Monday, June 30, 2008

Never-Ending Story of Love

Those of you who are still here after myspacious soap operetta - welcome back! :-)

At times, the obligation that comes with being a myspace member (logging in regularly, checking messages, maintaining the homepage, etc.) can be a bit of a drag for some. But on the other hand, it can really turn into a wonderful tool if you use it the right away. Every now and then, you come across people, and particularly musicians, that you've been hearing of for ages but never actually met them (and in this case, I'm not talking about the celebrity spaces run by their loyal fans - we're on to the real deal here!)

In my case, yesterday I connected with a musician, singer/songwriter whose self-written song became the very first professional recording I made when I started making my initial steps in the recording world upon moving to London.

Her name is Kit Hain. Kit was the vocal half of the famous duo Marshall Hain whose "Dancing In The City" was a European top 3 smash, and mind you, she's written songs for Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Peter Cetera & Chaka Khan, to name but a few.

So when my producer, Chris Neil, initially played me Kit's newly crafted "Never-Ending Story of Love", I fell in love with it right away, and although Chris had in on hold for Celine Dion, I talked him into letting me do a version regardless. You can imagine my excitement when he told me that he was thinking of recording it with Celine - I was all the more ecstatic! :-) But I was 17 years old, you see....

Just a bit of history here (can't be as painful as soap operas, right?)

When I was 16 years old, I was introduced to Christopher Neil, the producer of Rod Stewart, Mike & the Mechanics, Cher, Sheena Easton and Celine Dion, among many, many others that I loved and admired as a little girl. You can just about picture me all thrilled and excited about meeting Chris Neil (I used to love his backing vocals on Celine's "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" - apart from being quite an amazing producer and songwriter, Chris started actually started out as a singer - the first Jesus Christ Superstar in the West End, in fact, no kidding!) when ITV's London Tonight informed us that they'd be interviewing him about my music for a special segment about a Russian girl (funny how at the time being Georgian was too confusing to explain to an average viewer) coming to London to make it in the showbiz across Europe. (For those of you who are interested, the video of the TV piece is actually on youtube accessible through myspace.)

To make a long story short, Chris invited us and the television crew to Metropolis Studios in West London, where at the time, he was mixing Rod Stewart's ninth studio album, "Human". I was not only blown away by meeting a hero of mine, but the recording studio made such a huge impact on my 16-year-old psyche, I made a promise to myself that one day I'd recorded in that very room, Studio D, with none other than the same record producer. Quite pretentious of me, really, and ambitious too. Oh, teenage madness!

I won't be exaggerating if I say that it took me literally 18 months to get back in touch with Chris Neil personally and to finally work with him. Guess where? In the same studio, the same control room, with the same engineer, Simon Hurrell, who recorded Celine's first few albums done by Chris ("Unison", "The Colour of My Love", to be precise.) Could I be more ecstatic?

Our first attempt was, in fact, this very same song, "Never-Ending Story of Love"... As I'm writing this blog, I happen to be listening to the demo on my laptop at the same time... So many memories, and it seems like a million years ago, honestly. The recording session coincided with my falling in love for the very first time, therefore, the experience and the outcome meant SO much more to me... teenage follies, first time in love, etc. Don't laugh, it's not supposed to be cheesy!

So when I eventually connected with Kit through myspace last night for the very first time, it brought so many more memories back, it's quite incredible, and she asked me to send her an mp3 of the track - my very studio recording in the west with a world class record producer... How much more significant does it get for an artist? I'm a bit nervous about Kit hearing this demo - I was, after all, 17 years old, brand new to the whole process, really.

And yet, I can remember this session in such great detail - every take, every break in-between the takes... I could not believe it was really happening to me. And little did I know at the time that it was only the very beginning of a rather adventurous journey.........

Sunday, June 29, 2008

When Luis Alberto met Mariana Villareal - The Slavic Invasion by Mexican Soap Operas

The other night, as a girlfriend of mine and I were wrapping up a girl's night out in Central Park, I couldn't help but check the time on my watch with 2 min intervals desperately trying to make it in time for nine p.m. No... Not what you think! There was no prince charming waiting impatiently by CVS for a goodnight kiss... It was even tackier than that, trust me. Can I really admit it? OK, let's try: I didn't want to miss my daily doze of a horrible, cheesy Russian soap opera on one of the cable channels - crazy or what??? Never been much of a housewife, or quite frankly have NEVER been a housewife (not yet, anyway) and not big on romantic novels either, so what's this all about? Nostalgia - that's it!

