Interview: Stefan Artwin

Dan McAvinchey: Let's begin Stefan by talking about your band's self-titled debut album. When did you write the songs, and what did you want to achieve when recording started?

Stefan Artwin: Writing the songs was a long process spread over several years. First, I started to collect single ideas in terms of riffs, melodies and chord progressions and I hoped that I could put them together at the end in order to create songs. Unfortunately this didn't work out, it sounded like a radio switching from one station to another. So I put the focus on the structure of each song and I tried to create some kind of path through all the parts hoping that other people are able to follow it. It's a stylistic component of progressive rock that a song has a lot of parts and changes. This makes the music rich in variety but this also can lead to something boring or chaotic.

It was important for me that all participating musicians wouldn't be disturbed by strange changes in the music in order to achieve the most musical flow possible. On the other hand, I tried to make the compositions as basic as possible to give the musicians a chance to put their style and mood into it. Fortunately it worked and the whole band made the most of the compositions. So I'm very satisfied with the result.

Dan McAvinchey: How did you practice in order to get to the level of playing you are now at?

Stefan Artwin: When I practice, I first play some major and minor scales slowly, just to warm up. Then I start a drum machine or a click and play different licks and scales to it. I realized that this helps me a lot to develop ideas and a feeling for rhythmic variations, not only for soloing but also for songwriting.

I always try to be as precise as possible, regardless of whether I play rhythm or lead guitar. So I try to listen attentively to my playing like a second person to catch the moods and to check my rhythmic precision. I very often record it to check those things afterwards and to get some kind of a second opinion.

Another exercise I like a lot is to play over backing tracks. There are a lot of interesting backing tracks out there, even for free, and this is a good way to get involved with other music, or even other musical styles. It's a very good opportunity to develop licks and to get a feeling for harmonies and how to create melodies over chord progressions.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you think makes for a great guitar solo?

Stefan Artwin: I consider a guitar solo to be a song within a song. You have an intro, melodies, variations, choruses and an outro. Basically, I see three possibilites:

1. You completely compose a solo and plan each note.

2. You play completely free. If the audience isn't bored after three minutes then you are "world class".

3. This is what I prefer: a mixture of both.

OK, looking at a guitar solo as a song within a song only works if there's enough time. It's rather impossible to do that in one bar. But even in one bar you can play something entertaining for the listener. There should be a catchy melody, lick or riff. It could be "new" and even surprising in the context of the song - or even of the musical style - and it should sound "fresh".

It's very hard to achieve that but I think that these are the ingredients that will make a guitar solo into a great guitar solo.

Dan McAvinchey: What are your favorite tracks on your CD?

Stefan Artwin: I really like "Proxima" because there's a nice and long build-up in the middle part which leads to a very proggish climax. There's also an interesting melody at the end that I play over a rather strange chord progression. While developing the melody I tried to use as many blue notes as possible which creates a mood I had never achieved before. I'm always happy when I create tunes I've never played before.

Another favourite song is "Aavishkar". Mainly because of Bartek's (Bartek Strycharski) violin, but I also find Frank's (Frank Tinge) playing extremely groovy. The reason for that might be that there a lot of opportunities to be creative as drummer in this song and Frank jumped at the chance.

Dan McAvinchey: Are you finding opportunities to showcase your instrumental music in a live setting?

Stefan Artwin: We had a small gig in the context of our CD release party last November, but it was not a public performance, just for friends (although there's a excerpt of it on YouTube). We are currently making plans for some live gigs, but there are no confirmed dates or locations yet.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Stefan Artwin: I have the impression that most of the fans who prefer instrumental music are musicians as well. Or people who play or at least have played an instrument.

If you have gathered some musical experience by actively making music, you listen to music in another way. You are able to hear everything and not only the lead instrument or vocals. If you take a closer look at vocal oriented music you will find out that the accompanying instruments very often play reluctantly during vocal passages in a song. This helps the vocalist, but the music can be boring because there is nothing interesting to listen to (musically).

OK, this theory or assessment doesn't work for all vocal-oriented music because there are so many variations regarding the use of vocals but I'm sure that it's correct in most cases. For example, imagine a hip hop song without vocals.

Another point is that singers use lyrics. Real music fans don't want to be disturbed by non-musical throughts transmitted by words, they want to put the focus on the music.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you heard any new guitarists that have really caught your ear in the past couple of years?

Stefan Artwin:One guy I heard a few years ago was Tim Miller. His playing reminds me of Allan Holdsworth but he isn't a copycat, he has his own style and I really like his songs. It's nice to see and hear that more and more guitarists are influenced by Allan, not only his kind of soloing but also the way he plays chords. is the best site on the internet to discover new guitarists and I have the impression that most rock guitarists are influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen. Hey guys, what about Mr. Holdsworth? He rocks.

Another guy I discovered a few years ago was Bumblefoot. It was a song with a very avant-garde like solo that blew me away. I know that he isn't a "new" guitarist but his playing was new and impressive for me.

The third guy who caught my ear was Prashant Aswani. I discovered him on and I was fascinated by his Greg Howe-like fusion style.

Dan McAvinchey: Other than guitar-oriented music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?

Stefan Artwin: I try to be open-minded to all kind of music. It's just important that the music inspires me. That's the reason why I also like to listen to classical music. I've learned a lot about songwriting by analyzing pieces by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak but I also enjoy just listening to it. I like piano and violin concertos because there you can hear what's possible on these instruments. Unfortunately, the famous and influencial classical composers are dead, but today there are at least some interesting composers creating music for film (for example, one of my favorites is Danny Elfman).

One ingredient of film music I like are sound effects, and I also enjoy listening to electronic musical styles as long as I can hear that the musicians put a lot of work and creativity into sound design. However, I don't like drum machines.

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Dan McAvinchey: What's up next for you, what are some of your plans for the future?

Stefan Artwin: Practicing to become a better guitarist - and trying to create new music nobody has ever heard before.

No - I'm usually collecting song material regardless of whether I can use it for Relocator or not. In the case of Relocator, it's a bit harder to write songs for the next CD because the guideline is the style and level of the current songs. In addition to that, and as I mentioned in the first question, writing the current songs was a long process and I don't want the next album to be released in 2015, so I hope that I don't end up creating new "radio stations"!

Dan McAvinchey: Let's end our chat with this, if you had the good fortune to do a once-off album project with any guitarist in the world, who would it be?

Stefan Artwin: I'd really like to work with Allan Holdsworth. I'm convinced that this would help me develop as guitarist tremendously and it would be an honor for me to write songs for him, or together with him. Over the years his style had a big influence on my playing, composing and learning about music, and such a project would give me real boost.

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The German progressive metal fusion band Relocator, featuring guitarist Stefan Artwin, has recently released their long-awaited, self-titled debut album featuring Derek Sherinian. The eight tracks featured on the CD (a complex, yet melodic and accessible mix of progressive metal and fusion) endured several personnel changes and even a complete breakup of the band before the final group of musicians featured on the album came together. Many listeners are really digging into the solo style of Artwin, and indeed, the approach to progressive music embodied by all the musicians in the band.

Dan McAvinchey conducted this virtual chat with Artwin to get the inside scoop on the music coming from this relatively new European group.