Michael Kollwitz - Solo Chapman Stick - 10 Questions Music Interview
Updated: Nov 30, 2019
Michael Kollwitz is one of the original pioneer players of the Chapman Stick, a contemporary American stringed instrument. Capable of astounding expressiveness, and simultaneous multi-part arrangements, “The Stick” is an amalgamation of elements of guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion into one instrument that is played in a way similar to piano.
As a recording artist, Michael has had 26 independent releases. His last three albums, Serenity I, II & III have received considerable international airplay, awards, nominations, and rave reviews. His music is also being played on airlines and in hundreds of U.S. hospitals on The CARE Channel. Serenity II made the Billboard top ten new age albums chart at #8 in 2018 in addition to receiving consideration for a Grammy nomination. Serenity III debuted in the top five on all three of the major new age charts including Billboard twice: #3 in January 2019 and #2 in February 2019. Serenity III also won a silver medal in the Global Music Awards in June 2019. Carlos Santana has described Michael’s music as “a gift of the heart.”
Currently, Michael's holiday song "Santa Plays The Stick," is charting at Number 4 on the Billboard New Age charts.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
It took a long time to learn how to play the unique instrument known as The Chapman Stick®, and I took lessons from its inventor Emmett Chapman for over ten years. Once I got my bearings on The Stick, I couldn't help but start creating original music with it. I lived on Maui for six years, and my creative juices started flowing after chance meetings with both Carlos Santana and Mick Fleetwood, who encouraged me.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
Oh man. That's a hard question. I performed a festival and fair circuit on the West Coast in the early 2000s, and we had so many unusual experiences along the way. It's hard to pick out one, but here goes: I performed at a five-day biker street festival in Reno, Nevada called "Street Vibrations," and it was huge. Imagine: Harleys going right through the middle of the street with naked biker girls riding behind Hells Angels types wearing kaiser helmets while smoking cigars. It was so loud I realized why they named it Street Vibrations'. There were so many other CRAZY festivals like that. I could write a book. Maybe I will!
What has been the high point of your music path?
The success of my three 'Serenity' albums was a real boost! Five years ago, I began studying a book written by Marshall Vian Summers entitled 'Steps To Knowledge,' and it rewired my brain in beautiful ways that made me think of composing in an entirely different light. I just started recording whatever feelings came to me, and I put it out there. I was astonished when my music started to receive airplay all over the world, especially since I play a rare and obscure musical instrument that few have ever heard of.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
I collect all the little pieces and ideas of things I've played recently that I like and keep working on them until they inspire me to record them. I'll record a song numerous times until I get a take that I like. Over 90% of my recordings are one continuous take since The Stick allows me to create so many parts simultaneously. It's much more like a piano than a guitar, and I love the expressive elements that the strings give me. The instrument provides a player with total musical freedom in a compact, lightweight package. Sadly, The Stick is not better known to the general public.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
The biggest challenge is how corporations have taken over, and now they can suck up the creativity of an entire society and pay little or nothing for it. Sure, some artists make money on Spotify and YouTube, but they are the exception. If creators can't make a living creating (in all art mediums) every year, there will be fewer of them. Gigs pay the same as they did 20 years ago, and many musicians make less than the minimum wage. The one thing I would change (with my all-powerful magic wand!) is to find a way to compensate all creative artists more fairly.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
Hands down, it would be Carlos Santana because his playing is so fluid, and he oozes soul out of every pore when he's performing. I once saw him at a corporate event he played for a thousand insurance agents on Maui. I had just finished my gig a few blocks away, and I heard this sound that was just incredible, and I followed it. His clients did not mind one bit that I showed up, so I took a seat and watched one of the most exceptional concerts I've ever attended. If I could be on stage with him and his fantastic ensemble, I would indeed be in musician heaven.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
Most of my concerts are solo affairs, where I do pretty much everything using only The Chapman Stick. Unlike most Stick players, I use very few effects because I think The Stick has a marvelous tone all its own. Why cover that up with a bunch of sound effects? I do, however, like to occasionally use a guitar synthesizer to add a beautiful orchestral background. All of my instruments have been outfitted with MIDI pickups by Emmett and his small home-based company, Stick Enterprises Inc.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
The challenge for me isn't so much the writing but recreating things I've played live that never sounded quite as good in the studio. Try as I might, I couldn't replicate the feeling of the song quite the same. Case in point is my song 'Secret Mountain,' which is the title track of the album 'Secret Mountain.' My wife videotaped me playing this song in a beautiful canyon outside of Sedona, Arizona, and it was perfect. I kept trying to replicate the feeling of what I had played on that day in that short video, but I could never do it quite as well. Unfortunately, the audio from the video did not have the quality I needed, so I did the best I could in the studio, but it was not the same feeling as the original take on the video.
What's coming up in the future?
A new album titled "In The Moonlight" will be released on January 10, 2020. It is a one-of-a-kind album recorded by myself and Walton Mendelson, who is an incredible Electronic Wind Instrument player (EWI). We call the duo 'The Stick EWI Project,' and what makes this album so unusual is the fact that both Walton and I have been long-time players of these two little-known American instruments from the 70s: The Stick and The EWI. The EWI is played somewhat like a clarinet that interfaces with a synthesizer, which allows the player to add all the expressive elements of a woodwind instrument using the voicings of violin, cello, trumpet, flute, saxophone, and harmonica. The Stick and the EWI together have a unique sound quite unlike any other instruments you've heard before.
Tell us where fans can access your music?
Michael Kollwitz's holiday song, "Santa Plays The Stick," will be airing on National Indie Radio (WNIR) commencing December 1st through December 31st as part of BWH Music Group’s Holiday Radio Special. WNIR features the best independent artists in the world and is part of the highly selective and nationally renowned BWH Music Group platform. The Holiday Radio Special will feature original holiday songs as well as covers by exceptional independent artists. Station information can be found at www.wnir-radio.com