Today, I am with the brilliant mastermind of Universal Mind Project, Michael Alexander and two surprise guests from the project, Elina Laivera and Henrik Bath!
Lady Obscure: Hello Mike! First of all, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
Michael Alexander: Hello! It is my pleasure to answer all your questions about Universal Mind Project. I feel honoured by being invited to this interview.
Lady: I gave the track you mixed for me today a listen and I must tell you, it is brilliant. Now, there are really awesome musicians involved in the project but before coming to that let’s start at the beginning. How did you come up with the idea in the first place? How did it all start?
Michael: It all started back in 2011, inspired by the Hear ’n Aid project that involved some of my favourite musicians like DIO, Yngwie Malmsteen and Geoff Tate, causing a huge impact in my musical perspective since I was very young.
Lady: The name intrigues me very much – as you know, I am a big fan of the guys in Dream Theater and of course, Liquid Tension. Is there a nod to this brilliant project?
Michael: As a fan of Dream Theater myself, I don’t deny they represent an influence, though the name of the project is not related at all to the Liquid Tension Experiment, to me the meaning goes deeper than that, Universal Mind means, a higher consciousness and subjective mind, attached to a creative and positive way of thinking, that concept is what determines the name of the project.
Lady: How about musically?
Michael: I guess the influences are there, it all depends of the listener, how they catalogue the music, I don´t really think about it too much.
Lady: Cool. How long have you been working on the project then?
Michael: Two years and a half now 🙂
Lady: Let’s talk about the brilliant team of musicians in the project. Who is involved? At which stage did you invite them? Or were they involved from the start?
Michael: I first compose instrumental songs, then the vocalists get involved with the track giving shape to the song with the lyrics and melodies, and I leave guest guitar solos to be recorded ’till the end.
Some of the guests are Charlie Dominici, Henrik Báth, Elina Laivera, Alex Landenburg, Mike Lepond, Johan Reinholdz, Theodore Ziras, Emanuelle Casali, just to mention a few. In the near future there will be more guests, especially vocalists.
Lady: Could you tell me a bit about how you chose them and how you invited them to the project? Were the basic compositions complete when you approached these musicians?
Michael: Yes, they all get a demo finished material to work with from the beginning, it is with this demo that I invite them, so they can analyze the track, see if they like it, and if it suits them musically.
I basically choose the musicians that I think would sound great for a particular song.
For me it is imperative that the musicians invited are happy with it and sound great in the project, as well as diverse from what they do with their respective bands.
Lady: So, Charlie Dominici has been very important for the project, it seems… He writes very interesting lyrics… Can you tell me about the dynamics there? Has he been doing all the lyrics for instance?
Michael: Dominici is not only a great singer, but a great lyricist and a very easy person to work with, he wrote the lyrics and sang only for “The Jaguar Priest”.
Lady: I’m always fascinated with the handling of the creative process when there are a lot of musicians involved in a project… You know, the way each musician contributes to the final picture; some do, some don’t and in some cases, the mastermind may have all of it figured out! How is it with you guys?
Michael: They all get an instrumental composition to work on, and based on that, everyone brings up something to the track. Some things I want in a specific way, in some other areas they have freedom of experimentation. I take a listen to the new ideas that they may bring, and it’s all about the music, if somebody came up with a better idea, I keep it.
Lady: Do you compose all the songs? How much input is there from the other musicians?
Michael: Yes, I compose all the tracks, and I play all the guitars as well, and we work on the compositions later on with the vocalists mainly, giving them freedom, for lyrics, melodies and such, we only discuss the theme before that. Elina Laivera did an exceptional work, not only with her vocals but writing lyrics for “The Force of our Creation” so far.
Lady: So, do you determine the level of input or do you give free reign over their parts to the individual musicians? I mean, were there any musicians who changed or completed their parts?
Michael: Each musician invited is given a specific part to work on, that would be their free space within the song. Vocals is a very important variable throughout the process, we work very closely, they work their parts with total freedom, they always do a wonderful work! Henrik and Elina are very talented and they know how to handle themselves.
Lady: Similarly, I was wondering how you decide which musician should play a given part. Were there plans beforehand or did you just let musicians pick their bits?
