Stephen Duros is a multi talented lighting artist and guitarist. His new album AEAEA has just been released, and it is a must for any music lover's collection. There are no song titles on it because as Stephen explains "It's actually one long piece of music. There are no boundaries." You will hear a variety of styles, and overtones of the Middle East and Asia on this impressive body of work. Stephen is also a stage lighting designer and has toured all over the world practicing this art. I recently had a discussion with him about his influences and career.
R.V.B. - What kind of music were you first exposed to as a child and what made you want to play the guitar?
S.D. - The first music I remember being exposed to at an early age was Roger Whittaker, Bee Gees, Herb Alpert, Chuck Mangione, Glenn Miller, Boogie Nights which had 18 top disco hits, Michael Jackson and Toto.
R.V.B. - What made me want to play guitar was when I was 12, I heard the electric guitar sounds of Def Leppard on their album Hysteria when listening to the radio one day and was immediately hooked, it was such a great sound.
R.V.B. - Did you learn on your own or did you have teachers? If you did, can you describe what influence they had in your playing?
S.D. - I started playing music at age 5 and have always picked things up by ear quickly, a lot what I’ve learned is self-taught. I also had some great teachers along the way who helped hone my skills and introduce me to great new music for the different instruments I played. I studied organ, keyboards, drums in my childhood years and switched to guitar in my teen years. I felt all of those aspects really played a big role in influencing what I write today.
S.D. - I always liked the guitar but didn’t play it until I was 12. At age 17 a good friend who worked at a record store brought home Paco De Lucia’s Siroco album, the Friday Night in San Francisco album with the trio and Ottmar Liebert’s Nouveau Flamenco album. I loved the sound of acoustic guitar in these albums and how it was used in so many different ways. I immediately became interested in learning how to play acoustic guitar and welcomed the challenge it brought. If something musical isn’t challenging I tend to loose interest so this has been an on going challenge to this day. I always push myself to become better on every album writing and performance wise. On AEAEA it took me up to a year of practice to be able to play some of the more challenging sections because I first had to learn the techniques I heard in my head, practice it and then get it up to 150 bpm and perform it well for the section I wanted.
R.V.B. - Were there any influences that you had from other guitarists?
S.D. - Yes, when I was 20 I started studying flamenco guitar with Paco Arroyo from Spain who now lives in Glendale CA. I learned a variety of flamenco rhythms from studying with him. I’m not a traditional flamenco player but he was a big influence in how I play today. Around that same time period Vicente Amigo had released his album,Vivencias Imaginadas, and Ottmar Liebert released his album, Opium. I loved both albums because of how unique and different both sounds were using a flamenco guitar as the lead instrument. With the electric guitar during that time I was into Steve Lukather’s playing, he’s been a big influence as well. There is such an amazing feel, vibrato and soul in his playing.
R.V.B. - What were some of the cover songs that you played and your guitar playing moved forward? When did you start writing your own material?
S.D. - In the early days some of the cover songs I played were some Glenn Miller songs and my keyboard teachers made sure I learned some songs by Toto. My teachers always raved about how great the musicians in Toto were. Pamela being one of songs I learned by them. The Hustle by VanMcCoy and the Soul City Symphony was another one I learned, the list goes on. Later in my early teens I was into learning a lot of hard rock music with a lot of technical guitar soloing. Through out that time I always dabbled in writing my own tunes. In my teens I was in a band and we all wrote our own music. It was a great musical time for me, we had a great connection and played live anywhere we could, won some battle of the bands contests as well. Later when I was 17 I started to experiment with writing acoustic music, which has developed into what I do today.
R.V.B. - Can you explain to me how you wound up performing with Ottmar Leibert and how you enjoyed the experience.
S.D. - I loved working with Ottmar. It was a wonderful experience. I had met Ottmar when I was working at the Key Club in Los Angeles. I was the house lighting designer there at the time. I enjoyed coffee and good conversation with him during some free time before his performance. Later I had sent him some coffee and my album, Miranda, that I had just finished recording. He liked the music and expressed interested in me playing in the band. A year later I had finished my second album, Thira, and was playing in his band. He released Thira on his label and he even offered that we play the title track “Thira” live in his band together. It was an amazing experience and one of those magical times in my life traveling nationally and internationally playing in front of sold out performing arts centers, clubs etc. I felt when he and I played together there was a great musical connection. It was a challenge to jump into playing in his band, they have such a laid back groove with deep pockets. I remember sitting in with the band for the first time at rehearsal and thinking, oh okay wow, this is a deep pocket and learned to quickly lay back in the groove with them. There is also this swinging thing going on with the grooves at times, so lots of details you have to pay attention to along with being aware of the dynamics. I felt I was a pretty solid rhythm player before hand but playing in his band took my playing to the next level all around, a great learning experience. When I was 19 I said to a friend that I wanted to play in Ottmar’s band someday and it’s hard to believe that actually happened 10 years later.
R.V.B. - On your new album release "AEAEA", you chose not to name the songs. How did the writing process work on this. Did you base the songs after the theme?
