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Interview - Toomas Vanem

Interview with Toomas Vanem from Toomas Vanem
by Yngwieviking at 31 October 2014, 8:10 AM

Toomas Vanem is a solo artist who recently released "I", his latest album. Metal Temple's Cedric, or YngwieViking as most of you know him, had the chance to speak with Toomas about several interesting things. So, readers, enjoy what he had to say.

Hi Toomas, First congratulations and big Applause!!! I really enjoy your album, I think that “I” is one of the good surprise among the flow of 2014’s release, as a fan of Progressive Fusion Shredding Metal and elitist instrumental music in general, it was for me a real blast…What will be your words to describe it?

Thank you man! This album is really really special for me too, because it is the first album released under my own name. The music on the album is alike to several expressions of nature – invisible, but one can feel its power. Continuing poetically: it is a progressive instrumental rock music album, which is a collage of several stories about fragments of world and life, spoken in a language of music. I hope that the music intermediates powerful and deep emotions, offering possibilities to create a vivid and spectacular imaginations of the stories. I tried to stay true to myself as much as possible with this album, and only listeners can judge what I came out with, but I am quite happy and pleased with the result.

Can you first tell us about you, your background as a musician…Your past or actual involvement in other bands! I want to know everything…Go!

My musical studies began at the age of 10 and my first instrument was clarinet. I swiched to guitar when I was about 14 -15. When I turn 16, I made a descision that I want to be a proffessional guitar player (laughs ) … So I started to learn and practice guitar seriously. As a countryside grown boy I moved to our big capital city Tallinn and entered music school. It really opened lots of doors to me. I got invited to play with different bands, and when I graduated, I was already involved in music industry on a pro level. As we lived in U.S.S.R. those days, I got invitation from Moscow based band “Dialog” which was fine opportunity to move on… and we had great gigs with the band all over Europe till 1992.

I have played with lots of tremendous musicians. Nico Mc Brain did his drum clinics back then 1995 and I was lucky to play with the man. He is kickass drummer! Since 90-s I have been involved into lots of studio and TV prodjects as a session musician. I have co-worked with almost anybody from Estonia’s music scene. With my own band “The Limited Edition” we had some nice gigs in the past. In 2009 we supported Richie Kotzen. Then 2010 tiny - tour with Stuart Hamm. We opened Rock Summer 25 Festival 2013 on a main stage. 2014 Mattias IA Eklundh visited Estonia, and I had tip top opportunity to meet the man onstage and share some notes. So there is this and that and you can read about my past activities from my website aswell.

In the review for your debut solo album, Dorin Mandelbaum wrote that the album reveals an unique personality, far from the cliches and contains beside the obvious technical skills a lot of great compositions…What is your feelings about this quote?

What can I say, thank you Dorin for a nice compliment! I agree that my music is some kind of mini-me. It is really important to me to make MUSIC! The song Orbital Man on the album carries the idea, that Music is essential for life. Music is the sixth element besides water, fire, earth, air, and light. I guess everybody gets boring to listen albums where artist has really nothing much more to say/show, than just his technical abilities. Technical skills are important, that is why we practice our instruments. But when you release some sort of art and it has your name on it…It should be more than just some kind of technical show-off. So you need to dig deep into yourself to make that magic happen. And trust me – it will!

Can you tell us more about the many external collaboration in “Gravity of Eiffel Tower” with the high profile Bass player Stuart Hamm, a real legend in the world of
Fusion/Jazz Rock, please tell us how it happened?

OK. That is how it happened. October 2010 Stuart Hamm had a tour in Europe. He’s promoter asked me if I could play couple of shows with the legendary man. I was really surprised and thrilled with the opportunity to play with the man who had recorded and played with such a legends like Steve Vai or Satriani or Frank Gambale …all my guitar heroes. And of course I said yes yes yes!!! When the day came I remember I was so nervous that I could easily shit my pants… Ok I did not! (laughs…) We had two shows with Stu and my band, and everything worked out nicely… and after the second show Stu said “ I play with you boys anytime!” … and then I thought OK …“it is now or never” …and I asked him, “would you play on my album?” … and Stu a friendly man as he is said “yes!”… and I was like…”am I in a dream?”… I had already written for the album the song “Gravity Of Eiffel Tower” so I send Stu score and the track to play over and asked him to do also a solo section in the middle of the tune. It took some time and the bass track popped into my mailbox, and the rest is history!

Do you think that the technical level, the complexity of some song structures, the demanding Lydian infused melodies, or the Jazzy colors in your music can be a block for some listeners, do you keep this aspect in mind while composing, or did you just get the inspiration flows!

When I compose I don’t pay too much attention to the fact that some listeners may not understand my music. I already know that some of them don’t. And this is not my problem really. I have a freedom to go every directions with my compositions and that is the real beauty of making it! The music that I write is not meant for masses anyway, but I am happy when someone digs it. I see here some similarities with the jazz music, or instrumental music in common. The mass music is like a hamburger and French fries, ( don’t get me wrong my son likes them a lot and me too sometimes …laughs ) but there is really much more tasty food out there, don’t you think?

The Playing level seems pretty rigorous, how do recruit your fellow musicians?
Your fellow Bass player Mister Henno Kelp is notably impressive!

