Interview with Germany's Grand Guitars
GRAND GUITARS: BRIAN KAHANEK INTERVIEW
SEPT/OCT ISSUE 2009
There’s been a discussion going on as to whether video games like "Guitar Hero" can turn a computer geek into a musician. There is no doubt, however, that the artist who adds a song to this million selling franchise is exposed to a much bigger audience then he might through the conventional record-industry.
In the case of Brian Kahanek, there is twice the good fortune. On one hand he has had worldwide success with the meteoric rise of his instrumental piece "Gemini" on "Guitar Hero II", which has conversely made it much easier for us to discover this exceptional guitar player. Kahanek inspires the listener with his tasteful, dynamic and powerful technique, all the while offering up the most wonderful, modern Les Paul tone. It's not only instrumental artistry in the foreground, for Brian offers the complete package of great songs, gutsy vocals and a huge variety of styles. There are a lot of guitar heroes these days, but seldom do they transform their talent into such accessible, interesting and entertaining music. Here you won’t be bored by a never ending guitar player’s ego trip, but you will be entertained by real musicianship. In Brian Kahanek´s cosmos you will find a little bit of Rock, Blues and Country, but without the old fashioned rust, dust and clichés. His music sounds fresh.
He wears mostly jeans, cowboy shirts and boots, but he sounds like Hendrix in an Armani suit, Jimmy Page in Billabong Tee-Shirt or Billy Gibbons without a beard! This music is equally suited for a sixteen year olds as it is for a sixty year old, because he is building the bridge from good, old music into the twenty first century. He rocks!
In short………….Both albums have an absolutely stunning sound, display truly amazing guitar tones, and are extremely well mixed with very clever production. Highly recommended!
Grand Gtr: How did it feel for a Texan guy to dive into the LA society?
There is a famous quote from author Saul Bellow in which he says “In Los Angeles, all the loose objects in the country were collected, as if America had been tilted and everything that wasn’t tightly screwed down had slid into Southern California.” That pretty much sums it up. LA is a very fractured and transient place where it can be very hard to sort out all the jive. I get funny looks and comments when I wear my dad’s old cowboy boots from the ranch. I don’t care though because they remind me of my roots and help keep me from turning into one of those loose objects. The flip side is the weather. I hate the Texas heat and really find myself missing the mild 80 degree sunny days when I am gone. The lyrics to ”Hotel California” have taken on a whole new meaning.
Grand Gtr: How long did it take and how did it happen, after "Real Life" to enter the Guitar Hero Thing?
I finished “Real Life” in November of 2004 and Guitar Hero 2 was released in November of 2006. I remember making “Real Life” thinking that I just had to have faith that it would be given an opportunity to find an audience. Have you ever heard the saying “if you build it they will come” from the film Field of Dreams? It felt a little something like that. I was beginning to wonder if I should stop pushing it and concentrate on promoting the new material I was developing for my second record “Suicide King” when I met Marcus Schefer and Marcus Henderson at the 2006 Winter NAMM. I was doing demos and clinics for a local amp company at the time and Marcus Schefer was their new A&R / Sales rep. Schefer made room at the booth for Henderson to put a little kiosk for then fledgling Guitar Hero I. I walked up and started talking with the Marcii (as I like to call them) and we all immediately hit it off. Henderson mentioned that he had heard me playing and would like to hear some of my stuff. Fast forward to summer of 2006 and I get a call while driving back from a show in Sacramento saying that he had selected “Gemini” to represent the blues rock genre in the game. I was floored to say the least, but was so busy with Suicide King and mixing other artists that I really didn’t understand how huge an opportunity. Now I realize that those two guys gave me the chance to connect and expose my music to a worldwide audience in a cutting edge format. Since then they have become very close friends whom I am so grateful to have.
Grand Gtr: Do you believe that games like Guitar hero have an influence on young people to play a real instrument?
Absolutely. I have seen it first hand. Droves of young folks have contacted me to say that “Gemini” inspired them to pickup a guitar and that’s just one tune in the series. Imagine what Rock Band has done for the drums or vocalists! My bet is there are quite a few parents doling out some coin to buy Guitars, Drums Kits and PA systems. That is great news because if you give someone an interest in music you give them a gift for life. Now there is the flip side to this as well. If you have seen the South Park episode (love those guys!) about Guitar Hero then you've seen an example of the kind of kid who doesn't get the difference between tapping plastic buttons and bending a real guitar string till your fingers bleed. The leap between those two realities is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Overall, it is great to see the guitar have this renaissance and I attribute it in part to Guitar Hero. I am a sucker for guitar driven music and was beginning to wonder if we were going to have to suffer a second wave of boy bands!
