Guitarist Sean Hurwitz On Guitars and Tour Life

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Sean Hurwitz photo by Michael Hacala.

Sean Hurwitz photo by Michael Hacala.

Israeli-born guitarist Sean Hurwitz has played amongst the big leagues in the music world. He’s toured with Enrique Iglesias and Smash Mouth, and played with Gin Blossoms, Anna Nalick, Chris Wallace, Judith Hill, just to name a few. When he’s not on the road, he’s hard at work recording, writing, and producing for music and film. Technical mastery and keen precision to detail make up his trademark skills on and off stage.

Sean took time to chat with us about his guitar gear, collaborating with other artists, and how he spends his time off tour.

How did you get started in music?

Sean: When I was (really) young, I studied some keys. Then when I was 11, I asked my parents to teach me some guitar chords…which I practiced for a day or two and then stopped because my fingers hurt (laughs).

When I was 13, I finally took it seriously and never looked back.

Why is music so important to you?

Sean: Well, to be frank, it has become my job by now. It is STILL something I LOVE doing! Every day! I would never stop. But these days I’m a business man, and this is one of my businesses.

Thankfully I get to really enjoy my job every day, but of course, it’s always got it’s ups and downs. I still wouldn’t change it for anything.

What was it like leaving your home country to move to the US?

Sean: Moving to the US is something I always wanted to do. Since my parents are both from NY, my brothers and I are lucky enough to have American passports. So, I always wanted to try my luck here as a musician.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still really scary to move across the world to a place I’d never been to (LA) and start from scratch. But, what’s the saying? If you don’t try, you’ll never know. And, I needed to know. Being away from my family isn’t easy, but these days, with tech and’s so much easier to be in touch every day.

Sean Hurwitz performs with Smash Mouth. Photo by Meredeth Gilhespy.

Sean Hurwitz performs with Smash Mouth. Photo by Meredeth Gilhespy.

What are some challenges as a guitar player that you face on tour and in the studio?

Sean: Haha, well…that’s an easy one for the studio. You see, when I’m home, I’m in the studio…every day! And the biggest challenge I have always faced is software.

Any engineers reading this will relate!

Sometimes you upgrade this or that and suddenly there are anywhere between 1 to 10 issues that screw up your work flow. It could take 5 minutes to fix, or you could be researching the problem for the rest of the day. I hate that, but fixing stuff is all part of being an engineer.

So it is frustrating, but I rarely let it get to me.

On the road, it’s the airport security checkpoints. It’s a frustrating necessity. Sometimes we’ll go through 3-4 of them in one day. Again, no complaints, but it’s just frustrating when you travel ALL the time.

I wish we could have a world wide TSA PRE program where you are pre-scanned and questioned.

‘Now that we know you are actually a musician and have no ill intentions, feel free to leave that laptop, those liquids and all your electronics in your bag’ #WouldntThatBeAmazing #TSAPreFTW

What is the creative process like collaborating with different artists?

Sean: Great question.

The creative process is different from artist to artist. Every artist likes to be more in control of this and less in control of that. Some artists want you to play it ‘exactly like this’ while others couldn’t care less how you play it as long as it sounds cool and that you’re having a blast while you are doing it.

So, it’s very personal. One of the keys to my success so far has been adapting.

I am a chameleon, whatever the artist needs, that’s what I’ll be (that’s what I get paid to do)…as long as it’s within my range of comfort. As an example, I don’t drink alcohol and I won’t drink some just because an artist will feel better if I do. If that’s a make or break, as much as I appreciate the opportunity, I’ll probably skip it…but not before I try to get around the issue.

That being said, this has never been an issue for me. All artists I’ve worked with respect me being sober.

Sean Hurwitz and Enrique Iglesias perform in Israel. Photo by Keter Lior.

Sean Hurwitz and Enrique Iglesias perform in Israel. Photo by Keter Lior.

How did you get to become the guitar player for superstar acts like Enrique Iglesias and Smash Mouth?

