Posted June, 2012
If you’re a fan of adult contemporary, “easy listening”, jazz, new age or world music, and are avid listeners of radio stations that play those genres of music, then there’s a very good chance that you have heard Steve Oliver.
This jazz guitar phenomenon has to his career credits: eight albums,; eight top 30 singles; named “Debut Artist of 2000”; was the headliner Playboy Jazz Festival – Rose Bowl 2005; top critics picked his album, 3D, as the top jazz album in 2004 and his Radiant album in 2006 and was nominated International Artist of the Year the same year.
More recently, Steve scored two number one Billboard hits from his critically acclaimed CD, Global Kiss, with the title cut and with Fun in the Sun. As if all of that isn’t enough to make anyone who loves any kind of music to stand up and take notice, Oliver also collaborated with Carvin Guitar in the manufacturing of a very technologically advanced guitar synthesizer that he designed. The signature line is enjoying success among the more adventurous and talented guitarists.
I was introduced to Steve by our mutual friend, Rob Parissi. Oliver had worked on Rob’s last CD, East Coast Vibe, after interviewing Rob about the album, I mentioned that I wanted to chat with Steve whenever he released a new album.
Well, that time has come with Oliver’s recent release, World Citizen, which is already enjoying great airplay and sales. I reached Steve at his California recording studio. Before we got down to chatting about World Citizen, I ask the synth guitar wiz why on earth would he associate with such a character as our mutual, good friend, Rob Parissi (all in jest, of course).
“He’s a character! I just love him! We get on the phone and chit chat, as you probably know. It’s crazy! His manager, Amanda Tilk – who’s a doll – I was just talking to her and she said that Rob wants to do an instrumental . He loves contemporary jazz. He always has been a fan of it. It turns out that he’s a fan of mine.
“So, I said, ‘tell him to call me! Please!’ It was that simple. As soon as I said that, I get a phone call ten minutes later from Rob and it’s been a lovefest ever since!”
I love Steve’s, World Citizen and you can read my review of it here. I wanted to hear more about how the album came together and how long it took.
“Well, you know, you always work on these for a long time. I’m involved in every aspect of it – from the writing to the production. I play a lot of the instruments on the album, too. I always have albums for the next three years mapped out. I’m very prolific. I’m constantly writing and never stop.
“I had the concept from Global Kiss and wanted to continue that same journey because we had two number ones on Billboard. I just loved the theme of world – kind of global world theme. So, I had the concept of World Citizen already mapped out and was writing music from that standpoint. I like to have a theme and then write from there. I’m a diverse artist and I love many styles so I try to do all of that under an umbrella of a world citizen kind of vibe – world music, global themes, try Middle Eastern things.
“The writing process is what it is. It does take time as does the production. Then, you start stripping things away and trying different things. So, it’s about a good year and a half of kind of digesting it, living with it and then getting away from it a little bit and then coming back to it. Then, you have ‘fresh ears’. It takes time for the songs to be birthed.
“It really stems from passion, really. My whole vibe is a real positive vibe. That’s real important to me so whatever song I’m writing, I want to keep that feel good positivity vibe in there with all the songs that I do – or get real ‘depthful’. Design – I have a whole other album on the backburner – it’s called Sojourn- which is all guitar music of that Design concept. The whole album is that kind of vibe. I was going to put that out before this album but we had such success with Global Kiss, I wanted to keep that going.”
As Oliver and I discussed the world music genre, the name of Gary Wright came up. I mentioned to Steve that I thought it would be great to see the two of them work together either on stage or in the studio. Oliver offered that, “I actually put that out there (to Wright’s people) because I think it would be a good combination, you know?”
Did you hear that, Mr. Wright?
Then, almost as an afterthought, Steve added, “I’ve been working with some of the rock guys like Rik Emmett, the guitarist from Triumph. We did a gig this year together. He was a fan of mine and I didn’t know that. Again, we’re just talking backstage and hanging out and we just really hit it off as people. Then, he wanted to come up and play with me during my set. I was, like, ‘Absolutely!’ And I’ve been writing some tunes and sending them to him on maybe doing a future thing together. So, yeah, there’s all sorts of that going on, which I love!”
