The natural sound of the guitar – an in-depth interview with Horea Crișovan

Horea

For a long time I have been planning on interviewing a Romanian musician whose work I’ve been  following for over a decade. He is a well-known and highly respected session guitarist whose talent is, in my opinion, unmatched on the Romanian music scene. He has performed in a wide array of bands and musical projects but now he is preparing to launch his first solo venture which is shaping up to be an iconic presence on the quality music scene. His name is Horea Crișovan and I invite you to read this in-depth interview in which he talks about his debut record, his views on writing and recording music, his experiences playing alongside the likes of Dominique DiPiazza and life as a full-time musician. Enjoy!

Chapter 1: Who is he?

“Well, what does it even mean to be a great musician?” he says and shrugs, then leans back on the swivel chair at his desk. We’re in his living room drinking white bio-wine out of two coffee mugs (the wine glasses are at his girlfriend’s house) and talking about the qualities that make up a good musician.

“I don’t know,” I answer. “How about having a writer offer to write a comprehensive article about your work?”

He laughs. Horea Crișovan does not think he is a great musician. In fact, he doesn’t even care whether he is or isn’t. What he cares about is the quality of his compositions and the purity of his sound. He wants his music to be perfect not because he wants the credit, but because he feels he owes it to his songs.

“It would be a shame about these songs if I don’t execute them properly,”

This humble and down-to-earth demeanor is what makes this highly accomplished musician as likeable in person as he is on stage.

“Vanity is the cancer of the ego” he always says. It’s a phrase he keeps repeating like a mantra, with the steadfast and slightly comical conviction of a musical monk, until it  becomes almost a leitmotif for our conversations. Over the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time with him and we discovered that we have quite a lot in common, from our taste in music to our mutual interest in wine and a similar mindset to the way in which we approach our respective art-forms. There is, however, one topic about which we disagree: Horea doesn’t think he is the best guitarist in the country.

Chapter 2: The Romanian Music Scene            

I’m standing in front of the entrance to the hotel we’ve chosen as our meeting point waiting for Horea to make his appearance. Predictably, he shows up on his bicycle, an object that has become almost as associated with his image as his trusty guitar. He owns a car (an older Mercedes he’s planning to get rid of) but he doesn’t own a driver’s license. The bike has been his primary means of transportation probably from around the time he embraced an ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet and started jogging a daily five kilometers. No doubt that’s the reason why he looks like he hasn’t aged at all since the day I first saw him perform with funk band Blazzaj in 2003.

“Hi, it’s great to finally meet you,” he says as we shake hands and I thank him for taking the time to speak with me. Our relationship so far has been limited to the unavoidable Facebook-friendship and a mutual appreciation of each other’s work.  It turns out Horea knows and likes The Music and Myth almost as much as I like his music, a humbling revelation for me and an important stimulus to keep this website alive no matter where my writing career eventually takes me. We enter the hotel and Horea politely asks if we may take a seat at one of the tables in their restaurant for a cup of coffee, which he then proceeds to order with milk and honey. I start off the interview with a question that has been plaguing me for years:

What ever happened with the third Blazzaj record?

(For those who have no clue what I’m talking about, funk band Blazzaj, of which Horea is an integral part, has been around for fifteen years. They’ve released their first record in 1998 and their second in 2003. Ever since then there’s been talk of a third record with new compositions being presented at concerts every once in a while but it has failed to materialize for a decade now for some reason)

“Well, Blazzaj is a very disorganized band (he laughs). I’ve recorded my guitar parts somewhere in 2009. I think it took me about four or six days. But I think Petrică (Ionuțescu) still has to record his trumpet section and Vita (vocalist Tavi “Vita” Horvath) still has to write some lyrics. Right now they’re both busy with their respective bands, Negură Bunget and Implant Pentru Refuz, so I understand.”

So the record is still in work?

“Oh yeah, it will come out, of course. It’s already written. In fact I think we have too many tracks so we’ll chose around eleven or twelve from the twenty that currently exist. Some of those twenty are still in a project phase, we didn’t even finish them because we didn’t feel they were interesting. We’ll have to see when the album comes out. It all depends on Uțu (bass player and recording engineer Uțu Pascu). He’s involved with the National Theater and the German Theater and he also plays with Kumm, a band with which he is currently touring Germany and other countries. So he’s not really available right now. He’s the one mixing the record. There are many factors at play.”

