“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Steve Oliver
Smitty: It is my wonderful pleasure to welcome to JazzMonthly.com an old friend, a great guitarist, he continues to make us feel good about life and that life has a purposeful meaning, one of the top guitarists in the biz, and a phenomenal songwriter! Please welcome Koch recording artist Mr. Steve Oliver. Hello Steve!
STEVE OLIVER (SO): Hey, man, good morning.
Smitty: How are you man?
SO: I’m doing excellent, loving life and feeling good, that’s all.
Smitty: Absolutely, my friend. And you’ve gotta be feeling good about this new record. It’s called Radiant and, man, the title certainly fits well because this is a stunning, radiant CD. I love every tune on this CD.
SO: Oh my gosh, thank you. It was a joy to make.
Smitty: And you really got diverse with this CD, man. I mean, you mixed it up like a pitcher mixing speeds on the pitching mound. Wow.
SO: (Laughing) You know, I love that as a description, as I think the time is open for that right now, you know, to be diverse and kind of explore different things that me as an artist can be able to do; Because I love so many different styles of music, so I believe in putting that diversity aspect on a project, yet making it cohesive so that it kind of flows at the same time. Also at the same time, you see these many different sides of me as a songwriter and a performer, and a singer, and a guitar player. So it kind of….it represents a lot of those different facets, which is really cool.
Smitty: Yeah. How many different guitars did you use on this project?
SO: Oh man, you know, this is the one album where I tried some new guitars that I’ve never used before. I’ve recently gone into business with a great company called Carvin, which makes some mean instruments and they’re out of San Diego. They actually loaned me a couple of guitars to try out and actually built me a new guitar because I play the synth guitar, and I’m able to trigger keyboard sounds and stuff, and they really saw what I can do with that.
Smitty: Very Cool.
SO: So they really want to jump into that kind of arena….of making a guitar for the masses in that way, a guitar that I play. So they built me this new prototype and I used it on a lot of the songs on the new album. So yeah, I use a lot of different kinds of guitars; some steel string, acoustic, some electric guitars that I don’t normally play a lot. I’m not known for that a lot, but I do play a lot of electric guitar too. So I added that on some tracks, three songs I played electric, kind of like a jazz guitar kind of thing.
Smitty: Yeah, it’s a great mix of strings.
SO: And then, of course, my nylon guitar; and they’re all synth access, so I’m able to trigger the keyboard sounds from the guitar along with the regular guitar sounds. So I used probably around, maybe five or six different kinds of guitars on this new album.
Smitty: Wow. Do you feel different with each guitar? I mean, is there a different mood with each guitar?
SO: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, with each guitar, when you plug it in, it’s such a connection because when you’re holding an instrument like a guitar, they all feel different. They all have their own personality, so it makes you play differently because you hear differently and it feels different than like a nylon guitar normally feels. For example, when I pick up the steel string, I play differently. I mean, it’s kind of like your mind goes into this mode, and so it inspires different ways of playing.
Smitty: I’m hip, I can dig it.
SO: And it’s very exciting for me. I love doing that, it’s like picking up another guitar totally foreign to you and you go “Oh wow!” Something totally different comes out, you know?
Smitty: A new toy.
SO: Yeah, exactly. The way I look at it…..guitars are like people, you know, none of them are the same. They all have different personalities, so it brings that element out in you as a player. So it’s really fun.
Smitty: Yeah, that’s very cool, man. So is the guitar an extension of Steve Oliver or is Steve Oliver an extension of the guitar?
SO: Oh, man. It kind of goes hand in hand, you know (both laughing)? We both bring the best out of each other.
Smitty: There you go, baby.
SO: And sometimes you pick it up and you just…….it depends on what kind of mood that you’re in…..and sometimes I love looking at a guitar in a guitar stand. Like in my studio here at home I have guitars on a stand. And it’s funny, I can sit there and stare at the guitar and it just….it’s calling you to play it. I love the look of it. It’s just sitting there going “Okay, I’m waiting,” you know.
SO: “Are you gonna pick me up and play me today or, are you gonna pick up my friend next door to me, you know?” And I love that, I love looking at the instrument. It’s such a beautiful instrument to look at.
Smitty: Yeah, that’s inspiration in itself.
SO: And it just always inspires me to want to play, just the guitar sitting in a guitar stand, looking at it in the studio. I’m just like “Oh, look at that,” you know, “Oh, I wanna play it”.