Grand Gtr: Besides making your own music, you did a lot of interesting jobs for other artists and the movie industry. Tell us about it.
Well, my allied craft is Audio Engineering. My mom and dad gave me my first cassette four-track recorder as a Christmas gift when I was a kid. Since then I have been just as fascinated with recording as I am with music and the guitar. In addition to that, I am a huge movie buff with a big DVD collection so it was just a natural progression for post-production audio and film music to make their way into my creative life. As far as some career highlights, I would say working with Walt Disney Character Voices as a voice and ADR recording engineer for three years is high on the list. I got to record some of the biggest and most talented on and off screen actors. A few that stand out are Dan Castanella (Homer Simpson) Don Rickles (Toy Stories' Mr. Potato Head), Wayne Allwine (Mickey Mouse) and Russie Taylor (Minnie Mouse). I also learned a ton from a number of my Disney audio peers such as Randy Coppinger and Dave Concors. I also got to work with Peter Jackson’s team on the video game audio for “King Kong” in which a few lines I recorded ended up in the feature… that was big fun! Artist-wise I spent two years working as a staff recording/mix engineer with multiple Grammy Award winning producer/engineer Gustavo Borner at Igloo music in Burbank. He would also call me in for guitar sessions along with Michael Thompson and Dean Parks. To be included in that group of studio players and to work with Gustavo was a real honor and career milestone for me.
Grand Gtr: At which age did you reach the point of no return for becoming a professional musician?
I am not sure that I could really pinpoint when it was because it seems that the term “professional musician” applies to such a broad range of people and circumstances. For me it was more about making the leap into published recording artist. Once I hit my mid-thirties, I was hungrier than ever to keep making records and improve my guitar playing and vocal performance. I just had to capitulate that this is what I am meant to do for better or worse... As you know, these days there are easier ways to make a living. Once I committed myself to seriously pursuing a career as a solo guitarist and singer-songwriter, I started having a lot more fun and that in turn really allowed things to flow and for me to develop in the craft naturally. What I have found to be the real upside to a creative life is that the word retirement doesn’t need be part of your vocabulary. Finding yourself doing a "job" you're passionate about and that you'd never want to quit is the ultimate trade off to the sacrifices you sometimes must make for it in your personal life. I feel very lucky to get to do what I love and hope to do it till the day I die. Fortunately for me, music is a real fountain of youth.
Grand Gtr: Tell us about your upcoming record.
This will be the third studio release that I have produced on my own label, SidewinderMusic Records, and is the album I have always dreamed of making. It's kind of a final chapter in this trilogy. The tentative title is “One True Thing”. This refers to that one thing in life that sets the world on its right axis again when you feel lost or even just a bit off your game. For me that thing is the guitar. It's my form of meditation. I can pick it up on my worst day and everything that is really important to me just seems to come right back into focus. For most of 2008 I took a break from session/engineering work to write this record. So most of the songs have a much more hopeful and positive undercurrent in contrast to Suicide King, which was written during a time when I was really burning the candle at both ends. I feel so good about this music and where I am creatively and personally. My guitar tone is really the best it’s ever been. I have to give some credit to the advice I've received from my good friend Andy Brauer in that department. I have also added a lot of new guitars, amps and studio gear that have inspired me to bring forth into reality what I hear in my head. In addition, I have Vivi Rama playing bass and Erez Ginat on drums for just about every track. I felt it was time to mix it up and I cannot say enough about the quality of musicianship they are bringing to the table. I am also lucky to have Emmy Award winning mixer Dave Concors on board to take this project to the next level sonically. I am trying to shy away from mixing my own music because by the time the songs are ready for that step in the process it's hard to hear them with a fresh set of ears and perspective. I have to say, I'm really excited to share this music!
Grand Gtr: Any plans for touring Europe?
I would love nothing more and hope that's where the music takes me. European audiences have such depth of taste and culture that it would be a real treat for me to have that kind of experience. I'm sure it would make in indelible mark on my music making. With a little help from my friends, and a few yet to be determined key partners, I hope we will soon be toasting after a show near you!
Many thanks to Stefan Schleicher