Years ago, when I was still a little girl, Russian TV aired the very 1st Latin American soap opera which became an instant sensation across the Soviet Union. You may find it unbelievable but this is actually true - in 1996, President Boris Yeltsin decided to broadcast a popular Brazilian soap on election day in an effort to keep voters away from the polls!

And as for American soaps - do any of you remember the endless saga by the name of "Santa Barbara"? The show was a huge hit in Russia, being the first American program to air there after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Being the first soap opera of "insane" length and complicated twists (Latin American soap operas aired earlier were generally not longer than 200 series), the very name of it became the local ironical denominative of soap operas and, even more so, of long stories about personal love filled with all sorts of madly entangled interpersonal twists.

Who would've thought that foreign telenovelas would have made such an incredible impact on such a huge, vastly populated nation, and in fact the entire Soviet block. But trust me, it's actually true - even as a little kid, I remember the entire capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, and later Moscow after we moved there, being completely taken by the lives and dramas of all of the characters of these soap operas.

I just came across an article about Russians finding their utter heroes in Mexican soaps, which was written and published in The NY Times in 1994. Here's an excerpt:

"In her gala opening performance at the Rossiya concert hall, Victoria Ruffo did not dance. Or sing. Or tell jokes. For two hours, against a giant backdrop of billowing sequined white tulle, the Mexican star of Russia's favorite soap opera, "Simply Maria," sat in an armchair on stage.

With the help of an interpreter, Ms. Ruffo chatted in Spanish with a bubbly Russian master of ceremonies and at the end, she answered a few questions from an audience of more than 2,000.

Russians are addicted to television soap operas, particularly to Mexican soap operas like "Simply Maria." When communication workers went on strike last month and the show starring Ms. Ruffo did not air, the protest calls were so ferocious that the Government quickly acceded to the strikers' demands."

Crazy, isn't it? Not in the slightest bit exaggerated either, I can tell you this from my personal experience - people were SO hooked on these nonsensical addictions, it was basically the only real entertainment and stress relief for our people back then.

And by the way, these soap operas were a million times bigger in Russia than in their countries of origin:

"I had never heard of Victoria Ruffo before," explained Zarina Martinez Borresen, the cultural attache at the Mexican Embassy in the mid 90's. "The show doesn't have the same success at home as it does here."

I remember my grandparents, who really were very bright and busy and all the rest of it, don't get me wrong, discussing the details of every episode as though Maria's problems had really been their own. "Did you see how Juan Carlos looked at her when she told him about the baby?", "Do you think Maria is going to stay with Victor or go back to Juan Carlos?", etc. No kidding, I'm dead serious!

Missing an episode was the biggest small tragedy in every family back then - even the husbands who initially criticized and laughed at their sentimental Soviet wives became addicted to it little by little. "Forget the soccer, 'The Rich Cry, Too' (Los Ricos Tambien Lloran) is on television!" It was that intense.

But unfortunately (or rather - fortunately) the undying enthusiasm wore off with time as we became more open and exposed to some of the more intellectually stimulating forms of Western art, television, entertainment, etc. It is in our blood though - even now.

Sometimes my friends and I laugh about it, we still remember some of the crazy plots and names of characters - it's quite nostalgic of us, if you think about it, and may seem a bit "retarded" to others, but it really was a part of that whole political "collapse" - and perhaps in many ways, it helped to make that transition a little more bearable and slightly less "shocking"?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

When "Abroad" Becomes a Home

Some of you probably heard about the Euro 2008 soccer semi-final results - Russia got completely swamped by the Spanish team. In fact, they met twice during the tournament, and on both occasions, Spain pretty much outplayed Russia, particularly in the semi finals.

Now, fear not, my friends, this blog isn't about football (sorry, I should say "soccer"!) but rather about sometimes - only sometimes - actually feeling like you miss being home, in my case, back in Europe.

