Interview with Irene Ketikidi; guitarist and music aficionado talks about her different styles of music, influences and more

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Although she divides her time between Greece and the UK, both cultures have a deep impact on Irene Ketikidi and her music. Growing up, she was heavily influenced by a variety of rock, pop and electronic bands, including the greats like Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, with the electronic sounds of Daft Punk, the Prodigy, and many more. Since graduating London’s Guitar Institute in 2010, Irene has performed with session members of such current and past popular bands and musicians, including The Darkness, Guy Chambers, Cee Lo Green, just to name a few, and has performed at some of the largest UK venues and festivals. She played guitar in London’s West End play, “Julius Caesar,” has toured with Nashville musician Colm Kirwan, and two-times Emmy-award winning singer, Victoria Shaw and Heidi Feek.

In February of 2013, Irene released her debut instrumental solo album, Martial Arts & Magic Tricks, featuring many renowned musicians providing support, including Dave Marks on bass, keyboards and additional rhythm guitars, Darby Todd on drums, and guest performances by David Kilminster (Roger Waters), Phil Hilborne (Brian May, Nicko McBrain) and Justin Sandercoe. She has worked with a variety of musicians, from rock, pop to hip-hop, and has extensively toured, along with being featured in many artists’ recordings. She is also a contributing writer for an online music tutorial website, has been a guest instructor and course writer for International Guitar Foundation courses in London, and still provides tutorials for students longing to master the art of guitar playing. These students couldn’t ask for a better instructor. We recently chatted with Irene via Skype and had a really lovely time. We chatted about her music, her influences, her favorites, and much more. Check it out, and take a look at one of her music videos:

GGM:  You are a chameleon of sorts in the music industry. With your experiences in music, what have you enjoyed the most about each one of them? 

Irene: It’s different when you play different styles, I guess. Like for example, I just did a tour with a country musician collective from Nashville. That was such a great time I had, because I didn’t have to play a lot of lead stuff, which is so liberating. Sometimes you just get caught up in practicing with all the melodies, and my music is instrumental so it’s based a lot on the technical part of the guitar. So when I toured with these guys, 90% of it was playing rhythm guitar with minimal drive. Which is something I really enjoyed. It allows me to have more time to have fun on stage. You’re not on top of your guitar, you can groove a bit more, being in the back and grooving with the band is a great feeling, I think. You do a few chords, you’re there, and supporting a singer to do his thing. Whether it’s country or pop, it’s really a great thing to be doing.

Then I’ve played with electro, sort of punk bands. For example, Red and Pink, the band I’m still playing with at the moment. This is a different type of gig. Then again, you don’t play that much on the guitar. The focus would be on the guitar effects. I’ve got six or seven effects that I don’t use all the time; I might just use something for five seconds, but it has to be there because it has a sound to stage with. You need to be playing quite a lot of rhythm and maybe the guitar needs to be thrown back in the mix. It needs to be there, but not all the time; you want to keep a low profile. My stuff is a lot of guitars, a lot of puzzles, to support the high game aspect of it. I really enjoy playing my tunes. You write something, you want to play it and it just feels great. It’s almost like singing it; you’re just playing something and you’re singing it in in your head. It’s really a performing thing,  you’re there, and you show what you can do. People really want to hear that stuff. The value of a CD has really dropped these days, because a lot of people can record things in their home studios. It doesn’t mean anything, really. I mean, live industry is where everyone is looking to get involved these days.

I’m into theatre these days. I did a 4-month run of “Julius Caesar,” and this is apparently the first British production. I played guitar. The idea was that Julius Caesar directed in a female prison, and that was about different things in the relationships between the characters, with a rock band on stage; that’s where I came in. Again, I didn’t play as much throughout the play, because there’s a lot of lines to be recited. But, when you play, you have to sort of grab this feeling from the words. It’s a totally different thing. You have to sort of grasp an idea. I was trying to illustrate something.

There’s a couple of bands I’ve been involved with, and that’s not so much about learning, but more about performing and enjoying, and tyring to get to the actual sound of the actual guitarist. I guess it is a learning experience becaue you’re trying to emulate something as best as you can.

GGM:  You have a variety of influences from all over the board. Do you come from a musical background? What made you want to pick up a guitar initially, besides the influences in your life?