It is not easy to find the right musicians, when it comes to your own project. I am a lucky man that I met those two, Henno Kelp and the drummer Andrus Lillepea. They are marvelous players. I think and hope at the same time, that what keeps us together is the love for the music and specially for complex instrumental music. We do odd timings on lot of the songs, different scales and modes, weird harmonies and it is really challenging and fun thing for us to play. That is not what you expect us to do in a popular mainstream music, right?  Ok, three of us we all are the session musicians and have our regular jobs too, and that job is called “Play Mainstream Music”! We all need to pay our taxes and bills. So maybe with my compositions, it is the freedom to play music differently is what keeps us going…I don’t know? …but I like it!

Hey Toomas, where are you coming from, as far as guitar influences are concerned? Which are the new guitarists that impressed you lately?

The band that I was into my youngster days was Deep Purple. I tried to learn every Richie Blackmore guitar solos using my tape recorder. So my musical backround was hard rock, Zeppelin, Van Halen…In the same time I was also into guitar players like Al Dimeola, Jeff Beck, John Mc Laughlin and some jazzy players like Larry Carlton, Mike Stern, John Scofield… Then the new league of shredders stepped out and Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Steve Morse, Greg Howe, Frank Gambale…and I was impressed with their techniques…the new concept of sweep picking and so on. Then there is mysterious Allan Holdswort who is my all time guitar hero.
Nowadays there are so many excellent players out there: Guthrie Govan, Mattias IA, Kiko Loureiro, Christophe Godin, Rick Graham, Martin Miller …  I dig them a lot. Amoung the young new guitarists that I was impressed lately, there is the band called “Polyphia” …they are good!

Toomas, tell us about your thoughts and views with the new hype on 8 & 9 strings guitars?

I like them! I own 7 string and 36 fret instrument which is crazy guitar. I don’t have 8 string but I have a feeling that I will get one soon. 9 strings feels crazy really at the moment for me, but never say never. But seriously I prefer my 6 string guitars  mostly, cause I am a little lost sometimes even with my 7 string …but 9 strings …why don’t you hit me with the 13 strings right away then!!! ( laughs )

As an Artist from Estonia, with a difficult exposition to the world, what do you think about the Musical scene in your Country?

Yes you are right, Estonia is a tiny country that most people don’t know nothing about. But things are changing as the world gets more open. And it is a matter of how open minded man/one can be. In the end the music matters. I don’t consider for example Christophe Godin as French guitar player, I love him cause his guitar playing is fantastic. Over here in Estonia we have some fantastic musicians, who have gained also worldwide reputation. Most of them are composers of classical music: Arvo Pärt, Erki-Sven Tüür… So it is really all in our hands. The musical scene in my country could be better, but I don’t like to complain, as I said it is our duty to make it better, so we keep rocking!

Are there new undergrounds bands or players that we have to recon within the next years? Maybe some new acts that you want to produce by yourself sooner or later?

I mentioned earlier “Polyphia” – I don’t know if they are underground or whatever but I like them. As producing other folks music I haven’t give it a thought, but I will continue to produce my own albums with my own music. The second album is really getting ready to be released soon.

What do you think of the state of the market today! What is your opinion concerning digital downloading legal and illicit?

I think music market is bit of submerged. There are so many bands and releases and it is so easy to get lost as a listener. Ironically I am one among others who is making listeners life more complicated! ( laughs ) But I really don’t care, I do what I like. What comes to digital download, I think it is inevitable! It is out of musicians control. I like CD-s and even vinyl LP-s.  Everybody uses their I phones, I pad-s and even cars have Spotify access so people use a lot of digital download capabilities. Another topic is that it leads us to the degeneration of music sound quality. In studios folks try to record their music best quality as possible 24bit 96 kHz in a wav/aiff format, master it at quality studios …but it really ends up for digital downloading as mp3 format. Which is never as good quality as the original. But of course I don’t like the illegal digital downloading of music because it comes from the pocket of musician.

Tell us what we have to expect form your side in the future to come?

More guitar oriented music! I will release soon my second solo album. I don’t want to tell you specifics of it but on the next album I will go crazy mixing some more styles again. I am currently working on a project of Tshaikovskys music a concert program of electric guitar and classical orchestra. Little things like that!

What is the last CD you have bought?

Mattias IA Eklundhs band “Freak Kitchen” new album.

Please let us know your Instrumental album TOP 5?

Oh there are so many, but if I have to pick out some of them:
Jeff Beck – There and Back
Allan Holdsworth – Metal Fatique
Planet X – Quantum
Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare
Larry Carlton – Room 335

 Please let us know your All time TOP 10?

I will skip this one thanx. It’s too hard for me to do a list!

Now it's time for the Chinese portrait aka Le questionnaire de Bernard Pivot , which is inspired by Marcel Proust but This questionnaire is probably more familiar to English audiences as the one that journalist James Lipton asks at the end of  the TV show "Inside the Actors Studio."

What is your favorite word?


What is your least favorite word?


What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Good people

What turns you off?


What’s your favorite curse word?

Kurat! ( means Devil in Estonian. The word as a signifier has its deep roots of our national Estoninan history. It has different meaning than in the Christianity world. By saying “Kurat!” it expresses and carries really strong power and enforcement )

What’s sound or noise do you love?

Seashore sound

What’s sound or noise do you hate?

Dentist drill

If not Yourself, who would like to be?


What’s the profession would you not like to do?


Who would like to see on a new bank note?


If you reincarnated as some other plant or animal , what would it be?


If God exist , what you like to hear him say at the gates of Heaven?

You served well son.

I want to thank you for this interview and wish you the best of luck with the new album and on the musical path ahead. Anything else you want to share with the MT’s readers out there?

Thank You for spending some of Your valuable time reading this Interview! Listen to the good music and go and create some of your own!


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Edited 07 February 2023

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