Sean: Well, first, you make superstar friends. My dear friend and incredible drummer, Randy Cooke, was playing for Smash Mouth in 2011 (he’s actually still with them) and he called me when the original guitarist and incredible song writer Greg Camp left back then. I came in to sub for him and ended up with the band for a while. Greg actually is back with the band now, no doubt writing more of those hits!

While I was in Smash Mouth, I met superstar Audio Engineer Eddie Caipo.

He was impressed by my work ethic and attention to detail (in music and audio) and always told me he’d happily recommend me for any gig, which is great to hear, because I’m always looking to play with new musicians/artists/bands.

Years later, when lead guitarist for Enrique, Emmett O’Malley had moved on, an opportunity opened up for the band to recommend replacement guitarists for auditions. I was the lucky one who got the gig.

I understand that you are also a producer. Can you tell me about your experiences producing for other artists?

Sean: I love producing. Although these days, I produce mostly for TV and Film. Just me, myself, and I in the studio all day. But to answer your question, I still produce for artists here and there and I love it. It’s so great to click with a person and give them more than they asked for.

I produced an artist a few years back, Jeff West. Great writer, great singer!

I remember when I sent him the first song we did together, he said to me something to the effect of ‘You took it (the song) to a place I always wanted it to go but didn’t even know it.’

What a wonderful compliment, right?

Anyway, that’s what I love about working with artists. I love making their visions/dreams come true.

How do you spend your time off tour?

Sean: On a business level, when I’m off tour, I am in the studio working. I am meeting up with old friends and new friends. I am looking for new investments, be it Real Estate or other investment opportunities. 

On a personal level, I hang out with my gorgeous wife (who deserves special quality time for letting me be out on the road so much). I hang out with our dog Bran and our cat Monster (we didn’t name him that). My wife and I LOVE to cook so when I’m home, I do a lot of the cooking. Those who know me know I love to smoke meat and grill a lot. I WANT to love working out, but it’s always a struggle (laughs).

That’s about it, work, date nights, quality time with family and friends.

Sean Hurwitz photo by Alan Cortes.

Sean Hurwitz photo by Alan Cortes.

What is your favorite guitar and gear to bring on tour and in the studio? Why?

Sean: Well, it depends for what purpose, but the most important things for me are tone and dependability. When I pick up a guitar it better sound GREAT and be 150% dependable.

So my main few guitars are (any) Shabat Guitars, Eastman Steel Strings (for studio), Maton Steel Strings (for live) and Merida Guitars for Nylon String.

Like I said, great tones and GREAT construction. I like a well built guitar that holds together on tour and when it’s crunch time.

Are you working on any upcoming music projects?

Sean: Honestly when I get back home, my main focus for the year is to hit my goal of 200 songs a year for TV and Film. It’s a HEFTY goal but that’s what I’m shooting for.

Also waiting for my call from Foo Fighters to come play with them (laughs), a man can dream! Wouldn’t that be amazing? 

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INTERVIEW: Matthew Phillips On Music and Videography

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Matthew Phillips photo by Noah Gilman.

Matthew Phillips photo by Noah Gilman.

Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Matthew Phillips has been making waves through San Diego’s music scene with over 100,000 followers on Instagram and receiving endorsements from Fender Electric Guitars, Taylor Acoustic Guitars, GHS Strings, and Voss Water, just to name a few. His first debut record is set to release later in the year, but you should check out his live shows!

Matthew is known for his personable audience interaction whether it be jumping off stage into a crowd or reaching out to a few lucky audience members during his songs. His music is on par with the likes of the Goo Goo Dolls and Lifehouse, who Matthew cites as his main musical influences.

We got to chat with Matthew about his journey becoming a solo artist, independent artist struggles, and his mad videography skills!

You write wholeheartedly about your good and bad experiences. Can you tell us more about your songwriting process?

Matthew: My process has always been that I can never just sit down and be like, “I’m going to write a song.” It has to come from something that I have experienced.

