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Interview: Alexandr Misko

The Musician That I Never Realized We Need

Alexandr Misko "Careless Whisper" Cover

I, myself, have always loved talking. I uttered my first words when I was merely 8-months-old which were, “Mama-Baba.” It was a command to my mother (Mama) that I wanted fed. I tried to speak sentences before anything else. It sounds crazy but it's true. For proof to myself, I looked through my old baby book and found out for sure. Even though I love talking I didn’t really think that I would enjoy conducting interviews with people as much as I do. This surprises me because I don’t much care for people, I only like their stories. While I was growing up, it didn't take very long for me to be comfortable enough around people to allow myself to be incredibly blunt. I felt like I understood them, but only to a certain point. Humans are generally predictable but there are some that aren’t, and they fascinate me just as much as hearing other people’s stories. My big mouth and my instinct to speak my opinion led me to this moment, analyzing and interviewing young Russian guitar player Alexandr Misko.

I don't know how it is for you but when I listen to cover songs, I generally brush them off if whoever is singing either isn’t a very good singer or the song doesn’t match with their voice. Sometimes when it is only instrumental, there will be a lot of feedback from the room around them or from the instrument and that disrupts the flow of sound and ruins the performance. This time, with this artist, was different. This guy (who I learned later was Alexandr) covered a legendary song using only his guitar. I didn’t even miss the lyrics because the guitar did all the talking for him, so I decided that I had to find him. For all I knew, maybe he would want to do an interview and I had bet on my instincts that he would have a good story. I YouTube searched “Careless whisper guitar cover” and Alexandr Misko popped up immediately. I proceeded to look up his name on Facebook and found I was already following him and he went viral. I thought to myself, “He has over 5 million views on YouTube. Why would he notice a dorky Biology major from the US that just happens to enjoy writing?” Regardless, I typed out my message to him and sat there wondering if I should even send it… then I remembered a thought I had from my first interview with the drag queen Lady Boi. “If you don’t send the request at all then you won’t get the chance at all. If you send it, he might say yes, the worse that can happen is he says no or ignores it.” Pretty much, I harshly told myself I could either take the chance or suffer. So, I sent the message and to my surprise it wasn’t very long before he replied with a “Thank you so much for your offer, I can give you an interview with a great pleasure!” After that we picked a date. The day of the interview, my cat coincidentally woke me up at 6 AM (which was 5 PM in Russia, where Alexandr is from) and I skyped Alexandr then we followed through with the interview. This is the interview I had with Alexandr Misko, a 20-year-old guitar player and college student from Russia. A prodigy with a talent I never knew we needed. 

Alexandr Misko

Note: I recorded my interview with Alexandr and transcribed it myself. If grammar looks strange, it may be due to the fact that I tried to capture his Russian accent in the written words. My speech will be in bold, and Alexandr's will be in italics. 

Kaylee Chaffin: Do you remember your first guitar? How old were you when you began playing?

Alexandr Misko: Well I guess I was 13, the guitar was a present from my parents. It was a classical guitar and was cheap, they just wanted me to do something useful. Because all that I was doing at that time was just playing video games ha-ha. It was Hohner, it’s a popular brand you can find them every country. The price was about 100 dollars which is pretty cheap for a guitar.

You play left handed, right?

Yes, I’m a lefty in all senses.

Do you play any other instruments?

Well, I play a little bit of drums and do some extreme vocals because I’m into metal. I’ve played an African “thumb” piano called a Kalimba, but my primary instrument is the guitar and I don’t have enough time to really practice with other instruments. And I don’t want to honestly, because I know that guitar takes so much time to make it perfect. I have to practice about three hours a day to stay in a good form.

African Piano?

Yes, it looks like a little box and there are some metal sticks in it that you play with your thumb and it produces metallic sounds like vibraphone or xylophone. But it is kind of little so you can hold it in one hand.

Note: Kalimba is a modernized version of the African instrument called Mbira.

So, you like metal?