Since we were on the subject, I asked Steve if there was anyone else he would like to work with in some capacity.
“Oh, god! Peter Gabriel because I love Peter’s forward thinking with his music. That’s kind of how I think. The same thing with Pat Metheny. He’s the same way. Very forward thinking. They don’t just keep putting out the same thing. They really explore and I’ve always loved artists like that do music for that reason. John Mayer would be another one. John is so diverse. I love diverse artists. I don’t like artists that are just one thing. I think the Beatles are the most diverse band ever. Their music is all over the map. And, what happens, when you grow up with that thinking about all this music coming from one band. That’s what I loved about the Beatles because they were diverse. Talking about a benchmark to stand on.
“So, musically, that’s what I always strive for when I’m looking for artists I like and artists I want to work with. So, yeah, definitely Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon – those guys who are great songwriters themselves and great artists. Pat Metheny on the jazz side. I’d love to do something with him. God, there’s just so many! The sky’s the limit.”
As we exchanged names of people we really like listening to, Oliver shared that “I buy stuff every day. That’s the thing: I’m a big music advocate. I’m buying stuff on iTunes all the time! I’m addicted. I buy probably a couple of things a day.”
Reading over the credits of World Citizen, Steve shows an impressive line-up of jazz whiz kids who helped him with the album. I asked him to tell me about them and how he came to know them.
“Well, Tom Schuman from Spyro Gyra, he’s the most amazing keyboard player. He’s unbelievable. In fact, I just played and sang on five of his songs on his new record. You’ve got to check it out. He’s amazing. Tom has played on all of my albums since my second solo album and I’ve got eight now. I’ve been working with Tom for a long time and just love working with him. As a fan, I just contacted him many years ago.
“Some of the other guys I’ve used like Paul Taylor, the great sax player in contemporary jazz. I played on his new single which is still on the charts right now. It’s a really good track called Horizon. I sang and played on that. So, I did a trade. I played on his record and he played on mine.
“I also worked with Billy Sherwood from the band, Yes. He was in the band for about ten years – he’s not with them anymore. Billy’s the same way. I wanted to get some rock guys that know and understand contemporary jazz. He’s a fan of the format. It was perfect timing. I called him. He’d just finished doing the John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson) solo album. Billy’s a big producer. He’s produced all the be prog rock guys. I’m a big prog rocker fan already. I was in prog bands in the eighties. That’s what I used to write. I used to always be the lead singer and do prog! Nobody knows that but now they do!”
When I asked Oliver what the response has been so far to World Citizen, he said, “Well, it’s been out not even a month yet and we’re already in the top sales chart on Amazon. It’s been in the top five for almost the whole month. It’s been crazy. It’s selling really well. The single is already number sixteen on the chart. It’s doing the best that it can do. I am not complaining at all! Our radio promoter is doing an amazing job on radio.”
Since he mentioned the subject of radio, I asked Steve what his experience has been within the current state of the radio market in general.
“It’s definitely changed. There’s more places to go for people, which I think is great. There’s actually more internet stations, more satellite, which I listen to all the time, too. But, yeah, it’s definitely changed but there’s still just as much out there as there always was. It’s just that people have more choices. They’re not stuck to just FM. For the genre, the people that listen to this music, they’re pretty much the late thirties to sixties is our age group. They got used to FM. Now, since it’s changed, FM’s having a hard time. It’s just not working like it used to.
“So, now, the internet’s creeping up and catering more to the locals. Every city should have an internet station because you can! Then, cater to the locals. That way, you’ll get more listeners because it’s about the local area. I’ve been telling radio stations whenever I do radio stuff, ‘you’ve got to cater to your locals - don’t just play the music. You’ve got to be more personable. Radio has gotten so far away from being personable.
