Mike Dekleva is a guitarist from Albuquerque, NM. Inspired Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, and guitarist, Robbie Calvo, Mike recently recorded a new, four song instrumental rock EP at Paragon Recording Studios in Franklin, Tennessee. The EP showcases Mike’s lyrical guitar melodies, pop-style musical arrangements, and classic hard rock influences. We got to ask Mike a few questions about his musical past, present and future – with the addition of his recent EP release, right here on ET!
Hi Mike! Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! You just wrapped up recording a four song instrumental EP, correct? What was this recording process like? Hi Jackie! Yes, I did finish my four song instrumental rock EP, “Synergy,” in October 2015. The basic tracks for “Synergy” were recorded on May 5, 2015 at Paragon Recording Studios, in Franklin Tennessee. I tracked guitars in the studio, along with my friend and co-producer, Nashville session guitarist Robbie Calvo. Amanda McCoy played bass, Jason Webb played piano and keyboards, and Grady Saxman laid down the drum and percussion parts for the EP. After the May 5th recording session, I recorded additional guitar overdubs in my home recording studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I sent those new guitar tracks to Casey Barker at Paragon, who was the recording and mixing engineer for the EP, and he added those tracks to the songs. Believe it or not, because of my busy professional schedule and family life, I recorded all of my guitar overdubs in my home studio from June 2015 through October 2015 between the hours of 5:00 am and 9:00 am, each day before I went to work! During those months, both Robbie and Jason added additional overdubs from their recording studios. Casey mixed each song at Paragon as it was completed, and the entire project was mastered in November 2015, by John Mayfield at Mayfield Mastering in Nashville Tennessee.
Where did the inspiration for the EP develop from? The project really developed from a conversation that I had with Robbie in January 2015. As a guitarist, I’ve always gravitated toward writing and recording my own instrumental songs. I had worked with Robbie for about 2 or 3 years on my guitar playing and songwriting, and he suggested that I record an EP of my music in a professional studio, with professional musicians. Once I committed to the idea, I wrote four songs for the EP during January, February and March of 2015. We eventually decided to replace one of the four songs with “Midnight Sky,” a song that I had written a couple of years before the “Synergy” project had evolved. I then made complete demos of the four songs in my home studio, and prepared charts for the songs, so that Robbie, Amanda, Jason and Grady could craft their parts for the May 5th recording session.
Can you run us through a quick synopsis of the four tracks on the EP and what they each represent? With regard to the project as a whole, I wanted to create an EP that would be equally at home when played next to an Adele song on adult contemporary radio, while at the same time fit the format of classic rock stations. For those reasons, the song arrangements are very pop-oriented, and the guitar melodies and solos are very vocal-like. But I’m a rock guitarist at heart, so elements of guitar-oriented classic and progressive rock also played a big role in the composition of the four songs. I also tried to make each song tell an emotional story. “Lost” is about that feeling of angst, melancholy, or sorrow that we all experience in life at one time or another when we are lost, for example, in a relationship, spiritually, or directionally. “Drive” is a straight-ahead feel-good rock song that hopefully inspires the listener to put the convertible top down, feel the sun on their face and wind in their hair, while driving fast on a warm spring day! “Synergy” literally means “a result that is greater than the sum of its parts.” That track contains a large number of guitar parts that the listener may not even be aware of, but those parts mesh together to create an aural tapestry that is greater than the sum of its parts. Finally, “Midnight Sky,” which I dedicated to my wife Suzie, is meant to convey the awe-inspiring and romantic feelings of being in the mountains, away from the city, looking at the stars at night.
What was it like recording at Paragon Recording Studios in Franklin, TN? Recording at Paragon was a wonderful experience. Casey Barker, the recording engineer, is the consummate professional, and he made me feel right at home during the session. I was also privileged to play with Robbie, Amanda, Jason and Grady, who are not only very talented musicians, but wonderful people. It was a very special experience to collaborate with these artists on this project, and each of them made very significant and special musical contributions to the EP.
Did you get a chance to venture around Nashville while you were in town? Always! I am very familiar with Nashville. My oldest daughter, Lauren, is a student at Belmont University, and I have several business clients headquartered in Nashville, so I have spent significant time there. One very special aspect of this particular trip to Nashville was that Lauren, who is a talented singer/songwriter, was recording her first EP at a Nashville recording studio two days after I recorded the basic tracks for “Synergy.” I was able to spend a day at the studio watching Lauren and her music team record her EP. And no trip to Nashville would be complete without visiting Gruhn Vintage Guitars! I spent a couple of hours at Gruhn, admiring vintage guitars that are, admittedly, way out of my price range!
