music is life, music is breath, music is us

Archive for September, 2014

A Conversation with Alek Darson: Serbian Guitar Virtuoso and Composer


DK: So tell me how you came to play music, namely the guitar? What drew you to the particular style of metal that you play?

AD: When I was 10 my mom gave me her old nylon string, which she bought for herself when she was a teenager, but never learned to play. I had some lessons with a couple of teachers, mostly in classical and pop music. Later, as I progressed on my instrument, I got into rock music and consequently metal, which got me into playing electric guitar. When I got introduced to the music of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, it was all done.


DK: I’ve listened all the way through your EP Panopticon and it is quite a wonderful display of musicality and technical ability within the sphere of metal. Can you discuss the themes explored in the record, as well as the process of writing and creating it?

AD: Thank you very much, Derek. Panopticon was put together over a large period of time, perhaps 5 years or so. Many songs were written, revised, rewritten, and all the shades in between. The themes are explorations of my personal thoughts and view on the world we live in today. “Sprockets” is how is hear and feel that prison we’re born into, the big machinery with interconnected cogs and gears. Flight came from reading a book called Flight by Sherman Alexie, very metaphysical and pan temporal/spatial, resonating very much with my recent experiences of transitioning to the US. “Waltz of Titans” and “Spiral of Sanity” speak of the minds above – the overlords, and how they influence our lives, where one can only stay sane if turning towards insanity. Rind is a story of a soldier who went crazy after a war, and suffers from delusions caused by medication in the asylum. Last, but not least, “Fingers Painted Purple” is a personal vision, a look back at a time of my life that felt particularly purple.

The writing process was usually similar: start with a good riff, follow with drums/bass, put a melody, and spice it up with atmospheric sounds.  



DK: Being Serbian, undoubtedly your culture is inextricably linked to who you are. How has your ethnic background influenced your music and your life?

AD: I was born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia, so it’s a huge part of who I am. Serbia is an interesting environment to grow up in, especially at the time I did. Its geo-political position is making it act as a bridge between the east and west, and those cultures have been influencing on our people for centuries. Personally, I usually get swayed by the inflections in the melodic instruments, and those often come up in my writing without me even noticing. Sometime, it happens that I realize the influence much after I finish a work, and it’s quite a realization of that Balkan spirit within me.


DK: Having experience playing in both countries how does the music scene in the United States compare to the scene in Serbia?

AD: Serbia is a drastically smaller market, but has a lot of zeal. All the bands live their music, and make no compromises in their art, even though they might never gain any revenue from it. In the States, things are much more set on the business side, and there is a much more developed feel for community. I feel like both markets have something to learn from each other.


DK: Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater said this about you “Alek has a unique approach and sound. His music and guitar playing are incredible.” I can only imagine what a rush this was to hear this. How did it come about that he heard your music and made this statement?

AD: Indeed it was, that day was one of the highlights of my US/Berklee experience so far. I grew up on Dream Theater. They are my musical heroes. A great friend of mine – Eren Basbug, who also did a string arrangement for one of the songs from Panopticon, works with on Jordan’s projects as an orchestrator. On one occasion, he had a chance to play my music for him, and Jordan liked it so much that he bought the album and sent me a video message, stating how he feels about the music. Having that kind of support from Jordan Rudess means a world to me. However, my greatest satisfaction was that he actually felt inspired to start playing the guitar again after listening to “Fingers Painted Purple.” The same feeling he and DT had given me so many times during the years. It was an honor beyond words.



DK: You have experience playing in bands and as a solo artist. How have these experiences shaped you as a musician?

AD: Being in a band is much different than leading one, it’s crucial to know the taste of both sides, and always consider them equally when making decisions. I find that both roles carry the same significance. It’s extremely important for everyone to know exactly what their role is, and what they can expect from the others. It’s tricky business, as there are emotions involved in most cases. Being a sideman for years gave me good insight of how I want to have my band members feel in my band (and how not to). For me, it’s all about that sense of a unit when on stage and the energy pulsating from it. It’s imperative to keep the band in correlation with itself, so we can deliver the show to the audience, which ultimately becomes one with the band (at least for a bit).