The conversation shifts to performing, specifically how important it is to convey your feelings to the audience. This expressiveness is a trait most evident in the performances of this virtuous musician. I mention that the reason I couldn’t get into Al DiMeola’s first few records was his emphasis on speed and technique at the expense of emotion.

“So, you don’t like the first twenty years of DiMeola’s career but you like Horea. That’s not bad.” He laughs again. This funny, easy going-side of Horea’s is beautifully captured in his playing, and especially in his acoustic compositions. When I tell him that his acoustic work is my favorite he seems pleased.

“Oh man, you just have to come by my place,” he says, “I’ll show you where I record the songs,”

He shows me a picture of a small sound-box he’s set up in his living-room, built by himself.

Tell me about what it means to be a full-time musician in today’s Romanian music scene.

“I had the ambition of making a living from music exclusively, but not as a target. I caught a favorable circumstance. If I were twenty-something years old right now instead of forty-one I wouldn’t be able to make a living as a musician. There are people around who, at twenty-five or twenty-six are very talented and perhaps more gifted than myself. Not as composers but from the point of view of technique, availability, the capacity to adapt. They’re all night-owls this new generation, they all go to bed at eight in the morning. I’m not like that, I’m old-school. I don’t think I’d be a survivor in this jungle if I wouldn’t have the background that you know so well, with all the pain and the effort and all the projects: Neurotica, Blazzaj, Abra  and Ilie (Stepan).  Every one of my projects. But at the same time, because I’ve lived a modest life, I’ve managed to mobilize myself musically and spiritually, in order to write exactly the music that you like.

The fact that that I manage to make a living from music is a fortunate occurrence and I’m always sort of expecting this dream to end. The way the economy is, with the financial crisis that doesn’t seem to end…

And it’s not a hundred percent yet; I’m still a radio voice-over, I lend my voice to all sorts of commercials. I can say I earn about eighty percent of my living from being involved in music. I also consider myself really lucky. I’m not a big drinker, I don’t exaggerate when it comes to vices. I own a car but I don’t have a driver’s license, I get around on my bike. So I don’t need a lot of money in order to live. I did need a lot of money to buy microphones and guitars, because if what you do doesn’t sound good then you have no way of expressing yourself. That’s the ugly part. Because of that I have to ask for money, perhaps more money than other people my age and that’s why I maybe get some negative backlash.”

Well, to be honest, I’ve heard stories about your supposed high financial demands when you play with Fely.

(Horea plays together with pop vocalist Fely Donose as part of Fely & The Band which also includes Florin Cvasa)

“Oh yeah, with Fely we ask for more money, because it’s mainstream. We have to. And I have to tell you – this isn’t even off the record  – at forty-one years of age I feel it’s my responsibility to lay a bed for the new generation to sleep in. Who’s going to ask for more money if not me? If the guys who have already made a name for themselves in their respective niches don’t ask for a decent pay than the up-and-comers will end up singing for free, or maybe they’ll even have to pay to perform in a club. This general displeasure with the fact that we ask for a decent pay is unfounded. Those who play music for a living should be happy that prices are what they are.”

There’s a lot of envy out there, especially towards Fely, who is incredibly talented and successful. I’ve heard many people criticize you guys for playing covers, but I think it’s bullshit. It’s not like you can just go out and hear Adele and Whitney Houston songs live anytime. I think it’s great that you play these songs and I don’t think you should feel pressured to write new music if you don’t want to.

“Well, Fely does write music, she writes a lot of very successful pop music.”

I don’t really follow the pop scene so I don’t know much about that.

“Her songs are multi-million-viewed. And I have a message for those who think we charge too much: we charge the standard rates for a cover band that plays a two hour set. Except with us you get the flagship: you get Fely, who is very well-known. And here’s another secret: we’ve been around in this particular formula for three years now and we charge one hundred Euro more than we did when we held our first gig. Except now we play a lot longer. We just live by the credo that we love to play music, we don’t really care about making big money. There is another category of people who pay us a lot more than what we asked for, sometimes two and a half times more, and then they brag about how much they paid for Fely & The Band. You’d be amazed. So they brag about how much they paid us and then word gets around that we ask for a lot of money.”

