Interview by Ted Ollikkala, Singapore. Click here for original
THE GREATEST PROG GROUPS OF ALL TIME
Two of progressive rock’s best-loved groups are still creating tidal waves today. Emerson Lake and Palmer from the 70s jump-started the genre, and Spock’s Beard topped it off in the 90s. The sounds created by these legendary bands resonate strongly through the work of these dedicated musicians who are the masters of their trade.
Up and coming among them is a young and influential guitarist named Paul Bielatowicz, who plays with both Carl Palmer and Neal Morse in their touring bands.
Paul leads the progressive rock revolution on two fronts. Old school wise, he is a modern age reincarnation of Keith Emerson with the Carl Palmer (CP) Band. And for Christian prog rock new schoolers, Paul’s playing perfectly compliments Neal Morse’s divinely inspired revelations.
In this one-on-one interview with Paul, we get to know what makes him tick and how his experiences at the forefront of progressive rock are helping to shape the future of the genre.
Paul has a friendly and genuine ‘boy next door’ disposition and a real eagerness to connect with his fans. He shares his insights about working with prog giants Carl Palmer (ELP) and Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard) to carry classic progressive rock into the new millennium.
1. People are not calling you a prodigy; they’re calling you a youthful ‘virtuoso’!
(Virtuoso: A musician with masterly ability, technique, or personal style.)
1a. How old are you?
I get asked that question after EVERY gig I do (and even before some, if people get into the sound check)… I’m 29!
1b. How does one become a virtuoso (as in your case)?
Well, thank you, I’m flattered that you consider me a virtuoso. I certainly wouldn’t profess to being a virtuoso but in order to get where I am now it’s taken me a lot of practise (what a predictable answer!)… If I have been given a gift it’s the gift of a hunger to practise and improve – I love it. When I was at college I’d regularly practise for 10 hours a day – just for the love of the instrument and the excitement of seeing myself improve as a musician.
2. Which came first; playing for Carl Palmer or Neal Morse?
Carl – I joined his band in 2003
2a. How did you come to know Carl?
Carl’s previous guitar player (a guy called Shaun Baxter; actually one of my teenage guitar heroes) left the band after he started to suffer from tinnitus. Carl had a few guitarists recommended to replace Shaun – one of which was Guthrie Govan (who was then playing for Asia). I knew Guthrie and, when he couldn’t join Carl’s band due to his commitments with Asia, he recommended me. I contacted Carl and sent him a CD – Carl liked the CD and so I set about learning 1 and 3/4 hours of the most difficult instrumental prog rock music I’d ever had to play.
2b. How did you come to know Neal?
In 2006 The Carl Palmer Band did a tour of the US. Whilst I was over there I contacted Neal through his website to see if he wanted to come and see any of our shows (I knew he was a big ELP fan) – he replied and said that we weren’t playing anywhere near him. After that we kept in touch by e-mail and in one such e-mail I commented that if he ever needed a guitar player to let me know. To cut a long story short, a little later I received an e-mail from him with the title ‘wanna do a gig?’.
3. You blog about your adventures on the road. Why?
I started my blog on the Carl Palmer Band’s US tour… to be honest the main reason was probably so I could look back on the entries like a diary. But, whilst on the US tour, I started to take an active role in some of the prog rock message boards and chat pages – chatting to people who had been at our gig, so I realised that there was an online community that was interested in following the progress of our tour. One thing about touring with a band is that you tend to spend a lot of time travelling; this gave me the perfect opportunity to keep the blog up to date.
4. Most people, upon hearing that you play all of Keith Emerson’s keyboard parts on your stratocaster (is this correct?) in the Carl Palmer band; would claim this to be an impossible feat. Yet you walk away with rave reviews and standing ovations. How is it possible!? Any special technique you use in transposing from the one instrument (keyboard) to another (guitar)?
I play a PRS guitar in Carl’s band.
Well, it’s mostly made possible by a lot of time spent practising – trying to play parts that don’t fall naturally under the fingers on the guitar. The 2 months I had before joining Carl’s band was the most intensive practise and learning time I think I’ve ever had. In terms of techniques – I employ as many techniques as I can to make playing Keith’s keyboard parts possible… in later years I’ve developed and utilised a lot of two handed tapping techniques to play parts that sound (hopefully) more akin to a keyboard.
5a. Personal favourite Neal Morse song (or album) to listen to and why?
I’m a big fan of Neal’s stuff with Spock’s beard but to choose one, that’s tough… maybe ‘The Doorway’?
5b. Favourite Neal Morse song to play (in Neal’s Touring Band)
From a playing point of view, probably ‘The Door’ as it’s got some great instrumental / unison parts. Plus I get to play the Paul Gilbert solo at the end – always a high for me!
From an emotional point of view, probably something like ‘Wind At My Back’. It’s such an amazing experience to look out into the audience and see all types of people, all with tears rolling down their faces – very powerful.
