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Milan Polak

Interview with Milan Polak from Milan Polak
by Mike McMahan at 10 July 2020, 4:30 AM

Milan Polak is widely considered one of the finest instrumentalist/vocalists working in the Metal/Hard Rock World today; and on his latest release, “Can’t Please Everyone”, shows us again just why that is. Mike McMahan was able to catch up with him recently, and they discussed influences, stylistic departures, open tunings and equipment, and playing with some of the music world’s elite.

First off, congratulations on “Can’t Please Everyone.” It is a fantastic album, front to back. I hear a lot of stylistic variety on the record. As a guitarist, who influenced you? Are there particular styles or acts that you listen to more than others?

MP: Hi Mike, thanks for having me. And thanks so much for rating my new album “Masterpiece”. I was totally surprised, made my day! I truly appreciate it. As far as influences go that’s a tough one to answer because I am somewhat schizophrenic… lol On one hand I was always fascinated by the virtuoso side of the instrument, but I also always needed good songwriting to keep me interested. As a matter of fact, my whole life I preferred listening to “real” songs with vocals rather than instrumental music. This might surprise some, but I rarely ever listen to instrumental music anymore or guitarists for that matter. Also, I grew up with a lot of different styles of music such as jazz, classical and obviously rock, and all of that had an impact on me in one way or another.

That is something we certainly have in common. Most people who delve into my music collection look at me as if I’ve lost my mind. The fluidity of your style reminds me of areas of Holdsworth’s playing. Do you listen to any of his music?

MP: Wow, that’s a huge compliment. Holdsworth is the guitar god of the guitar heroes. Many years ago, I recorded a song called “Chain Reaction” which is on my first instrumental CD “Guitar Odyssey” and it was sort of like a tribute to him, but I could never ever in 100 lifetimes come even close to him… This guy was so far ahead of anything and anyone, just listen to an album like “Bundles” by Soft Machine.

I seem to be drawn to the song “Numb”. Is there any particular track on the record that you would lay claim to as a favorite? I know that is kind of like asking someone to choose a favorite child…

MP: Interesting you say that because it is also my favorite song on the album. It was the last song I wrote for the album. In fact, the song writing & basic recording process were already finished, and then one evening this song just “happened”…; At first I thought to myself, “Ok, first song for the next album” but then I just felt it would be a shame not to put it on “Can’t Please Everyone”. Other than that, every song has a reason, a personal story, something different, and so I feel like they all belong there. Fun fact on the side and many people are not aware of this: A lot of times people or radio stations pick their favorite song and it will be completely different to what you the musician/songwriter thought. Or the other way around: Many times the song I feel is the strongest is not even mentioned in reviews and/or by people. This goes for “Numb” as well.

Going back and listening to some of the earlier stuff, I found “Aurora” and “Moon Dance” that you recorded with DRUID back in 2010. What was that experience like? It seems like an incredible departure for you.

MP: Yes, you’re absolutely right, it pretty much was. But I am always open to new things and I constantly look for new challenges. And by that I don’t mean playing faster or more complicated but on a song writing, producing and/or stylistic level. As much as I like certain traditional things, I also embrace new things, new technologies, etc. On “Can’t Please Everyone” for example I used different tunings just to inspire myself. And at the moment I am waiting for a new 7-string guitar Ernie Ball Music Man has sent to me. By the time this interview’s online the guitar will probably be in my hands and I cannot wait to start writing songs for a new album with it.

The seven strings are something I have never delved into as a guitarist (and in present company, I use that term very loosely). I can imagine it would open up a deeper, richer sound. I am starting to grab onto some of the open tunings, however. What tunings are you using?

MP: Yes, and that’s exactly what I’m aiming for. So far, I have always said, “Why should I get a 7-string I can’t even play the 6-string yet…” and so until now I’ve used lower standard tunings and/or drop D. I also have a Yamaha baritone guitar. On my 2nd vocal album “Murphy’s Law” there’s a song called “Mystery Of Life” where I used a tuning that someone told me King’s X are using sometimes:  C-G-C-G-C-E, so it basically gives you an open C major chord but in a really cool way because it’s low and dark and then the major 3rd makes it nice and shiny on top. I think Devin Townsend uses that tuning as well. I used it again on “Cleansing” off my 3rd vocal album “Scarred To Perfection” but I think I tuned down another half step if I recall correctly…

Any plans for touring after this CoVid 19 scare is behind us? I know that I would love to see you hit the States, but there is so much uncertainty at the moment.

MP: If this year has taught me anything, it is to never make plans anymore… lol Don’t get me wrong, of course I’d love to go on the road. I mean that’s the main reason why most of us do this, right? I love meeting fans, making new friends and reaching people emotionally with my music. But the powers that be are not making it possible at the moment. A lot of people in the music business have lost a lot of money thanks to Covid-19 and cancellations.

Back to “Can’t Please Everyone” for a bit. “The Future Is Now” is such an amazing cut. Working with guys like Billy Sheehan and Ron Thal has got to be a daunting task. Does it affect you any differently when you record with those guys; or say a Tony Franklin?

MP: I am always trying to give my very best no matter who’s playing on the song. But having 2 bass legends that have played with the best of the best play on your song can give you that little extra kick in the butt… lol Sometimes I’m not sure if I have fully realized it yet…Ron on the other hand is a monster guitar player and musician in general but first and foremost a dear friend. Over the years we’ve appeared side-by-side on various “guitar hero” compilations and played together on some songs in the past (charity projects like “End Of Time” and “Devil On My Shoulder”). He is a huge inspiration and someone I look up to.

