MOUTHY ISSUE FOUR
KARDA ESTRA Richard Wileman
interview by Ian C Stewart
Is there anything you're feeling particularly mouthy about at the moment?
A gentleman is never mouthy. Unless someone is dunking a Digestive buscuit into their cup of tea. That is worth getting mouthy over. It should always be Rich Tea - the clue is in the title! Except Ginger Nuts - they're good too.
Let's get the obvious question about influences out of the way now. Richard, who are your influences?
My earliest musical influences, before I played an instrument, were the songs in the UK charts in the 1970s. Abba, ELO and so on. Then, like most teenagers in my school, I listened to heavy rock and learned to play guitar alog to records - starting with riffs of players like Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and Alex Lifeson of Rush. Since then, my tastes have expanded into all sorts of interesting areas from 20th Century classical, experimental, prog, soundtracks, easy listening... whatever has that X factor. I particularly like harmony, so good, interesting chord sequences usually get my attention. Two major influences for quite some years now would be the guitar playing of Steve Hackett and compositions of Ralph Vaughan Williams. There are some unlikely bedfellows in my CD collection - for example over the last year, I discovered Univers Zero and Alamaailman Vasarat. UZ have dark, dissonant atmospherics and AV do a great line in fuzz cello and headbanging trombone. In the opposite direction, I've also started listening to The Carpenters back catalog. I have to have easy listening in the midst of all the dark stuff. I'm listening to a lot of 60s soundtrack stuff like Jerry Goldsmith's "Planet Of The Apes," Ennio Morricone's "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" and some original Star Trek CDs. These have very imaginative arrangements and loaded with detail. Very inspiring.
What made you decide to start making music of your own?
I started to play electric guitar when I was 16 and I was almost instantly coming up with my own little riffs and phrases as well as learning those of others. I was used to being creative anyhow as art was a major part of my life and making up tunes seemed natural enough. Then it was the usual story of lots of jamming, forming a college band, etc.
What is your ancestry? Was your heritage crucial in bringing you to where you are now with your music?
I'm originally from Kirkby-In-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, UK. My family, as far as I know, goes back at least a couple of generations around that neck of the woods. As far as my country and county of origin being present in some way or another in my music, I have no idea. I guess it sounds relatively English, whatever that may mean. I would say my artistic heritage is more relevant and this includes all the artists, writers, films, TV and musicians that I've enjoyed through the years. Closer to home, my mum is a good keyboard player, although she couldn't hook me in my early years. My fault, not hers, I hasten to add!
Explain your musical evolution if you can. Is it just a case of your own personal tastes in music changing and your output reflecting that?
My evolution started very ordinarily - playing heavy rock guitar in a school band. From then on, I branched out into learning classical guitar, keys, bass, percussion and various types of technology through my first proper band Lives And Times. When I started Karda Estra, I also opened up arranging for classical instruments and playing literally anything that will make a noise. This development obviously reflects my expanding listening tastes. It also reflects the fact that I was able to get my hands on relatively affordable technology which allows me to indulge, especially arrangement wise. I'd also hope my work reflects my own personality as well as what listen to. I work hard at trying to express myself.
In so far as your music goes, why do you do what you do?
An unhealthy combination of inspiration and compulsion. Because I'm always obsessivly pushing myself even when things aren't going well, I hit great stretches of frustration. I'm sure it's a mix of pig-headness and a compulsive nature that gets me through. I don't have a problem with this in theory because in all honesty, I don't believe great art should come easily.
What's your home computer setup?
Quite an old one. I use it a lot, except for actual music making. Apart from a couple of notation programs and reversing samples, I use and record on a hardware hard disc recorder.
Can you describe your songwriting methods?
Since starting KE, I've been espcially interested in writing to themes and concepts - whole suites, albums, soundtracks and the like. This restriction is good for making me focus on nailing the subject and often forces me to be more resourceful than if I were just writing a tune out of thin air. I tend to start first with chords on guitar or keys and then experiment with getting the right mood. The chords are the key factor. Then I work outwards from this - no real fixed method - and it can range from relatively orthodox arranging to any amount of sonic experimentation. Scraping, bashing, looping, effecting anything that that will make a sound. Happy accidents often spice things up too. One thing I am keen on, especially for melody lines of any instrument, is to sing the idea, rather than write it on a guitar or piano. I think this makes a more heartfelt melody and it's more effective than poring over scales instrumentally. I'm also very keen on arranging for classical instruments, played by session musicians, and blending them with what I do. I'm very careful to try and make it sound unified and natural - I don't want it to sound anything like "classical rock." I think of my work as much as in painting terms as musical ones - the colour, light, and shade hand-in-hand with melody, harmony and rhythm.
Talk about your latest release.
Constellations was born out of wanting to convey thoughts on the passing of time and my own personal nostalgias, hopes and fears. As usual, I went through several wrong turns on how to convey this, until I decided upon using some appropriate Constellations which have enough mythological or astronomical background to act as a suitable and emotive vehicle. Once I’d settled on these, I was away. It still has heavy gothic and classical overtones, but I integrated a quite a lot of ambient synths and guitar effects to give a more cosmic feel.
Does your way of thinking about your music affect your life?
Yes. Unfortunately, it can cause me not to be paying attention to more immediate matters.
What current music people are you excited about? Is there anyone you'd like to collaborate with?
There are a lot of musicians I like and admire, but I wouldn't necessarily be too interested in collaboration unless I felt I was going to get something different and unique out of it, yet still be on a similar wavelength. However, I did one such collaboration last year with Russian composer Artemiy Artemiev. The album was called Equilibrium and was a fantastic experience - done long distance via email and posting tapes and CD-Rs. Artemiy writes very fluid and often quite abstract electro-acoustic ambient music. Quite different to my compositions and I had to loosen up quite a bit for my parts to work. It really turned out well with several strange and wonderful atmospheres I wouldn't have come up with and I think I added a lyricism and darker sense of menace that you wouldn't normally associate with Artemiy. Most importantly, he just let me go with my own intuition and didn't alter a single note or mix of mine. I'm limited timewise what I can do collaboration wise, but Equilibrium was a very good experience for me.
What's next for you, musically speaking?
I'm currently working on the next Karda Estra album that I hope to release in 2004. It will be titled Voivode Dracula and is an exploration of certain themes from the famous Bram Stoker novel. The book is incredibly rich and full of ideas for musical interpretation. I was unsure if I should tackle something that well known - especially as it has been so many times musically, not least of all in soundtracks. Yet, I found I have such an affinity with it that I eventually overcame any doubts. I also bought a celtic bazouki that I found out was made in Transylvania - how could I ignore an omen like that?
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