One of my best friends in Moscow sent me a message on Facebook this morning and we had a brief chat about the Euro 2008 - she couldn't believe that I missed all of the games, except for the highlights (Russian cable TV made us, the viewers, watch the scored goals a million times over and over again!) - "It's time you come back home," she added, jokingly.

And then I realized something...

A lot of my friends - both in Russia and Georgia - have never really approved my moving abroad. Not only because we don't get to see each other that often (I visited Moscow, where my parents are still based primarily, last September, but believe it or not, I haven't been in Georgia for... 4 years... shocking!!!) but also due to a simple fact - you'd be surprised how many of my friends and relatives strongly believe that one should live and die in one's very own homeland. An admirable kind of patriotism, no doubt, and as much as I love and miss both of my homes and the family and friends, I sometimes wonder if I could ever go back for good, having lived away from home for so long now... Should I feel guilty? I'm not even sure if this is good or bad.

Ever since I was a little girl, watching all the Hollywood movies, listening to what we used to then call "The American music" ranging from Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson, Whitney, etc. I had an inexplicably strong urge to one day live in this country and do what I love the most (and have always loved, in fact) here, in USA. A part of this fascination was definitely an offspring of my parents' ultimate dream for me to live here someday.

When the first group of ex-Soviet people were finally allowed to cross the border into the Western world, my parents came to the States to visit some friends on several occasions, which was pretty much unheard of at the time. So every time they went away for a couple of weeks to the Land of Hope and Dreams, my cousin (it's weird calling Ketuta my cousin, she's my sister, for God's sake - after all, we grew up together!) and I used to mark the days of their absence on our individual calendar as our grandma had suggested to keep us entertained and out of mischief... :-) We were rather impossible, particularly when we were plotting the next "disaster" as a duo! :-)

Back when the Soviet System Collapsed and people were hopeful and excited about the future back home, my dad, was offered a very tempting and creative job in NY with a Green Card, refurbished home, etc. to go with it, and had my mom not insisting on going back to Georgia ("How can we ever leave our home, family, friends???", she was definitely against it!) I'm sure we would have moved right away. But we stayed back in Tbilisi, and guess what? A year or so later, a civil war broke out! Good timing! :-)

The next opportunity was also turned down, but this time by none other than yours truly. When I came to New York to perform at the Alan & Marilyn Bergman show several years ago, my agent strongly suggested - no, he actually insisted - that I stay in the US and pursue my career here, except not in the pop world but on Broadway, instead. Because of all sorts of reasons, I declined the tempting offer and stubbornly made it clear that I wanted to live in London and that was it.

Well, I did move to London some time later, and I have to say I never ever regretted the teenage decision, although deep down, I always had a quiet urge to one day move here, to America, but this time on my own terms. How was it different from the previous offer? It was actually a great offer, now that I look back on it, but somehow I didn't feel prepared at the time and don't ask why - who knows! Immaturity being one of the issues, for sure :-)

So when I think about the struggle and a long path that perhaps could have been easier and shorter, after all, under different circumstances, I don't for a second want to go back and leave all of this behind, especially being half way "there", it would mean betraying myself in many ways. And as much as I love and miss my friends back home, there's a constant will power and a passion for what I do and why I do what I love in a country that was always an ultimate dream destination for me - and there's no way I could let it go. Those of you who had to make that journey at one point will surely understand what this is all about...

I don't think I'd be so passionate and so madly in love with all of this had it dropped on my lap too easily and too quickly... Doubt it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Modern Day Babylon - Major Record Labels

Some of you may have already heard about the "free album" giveaway trend that has really taken the UK music business by storm.

Here's the latest example...

"It's getting harder and harder for bands to make a splash with album releases these days.

So… musicians are thinking outside the box!

British pop-punk band McFly is going the Prince route and teaming up with the UK's Daily Mail to give away its new music in the paper's Sunday, July 20th edition.

McFly's super dreamy singer/guitarist Tom Fletcher says, 'We want to get our music out to the widest audience possible and working with a massive paper like The Mail On Sunday will definitely help us achieve that. We’re very excited about this great opportunity.'

This partnership will give the band access to the Sunday Mail's reported 5.8 million readers."