6a. Personal favourite E.L.P. song or album to listen to and why?
I really like ‘Take a Pebble’ from the first album – we don’t do it in Carl’s band, but I always mention it when we’re thinking of new songs to add to the set list… not sure how it would translate to this band though.
6b. Favourite E.L.P. song to play (with the CP Band)
‘Fanfare For The Common Man’ – it’s the last tune of the set and by that point (hopefully) the audience is really hyped and going for it. I always feel a special connection with the audience when we play this song – especially at the start, when the intro tape for the song is playing… I try to take the time to look around the audience and to appreciate that, wherever you go in the world, we’re all the same. That’s what this song is about for me; a celebration of just how much we humans have in common – we’re all simply human.
7. Do you feel uplifted, in a Christian sense, when performing Neal’s music?
Absolutely – to see the emotion in people’s faces and the tears running down their cheeks… you can’t fail to see and feel the presence of God in the concert and venue.
8. You’re fun to watch while you play! It is partially because you tend to ‘mouth’ the sounds of your guitar – is this for the audience’s enjoyment or is it a playing technique?
Mouthing the notes and pulling faces is something I always do – to me, it’s just part of playing with emotion… I can’t imagine somebody reading a poem or story with emotion in their voice without it showing on their face. In the same way, when I try to put emotion into what I’m playing, my face naturally expresses it too… I pull the same faces whether I’m on stage in front of an audience or in a recording studio on my own.
9. How do you challenge yourself?
Not sure this answers your question, but…
Every day I get up, make myself a coffee and write a TO DO list for the day. Then I write my daily plan; time-tabling my entire day into 1 hour slots to ensure that I achieve everything on my list. I first started doing this with my practise routine when I was in college, now I apply it to all areas of my working life. I find that if I don’t plan like this, I don’t get much achieved!
10. Who would you like to play with (individual artist or band)?
So many people – all my heroes… so, so many…
But right now I’m craving to do my own music – I can’t think about much else before I’ve done that!
11. You do some singing on ‘Sola Scriptura’ (background vocals). Can you sing lead as well?
Err… not really. I’ve actually sung in choirs all my life, but that was actually the first time I ever did vocals in a band. I’d love to sing more – that’s something I’m really wanting to work on.
12. About 13 minutes into the Sola Scriptura and Beyond DVD, on first song – ‘The Creation’, you have an extended solo where instead of strumming with your fingers, you hold some sort of device (it looks like a stapler with a blue light at the bottom). It’s not the electric toothbrush we’ve heard so much about, is it?
Ah, that’ll be an ebow (an electronic bow). It causes the strings to vibrate using magnets – very cool and a must for any prog guitarist.
I’m not using the toothbrush so much these days – I only used it on one song in Carl’s band… I stopped taking my toothbrush on tour when that song got dropped from the set list.
13. What inspired you to put up a new website (www. paulbielatowicz. com). Are you gaining lots of new fans?
Yeah, I usually have a lot of people contacting me about where they can find out more about what I’m doing, get lessons etc… so I decided it was about time to get one done. Plus I’m about to release a book I’ve just written – so I needed a way to let people get hold of that.
14. Do you prefer to play ‘progressive rock’ or do you play other styles too?
I’ve always been a fan of Prog music, but I also play other styles; I have a Jazz duo with my wife – we play some ‘Tuck and Patti’ tunes as well as all the usual standards. To be honest, you name a style, I’ve played it in a band – you can’t be fussy when you’re trying to make a living out of playing music! But Prog and classical music are my two loves.
15. What do you teach at BIMM? Do your students aspire to be rock guitarists like yourself?
Last year I taught Sight Reading, Ear Training and Technique. Yeah, everyone wants to be a rock guitarist don’t they?!!
16. You prefer to use PRS Guitars? Are you a PRS endorsee (like Orianthi)?
No, I’m not an official endorsee. I decided to get a PRS when I heard that Carl wanted me to join his band – that was the sound I had in mind and thought would work well for the music.
I don’t think I’ll ever find the ‘perfect’ guitar, but I think for what I use it for at the moment, the PRS does the job very nicely!
17. What do you like about working with Neal? What do you learn from him?
I learnt that music is more than the notes. A seemingly crap gig (from a gear and playing point of view) can move an audience to tears.
18. What do you like about working with Carl? What do you learn from him?
Playing with Carl was my first big gig experience. I learnt so much from being in professional touring environment – too much to mention here… maybe that could be my second book!
19. Any plans to compose with either Neal or Carl?
None at present with Neal (although I’d love to) but Carl is planning a trip to the studio with the band soon – we’ll have to see.
20. What are your plans for the next 12 months? Have you finished your book?
Get the book finished and printed.
More touring with Carl.
Write and record my first solo album.
21. Question you’d like to ask me! Or plug your book ϑ
It’d be good if you could send people in the direction of my website though – it should be up in a couple of weeks.
Thank you for you valuable time