Conversations with Kiko Loureiro - A RHB Exclusive Interview

This weeks interview is with Guitar virtuoso and Rock House Instructor Kiko Loureiro. Kiko has a style all of his own. He didn’t invent the style but how he learned music and what his culture is about will certainly give you a new light on how to look at making music. I have also decided to not split this up into 2 or 3 posts so you can get the whole effect of “The Kiko Experience“.

Here are a few quick facts about Kiko to help set the tone for the interview.

Kiko began his musical studies at age eleven.

In March 1993 Kiko filmed his first instructional video.

Kiko plays all instruments on the thirteen instrumental tracks except drums on his debut solo album “No Gravity”.

During his live work with ANGRA, Kiko always found time to highlight his musicianship by giving guitar clinics or workshops around the world.

In March 2007 Kiko Loureiro was voted “Best Guitarist” by respected Japanese music publication BURRN. Quite an achievement for a young guitarist from Brazil whose meteoric career has spawned numerous studio and live albums with ANGRA, as well as solo albums “No Gravity” and “Universo Inverso”.

I began the interview with what I really enjoy talking to musicians about the most. Their early years.

Rock House Blog: Kiko, let’s start by talking about your early beginnings. How did you get interested in guitar and how did you learn?

Kiko Loureiro: I started at the age of 11 on a nylon string acoustic guitar. I am from Brazil and that is pretty much tradition, you know the nylon string guitar for classical guitar, not folk guitar. It’s like a Bossa Nova but more of a  Spanish way of playing. Everybody has an acoustic guitar here at home, or someone in the family has an acoustic guitar.

My sister who is one year older than me started playing and taking classes from an instructor that came to our home. She played for about a half a year and she thought it was really boring. My mother had already paid for the lessons and she told my sister she needed to keep playing. So my mother told me Kiko you start taking lessons. I said okay, let’s see how that goes.

Of course I was always into music somehow, I was always listening to music but I was not thinking about studying music. I was more into playing basketball at the time when I was 11. So anyway since my mother had already paid for lessons, I said sure why not try it. I was sharing the class with my sister for a while and we only had one acoustic guitar. I am left handed and our guitar was for right handed people so I had to learn guitar right handed. I couldn’t change the strings To play left handed because we had to share the guitar.

I started, by learning easy cords, because I was just 11. But I liked it so I started taking a more serious. I started reading some scores and learning some songs. Then I started studying more classical guitar like classical pieces you know? A few years later when I was 13, I started listening to bands like Kiss, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. So now I’m starting to get into rock music, a lot, so that inspired me to play guitar.

When I was about 14 my mother bought me a cheap copy of the Gibson SG. It was a black one, it looked like the one Tommy Iommi from Black Sabbath used . I then went to another teacher, a guy in the neighborhood that was playing stuff from Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. I was just amazed by that. I remember listening to this music, and I was trying to figure out how he could play this. When I saw him playing in front of me, I said that’s it. This is what I want do, this is what I want to learn. So the first thing I learned on a guitar was the riff from Black Dog by Led Zeppelin. It took me a whole week of studying that riff to learn it.

RHB: How often were you practicing Kiko?

KL: I started playing every day for a few hours a day. When you’re a beginner it’s hard to find a time and the materials to study. You may find one or two scales to practice, but it’s really kind of boring. But I’ll always find 1 or 2 hours to practice and try to get better.

My teacher started showing me some riffs from the main guys like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Van Halen, those were the guys my teacher liked. So I started learning all of these licks and phrases from these guitar players. Of course also the scale shapes and modes.

RHB: So these are the guys that inspired your playing?

KL: Yes because I was listening to heavy metal bands at that time. That would have been back in about ‘86 and there were a lot of great bands with great guitar players. I remember, we had in Brazil The Rockin’ Rio back in ‘86, which is a huge festival. There was a lot of media attention about this festival Because there was a lot a great bands AC/DC, George Benson, Iron Maiden, Queen, You name it they were all there. They were so inspiring to me.

