Interview: Borislav Mitic

Dan McAvinchey: Borislav, looking back, when did you first get interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Borislav Mitic: I started to get into rock music and guitar at the age of 11. Although I grew up in the era of players like Yngwie, Satriani and Vai I approached the instrument almost as if I was coming from the '70s. So first I learned blues and classic rock stuff like Jimi Hendrix, Dire Straits, Deep Purple, AC/DC. Then I got into metal music with bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions and Metallica.

My favorite players in those early days were Van Halen, Gary Moore, Michael Schenker. After hearing Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani I started to be more methodical about my practicing and also got interested in classical music. I was self taught and I figured out all of the theory stuff (scales, chords, etc.) on my own.

In my late teens, I had already became pretty much the best young player in Serbia. I had a band called "Fantasy" and we had a lot of TV and radio appearances, and due to that fact we got to play gigs and concerts with my instrumental repertoire that later ended up on my solo album, "Fantasy". After that I got the offer to come to the US and make a solo album for Shrapnel Records, who were known for discovering all the big name shred players like Paul Gilbert, Yngwie Malmsteen, Greg Howe, Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine and Marty Friedman,

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us a little bit about your latest CD "Absolute", released by Finland's Lion Music. How did you come up with the concept and songs for the CD?

Borislav Mitic: After going through a period of artistic introspection and musical experimentation I got inspired to return to pure metal music. A few years ago I set up my project studio in Canada, where I live. I did that so that I would be able to record new music on my own budget terms and pace, I decided to try and make an ultimate instrumental metal guitar album this time - "The Absolute". The idea was to make it a concept work which would cover many different nuances of metal that have made an influence on me throughout the years. I also wanted to make an album which would show more of my playing ability than previous works. In many ways this is an album that I always wanted to make!

Dan McAvinchey: What are some of your favorite songs off of "Absolute"?

Borislav Mitic: It's hard to say since I look at this album as one whole piece. Each song has something that others do not and they complement each other. Perhaps the title song, since it demonstrates the style of playing I was mostly known for throughout the years. I wanted to start that song off with a nylon string guitar theme which would be taken over by the electric guitars to show the link between classical and a rock approach using these different guitar sounds. I also wanted to include a break section in it which sounds like a baroque quartet, with just electric guitars as a small nod to old composers of that style of music. I tried to be as original as possible in the solo regarding my phrasing - trying to define my own signature style.

I like the tune "Hidden" because of a specific mystical vibe and message that it has, and also "Within All Existence" because it connects to some other influences that are more present in my playing style today like NWOBH riffs and a bigger use of pentatonic bluesy leads.

Dan McAvinchey: How has your approach to writing rhythm and lead guitar parts evolved since your first self-titled CD release with Shrapnel Records?

Borislav Mitic: I am not sure that "evolved" is the right word - it's more a matter of consciously deciding to make music lean more toward a certain direction then the other - even if it means "looking back" into the past. With my Shrapnel album I was more focused on finding original new phrasing and melodic sequences and mixing up genres like rock with ethno and neoclassical. This time, I focused more on riffs and the metal song structure itself. I wanted to have an album which could almost pass as a regular "band" album that the likes of Iron Maiden, Arch Enemy or Black Label Society could have made if they would have collaborated with say... Joe Satriani! I wanted to make an album that could appeal to a wider audience apart from just shred fans. I was also not hesitant to really let loose on this album regarding the display of my shredding ability as I was on my previous ones. No more holding back!

Dan McAvinchey: Do you ever hear back from the folks at Shrapnel? Do you stay in contact?

Borislav Mitic: Yes, I am still in contact with Mike Varney (founder of Shrapnel Records). In fact Shrapnel was also interested in publishing my new album along with some other labels. I decided to go for Lion Music this time since they are EU based and I wanted to focus more on the old continent of Europe in 2010. By the way, I was also featured on two new Shrapnel Records compilations in 2009, entitled "Shrapnel's Super Shredders" and "This Is Shredding, Vol.2" along with players like Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, Ron Thal, Vinnie Moore and Ritchie Kotzen,

Dan McAvinchey: What in your opinion is essential for a great guitar solo?

Borislav Mitic: I would say that it has to have an element of "intense passion" to it that will make it become the highlight of the song. The second thing would be the presence of an intelligent idea within the solo - a statement of some sort. Of course, the role of a "solo" in virtuoso instrumental music is not the same as in vocal oriented songs. In an instrumental virtuoso style it's much harder to make solos stand out and one really has to dig in hard and jump into high gear mode in the "solo" part since the majority of the song already features impressive playing.

Dan McAvinchey: How did you hook up with Lion Music?

Borislav Mitic: I was aware of them for a long time. They are a label specialized in progressive metal music and have a cool artist roster including people like Jennifer Batten, George Bellas, Vitalij Kuprij and Joe Stump. I contacted Lion Music when I was shopping around for a publisher for my new album, they liked what they heard - and that was that.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the chance to play your instrumental compositions in a live setting?

