Interview with Goran Ivanovic (of The Andreas Kapsalis and Goran Ivanovic Guitar Duo)
Adam Rauf, Senior Staff Writer
Once in a great while, you get to see a musician who just blows everyone out of the water. And every once in an even greater while, you get to see two musicians do this: Welcome to the world of guitar composition with Goran Ivanovic of The Andreas Kapsalis & Goran Ivanovic Guitar Duo.
Ivanovic is a classical guitar player, and Kapsalis does the new-school tapping and percussive technique thing that contemporaries like Kaki King, Michael Hedges, et al are doing. Somehow, they meld these two together and create some truly amazing music.
Typically, most of the interviews we do here at BTS are very in-depth on the rich histories of our interviewees. Goran took some time to give us some of that information, but on a brighter note, also gave us a look into his songwriting genius, and gave some tips to young musicians out there still plying their craft.
Adam Rauf BTS: Thanks a lot for doing this interview, you guys always put on a great show. Briefly, could you let us know how you and Andreas got together, and what got you to do this style?
Goran Ivanovic: I kind of admired the musicians that were doing this style of music. I enjoy all kinds of music, especially guitar music.
My background is more classical, and Andreas has been inventing and refining styles. We had a lot to share with each other. A few years ago, we were playing with our projects [Andreas Kapsalis Trio and Eastern Blok] and did a tour together with the projects and we decided we should do a tour with each other, and a record…and it just went from there. We got some attention from the audience and music critics, so it made us want to get deeper inside of the music and write much more original music for guitars.
It’s been nice, with just the two of us and our managers, not having 4-5 people traveling at the same time and worrying about scheduling. We still have our groups, but this is a nice little project too. We’ve done everything from guitar festivals, jazz clubs, dive bars, everything. We can sort of play for a variety of crowds and do different sets catered towards that audience.
Adam BTS: How’s the reception overall? Do you guys have certain types of venues you like more than others, say house shows vs. a bar, or festivals vs. smaller shows?
Goran Ivanovic: You can play a concert hall and everyone is attentive and you don’t get any applause or comments until way after, or you can play at a gig where everyone’s being just as attentive, and it’s just a different atmosphere. We cater our sets to the type of crowds we get, based on who we’re playing with as well, whether we need to play loud for the drinkers and partiers, or can tone down a bit.
Everything’s pretty equally good; we did our first tour in Europe and the crowd was excited and the sound was good…it’s very refreshing for us.
Adam BTS: How long have you been playing and how does your background account into your current playing?
Goran Ivanovic: It’s very important to have a nice varied background. The reason I like playing varied styles is that it keeps everything interesting. I prefer to do classical, but I can listen to rock or metal or jazz and get lots of great ideas. It’s a lot of fun.
In Balkan music, there’s a lot of intricate rhythms and odd-time signatures, and it’s challenging to play, which makes it fun. I was curious about it, and it was something I should know about because I’m from that region. I use it in my music, but I don’t think I’m an expert in it. I don’t like to overuse things, but I like to combine all of my styles together.
There are certain kinds of grooves or feels that I like, and the styles sometimes will feature jazzy chords, or romantic styles. It’s fun playing with mutations of these things.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Flamenco music lately. Rasgueado is a technique I’m working on and want to get better at [note: this is strumming done with outward flicks of the right hand fingers, done in a huge variety of ways. A nice rhythmic roll is obtained, supposedly reminiscent of the bailador’s (flamenco dancer’s) feet and the roll of castanets].
Sometimes I say something like, “I am going to work strictly in a 5/8 meter,” and challenge myself to do so.
Adam BTS: Basically set a restriction for yourself and see what comes out of it, as far as songwriting goes. Just setting the stem out there.
Goran Ivanovic: Exactly. I play around with it. I put a couple of ideas together, and take it to my friends, my girlfriend, or my buddies. They know what’s hip, what’s cool, what’s pleasing to the ear. It’s important to not become too attached to ideas so that you can change it without worrying about it too much as long as it makes contextual sense.
A lot of times I get really excited about a certain lick, groove, riff, melody, and I play it for a few weeks, and get bored with it. This is where it’s important to keep some sort of coaching on your side, like resources. Athletes have coaches and trainers, and the same thing works for musicians as well. You need someone to bounce ideas off of. It’s very important for my peers to keep me on my toes. It’s essential; it’s very easy to write a mediocre piece, but difficult to keep inventing new things on the guitar.
I like to try things that I’m not very developed at, like the Rasquado technique I mentioned. I am still working on the right-hand technique, and I’m getting better at it. I find inspiration in the sound, and I haven’t done it that much in my own pieces, so I find a new way to be inspired.
Sometimes in writing, you change things because you want something different. Being flexible is important. You’re going to have to compromise when you’re in a band too. For example, you play in a band with 4-5 other guys, you bring a piece, and they play something different on your piece. You need to go with it. You can either get pissed about it, or figure out on an intellectual level, “Does this work?” objectively, or “What the fuck is wrong with this guy,” (laughs)
When arranging or writing something, you have to be flexible.
Adam BTS: Lots of great tips here. What’s your mantra for songwriting? I see you mentioned not being too emotionally attached to pieces so that they can be refined, setting artificial limitations to help start ideas, etc. Any more tips for budding young composers, because I see you more as a composer than just some “dude in a band,” you know?
Goran Ivanovic: I could get very specific about that, but I think it helps if you have a broad interest in music. For example, if you can sight-read jazz chords and you can improvise over the chords…that’s a huge plus in terms of composing.