Irene: I don’t really come from a musical family. My Mum sings, but that’s about it. As far as I know, there is a Grandpa of the Mom who I’ve never met obviously, who also used to have a great voice. I have a few cousins doing it professionally, but no one really close to me as I grew up. My Dad used to have some tapes at home, very few foreign tapes, because I grew up in Greece. There was Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Leonard Cohen (can’t remember the title), and there was also Bonnie M., which was amazing because I used to dance to that when I was a kid (laughs). That was all the sort-of guitar-related music that was at home at the moment, which was what I first heard.

Then when I was around my teens, I started watching all of the music channels, mainly MTV. I started checking out all of these bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Skunk Anansie, Texas, Savage Garden, it was different stuff that was quite mainstream at the moment, even Bryan Adams; whatever was playing in the 90s scene. I started listening to all that stuff, and becoming slightly influenced by it. I really liked the idea of a band as well, you could see all of the instruments and the sound of all of them. Oasis was a big influence in the beginning. I really started liking the sound of the electric guitar a lot, and the more I started digging in it, the sound of the bands got harder; like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Slayer, etc. It kind of progressed really quickly into that sound.

My Dad got me my first guitar when I was about 14 or 15. I think my Mum didn’t really like that idea at the time. She was like “Don’t you want to go and learn the acoustic first?” I was like, “No, there’s no acoustic in the music I listen to so what’s the point?!” (laughs) The metal band phase included different rock star bands like Van Halen, Scorpions, Whitesnake, Guns N’ Roses, etc. Then, later on, around 18 years old, I listened to more of Joe Satriani, and for years I would listen to his records and try to figure out the sound of what he does, how he plays the melodies, how he figures things out. He’s been a big school for me as far as instrumental guitar goes and improvisation. That’s how I was inspired to write my current album, and is influenced by that sound and that scene. If you ask me what I listen to now it’s probably going to be pop, still some metal bands, (I just listened to the new Killswitch Engage record), Hell yeah!, funk, etc.

GGM:  You’re from Greece. What made you want to relocate to Athens to study music, and then to the UK, where you had settled for awhile? 

Irene: I’m in both places at the moment (Greece and the UK). Where I came from is kind of a small place, a small town I guess. I did my first lesson there. I knew I wanted to move to somewhere bigger to explore new things. When I moved to Athens, I was actually studying computer engineering at the same time. I enrolled in a course in one of the Berklee associated music schools. I had a really great teacher in Jazz Harmony and Theory; he was amazing.

After that I just started thinking at that time in my life, when I was 18, I wanted to learn rock and other stuff; not jazz right now. I never really listened to jazz at home, I do listen to some now. I just needed to do something different and I was doing private lessons with Theodore Ziras; quite popular guy with shreds. He had studied in England and was quite an inspiring figure as far as professionalism where artistry and discography was concerned. I thought that I’d rather go that way.

That period of time was when I didn’t have any information about female players. I actually did think when I was 14 that I was the only one, because I didn’t see any bands. I know it sounds stupid, but I was like I’ll just start something that people don’t really do. Then I found out about Jennifer Batten who played for Michael Jackson, which was surprising because I listened to him when I was young. Carina Alfie, who’s an Argentinian artist, also inspired me when I was young.

I thought it was a good idea to go to London, because the music scene there is huge. I was sure there would be stuff to do there. I studied at ICMP, which was a great course; it was a bachelor course. That was only part of it, and mostly was playing with different bands, just going out to gigs, jams, seeing great players, and getting information in my ears. That’s what really made me want to go to London. Greece is not really famous for it’s rock music. I knew I wanted to do a few different things and see where it takes me from there.

GGM:  Renowned musician, Steve Vai (Whitesnake) among many others, sings your praises quite often. How did that connection come about?

Irene: I haven’t actually worked with Steve Vai. I won this competition in 2010. I played at his Guitar Nation master class in London. It was a big show where he was doing a master class and a gig in London. I was one of the three people to win the competition and go play next to him. He was sitting onstage with this guy interviewing him, and I was playing right next to him. He was giving me feedback and stuff. He was very complimentary. The only critical stuff he said was little things to improve on. He gave me a piece of great advice, actually, that took me a few years to realize. He said “You can connect better with the notes.” Sometimes when you’re told these things, when you’re younger, they sound a bit general. After a few years go by, you’re like “Oh yeah, that’s what he meant.” it was such a great day. The amount of excitement was through the roof.

Irene and I chatted about our mutual love for artists and their CD’s, with the presentation, artwork, etc. Irene also mentioned about the massive and positive reception to her recent, instrumental album. We also chatted about our lack of watching television and when we do watch, our favorite shows that we enjoying watching. Irene really likes to watch Big Bang Theory. 