Yes, I am really into metal, but I am fond of all genres. I have a favorite artist in every genre because I believe it is crucial for musicians to be very versatile with their musical interests. As a musician, you can find something useful to your own music in every genre. I like rap music too, I have been listening to that since I was like 8. I was into old school west coast and east coast American rap music and I still love it. Sometimes I like to learn their lyrics by heart to help upgrade my own English.

Yeah, I’m into sort of old school rap as well. I’m not really a big fan of the newer stuff. Even Eminem is sort of old school even though he is also modern.

Yes, I don’t care much for the newer stuff too because I was into you know like Dr. Dre, Tupac, and that sort of stuff. Old stuff from Eminem is amazing his first two or three albums were amazing.

A lot of this newer stuff can be kind of offensive in a way, or mean, vulgar. Any genre can be that way though.

Yeah, I don’t know. I don't want to listen to them I don’t know why but I’m still just really interested in those simple beats, you know? That mainly stay the same in the whole song. You can tell that it came from their hearts but now it’s like it’s all about the business.

Alexandr Misko

What were the first tunes or songs you learned how to play?

When I was learning the guitar? Well, I sort of skipped the chapter of trying to learn something from YouTube or from your friends. I started to go to a private tutor right away, just when I got the guitar and we studied classical for three years. So, I guess my first song would have been something classical and would have been played on two strings. It would probably have been something called like etude number 3? I don’t know for sure. After a couple years of learning I started to learn by myself like some riffs from Red Hot Chili Peppers, I was into alternative rock music.

NOTE: The way Alexandr Holds the guitar in some of his YouTube videos, you can tell he was classically trained because classical guitar players hold their guitar in a more upright position than the popular horizontal-over the knee position. This can vary by individual players but when I took guitar lessons (which didn't last) that was how I was taught.  

Yeah, they are a good band I was listening to them just last night, I have the album Californication in my car.

Yeah, they are great but, again I am only fond of their older albums like until 2006 maybe or until Stadium Arcadium. Californication is a classic, there are so many hits from that one.

So, does music run in your family at all?

Well, you know, I prefer to say no, but my mom went to music school many years ago and she completely abandoned the piano. She’s an economist and she hasn’t had any time to practice. So, when I was born there already was no music in my house in that sense. She has worked in that company for a long time, she never played any music in my presence. My dad is also an economist he works with a company that is somehow related with the army. They produce some weapons and some army vehicles and that sort of stuff. He has no connection with music at all, though he likes to listen to it.

Other than the RHCP, what other artists do you like? What other genres?

That’s hard to say because it’s like asking someone what their favorite song is. I don’t really have a favorite song or favorite musicians because there are thousands and thousands of them from every genre possible. I could name you ten artists in rap music, ten artists in metal music, I could just tell you more so what genres I like to listen to. For example, from old school hip hop to death core to aggressive metal and I also like to listen to some minimalistic music of 19th or 20th century like composers like Steve Reich and Eric Satie, Claud Debussey, and other cool guys. I like acoustic music because when I was learning the guitar I had to- well I chose to- listen to many-many contemporary composers of guitar music just to understand how it works. I wouldn’t have reached anything decent without all the help from other composer’s music in all genre’s.

So, by listening to so many different types of artists, it taught you in a way how to get your own sound?

Yes, as I’ve said I think it is very crucial for any musician to gain something useful from every genre possible. I’d like to say that there are no bad genres, there are bad artists. So, you can’t judge a whole genre on one artist. You know, in Russia there are many people who don’t like rap music and I think that’s a mistake because there are lots of artists everyone can find something interesting with. You just need to take the time do that and to look and it is worth it. So, I think that there is something useful in every genre. You can gain from it and use something in your music by learning from other genres. Maybe bad is a little harsh, how about uh “not decent”?

You said you had a private teacher when you were 13?

Yes, I used to and had one for three years. I’m very grateful to him because I think the main aim of a teacher is not only to teach but to inspire. If you see that your teacher is inspired themselves by that music, you can feel it and absorb it. That’s why I am grateful to him and we still meet up sometimes as friends because I had to abandon his lessons when I started to teach myself that modern genre of guitar playing. He just couldn’t help me with it because he is a classical guitarist and isn’t too keen on all the new techniques. He doesn’t much like that style like my genre for example. I’m grateful because I already had that base that fundamental grounds to start teaching myself new techniques.

Do you have any specific memories about music as a kid?

Well I was so fond of rap music as a kid I would even record my own songs on my mobile phone. I was just mumming some gibberish pretending that it’s English and I used some music to underlay it under the vocals. I thought it was cool to have your own rap album I was so inspired. You know that’s my character I am easily inspired by anything and I can be so inspired that I would do anything to reach my goal. For example, when I was inspired by rap music I not only listened to it, but I would like to record it by myself. When I play guitar, I don’t only want to play other guitarists compositions but to make my own and to perfect it because my audience deserves it. It can be hard to promote my original music because it is easier for my audience to relate to songs that have lyrics, or they know have lyrics (like his cover of Billie Jean by Michael Jackson). It’s harder because there is no band behind me it’s just me and my music. It was amazing for me to get to Germany last year and that’s all because of my YouTube channel. The internet is the best thing to be created because of it I can do things like speak to you now (we skyped) for example. I can make plans on touring this year in many countries I’m going to Germany this February and April and it’s because of those great people who watch me and invite me. That’s amazing. My parents I am also grateful to because they’re always there to listen to my inspirations they might not like it, but they still listen to it. Because they support me.

So, are you on tour now or are you going on tour?

Well now I am in Krasnodar, but I am going on tour next week. I am flying to Germany next Friday. Then I will go back to Russia to make some concerts here because I still haven’t launched my new album here in Russia and I am just waiting for that good moment. I am going back to Germany again in April but after that who knows? I would like to go to China and some other countries but that’s easy to say and hard to make it happens because of all the visa problems and all the organization stuff. I need some people who can help me in those countries I can’t do anything by myself. Another thing is that most of my audience seems to be in America, and that’s a pity not for them but for me because of all the political problems between Russia and the USA it is hard to get a visa to get to America eventually.

Have you tried the UK?

Well I’d like to try and get to the UK this year because it will be easier in terms of visa problems. If you have a successful visa story, like, you’ve already been to some countries and returned successful—it looks good. So the most important thing is organization.

Have you ever messed up playing live?

Oh, ya all the time because my music is hard to play I like to build that architecture in my compositions I mean I have so many layers playing or to play simultaneously. You know, I have so little covers on YouTube even though I share my tabs and sheet music for free. There are still so little people who can cover it. I’m nervous all the time in my concerts because I don’t want to show people that it’s hard to play because it shouldn’t bother people. They should enjoy music they shouldn’t think about the complications. It takes some experience to be ready to face that—to face the difficulties. But you know I am ready to face it, I’m ready to tour I want to tour and perform live because that much more important to me than just being a YouTube musician. Being a YouTube musician is amazing but that isn’t just my dream. I want to tour all over the world and share my music with my fans. There are lots of fans in different countries in the USA or in the Philippines. That was unpredictable that there would be so many of my fans in the Philippines. I really want to share my music with them because they deserve it, they love it and I want to meet them. 

When you mess up on stage how do you handle it? Just brush it off?

Well you know when you're professional you shouldn’t show your audience that you have messed up. Just continue your playing like nothing happened. Sometimes it’s hard to take my emotions away for example I’ve smiled when played a mistake but that’s not a big problem because everyone can see that it’s hard to play. I just need to keep practicing more and more to make less mistakes.

So, then you do get nervous?

Ya, I used to have some nerves but now it’s just a usual experience for me to be on stage. I used to play many—many gigs here in Krasnodar like two years ago just to gain some experience. I would even play for free. I just wanted to have some experience and to learn how people react to my music.

So what advice would you give to beginner guitar players or other beginner musicians?

Well I would say be confident and to find some experience and inspirations from the music that you love. What moves you. The more you’re inspired the better you work. That was my way I used to sit for six or eight hours a day just learning songs from my favorite composers. I was excited when I was able to play those songs and get that same sound. I don’t much believe in talent, there’s only hard work and many hours of practicing and dedication. If you want to be successful in any field you need to be ready to put some long hours in and master, it. That doesn’t matter whether it's music or painting or just anything.