I bet it was a little different than your hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico! How has your hometown inspired you musically? Albuquerque is a beautiful city, with the Sandia and Manzano mountains to the east of the city, the Rio Grande river to the west, and other notable physical characteristics that surround the community. As a musician and artist, you really can draw inspiration from the sheer beauty of the city itself. But more than the beautiful surroundings of the city, I’ve primarily drawn musical inspiration from three different sources. First, I’ve been inspired by talented musicians that I have played with, or admired and studied as a fan of their music. I’ve studied music and guitar with Robbie Calvo, both as his private student, and through his TrueFire teaching courses. I have also spent time studying the music of some of my guitar heroes, like Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson. I even got to spend an hour with Eric Johnson a couple of years ago, discussing his music and his musical influences. I’ve certainly drawn inspiration from all of those experiences. Second, I have played in church worship bands over many years, and even served as the music director and worship leader at a local church for about 7 years. The experience of playing several times a week with other good musicians in front of congregations, has not only inspired me, but has permitted me to develop a very specific approach to guitar playing and songwriting that I incorporate into my instrumental music. In short, I’ve tried to develop an approach to music where the guitar serves the song, and compliments the other instruments in the arrangement, rather than dominating the song. Finally, I draw inspiration from my Christian faith. I’m honestly grateful to God for the gift of music, and for the opportunity to express my creativity through music. Hopefully that perspective is present in the music that I create.
When it comes to your influences, who include incredible musicians like Joe Satriani, what characteristics from them inspire you? Joe Satriani is not only an amazing guitarist, but he’s a very sophisticated composer. His songs often feature sections of advanced modal composition juxtaposed against sections of classic blues rock, or other familiar genres. And his sense of melody is awe-inspiring. Eric Johnson is an amazing player and songwriter, and I find inspiration from his tone, touch and approach to developing chord progressions. But my biggest influence is Robbie Calvo. Robbie has an elegant, musical approach to his guitar playing, and he has developed a very distinctive signature style and sound that many excellent players never achieve. Robbie has encouraged me to be unapologetically true to myself on the instrument. He has pushed me to develop aspects of my guitar playing that are unique, and prompted me to discard less attractive elements of my playing. Robbie has also taught me to develop subtle aspects of my playing that I had overlooked, like developing a signature vibrato style. He’s also focused my attention on nuances like careful note intonation when playing in an ensemble, and taught me the importance of developing solos, melodies and phrases that are musical, rather than simply flashy. Robbie is an amazing player and teacher, and I would encourage guitarists of all levels to check out his TrueFire guitar instructional courses.
Any interest in the future to branch out into music that is not instrumental? Why or why not? To tell you the truth, I have thought about that, and even considered incorporating lyrics and vocalists into the songs on “Synergy.” But I ultimately decided not to do that. I think that it is important to know who you are as a musician and an artist, and be faithful to who you are, and to your particular artistic vision. At the end of the day, creating guitar-oriented instrumental rock music is what I do, and I doubt that I will stray from that format. Having said that however, I’m always open to new opportunities and new suggestions, and if the right vocal-oriented project were to present itself, I would give that project serious consideration.
When you aren’t writing or recording, what takes up your free time? I love spending time with my wife, Suzie, and I would love to play music with her in the future. Suzie is a talented pianist, vocalist and songwriter, and we have played music together at church in the past. I would enjoy doing that again. Suzie and I also enjoy spending time with our three children, Lauren (in Nashville), Lindsay (in Kansas City), and Josh (in Albuquerque). I also have a busy professional career as an attorney and managing partner of a civil defense law firm here in Albuquerque. As you might expect, my legal career takes up a substantial amount of time. Finally, when I’m not spending time with my family, working at my law firm, or writing and recording music, I like to ride mountain bikes, work out at the gym, and go to concerts or movies. It’s a busy life, but I love every aspect of it!
What can listeners expect from you in 2016? I’m going to take some time to enjoy the accomplishment of recording Synergy. It was the fulfillment of a dream, and I want to enjoy the moment. I am also actively involved in promoting the EP, because I really believe in the music, and want people who enjoy instrumental music to hear these songs. In fact, I am giving away a free download of the entire EP on my website, http://www.mikedeklevamusic.com, for anyone who joins my email list. In addition to that, I’m always playing guitar and writing music, and I’ve started writing new songs for my next instrumental project. At some point this year, I will turn my attention to the preproduction process for a second EP or full length album of instrumental music!