“There’s still a lot of places for music to be spun and they all have to report now. The internet stations didn’t used to have to report what their playlist was. Now, all of that’s changed. They have to, by law, you have to turn in what you’re playing. With my new single, that’s what makes it rise on the charts. The more spins you get, you climb the charts. It’s cool to still see that flourishing – that’s still with internet and with satellite. They’re all kind of merged together now instead of being separate entities. It needed to happen that way. If we had to rely just on FM, we’d be in trouble.”
With eight albums now under his belt, I asked Oliver how has this album been different in putting together compared to his other albums – especially the earlier ones.
“I’ve been blessed because having a producer mind and being an artist that’s very involved, they always gave me carte blanche. They let me do what I do which is very rare when you’re on a label. They pretty much dictate. That’s been great. My whole career that’s what’s been happening and it’s been wonderful!
“Now, it’s awesome because you can take as much time as you want and put out as much as you want and there’s no limit. I can work with as many people as I want. There’s no restrictions now. You can ‘sell out of your own car’, creating your own vibe. That’s what I hope will get more passionate artists again really wanting to do music – not for the money but doing it because they have to do it. That’s what’s going to make for better music.
“I’m excited about that aspect because, instead of everyone just wanting to be a star, we’re going to get, hopefully, more passionate artists because you’ve got to work hard now. You’ve got to know a lot more. Kids are starting to figure that out. ‘Oh man, I’ve got to book the shows. I’ve got to write the tunes.’ You’ve got to kind of be everything now and I think that’s a good thing because they’re going to put their heart and soul behind it instead of, ‘I want to get signed’ then they do it all for you and you don’t make anything.”
This is obviously something that Steve has given a lot of thought to and feels very passionate about because he then chimed in with his thoughts about the plethora of talent shows that have saturated TV.
“That’s what I think this American Idol thing and all these talent shows – which, I don’t know, I’m not sold on them because, again, without that machine, they’re going to be famous for fifteen minutes. Once that ‘machine’ drops out, they’re gone and there’s nothing to sustain it. But, if you’re doing it ‘grass roots’ like Phil Keaggy’s done and all these guys – they’re doing it because they have to do it because it’s part of their soul and they’re doing it for the right reasons. Whereas a lot of these artists now – young artists are being presented with American Idol thinking – ‘I want to be a star’ instead of ‘I need to do this. It’s part of my being’.
I haven’t had the privilege of catching a Steve Oliver show yet so I asked him what can audiences expect from one of his shows.
“Innovation. I use a guitar that I helped create with Carvin – the guitar company – that I can play keyboard sounds from the guitar. It’s a big part of my show. In fact, I demonstrate it in every show I do so people know what I’m doing. It’s so unique and nobody’s doing this which is really weird to me because the technology’s out there but I don’t see a lot of artists using it.
“I create orchestra sounds, pianos, flutes – anything a keyboard player can play I can play on the guitar and I’m playing the guitar at the same time. It’s a combination of both – along with my singing and the wordless singing – so it’s a real unique kind of show and it has the innovation with guitar technology which I think is real important to put out there. It’s part of my mission. In fact, Design – you mentioned that song – all those guitar sounds are from my synth guitar. I create these sounds and then I work on them and then write songs with certain sounds to create the song. It’s a big part of what I do live and, so, I like to demonstrate it. It’s really, really fun and I think the audience really embraces that because it invites them in to what you’re doing.”
Our time was up but, since Steve was on the subject of guitars, my last questions to him was if there is a guitar that he considers the ‘holy grail” that he either owns or would like to own.
“You know what? I’m kind of playing it – my holy grail – because I helped create it. I always wanted a guitar that can do many things. It has this Les Paul kind of style and it’s, basically, three guitars in one. It’s an electric, it’s an acoustic and it’s my synth and I can trigger all three of those things at the same time. So, that’s kind of like my holy grail – my Carvin. Carvin’s a great company. In fact, I’m doing some show clinics for them next month.”
Check out Steve Oliver’s synthesizer guitar wizardry on his latest CD, World Citizen. While you’re at it, visit his website, SteveOliverMusic.com and see when he’s going to be performing in or near your town. He’s sure to blow you away!