IVAN MIHALJEVIC is a surprising revelation in the international progressive metal scene! Born nearly 25 years ago in Zagreb, Ivan is recognized also outside of Croatia for his unparalleled quality of guitar skills as well as for his merits as a composer and singer. But let’s know him better…
Hi Ivan, I’m Tarja, welcome to Metal Shock!
Hello Tarja, thanks for having me here!
I’d like to start from “the beginning”? Please tell me how your passion for the music started?
I was a fan of rock music way before I started playing the guitar. I was listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Queen, Black Sabbath, The Beatles, Radiohead, Metallica and many more. My favorite band at that time was Oasis and they were basically the reason why I wanted to pick up the guitar.
After you had finished the course in the Rock Academy, you continued to study (music theory, piano, singing) in Highschool for Jazz and Popular Music, which led you to be a highly respected multi-instrumentalist and beloved teacher. Please tell me about how you found your way into metal?
Actually, I was playing metal before I enrolled into the music highschool. When I started playing the guitar, I mostly played tunes from Oasis, The Beatles, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Led Zeppelin… Then I formed a band with a group of guys who were huge Metallica fans. I was listening to Metallica a bit before that too, but not as much as the other stuff. However, they dragged me into the metal music even further. Btw, these days it’s hard to really draw the line between hard rock and metal. I’ve heard some guys call Metallica hard rock and some other guys call Led Zeppelin metal.
Talking about your influences, where they are coming from? And who are your musical mentors?
My influences are actually quite diverse. There’s way too much to list here, so I’ll just mention some of them without repeating the ones that I already mentioned. I’m really into some progressive bands and projects like Dream Theater, Ayreon, A Perfect Circle and Pain Of Salvation. I like some of a bit more vintage 70′s and 80′s sounding rock (not necessarily from that period, but with that kind of vibe) like Mr. Big, Van Halen, Whitesnake, Gotthard and Richie Kotzen. I like some modern rock like Foo Fighters, Nickelback, Audioslave and Avenged Sevenfold. I already mentioned a good deal of huge rock bands from the 70′s. I like some guitar instrumental guys such as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Guthrie Govan. I also like some mellower pop stuff like Toto (love the Steve Lukather solo project as well), Seal and Keith Urban. From time to time I’ll listen to some classical music like Chopin’s piano pieces or Mozart’s operas or orchestral pieces or some jazz stuff like Wes Mongomery or Allan Holdsworth, but I will admit that it’s not very often.
I’d also like to mention a few people that I’ve learned a lot from about music, guitar playing, singing, recording and mixing and music business in general. The first one is my first guitar teacher Zlatko Bebek who has taught me a lot about guitar techniques, sounds and music in general. I’ve learned the most about singing from Brett Manning’s programs Singing Success and Mastering Mix (this has nothing to do with mixing and mastering in the engineering sense, it’s about the mixed voice – a technique for singing full and powerful high notes). I’ve never met Brett, but he’s really helped me a lot with understanding how my voice works. Another guy that has helped me a great deal with singing is a great Croatian singer Maksim Hozic. I’ve learned a great deal of engineering stuff about recording and mixing very recently from my friend and a very famous Croatian rock producer Denyken. As for understanding the music business, the guy that I’ve never met, but I consider a true genius is named Derek Sivers. If you’re serious about making it in the music business, you should check out his blog at sivers.org and download his free e-book with music marketing advices.
I’ve learned a lot also from many other people, but I can’t list all of them here. These are the ones that I feel I owe the most to. Apart from my formal education, the music I listen to and these guys I mentioned, I also learned a great deal by simple trial and error. Sometimes you just need to make a mistake yourself to learn something.
Well, guitar is just a tool for me. It’s all about making music. Guitar and voice are my tools which enable me to express my ideas. Making and playing music is really a wonderful feeling. The message that I’d like to transfer the most is probably to work on your talents, seize your potential and use it in a constructive manner. Human characteristics that I dislike the most are all forms of destructive behavior.
How would you describe your musical genre?
Well, I believe my style is quite diverse and that it spans between a variety of genres. A single genre that would probably describe it the best would probably be progressive rock since progressive rock basically already incorporates characteristics from many different genres.
What are your favorite guitars?
I’m a big fan of Music Man guitars. My favorite guitar at this moment is my Music Man Silhouette Special. Superb build quality, fantastic sound and great playability. I couldn’t ask for more and I’m very fortunate that Ernie Ball Music Man supports me and my music.
We could say that you’ve been discovered in summer 2005, when you had an opportunity to perform in Wacken Open Air in Germany, alongside a Croatian band: Hard Time. Do you still remember your feelings on that day?
Yes, it was a great experience. I had just two days to learn the repertoire, two or three days of rehearsals and we’ve hit the stage. It was fun. I had a little bit of stage fright, but it went away quite quickly.
In november, the same year, 2005, you joined Hard Time as a full-time member, and soon after you had a chance to share the stage with the names like Paul Gilbert, The Cult, The Scorpions… anything you’d like to tell us about those moments?
