When I heard about Aleks Sever, and that she had the support of some very respected musicians that I admire, including Lee Ritenour, Dave Kos and Buzz Feiten, I took notice and decided to find out more.
It only took a few riffs to realize that Aleks has got some Tele-ripping fire and brimstone in her, as she fuels her tracks with deep rutted blues, punchy rock and hard drivin’ funk. The mix is toxic, not explosive, but more articulate, tearing into you like hot metallic fangs – a good thing.
We’re told that Sever’s debut instrumental album, Danger Girl, will be released this September. She’s in good company, with multi-platinum producer, musician and songwriter Matthew Hagar (Simply Red, Mindi Alair) handling production out of Los Angeles. Danger Girl should be an impressive production given the musicians gathering to make it happen, that include Oscar Seaton on drums (Lionel Richie), Melvin Lee Davis on bass (Lee Ritenour), Deron Johnson on keys (Miles Davis, Alanis Morissette), and an amazing horn section with sax player Brandon Fields (Quincy Jones, Elton John, Robben Ford), Walt Fowler (Frank Zappa, Ray Charles) on trumpet and Nick Lane (The Who, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, Maynard Ferguson) on trombone.
The buzz running along the grapevine proved solid and I found my way to Aleks to check out what she’s up to and where she’s headed, although, it’s obvious she’s moving at a fast forward pace to stardom, carrying with her the kind of musical credibility that will sustain a long and vibrant career.
Rick Landers:Having finished your new CD, Danger Girl, how about telling us when you started pulling the album together, who’s working with you on it?
Aleks Sever:I started writing for Danger Girl two years ago. I was inspired by the great funk artists like Prince, James Brown and Maceo Parker, but there are also some Rock and Jazz influences as well. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some great musicians on this project and it made it really easy.
The rhythm section was Oscar Seaton on drums (Lionel Richie), Melvin Lee Davis on bass (Lee Ritenour) and Deron Johnson on keyboards (Alanis Morrissette). They work together a lot and it really showed on the record. We also had a great horn section for most of the songs which lifted the music and bring out the funky side. The producer, Matthew Hager did a terrific job bringing a real pop feel to the record. We had a vision to make a record that would appeal to a wider audience, to all kinds of listeners, not only guitar players
I think for an instrumental record it was important for me to combine a lot of styles but keeping a strong groove in each song. It makes it easier for people to relate to that are used to listening to vocals . Also, we wanted to find a current sound, but not lose the timeless feel.
Rick: What tracks do you find particularly meaningful to you, songs that might define you in some way?
Aleks Sever: It’s hard to see the project as individual songs, because to me, they all fit together to make one statement. But, if I had to pick some songs that I like to play more than others, I would say, that maybe “Showtime “and “Joker” would be two that are always special to play. They have a lot of energy for live shows. Two more slower songs that bring a different, more laid back and intimate vibe to the show are “Wild Love” and “First Day”.
Rick: How did you end up with a guitar in your hands and was it an immediate “love at first bite” kind of relationship?
Aleks Sever: When I was very young I started playing piano, but I knew that I had to find something different. Piano wasn’t quite it. I got my first acoustic guitar from my parents when I was 12 years old. I would pick out chords and melodies to the songs I heard on the radio and I knew immediately that I loved the guitar. About 1 year later I came across some records from Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
I remember thinking they play guitar like me, but I don’t sound anything like that. Being fascinated by the tone and feel, I finally discovered the electric, and it was so exciting to play with overdrive and express yourself with all kinds of different sounds.
Rick: What guitars are you playing on stage and in the studio?
Aleks Sever: I love Tele’s. I play the Tele pretty much all the time on stage and in the studio. I have two American Standards, one with a DiMarzio Bridge Humbucking and the other one has DiMarzio Tele pickups. I prefer the Humbucking Tele for my live shows, because it has a little more aggressive sound and more edge for solos or melodies. My other guitar has a vintage Tele sound which I love for rhythm.
Rick: Our readers always like to know what guitar a performer picks up at home to noodle around with – yours?
Aleks Sever: I like to experiment with different guitars all the time. It keeps me excited to pick up a Les Paul or a Strat. But, I also like Martin acoustics and some of the Jazz type guitars like the Gibson ES 175. There are so many great guitars and each of them is unique. Often a different guitar will inspire a different kind of playing, and that might turn into a song or a new idea. I like to be prepared for the unexpected, because that’s usually where the magic is.