I wrote “Together Forever” about a high school sweetheart. We were so in love that we just wanted to run away together. This song will most likely be the first single off the upcoming record due to be released late 2018, early 2019.  

“Just Say Yes” is about a girl that I fell in love with in high school. I thought she was the perfect girl. I tried to ask her out and I got friend zoned, so I decided to write a song about it. When I’m performing my songs, I’m rehashing out those experiences and all that emotion. I believe it’s that personal connection that makes music so great. It’s much different covering other artists’ music, having to interpret someone else’s feelings.

Where did your love for music begin?

Matthew:  My grandma was a concert pianist. I don’t know the story personally but I’ve been told it happened when I was like 4 or 5; I was not like every other kid. I would sit at the piano and try to figure out melodies instead of just pounding on the keys. My grandma noticed that right away and suggested that my parents put me in lessons. At the age of 10, I got into piano lessons and it kind of gave me the musical foundation.

Right around junior high, my Uncle Ralph put a guitar in my hand, it was a Fender Stratocaster and I looked at him and was like, “I’m going to do this.”

When did your music career officially start?

Matthew: I’ve been trying out different things to see what worked and it just so happened recently. I have been in many bands and toured with a bunch of different artists, and I would go to these shows and would get asked, “Where is your music?” and I would respond, “Well, I don’t have any.” One day it just kind made me realize that maybe I should do the whole artist thing.

I did a band for a bit and it got some hype but that soon died out. I became a solo artist about a year and half ago, and that was the thing that finally clicked after years and years of trying the band thing. I had to deal with so many flaky band members that when I became a solo artist it just made everything simpler.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you have to face as a solo artist?

Matthew: Having to do everything myself (laughs). I have to do the booking, graphic design, video editing, photography, and build my own tracks. When it’s all you – it’s all you! There is no one else to blame. It literally all comes down to if I want to work then I have to get out there to hustle and network to make things happen. No one else is doing that for me.

I understand that you just recently went on an international tour with the Falling Doves. Can you tell me about your experience touring overseas?

Matthew: It was pretty amazing! Australia is absolutely stunning. The people are so genuine and nice. It was a culture shock but in a good way. I think a lot of people in San Diego and LA are spoiled with the amount of talent and incredible musicians. The people over there have never seen a certain type of show and they just love it! We were very appreciated over there. It was just an incredible time!

Matthew Phillips performs at the Music Box. Photo by Elfego Becerra.

Matthew Phillips performs at the Music Box. Photo by Elfego Becerra.

What is your favorite music venue?

Matthew: Music Box in San Diego. Their whole production team is absolutely amazing! The part owners Damon and Paige Barone are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Their venue is absolutely beautiful! Music Box is one of the few places that has a 30 feet LED wall that you can utilize with visuals or if you want to keep it simple with just a picture of your band’s name. I can’t think of any other intimate venue that offers that perk.

Do you use any background visuals at your shows?

Matthew: Yes, I use a visual that syncs to the songs I’m playing on stage. It’s like an actual story line is happening behind me while the song is playing.

How do you go about picking the footage and the graphics for your shows?

Matthew:  I kind of piece together random clips that I find on Youtube. With a particular song I will have clips or little tidbits that match what’s going on in the song. I do a lot of filming for my videos as well. I want certain parts of my set to feature live footage of me doing certain things on my guitar on screen.

I have also done collaborations with artists like Elise Trouw. When I play the Goo Goo Dolls song, “Iris,” I pull a live footage from when me and Elise Trouw collaborated to put up on the screen.

How do you sync the videos up with your music?

Matthew: My band plays with a backing track and click track, basically I was able to set and drop the video perfectly in sync over the actual file that we play to. You can check out my edits on under the video tab. My most recent edit is the NAMM 2018 footage.

Did you have any videography experience before becoming an artist?

Matthew: All self taught. I had to learn a lot of things on my own back when I was in a band. My experience came from years and years of just trying to make things work.

Do you have a basic story line in your head or is the magic in the editing?