Actually, it was in November 2006. I didn’t really have a chance to meet the guys from The Cult and Scorpions properly, but I had a great time with the guys from Paul Gilbert band. It was so great to meet and play in front of a guy that I’ve learned so much from about guitar playing.
Then in 2007 an European tour, and in 2008 came out your debut album “Sandcastle”, which was sold-out after only two months from publication! And it’s widely reviewed with honors… what made it so highly appreciated?
I don’t really know. I wasn’t really expecting that much feedback from that album. I just had a lot of songs which just wouldn’t fit Hard Time stylistically and decided to record an album with some of those songs and people liked it. The entire album was recorded in my room with almost no equipment and absolutely no budget. That album means a lot to me and I’m glad so many people listened to it and liked it.
Talking about the songwriting process, how a new song sees a daylight?
It depends on the song. Every song I write is created differently. You never know when the inspiration will strike. Sometimes I write a whole song in half an hour and sometimes it can take months to finish a song. Sometimes I’ll record my ideas and come to the rehearsal with them and work on them with the band. Sometimes I’ll write out the whole arrangement, record it and send it to my bandmates to learn their parts. For Destination Unknown, one song was written by my drummer Alen Frljak. He had the piano riffs, the chords for the verse and the vocal melody for the chorus. I came up with the rest of the vocal melodies and filled out the rest of the arrangement. He has also written a new song recently for the next album that we’re working on currently. It’s quite unusual for a drummer to write whole songs, but Alen is a very musically talented guy and I hope he will contribute with many more songs in the future.
What have been, so far, the most important acts where you’ve played with?
First place would be, without a doubt, taken by Les Paul. It was a great honor to play on stage with the guy who invented the instrument I play and multitrack recording.
The year 2010 was for you very intense, from the professional point of view, because it saw you engaged first as a producer for rock and metal bands, and then behind the scenes of ‘Croatia’s Got Talent’ and yet, you were engaged in Clinics and Masterclasses. Please tell me more about these experiences…
I didn’t really have anything to do with the Croatian Idol show itself. I just produced a single for a band of one of the finalists. I have been fooling around with studio gear and production techniques for quite some time now and lately I just decided to take it to a whole new level by really putting in the time to learn how to properly record and mix a song. I had a few clinics for the Italian company IK Multimedia showcasing their amp simulator Amplitube. It was a fun experience. I usually always play my songs live with a band. This time it was just me and my bass player sitting down plugged into a laptop.
Well, Destination Unknown was much more of a band effort than Sandcastle. I didn’t even have this band yet before Sandcastle was released. It’s a great pleasure to be able to work with Alen and Majkl who are great musicians and great guys.
This year, “Destination Unknown” has been chosen as “Album of the Month” in the March issue of the magazine Guitar Techniques. How do you feel about this recognition?
That’s amazing! I can’t tell you how happy I was when I found out about that. I always considered Guitar Techniques to be the best European guitar magazine and quite possibly the best in the world. I was reading that magazine and practicing the transcriptions from it since I was in high school. It really means a lot to me!
Even if you’ve come already a long way to where you’re today, you’re still young… what are your dreams for the future, that you’d like to become true?
I’m very happy with my life so far and wherever it may take me next, I just hope that I will stay happy. I’d be very satisfied to be in a position to tour with this project out of my country, continue making albums and make a living out of it without having to do a lot of other stuff on the side.
And if not talking only about dreams, what are your next plans?
Currently I’m working with Side Effects on a new album. Hopefully, our plans will bring us closer to our dreams.
On your Facebook profile, you’ve written: “Freedom you will find in your spirit and your mind. Nothing ever can take that away! The meaning of life is to give life a meaning!” it’s a very nice thought, please tell me about its meaning in your life…
Actually, I’m not the one that came up with those phrases. The first two sentences are from Steve Vai’s song Survive from the Sex & Religion album! The last sentence is from Ayreon’s The Sixth Extinction off of the album 01011001 and that line in the song was sung by Steve Lee from Gotthard who has recently passed away.
The meaning of those phrases in my life is that I’m trying to always have a goal in front of me to work for and to be able to smile looking back on what I’ve done so far. I really believe that we are the ones that create our own destiny and that we are the only ones that can know the meaning of our own life. I don’t think we’re born with a specific meaning of life. I believe each one of us needs to create his own meaning of life that pushes him forward and gives him power to persist.
And now, the last question… what are your greeting to your fans and to our readers?
Thanks for your interest in reading this interview. I’m glad to be featured on this site. Please visit my website at www.ivanmihaljevic.com. If you still haven’t heard any of my music, please go to www.myspace.com/ivanmihaljevic and have a listen. Thank you! Keep following Metal Shock!
Thanks Ivan, for this interview! Good Winds for your music! See you on the road! \m/
Interview by Tarja Virmakari
Carry On My Wayward Son – Ivan Mihaljevic & Side Effects feat: Phil Hilborne