Ron Thal is an incredible guitarist, without a doubt. Any other guitarists you would like to work with in the future?

MP: Good question. I generally love collaborations. I love the chemistry, it’s like cooking with different flavors. There’s so many great guitarists out there. Any suggestions? Do you have anyone particular in mind? Guthrie Govan and Greg Howe come to my mind. Both have been on several “guitar hero” compilations that also featured me. Speak of “daunting”… lol. Then I would definitely have to get back to practicing… haha.

Man, there are so many out there that are phenomenal. Vai comes to mind instantly. Greg Howe would be amazing. Steve Lukather?

MP: Luke and I have been friends for over 2 decades. I love him to death; we hang whenever we get a chance to when he’s on tour with Toto or solo and he is one of my biggest influences on guitar. I would love to do something with him but so far, he has evaded every single one of my requests… lol Vai and I have both been on an album called “Warmth In The Wilderness II - A Tribute To Jason Becker” but I never really got a chance to actually get in touch with him. Would absolutely love to, of course!

I would imagine losing Randy Coven back in 2014 was a huge blow for you. Was that guy as amazing to work with as it seemed he would be?

MP: Randy. Man, what a huge loss to the music/bass community. The guy was just mind blowing good. Really had his own style/sound. We met & hung out in NY during the recording sessions for my first vocal album “Straight”. That was kinda intimidating not only because he had played with Malmsteen, but he also recorded an album with Jorn Lande who is one of the best singers in the world in my book. And here I was trying to be a lead singer for the first time… lol Randy was a real laid back and funny guy, down to earth and always joking while still being very professional - that’s how I’ll always remember him.

That is kind of the way he always came off to me. You talked about Jorn Lande, who is amazing- I really love the vocal work you have done, as well. Was that transition from guitarist to guitarist/vocalist tough for you? I’ve heard a lot of musicians say it took awhile to build that confidence.

MP: I have always sung backing vocals in bands, so it wasn’t that much of a transition in terms of confidence. More of a mental decision like, “Ok, I am gonna be a singer from now on…” Most guitar players that had already made a career as a guitarist and then took this step had a hard time being accepted, in my case however this transition seemed to have worked surprisingly well. I did not piss off too many folks… lol In fact, I even get session inquiries as a singer and once in a while a message from a fan like, “Wow, I just checked out some of your older stuff, you’re actually a pretty good guitarist…” haha There are however also those, of course, that keep asking for another “Dreamscapes” album… And then again, when I recorded “Robo Sapiens” with Thomas Lang on drums people were complaining that the album was instrumental and I did not sing on it. You can’t please everyone, I guess… lol.

Have you got a particular set of musicians that you enjoy playing with live? I know Dennis Leeflang has a pretty big presence on the record.

MP: Dennis already played all the drums on my previous album “Scarred To Perfection”. He’s a great studio drummer and specializes in remote sessions. We seem to have a connection in the sense that I never have to explain the groove of a part, when I want to lay back or when I want the drums to be on the beat. He’s also a very musical drummer always putting the song first. At the end of the day when you go on the road it all comes down to several factors like timing, budget, etc. At the moment playing live is out of question due to circumstances worldwide and so it doesn’t make sense to contact other musicians to talk about speculative things like a tour.

Tell me about the title track. That song is FILLED with phrases I would have liked to scream lately. Is there anything in particular you are speaking to here, or is that more of a broad coverage statement?

MP: Only lately? lol I’ve felt like this for years, it just seems to keep getting worse and worse each year… I let you in on a secret, I’ve never said this in public before: I actually wrote the song for my previous album “Scarred To Perfection” about 5 years ago planning for it to be the title track. But I was still missing one song and just when I thought I had run out of ideas for lyrics the phrase “Scarred To Perfection” popped up in my head. So, I wrote that song and I just felt it would be a waste to not name the album after that song. But I still felt “Can’t Please Everyone” was a great title, too; so I decided to put it on the back burner and name my next album like that. Which of course, made me lose one song and so I had to write another one which was the more progressive song “Cleansing”, which btw is one of my favorite songs on “Scarred To Perfection”.
Going back to your question, I really don’t think the lyrics need much explaining. I’m sure everyone can relate to what I’m saying in that song. I mean just look around, both in real life and on social media (to me there’s still a difference between those two… lol). It’s gotten totally out of hand and reached a point of being completely absurd & ridiculous.

VERY true and on point. “Cleansing”, by the way, is an incredible song. Good trade off.

MP: Thanks a lot, Mike. It really describes the phase I was going through at that time. I had completely changed my lifestyle, nutrition, mind set and some other things and that’s basically what the song is about. It also has a more progressive touch and over-the-top solo section.

As far as equipment is concerned, have you always recorded with the Music Man guitars or has that been a steady migration for you?

MP: I’ve been with Music Man for over a decade now and they’re hands down the best guitars I’ve ever played in my whole life. It was my good friend Steve Lukather who hooked me up with them and they have been nothing but super kind and supportive since day 1. And I am truly grateful. Believe it or not but having the right guitar in your hands can really have an impact not only on your playing but also on your inspiration and song writing.

I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me, and I hope nothing but the best for you down the road. It has been a great process for me getting to be more familiar with your work, and I look forward to hearing more in the future.

MP: Again, thank you for having me, Mike. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for your support! And if people want to get in touch with me, you can find me on IG:


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