Smitty: Yeah. You know, it reminds me, Steve, of when I was involved in track and field, no matter where I went, when I would pass by a track….it calls you, you know?
SO: Oh yeah.
Smitty: Looking at the lanes excites me, even to this day. (Laughing)
SO: Wow. That’s it exactly. I think you know what I’m talking about here.
Smitty: Oh Yeah.
SO: I’m like wow. It draws you in.
Smitty: Yeah, exactly. Does it ever get to the point where you find yourself looking at all of those (guitars) and you just want to play them all?
SO: Yeah, it does get overwhelming, it’s true, because I have this one guitar that I have different tunings on, so I leave that, okay, that guitar I de-tune it, and I have different tunings and sometimes I just pick it up and I start experimenting. So that’s kind of like my “Okay, I wanna just experiment with different tunings,” okay? Then I put that one down and then “Oh, this one, you know, is my nylon.” I plug it into my guitar synth stuff and I’m triggering all these sounds. So they all have different things. It’s just….it’s really cool.
Smitty: Yeah. So your studio is like a candy store.
SO: It is. I go in there and it’s like “Okay, it’s hard to focus. Okay, okay, now it’s songwriting time. Okay, I’m focusing on a song.” In fact, I was just working on some new material, you know, before you called.
Smitty: Oh really.
SO: Yeah, you go in there and it’s like a laboratory. It’s, amazing what you can come up with. (Laughing)
Smitty: I can totally identify with the laboratory thing, and that’s the mark of a true musician, Steve; you haven’t released your new CD, and you’re working on new material. That’s a true musician.
SO: Oh man. You know, it’s funny; the music never stops, it never does. I mean, you’re always hearing different things and you get inspired by everyday life and sometimes I’ll hear a lyric idea and I’ll just write it down or a song title and then I’ll write a lyric to that and it never ends. When you’re open to that, those ideas, if you let them come in, it’s just like a constant door that’s open with ideas flooding in, and I never close the door. So you can be creative and let the magic flow.
Smitty: Yes, and speaking of flow Steve……what I’ve really enjoyed a lot, among other things about this CD, it has such great melodies. It just has that ebb and flow, you know?
SO: Wow. Yeah, it’s funny because I think in instrumental music and me being a singer, I love melody, so I’ve really focused on that, I like hearing songs. I’ve always been a song guy, so when I’m writing a tune, I really want a melody to be strong….to kind of speak to each song. So I really spend a lot of time on that, with nice changes, and nice chord changes and then being able to put a nice melody with those changes. I spend a lot of time with that, and the same thing with singing, because a lot of times I’ll sing it if I can sing the melody, it will speak, because it’ll make you play differently if you’re singing it. Singing the melody, you know, like da-ba-da-ba-da and then you try to, oh, see how it works with the guitar. Yeah, love melody, yeah, you gotta have it. (Laughing)
Smitty: Yes, and you opened with a great melody on this project with “Feeling Good.” I think that’s a great opening song for the project. It flows right into the rest of the music. I’m really digging that song.
SO: Oh, thank you. Yes it’s a real “dance-y” track with a lot of really cool soundscapes in it. I really like that as an opening too…..I thought that was a really good opening song for the whole album.
Smitty: Yeah, and I can also see it as an opening song to a show. It just sets the tone, you know? (Laughing)
SO: Wow, really? Oh my gosh.
Smitty: However, I must tell you, though; my favorite track is “Shadow of the Moon.”
SO: No way! Wow.
Smitty: Yeah man.
SO: Oh, man. Well, thank you.
Smitty: That’s the bomb.
SO: Yeah, that track…..I knew conceptually what I wanted to go after with that track. I mean, it had this ambient vibe, you know?
Smitty: Yes indeed!
SO: And I love electronica music and world music a lot, so I wanted to combine a lot of soundscapes, you know, from chill music and electronica music. That’s what’s great about it. You can be really creative with sounds….Yet a lot of times, chill music doesn’t have a lot of melody, so I wanted to put a melody to kind of a backdrop of electronica music and that’s how I came up with “Shadow of the Moon.” It has a nice combination of style and sound.
SO: And with the backward strings and just a lot of the different elements of sound effects and stuff. It was a blast putting that piece together.
Smitty: I really got deep into the sounds on this record, especially this song because there’s a lot of diversity there. It really pulls your ear into the song, to dig deeper with the ear.