Matthew: It depends. Most of the time whoever is filming me I’m just like, “Dude, just document everything.” There are a lot of people on social media that like to fake things or create things, and I just want to document what I’m doing. We stick with that mindset.

Actually, I was in a studio and I had a photographer that was trying to make things happen and I was like, “No, dude. You got to document what I’m doing. If you’re telling me to put my hands in certain places and act then we are creating things that aren’t really happening.” He had never worked in a studio environment before, so I just told him to document everything that happens naturally.

Which of your videos are you the most proud of?

Matthew: The NAMM 2018 one or the Kaaboo behind the scenes with my buddy Chris Ruel, who is my front of house engineer. The Kaaboo video was just a 1 minute blog post but it turned out real cool. I am real proud of that one! It did not take too long to edit. We were given so much awesome footage of this awesome festival, but it took about 5 hours to put together. The NAMM one was way more detailed that took about 10-15 hours to fully edit.

INTERVIEW: Falling Doves' Chris Leyva Shares His Love for Rock n' Roll

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Falling Doves (from left: Mike Dorsey and Chris Leyva). Photo by Kelli Hayden.

Falling Doves (from left: Mike Dorsey and Chris Leyva). Photo by Kelli Hayden.

Falling Doves never play it safe.

Chris Leyva (guitars, vocals) and Mike Dorsey (lead guitarist) create an unpredictable mix of garage rock with jazz, metal, Latin, and pop infusions. Known for their deep lyrical confessionals and aggressive playing, this band combines the classics with the new. Every Falling Doves show is a total surprise. Leyva and Dorsey bring onstage professional musicians from all different musical genres. In their latest album, Doves of War, they have revived the classic rock spirit with today’s modern pop. Currently, Falling Doves are on a world tour with plans to release a new single later in the year.

We got to chat with Chris Leyva about his musical influences, international touring, and the new upcoming Falling Doves album.

Which musical element pulls you into a song? (Lyrics, Melody, or Composition?)

Chris: That’s a really hard question…I’m going to be cheap right off the bat and say melody (laughs). With composition, for me, melody has to be key. If the melody is not there then you just can’t connect. My ear is trained on pop music.

Is that your approach with your own songwriting?

Chris: Yes, when I’m composing it always starts in a melody or a hook. Most songwriters I know will have a melody or a creative theme. I have friends that will work with a melody if it’s still in their head a few weeks later, but for me, I have literally walked out of a shower dripping wet on a notebook writing the thing out or singing it into my phone before I forget it. Think of it like giving birth to an idea. It’s like, fuck it!, the water broke, the idea is coming! You can choose to ignore it but then you’ll feel terrible about it later.

What is it like performing live for international audiences?

Chris: When we tour we have a set list but depending on the audience we may need to cut some songs. I think what a great performer does is play for the crowd and not play for himself. My goal has always been if you’re going to come out to hear my music, I’m going to make sure you’ll have a good fuckin time! I’ll tell you each tour has made us a completely different band.

The Asian markets are receptive to the point where they want to become one with the song. They may not speak the same language but they are trying hard to identify. Touring in Japan gave us the confidence that every song works.

Germans, man they love a beat! They want it fast and heavy. When we first went to Germany they didn’t give a fuck what we were playing. They were just sitting there. We started to not care and play stuff like Ram Jam or The Doors covers. Well, we ended up playing a five hour show. We went on at midnight and ended at 5am and those people were still dancing!

The English people are lyrical but also very melodic. They love little hooks. Listen to the guitar hooks of Johnny Marr, The Beatles, and The Cure. Those hooks are so melodic you can hum any of those melodies and most people will recognize the song. In England it’s about the composition, and I mean, they have some of the best music so they are going to be pickier.

Mexico is more captured by the spectacle of it. They like the lifestyle. They are more enamored with the image.

We are always excited to learn from other countries. Playing for these other countries has made us better performers and taught us how to work a room.

Which song off your most recent album, Doves Of War is your absolute favorite?