Interesting, but where does that leave record artists? Back in the day, in fact - not too long ago - record business was one thing and the performing industry was quite another... Yet the latter has taken over the former as of lately. Less and less people are willing to pay under 20 USD for a new album by their favorite artist; however, you'll find the same crowd queuing up to purchase tickets to a live show of this very artist, which can easily cost over 100 USD - 5 times the price of a full record. Bizarre or what?

Increasingly worrying signals of internal collapse and unrecognizable changes within record companies are plastered all over the media lately. The EMI/Guy Hands saga that made the headlines in NY Times earlier this month is one of the numerous examples, and in many ways, the very tip of the iceberg. Or so they claim within the showbiz circles. There's no denying that the humongous monopoly of major record labels is fading bit by bit... But what's the alternative? Lots and lots of indies, right? Exciting and adventurous times for artists and musicians in general, but the "suits" aren't in a great shape by the look of it. Shame, really.

What happened to the traditional A&R professionals with traditionally musical ears, the instinctive gut feeling and vision of the bigger picture? Obviously not all of them have vanished, although most of them have been replaced by accountants, attorneys and other bureaucratic figures. Every company needs a lawyer and an accountant, no doubt, but it would be nice to nurture and take care of the few musical ears that are still around and wondering up and down the record label headquarters.

It's a mess, really, there's no denying of that! Someone was saying the other day that he should have gotten into A/C repair business not the music business! There might be more demand, at least :-)

Undoubtedly, it's interesting to see how it all unfolds... It'll be a couple of years at least before things start falling into place again like back in the day. Although, no doubt, it will never be the same again - it can't be. But like most other musicians and artists, I'm curious to see what happens in the nearer future. It was a strange time to start getting involved with the major labels right at this moment - my timing was really something! - but it is exciting deep down, albeit unpredictable.

Time will tell... And patience may come in handy, too! :-)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Love Is More Than Words....

Last night, as an experiment more than anything else, I posted one of the recent songs that I've recorded - a demo, that is - "Love Is More Than Words" written by Martin Briley (Celine Dion, Michael Bolton, *N Sync, etc.) and since the direction of this genuinely beautiful ballad is so different from the rest of my songs of the pending album, I wondered if you, my listeners, friends, colleagues, would identify with it and not feel all the more confused by the diversity of the material! After all, the variety of directions and the need for serious filtering of my record in the making was an issue that was immediately brought up by several A&R pros (not the "accountant-turned-into-A&R" types but the real, traditional artist & repertoire professionals - too bad it's a rare, dying breed these days!)

Anyway, getting back to the latest addition to myspace music player, although I always thought there was something utterly personal and personable about this song, I wasn't expecting the wealth of positive response I've had from you all in the past 24 hours.

There's a special responsibility, I suppose, undertaken by every artist covering a song composed by another songwriter (particularly someone of Martin's caliber) and I felt somewhat intimidated and, to be honest, a bit nervous when I first performed the song for Martin at the studio. It was, in fact, our first face-to-face meeting, although we had spoken on the phone beforehand. So you can roughly imagine the level of responsibility I was carrying on my shoulders - he could have easily asked me to pack up and have a nice day :-)

The demo vocal performance over the existing backing track of "Love Is More Than Words" is exactly what you're hearing on my home page now... For a whole bunch of personal reasons (meaning those uneasy experiences that always seem to come across quite clearly through a song, but at times you wish life would be slightly easier without them!) I could truly relate to every line in the lyric, and even felt slightly "naked" because of the utter honesty and relevance of the story.

I always used to question if artists who said that they relived every syllable of a song (particularly the ones written by composers other than themselves) had really felt so connected with the piece of music to the point of achieving such intimacy and honesty with a 3-minute composition. As it turned out, every time we rolled the tape (figuratively speaking, unfortunately, as I do wish we still used the old, vintage technology!) for a new take, there was a strong sense of being one-on-one with the song, the lyric. Perhaps you're more likely to feel that way when you're recording a song of your own - an offspring of your very own emotions and experiences - but not too likely a phenomenon in this case!

The morning after demoing the song, I sent it to one of my true mentors - someone I have enormous respect and admiration for, and the one who, next to my executive producer, understands me musically better than anyone else I have encountered in the music world. I still remember what he said: "I strongly believe 'Love Is More Than Words' will become a very important song in your career - perhaps one of the most important ones for you."

