Interview : Goran Ivanovic

by David Leicht

I was fortunate to catch up recently with Goran Ivanovic, of the brilliant Andreas Kapsalis & Goran Ivanovic Guitar Duo. We touched on a number of topics, including their exciting, eponymous album, which I would strongly recommend to any fan of contemporary guitar music.

W&W: When and how did you guys meet?

It was about five or six years ago in Chicago. We both used to play at the Hothouse, which was a world music place, one of the first in the city. Their booking agent decided to do a show with both of our groups.¹ We’d sort of heard of one another, through the newspaper, but had never actually met or heard each other’s music. We met up after the show and, after that, began to hang out, spending time as buddies, playing pool and ping-pong. Eventually, we started arranging and composing music together, then playing shows, and booked our first tour in Colorado and Arizona. The response was fantastic. We recorded our debut CD and the response was overwhelming. We decided to take it on the road full-time, give our bands a little break. I think we’ve been on the road now for three or four months straight.

W&W: Given the way your collaboration evolved, was it natural to present the new work as guitar duets, rather than forming a group?

Yes, absolutely. Sometimes people ask “why not add a bass player or drummer?” We have those groups already, what would be the point? I think Chopin once said, “the only thing that’s more beautiful than solo guitar is two guitars.” (laughter) We like playing around with the limitations of the instrument.

W&W: Guitar duos are somewhat rare, it seems like there are, and always have been, a good deal more solo guitarists than duos. Have there been specific guitar duos that inspired you and Andreas?

Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin: when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, they just blew me away. Then I found out about Sergio and Odair Assad, they blew me away even more, in terms of their compositions and arrangements. In the eighties and nineties, Paco and McLaughlin broke a lot of barriers and were the first real guitar heroes that I heard playing classical or acoustic guitars. But you said it right, there aren’t that many duos. Most of them I know are focusing on Latin American music.

W&W: Setting nylon against steel strings seems to be an important part of your sound.² Obviously, each instrument has its own tone, and lends itself to certain playing techniques…

Yeah, the classical guitar has the sweeter sound, where the steel string has a punchy, percussive sound. It definitely affects the way we write.

W&W: On your website, you state that one of your goals is to “build the new repertoire for the next generation of guitar players.” I do like that gesture, and think of other guitarists, in the past, who’ve called for a new “standard” repertoire for the acoustic guitar. On the other hand, you’re both such advanced players! Andreas, as noted, has a very unusual approach, with the tapping and percussive techniques, it seems hopeful to think that your compositions could ever be applied universally… very few players would be capable of actually playing the parts, no?

Well, I think it’s do-able. You have to expect to rearrange… adapt it. We’ve been asked many times now to write some of our pieces out, to publish them or give to other guitarists to perform. I think it can be done in a way that is challenging and demanding but also beautiful, and would still allow someone to be able to learn it.

W&W: Have you done any transcribing or tabbing of your work?

We have. Actually, one of our pieces is published in France. This is definitely something we want and intend to do more of when we have time.

W&W: A good number of players in the current underground guitar scene are self-taught. The best of them thrive on creativity, though I’m wondering if their playing would sound “homespun” to your ears. Can you appreciate that type of player?

Yes, yes, yes! It’s the nature of folk music. For instance, you might have only one string and just a few notes to play with. Listening to folk music and applying some of those techniques is exactly what we love to do.

W&W: It’s clear that you and Andreas draw inspiration from the cinema. Your piece, “Vertigo,” as you mentioned, is a nod to Bernard Herrmann, and your album artwork evokes the famous poster from the film. Pieces like “Shadow Thief” and “Arrhythmia” have a narrative, soundtrack-like quality…

Yeah, somebody like Bernard Herrmann… you get excited by a composer and you start to combine bits of their style into your own. I remember watching Hitchcock movies as a kid, you know. It’s inspiring because it’s orchestral, it’s beautiful, it’s mysterious, and it’s playful. It’s open for everybody to create their own story.

W&W: I also recall you introducing an Ennio Morricone piece during your set. Remind me, which one was it?

The piece is called “Chi Mai,” from the film, The Professional. I think Morricone did the original score. I just liked it so much… just a beautiful, gentle melody. We generally choose not to do covers, but once in awhile we do a piece that we really like. We also do “Spain” by Chick Corea.

W&W: Let’s talk about “Improvisation for Satie” from the album. How much, if any of it, was premeditated?

That was pure improvising. We had some extra time in the studio, and I think we did three or four short improvisations and it was the most natural one. Andreas and I improvise in a very compositional way. We try to develop a melody and take the piece somewhere instead of just jamming out. I think in “Satie” there is some development, and it reminded us a little bit of the composer, Eric Satie. That’s how the name came about.

W&W: “Nunu” is your beautiful solo piece on the album; do you also perform it in Eastern Blok?

Thank you. Yes, we do that as a part of a short suite. I think it works equally well as a solo piece.

W&W: How will the new album you’re working on differ from or build upon the debut?

I think the playing has gotten better in the last year, because we’ve been playing so much together. If we want to change something in a piece, we’re making each other listen very hard and responding musically. Also, on the debut record, you can tell the pieces Andreas wrote versus the pieces I wrote. I think on the next record, our styles will be fused more tastefully. Andreas works in a very conceptual way, starting with a storyline, then the music develops. There will be love stories, battle stories, stories inspired by comic books…

W&W: Let’s talk about your recording process. You both play the body of the guitar percussively, I imagine capturing that could be a challenge. How has your engineer approached it?

We like to be in the same room, opposite one another with a divider. The microphones are set close, one on the sound hole and one to capture some of the left hand details. Andreas also goes direct to capture the percussion sounds inside the guitar body. The main thing for us is to sound dynamic… play well in the studio and forget about playing clean and carefully… just go for it, hope that it comes through. I think we sort of captured that on the first album, hopefully we’ll do even better on the next one.

¹ Goran plays in Eastern Blok and Andreas in the Andreas Kapsalis Trio.
² In the duo, Goran plays classical nylon string guitars, Andreas plays acoustic steel string guitars.

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