SO: Oh yeah, absolutely. And that’s what I love about that kind of music. It really does pull you in with the sounds. I mean, a lot of it are sounds you’ve never heard before and you can combine so many different elements. That excites me as a writer to be able to have that palette. At the same time, then I do a tune that’s real organic, like “Radiant Dreams”; where it’s just guitar and real stripped down. So I love both sides of the spectrum; real stripped down things to very soundscapey things.
Smitty: Yeah, exactly. I like “Radiant Dreams” too. I was blown away with Tom Schuman’s keyboard playing there. Is he a phenomenal keyboard player or what?
SO: Oh, he’s off the hook. I mean, he’s so…..he’s a genius level keyboard player; not only a piano player but as a writer himself and a programmer, he’s just amazing. It was such a blast to be able to work with him again, on this project. He played on two songs on this album and we did them at his studio, and it was just a blast to work with him.
Smitty: Yeah, he continues to amaze me with the things he does.
SO: I know, me too. (Both laughing)
Smitty: There’s some great photography work here too. Man, I love this photography, wow.
SO: Oh, thank you. Yeah, Paul Spinelli took the photo shot. He’s actually an NFL photographer.
Smitty: Oh wow.
SO: He actually goes to all the games and he used to work for the NFL, and goes to all the games and takes the shots. He’s one of the guys down there on the turf taking pictures of the players as the games are going on. He loves this music, and he’s been a friend throughout the years. Out of luck of the draw I asked him “Paul, can you take some shots? I’d love for you to take some pictures for the album cover.” So it was great to work with him. He actually did all of the photos for my last CD, 3-D. So this is the second time we were able to work together on a concept.
Smitty: Well, please tell him that he does excellent work with light. (Laughing)
SO: Yeah, yeah, it was really cool, you know. He came up with this great idea with having the cover….. where the photo of me, has no light on me. Yet it’s coming out in front of me. So it has this kind of “radiant” light. That was the concept that we had, and it was just a really cool effect.
Smitty: Excellent, yeah, I noticed it right away. Steve, you’ve had a great 2005, just to back up a little bit. Man, was 2005 super cool or what?
SO: Oh my gosh, it was, it was one of the busiest touring years. I did so much touring this year, which is wonderful, and I got to do the Dave Koz cruise and performed on that. Then, well, this year I did Warren Hill’s cruise too; it was this year, 2006, but it feels like last year.
Smitty: I know. It just all blends together when you’re running.
SO: I know, it’s like, yeah, there’s no set time, there’s no set year, it just melds together. It was a really great year for touring and music and then I got nominated for this Canadian Smooth Jazz Award for 2006.
Smitty: That’s right.
SO: We got the nomination in 2005, so that was real exciting and I couldn’t be happier. I want to take this time to thank all of my fans….Everyone have been so supportive, so yes thank you so much!
Smitty: Yeah. Well, Steve, you know, it’s easy for people to be drawn in by your music because it has such an inviting and captivating appeal. It’s a very warm and all encompassing appeal, so I can see how you’ve been nominated for awards and you’re cruising on the water and doing all those wonderful things that a musician dreams of, and why you have such great fans.
SO: I know, I know, very fortunate. I count my blessings every day, you know? (Both laughing)
Smitty: So how do you like it at Koch Records? Those are great guys over there, aren’t they?
SO: Oh yeah, Dave Wilkes, he’s the head of A&R, is just a sweetheart and he’s a music lover.
Smitty: Yeah, Dave’s totally cool and he has such a rich history of music and he knows how to make things happen.
SO: And that’s what I love. I mean, it’s great when the people you’re working with are actually music lovers, they’re not only business people, of course we all have to be business people, but at the same time, he’s passionate. And it’s great to have that. Dave Wilkes is that way, and he’s just a great guy. He’s been in this business for so many years, and he’s signed so many amazing artists, and Koch has such an amazing roster.
Smitty: Yes indeed!
SO: They’re expanding and that’s Dave. Dave Wilkes is signing a lot of amazing artists and it’s great to see that passion, you know? So whenever I talk to him, we’re always talking about music and it’s cool. You don’t get a chance to do that a lot of times with your label. A lot of it is business and stuff like that, but, you know, with Dave Wilkes, man, he’s just great. Everybody there has just been great.