I've now had a chance to perform this ballad a few times live in an acoustic set up - Billy Jay Stein on piano and a nice microphone :-) and have to admit that deep down, I always look forward to it!

Perhaps one day soon, I will be able to share it with all of you in this very acoustic, intimate manner....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Keep your feet on the ground", they said...

Over the last couple of days, I coincidentally got a series of messages and comments from my friends and colleagues, gently reminding me to always keep my feet on the ground. Not that it had been provoked by a newly acquired attitude of any kind - surely nothing major has gone into my head over the past 48 hours! Yet, I did take a mental note of the friendly reminder and even gave it some thought afterwards...

When you're young and new to the alluring glitz and glimmer of the entertainment world, you are bound to get a bit dizzy at first - it's next to inevitable, no matter what anyone says. I can vividly remember myself at the age of 16, the very first time I witnessed some of this "magic" in action. Without even noticing how it had come about, I realized one day (or rather, my parents did) that I was taking a lot of this for granted: working with those whose names I had only read about in books, album sleeves of my idols and major music TV show credits; being featured and interviewed for major TV and radio stations in the UK; recording in some of the best studios on both sides of the Atlantic - and all of that without bribing anyone (well, you see, where I come from, bribery is a general "middle name"!)

So imagine not feeling hung-over (metaphorically, of course!) the morning after every adventure like that? I admit I felt a bit like that, and even more so, I started to wonder whether I really had to work THAT hard for all of this at the tender age of 16...?

I think there are two main categories of artists: those who hit the jackpot quite easily (again, nothing's too easy, not in our society, and definitely not in the showbiz, but comparatively speaking...) that is, the opportunity practically falls on their lap, and also those who have to strive and fight for every inch of success every step of the way until they eventually "make it".

The former usually results in a series of one-hit wonders (once again, NOT always) whereas the latter category is more often than not a preface to a real, long-term career. Why? Maybe because we are more likely to appreciate our success as a result of hard work, genuine effort, the ups and downs that go with it, and the notion of self-worth when it comes to knowing deep down that at the end of the day, it was YOU who made it happen. Clearly, there are certain personalities in everyone's career who are truly vital to the "making of" an artist. And that does require a huge amount of luck, as well. But ultimately, I strongly believe that, first and foremost, I can only really rely 100% on one person 24/7 - myself. Is that not so?

I guess the bottom line is, that with a bit of luck, hard work and genuine effort (unfortunately, talent is not always at the top of the list these days) there's practically nothing a human being is not capable of. Oh, I almost forgot - PATIENCE, the magic word - easier said than done, true, but it doesn't alter the fact that patience is a huge factor in all of this.

So whenever my friends remind me not to forget to keep my feet on the ground, I smile and think of all the good times and bad times, ups and downs along the way... And guess what, it ain't over yet! But what matters the most to me is that now, more than ever, I know who I am and who I want to be more clearly than ever before. There's a moment in time somewhere along the way when you realize that you have arrived at who you are not only as an artist, but most importantly, as an individual.

And so, when you weigh all the pros and cons, and you still find yourself on that long tedious but a truly adventurous road to your very own destination, you know it has not been in vain - nothing's easier than giving up and going back to square one. Anyone can do that. But a bit of persistence and perseverance can do wonders - I used to think this was a huge cliché, but it isn't. Honestly. And yes, knowing deep down that through thick and thin, through nightmare and dreams come true, it really is you who made it all happen can SO keep your feet on the ground!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Where are you from?"

It's a classic question, isn't it, especially in a world capital such as the Big Apple, for example. It's not so hard if you're from an obvious place (e.g. France, Italy, Australia, Japan, etc.) but a tricky "dubious" answer like "Georgia" is nearly always followed by a quick explanatory "the country, not the state!" Otherwise, I'm bound to get bombarded with additional questions, such as " you don't have a Southern twang at all!"

No, not Atlanta, GA - the former Soviet republic of Georgia, that is!

I suppose it was only recently that people in the western world became more open to the notion of Georgia not being Russia but a former member of the Soviet Union instead. Although I have to admit, a lot of the new friends I have made here over the last 3 years that I've been living in the US, have really embraced this cultural exoticism of being a Georgian and even more so, they seem quite fascinated about what it means to be from the former USSR.