What happens in my writing is that I hear something like Beatles types of changes, or a Metallica type of groove, and the thing is, it’s because I listen to that broad range, from Stravinsky to Rachmaninoff, Guns n’ Roses, etc. I like listening to really great guitar pieces and players.
If you’re going to be a rock n’ roll musician, you should have to learn a lot about the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys…everything. You should be able to remember changes and melodies and learn how to improvise. You can start combining things and making brand new ideas. It’s important to look back and study the creation of music. Think about where music is right now, and where is it going? We of course don’t know exactly where it’s going, but you can kind of assume a bit.
The world is getting smaller and smaller because of the internet. You can be in India and check out Balkan music, and in Chicago, I can check out some bad-ass Indian musicians that are improvising in really strange grooves and patterns. Music’s getting more and more global. Music is music.
Adam BTS: When you’re not on tour, how much do you practice every day?
Goran Ivanovic: For me, when playing with the duo, it’s very challenging to keep my chops up. But when you’re playing solo classical guitar music, it’s a lot more pressure. When you fuck up, it’s “how can I get back without too many people noticing,” as opposed to a composition where I have more freedom than on a written piece.
If I’m going to play a solo concert, I need to practice 3-4 hours a day, easy. If I’m playing with the duo or my quartet, it’s a different kind of work. We’re writing music and getting a piece down. The duo & quartet are much more flexible. The classical stuff is not as much.
When I’m doing the duo or the quartet, I have to get into the mood to be writing, but it’s different.
To answer your question straightforward, I practice every day, but try different things, like writing versus working on technique. But I do need to take breaks from my guitar, like going to see a movie, or a ballet, or to hang out with people. I try to get inspiration from everywhere, like if I’m hearing some Tchaikovsky, you know?
Adam BTS: What’s this year looking like for you guys?
Goran Ivanovic: Well, we’re doing a US tour, spending some time in Europe, and playing at a festival in India towards the end of the year. We’re looking forward to it. At these festivals, you can meet some really great musicians and hang out and trade ideas. It’s really inspiring in a way.
What’s really great to us is making friends. We make lots of them on the road, and we remember certain people from different cities, like “That one guy we talked to in this city about technique,” or “the girl that hung out with us in that city,” et cetera.
Adam BTS: Since you’re not currently on the road, I’m sure you get time to do some fun stuff besides playing music. What’s the last really great movie you’ve seen?
Goran Ivanovic: I saw the Black Swan, and that’s why I’m going to see a Tchaikovsky ballet this month, Swan Lake. I’m a big fan of movies. I like a lot of European movies; it can be weird stuff or very conventional stuff. I’m just a fan of seeing films.
Adam BTS: Any more recordings coming down the pike?
Goran Ivanovic: I’m doing an album with my group, but in June or July, Andreas and I will start recording. Lots of ideas are floating around, and we have more than enough for another record. I’m pretty sure we’ll have something come out this year, although it’s untitled for now. We’re both pretty busy til about June, but we’ll get started on it.
Andreas likes to base album and song titles off of characters. He comes up with a lot, sometimes from a comic strip or something. He likes to make connections like that. For me, it’s very fun to get inside of his brain.
People ask me about songs I write and say “What’s the title about,” and I say it’s really not about anything. When they ask him, he’s going to tell you this great story about where the title came from and what it all means.
We’re very different, but we work well together and we’re hoping to have all of this put out this year. I will say that it’s fun to do stuff based on kung fu and karate themes, though (laughs). I like to listen to the songs we write from an outside perspective and see how it makes me feel to figure out what the title should be.
Adam BTS: And finally, for my last question, how much has file-sharing helped or hurt you guys?
Goran Ivanovic: I did my first record like 10-11 years ago. This was under an independent label with major distribution. The record sold quite a bit, but I never really saw any money from it. I do it for myself and getting money from it is great. However, you can download my old records online for free, and I think people in general will download music regardless. But I think they may be more inclined to support independent artists since we actually stand to make money more often than the majors and are usually supported by small labels instead of big corporations.
There’s so much music out there now, and everyone’s doing albums by themselves…it’s good. The overall motto is that it’s a healthy thing. I get disappointed when one of my tunes gets pulled by a TV show or the Discovery Channel, and I get a $2 royalty check or something. But at the same time, I’m getting exposure, and most indie artists make money by playing shows, and if it brings a few new fans, that’s good for us.
Adam BTS: Thanks again for doing this interview, I really appreciate it. Best of luck on tour, and I’d love to see you guys live again.
Goran Ivanovic: Thanks, we look forward to seeing you too!
More info at Akgiduo.com
[youtube width=”480″ height=”390″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vlo_MC-uLvA[/youtube]
Feb 23 – University of Indiana – Northside Recital Hall South Bend, IN
Feb 24 The Rudyard Kipling Louisville, Kentucky
Feb 25 Woodlands Tavern
Feb 25 Woodlands Tavern Columbus, OH
Mar 10 Founders Brewing Co Grand Rapids, MI
Mar 16 Chris’ Jazz Cafe Philadelphia, PA.
Mar 18 Purple Fiddle Thomas, West Virgi
Mar 20 Village House Concerts Palmyra, Virginia
Mar 22 University of Wisconsin Parkside Kenosha, Wisconsin
Mar 23 High Noon Saloon Madison, Wisconsin
Mar 24 Tonic Tavern Milwaukee, WI
Mar 25 McDunna’s Chicago, IL
Apr 21 The Redmoor Cincinnati, OH
Apr 23 Reggie’s Rock Club Chicago, IL
Apr 29 Trails End Lodge Cobden, Illinois
Apr 30 Log House Concerts Edwardsville, IL