GGM  You released your first instrumental album this year and it has several notable musicians on it. How did the writing and recording process work with that? 

irene: it’s really a big adventure the way it worked out. The way it worked out in the beginning, in the first nine months or so, I was just writing the demos by myself on my laptop. James Richmond, who produced the album, I met through some guy during my college years. I knew he had a great home studio. This was the first guy who got directly involved in it. As soon as I finished the demos, I contacted Dave Marks, the bass player, who used to teach bass at ICNP, where I studied. He said “yes” straight away, which was amazing. He really shaped the sound of this record. He also added rhythm guitars, keys, percussion, and the intro to the tune “Distance” was entirely his, and was a great sound. I’m really pleased to have Dave on the record, and don’t think it would sound the same if he wasn’t on the record.

Before I even started looking for a drummer, he (Dave Marks) suggested Darby Todd, who works with him. I said “Yeah, great!,” as they do recording sessions so I thought it would be easier to get things done. They recorded drums and bass, and sent them over to James, the producer, and he did some rough backing tracks, to re-record the guitar parts. So, I re-recorded everything, and did so many takes, and really had to be spot-on. After this long procedure of recording guitars, we went to studio with James mixing them, which was also a long process. It was an enjoyable process and I learned so much with James. He’s a cool guy, so I learned a lot of things. Then I did the mastering at Metropolis studios, and that was quite quick. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this record. I think my way of making this record is putting good melodies together, and important to have a good band.

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GGM:  What was your first album on CD, vinyl and/or cassette?

Irene: The first cassette was definitely Pink Floyd, The Wall. The first CD, I never bought, I borrowed from a friend, was Oasis’s Be Here Now, and never returned it (laughs). I’m going to disappoint you, but I don’t have any vinyls at all. I know that’s sad.

GGM:  Who was your first concert and do you have a favorite?

Irene:  The first gig I ever went to was Grave Digger in Athens. I think they’re Scottish. They have some bag pipes involved, and was definitely an experience. My parent’s moved a lot, and while in my hometown, the gigs weren’t that big. I think it was in 2001 and was my first gig. The one that made the most impression was Joe Satriani in Athens in 2001. That was when I decided I want to write an album like that and I want to be like him. I’ve seen a lot of good people; I’ve seen Slipknot in London, Porcupine Tree, Revoker (they were a support band, and it was just metal, how many good metal bands come out these days). These are the ones that made the most impression.

GGM:  What are five albums or bands you wouldn’t want to live without?

Irene:

Van Halen 0U812

Joe Satriani, Flying in a Blue Dream

Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction

Pantera, Vulgar Display of Power

Prodigy, Music for the Jilted Generation

We also discussed some of our concerts that we have been to, who we enjoyed and what we didn’t like about the live bands we saw; Irene’s a great conversationalist. 

GGM:  Do you have a guilty TV or musical pleasure? 

Irene: I don’t know if it’s a guilty pleasure, because I think people think when you play rock guitar, they don’t think you can listen to anything other. I love Jessie J. and Bruno Mars. These are the top two I’m listening to at the moment. If I could play with them on stage at some point, that would be really cool. Bruno Mars, his single that he’s got out right now, “Locked Out of Heaven,” I think I’ve sang it I don’t know how many times lately. I just sing on top of it. And Jessie J., she’s amazing. She’s like really powerful on stage.

I love The It Crowd. It’s a British comedy series. It’s been around before The Big Bang Theory, and I labsolutely love that show as well. There’s some really good ’80s films like The Revenge of the Nerds, movies I grew up with, The Karate Kid, Jean Claude Van Damme films; films that I grew up with and that shaped me.

GGM:  Is there any music that makes you cringe?

Irene: I think I used to be a lot like that when I was younger, because when you’re younger you get overly critical. Now, I’ll sit down and listen to more before I state I don’t like it. I can’t give you a name to be honest with you, but a lot of times there’s a lot of bad tasted rap music. I don’t want to sound disrespectful to Greek music, There is some sort of Greece pop scene that incorporates Eastern instruments unsucessfully. I would say that this music sometimes makes me cringe. It has nothing to do with real folk, Greek music. It’s a really bad combination of attempted pop instrumentation arrangement with a voice that sounds like really Eastern.

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Photo credit:  Marc Griggs

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