When I was 16 and I was more into the guitar and searching for videos, or scorers or magazines I got to know and learn about Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and all those eighties guitar players. I watched their videos and it helped me a lot. I love rock, but I was always ready to listen to other kinds of music. I remember my Father listening to Paco De Lucia the flamenco player. I was always into this Brazilian music, The Latin Bossa Nova and the jazzy chords, you know this more complex stuff. You know, the more sophisticated stuff we have and Brazilian music. My parents were always listening to this kind of music and they would say to me OK, You like rock music and those guys with the big hair in band’s, but the real music is this kind. They would tell me if you want to be a  real guitar player or you want to be good you have to learn to play this is well. So, they start showing me all these Bossa Nova composers and a flamenco style composers. I told myself rock is cool but I need to learn this other stuff too. I started to learn Latin harmonies and the sophisticated chords that go along with that style of music.

RHB: Speaking of classical music, I’ve heard you make comparisons to Bach and metal music.

KL: Of course, we can compare. Harmony is the single most important thing, and we’re talking about 400 years ago, right? Harmonies were so simple there were really only major and minor chords and that’s what you see and rock, major and minor chords. Of course, the time period was a little different. Bach, didn’t exactly have all the chords and the melodies during the Baroque Period. They used to playing two melodies at the same time or five melodies at the same time and these five melodies would sound like music. That came before The Romantic period of Chopin and Beethoven when you had the chords and the melody. Somebody was playing chords and somebody was singing the melody. This happen much later than Bach. Some stuff is similar and some are totally different compared to today because we’re talking about 400 years ago.

All of these classical composers were composing fast melodies hundreds of years ago. Beethoven was probably one of the best around because he was writing some really beautiful stuff for the chorus and the bass and the flute. All the piano players like Chopin and Liszt had an amazing technique.

But today we’re talking about all this shredding stuff, this shred guitar music. As the shredding music was discovered in the 80s. If you think about it the electric guitar is a pretty new instrument. The electric guitar started like 60 years ago. So it’s a new instrument. That’s why we’re amazed when we see a guy playing fast on the guitar.

If you talk about the piano it’s been around for like hundreds of years. There’s a lot of great musicians that came with the history, there’s a lot of virtuosos so it’s easy to compare current pianist to the ones that were around hundreds of years ago. That doesn’t happen with a guitar because you don’t have a guy playing electric guitar hundreds of years ago. We can only go back 60 or 70 years. Les Paul, he created the electric guitar and he is still alive right?

Now some interesting stuff, the Arabian music and the Flamenco music acoustic guitar players are shredding all the time because that is tradition. Flamenco guitar is a playing style that’s different because you play from the heart, where you were born in how you learn about it. If you don’t grow up around that kind of music it’s very difficult to learn how to play it fast because there’s such special techniques for the right hand. On the other hand there was a style that came from the Gypsies that migrated to France they started doing what they call the Manouche Jazz which became French Jazz in the ‘30‘s. That was started by guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt who would be considered today as shredder. He had only 2 fingers because he burned the others, so he was playing very fast but only with 2 fingers. There were many great guitar players playing this tradition of French Jazz.

Now if we take a look at the Greek music, they don’t play guitar they play an instrument called a Bouzouki, it’s a stringed instrument and they shred that bad boy as well, all time, there are hundreds of years of tradition.

So if you want to learn how shed and play fast as a guitar player. You need to open you eyes and ears to other kinds of music and listen to it. See what’s going on in different cultures because there is so much history as far as shredders and using fast scales and melodies. Of course nobody uses the name shredder for Flamenco players but that was what it would be today. This is the type of music where they use speed to create tension. Speed is a tool to create tension in music. For example when you play a fast scale you create a tension. Then you release the tension and get very long notes. That’s what the guitar player does. You do a fast run and then you end in a very aggressive span or vibrato or whatever. So you your going to see that in many kinds of music.

So that’s how I compare the classical and popular kind of music like shredding guitar. By using the music from other countries and time periods.

RHB: How does all this fit into your style of music Kiko, How would you describe your music?

