Karl Demata - June 2011
GAMEKEEPER TURNED POACHER… Those of us on this side of the keyboard know Karl Demata as the head honcho of ElevenPR, a company which has worked with a number of great metal acts in the past including Nightwish and Sabaton, to name but two. However, when he’s not holding a mobile phone he picks up an electric guitar and is a very accomplished player, working with both Crippled Black Phoenix and The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band.
‘Cross The Mountain’ (Green Lizard Records) is his first solo outing, and with bassist Chris Heilmann and drummer Merijn Royaards backing him (both from Crippled Black Phoenix, although Heilmann should be more than familiar from his excellent past work with Tormé and Shark Island) Demata has come up with a rather stunning debut. I’m not a great expert on the blues, but I know what I like and this album clicked with me straight away. There’s more to it than just blues though, as Demata was happy to point out: “it’s definitely NOT a straight blues album; in fact, there’s not one single song in a standard blues form. But blues permeates so much of the music this album and project relates to – late Sixties/early Seventies blues rock. I think rather than the songwriting it is more the guitar playing that is 'blues'. Listening back to it I spotted a lot of lead guitar influences I wasn’t actually aware of as I was recording, from Albert King to Mike Bloomfield, Rory Gallagher, Duane Allman… But in the music itself there are so many different aspects and styles, all of which I would like to develop more. From jam/psych stuff to more Americana alt-roots-rock to heavy funk jams, it’s all good to me. I live in the belief that genres and labels do not exist – it’s either good or bad music, true or fake, well played or badly played. But all styles are fine. In fact, I almost had to limit the scope on this CD: I would’ve liked to include a country blues number, a bluegrass-influenced tune and a more jazz improv song (more like the Allmans)…”
For those who wondered how Demata combines both careers, here’s the secret. “My playing has always been the main priority. I started working in the music business simply to pay the bills and costs related to being a musician. There have been periods in my life where my work within the industry took over most of my time but I still found time to play and develop my own things, even if it was reduced at times to playing with friends at local pubs. But I have also constantly tried to separate my work from my playing. In fact, I have been trying to use my second name as little as possible in my work so that people would not get confused between the two.” [Which I can vouch for; the person I worked with was just Karl from ElevenPR, and it was only when I looked really closely at the album cover shot that I got suspicious and did some digging.] “I also don’t want people to think that in a way I use contacts and knowledge from my work to gain quick exposure for my playing. I don't feel at ease promoting myself and prefer hiring somebody else to do the work for me. The less people who know about my work in the industry the better it is for me, really.
”But in the last few years,” he continues, “things have shifted back towards playing. I have always wanted this to happen. But sometimes you have to wait for things to develop in a certain way to actually get on with it. Things started moving in that direction when I was asked to join Crippled Black Phoenix. Basically what happened was that coming back from tours I often found myself with a lot of material. My own band had already existed by then for a long time playing local shows and small festivals. But then I found myself with more than enough material for a CD so it was just a logical decision to get in the studio in between tours and other engagements. Plus there's a strictly stylistic issue here: I play with several bands now and I thoroughly enjoy playing the different kinds of music but none of them actually cover the main core of my music taste, you know, rock blues, early Seventies stuff which was the reason I started playing in the first place.”
As for the results of his labours, “I am very pleased with the way the album’s come out. There are a few things that I would have liked to have had more time to develop but overall I think personally it’s very successful. In a way the CD wants to be a statement of intents, underlining my own main music background but also hinting of several possible developments for the future. And in this regard I think it’ very good indeed – when I listen to contemporary releases in a similar field I have never found such variety and yet an organic feel. I am especially happy with the songwriting. I always thought myself as a guitar player and in the past I have worked as such – being creative and pushing forward my own taste and influences but mainly within the ‘being the guitar player’ role in a band; I used to think I worked best by applying my taste/instinct/suggestions/improvements on somebody’s else material. But now I am surprised at my ability to actually develop the whole process from scratch to the finished product. But it’s very simple: I have developed the ability to listen to my own material as if it were from somebody else, and so be very analytical, very critical of what I hear. I also think I have achieved a lot in terms of my own guitar playing. I hear so many guitar players in similar styles but it always strikes me how things in this kind of music are heading in a direction I don’t necessarily ‘approve of’ as a guitar player. Basically I think that just because you can play with amazing speed and proficiency it doesn’t mean you have to play that way all the time. I like to think that I have achieved a good balance in that respect. I listen to my own solos with some objectivity and I think: ‘well, this is the way this is meant to be played.’ There are some flashy super-technical moments, but only when I think it’s called for. Some other solos are just the opposite of that, very simple yet purely emotional. The priority at all times is to express something within the song, to add something within the mood and feel. That’s my main personal achievement – and it goes beyond guitar playing: I think I have learned to listen and respect the songs at a new level. A musician needs to learn how to do this, how to delve into the reason-of-being of a specific song and serve its purpose, rather than use a song as a vessel for his or her own ego; or worse, for stage gimmicks.”
The eleven tracks on offer are by far enough to showcase Demata as both a writer and a guitarist, with the American blues of ‘Failing Design’ with its fluid soloing and the lazy/hazy shuffle of ‘Never Come Around’ – both very different songs, but both exquisitely played – really pushing all my buttons. This is a really good album and, as I said, it snagged my attention from the off which rarely happens with CDs that neither mention Satan nor feature more than three chords. Or both. “I would call it a blues rock album,” offers Demata. “Do you have any suggestions or better ideas?” Personally, I’d just call it very, very good.
© John Tucker June 2011
Photos by Kara Rokita and Malgorzata Michalska @ Dark Planet