Smitty: Yeah, it’s a wonderful bunch of people, I tell ya, and Dave is just, he’s so out in front and he’s just doing his thing and he’s got a wonderful appeal. I love talking to him. He’s a great guy, yeah.
SO: Oh yeah, oh yeah, I know, and you did an article with Dave and so you know.
Smitty: Oh Yeah. He’s a different A&R guy, and I love his approach to his position in this music business.
SO: I know.
Smitty: So now I want to talk about some of these musicians too. Man, you’ve got two of my favorite bass players in the world and that’s Gerald Veasley and Mel Brown.
SO: Oh, I can’t say enough about them. Well, first we’re doing a couple of shows of Triad this year which features Gerald Veasley and Michael Paulo, who’s an incredible sax player.
Smitty: Yes, he is.
SO: And it was funny; when I got Gerald to play on one of the songs (“Reach the Sky”), we were actually rehearsing Triad for the Catalina Jazz Festival and we rehearsed here at my house. We had all the guys here. It was Brian Simpson, Gerald Veasley, Michael (Paulo), and Christian (Poezach) was my drummer that played in the Catalina show. So they were all over here at the house and we rehearsed for a couple of days; while Gerald was here, I go “Gerald, I have a song for you to play on,” for the new album, so we recorded it here at my house with Gerald and it just came out great. And Mel Brown, oh my gosh, I mean……
Smitty: Is he a monster or what?
SO: He is mind blowing. I mean, he played to the songs so amazingly. I mean, enough said, just listen to his tracks. He’s on most of the album, actually.
Smitty: Yeah, I noticed.
SO: Yeah, Mel played on, gosh, he played on eight of the 11 songs, and what he brought to the table was just beyond belief. I mean, it just really made the tunes speak. I can’t say enough words about Mel Brown.
Smitty: Yeah. He adds such a unique oomph to a song.
SO: I know, I know. But just on “Good to Go”….. that’s the new single actually going to radio for the Radiant album, and what he played on that tune; and he added this like little reggae kind of vibe to it. All of a sudden it was like “Oh man, this is so cool.” I mean, just the new elements, and it’s nice too when you have a song and they get inspired…. the musicians, and they wanna add to the party, you know.
SO: And so they wanna bring this, you know, they wanna bring more chips and salsa, you know, more bites and stuff to the songs and that’s how Mel is.
Smitty: Yeah, he’s a great guy.
SO: Yeah, he is.
Smitty: And you’ve got Michael B.
SO: Michael Broening, yeah. Another amazing musician, you know, he’s been working with Marion (Meadows) on Marion’s last three records. And Marion’s done so well, in part I think because of Michael being aboard. We’re adding his sounds and his songwriting and all of his approach and actually Michael played on my first album, First View.
Smitty: I remember.
SO: So I’ve known Michael for many, many moons and it’s been a joy to watch him grow, you know, as a producer. So we spent a lot of time on this album and he did an amazing job. He mixed eight of the songs on the album. Not only mixed it, but he played all the keyboards, did a lot of programming, and so he was very, very involved with the sounds and putting together all the stuff on this new album.
Smitty: Yeah. It’s a great feel.
SO: Oh, thank you, yeah.
Smitty: And I didn’t want to forget Hans (Zermuehlen), man.
SO: Oh, the greatest. Hans the Greatest! (Both laughing) He’s been my touring keyboard player and he’s just such an amazing player and underrated, you know?
SO: He’s played with everybody from Air Supply to Eric Marienthal , I mean, The guy is just incredible.
Smitty: Yeah. Please say hello to Hans for me. “I’m sorry, Hans!” I can’t forget you man!
SO: Yes, I will. I definitely will.
Smitty: When you first developed the concept of Radiant, Were you reflecting back on some of your past projects and memories? Were you dwelling in the moment of what’s happening in your life, in the world? Talk about that title.
SO: Yeah, that word “radiant,” if you just say it, it’s something about it; it does something to you, to your body. It kinda resonates. “Radiant,” when you say that word it’s like, wow, it really resonates, I think, within the human soul. At least it does for me, when I hear that word “radiant,” whoa, you know, it’s like it’s a big sunset, or like a radiant sunset. What else can you say? It just….it speaks to you, and that’s what music does to me too. So I wanted to kinda involve not only the radiant sunset, but to have radiant music, radiant music that makes you feel good. And that’s kind of….was the concept of the whole album, so every song title has something to do with radiant. If you look down the list of songs, you know, “Tradewinds”, “Radiant Dreams”, “Shine,” they all have to do with some kind of…..“Reach the Sky”. They’re all uplifting kind of meanings.