Chris: “Rolling slow” is my favorite because it really blends my purpose of songwriter and musician; not too hard, not too heavy, but introspectively creative, which is why I love The Doors. You put on one of those songs and it takes you to a different world. Listen to “Riders on a Storm,” it’s like where the fuck am I? That’s what’s beautiful about music—it grabs you and takes you to a new land! That’s what I hope the new Falling Doves record will do.

Which out of your entire discography is your favorite song to perform live?

Chris: “Glass of Wine.” What’s cool about that one is it has been able to resonate with the harder crowd. I have these beautiful friends who always want to help me but they don’t always understand the concept of genre sometimes (laughs). I flew out to this gig they booked me. I look around and it’s a sea of beards, bald heads, tattoos, rings, and chicks in Goth makeup, and there I come out with this guitar, mind you, I had this pretty badass looking strap but that’s it. I think I had a mop top in that era with long shaggy hair. I looked like something that fell out of a Strokes music video!

I come out with a fucking acoustic among this sea of metalheads. I was like I’m fucked, but you know, I’m doing this gig because I have to. I’m not going to cower to any gig but at the same time, I’m not going to drag my band out if it does not make any sense. So there I went out and I performed “Glass of Wine.” I think at the time I was playing a bunch of poppy singer-songwriter songs. At the time that song was not for the Falling Doves. I played that song, and holy shit, the chicks were all about it! The dudes were like ‘yeah man’! I opened up with that and I captured them.  It doesn’t matter what genre, if it’s a good song, it’s a good song. That song has been able to stand the test of genres.

Did you take a different recording approach with Doves of War then you did with your first album, Ready to Go?

Chris: Oh entirely! I was working on a singer-songwriter album at the time of Ready to Go.  My friend was trying to get me signed to this label. The label said they could not sell me as an artist because that’s a real hard market unless you’re doing boy band or Justin Timberlake like stuff. I didn’t feel comfortable with that so the label goes, “Ok, go back into the studio, grab a collection of your songs and record them and we will release you as a band even though there is no band.”

I chose a few songs from my solo catalog and went into the studio with these session musicians. We wrote a few new songs and Ready to Go was just the first album with a gritty feeling with no overdubs. I wanted a lavish feel and that’s when Mike Dorsey joined the band, but at the time there was no band. Having no official band was the original concept.

With Doves of War, Mike and I started to work with other musicians to try to start a band and we realized it ended up being counterproductive. When you join a band in your twenties you have more time to be creative. You don’t have marriages or many responsibilities. You just worry about making music and getting drunk with your buddies. When you get older your responsibilities change and you have to pay more for experienced musicians. So I was like, “let’s use this to our advantage. Let’s get a metal drummer in for this song, or a jazz drummer for this song, so now we don’t have to sacrifice our art.”

I think that album (Doves of War) has five different drummers. We worked with a lot of guitarists too. We got Greg Douglass, the lead guitarist for the Steve Miller Band to play in there. We got the guitarist from The Rembrandts to play in there. We just got to be way more flexible with who we brought in.

How do you go about creating compositions for Falling Doves?

Chris: The theme of the Falling doves is the theme of The Ramones--everything has got to be accessible for any musician that hops on stage to play live with us.

We don’t get weird with the compositions. You know with four or five part songs that go into overture. Creatively with this band we keep the three to four chord structures. It gives us more freedom with lyrics and melody. The king of melody for me in life is Brian Wilson. There are about sixty melodies or hooks in a Beach Boys song of the same three chords. We try to follow that same formula. No charts. Just real simple hooks.

We are going to use a lot more compositions on this new record. We’ll be using a lot of classical players and we will be using a lot of charts. I’ll be able to exercise my composer brain more. We’ll use horns and strings more so than Ready to Go and Doves of War.

Falling Doves photo by Kelli Hayden.

Falling Doves photo by Kelli Hayden.

What is your major struggle to deal with off the tour?

