Interview with MILAN POLAK

Milan Polak

After two hugely successful instrumental guitar albums, Austrian guitar virtuoso Milan Polak treads new territory with his first solo vocal album entitled Straight. Milan is a good friend of Metal Express Radio and made time during his currently very, very busy schedule to answer some questions for MER and all his fans!

Metal Express Radio: Hello Milan! It’s been awhile, but thanks for taking the time to speak with Metal Express Radio and your fans.

Milan Polak: Hello MER, the pleasure is all mine – thank you for your interest and support!

MER: How would you describe the music on this new “vocal” release?

Milan: Guitar-Oriented Rock … sometimes more heavy, sometimes more Bluesy with heavy focus on melody & groove rather than virtuosity. Even though I have some of the most awesome musicians playing on Straight, showing off was not the intent or idea when writing & performing these songs.

MER: How’s the fan reaction been thus far to Straight?

Milan: It’s been really great. In the beginning, I was considering some Hardcore Shred fans to be disappointed, so I decided to post some of the new songs on MySpace to test them, but the positive feedback encouraged me that I was taking a step in the right direction. I have gained a lot of new fans that I would have never reached with my Instrumental work.

MER: Were you aiming for a particular “sound” with this release?

Milan: Yes, definitely. The whole concept (as the title already betrays) of the CD is totally stripped down. It’s the “what you see is what you get” approach. All the songs have a very straight, direct sound … no over-produced knick-knack, no FX, no “BS.”

MER: Your singing on the new release is very commendable; did you have any past vocal training or experience?

Milan: Thank you very much! I sang background vocals in different band situations for many years and a lot of people encouraged me to put more emphasis on my singing. So I started to give it a shot and deal with my voice a bit more. I never had actual vocal lessons, but I watched & analyzed a lot of singers and would ask vocal coaches about certain things occasionally whenever I got a chance to.

MER: Are you happy with your vocal performance on this release?

Milan: Well, there is always something you can do better or different and I am happy that I never cease learning. I love progress and I work hard to get better every day, be it vocals, guitar playing, the art of being, or whatever. I just can’t relate to people who stop progressing. But, let me put it this way: if I had been unhappy with my vocal performance I would have not released the album. You also have to know when to stop and let go. Sometimes I’d say to myself, “Ok, I’ll leave that for the next album or else the album will never be released …”

MER: So how did the process go to record this album? Did you do the writing, singing, and playing all at once or did one come before the others?

Milan: The writing came first. I had written a few songs and started to record the demos to get – as I call it – snapshots. Then I just continued writing & recording.

MER: Thirteen tracks seems like a lot of material. Did you have any songs waiting to be recorded in reserve before hitting the studio?

Milan: I had written material for about 3 CD’s all recorded in my studio before I started to record the actual CD Straight. Then I picked 13 songs and went to NY to record with John Macaluso & Randy Coven.

MER: On Straight, you show a lot of restraint when it comes to the lead guitar sections. Was this a conscious and tough decision?

Milan: I always try to feel what a song needs (which also includes what the song doesn’t need). I learned this from a very successful producer I worked with some years ago. He said to me, “Just listen to the song. A song will always tell you what it needs.”

Some songs do not have any solos, some do have short solos, and some have longer ones. I don’t think, judge, or write songs in terms of solos. The solo should definitely NOT be the most important part of the song, in my opinion. Thus, this decision was deliberate and definitely not tough at all.

MER: Did you learning anything new after putting together this full-scale release? Anything you’d do differently if you could do it again?

Milan: Like I said before, you never cease learning and there’s always something you can do differently. It’s a question of taste, the current mood you’re in, etc. I’d definitely like to have more time & money (I paid for the whole album myself) and a famous producer to work with and try out different things next time …

MER: At the end of one of the new tracks, “Favorite Vice,” you let out an angry scream and then go into a heavy, riff-based instrumental with you playing some “Flight Of The Bumblebee” type guitar lines, and John doing some crazy double bass work. This all fades out much too quickly as to almost “tease” fans of your instrumental works. The section seems uncharacteristic with the rest of the release … what happened here?

Milan: Hahaha, very well observed. It was a little nod towards my old instrumental stuff like “Witchdance,” etc. I had this heavy riff in my head for quite some time, but I just did not feel that it was worth a whole song since that would have not fit the overall style of Straight.