Well, for me, that’s why I want The Music and Myth to always remain the one writing venture that I don’t do for money. I do it just because of the passion I have for music. I don’t earn a dime from this website nor do I want to. I want it to remain a labor of love and passion. Music has helped me overcome some really dark times in my life. If it weren’t for music, if it weren’t for Tom Waits, Mark Knopfler…

Horea’s face lights up at the mention of Knopfler and I remember that I’ve heard him play Dire Straits tunes in some of his gigs. It turns out that he too is a great admirer of the former Dire Straits front-man and guitar-player.

 Chapter 3: What makes him tick?

The idea of writing an article about Horea had been on my mind from the day I first started The Music and Myth, but I wanted to wait for the right moment. That moment came this February and it seems that the timing could not have been more perfect. I decided to approach him about this interview after I saw his performance at the BA.Rock festival in October. At the time I was looking forward to interviewing Al DiMeola so I was already listening to a lot of acoustic guitar music when Horea’s performance completely blew me away. It reminded me just why I’ve been a fan of his for over a decade now. We talked and I told him what I wanted to do and we decided to wait until the hustle and bustle of the winter holidays was over. When I called him at the beginning of February I found out that this article was going to appear at a very important time in his career as he is preparing to release his debut album of acoustic solo compositions. I was very excited to hear this as this is one record that is definitely a long time in the making.

Horea Crisovan is a well-known name on the Romanian music scene. This versatile guitarist has been around for a long time and he has been contributing his talent to a varied scope of projects, from funk band Blazzaj (where I first became acquainted with his work), to rock bands Neurotica and BIO, to his work with iconic musician Ilie Stepan, to the Mozart Rocks project which is exactly what it sounds like and most recently his work in the cover band built around the incredible voice of the talented and delightful young vocalist Fely Donose. However, I have personally always been more attracted to his acoustic compositions which he plays predominantly at festivals and in various formulas (most often with Mario Florescu, Teo Milea and Victor Miclăus). Sadly, these evanescent compositions are hard to find (barring some Youtube appearances which are few and far between) and in my opinion a solo record showcasing Horea Crișovan the acoustic guitarist and composer was long overdue. From the moment we talked on the phone to set up a date for the interview to the moment we ended up drinking wine in his living room as he gently played Dire Straits songs on his Auden guitar I managed to fulfill an ambition I’ve had ever since I started being interested in quality music: finding out what makes Romania’s best guitarist tick.

 Chapter 4: The international music scene and his real trip

“I’m a maniac when it comes to Mark Knopfler, I love him a lot,” he says with a large smile on his face. “You write a song like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Brothers in Arms’…or ‘Telegraph Road’…”

That’s my all-time favorite…

“…you write a song like that and you can just start growing silk-worms (laughs), or…I don’t know…start making banners or laminating ID cards…”

We both laugh for a few moments.

“…I think I know the solo from ‘Telegraph Road’ by heart” (he went on to prove this bold statement when we hung out at his home).

I think that’s one thing you really have in common with Mark is that you both have that certain feeling for melody…

“Well, it’s important.”

I know, but not everyone has it. Some guitar-players possess this feeling more than others. It’s something the audience can sense when hearing you play, especially on acoustic. As a listener you think to yourself: this guy really thinks of the melody, he’s not just trying to be aggressive or to show off his skills. You’re intensely focused on the melody.

“Yeah, that’s the most important aspect, it took me a while to understand that. Still, it’s always been my instinct to create melodious tunes. You’ll get a lot of that on my records.”

Tell me about your records.

“There will be two: one for solo acoustic guitar and another one with a band. I’m working on the first one now. My Real Trip, that’s what it’s going to be called. The next one will probably come out next year. But you have to drop by my place to really understand what it is I’m doing. I’ve already recorded the first three tracks (this conversation happened on February 7th) and I think I’ll have a total of about eight or nine. On the first. On the second, I’ll have about seven songs.

How are you going to launch and distribute it?

“It’ll be a non-profit thing. I’ll produce about 500 records myself with the financial help of some friends.”

So you never thought about taking it to a label?

“We’ll see. For now, I just want to record it and tell the world: this is me! The record is called My Real Trip. This is who I am. I’ll just see if I sign with a label. We’ll see what happens.”