Smitty: You did an excellent description on the back of the liner notes. It’s sort of a description of the record with the song titles included as part of the description. I thought that was pretty cool.
SO: Oh, thank you. When I was doing the liner notes, it was a quick thing. It just struck me, “You know what? Let’s explain,” you know, “Let’s explain a little bit about the album so people can have a little understanding,”
Smitty: Steve, I can’t wait to hear some of these songs live. Your shows this year are going be “off the chain” with these great new songs!
SO: Oh, thank you. Yes, the whole month of March and April I’m doing showcase touring to promote the new album and I’m playing the whole album live.
SO: That’s the other good thing about this album. It really plays well live.
Smitty: I know!
SO: So I’ve been performing, I’ve already done it. I did XM Satellite Radio just last week. I just got back from Washington DC. I did a whole album showcase and we played the whole album live. It has a lot of music and that’s what’s great about this new album Radiant. It really plays great live.
Smitty: Yeah, yeah, man, I tell ya, Steve, I really anticipate some seriously cool things happening with this record this year.
SO: Oh, thank you.
Smitty: This is your best work to date, my friend.
Smitty: It’s very diverse, very melodic, and it’s got some serious grooves, and it’s got that funk that the bass brings to it, you know?
Smitty: I mean, and your guitar playing has just escalated, my friend. Wow!
SO: Oh, thank you. Yeah, you know, I got to do different things this time around; Like on “For What It’s Worth,” the vocal tune, which I just love that track, because it’s very organic. I also played a different guitar. Actually, that guitar was a guitar that was in Michael B’s studio and I just picked it up and I just started playing on it. I’m like, man, this guitar sounds incredible! You know, who guitar is this? It was just sitting in the corner, so I ended up using it on the record, and you could hear me slapping the guitar as a percussion instrument, along with playing the lead on it, on “For What It’s Worth,” and it just has this great tone to it, and I just had a blast with it. And then the vocals, you know, of course, doing the wordless singing thing on every song and using the voice as an instrument again. That’s part of my sound and what I do. It was just a blast, all the diversities of the songs on this album. I was really happy with that.
SO: It really flows nice at the same time.
Smitty: It does, man, and I love those voice sounds, and you know that. It’s a shame I can’t do that. (Both laughing) I don’t think anyone can do that, Steve.
SO: Oh man, I don’t know.
Smitty: You are unique.
SO: Oh man, thank you.
Smitty: So you’re gearing up for your 2006 tour?
SO: Yes. A lot of really cool things in the works as we speak.
Smitty: Very cool.
SO: Lots of shows already, which is for the beginning of the year, which has been amazing. We’re going to back to Florida, I’m doing a run there and of course, we’re doing the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards in April.
SO: I’m performing with Warren Hill again, Along with tons of solo shows that we’ve been focusing on this year.
Smitty: Yes. Well, I know I’m probably preaching to the choir for a lot of the fans out there that have seen your live shows, but you have such an amazing show with your voice sounds, with the guitar sounds, and the band is always hot. It’s always an amazing show, but I will say to those that perhaps have not seen you perform, “You are really missing out on something truly unique and wonderful.” So I would encourage everyone to catch your live performance. It’s always a lot of fun. It’s a party, you know?
SO: We try to make it fun and yet at the same time very engaging. Because live shows don’t happen without an audience.
Smitty: You got that right.
SO: And to not have them be a part of it, I mean, it doesn’t happen; so it’s really important to have everybody be engaged into the show and be a part of it, a part of the music as we are, and I really encourage it.
Smitty: Steve, my friend, best of everything with this great new record, it’s called Radiant, it’s on the Koch Records label, and it’s from the amazing Steve Oliver himself. Steve thanks again for sharing your time and this great new record.
SO: Oh, thank you.
Smitty: I must catch you out on the road, my friend.
SO: I know Smitty, we gotta hook up.
Smitty: Yeah, we will do it, I promise.
SO: I hope so.
Smitty: All right. Steve, thanks again, my friend, and let’s hook up soon.
SO: Thank you, you bet, thanks for everything and all your efforts and hard work.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.steveolivermusic.com or www.kochrecords.com
© April 2006 Jazz Monthly LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED