We recently sat down with the talented musician Paul Viapiano, who has an eclectic career ranging from performing classical guitar and jazz with the LA Philharmonic to producing and recording for film and television. He spoke with us about how he got started, his inspirations, and his latest album for Liquid Cinema...
How did your career in music begin?
My dad was a semi-professional musician, a saxophonist, and one day he brought home a guitar he bought at a pawn shop. It was the early sixties and rock ’n roll was starting to take over, and he wanted to be a part of that. I showed interest, he started teaching me the things he had learned the week before, and before I knew what was happening I had a teacher and the guitar never left my hands.
I moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to try to get work in the studios and through the years met all the people who became best friends, colleagues and employers to this day. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with so many of my heroes and to have so many musical experiences that guitarists don’t often come by.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
I try to soak up music (and life lessons) from every experience I have, so my influences are too numerous to mention, but if I had to single out one person it would have to be Esa-Pekka Salonen, the former conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I played guitar and mandolin for the orchestra throughout his tenure and I learned so much from watching him, not only conducting style and musical insight, but just watching him manage 100 players at a rehearsal and inspiring them to play together toward a common goal. I played everything from Mahler to John Adams to Frank Zappa with him and the orchestra.
Speaking of composer John Adams, he’s another one who has changed the landscape of American music forever. He’s fearless and brave, and his music sounds that way. He’s a big proponent of using guitar in his pieces and they’ve been some of the most challenging and satisfying pieces I’ve played.
On the instrument-specific side, my favorite players are Mark Knopfler, session player Michael Landau, Chris Eldridge of Punch Brothers, and mandolinist Chris Thile. This is an ever-evolving list but these four have been mainstays for the last few years.
Tell us a bit about your project for Liquid Cinema.
A few years ago, I assembled a project studio at my house to record my own music and to do remote sessions for clients. One day, Jeff Rona called and sounded me out about doing a library of solo acoustic guitar music, all original pieces, for Liquid Cinema. I ended up recording 17 solo pieces, all played on my vintage 1946 Gibson J-45. I was really happy with the way the project turned out.
Ben at Liquid Cinema asked if I would consider doing another project, this time with well-known folk songs. It was a great way to dive into this wealth of Americana and to try and find new takes on music that we all grew up with. Instead of the typical steel string guitar usually associated with folk music, I decided to play a 35 year old Guild nylon string classical guitar. I loved the results so much that when it was time for the next project with LC, a classical music compilation, I decided to change it up again and use a 1949 Martin D-28, the quintessential bluegrass guitar. The finished product is something I’m very proud of.
What are some of your upcoming performances and/or projects?
I’ve just finished several concerts with Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic playing West Side Story at the Hollywood Bowl, two amazing nights of very difficult music. I’m also finishing up a one month run of the musical, Beautiful, the story of Carole King. Playing her music every night in the orchestra pit brought back memories of listening to Tapestry when I was a kid. It’s timeless…
What would you like to do next?
I’d like to record an album with my band, The Chemistry of Crying. We’ve been writing and playing for the last three years, occasionally hosting concerts at my house and a club or two, and I think we’re ready to take it to the next step. Grammy nominees Trey Henry and Ray Brinker are on bass and drums, Dave Witham is on keys and Tim Torrance plays guitar. I’m playing and singing…it’s been an incredible experience to work with these guys and to watch it evolve.
What do you like to do most in your free time?
Well, I’m a single dad with a thirteen year old daughter, so there’s part of your answer! I think I’m happiest around friends, all getting to laugh and cook together, play songs for one another and just enjoy every moment in life. We have a saying around here, “Use the good china!”. That’s my motto...
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