I’d just like to see you on the international market. I always think: here’s this excellent guitarist and composer, and he’s so well-known in Romania…why isn’t he know internationally? You certainly should be. I’d like to see you simply as Horea Crișovan the composer and guitar-player and not just as a member of a certain band. Not Horea from Blazzaj, or Horea from Fely & The Band…

“I was always in the background, I enjoy that. I enjoy annihilating the vanity. And I always say this: there’s a great difference between vanity and ego. We Easterners, we kind of know this. The ego is something we need because it defines us. If you didn’t have your ego you wouldn’t be able to write anything. If I didn’t have mine I wouldn’t have the confidence that a certain group of notes belongs to me. Ego is good. But vanity is the cancer of the ego. That’s what you need to keep under control: vanity! The moment you start denying it, that’s when it’s at its strongest. I’ve always tried to keep my ego in check so I didn’t mind this side-musicianship. But at a certain point it can become a dead end. So this record is my first attempt to make myself known. But it’s not ambitious, not at all. I don’t try to force it on anyone. I just put it in front of your door and say: Hey, remember me? You saw me at that concert…here are those songs you liked.

It will be a record on which you’ll be hearing a human being, not a machine that produces chords and ranges. It will be a man. I’ll record it at my home. I worked about three weeks at the logistics of the recording process, making the acoustic box sound good, I have all sorts of soundproofing foam, I bought a laptop that makes very little noise so that I can record even at 3AM in the morning when the building is asleep and there’s that kind of silence that makes your ears ring…that’s when I have to record.

Because from three microphones you get a lot of background noise and the album is going to be completely recorded using microphones. It will not be edited for mistakes. For example, a certain track will be recorded in eight versions and I’ll just pick one entire version, rather than cut a certain part from version number 5 and another from version number 3 and so on, and stick them together. If I don’t get it right one night, no problem. I’ll go to sleep and try it again the next night.”

So it will be just one take

“Just one take for every song. If you don’t do that you’ll lose the spectrum. If you change even slightly the position of the microphones it doesn’t sound the same. The whole record has to have the same sound, like Knopfler or Floyd, the same sound, the same harmonics. I want that for my own record too. I want that natural sound, that little imperfection that gets you closer to the common man, the man who doesn’t know that it takes so and so many hours of studying to play a certain range “perfectly”, to make it sound “crystal”, those are not words I like.

I just try to think to myself: what is my reference? In twenty years, when I play this record,  what do I want to hear? I don’t want fashionable effects or compressions or mixing or stereophonic, just the natural sound of the instrument. You know how it is. My guitars are all made from Indian rosewood, they’ve got rosewood back and sides and cedar tops. Wood can’t evolve as a sonic concept in thirty years, the Indian rosewood sticks to the cedar in the same way. A guitar that’s properly constructed will be constructed the same way in twenty years. Same with pianos. You might be surprised to find that an old piano might sound the same as a new Steinway or Yamaha with an extra zero in the price-tag. That’s why I want the natural sound of the guitar. I want to have something to look back to in the future. I want to be able to say ‘well, at least it sounds natural’. If I play it back and it sounds just like it did on the guitar that means that I’ve properly aligned the microphones and I played nice. The natural sound of the guitar, that will be the motto for this album. I’ve always searched for the acoustic sound and I’ve always had a connection to it. I want beautiful songs that sound natural. It’s sort of a reaction against radio edits. I don’t want this record on the radio, thanks!”

We talk about the state of the current music scene, especially as pertains to young musicians. I mention to him what Al Di Meola told me: that he felt there are many talented young musicians  but they  don’t write as much as they should.

“Interesting,” says Horea with a contemplative gaze, “My impression is that they compose too much.”

We both burst out laughing. He then shows me some more photos of the small sound-box he built at home and again he tells me that I just have to come by and see it. I can feel how much it means to him, how attached he is to this place where he creates his music. It’s his getaway. It reminds me of the affection I have for my little home office, the place where I write, where I am writing this very article. I spend most of my time in here and in many ways it’s my favorite place in the world. I feel something similar in the way in which Horea talks about his little home studio.

