Interview with Guitarist MILAN POLAK
Laying Down the Law
by Tommy â€œHashmanâ€ Hash
He is an axeman who brings a swift kick in the ass to all things hard rock – delivering the goods on the six strings with tunes that we all can relate to – not going overboard with, say an Arabian folk-meets-metal track or a jazz cut here; it’s just a hard rock/melodic metal album that like his last record, Straight, which bridges the gap between the edgy vibe of a singer/songwriter with an attitude and a guitarist who can play the hell out of his instrument.
Having released two instrumental releases, guitarist Milan Polak took his music to another level with the release of his 2007 record, Straight, an album that “keeps the true sound of hard rock in full force,” continuing the stance of “keeping the spirit of the real guitar hero alive,” but making us get up and shout as well; and with his second vocal record, Murphy’s Law (Lion Music); it gets personal lyrically – in a world that isn’t perfect.
“I wouldnâ€™t say it was a decision. I guess, itâ€™s just the way I write and composeâ€¦ Only this time I wanted to create a more modern sound and also implement more of the guitar virtuoso aspect again,” begins Polak on the continuation of the singer/songwriter meets guitar shredder mantra, “When I wrote â€œStraightâ€ I wanted to get away from the instrumental, guitar hero image. I really wanted to make this clear so I stripped down everything – no effects, no over the top guitar playing, hence the title and the cover of me naked with just my guitar. This time I wanted to take it from there and move on, resulting in a more modern sound using loops, adding more backing vocals and last but not least bringing back the virtuoso aspect of my playing.”
The lyrics of the records hit home in a more direct matter; no syrupy bubblegum tunes, no spaceship fantasies, or anything like that, it’s all about real life, something that we can relate to, “Seriously, I donâ€™t think the world needs another â€œI love you, you love me, we are all so happyâ€ songwriter,” explains Polak, “Thereâ€™s enough of that BS out there. I deal with reality, not dreams, the aspects of life that you can relate to if you werenâ€™t born with a silver spoon. The hard reality that the rest of us have to face and live with every day, like the credit crunch and its aftermath for example but also other things like mass manipulation of media, religion, etc. And the last song of the CD â€œThe Mystery Of Lifeâ€ basically sums it all up. If you were to listen to only one song of â€œMurphyâ€™s Lawâ€, Iâ€™d recommend checking out that one.”
Hearing how he has released instrumental shred records in the past – it can be night and day when comparing and album that is a collection of songs rather than a collection of compositions, which in the case it’s the ‘song’, “I always try to write music with melodies that are easy to be memorized even when the music is heavy. I try to have lines that can be sung, I am not a shouter. When I write a song I usually also have a certain sound in mind. My main influence is life per se. I compose what drives me. So instead of having a certain band or music inspire me, I rather go with whatever hits me whenever it hits me. It could happen while Iâ€™m noodling around on my guitar but most of the time it happens when Iâ€™m asleep or in the process of waking up. I have a virtual sheet of paper popping up in my head and write down the music, just like composers such as Mozart did. Then when I wake up I just â€œpull outâ€ that piece of paper, grab a guitar and there you go.”
On this record, he worked with bassist/producer Fabio Trentini & drummer Simon Michael, forming this power-trio alliance, it’s been a good collaboration as the end result has proven, “Fabio Trentini and I have already done a few things together in the past. He played half of all the basses on my album Straight,” elaborates Polak, “I played on one of his songs on his last album, we toured together with an Italian band, we did Subway To Sallyâ€™s album Bastard together and some other things. He is a great bassist and musician but also a successful producer with some gold & platinum records hanging on his wall. He would always push me to new levels saying things like, â€œyou know thatâ€™s a good riff for a normal guitarist but now go ahead and make it a Milan Polak riffâ€ or â€œyeah, thatâ€™s a nice vocal line but it sounds a bit squareâ€, etc. He added some loops & sounds and basically co-produced and mixed the whole album. Simon Michael and I met when we co-wrote and recorded the album Bastard for the German band Subway To Sally. He is a great drummer with great technique but whatâ€™s even more important to me is that he is very musical. He never plays for the sake of showing off, he always plays for the song â€“ he is very mature musically. I have to say he was my favorite choice for this album. With all the respect to all the other great musicians I have worked with so far but I have never been more satisfied in my life than I am with Murphyâ€™s Law.”