Borislav Mitic: I was fortunate to be able to do that on and off throughout my career. I have played in arenas of 15,000 people, smaller venues of 1,500 and also clubs of 150 people with my instrumentals. But these days the situation has changed and it is very hard to do significant touring with instrumental guitar metal music for artists like myself. The indie guitar oriented labels are not investing money into touring for their recording artists so we are left to ourselves to solve this puzzle. Some of the shredders can make master class/clinic tours if their Instrument endorsers sponsor them but this is often under the condition that they already play in some known rock band. Basically only Joe Satriani and Steve Vai can make big tours with instrumental guitar music now. They were on major labels in the beginning and besides being great artists - that they are - they also had a lot of financing and major promotion throughout the years so they were able to build a bigger audience.

Indie guitar labels today don't have the budget to invest in big mainstream promotion for their artists because it's way too expensive. So, you know it's not the same thing when a label pays for you to appear in the biggest guitar magazines worldwide as opposed to when they don't(!) - so you end up never getting any coverage by any mainstream media, thus failing to reach a wider audience! For example, even a guitar genius like Allan Holdsworth said in a recent interview I read that the only media exposure he gets is if some major magazine wants to write a review of his album!

Another huge problem that haunts metal instrumental music is that club and touring circuit was never established for this genre like it was for jazz or blues where any good jazz/blues artist can play on a weekly basis. Big metal festivals are unfortunately also not that keen on booking metal instrumental music either - which I don't really understand since I believe there is an audience for it. So it's kind of a tough situation right now, but I hope that I'll be able to figure something out and get back on the road again soon.

Dan McAvinchey: Why do you think certain music fans prefer instrumental music over traditional vocal oriented music?

Borislav Mitic: There could be many reasons for that. I guess musicians will prefer instrumental compositions because they can hear more of the ability and expression of the performer than in vocal music where everything is subordinated to the singer. Instrumental music lets the listeners experience it however they want and they can build their own personal impression and imaginary stories around musical ideas they hear as opposed to relying on the lyrics to tell them what the music is about. I guess instrumental music is a bit more free and "artistic" in that way and thus attracts people with that frame of mind. But vocal oriented music also has its qualities and challenges and it's not at all easy to channel the right lyrics and riff combinations that the audience will connect and identify with. In fact, I intend to make a vocal oriented metal album for 2010 as well.

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Dan McAvinchey: How has the economic slowdown across the world affected how you personally buy and discover music?

Borislav Mitic: It hasn't affected how I buy music personally because music is an important part of my life so I still buy CDs like I always did. I imagine that a lot of people gave up on the physical CD format and went for MP3 downloads for different reasons. The digitalization and Internet has forever changed things in the music business and not really for the better. Internet enables unchecked, unlimited illegal downloads, and I think that regardless of the economic slowdown, people tend to want to download a lot of their music for free, thus leaving artists without income that would be generated through royalties from CD sales.

These days, 80% of Internet downloads are illegal meaning that when an artist was selling for example 10,000 CDs before, he is now selling 2,000 CDs with 8,000 illegal downloads. That's the reality and many people do not really think or care about the damage all this does to artists and music. If a remedy is not found soon for this problem I am afraid that the music industry will not exist as we know it for much longer. The huge corporate labels will probably survive somehow but the indie labels and their artists will get destroyed and put out of business.

Dan McAvinchey: Are you using social media sites to promote your CDs?

Borislav Mitic: If you mean MySpace, YouTube and Facebook - yes, I do have those mainly because it allows fans some closer personal contact and insights. However, I don't think those outlets are very powerful tools of promotion alone if an artist is also not covered by mainstream media at the same time. Nothing replaces those traditional channels of promotion like TV, radio and magazines as of yet. Unfortunately, this costs too much for artists like myself. Indie labels like Shrapnel or Lion Music do not invest in this type of promotion anymore because they can't afford it due to their lower CD sales (which is largely due to illegal downloading). So they have no other option than to promote the artists online as best as they can, and hope for the best.

Dan McAvinchey: At this point in your career, from where do you feel you draw your greatest creative inspiration?

Borislav Mitic: From myself - from my memories, thoughts, desires and the sheer will to create music. I also draw inspiration from real life events and music in general, some works of other people that inspire me to keep doing this. I also hope that my music will inspire other new people to play and keep this style of music alive.

Dan McAvinchey: Give us an idea of what's coming up in the future for you.

Borislav Mitic: In 2010 I would like to tour and get to play my new album live as much as possible and meet my fans. I am also intending to make a vocal oriented metal record for later this year and perhaps a more experimental instrumental one as well.

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Borislav Mitic is a virtuoso guitarist based in Montreal, Canada, who was born in Belgrade, Serbia where he first picked up the guitar at the age of 11. He has released several solo instrumental CDs - 1992's "Fantasy", as well as his self-titled release on the Shrapnel Records label in 1998. Mitic is back now better than ever with a metal themed instrumental CD released by the Finnish label Lion Miusic.

Dan McAvinchey caught up with Mitic on the Internet to discuss his thoughts on his newest CD, as well as the decline of the music business.