Chapter 5: Valentine’s Day

One week after the initial interview I arrive at Horea’s home to check out his self-built sound-box. My wife is with me, helping me out with some of the photo equipment. The small one-room apartment is dominated by a construction that looks like some sort of time machine. It’s  made from soundproofing foam and inside, it’s a world of its own. Microphones, a silent laptop, recording equipment and a chair complete this DYI studio.  Once I take a seat and put the headphones on I’m completely immersed in Horea’s universe and the isolation that allows him to focus on the purity of his compositions. It’s his own world, both the journey and the destination of his real trip.

We sit down and talk for a while. With the interview now behind us we are just making friendly conversation. With  one of his guitars in his lap he gently plays a few notes from time to time, following the course of the discussion. I mention my struggle to get the interview with Al DiMeola and he plays a bit of ‘Mediterranean Sundance’, I talk about experiencing Mark Knopfler live in Budapest and all of a sudden it’s the opening chords from ‘The Man’s Too Strong’ where I decide to join in on vocals. By the time we get to Romeo & Juliet Horea’s girlfriend and my wife join in on the impromptu jam-session and it all turns into an evening of fun around campfire sans the actual fire. The highlight, though, was when Horea backed up his bold statement and proved that he, indeed, knows the solo from ‘Telegraph Road’, one of my all-time favorite songs. This entire experience captures the essence of Horea Crișovan the musician. He is a man who makes music accessible to the listener, who captures the essence of music reduced to its bare essentials. He doesn’t like to hide behind the smoke and mirrors of sound effects and a loud volume. He prefers the natural, unadulterated sound of his instrument. On stage Horea plays like he is in his living-room and vice-versa. Every time he performs it’s like he invites you into his home and I think that is the key ingredient to his amazing charisma.

On our way home my wife turns on the radio and we hear a sappy love-song which serves to remind us that it’s Valentine’s Day. We had all but forgotten this questionable holiday as we don’t make a habit of celebrating it. But if we did, I can’t picture a more pleasant way of spending the evening.

Chapter 6: Love the audience you’re playing for, feed off their reactions

What music do you usually listen to? Especially when you compose?

“Lately I listen to very little music because I play a lot of my own stuff to pick up on what needs to be changed. Mostly I listen to old stuff that I really like and that gives me energy. Usually, I play Knopfler’s A Night in London every once in a while. I play Richard Bona’s Marciac gig with Raul Midon, I listen to a lot of Hiromi, also the gig in Marciac. The Marciac stuff is usually recorded very well and that’s important to me.”

Ah, so you do like Jazz

“Of course I do. But I’m not a great musician, I don’t know notes on the level of a Hiromi, you know? And Keith Jarrett’s also great, I like him.”

At this point his phone rings and it’s his band-mate Fely Donose, who is having trouble connecting to the local area network on her laptop. I crack a few jokes about having worked in IT and I try to give some advice but in the end the solution is the infallible option: restart it.

There’s something else I wanted to ask you. Now that you’ll be releasing this album, will you try to promote it internationally as well? 

“Well, for that I’d need to sign with a big label. I don’t know, we’ll just see. When it’ll be finished…”

When will it be finished?

“I’m pressing hard. My Real Trip should be finished around April-May. Like I said it will be around five hundred copies, but nothing fancy. A cheap cover. It will be mostly a presentation record. But, if there is interest from record labels it can re-recorded, re-mastered and remixed. I don’t want to sit on it for too long because I want it to have the same vibe, the same feeling. The more time you spend on a record the more you risk losing the message.”

Every record has to have its own story. It has to have a coherent narrative. It doesn’t matter how complex a record is…

“Mine will be very simple (laughs).  It will feature two instruments, two of my guitars. On the acoustic end I work with two companies: with Schertler and Auden. On electric guitars I work with Manne. I’ll use nylon chords on the Schertler and metallic ones on the Auden.”

Alright, let’s talk some Jazz. I know you’re name is always connected with the Gărâna Jazz Festival. 

“I’ve got a great emotional connection with the Gărâna festival. Six years I’ve played there. But I don’t know what to say, it’s become such a big event that it almost seems strange to play alongside such huge names. I’ve played with John McLaughlin’s bass player, Dominique DiPiazza opening for The Yellow Jackets. But I sucked. I rehearsed for eight hours every day with Dominique and it was horrible…I think I’d like to repeat the experience but not necessarily with him, maybe someone else. He’s very crazy, this guy (laughs).”

