Given the opportunity of the two shows in Greece, that were finally postponed due to the pandemic, we talked with the mastermind of Bulgaria’s Intelligent Music Project.
Interview: Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: When did you decide to form Intelligent Music Project and how did it start?
Milen Vrabevski: It appeared I was somehow full of music ideas some 10 years ago. I needed to release my subconscious from that load, and recorded a couple of songs. Very soon it became an album, that lead to a musical on stage in Sofia. Then I invited a famous star to record it in English, so that we try a world project. The star was the ex-Uriah Heep lead vocalist John Lawton, and I registered this Music Production House of mine – Intelligent Music Ltd. So all my All-star bands, and all albums produced, released, and written by me were named after it. With the development of my music style, I invited different famous stars, I considered most suitable to perform my songs. So every project has a number Intelligent Music Project – I, II III etc, and a name.
Rockpages.gr: What would you say that are your influences? Favorite bands? Records? What are your musical heroes?
Milen Vrabevski: When I was a very little kid I was deeply impressed by ‘My Love, My Life’ of Abba, and a couple of The Beatles songs. Later I was a big fan of most world famous rock bands one could think of… However, I am a huge fan of classical music, too. I’ve always thought you stay on stage with a mission, not just to entertain people. There must be some important message you must leave to the audience, so that it improves lives, changes fates for good, leaves a meaningful trace thereafter… A simple example would be John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. But I do not have musical heroes. There were a few albums, that made a deep impression on me, through the years: Abbey Road (The Beatles), The Turn of a Friendly Card (Alan Parsons Project) & ‘No 4’ (The Foreigner).
Rockpages.gr: Browsing through your back catalogue one sees that you have been collaborating with rock music GIANTS, like Simon Phillips (Toto), John Payne (Asia), John Lawton (Uriah Heep), Bobby Rondinelli (Black Sabbath), Joseph Williams (Toto) and of course lately Ronnie Romero (Rainbow). How did you make that happen? Are there more musicians on your list for future albums?
Milen Vrabevski: Maybe not just collaborating. I was happy to discover we shared similar ideas about life. This was flattering to me, and enabled the communication so much. Moreover, they would not agree to put their names on the project, if they do not approve it. John Lawton was introduced to me by a Bulgarian musician he used to do covers with. My publicist in the US, Billy, introduced me to Simon Phillips, and then he did make the connection with quite a few more of those great names: John Payne, Joseph Williams, Tim Pierce, Nathan East etc… He most likely would not do that if he had not found something interesting in my project. Then, he even became the music co-producer with Ivo and myself of my last two albums: Sorcery Inside & Life Motion. And he formed a band in LA to record Sorcery Inside – with his own bass guitar player – Earnie Tibbs, Dave Palmer & Jessie Steibenberg (this is the son of the drummer of Supertramp)… The sixth one, that is coming up this coming Feb., is my next All-Star project – ‘The Creation’, with Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow, Black Sabbath), Todd Sucherman (Styx) on drums, vocals by John Payne, Carl Sentance, Rich Grisman, and the dominating Ronnie Romero. Ronnie was our great finding for the last two years, who was introduced to us by a famous Bulgarian rock music journalist. It appeared he’s not just a great singer, but gets very deeply into the subject of all our messages. I am so happy to have him as a lead singer of the band. Hatts off to Richie Blackmore for discovering him for the music world…
Rockpages.gr: Was it a dream come true to work with all those musicians? What did you learn yourself as a musician from collaborating with so many talented professionals? Did someone give you an advice you will not forget?
Milen Vrabevski: I have never dreamt of having All-star band projects… It just came to be my reality at a certain point, not underestimating at all the pleasure of having all those stars on-board. And I am a Medical Doctor, not a musician (but have an idea of playing the guitar and the piano… . I was just joking with them: ‘I do this music in my spare time. Imagine, if I put you in my field – medicine & science, for just a single moment…’ The greater the name, the nicer the person was my conclusion from all that collaboration. I was really lucky to have the privilege & honour to be together with them for the last 9 years. The principle of our mutual work was ‘a full creative input’ of each rock star. They did their best to fit into the whole picture. Moreover, there was this magical synergy of people having pleasure, having fun while recording my albums… Incomparable. And to answer your last question: Simon was giving me all sorts of advice, all of them quite valuable, but I can hardly quote any…
Rockpages.gr: Is there a “catch” when you are making music in “supergroups” like this? What if you want to do a live show and the “all-stars” are not available? Can you replace them with others?
Milen Vrabevski: Sincerity of the messages. I do not consider myself a composer. I just take notes to what is sent from above to me. Then I record it in my studio, and start upgrading it. And the rest: no problem, we’re doing it most of the time. The Bulgarian version of the band is very strong, and during the last year Ronnie is touring with us, so I guarantee a big fun at our gigs.
Rockpages.gr: I guess because of the different people involved in every Intelligent Music Project the lineup is changing from one album to the other. Would you prefer to have a more stable lineup at some point, or you like it better that way and why?
Milen Vrabevski: The line-up is changing mostly due to changes in my music style. I often need a certain vocal blend for a certain arrangement, melody, or atmosphere, to make the message more convincing. Or heavier drumming, like in my sixth project, for example.
Rockpages.gr: What’s the situation with rock music in your country, Bulgaria? Is there any young blood, young people listening to classic stuff from the 70s, or 80s?
Milen Vrabevski: It is generally OK. We compete with nobody. Life is not a contest, but an extent of usefulness. And yes, the sound of the 80s is considered classy by the young generation in my country. The common phrasing is: ‘It sounds so good, like a song from the 80s’.
Rockpages.gr: Your plan is to promote Bulgarian cultural heritage. How will you achieve this when you are mostly relying on classic rock motives and forms, which I guess are more English and American than Bulgarian?
Milen Vrabevski: This rock project of mine is particularly to show we’re able to make world standard projects in my country. Yes, we play their music, but raise attention, and awareness of the name of the country, and its original music heritage, for example. Then one may tray the ‘Mysterious Voices of Bulgaria’, let’s say… 🙂 We keep our name in circulation, and turnover.
Rockpages.gr: I am sure that the whole Covid-19 situation has affected the project like it did to all humanity. What was the situation in Bulgaria and did you think of ways to play live with the band while in quarantine? Through online applications, or even do a show in a drive-in, like some other artists did?
It is under control. We do not let it affect us that much, and had a fruitful summer with a few great gigs in my country. We’re all healthy, and this matters, of course.
Unfortunately, we had to postpone the gigs in Thessaloniki and Athens due to the pandemic situation, but you will hear from us soon after it is over. We’ll be very happy to host the 21st-year celebration of the Thessaloniki Rock Radio 104.7 of Jojo Vakaros (http://rockradio.gr/), as initially planned, whenever possible in the near future. We’re number one in their chart for a fifth week already. It is good to materialize it with a life show soon. 🙂 We’ve also reached number one in the Athens’ Atlantis radio 105.2. It is such a great experience, because at the same time we got this appreciation by the listeners (Rock Radio) & producers (Atlantis) in your country. Thank you very much, guys, for your attention and support!