DK: When you perform live what kind of experience do you want your audience to have? What do you want people to feel or think when they hear your body of work?

AD: My goal when playing live is to have the audience emerged into the music to that extent that they make it their own. Instrumental music is good for this, as there are less pointers to lead you in the “right” direction. I want people to enjoy a sense of safety, surprise and even anxiousness perhaps. I know for myself, when I compose and perform this music, I go through a multitude of strong emotions. I strive and evoke this catharsis in each member of the audience. People need to do this, it’s healthy and unique experience that no one can take away from you.   



DK: I’ve noticed you play some unique guitars that I’ve never seen before (and I’m a rock/experimental guitarist that has been playing a long time); can you discuss how your Wood Guerilla guitars achieve your desired sound?

AD: Wood Guerilla has an authentic and very organic brand. The main builder – Dalibor, has an excellent grasp over the mechanics of what makes a stringed instrument, to that extent that it goes into a realm I do not understand. Tone-woods that he uses are top notch, and they are put together with such love and passion, and the results merely appear at the end. I own 6 of his artworks, and each of them have a special sound unique to that instrument. This helps me to differentiate my sound and playing technique, as I adapt to the instrument. This adaptation, in fact, goes both ways, and it’s that interaction that creates ones sound. In short, I love these instruments for their durability and character.



DK:  Can you discuss what studying at Belgrade’s VISER College and Boston’s Berklee College of Music helped you achieve in your music career?

AD: As a musician of the 21st century, one needs to take in all the aspects of music; an unavoidable one being the music production side. That’s what I learned at VISER, along with some nice video technology chops, which came along with the major (turns out that’s also needed for a 21st century musician). Berklee thought me the modern artistic musical approach and how to utilize all the knowledge and skills I gathered over the years towards one goal. The highly international environment in our beloved “Berklee Bubble” gave me a virtual tour of the world and all of its cultures. Playing and writing music with all these difference artists was invaluable. Ultimately, it shaped me into the artist I am today, and more importantly, I learned to shape myself with the ever changing times.


DK: I have noticed that we have some similar influences for the guitar (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci). How has their playing impacted you as a musician and a creator of music? Are you influenced by any specific artists or styles outside of progressive rock and metal?

AD: Heavily! In the manner of their music. I’m a big fan of guitar driven music (obviously). The basis of guitar techniques I learned from studying their work, as well as composition/songwriting approach. However, I constantly try to expand on that, play with the medium, form, and sound. This tendency probably came from listening to modern classical like Gyorgy Ligeti, Igor Stravinsky, John Cage, Krzysztof Penderecki, as well as the Old Masters. I also love contemporary jazz artists like George Benson, Pat Metheny and (the not-so-jazzy) Snarky Puppy.



DK: You also define yourself as a composer, arranger, and producer. Is this primarily with your own music or with other artists?

AD: Both really. These are my top three crafts, aside from that I do audio engineering, videography, and session guitar/bass work. I like thinking about all of those as one-package.


DK: Where do you want your music to take you in the future?

AD: I’d love to tour the world, and live out of playing my music to the people.


DK: Do you have any projects you are working on at the moment?

AD: I try and keep myself busy. At this moment, I’m producing two albums (Progressive Metal, and Modern Jazz), working on arrangements, and writing music for a short film, all these for different artists from Brazil, US, Dubai, Serbia… In between I focus in and compose new music for my next release. Also, a music video for “Sprockets” is in post-production phase, and another live playthrough video is in pre-production. Needless to say, it’s enjoyable to be working on so many different projects. The amount of talent involved is refreshing and a great motivation to move forward.


DK: Is there anything else you would like to say before we close this interview?

AD: It’s been my pleasure answering your great questions Derek! I wish you the best luck with your future musical endeavors! I’d like to send my sincere greetings from Boston to everyone reading this interview. I invite you all to subscribe to the newsletter on my website, it’s the best way to keep in touch with the times at AD headquarters.