Well, McLaughlin is kind of eccentric as well.

“I met him (McLaughlin) in Frankfurt. I was wearing a t-shirt that read Alligator and he came up to me and pointed at it and said ‘You’re an alligator’. He was joking around. I said ‘Wow, John, I’m very honored to meet you, very honored. You know I played with your bassist, Dominique DiPiazza’. He said ‘Really? And you could play with him?’ (laughs). I asked him what he meant and he said Dominique is very, very choosey. If he doesn’t like the person he’s playing with he’ll just pick up his bass and leave.’

That almost happened to me in Gărâna. For three days he kept me in incredible tension, I barely got any sleep. He kept saying we’re incompatible, that he likes my playing, just not on his tracks. At the end, two hours before the gig, he gave me a hug and said ‘You play very well. You’re the first musician I know who knows only a little but plays at a high level. Most of the others know a lot but they don’t play very well’. “

We both burst out laughing.

That’s great.

“I’d like to feature Dominique on one of the records, either this one or the next one. I still have to decide which one. Because I wrote a piece for two basses, called ‘Basic Dance’. And I played it and sent it to him. I’d like to have him (Dominique) and Decebal Bădilă on it. They’re friends. I sent it to both of them a few years ago and they agreed to be on it. They don’t even have to meet, each of them will record it in his own studio, send the tracks and I’ll mix them over here. You can imagine how hard the track was to write because I had to play the bass parts myself. It took me about two days to get the hang of it, to be able to play what was in my head. I can’t very well send a bad track to Dominique and Decebal, they’re A-level players. So I sent it and Dominique said ‘Why don’t you play the bass yourself on this track, you play very well.’ (laughs) I said, ‘No, no. You’re mistaking me for someone else (laughs)’. So he liked it. He even said ‘Horea, why didn’t we play your compositions at the Gărâna Festival? You’re aware you weren’t performing at the level suited for my compositions.’ I said ‘Of course I’m aware, your tracks were recorded with Biréli Lagrène (laughs)’. Bireli’s probably the greatest acoustic guitar player in the world today, I don’t think there’s anyone better than him right now. There was this very difficult piece we had to play called ‘Dinello’. I had no idea what to do with it. I copied it from Bireli note for note. I studied for a month waking up at 6 AM in the morning every day with my metronome next to me. And Dominique said ‘Oh, I don’t want you to play it like Bireli Lagrène, I don’t like the way he played on this one.’ (laughs) That’s Dominique DiPiazza for you. I’d also like to record something with Vlatko (Stefanofsky). I know he’s really busy so I might drive up to Skopje to record, just to play the track face to face, that might turn out to be really great. If Vlatko has the time I’d also like to tour three cities with him: Timisoara, Cluj and Bucharest.”

So when the record is done do you plan on touring extensively to promote it?

“I’m not sure about that. It’s hard to find somebody to play with, someone who’ll play my songs the way I want them played. That person has to be willing to take my directions where sound is concerned and not play too loud on stage. Because everything will be unplugged. If the right person exists, someone who doesn’t suffer from the ‘cancer of the ego’, then perhaps I’ll play with them. If not, then for now this music will only be featured on the record. The second record, the one with Mario Florescu, Teo Milea and Victor Miclăuș, is already almost entirely written. It will be recorded live. My sound engineer from Paris, Adrian Popescu, the same person who’s helping me out on the first record, he’ll travel over here especially to set up the microphones and to record it and he’ll probably also bring his own high-end equipment. The big problem with a record like this is percussion, percussion eats up decibels and needs to be completely phonically isolated. Also, another tricky factor is that, in order to get a powerful sound you need to amplify via cable. That means that the instrument’s piezoelectric pickup helps you avoid feedback. But that’s not a natural sound. It’s powerful but it doesn’t necessarily convey what you want, in a sensitive track. It doesn’t always pick up all the notes in a chord. You need a microphone in front of an acoustic instrument and in order to place one or even two microphones you need the stage to be quiet. If it’s rock, let it be rock! Pump up the volume and let’s have a good time! Because that’s the feeling and the vibe. But if it’s acoustic and you want to obtain a wooden sound, one where you can hear the chord, the finger, the fingerprint, where your soul can pass through that instrument, you need to be very careful with the sound. These are details that separate those who think they know from those who really do.

