I am so thrilled that I had the opportunity to interview Paul Bielatowicz, who is one of the best guitarists I’ve had the chance to see live. I saw him play guitar as part of the Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy concert I attended in 2018 & was immediately impressed. Paul manages to combine a killer virtuoso technique with truly beautiful, evocative playing, which can be a challenging combination to find. Paul pulls it off perfectly, & I’m so grateful that I got to pick his brain about music & creativity.
1. Is creating music something you HAVE to & feel a deep & necessary compulsion to do? Has being such a creative person sometimes made your life more difficult/painful or less fun, because being very creative is often at odds with what the rest of the world wants from you? If so, how have you dealt with that? Or has this been easy overall?
I’ve not really thought about it in those terms before, but I’ve always felt a deep need to be creative. I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t doing something creative with my life. Thankfully I’ve never felt at odds because of it; in fact the opposite is true, being creative has brought so many great people into my life.
2. How did you end up playing as part of Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy? Did you have to audition? (If you did, what song(s) did you play?) Tell us that story.
Carl was looking for a guitarist and asked around for recommendations. One of his recommendations was a guitarist called Guthrie Govan – he couldn’t do it because of other commitments, so Guthrie kindly recommended me. I sent Carl a CD of demos I had recorded – he liked it, so asked me to join the band. Thankfully there was no audition, the first time I met him was the first of 3 days rehearsals before our first European tour.
3. Do you consider yourself an explorer of the world (particularly the music world) or a collector of experiences & ideas, which you then turn into sounds? What things outside of music influence you, even including random things in the everyday world?
I think everything you experience goes into and comes out of your music. My goal is always to communicate something when I play or create music, so obviously it’s very important to have something to communicate. Inspiration can come from many places, but for me I try to communicate the positive in my music, simply because that’s what I’m drawn toward. So any positive experience or emotion can be inspiration for music.
4. Do you feel that playfulness & fun are important themes in your life & your music, & are taking creative risks a form of play? Do you have fun being yourself? How can creative people integrate more playfulness & creative fun into their lives/creative work?
Absolutely. I think fun and silliness is a big part of who I am, so that’s naturally going to come out in my music. If I can make someone smile, or even laugh, when I performing then I feel like I’ve done my job. As for how people can integrate more playfulness – if you’re that way inclined then just be yourself. An audience appreciates honesty in a performer.
5. Are most of the solos you play planned out or improvised, & why?
I’ll usually improvise solos in the studio until I get a take that I like, then when I’m happy with it I’ll keep it and play it live that way pretty much all the time.
6. What have you found to be the best way to market your music?
For me playing live has been the best marketing tool. Playing with other artists has given me the opportunity to showcase my music to audiences who wouldn’t otherwise discover me.
7. When you are writing a song, how do you know what it should sound like? Can you hear, feel, or see what the parts should be like inside your mind? Do you try to use sound to “paint” a very specific feeling or aesthetic you have in mind, or something else?
There’s no fixed formula for me – the writing process happens differently every time. I just wrote a song include 132 names of my patreon patrons in the lyrics. The morning I found out my patron count had passed 100 subscribers I got in the shower and pretty much had the whole thing written by the time I got out. Then I sang it into my phone so I could remember it. Other times I’ve been commissioned by guitar magazines to write pieces in a very specific style; in those instances I usually try to find an existing piece of music to use as a model for the piece I’m writing.
In terms of the aesthetic or meaning of a piece sometimes the musical idea comes first, and that might bring to mind a feeling or narrative to mind, and the rest of the piece is then influenced by that narrative… and it can also happen the other way round. So, for me, there’s no tried and tested method for writing.
8. If you could have written or played on any album (or albums!), which would it be & why? What would you have done differently on it?
Great question! I’m thinking of all my favourite albums, but the problem is they’re perfect exactly how they are, so I wouldn’t want to change them by adding myself. Having said that, I would have loved to have been in the studio when Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road was being recorded – that creative environment must have been been something incredible to witness.
9. Who are some of your biggest musical influences & what most appeals to you about their music? How have they inspired your approach to guitar?
Guitar-wise, I started playing guitar because of Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. Then I discovered Hendrix & Eddie Van Halen and my life changed. With Eddie & Jimi, what really appeals is the organic sound and style of playing – they sound so “human” when they play. One thing I dislike is when a musician, particularly guitar players, sound mechanical & robot-like. Aside from guitar players, a huge influence has been piano music. My favourite pianist is a Hungarian classical musician called Georges Cziffra. Again, he had monster technique, but he also had that organic sound to his playing that I love – that combination is absolutely necessary for virtuoso technique to move and touch people, rather than merely impress them.
10. With someone as virtuosic at guitar as you are, how do you know where to take your playing next? Do you have a mentor or a teacher, people you look up to & aspire to be like, or does the “next level” of honing your skills come from intuition or trying to play what you might hear inside your mind?
