Breaking away from the expected, The Seven take us on a wonderful musical journey. An exploration into Metal, Rock, Jazz, Classical music, and anything else that Kevin Smith finds inspiring. I recently talked to Kevin about The Seven‘s history, and the new album Unsatisfied, to be released mid-summer 2007.
Please introduce yourself, and what CD is in your CD player right now?
My name is Kevin A. Smith… 38 years old, married to my best friend Heather, father of Annabelle. In my CD player right now is the album Aerial View, by Gamalon, killer jazz-rock fusion that hit me like a brick in the head the first time I heard it in 1990. My buddy Christian sent me a promo cassette of the album and I popped it in my walkman (remember those?) and listened to side 1 over and over again, it was so freakin’ cool that I was afraid the rest couldn’t be as good so I just kept listenin’ to side 1! I just found it on eBay for $1 and it’s as good as I remember… both sides!
Could you tell me a little history of both you and your recording studio?
Let’s see… I was born in Columbia, South Carolina. Started playing the guitar at age 12, a couple years later my parents got divorced and I was “relocated” to Williamsburg, Virginia. It was a very scary, negative experience that was intensified by raging adolescence, but it forced me to turn inwards and focus on music and my guitar playing. In the crucible, ya’ know? I quit school and moved out at 17, chasing the music in my head… and 20 years later I’m still chasing.
Somewhere along the line I bought a four track recorder, a drum machine, a bass, and a keyboard. I kept hearing all of these things in my head that I wanted to capture and after my first few recordings I knew I was hooked on the recording process. This love turned to passion and about 10 years ago I quit my day job and dove headlong into entrepreneurship… Six+1 Studios was born. I bring all my experiences, both musical and relational, to the studio and have grown a varied crop of clients from all around my region. From rap to country to metal to American Indian flute music, my studio is open to all. I have been honing my skills as a producer and have been pursuing projects that I feel I can take to another level. I get paid to do what I love… it doesn’t get much better than that.
Who are The Seven, and what instruments and brands do they play?
At this point it’s just me. My main six-string axe is a Line 6 Variax that I put a maple Warmoth strat neck on. I love this guitar! I also play an early 80s Fender Squier Strat (back when they made them in Japan and they were actually good guitars!) with EMG pickups. I also have a 1967 Gibson J-50 acoustic guitar that sounds really great, a Godin BG5 bass and I just bought a Peavey Cirrus 5 string bass. I run my guitars through a Line 6 POD XT live, direct for recording and through a Peavey Classic 50/50 stereo tube power amp to 2 2×12 cabs with EVs for live.
The Seven is an unusual name, is there a story behind it?
Well, I wasn’t interested in the self-aggrandizing that seems to come with self-titled bands. I thought a name would paint a better mental picture than just the Kevin Smith Band or some such thing. I don’t consider myself a numerologist, but the number seven has been an important number in my life. It represents completion and wholeness and presents a positive form with just a hint of mystery.
What artists have influenced you? Which still do?
My first serious influence was a family friend named Scott Miller – a great guitarist and an unusually cool person. When I was about 11 or 12 he got me set up and pointed in the right direction by recommending such artists as Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. I remember listening to his copy of Back in Black, over and over. From there I got really into more metal and progressive music; Judas Priest, Maiden, Rush, Saga, Queensryche. And the sometimes lyrically challenged 80s metal stuff; Ratt, Dokken, Dio, Night Ranger, etc. I was smitten with guitar players like George Lynch and Gary Moore. Somewhere in my mid teens I discovered, with Yngwie’s help, that I had a strong love for Baroque period classical music and bought a bunch of J.S. Bach and Vivaldi. Then Joe Satriani happened. After that, there were no more parameters. I just dug into anything and everything, jazz, space music, Philip Glass, and I found myself gravitating towards music with a strong cinematic element. Tunes that presented themselves to me accompanied by a movie that played inside my head. And music that SOUNDED really good… high production value.
Some of my favorites: Eric Johnson, Neal Schon, Tim Pierce, Steve Lukather, George Lynch, Yngwie Malmsteen, Shawn Lane, Joe Satch, Gary Moore, Michael Schenker, EVH, Ronnie Le Tekro, Akira Takasaki, Vinnie Moore, and Steve Morse.