In a way that’s tricky because you’re always tempted to want your instrument to be heard from everywhere…that’s vanity. The balance with the self must be attained at a volume that’s perhaps only a little louder than when you play at home, so that you can hear your friend playing beside you and he can hear you. It’s all about the relationship between the musicians. That’s why the biggest brands of the boutique-zone don’t build powerful amps. You won’t get a Schertler amplifier at over 250 or 300 watts. Because why would you play the guitar loud on stage?

I’m only concerned with what can be heard on stage. Whatever will be heard in the venue is the concern of the sound engineer. But if the sound on stage is already pseudo-natural, by the time it reaches the speakers it’s gone and you’ve lost that tiny bit of genuineness. The sound that reaches the speakers will be distorted anyway, so at least try to keep that natural sound at fifty percent. And that is your responsibility as a performer. The most important thing when you’re creating an album is to record it properly: the recording level, accuracy and silence. The music I make is very simple, not simplistic, but simple: simple music. In a way it’s semi-naïve.”

I think the way you planned out this record, the concept behind it, is complex.  

“That’s something you, the listener, have to feel. Everything I do comes from instinct, I don’t necessarily plan it out. The tracks haven’t been developed too much. Probably the most difficult one lasted two hours. It was a momentary feeling, I picked up the guitar and started playing. But for two of the songs I couldn’t play what I was imagining in my head. ‘Enlight’, for example, took me about two days. I had everything planned out in my head, just the way you hear it now, only nicer (laughs). But I just couldn’t play it classically on the regular guitar. It just didn’t sound well. So I had to fumble around with the guitar’s attunement.”

What does your creative compositional process look like? For example, Di Meola told me he loves to write music at his house in Miami. Every chance he gets he retreats there and starts composing.

“Congratulations to him, I just write music at home. I don’t have a house in Miami (laughs).

Well, there are two styles. The music for this acoustic record I’m working on has been written simply by picking up the guitar. The music I write for the various bands I play in has mostly been composed on the bicycle. On my many long trips on the bike, especially at night where there’s not so much noise from the cars, I get a certain theme playing in my head. My greatest accomplishment has been buying a cell-phone with a recording option, one of those little Nokias. I think almost the entire BIO album has been written as a result of me belting out into the phone (laughs). But whenever I start the compositional process I have a clear idea of where I’m going.”

When you’re finished recording these records, will you continue with the acoustic solo work?

“Well, I’ll keep doing this. Unfortunately, you don’t earn a lot of money doing this so I’ll have to do some mainstream work as well. But I definitely won’t neglect the acoustic work. I just want to let it grow naturally. If there is a demand for it and the record is appreciated I’ll be very happy.”

So what makes a good musician? I still say you’re Romania’s best guitarist, I don’t care if DiPiazza said you know only a little.

(Laughs) No, that’s completely true, I don’t know a lot. I haven’t studied music. But in the end it all comes down to conveying your art. You have to love the people in front of you, the audience you’re playing for. You have to love them. You have to feed on their reactions to your music. If you look into the crowd and you see somebody reacting to your music that’s it, that’s the moment! And you already play differently than you have in your last gig. You adapt. If you’re just cold, just a musical machine there’s no point in doing this. I was very touched by what Răzvan Mazilu (a Romanian dancer and choreographer) had to say about my song, ‘Times Passing By’. It’s a song I composed in about fifteen minutes, it wasn’t hard at all to create. I already had a clear picture of it in my mind. So one day, at the rehearsals for the Baroque Festival in Bucharest Răzvan said ‘Horea, I’d like to die listening to this music’. And he is a great artist who expresses a lot through the way he dances, the way he moves, the natural simplicity of his gestures on stage. I was very moved by his words, by the fact that an artist of his caliber had been impressed by ‘Times Passing By’. It means I’m doing something right. And it’s a song that’s simple, just like Răzvan’s own gestures: very simple, very clear, conveying emotion very directly. But that’s something that the listener has to feel.


Hey everyone, if you like my articles on The Music and Myth, perhaps you will also enjoy my novel Mindguard. You can find it exclusively on Amazon.

Mindguard Cover