 Alek Darson can be found at:





Interview with Abed Hathout, lead guitarist for Palestinian metal pioneers Khalas


(This interview is special, namely because Khalas and I go back to when this blog started. I wanted to review one of the band’s albums when I was first getting this blog going and we have kept in touch ever since. Abed is a funny and heartfelt musician who I am glad to know as a human being. We were going to release this interview sooner, but the recent turmoil in Gaza left us in agreement to wait for the time being. Now is the time to read this wonderful exchange. Khalas is a band for any rock lover, and their love of music shows in everything they do. Enjoy reading.-Derek)

Derek Kortepeter: So you guys have an extremely unique sound, blending classical Arab tonality, rhythm and otherwise with heavy metal riffs, drum beats, and bass lines. What caused you guys to pursue this particular style?

Abed Hathout: We all came from music families and classical Arabic music took a huge part in our childhood. But when you become a teenager you start looking for something else, to rebel, and this is how we got into metal. But eventually with the years you grow up and get back to the roots and it came very natural to us to blend those two genres that we love the most.


DK: How did you guys all meet and form the band?

AH: We all came from the same city, and being a metalhead in our city was not a common thing. So every on the rock scene knew each other and we were friends before even thinking about forming Khalas. We wanted to listen to Arabic metal and couldn’t find any so we decided to create what we wanted to listen to.



DK: What would you say is your song-writing process, and how do you all contribute creatively to the songs?

AH: Mainly me or our former singer Bassam would come with an idea and we would play it to the other guys, and then each one bring a little bit of himself to the song. We never say no to any idea thrown in the air before we try it first, no matter how ridiculous it sounds to some of us. We always play first then we decide if it works or not.


DK: What musical influences impacted you all as musicians?

AH: Each one comes from different place musically. Some of us are more into classical rock, some more into heavy metal and hard rock stuff from Ozzy to Cradle of Filth etc. But we are all influenced by Arabic music, something that we all brought from home.


DK: I know personally as a rock/metal musician things can be difficult in terms of finding an audience, so how has your local music scene responded to your music?

AH: The biggest problem we had is that back in 1998 there was no Arabic rock scene around us whatsoever, so besides forming a band we had to build a scene from scratch. People were not used to going to rock concerts and did not know how to react, so I remember in our early shows people used to sit or stand and watch. But later on dancing and head banging became unseparated part of our shows, not to mention the lake of a proper sound systems and concert venues.



DK: I’m curious, namely because I am an ethnomusicologist that plays the oud, if any of you are classically trained in traditional Near Eastern instruments (darabuka, santur etc.)?

AH: Fadel is a professional darabuka player, and I used to fool around with the oud, but lately I have added quarter tones (semitones) to my guitar. I have been digging more and more in the Arabic maqamat and mixing it in my riffs.


DK: Can you talk about the tour you did with the Israeli band Orphaned Land, like the overall experience?

AH: For us it was a dream that came true, being on a tour bus, waking every morning in a different city. Playing every night for a different crowd for almost a month was not easy but it was a lot of fun, and being able to share that with the great guys of Orphaned Land was a really amazing and enlightening experience.


DK: What would you say the main message is behind your music?

AH: Sex drugs and rock’n’roll, just kidding (laughs) , actually I would say it’s the proof that Arabic grooves and sounds and lyrics can go hand in hand with heavy metal riffs and sound natural. What we actually do is take the western rock, process it through our Middle Eastern filters and through back to west again. And as I said it works perfectly and proves that music is a universal language, and the best proof for that is the reaction of the crowd in our Europe shows where most of them don’t understand the lyrics (since we only sing in Arabic), and yet they dance and enjoy and welcome us with love.



DK: Your album Arabic Rock Orchestra (which I reviewed on my blog) was released some time ago and it is awesome. How has the reaction been to the album?

AH:It was amazing and much better than we expected, and we are getting a great feedback on that album, even from non-Arabic speakers. It’s a great proof that when the groove is right, it works no matter in what language you sing.


DK: What can we expect from Khalas in the future? Any projects on the horizon?

AH: We are writing new material for our next album, and after winning the Metal Hammer’s “Best Global Band” award with Orphaned Land, we are working on a song together and hopefully it would be released soon.