Stand out albums: Led Zeppelin Presence, Yngwie’s first album, Joe Satch Not of this Earth, Eric Johnson Tones, Carlos Alomar Dream Generator, Queensryche Rage For Order, HSAS Through The Fire, and Yes 90125.
These days I find that I am more influenced by drummers than anything else. Dennis Chambers, Danny Carey, Alan White, Bonham, Rod Morgenstein, Mike Portnoy, Steve Smith, and others.
I am often inspired by Dave Weckl, and recently Neil Peart. What is it about drummers that are influencing you?
Rhythm is the heart of all music and I find myself infinitely fascinated by the 2 and the 4 and everything in between. I think that rhythm is where music primarily connects to the soul, patterns that we feel like a heartbeat. I am like so many other guitar/bass players out there… really just a frustrated drummer! BTW, I got to see Dave Weckl do a clinic in Atlanta a few years back – utterly mind-blowing! He has by far the most command over his instrument than anyone I’ve ever seen. One of my more recent faves is Abe Laboriel, Jr. – very tasty player.
Who is the songwriter? I’ve heard writers say craft; others describe inspiration as their motivation. Could you describe your process, the way you write a song?
I write and arrange all of the music, which is the way I have set it up. Not because I am a megalomaniac but because that is what The Seven is: the product of MY imagination. I have found that I hear all of the parts of the song as it develops, and each instrument plays a pivotal role in the composition as a whole.
I haven’t really settled into one particular writing style or process, it varies from song to song. Sometimes a life event can inspire a melody or rhythm, sometimes I am just jamming around and an idea will develop, but some of my favorite songs are seemingly “delivered” to me. I will grab my guitar and sit down to play and literally the first thing my fingers do will be the core of a song idea. The song “Meaning Of Is…” was that way, and so was “A Walk Across Nowhere.”
I’ve read in your bio, and I quote: “A project that recognizes music is inherently spiritual and is a gift from someone much greater.” Could you explain what that means?
First and foremost in my life I am a follower of Christ. An agent in the insurgency, trying to infiltrate our culture and others with the discipline of love and selflessness. About 20 years ago, after exploring other worldviews, I became intimately connected (much to my surprise) with the Creator of the universe. I have been grafted into the rhythm that flows endlessly from the Creator/Redeemer, this universal music of life. I see my music now as a gift from above, and what better way to celebrate that gift than by sharing it with the giver.
Sphere of Influence (1996), and Meaning Of Is… (2000), are miles away in time from the new album Unsatisfied (2007). The former two having a continuity, in songs like; from the album “Sphere of Influence,” “She Takes Me There” and “The Location Song,” from the album “Meaning Of Is…,” “Runner” and “Function S.”
Describe to me the album Unsatisfied (2007), what am I going to hear?
I tried to put all the distractions aside, tried to fight off the impulse to put a little bit of every style on there, and just make the album that I hope will define what my vision for The Seven always was: big, heavy, beautiful, intense, guitar-driven instrumental music.
What was the influence for this album, and how does that differ from your earlier works?
Well, like I said above: focus. Trying to narrow my focus. I had this big pile of songs and ideas to pull from so I divided them into 3 categories: heavy stuff, jazzy/fusiony stuff, and The Seven stuff. Before I would just put anything on my albums, they are really more like compilations of my musical experiments. This go around I wanted some degree of continuity, I wanted to present itself as a complete ride. One of those albums you put on with headphones and take a journey with a defined group of travelers.
What do you believe is the main differences musically in this work, than the earlier four?
Hopefully maturity and skill. After focusing so heavily on production for the past 5 years, I believe that this album will have a really strong sound. I’ve got a better sense of tone and intonation now and a really streamlined way to work so I hope to capture more good performances as they happen.
What continuity if any, will anchor this album to the other four?
Adventure. The tendency to take a chance and step out and explore. I’m still amazed by those 12 little notes…
When will the album be released? And where may we find it?
I’m shooting for mid-summer or early fall and you should be able to find it at Guitar 9 Records (www.guitar9.com), CD Baby, iTunes, and hopefully some other specialty shops that deal in instrumental music.
Is there anything you would like to add, or say to fans?
Just a big thank you to those of you who appreciate the beauty and importance of music without words, to people with imagination! Any and all comments and questions are welcomed. And remember, love wins.
I would like to thank The Seven and Kevin Smith for his participation in this interview.
~Denise Smith (Interview 2007.02.22)