Rick: There are a ton of guitarists around to inspire young players, but only a few deeply inspire us and give us a sense of awe? Who would you say are the top five guitarists that you watch or hear play and wonder how they rose above the rest?
Aleks Sever: Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Buzz Feiten and Lee Ritenour. I always thought they all had a very special voice and everytime I listen to their music it’s like hearing it for the first time.
Rick: How about telling us about the road you’ve taken to become a performer in the U.S.?
Aleks Sever: I had a lot of experience playing clubs in Europe with different bands. It was a period where I would try out a lot of styles. Since I came to L.A. I’ve been around a lot of great musicians. The good thing about living in L.A. is that you can go out and see good music anytime you like, but it also made me aware of a higher level as far as where I wanted to be musically. I knew that I have to take this seriously and get as good as I can be, which meant being more disciplined and with a real focus. So, I was not only working on my technique, but also constantly writing new songs. I love writing. It helped me to figure out the artist I wanted to be and it made me a stronger performer.
Rick: Are you touring this summer?
Aleks Sever: This summer we are finishing up some of the last details before we release the record and also shoot some videos to promote it. We are planning a live video, which will be on a big stage with a great band and horn section for one of my up-tempo funk songs. That should be very exciting.
Also, we’ll be doing some interviews and other promo videos for the project. But, there will be a lot of shows coming up in the fall after the release of the record, which I’m really looking forward to.
Rick: In most careers, there are people who are willing and gracious enough to be mentors or at least game to offer up advice to help us move our careers and aspirations forward. Have you found that to be the case in the music arena?
Aleks Sever: Definitely. In my case, I met a few people who really believed in me from the beginning. I think it is the most important part of this. Without the musicians, mentors and supporters I wouldn’t be where I am today. You can learn a lot by yourself, but there is a limit. I had a lot of great teachers through the years and it really helped me to grow fast. Buzz Feiten, an amazing guitarist and someone I’ve known for a long time who has been very generous with his knowledge and experience.
Also, Lee Ritenour and Dave Koz are two of the people who have offered support in a lot of ways.
Rick: Have you ever written a song with lyrics, only to then decide to dump the lyrics and go for an instrumental? Might that be a valuable approach to writing an instrumental
Aleks Sever: Absolutely. In fact, there are a few songs on the record that started out as vocal songs, or were inspired by vocal songs, and I think it really helped to know what approach to take with the melodies. “Joker”, “Nightclub Art” and “Danger Girl” all started out as vocal songs, but I realized that they would actually be stronger as instrumentals. Once you’ve already written a melody, it’s more obvious how the phrasing should be for the instrumental version.
With Nightclub Art, for instance, I really love the Usher song, “Yeah”, and I wanted to write something that had the same kind of energy. “Danger Girl” was inspired by James Brown. I’d never heard anybody do an instrumental with that kind of groove and I thought it would be something different. “Joker” was a vocal song I had written a couple of years ago, and I heard the track by accident one day and I thought it would make a really strong instrumental.
Rick: Some very talented musicians have found the business side of the music industry too brutal for their sensitivities, especially in the heady days of the major labels – Based on what you know or what others have told you, do you think the indie “market” has made things easier or tougher for artists?
Aleks Sever: I think the Indie market has really helped a lot of players get their music heard. Some years ago, if you didn’t have a “record deal”, nobody would book you, and there wasn’t any way to distribute your music. With the Internet, the music business became more fair in a way for Artists. Everyone can put their music out there, and the listeners decide what they like. Sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming, but I find it more of an advantage for artists.
Rick: If you could project your life out, say, five years from now, where do you hope to be professionally and personally?
Aleks Sever: I would love to be able to divide my time between the studio and touring. I love to travel and it would be great to be on the road six months a year and in the studio writing the other six… playing the music I love for people who appreciate it, and keep creating new music. That would be a perfect life and completely satisfying to me.
Rick: How about some of your own advice for budding guitarists as far as learning their craft, finding inspiration and charting their futures?
Aleks Sever: Surround yourself with people that love and support you. Listen a lot to other great guitar players, it is very inspiring and motivating. Get the teachers that will help you on your path and always keep learning new things that challenge you. Love what you’re doing and never stop.