Chris: There are a lot of different struggles as an artist when you’re not touring. You’re basically fucked if you don’t take the shitty gigs. I think the main problem is not taking gigs even if the money is good. You can’t just take any dive bar gig because it fucks with your band career.

Unfortunately, since I’m kind of an agent for my band, agents can’t let their bands play dive bars if they are playing venues. I could make really good money just playing these gigs but I can’t take them because it counter fucks with the brand you are supporting. It sucks! Trust me, I love playing dive bars! However, if I play solo I can go anywhere but then the promoters get mad if I don’t bring the Falling Doves.

Do you have any special preparations or rituals before a Falling Doves concert?

Chris: I used to. The day of the show I would never go out. I’d stay home all day and I would not involve myself in anything. I would not even go to the fucking bank; it was that type of dedication! I would just sit at my computer and work on leads all day or rhythm parts or the musicianship part or the endings. I would invite the band to come over and I’d have my own personal rehearsal for an hour and a half. This was when I was playing lead and I had more responsibility with the overhaul of the band.

Now I’m just the guitarist and singer. I do a lead here and there but the band is just not dependent on me for lead. Falling Doves has had only three rehearsals total. I feel like if you overprepare you take away the magic of chaos. Music is not supposed to be so predictable, you learn that in jazz. The best jazz is a blend of improvisation. I love jazz because you don’t get the same song twice.

That’s how we are! We never play the same show twice. We never know who is going to come up on stage with us. The band is me and my guitarist and a lot of times it’s a different bass player or a different drummer.

I’ll say the European version of the Falling Doves is the most cohesive band because it’s the same people that tour over there, but over here in the states it’s always different. Sometimes we have horns sometimes we have horns and keyboards or horns and back up singers. We even had one gig where we ended up on stage with a mariachi band performing The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”

What can fans expect from your upcoming world tour?

Chris: We will introduce new songs in the middle of the tour. We should have the new single out sometime in August or September when we tour Japan.

The Falling Doves World Tour 2017-2018. Photo by Kelli Hayden.

The Falling Doves World Tour 2017-2018. Photo by Kelli Hayden.

Can you tell us more about the new upcoming album?

Chris: The new album is called Rise to the Surface and the theme of it is the balance of what’s going on in the world today. I’m not going to get all political on it. I just want to take from the best of what seventy years of rock has had to offer.  I want to take what Tom Petty has to say, the electricity from Chuck Berry, and the English arrogance and confidence of Oasis. I want to blend all of those influences with what I grew up with and create an album that pays homage to where I’ve been and gone through into a great rock n’ roll album. Just think if The Doors’ L.A. Woman met the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet.

We will have a variety of classical and metal musicians. I’m trying to get Tom Petty’s keyboard player and bass guitarist to play with us on it. We got the original drummer for The Beatles, who is probably going to play a few songs for us.  We are bringing the old with the new. We are very excited! It’s going to have a lot of dark undertones.

Most of your music pays homage to classic rock. What was the decision to hone in on this particular genre?

Chris: Hey man, you gotta respect the roots of where you came from! My publicist told me one time, “Christopher, what are you going to do? A lot of the best rock tunes have already been created so where do you take it now?” And I go, “Well, Ok, I’ll replicate.”

I’m blessed that I’m able to do that sort of thing. I can do the Beach Boys harmony, I can do George Harrison licks, Lennon and McCartney composition styles, I can do Rolling Stones undertones, I can give you soundscapes and lyrical blends like Jim Morrison, and I can bring all of that into a song. All these great rock legends are dying off. We have to keep that sort of music alive.

The most beautiful compliment I ever got was from these twenty year old kids at one of our shows. I went out to the parking lot to smoke a cigarette and I overheard, “Wow, they play music just like those old records we have at home! They do it like that! They’re for real! They get it!”

I just got chills. I almost wanted to cry because this is what I have been trying to do my whole life. You get to that point where you’re not replicating or recreating stuff but you’re playing a lot of styles not just in musicianship but in performance. We’re not trying to recreate something that’s already been done. We are just trying to continue the legacy.