S.D. - The writing process for this album was probably the most fun and the easiest of all the previous albums I wrote. It was such a freeing experience. There were no boundaries and it became very addicting. I found it difficult when to end it because I could have kept going. I still have more ideas recorded but at some point I needed to end and I’m very happy with how it ended. It’s actually all one long piece of music when listened to, there are no breaks in the album. Once it starts, it plays till the end. Similar to a book, I wanted it to have chapters so one could go back and listen to their favorite chapter as one would read their favorite chapter from a book. I didn’t base the songs after a theme, the title itself AEAEA (ee-EE-a) is a mythological Greek island from the Greek poem The Odyssey. The whole album isn’t about that island per-se’, but I felt that would be a great starting point for the adventure.
S.D. - Oh definitely, I had a lot of fun going through many different instruments and sounds during the writing process. You have to know what sound you’re going for otherwise you can get lost in the process.
R.V.B. - Can you explain the roles of some of the people who helped you with this concept of songs on AEAEA?
S.D. - Early on when I was finishing up my previous album, I had written the first 10 min of what you hear on this album now. I shared it with Ottmar and he liked it and suggested I continue the journey with no boundaries and see where it goes. I loved that idea and kept writing.
Andrew Reissiger who played the charango on my previous album and on AEAEA helped co-produce the album. He had invited me to his studio and we listened to the tracks I had recorded and he really liked what I was writing. As he was listening to the Chapter 1 he suggested I bring in Louis Romans, a drummer/ percussionist he knew to play drums. I liked that idea a lot and soon after we were doing a lot of the work in his studio on that first 10 min section getting live drums in the mix, percussion, re-recording bass getting a great sound through his gear and he came with the funky bass guitar idea as which worked out to be really cool. He played a beautiful charango solo in the chapter 1. I felt the two of us collaborating really brought that first section to life even more than it already was.
S.D. - Working with Toto for 16 years was such an amazing experience. I became an arena level lighting designer and traveled to countries all around the world with them. I find that lighting is another way I can express art and be creative. Being a musician really gave me an advantage as a lighting designer as my lights were right in time with the music. Every venue has it’s challenges especially when you use a different light rig every night and try for the same results. But when you have an excellent lighting team to work and travel with like I had from Go-Audio Production in Germany, I felt we were unstoppable. I had a great working relationship with them and we took our own lighting rig on the road with us. That’s the crew I had working with me when I did the light show on Toto’s “Live in Poland” DVD and I’m so thrilled it was captured on video. I am very honored to be a part of that and to work with Toto. They are all around amazing cats and an amazing crew.
R.V.B. - What are some of your favorite performances as a guitarist and as a lighting designer?
S.D. - As a musician, The Mountain Winery, CA with Ottmar is the first performance that comes to mind. It was a magical night; great performance and a great crowd. The 2009 show at the Blue Note in NYC was such an amazing week of evening performances. The State Theater in Sidney, Australia is another one that comes to mind, The Wellington Opera house in Wellington, New Zealand. Teatro Nacional in Quito Ecuador. The list goes on, so many great performances over a 4 year period to choose from.
As a lighting designer, the show in Vienne, France was another favorite. It was a beautiful location and an amazing show. They use the photo from that show on their website, beautiful evening photo outdoors looking down on the crowd and stage with the city in the background. I loved the arena tours throughout Europe. The Budokanin Toykyo is always a favorite of mine. The show in Papeete, Tahiti was fantastic not to mention the exotic and beautiful destination. The South Sea Jazz festival in Curacao was also amazing. There are just so many great shows to choose from.
R.V.B. - Have you studied music? Your music seems to transcend different genres.
S.D. - I have studied music. I spent a lot of time studying Flamenco with Paco Arroyo many years ago. During that same time I studied a lot of Afro Cuban music and some Brazilian music. I’ve done a lot of close listening and using my ear to teach me on a lot of different styles of music. My ear is my best tool. Since I’ve finished AEAEA, I’ve started to seriously get into classical music and am studying that a bit. You would think by listening to the album that I would have done that before the album with all the orchestration on it that I did, but that is not the case. In fact recently a friend took me to see Beethoven's fifth performed by the San Francisco Symphony, it was remarkable. So I think classical may influence me more in the future.
S.D. - I feel the sky is the limit, I’ve been doing music, lighting and I even have a cartoon rendering of Steve Lukather on his new signature guitar pedal by Tone Concepts Inc. I want to keep creating and see where life takes me. Right now I will be concentrating on promoting the new album and looking for the right musicians to put a small band together to perform my music live. I’ve been playing with Jeff Pierre, an excellent percussionist from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. We even started our own band tougher playing music he and I write together called “Path Of Light”. There is a magical connection that we have when we play together and he’s #1 on the list to play in my band as well. In the past year, we have been playing around Oakland,bringing music to the community. It’s amazing to see how music brings people together, that’s the power of music that I love.
R.V.B.Thank you for considering answering these questions.
S.D. - Thank you, my pleasure and until next time!
All the best.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Stephen Duros visit his website http://www.stephenduros.com/
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