One of the hottest and funkiest guitarists on the jazz and blues scene is Aleks Sever. Originally from Germany, she has spent the last decade in Los Angeles, where she has been a fixture at The Mint and other clubs in the area. So talented was she on stage that other musicians took notice, and hired her to help record some of their works.
Her debut, all-instrumental album “Danger Girl”, which I reviewed a few weeks ago here on this site, is just the next step in Aleks’ career.
Recently, I interviewed Aleks about such topics as her growing up on Jimi and Stevie Ray; whether her music is more than just a “niche”; how she compares European music fans to those in the US; and whether she would be open to opportunities beyond the funkiness.
Steve: First, Aleks, while the tracks on “Danger Girl” can be compared to anything from Prince or Jeff Beck, you grew up listening to such guitarists as the late Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. How influential were the works of these two legends in developing your style?
Aleks: I was definitely influenced by both, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, but probably more by Stevie Ray, at least in terms of his approach and attack. I used to listen to him a lot on the radio, and I think a lot of his style rubbed off on me. I love his intensity, he really digs in to every single note he plays. I try to play with that kind of intensity. I like to feel exhausted at the end of the night; like I gave everything I have. I can’t stand half -way playing from myself. I’d rather make mistakes than to feel like I didn’t give it my best effort.
Jimi Hendrix had a different effect on me. He wasn’t afraid to stretch out and explore new ways of playing. He had this amazing style; kind of a mixture of Old School R&B, Blues, and his own style, and he combined all that together. His rhythm playing was absolutely amazing. All those classics like “Little Wing”, or “Castles Made of Sand”. Because he played upside down, he found chord voicings that nobody else played. My goal is to have the same kind of freedom when I play. I like the feeling of being on the edge.
Steve: Given how the brassy backup instrumentation on some of your tracks reminds me of late 1970’s Steely Dan, I thought I’d ask if you’ve heard any of their classics from that era?
Aleks: I actually didn’t listen a lot to Steely Dan when I was growing up, but everybody heard “Aja” [1978 album], “Deacon Blues” [track from that album], and all those great songs. There were a lot of other artists that used horns and that style of chord voicings during that period. Like Buzz Feiten with the Full Moon, Larry Carlton with the Crusaders, Robben Ford with the Yellowjackets, etc. You can probably hear those influences in my songs.
Steve: Would you consider guitarists-as-instrumentalists, particularly those who play the jazzy, bluesy type of music, to be more than a “niche market”?
Aleks: Overall, jazz and blues is not really a niche market anymore in my opinion. There are so many people that listen to instrumental blues and jazz music. The lines between styles and genres are getting more and more blurred, which is really good for those of us who play instrumental music. I think it’s more about the song and the performance than whether it is an instrumental or vocal that reaches the listener. Also, the style of writing and the production can make an instrumental appeal to the audience, the same way that a vocal song would. These days it seems that great music rises to the surface regardless of the genre and becomes much more widely recognized. Santana is a great example.
Steve: You’re originally from Germany, you’ve played in both Europe and in the US, particularly throughout the Los Angeles area, yet I have read that over the years, some American acts are better received in Europe than in their own country. From your own experiences thus far, how would you compare European music fans to those in the US?
Aleks: The fans in Europe seem to be more aware of different kinds of music or more open to a lot of different styles. For instance, I’ve seen situations where a Jazz group will play for an audience that’s used to Metal, and they’ll love it! I found that people there want to have a good time and they’ll embrace a bigger range of styles. In the US, the audiences are very loyal and respectful, and when people come to a concert in the US, they expect to hear the style of music that they came to see. In my experience, the audiences here tend to support one specific style of music and be wildly enthusiastic about it.
Steve: Instrumental tracks of all genres have been known to be licensed to other media, particularly for video games, commercials or as “bumper music” on TV shows. Does licensing your music appeal to you, or would that be the same as “selling out” your artistry?
Aleks: I think it would be good if someone wanted to use my music on a TV show, or a commercial, or even a video game. If you earn your living as a musician, you need to be open to different opportunities, even if they seem a little weird at first. I believe that the essence of the music is what’s important, not which audience hears it. When I create music I don’t really think about who is going to end up hearing it, that’s not my first priority. As long as it’s not manipulated or used for some negative purpose.
Steve: Though you specialize in instrumentals, have you also worked with, or have been offered an opportunity to work with, any prominent singers, much like Australian female guitarist Orianthi has done with everyone from the late Michael Jackson to classic rocker Alice Cooper and country star Carrie Underwood?
Aleks: I recently started collaborating with a well-known artist. It’s a very exciting concept. It’s something new that I have never done and an amazing experience. It’s a little too soon to talk about the details, but it’s set to be released next year. Up until now though to be honest, I’ve been mostly focusing on my own projects. I had all that music in my head that had to come out, so I was always restless and pretty obsessed with writing and creating my own world. With my new CD “Danger Girl” I feel I had a breakthrough and that I found my path. So I satisfied myself on a deep level which makes me look forward to collaborating and I would love to play with other singers. I hope there’ll be a lot of opportunities!
Steve: Do you plan to go on tour, either as an opening act or a headliner?
Aleks: Regarding touring, we are just now getting ready to start booking, so it’s too early to have exact dates. But I’m working with a booker in Europe and I’ll be touring Europe next year in late spring and summer. I will be headlining there. Also, I’m working with a booker in the US and there will be a lot of shows coming up in the US next year to promote the record. Mostly headlining, but we are also looking for opening acts. So, stay tuned!
Steve: Finally, would you, at some point, consider experimenting with an album of rock instrumentals?
Aleks: I like all kinds of music, and I especially like Rock, so it’s definitely a possibility. Actually, “Danger Girl” is already pretty Rock-influenced, although there’s definitely more Funk, Jazz and Blues influence than straight Rock. I think that’s where I am right now. But you go through different periods and you change and you never know.
You have got to love what Aleks brings to the proverbial table. Her rock-based instrumental prowess in a funky musical environment is the kind that will win her many fans.
“Danger Girl” is available on iTunes and Amazon, or you can order a hard-copy from www.alekssever.com. You can also like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alekssever or follow her on Twitter @alekssever.