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May 2014
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Interview: Aleks Sever

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Interview: Aleks Sever

“Some women can walk in with a lot of cleavage showing, and suddenly they’re Jimi Hendrix.” No, Aleks Sever doesn’t mince words. “There are a lot of female players working who wouldn’t be if they were men. There is so much more competition for a man—they really have to be great to even get any attention at all.”

A devil’s advocate or a scorned, lesser-abled 6-string sister might point to the cover of Sever’s new release, Danger Girl—on which she’s shown in a seductive pose, decked-out in a Bond girl-like outfit—and accuse her of talking the talk but not walking the walk. The reality, however, is that although Sever is not afraid to flaunt her good looks, she would have been chewed up and spit out by the star-making machine by this point if all she had to rely on was that.

“If you get to a certain level, it all comes down to the music, and no one—male or female—is going to get hired unless they can play,” she says. And play, she can. Any of her blistering solos on Danger Girl could tear the head off countless run-of-the-mill, Dumble-clone-sporting Robben Ford-wannabes—man, woman, or child.

Sever, who is of Croatian descent, grew up in Aalen, Germany, and first explored her creative side through art. She entered her oil paintings in competitions at the age of 7, and at 12 picked up an acoustic guitar for the first time. Two years later, inspired by blues players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, she switched to electric. And although her paintings had begun to win her accolades in competitions throughout Europe in her teens, the musical itch eventually won out and she packed her bags and headed to L.A. to pursue her dreams. “Being an artist can be very isolating because you spend a lot of time alone, and it is very easy for me to do that,” Sever confides. “Music always gives me a way out and makes me connect with the world. That’s when I’m the happiest.”

Soon upon arriving stateside, she landed gigs at prestigious venues like the Baked Potato and quickly made big waves, getting acclaim from industry giants like Dave Koz and Lee Ritenour, who says of Sever’s playing, “Your mouth will probably drop open like mine did.”

Sever’s latest release—her first all-instrumental album—was produced by multiplatinum producer Matthew Hager [Simply Red, Mindi Abair] and may very well catapult her to guitar-hero status. We caught up with Sever to talk about the making of the album, the gear she uses to get her blistering tones, and how she immigrated to the states and broke into the hardcore L.A. music scene.

Although you’ve received critical acclaim for your guitar work over the past decade, Danger Girl is your first all-instrumental release. Why did you wait so long to put it out?
This is my first guitar instrumental record and it definitely feels like a breakthrough. I released two vocal records before this, but it took me a while to realize that a guitar record in a funk/rock style could be very strong, even without vocals. And it feels as if I found something I was always looking for. I’m a much better guitar player than singer, and it made it so much easier to only focus on my strengths. Danger Girl started out as a vocal record, but I realized having the guitar featured throughout would be exciting.

Danger Girl showcases many sides of your musical personality. Who are some of your influences?
I don’t really think about my influences, but I’m sure I’ve been influenced by every player I’ve listened to, if I liked their playing. I wanted to combine a lot of different styles on this record—from rock to blues and jazz—but always with a funk/soul undertone. James Brown and Prince were big influences on this record. My early influences were Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and B.B. King. I was so impressed with their sound and feel that, after hearing their music, I became obsessed with playing electric guitar. Oh, and definitely Bonnie Raitt—I just love how soulful she is.

Your playing goes beyond the vocabulary of some of those influences, though. For instance, “City Rain” and “Nightclub Art” have moments of burning jazz/fusion lines. Where do those influences come from?
The jazz/fusion influence really came from listening to Maceo Parker, with his kind of bebop melodic lines, and other horn players like David Sanborn and Ernie Watts. I love the way horn players phrase, and it’s always a great challenge for me as a guitar player to try to play with that kind of phrasing. At the moment, I’m working on some new music very much inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I love how free they are with intervals and keys—they’re not locked in box licks like guitar players sometimes are. I try to stretch myself past the clichés. Guitar players who influenced me a lot in this direction were Buzz Feiten, Jeff Beck, and Lee Ritenour—they make me reach further and be more experimental. I also love Larry Carlton and Robben Ford, because they play with so much passion and commitment. When I first had the idea for this record, I decided I wanted to have a model for each song, kind of a road map to know where we were going. “City Rain,” for instance, was inspired by “I Got the Feelin’” by James Brown. The other song you mentioned, “Nightclub Art,” was inspired by the Usher song “Yeah.”

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