Other than his own material, the man does stay busy various things, although there are no plans to record another instrumental record at this point in time; nevertheless, he gives interesting insight on how the industry is electing new artists in this day and age in the era of American Idol, “Besides writing and recording jingles for TV & radio once in a while, thereâ€™s not much I do these days apart from writing my own music,” says Polak, “I was asked to compose stuff for other artists by a German publishing company after the success of Bastard. But I got sick of writing music for some guy who just got a record deal with a major company and canâ€™t even sing or play an instrument properly, less write his own songs. Now you might ask how this was possible but I tell you this is how the business works these days: you win a fucking casting show or some guy at the record company decides to create a band in the style of whatever and thatâ€™s how they create â€œstarsâ€ â€“ desperate wannabes whoâ€™d do everything for 5 minutes of fame but canâ€™t play, sing or write a song. I was like, â€œHey, why donâ€™t you give me a record deal instead? Seems like my songwriting is good enough to use it for others and I donâ€™t look like the hunchback of Notre-Dame eitherâ€¦â€ Thatâ€™s what my song â€œWannabesâ€ is about. This whole biz has just become a big fucking joke. I have realized that to be a musician you can either be a whore and work for money or do your own stuff. You get away with working for others for some time (and yes, I did that too) but in the long run it kills your inspiration. Excuse this comparison but I donâ€™t think a prostitute comes home after work saying, â€œHoney Iâ€™m home, please fuck me as hard as you can right nowâ€¦!â€ if you know what Iâ€™m saying. Iâ€™d rather do my own stuff and make less money than give away my inspiration & creativity to others. I realized it makes me happier in the long run. This doesnâ€™t mean that I am not open to collaborations or new ideas thoughâ€¦ And I am not talking about joining a big band like Metallica or playing guitar for Ozzy either â€“ thatâ€™s a different story.”
Through his solo albums and various projects, he has, like many musicians, seen himself evolve as a player, ” Iâ€™d say that even though Iâ€™m capable of playing a lot of different styles and I also enjoy different kinds of music, I have learned to manage to stay more focused. I donâ€™t feel like I need to proof anything to anyone. If you want to hear me play at 300 bpm, go buy my album Guitar Odyssey or Dreamscapes (both Lion Music), if you want to hear me play over complicated fusion/jazz changes go buy â€œJ.A.M.â€ (Liquid Note Records). Been there, done that. These days I am trying to create the perfect blend of rock music for â€œnormalâ€ people and musicians and I really feel I managed to do so on my new album â€œMurphyâ€™s Lawâ€.”
And what about the gear he has used over the years? A lot of stuff of course, as he explains, “Well, it depends. I donâ€™t have one favorite guitar or amp. I usually use different stuff. When I record I usually have a certain sound in mind and I know exactly what guitar and what amp to use. On the new album I used Yamaha guitars exclusively. They gave me a bunch of guitars and I was able to cover all my different sound ideas with them. As far as effects go I used some cool stuff on Murphyâ€™s Law. I received some great pedals from Dunlop/MXR and also T-Rex, a company from Denmark who has been very supportive. I have to say that I am very fortunate in this aspect â€“ I work with some of the greatest companies such as DiMarzio and the ones already mentioned and all of them really treat me very well. String-wise I have been playing handmade strings by Thomastik-Infeld for many, many years. I used a really cool preamp by Damage Control for the demos and also direct recordings as well as an amp that TubeThomsen gave me. Thatâ€™s a little company in the north of Germany, which produces some of the best boutique amps. Live I played Engl amps on my last tour. I recently hooked up with them and hope for a long and prosperous collaboration.”
With the world economy in rough shape, it’s hard for any band to get out on the road – there are hopes to go out on the road and play some gigs or even clinics, “(playing live) I hope soâ€¦ haha Unfortunately, it seems to become harder & harder to play live these days. You basically have 2 categories: those who are already big and cover bands. If you belong to neither of those two it seems to be quite impossible to get good gigs less put a tour together. And the whole situation with the financial crisis and clubs closing down doesnâ€™t make things much easierâ€¦ I would love to have a decent booking agency. So, letâ€™s hope for the best and see what happens after the release of Murphyâ€™s Lawâ€¦ As far as clinics & seminars go, I am trying to put something together with 2 other great musicians at the moment. I have started to talk to one of my endorsement companies but it seems like nobody wants to spend any money in these financially insecure days.”
And as for the future, Milan Polak just wants to take it one day at a time, test the waters and see how everything goes; so in the meantime, if you are into stripped back melodic hard rock/metal in the vein of Russell Allen’s Atomic Soul, Joe Lynn Turner, Thin Lizzy, Blue Murder, and Gary Moore’s metal stuff, this album is certainly worth checking out. “I need to see what happens with Murphyâ€™s Law,” concludes Polak about the future, “I will do promo, interviews, etc. The first reactions & reviews have been great so far. If nothing unforeseen happens in my life I will continue to write and work on my own material â€“ nothing more, nothing less, I guess. In fact, I have already started to write new songs for my next album. If you have to take care of everything yourself it is kind of difficult to release a record every year and I donâ€™t want to have another 2 years again in between now and my next album. So, Iâ€™m really trying to avoid that this time. Letâ€™s see how Iâ€™ll doâ€¦”
Copyright & Publishing: 2009 Tommy Hash for Ytsejam.com
CLICK HERE to Read a Review of Guitar Odyssey.
CLICK HERE to Read a Review of Straight.
Milan Polak Website
Milan Polak at MySpace
Lion Music at MySpace