AN INTERVIEW WITH TAMAS SZEKERES
Talented Hungarian guitarist Tamas Szekeres has been around for quite a while now. In 1991 he released his debut solo album, "Guitarmania", which established his indubitable guitar craftsmanship, after which followed quite a few other albums. His current Dutch tour also brought him to the town of Zeist, where he was set to perform in a pub called "Dranklokaal De Druppel". After the soundcheck I was able to join him as he and the band went to have a bite to eat at the Greek Restaurant next door. With Greek music in the background, and his drummer Mike Terrana talking enthusiastically about something or other, much in the way I remembered him doing when I interviewed Tony MacAlpine some time ago, I set to interview the sympathetic but rather introvert guitarist.
Could you start with a short history of your musical career?
Tamas: Well, I have just played guitar a lot. I started when I was 14. Before that I started on piano when I was six years old. My parents were classical musicians so that's helped a lot. I started on classical piano and at 14 I changed from piano to the guitar. After six years I grew bored to play the piano, you see, and it was more interesting to go to the playground and play football so I just stopped doing music. Two years I just listened to music and didn't play. And after those 2 years I thought it would be cool again to play an instrument, and I started to play along with some bands like Deep Purple and Van Halen, these kind of rock bands. The guitar was an interesting thing, I just liked it. After "Guitarmania", "Guitar Tales" was my next rock album, and I have also done two classical guitar albums. One of them is "Christmas in Guitarland" and the other is "Classical Attitudes", with compositions from the Hungarian Johan Karlsbach Merz [sp?] (a nineteenth century guitar player and composer). Another section of that CD is comprised of music by a Spanish guitarist, also from the nineteenth century, called Fernand Busoor [sp?]. The first two records after the original "Guitarmania" were done together with Barend Courbois and Ernst van Ee. It was the line-up of "Guitarmania" (the rerecorded version) and "Guitartales", with added keyboards by Tibor Varga. Next we had good period here in Holland at the "Guitartales" time because the song "Preludium" was picked up by Carola Hamer at Hilversum 3 [Dutch radio station]. We did a lot of good concerts. The last four or five albums of mine have been released in Japan, all over Europe except a couple of places (distributed by SPV). "Guitartales" was also released in the south of Korea, and "Blue Syndicate" also in Argentina and Brazil. I have 11 solo albums now. Not all of them are released all over the place. The classical albums have been released by Sony Classical, but only in Hungrary for whatever reason. The latest album, "Live in Budapest", has only been released in Japan for example [last September, but a Dutch release is in the pipeline for spring 1990]. "Classical Attitudes" has not been distributed in Holland, I think. You can check it out on my home page, anyway.
Is playing the guitar a full time job? Do you have another job at the side?
Tamas: (Laughs) No. I don't have enough brains to get another job. I am just a musician. It is a difficult questions because sometimes the amount of money is barely enough, and we also have a new management. My wife leads the management these days, called Guitarmania management. I was six years with Dutch management, Mr. Ruud Groenendijk, and that's over now. My wife also designs the album covers. Yes, it's a full-time job. We own the productions, we invested a lot to be owner (or sometimes half-owner) of our recordings. It's enough to have food and electricity...
What's the music scene like in Hungary?
Tamas: Well, that's really difficult to say because I was born in Hungary and I live in Hungary. I have a more complete picture of the Hungarian music scene than any other music scenes, so I can't really compare. Let's say 80% of the people in the Hungarian profession are colleagues of mine. It's not a healthy scene, especially after the communism ended. It was sponsored by the government before, so it was possible to play more often, concerts, make albums, it was much better. But now the major record companies have come to Hungary, like Warner or Sony or BMG or whatever, and they just took the market for 100%, taken it from the Hungarians, and it was not strong enough the handle the situation. But what can I say, it's difficult because the boss of Sony is one of my best friends from my childhood, an old friend ofmine. He took the market but he's a friend of mine, that happens. Hungary is not the beat situation for a musician. It is also very difficult everywhere else in the world for progressive or demanding rock music. Here in Holland, too. But we try not to worry about it.
What with you being so prolific, I suppose you're working on your next album already. What can we expect?