One important aspect of good song writing to me has always been making the music & lyrics fit together. If you listen to the lyrics of “Favorite Vice,” it’s a story about being attracted to something that destroys you, which kind of puts you in a torn situation – you know it’s not good for you, but you still cannot help doing it. The song goes back and forth between major and minor tonality, there’s a constant change between melodic and disharmonic riffs to underline this good & evil relation. So the ending riff is some sort of final statement.

MER: A majority of the tracks seemed to be filled with angst over some bad relationships? Was this just your state of mind at the time of writing or were you trying to get some things off your chest?

Milan: Hmmm, you think so? I don’t know. A lot of my songs deal with being yourself (e.g., “Straight,” “Free After All”), superficial or fake lifestyles (e.g., “Difference,” “I Don’t Care”), all those annoying casting shows, reality TV, and desperate people who would do anything for 15 minutes of fame (“Superstar Mania”) and reflections upon life per se (e.g., “Crosses,” “Some Kind Of Jesus”).

I guess relationships of any kind are part of everyone’s life. But, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a love relation thing. For example, “Hero” is simply about trying to help out a dear person who, for whatever reasons, refuses your help and turns away. I don’t think I write more about angst over bad relationships than others (I’d rather say less), I just write very personal and intimate lyrics (that’s where the whole concept of Straight comes back into the picture). All my stories are true experiences, sort of like a diary, but not necessarily to get them off my chest. I just prefer to write about important issues rather than your average “I love you, you love me, we’re all so happy” – blahblahblah “BS”…

MER: In the past, you mentioned Fabrizio Grossi on bass, but Fabio Trentini seems to have taken his place on the final credits. Anything you can share about the switch?

Milan: Fabrizio did a great job and his playing was on the pre-release EP, but when I was in the studio to mix the final CD, we were facing severe problems with some of the tracks recorded in NY. You know, in a production like this there are always some technical obstacles hidden just waiting to come out.

Fabio Trentini, who is a great musician and very close friend of mine, was supposed to play on 2 songs that I had originally planned to have Billy Sheehan play bass on (Billy originally agreed to play on 1 or 2 songs, but ended up not playing due to schedule reasons). Fabio was kind enough to offer his help and I happily accepted.

MER: So what came first … the title of the album or that “Arnold Schwarzenegger”-esque cover shot? Is there a correlation between the two … perhaps a shared message?

Milan: Well, as I explain on the inside of the booklet and as I said before, that is the whole concept of the album. I thought about one single word that could describe me, my personality, my approach, the songs, the sound of the album, etc. So the title came first.

The cover shot came last to visually underline that approach – it is me naked with just my guitar, no cover ups, no FX, no “BS” – like it or not. I just happen to do sports besides playing guitar & singing. This is the way I look, so what … some people get the message and some don’t – you can’t please everybody.

What’s funny to me is that you have all these Rap guys running around naked, you have sex and nude bodies in commercials, on TV, in magazines, music videos, basically everywhere. Media is full of sex & nudity and nobody even notices anymore, but when a white Rock guy appears naked on his CD cover (with a completely different message!) some people seem to feel the need to bring it up and scrutinize it. I wonder what’s the drive behind it.

Sometimes it seems to me like, “Hey, you can be a good guitarist OR singer OR have a six pack – but all three things TOGETHER?!?” It just seems to be too much for some people … but hey, at least people talk about it – mission accomplished … LOL

MER: Any Milan Polak tour plans yet?

Milan: At the moment John Macaluso (who has also just released a solo album) and me are trying to put a few shows together, but no dates fixed yet.

MER: What became of the MP2 project, the collaboration with English super guitarist Mario Parga?

Milan: Frankly, I don’t know. Mario seemed to be very involved in his own solo CD and kind of lost touch. But hey, out of sight does not necessarily mean out of mind. I just don’t see it happening at the moment. Mario is a great guitarist and I wish him all the best.

MER: Earlier in the year you said there were no more solo instrumental albums planned for your near future. Is this still your current philosophy?

Milan: Yes.

MER: What’s next for Milan Polak … any short or long term goals?

Milan: I have already started to write new songs for the next vocal album, and I am also involved in some other projects (some local, some international). I am always working on something. HAHA

MER: In closing, any last words for your fans?

Milan: I want to thank everybody for his or her support and great feedback. You make all this worthwhile!

MER: Milan, thanks for your time!

Milan: The pleasure’s all mine – thank you! All the best!


  • Scott Jeslis

    Scott is one of the partners at Metal Express Radio. He handles a lot of Metal Express Radio's public relations, screening of new music and radio scheduling. On occasion, he also does reviews and interviews. He has been a proud member of the Metal Express Radio crew since 2004.

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