I don’t have anyone such as a mentor, but I often imagine doing things that I’m not capable of yet, so I guess that pushes me. I benefit a lot from the fact that I am so influenced by pianists and other instruments – it makes me constantly reassess what is possible on the guitar, and helps me look outside the confines of accepted limits and norms of the instrument.
11. If you had to write a manifesto about your approach to life in the form of a five-item list, what would that list be?
- Be kind.
- Be original.
- Make the most of every moment.
- Leave the world a better place than you found it.
12. Do you have any hobbies outside of music? Tell us about your “son” (aka your cat!).
I adopted a cat from a rescue shelter about 4 years ago. We went to the shelter wanting a cat to pick us, rather than the other way round. The shelter let us meet a few cats, but they all seemed mainly interested in getting treats… then we met one who the shelter had called Rhode Island (that’s where he was rescued from) – there was an instant bond between us. He wasn’t interested in any treats, but followed us around the room whenever we walked away from him. He acted more like a dog than a cat, so we decided to call him Darwin – we figured he was the missing evolutionary link between a cat and a dog! 6 months later we read a heart wrenching story about a cat who had been in the same shelter for a long time; she came from Rhode Island and all her siblings had been adopted months ago; we called the shelter and sure enough it was Darwin’s biological sister, so obviously we had to reunite them. We named her Emma, after Charles Darwin’s wife, Emma Darwin.
13. I love the collaborative combos you make by combining a silent film with your guitar. What is your favorite thing about that type of combination of taking something from the past & combining it with the present?Tell us about that process.
I’ve always liked the idea of working with multimedia, so when the idea of silent movies came up, it just seemed to tick all the boxes. They’re a blank canvas – no dialog or existing soundtrack to get in the way of the music I’m playing, they’re often pieces of art in the their own right (we could dedicate a whole other interview to that idea alone!) and what’s more, they’re now in the public domain so can be used freely without worrying about the treading minefield of copyright!
14. What’s the earliest memory you have of music being important to you? Were you always interested in music & becoming a musician, or was that something you developed over time (if so, when & what inspired you to come to that decision?). If you hadn’t done something with music, what might have you become or done?
I was an only child growing up on the outskirts of a small country village so when music became important to me in my teen years, it became REALLY important – I threw myself into it and it consumed my every thought. When I was at school I loved playing guitar, but never thought it was a viable career choice so didn’t dare tell anyone I wanted to be a musician in case they laughed at me! Then when it came time to chose what to study at college I had a kind of “now or never” moment – it was the closest I’d been to choosing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, so I finally started telling people I wanted to study music. Thankfully my family were very supportive and the rest is history!
15. What is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?
Geocaching! Me and Simon (Fitzpatrick – the bass player in Carl Palmer’s band) take part in a worldwide treasure hunt called Geocaching. There are millions of “caches” hidden all over the world – basically small containers containing a log book for you to sign – and we always try to find as many as we can on our travels.
16. Do you ever pretend to be someone else or do you feel as though you are always entirely yourself? Do you ever pretend to be your heroes when you’re up on stage, or does it feel amazing to always be exactly who you are when you’re on stage?
Haha no, definitely always feel like I’m entirely myself. I think my approach to performing is a very personal, communication-based one. So I’m always trying to draw the audience into to the performance and communicate something to them. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable trying to pretend to be someone else as that would lose the element of communication.
17. You can commission a work of art in any medium (including music & film) by any artist, dead or alive. Who is it, & what do you have them make for you?
Beethoven – I’d get him to compose me an electric guitar concerto!
18. Did you have a “point of no return” experience in regards to pursing music, where there was no turning back & you knew you were just going to go for it? What was that decision or moment, & how did it make you feel?
Not really. The thought of doing anything else would have been horrible. There was only ever one thing I wanted to do, and that was to play music, so I’ve always been “going for it”.
19. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit, has most improved your life?
I decided to go vegan a few years ago and I feel like I’m a better person for it. I reached a point where I felt I had to reassess my moral compass and make my own decisions about what was right and wrong. A big influence was adopting Darwin, my cat from a rescue centre – it was the first time I’d really bonded with an animal and all of a sudden the thought that I’d been eating animals really struck home. I realised I had to make that change in my life & I’ve never looked back. Going vegan is one of the most positive things I’ve ever done with my life.
20. What advice do you have for highly creative & eclectic young people pursuing their art?
Be yourself. The world doesn’t need a clone of any other artist out there. Find your own artistic voice and create.
If you’d like to keep up with what Paul is up to in the studio or on tour, they can check out www.patreon.com/paulbielatowicz for daily updates.
You can also find Paul on Facebook here.
All photos of Paul from his Facebook page.