Michael: During the composition, I make some specific parts for the guests, once I have that done I present it to the musicians, and they already have a specific part to work on.
It makes work easier as well as challenging sometimes.
Lady: Let’s talk about what you are doing at the moment and your future plans!
Michael: Right now, I’m almost done with the writing process of the other songs, and we are in the making of a lyric video for the song “The force of our creation” which will see the light soon!
Also Elina Laivera is working on another song at the moment with the lyrics.
I am in talks also with the next guests for new compositions, very excited about! Just can’t talk about it yet. 🙂
Lady: So, the mixing and mastering will be done at the Fascination Street Studios – this is a huge place and Jens Bogren is a brilliant man for the job! I mean, how does it feel to be working with a studio that works with the giants of the scene?
Michael: It’s an honour to be working with Jens and Tony Lindgren, I am sure they will be a very important pieces of the puzzle, giving the identity of the sound for the project.
Lady: A question that has to be asked… Do you plan to play live?
Lady: As you know, when so many brilliant and consequentially busy musicians are involved in a project, the live parts of the projects either can’t happen or happen with other musicians. Do you have similar plans or will the original members be involved?
Michael: Well, I have been in talks already with some of the guys in the project about live presentations and the feedback is quite positive!
It wouldn’t be easy to keep exactly the same line up, so there would be some changes.
But everything is possible!
Lady: I have questions for Henrik and Elina as well!
Lady: Henrik, I am a fan of Darkwater and Harmony, I love your voice! To be honest, your involvement in the project was one of the most exciting bits for me! How has the experience been for you so far?
Henrik: Thank you very much, I’m honoured! The experience has been nothing but amazing! Michael is such a great guy to work with. Very professional, understanding and hard working. And I am very glad he asked me to participate, this is a quite special project he’s got going, finding these amazing musicians from all over the world.
Lady: How do you like the music, the team dynamics? Tell me about the project from your point of view…
Henrik: I love the music! It is very diverse, both between songs and within the songs as well, and this gives everyone involved the chance and space to put their own touch to the songs. And Michael has been very open for suggestions or changes in the songs. For me that is very important. To be able to rearrange, change or rewrite melodies so they suit me and my vocal style. And of course that every song has got different musicians (except a few) makes it even more dynamic. And for me, to get to sing together with Charlie Dominici, is something I never thought could happen. That is just so cool! I mean, he is the original vocalist of Dream Theater, a band that has been a huge influence for me when I grew up. And another wonderful thing with this project is all the great musicians you get in contact with and gets to work with. Elina, who is a wonderful vocalist and writer, and Alex Landenburg, amazing drummer who I will also work together with on Dragonir by Vivien Lalu, just to mention a few. UMP connects people all over the world!
Lady: Oh I know about Dragonir and am very excited about it Henrik! And Vivien’s Atomik Ark was pretty sweet too.. One of the best releases this year. But I digress… Elina, we know you as the vocalist of Seduce the Heaven, but you’re also a pianist, flutist and composer! And you became more than a vocalist for this project, right? Tell me about your experience in the project. Did you guys know each other before the project?
Elina: Well, I came in contact with Michael back in the early 2013, I think. We didn’t know each other before that but we soon realized we had a very good chemistry and our ideas were matching in a nice way, making the result even more interesting. So I started writing vocal lines and lyrics, did this for “Force Of Our Creation” and also working on one more at the moment. So from that point of view, you could say I also contributed in some compositions and didn’t just guest on a song with my vocals alone. Michael is anyway such an open-minded musician who gives his partners freedom to contribute the best they can. My experience in the project so far has been more than amazing not only musically but also because there is this family atmosphere where we all have a really nice relationship with each other – which is really amazing.
Lady: Mike, Henrik, Elina, thank you all for taking the time. I am so looking forward to hearing what you’re cooking for us!
Mike, Elina and Henrik: Thank you Nem! It has been our pleasure to take part in this interview!
We will continue working hard to achieve the best debut we can make, and we would like to thank all the musicians involved, and special thanks also to the people who have been very supportive with the project so far, I promise we won’t let you down guys!