Alexandr Misko

Alexandr was classically trained and I think that benefited him in as a player, that it gave him a solid ground to build his skill from. I remembered something on his website; it said he composes music only using his ears & heart because music should be sincere and that it should provoke feelings in your soul. Did that mean he was playing other musician's songs by ear? If so, does he know how to play the traditional way? He told me he plays his music on his own without sheet music because it's “in my head.” All his own works are composed by ear. He taps other musician’s songs out by the beat, harmony, and by sound. He told me that having a “musical ear” is something he has evolved over time. Simple chord songs are good to practice by ear. He does know how to read sheet music to a degree; after all, he spent three years with a music teacher. He said he can build simple stuff the traditional way but that’s about it.

I don't think there is anything wrong with his method, in fact, I admire it a lot. All three of my uncles and my grandfather can play by ear. One of the three is particularly better than my other two uncles. They can hear a song on the radio and can mirror it with little to no help from sheet music, which I think is amazing. Neither my mother or I have ever inherited this ability, but I wish I did. I agree with Alexandr when he says that the musical ear can be evolved, I just personally don't have the dedication to learn an instrument like they do.

So, who is Alexandr Misko? He’s a 20-year-old Russian college student majoring in linguistics. He plays guitar passionately and in a unique way and due to this he has decided that he wants to make his talent into a career. I can tell that he loves his fans by the way he talks about them. It may seem insincere in a written interview because by merely reading you can’t hear the tone in his voice, but I could hear the sincerity in his voice and can honestly say he believes his fans deserve as much of his talent as he can give them. As for what he's studying, linguistics is the study of language. It's not necessarily all about learning languages but, more about learning the core parts of the term language itself. In other words, he is studying things like the evolution of language, signs, and grammar. He wants to use his knowledge of linguistics to speak English more fluently that way it's easier for his English speaking fans to understand and have fluent conversations with him. I personally think he is doing very well. His English is a lot better than some other foreigners that I’ve met. As an American, I enjoyed and appreciated listening to the audio tape I recorded of his interview because I for like his accent. I think it shows who he is as a person and I think of it as an attractive trait because it makes you want to listen to him more closely.

Greek philosopher Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” I think that saying is very true and I believe Alexandr agrees with me, music speaks in a way that we can’t. I want to say congratulations to Alexandr and his growing musical career, it’s amazing that he wanted to do an interview with me. I had never realized how much the musical world needed a character like Alexandr to appear, I believe he will make a vast contribute to the evolution of music.

Below are links to Alexandr’s social media pages and links to where you can buy his brand-new album “Beyond the Box” which includes both the cover of George Michael's “Careless Whisper” and Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean” along with other covers of popular songs and some of his original compositions. For musicians or fans who are curious, I will also include information on all the gear he uses to play. 

Equipment

In Alexandr's words:

"I have three pickup systems from K&K Sound company, which I endorse. The first one is K&K Trinity that is an internal mic plus three piezo transducers mounted inside of the guitar. The mic and the transducers can be controlled separately. That system allows me to get that 'real' acoustic sound live, also it picks up all the percussion very well. The second system is called K&K Double Helix, which is a magnetic pickup mounted in the sound hole. It picks up only vibrations from strings and doesn’t care for any percussion or environmental noises around. It gives me very clear and loud harmonics, also it’s great for tapping techniques. The only drawback is that on its own it sounds like a cheap electric guitar, that’s why it should be blended with other pick up systems. The third one is called K&K Big Shot. That’s a big transducer mounted above the strings on the soundboard inside of the guitar, exactly at the place where I’m doing my bass drums with a wrist. It picks up only my kick drum sound, so it can be controlled and equalized exactly like a real kick drum, which is exciting for me. I use my pick ups only on live shows. All the recordings are made using only external mics. The guitar I use is a custom left-handed Baton Rouge Suzanna."

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