DK: Anything else you would like to say before we close this interview?

AH: Sex, Shisha, and Rock’n’roll. (smiles)


Khalas’s new album can be found at:

Khalas can be found at:

Interview with Tom Thacker. Gob frontman, Sum 41 guitarist, and all-around awesome dude.



(Hey guys. Today is truly a wonderful day at MixolydianBlog as I get to show you an interview I did with Tom Thacker. Tom is the lead singer and guitarist for the Canadian punk band Gob, a band that I have loved for many years. Tom has also had gigs playing guitar as a member of Sum 41 and many other amazing bands. He is a punk musician with a unique voice and a unique songwriting ability. I had so much fun doing this, enjoy -Derek)

Derek Kortepeter: So your last release as a band with Gob was in 2007 with Muertos Vivos, can you talk about all the stuff that has been happening musically with you since then?

Tom: (Laughs) yeah, it’s been a little while, sorry about the wait! Since 2007 I’ve been pretty busy musically. Right around the time Muertos Vivos was finished I started playing guitar with Sum 41, so from then until 2013 I was touring back to back between both bands constantly. Touring slowed a bit in 2010, which allowed both bands to start making records. The Sum record Screaming Bloody Murder came out in 2011 and Sum hit the road again, in between tours I worked on the Gob record. Aside from that I played on and co-wrote a few tracks the Rain City Rockers record. I produced a few tracks and co-wrote one on Steven Fairweather (Gob’s bassist) new solo record. I also played guitar with the Offspring for a couple shows.


DK: Can you discuss the process of writing your newest album (Apt. 13) as well as the recording process?

Tom: I write all the time so I had a bunch of songs at the end of 2009. I brought maybe 30 demos to the band, a really random bunch of songs, I honestly wasn’t sure if we had a record because all the songs seemed so different to me. But we listened to all the demos, put it to a vote and it all just kind of fell into place. We didn’t even rehearse; we started recording them right away.

We weren’t signed to a label at the time and we didn’t have a manager we just had a bunch of songs we loved and we knew how we wanted them to sound, so we produced the record ourselves. I produced/engineered and Theo mixed/engineered, we kind of shared duties. We recorded the drums and piano in a studio in Vancouver (The Armoury). Steven’s parents were out of town so we set up a makeshift studio in their basement and recorded the guitars/bass and some of the vocals. We got about half done there but it was taking too long – aka, Steven’s parents came home (laughs), so I had to finish the vocals/guitar overdubs/keyboards by myself in my apartment in NYC. The mixing was done at our friend’s studio in Surrey BC- Richardson Sound.

Mixing took quite a while, Theo and I were living in different cities, he was mixing the record but I had pretty specific ideas of how I wanted it to sound so there was a lot of sending files back and forth.


DK: Gob’s music has covered so many different topics throughout the years, from relationships to socio-political issues such as war. What are some of the themes covered in Apt. 13?

Tom: The lyrics on Apt 13 are mainly personal mainly centered on themes of anxiety. I think I was going through a transitional period in my life the last few years, It was a pretty chaotic time and I was trying to let go of my angst or something and trying to be, I don’t know, normal. Anyway, now I’m back on track, fully embracing my angst (laughs).

DK: How would you say Apt. 13 compares against your past records stylistically etc.?

Tom: Every single one of our records is a reaction to the previous one. You’ll hear elements of the song writing that are similar in all our records but we try to keep it fresh every time and give our fans something new to hear.

DK: Can you talk about “Radio Hell,” what it is about, and why you guys chose it to be your first single from Apt. 13?

Tom: Radio Hell is about resigning yourself to the fact that you live and die for music. Nothing will stop you from making music. That and the desire to change the contemporary musical landscape. There’s a lot of bullshit music out there.

We chose a few songs that stood out to us early on and let our record label make the final decision for the first single. I figured we could let them choose the song that everyone will eventually get sick of (laughs).


DK: Being in the punk scene for so long you have seen many different styles emerge. How do you feel about the current state of punk?