A few years ago, saying you were from Russia was a big deal - next to stating that you're an alien, really. Every time I mentioned that I'd spent my formative years in Moscow came as a huge cultural shock to those in the western part of the globe... Not anymore! It seems that the "Russification" of Europe and the US has become a norm in certain aspects, except the problem is that a lot of cliché misinformation tends to go hand in hand with it, as well.

I spent the evening chatting about this with a British friend of mine who happened to spent quite a bit of time in Russia during the last few years - in fact, she lived and worked in Moscow for a while. I am always rather surprised (though I know I shouldn't be - that's the norm, after all!) to hear my friends and colleagues talk about where they come from - very rarely do they ponder over a straightforward question like "Where are you from?" like I do...

Don't get me wrong - I am very aware and very proud of my Georgian roots, but having moved to Russia with my family at the age of 9, I got slightly confused as to which of the two places I could actually call "home" in all confidence and the due nostalgia.

Traveling the world and living all over a sufficient part of the western hemisphere over the years has really been a blessing in disguise. On the one hand, it is fascinating and enriching for the character and the inner being to be able to grasp the variety and diversity of the different cultures and also making them all a part of oneself in some small way. Yet, not forgetting who you are and where you come from (sounds corny, I know!) is a very important factor for discovering and nurturing one's own identity.

I do feel very lucky to have witnessed at least the tiniest part of the end of a Soviet era as we knew it and the transition into a new more westernized world as we now know it. The silliest things that may come across as trivial to a European or American reader made it so exciting and memorable even at a tender age of 7 onwards: the first grand opening of a McDonald's "restaurant" in Moscow, a pompous event, a ridiculously long queue and insane prices; a first Pepsi Cola invasion; the ability to buy any foreign record (the reign of piracy had just kicked off over there!) at a dingy Gorbushka Park in the outskirts of Moscow, etc. All of that and more made it quite an experience for me - and I think I actually appreciate it more now than I ever did before.

Whenever I go back to either Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) or Moscow (no need for clarification here!!) I do feel a strange sense of coming home, yet having spent all these years away from the nest, I genuinely don't know if I'd ever be able to go back to square one and settle down back where I started for good... But then again, who knows...

It's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate the innermost importance and emotional bond between myself and these two homes where, at the end of the day, I took my first steps both literally and metaphorically. Seeing Red Square or any other typical Moscow sight on television is a thrill for me each and every time. And yet, I met a lovely Georgian girl through an American producer that I am working with at the moment and have become friends with, at a bar next to the record company yesterday and I thought to myself, "I know I've been away a long time, but there's something special about two Georgians really clicking with each other miles and miles away from home." I was genuinely happy and proud in a patriotic sense to have been introduced to my compatriot... Oh, did I ever mention that Georgians are notorious for being a little too heavy on the patriotic side? :-)

As I'm writing these words, I can't help but remember that classic line from the Beatles "Back to USSR":

"Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the West behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia's always on my my my my my my my my my mind...."

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Making the American Dream an East European Reality?

The other day, I accidentally came across a selection of demos from years ago that had been sent to me by my former U.S. agent in the early days back when I still lived in Russia. The compilation included original songs by the likes of Denise Rich, Andy Marvel, Peter Zizzo, etc. I am always staggered by the power of music and how a mere 3-4 min song is able to untangle such a variety of memories, including the most vivid images, scents and the most trivial, minuscule details... Incredible but true.

I had barely turned 15 when my manager at the time, Yegor Shishkovsky (see: "A Voice on the Radio") sent me a casual email from a holiday resort in New Zealand to let me know that he had just met a vacationing couple from NY who happened to be in the same industry... "And guess what? One of Peter's artists has just recorded a new EP which also happens to include a rendition of 'The Way He Makes Me Feel'!" Being a huge fan of Michel Legrand and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, this song was one of the very first studio recordings I had made. Yegor happened to have a copy of my version with him in NZ and the managers swapped CDs on the spot before parting ways.

As it happens, a couple of months down the line, after exchanging numerous emails and phone calls, Peter and Yegor decided to work out a co-management deal and Peter flew over to London for 24-hours during my promotional tour for a quick meet 'n greet.

