve Vai is not unlike a musical boot camp! Steve is an absolute delight to work with and my favorite story to tell (besides the actual story of the audition) is… after say… the second day of rehearsal… the band was hot, sweaty and tired from learning the Grammy-nominated tune, Now We Run… ten hours straight of intricate rhythms and technically demanding musical lines. I’m on my way out the door to go back to the hotel in LA when Steve stops me and hands me “tomorrow’s material” which was (not kidding) about an inch and a half thick of manuscript. He looks me in the eyeball with the same expression on his face you can see (and I remember well at age 14) from the 1986 movie, “Crossroads” in which he played the co-starring role of Jack Butler… and says, “So you’ll have this under your fingers by tomorrow morning, right?” (Alex laughs). How can you deny that face? My reply was, “Of course, Sir.” and then I spent the entire night practicing and got up at 5:00 AM the next morning to continue practicing before yet another ten-hour day of slamming out the new material with the band.

Derek Kortepeter

Yeah “Now We Run” is insane. Super complex meter, what like 21/16?, and various melodic runs that just blow your mind. I pity the fool that has to learn that (laughs).

Alex DePue

(laughs)

Derek Kortepeter

So what is your practice regimen on a normal day? I know that may help some musicians reading this.

Alex DePue

I wish you had asked me that question in 1989! (Laughs).

At that time, I would get up before school to get that first hour in. Scales, meditation (with instrument), maybe even get to the etude of the week… then off to school. At school (public), I had figured out a way to co-ordinate my schedule not so much according to their rules, but rather… my wants. There were the “required” classes, yes. So, I did those of course. But, during the school day, there were opportunities to practice, I noticed, that very quickly made themselves clear. “Study Hall”, just for example. Like, who ever actually STUDIES during Study Hall? Pass. DePue, you get to practice in the bathroom. YES! Lunch, same story. Back then, each semester we also had a “free period”. Pass. DePue is in the bathroom again. *The acoustics were FABULOUS in the bathroom. I would use that time to be sure my friend brought the girl I liked most… to walk by and overhear the music coming from the bathroom… ya know. By “accident”. (Laughs).

After school, I’d get in another quick hour before hitting the books… then dinner. Then, off to practice that last hour. And that last hour, Derek… absolute magic! After an athlete has warmed up all day for the race in the evening… that’s what it is like for the violinist to perform, as well… when the violinist really turns into “Super-person”. It’s during that third hour of practice.

At this stage in the game (2013), it’s really more about just saying “hello” to the instrument on a daily basis… keep the chops fresh. Weekly performances with my guitar friend, Miguel De Hoyos, also help to not only keep my own playing past the point of presentable, but also keeps the duo nice and tight. With a pretty full roster of students during the week, it’s not only a joy, it’s also a reason to keep the violin in my hands. All day. Either I’m demonstrating for the student, or waiting (pacing patiently, practicing whatever it was I had just taught)… before the next student rings in.

That much, combined with my current performance/recording schedule, keeps me right where I need to be.

Derek Kortepeter

So what would you say has grounded you as a musician and artist, especially when the times get tough?

Alex DePue

There’s this funny thing that happens when you turn 40. Your “give a crap” meter drops considerably low all of a sudden. You realize, at age 40, that you actually will NOT be living forever… you are NOT bulletproof, and that if you plan to “make hay”, as they say… then you’d better just get to it. At age 40, your radar for “what the neighbors will think” just vanishes into thin air. At age 40, you’re well tuned-in to the difference between right and wrong, and not only that, you become liberated as to the level of freedom you feel whenever you smell bs of any kind. Your soap box becomes elevated, you do rely upon your experience, and you toot that horn loudly. Reading back on this paragraph, I realize now, for example, that I SHOULD have been saying, “I” and not “you”.

The most humbling, most grounding thought…

And it depends upon what kind of “tough” you’re asking about, there… like, the skill set used to get through a death in the family, let’s say… is waaaaaay different than the skills used to… oh, I don’t know… find shelter on a cold night on the streets of Atlantic City.

Derek Kortepeter

So do you have any artistic ideas in your head that have yet to come to fruition?

Alex DePue

I do, but if I told you, David Garrett would steal it.

Derek Kortepeter

(laughs) I’m paranoid too when it comes to things like that

Alex DePue

I’m totally serious, though. Garrett has just blatantly thieved many of my own arrangements. His management put him in the spotlight just after my Youtube video went viral doing MJ’s, “Smooth Criminal”… so then they dressed him to look like me, styled his hair like mine, and released his first hit… which was none other than, you guessed it… Smooth Criminal, by Michael Jackson.

Derek Kortepeter

Damn, seriously? That’s hella messed up man.

Alex DePue

It can all be verified. And we’re talking note for note thievery. His HUUUUUUUGE hit (Smooth Criminal) was lifted NOTE FOR NOTE… from my viral video.

Derek Kortepeter

That isn’t right. No way no how. Well you heard it here readers, David Garrett is a music-stealing prick!

How do you handle something like that? I mean my composition mentor James Newton had a sample of his music stolen by the Beastie Boys and he sued (it was actually a pretty big deal, was covered by NPR and other places. The judge ruled against him, which opened the floodgates for jazz musicians to get screwed over by artists with bigger legal teams hired by record labels.) Joe Satriani had “If I Could Fly” ripped off by Coldplay for “Viva La Vida” and so on. It isn’t uncommon, but all the more wrong.

Alex DePue

I don’t mind going public with the David Garrett story. Not one bit.

My brothers were more pissed than I was… I just don’t have time or money to hire lawyers and go after a huge machine like Garrett. If he can look himself in the mirror and feel good about that, so can I.

And they KNOW that I don’t have the time or money! So, there ya go.

Derek Kortepeter

Oh I intend to bro, but I mean like do you just dive into your art more to give people like that the finger?

Alex DePue

Well, it becomes a helpless battle even in that regard. It’s disappointing and denigrating to have that as part of my story at all. It is just plain wrong and unfair.

Derek Kortepeter

Yeah I’m a composer and if someone did that to me I don’t know what I’d do, some big Hollywood composer steals my melody or harmonies. I’d buy a crowbar (laughs)

Alex DePue

Here’s a quick excerpt from my own latest blog:

“I was patient while I literally sat and watched David Garrett (probably not Mr. Garrett himself, but someone else who is much smarter) STEAL my intellectual property right off of the internet and create a career for himself out of nothing but a modest education as a classical violinist. Note for note, from my own improvised (on the spot) arrangement of Michael Jackson’s, “Smooth Criminal”, posted on Youtube well before David Garrett’s first hit was released, ummm… what was it? Oh, yeah… Michael Jackson’s, “Smooth Criminal”!! Now David Garrett is a bazillionaire and I still drive my 1994 Mercury Mystique. Which is fine. I love my life! If there ends up being not any reason for me to ever leave my home here in Mexico again? That would be just more than fine with me!”

Derek Kortepeter

That’s a really good attitude to have, really it is. So on a lighter note, where is the Depue/De Hoyos duo playing in the coming months?

Alex DePue

We have a new agent and we’ve been crushing showcases from coast to coast… the offers are coming in, and we’re climbing that proverbial ladder, man. Stay tuned because DePue/DeHoyos and/or the DePue Brothers Band WILL be coming to YOUR town soon!

Derek Kortepeter

Cool man, well I know you are a busy dude and I appreciate your time and I really enjoyed the conversation.

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