Tom: I honestly only really pay attention to music I like so I would say the current state of punk is great.

DK: Going off of that previous question, the music industry has changed so much in recent years (in my personal opinion for the worst). How do you personally feel about the industry and the direction it is heading in?

Tom: I think the music industry has changed for the better, it’s more transparent now, you can see the major players manufacturing artists in real time on TV and at the same time you see independent artists coming up on their own. It’s pretty apparent what is real and what is manufactured. For those of us that want the real thing, it’s easy to decide.

Plus, with the accessibility of social media it takes the power from the industry and puts it into the hands of the artist. You can market your record online basically for free. It also encourages the DIY spirit. We come from a DIY background and we’ve basically returned to it after being on every type of label big and small. It makes sense to DIY, and the rewards are greater.

DK: Comparing to when Gob started and where you guys are now, how have you changed musically or otherwise?

Tom: I think we’re basically the same, but we put a little more care into our records and live shows and I can grow a thicker beard.


DK: Can we expect a tour promoting Apt. 13? If so will you do shows only in Canada or maybe come to the USA and other countries as well?

Tom: We are touring across Canada in Oct-Nov 2014. International tours will follow!

DK: Is there anything else you would like to say before we close this interview?

Tom: Thanks for doing this! Follow us at-




Album Review: U2’s “Songs of Innocence”

1410294408000-U2 Songs Of Innocence

Anyone who knows me knows that U2 has had a massive impact on my life. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without their music, their ethos, and their persona. Like my mom who introduced me to the band, I know that they have an ability to write the songs of a life. My life’s soundtrack can be filled with U2 songs, from the anguished and lost soul crying out in Achtung Baby and Pop to the dystopian fantasies of Zooropa and the soaring heights of The Unforgettable Fire.

U2 has had many incarnations, each with their distinctive musical traits. I personally have always been partial to the experimental side of U2 found in their 90’s era albums like Achtung Baby and Zooropa, but I truly love it all.

Songs of Innocence took multiple (enjoyable) listens to digest how I viewed it in the scope of U2’s sonic contributions. Even more so the liner notes unlocked the deep emotions that went into the album. This is the most overtly personal I have ever seen the band. Their lives have always been intertwined with their music, but in Songs of Innocence the band’s lives ARE the songs. Bono himself said this of the album:

“We wanted to make a very personal album. Let’s try to figure out why we wanted to be in a band, the relationships around the band, our friendships, our lovers, our family. The whole album is first journeys — first journeys geographically, spiritually, sexually. And that’s hard. But we went there.”


Whereas the other albums have multiple topics (social, personal, political etc.), the personal journey of a life well-lived is the point of Songs of Innocence. From the first time U2 heard the Ramones to Bono watching his mother die as a young boy to the band’s pilgrimage to Los Angeles (my ever so beautiful hometown)… Songs of Innocence is a moving, uplifting, jamming, bleeding, broken, and spiritual collection of songs that take you inside the head of the band.

The feel of the album, from instrumentation to overall song structure, makes Songs of Innocence seem like it is one part the direction of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, one part the direction of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and the rest is a new area. Gone is the massive amount of multi-faceted musical experimentation (which admittedly I dearly love). In its place is a raw, stripped-down album that makes you realize why the album took so long to make (a paradoxical statement I know…but allow me to explain).

The openness of Songs of Innocence is hard to achieve. There are no frills; it is just 4 guys in a room making music. The album does not feel heavily processed, but really like an exploration into what the guys sought out to make when they first started. While I was expecting a push further in the direction of No Line on the Horizon, this pure storytelling, anthemic rock album proves that Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. do not need numerous layers of instruments and electronic sound samples to create art.


Will Songs of Innocence go down as groundbreaking? I doubt it. The thing is, however, this album is not intended to be a magnum opus. The folk approach of telling a story is really what Songs of Innocence is all about. This album is a reflection on life, the band’s life. It is a window into their collective minds, and as a life-long fan it is a raw honesty I can truly appreciate. This is a U2 that is saying “come into our hearts, whether or not you understand what you hear, we are going to say exactly what we want to.”

Guys, welcome back.