Tamas: It will be a new classical album [his fourth, after "Christmas in Guitarland", "Classical Attitudes" and "La Catedral"], and then a new studio album. This studio album will celebrate my 10th year as a solo artist and for this reason I would like to invite a lot of friends of mine wo played on my albums earlier. I already agreed with Barend to play on the new album, perhaps Ernst again [drums]. Mike Terrana, I enjoy playing with them too. I would like to make a few songs with this line-up, as well as with my Hungarian band. It also depends on their schedules. The classical album is already done. When I go back to Hungary I have three more days to work on the album, because right now my producer partner called Miklos Kuronya is working on it. He is editing the tapes, I will check it out, change a couple of things, we edit together again, and that's it. Then we will start on the new studio album. The next album will be with a vocalist so it will be a bit like "The Dreamlake", with Ian Parry as the singer. He's an English singer who has lived in Holland since '82, who also sung on the "Live in Budapest" album [and also singer in Elegy and Vengeance]. We will continue that direction, and perhaps there will be guest singers in one or two songs. But Ian for sure, Barend for sure, Mike perhaps for sure, and my Hungarian friends. It will be a happy family album (laugh).
About a year and a half ago you released "Guitar Hardware" (released in Japan as "Guitar Hits"). It contained covers of songs by a variety of guitarists such as Malmsteen, Vai, Satriani, MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore. What prompted you to do that?
Tamas: It was a kind of idea to play rock music like classical music. You have a composition and you don't have to be a great composer to be on the stage. It's a strange kind of thing in rock music, especially in rock music, that you have to be a composer to be on stage, you have to play your own songs. Otherwise you're not serious enough, you know what I'm saying? That is strange because in the world of classical music you don't have to be a composer, being a composer is basically another profession. So it's like classical music; you just take some good compositions and play these note by note, in your own way. I liked playing "Ice Princess" most, which I will play tonight as well.
I thought your vocal album, "The Dreamlake", sounded very American. What did you do to make it sound that way?
Tamas: I think it sounds more German, actually. I had a German producer. I like the sound of German rock music by Accept for example, and some more good stuff, you know, so I invited German producers to do "The Dreamlake" and I think it sounded great, quite different from the other albums. But when you said it sounded American, I mean, that's also cool.
When people mentioned great guitar players they often miss out Tamas, but you can play everything they can play. What's the problem?
Tamas: I think to have a good management structure these days, let's say to be part of the profession, it would have been best to move to America. But I like Hungary, there's the problem. I knew before that I'd have to pay a big price, but it's more difficult to manage from Holland or Hungary. I don't want to move to America because then I feel I'd lose something. I spent three months there and it was very good and everybody was very nice, it was just amazing, but I came from a small country and I just felt I can't take these big distances. They say Los Angeles is bigger than Hungary (laughs), you know what I mean, I think it's difficult. We will get a stronger position by just keeping on playing. Perhaps the Internet can help, too, to make the distance without travelling.
What equipment do you use and endorse these days? Basically I'd like some technical information.
Tamas: I use Gibson guitars, and Marshall and Mesa Boogie pre-amts, Hughes and Kettner power amps, Hughes and Kettner Rock Drive boxes, so I use a lot of things. I endorse a lot of things. But this tour is a kind of jam session thing, I just came over to Holland, meet with friends (indicates Barend), have a good time. I came just with some basic stuff.
Alright, next up is the 'words to react to' section. Please react briefly to the following words...
The Jungle (a place where Tamas always performs night concerts whenever he's in Holland).
Tamas: Very nice, very good concerts, I enjoy playing there. I have a Jungle T-shirt I like to wear.
Tamas: Well...sad story, what can I say?
Tamas: My place, the place where I was born.
Tamas: It is starting to be my second home (laughs).
Tamas: Vriend [Dutch for 'friend'].
The Great Kat.
Tamas: Sorry? Never heard of the Great Kat.
The music business.
Tamas: It's business. It's not any different from any other businesses.
Tamas: Good guitar player, very cool.
Tamas: I like "Beavis and Butthead" very much. I don't know too much about it because I like Cartoon Network more, I check that out together with my son, you know, "The Mask", "Batman", that's heavy.
Barend: "Johnny Bravo".
Tamas: (Laughs), "Johnny Bravo", "Cow and Chicken", "Two Stupid Dogs", great. I watch it all the time.
Tamas: I started to play guitar because I went to his Jimi Hendrix-style concert. I was so impressed that I started to play guitar. I think he was a great guitar player. Unfortunately he didn't have the circumstances to get out of his scene, and he died, 10 or 15 years ago. Jimi Hendrix had the breaks, but Bela didn't. I think he died because of communism, he had great talent on the guitar, I mean he was really good, but he just couldn't make it. Sad story.
Have you got anything more to say?
Tamas: Thanks for the interview, thanks for coming. Check out the Guitarmania web site!
Written October 1998
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