KL:  I play rock. Well, I should say I play American/English rock because that’s what I listen to a lot. But, I also listen to music from my country and other countries. I travel a lot and I study and play lots of other stuff. I try to digest it and I bring it back to the United States and show people how I see rock music. I’m a rock player but I try to bring the elements that I can from my culture and my life experience.

I feel different when I play. When I go to the United States and I play I try to bring a different style. Because I have a different background so, I try to mix that in as much as I can. I do this in order to be different, but I’m mainly a rock guitar player.

RHB: When we saw you at NAMM and you played at The Wimbash it was incredible.

KL: Thanks. I really didn’t know what to play when I was out there. It was more like a jam. But that’s ok because it just let play and express myself. We tour together (Doug Wimbish) so, he knew me and I knew his style and it was easy to just jam with him. That’s what I like. Being able to create music at the moment and do improvisation.

RHB: How would you explain to people the learning process of understanding music?

KL: It’s good to learn all things like scales and arpeggios and learn from all the schools but then you need to just play and forget. It’s like speaking a language. You have to learn all this grammar to use and there are rules for that. When you first learn you make mistakes. So, maybe you make some grammar mistakes but the method (words) are there. Soon you don’t think about the grammar or the rules, you just speak. So if you practice a lot and you surround yourself with people that speak good English you are probably going to talk good English. If you grow up in a family that speaks good English, you are going to speak good English. If you read good books you are going to get better. If you study in a good school, that’s even better.

Music is just like that. Think of it as a tool for communication. It’s a language, it’s a musical language. You have to be surrounded by good musicians. If you are around good musicians and you are studying and listening to them and listening to good music like classical music, good rock and all the best music, your language (playing) will get better. Don’t listen to the ones that are almost the best, listen to the best, people that take music serious and you will have fun playing music.

You have to understand this language. When you understand the language of music you are going to use all the tools you have, you are going to have fun and enjoy communicating with the other musicians. And, it should be just as simple as that.

RHB: So then, how do you go about practicing Kiko?

KL: Well, of course I have been playing and studying guitar for many years. In the beginning when I was young I was really into guitar exercises. You need to learn these exercises, you know, the boring exercises. But always find a song or a piece that has a great guitar solo that has the technique that you are studying and practice a little bit of the technique, the pure technique and then go into the music. Practice about 10 or 15 minutes of the technique so you can see and feel if the movements are correct and then play the song or piece. If you do this you will find yourself playing for 1 or 2 hours. So it doesn’t matter how much time you spend because you are having fun and creating music.

So what I mean is, if you’re practicing alternate picking or whatever it may be. Then find a song that has lots of alternate picking and listen to that song 5 or 10 times. Then find a song from a guitar player that has an incredible solo or phrasing like Steve Morse, a guy who has incredible alternate picking and get some phrases from Steve Morse, play it and have fun with it. Put the CD in and play it. Try to play the same speed as he does. If that’s not possible then get a metronome and slow down your speed.  Try and understand the harmony behind something. So, learn the chords, learn the harmony and understand why he is using those notes. Learn the parts that you think are cool, the little progressions you think are neat. All this will help while you are learning your own technique.. If you practice this particular technique and learning some others also, you will find yourself easily playing for 4 or 5 hours a day.

If all you do with your practice is play scales up and down it’s boring. When you first start playing them it’s ok but at sometime whether it’s the next week or the next month or the next year it’s going to become boring. So at some point you need to start doing what I just talked about to expand you knowledge of the guitar.

RHB: I saw some pictures of you at Rock House making your instructional DVD’s. Looks like you were having fun.

KL: It was really great. It was much more than I expected. I’ve done instructional videos in the past but John and I spent like 10 hours a day for 3 days. He was crazy and we worked hard. For example we would have breakfast and then it was guitar in hand. Then we would have dinner and then it was guitar in the hand again until like 10 at night. Before we even got started on the DVD I had to write down my ideas for John and we spent a lot of time on the phone talking about what would be accomplished. I will say that John really knows what he wants which is very good because at The Rock House they have great ideas and they know how to treat somebody.