A few weeks later, I was on my way to New York to perform at the Alan & Marilyn Bergman tribute show - an unbelievable dream come true for a Soviet teenager who grew up loving the Bergman songs and adoring their collaboration with a true idol and childhood icon, Barbra Streisand.

Shortly upon my arrival, I met my vocal coach, Danny Madden who trained me throughout my trip and rehearsed "A Piece of Sky" from "Yentl" during the initial period at the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center... I was getting so carried away, I was living a dream - and it was just he beginning!

Within days, I was working with Mike Renzi, the legendary pianist (Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, etc.) at the ASCAP Headquarters in NY...

On Friday, 9th of June, I stepped into the ASCAP building yet once again for another rehearsal; however, it turned out to be a rather extraordinary one. While I was belting out one of the highest notes of the song, a tall, slim man opened the door and came in quietly. He remained silent throughout the rest of the song.

I felt my hands sweating as I realized that Alan Bergman himself - the same Alan Bergman in all the Streisand photos, videos, etc. - was present in the room. After I sang the song, Mr. Bergman gave me warm applause along with a few sweet comments and some very constructive suggestions. We had a very long conversation about various topics, from modern artists (fascinating!) to the family in California (see: YouTube video "A Piece of Sky" rehearsal.) He even sang several of his songs me and my parents, who, as always, were there to share that very special moment with me. I could hardly believe it, honestly!

The preparations for the tribute show were in full blow! The icing on the cake was a late-night phone call from Peter Herman... I almost fell off the bed...

"Sorry to wake you up, just wanted to let you know that Marvin Hamlisch will be introducing you to the audience tomorrow night!"

Oh my GOD!

As I stood onstage at The Pierre Ballroom and pronounced the opening remarks and thank-you's, I still couldn't believe my eyes... Everything inside me was trembling and I still managed to keep myself composed "Can't mess up now!" I thought... The funny thing is, thanks to my amazing dad, the video of the event is actually on YouTube, so every time I look at it, I relive the moment. It was one of those moments when you so want to stop the hands of time and keep turning them backwards! I was so blown away... And meeting all these heroes of mine after the performance was all the more exciting... For a teenager, it was quite a challenge to be handled with care :-)

I was so thrilled to hear from Marilyn again when I joined ASCAP a couple of years ago. It's so rare when people of such caliber touch your life so deeply - nothing can erase that, I swear.

A couple of days later, I found myself at the home studio of Denise Rich who was mega popular at the time - everyone who was anyone in the modern pop world had a Denise Rich song under their belt. I was rushed into the studio to record one of her songs co-written with Peter Zizzo and Andy Marvel (clips from the recording session are also on YouTube!) called "Everything". It was fun to meet Denise, she came to hear the comp on the last day and I still remember bringing her a Faberge souvenir from Russia (mind you, the Bergman's got a painting from my dad with a special dedication - can't beat that!)

At that point, I was so blown away by the whole experience of the 2-week trip, I was beginning to lose the plot, literally! It's so easy to get used to everything at such young age. I actually think by then I had start to take it all for granted!

The Bergman show was followed by proposals to get into the whole Broadway scene, including the suggestion made by Marvin Hamlisch to Peter Herman. I was reluctant, even though I had been in love with this music all of my life.

One night I went to see "Cabaret" with my parents and spent some time backstage... I was so disappointed in the "theater life" - maybe it was a bad night - but I really didn't enjoy witnessing the ins and outs of it, I thought I was too young to dive into that world and I felt I wasn't ready to give up my "pop" dreams... I wanted to learn to write, work with specific record producers and funny enough, by the end of the trip, I did not want to live in NY and instead chose to move to London.

It's quite bizarre but I believe that anything that comes too easily can't be appreciated half as much as when you've actually "fought" with all your might and effort for that dream. There were a lot of "politics" mainly on the personal front (still within the musical scope) involved in making my decision to move to London, and to be honest, I did regret making that hasty move too quickly on a teenage whim at first, but now that I find myself living and making my dreams come true in the same NYC and mingling and collaborating with the people I could have only admired from a distance, I'm really, really thrilled. It took so much time, effort and sweat to get from A to B, but I do appreciate and value the experiences along the way. I had to go out of my way to get back on track with the same people that were pretty much hand-delivered to me on a silver plate initially, but there is a strange thrill of "self-realization" when you achieve those bits and pieces by yourself.