The instructional video business is dangerous because a lot of companies just have people come and play in front of the cameras and they say this is how I play. John doesn’t want that. He really wants to teach. For me I think guitar playing it’s easy. John came to me and said that’s not easy. So he had me show it in steps. You know, first step show it slowly, then we are going to break it down piece by piece so that people can really understand it and get it. So we split up my ideas into a lot of different sections in order to teach it well.

I learned a lot and I think he learned too because I have my way of teaching. I have spent more than 10 years of my life as a teacher so I was used to teaching. That’s why when they asked me to record the DVD I said right away that I would do it.

I think with my ideas and Johns ideas we came up with a really good DVD. There are going to actually be 4 DVDs. They are all very different. I am using what I know that is different from the American rock because I have a Latin/Brazilian music background so, we did one about that. It will have rhythms that you can use that people aren’t familiar with. We are showing the basics of this starting with one chord and then expanding into different bass lines and adding a melody. Then showing a rock rhythm and riff but with a Latin style. What is cool is that it shows the way that I approach guitar. These are grooves that nobody knows. Hopefully people will be able to build a rock or heavy metal song from what they learn. I will show you how to play with a clean sound, distorted sound and I show you some tapping. Just to show you many different way to play these same grooves.

There is also a DVD I did called “Creative Shredding” and one on fusion where I teach how I see the neck and understand the scales.

If you get all four of these DVDs you will really understand where it is that Kiko is coming from and how I understand and interpret music.

RHB: Sounds like it’s going to be a great set on DVDs

KL: For sure it will be a different kind of DVD for Rock House

RHB: You’re a bit of a comedian Kiko. I mean I saw pictures of you playing with winter gloves on!

KL: Oh man it was really cold there (laughs). When your used to it being around 100 degrees, everything is cold.

But seriously I need to speak more of  The Rock House guys, they were great, They took care of me in every meaning of the word. They are one big family. You know if you are really going to play good it helps that you are treated right. Joe was taking care of everything we needed and Jimmy was around helping organize things like the theory stuff and getting the proper names for the chords and the notes.

The other DVDS that we made are one about technique and routine. I will be breaking down many different techniques and showing how to use them with musical examples. So that it sounds more like music rather than just an exercise. Some of the techniques I just created while I was sitting there, others are from some of my songs. That’s the main idea I wanted to get across. You take an idea and you improvise with that. If you can improvise you are really at another level with you music and you are having fun because of the sensation of improvising is so good that you can play for hours and hours.

RHB: What’s going on currently for you?

KL: I have my band Angora that I have been involved with for many years. We are going to go out on tour here in May, in South America. Tarja Turunen I tour with along with Doug Wimbish, we are going to be on tour with her in June and July. I also just finished my new album “Full Blast” that I think is going to come out at the end of April. I actually play some songs off of this album in the Rock House DVDs.

RHB: What musical goals do you have right now?

KL: I’m actually always just practicing and composing. Traveling anywhere I can and play because that is my life. Traveling and playing.

RHB: Tell us about the gear you use.

KL: In the DVDs I use a Laney amp. It has a heavy British sound to it. I have a ton of pedals but I like to use a delay pedal like I used in the DVD. Sometimes I use a distortion pedal just to use as a booster. I also have a signature pedal with Zoom called a G1K which is a small multi-effect pedal. Oh, yeah I have a Morley wah that I use too. For guitars I have and ESP guitar and I have a hand made guitar that I had a guy make for me and a Takamine classical guitar as well.

Thanks to Kiko for an incredible interview. I know he shed some light for me on some different ways to understand approach learning music and I hope you learned something as well.

You can keep up with Kiko by going to his web site www.kikoloureiro.com.br


MJK (Mike) said...

"I started playing every day for a few hours a day. " - Only if the wife, kid and work would allow me to do that. For now, I will settle on practicing when I can.

Great interview.

Sarge said...

@MJK you have to be 11 when you do this .... lol