The initial NY trip was magical and I am grateful for every single memory and experience that I derived from it... And yet, I had to learn the hard way, and I do honestly feel so blessed... Not meant as a cliché, I promise - I guess it's all a learning curve... As long as one remains true to himself/herself - not an easy task in this industry, and probably everywhere else in this day and age.

And by the way, teenagers can be such spoilt brats :-) Maturity can be so helpful, and what a shame it only comes with age...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Something "Beautiful" is on its way....

A couple of days ago, I posted a news scoop on my new Guitarati application about two brand new tunes in the making...

In fact, one of the songs was mentioned in my earlier blogs where I talked about a long songwriting session with a real musical gem - Billy Stein - on a miserably rainy day.

It's called "Beautiful" and the title came as no surprise, because when Billy and I first started laying down some musical ideas for the tune a couple of weeks ago, we kept telling each other that it was already beginning to sound "beautiful"... So we thought, why not keep the title? (That is, when it's done and posted on myspace and you don't agree that it's beautiful, then we'll have to find a new title!)

We spent a session or two going in circles with the different ideas for a final topline, and ultimately we realized that coming back to the tune the following week would do us - and the song - a big favor! :-)

Earlier this month I started working with another great songwriter, Jeff Franzel, who like Billy has worked on some amazing projects and has got a whole list of incredible credits to his name. Jeff, a longtime songwriting partner of mine Ayhan Sahin (remember "Wild"? Billboard Top 10 Critics Pick for 2007!) and I are currently finishing another new song called "If I Lose You Now" (more on that later - we're recording the vocals this coming Thursday!!!) Jeff and Billy just happen to be based literally across the street from each other (that's quite impressive for NY!) and also have a million mutual contacts and friends in the vast world of music, so I thought "wouldn't it be fun to introduce them?" Who knows why their paths haven't crossed yet tete-a-tete!

And there it was... A fresh pair of very musical ears heard our "song in the making" - Beautiful - and made a suggestion or two "just as an idea"... And guess what? The three of us finished the entire song (so far just the music, lyrics are on their way - due any day now!) within a couple of hours, as I had to rush to a meeting at EMI, so a little bit of pressure was all the more inspiring and stimulating!

I was just listening to the rough guide vocal on my iPod and I'm so excited about this song... Every now and then, you come up with something brand new with a great group of people, which in itself is a blessing, and you can feel the excitement deep down - you know it's going to be something special!

Hopefully this feeling of genuine anticipation for the new song will manifest itself into a brand new "musical baby" that the three of us can be proud of. '

I sent Billy a text yesterday telling him how excited I am about finishing the song and playing it to EMI: for those of you who don't know, I met Billy Stein through Manhattan/EMI when I was preparing for the private performance earlier in April, so needless to say, I am immensely grateful for this wonderful hook up! Playing with Billy was so much fun not only at EMI but also at the Songwriter's Circle (check out my Bitter End photo album to see our snaps!)

All that's left to do to make "Beautiful" really beautiful is determine what is "beautiful" - that is, come up with a lyric! I'm still toying with the idea... It's strange but I've never really been that good at positive outlooks in the lyric. If you think about it, "Thinking of Someone Else" is a cruel lyric (Chris Neil, one of my co-writers and producer on the record alongside Ben "Jammin'" Robbins, is one of the most talented male writers from a female's perspective, that's for sure!) And even a happier song like "Connected" is a bit on the cynical side, too: it's an online chat that grows into a bond between two online characters, one of whom turns out to be a computer program - a mere software - "data flows through its veins" - while the person on the other side of the screen has fallen for this computerized character believing in all honesty in its truthfulness and "humanness". We've all been through this at some point, I guess, except maybe not on this level of cruelty and "robot"-esque unrealness. Do you remember the online chat boom in the 90's? Who knows who the people we spent hours chatting with back in our teens really were???

So, anyway, getting back to the new song and the upcoming lyric - just for a change, I'd like to try a slightly more positive vibe this time around... Even if it's got a twist by the end of it all... Otherwise, I won't be true to myself, will I? :-)

Time to retire to bed - it's Monday tomorrow - again!