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 Interview, Miloš Karadaglić on The Sound of Silence

Milos Silence This Friday sees the release of Miloš Karadaglić’s first album in three years, after a serious hand-injury placed his career indefinitely on hold back in October 2016; featuring new arrangements of songs by Dido, Portishead, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen as well as music by Tárrega, Brouwer and Falla, The Sound of Silence took shape whilst the Montenegrin-born guitarist was undergoing treatment for his injury and taking time away from listening to the standard repertoire for his instrument. He spoke to me over the summer about how the enforced sabbatical from playing broadened his musical horizons, and encouraged him to prioritise finding stillness and silence in his day-to-day life.

The last time we spoke was about your Beatles album, Blackbird, back in 2016 – did this project feel like a natural successor to that one?

Absolutely: the Beatles album was really a bit of a departure from what I’d done before, but it felt very natural to explore absolute classics in a popular environment. It allowed me to explore a very different style and to think about the kind of sound that I really wanted to create. After the experience with the injury, I had a lot of time to reflect and to listen to new music, and once I was in a position to think about recording again I decided to develop it further by gathering together all the pieces that I love and revere as works of art: for me whether it’s Schubert or Paul Simon or Bach or the Beatles, it’s all great music, and that’s what I wanted to embrace on the album. I chose the title Sound of Silence because I literally was in silence for three years, and that was such a monumental experience for me - to be unable to do what I have always done was really life-changing. As devastating as it was, it also created a completely new reality, and for that I’m really grateful and happy.

Was any of the repertoire on the album music that you’d discovered for the first time during those years of being unable to play?

Oh yes: Skylar Grey’s Moving Mountains just popped up out of the blue on my phone as part of a playlist, and it knocked me sideways. The words of that song really underline the whole sentiment of the album: ‘For once in your life push your ambitions to the side / And instead of moving mountains let the mountains move you’. At the time I was going to Munich to have treatment on my hand, and my world was really collapsing; it was almost as if someone wanted me to hear that, and it’s such a powerful message. I also came across things like Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out) - songs which I would never have imagined I could make a part of my own artistry in any shape or form - and I just thought ‘Why not? Let’s just have fun and see where it takes us’. The resulting project actually turned out to involve a lot of very intense work as well as fun, because this kind of thing is much harder to do than going into the studio to record an album of Bach: you might have been practising Bach for years but because it’s already been done by so many other people you more or less know how to approach it, whereas this is a completely new undertaking and in many ways that’s even more creative.

Were you planning something different for this album before events overtook you?

If I hadn't been forced to take the time out that I needed in order to experience music in another way and to open myself to these new influences, then I think we would be having a very different conversation today. After the Beatles album I had thought that I would do something based around more standard classical repertoire, but now I think that you have to allow life to take you wherever it feels like taking you. Whilst I was working on this album I premiered two new classical concertos which were written for me; the premieres were postponed because of my injury, so in a way that was the biggest incentive for me to recover. It's always been a dream of mine to premiere new works, and exactly one year ago today I returned to the stage with Joby Talbot’s concerto Ink Dark Moon at the Proms, which really felt like a rebirth. Three months ago I gave the first performance of Howard Shore's The Forest, and I’m really looking forward to playing both those pieces in other places now: it’s just really wonderful to be able to take all of these different influences on board.

Are the transcriptions on the album your own?

I worked with numerous arrangers and it’s a very interesting, collaborative process: first you need to identify whether something is going to feel right on the instrument or not, and then you have to find your own style and direction with it. It’s an endless process of building layer upon layer of sound until you find exactly what you want, and it often involves changes in direction along the way. I particularly love working with John Metcalfe, who did the arrangements of Portishead’s Sour Times, Skylar Grey's Moving Mountains, and Dido’s Life for Rent, because whatever he brought back was exactly what I imagined these pieces would sound like on the guitar.

Have you had the opportunity to meet any of the singer-songwriters whose work features on the album?

No, and I would love to! I do hope that some of them might come across the album, because it must be great to hear your music in a slightly different style, and now that streaming is so prevalent the odds of that happening are higher than ever before. Listening to music has changed so much even over the three years since I released The Beatles album, in terms of playlists and how everything’s presented. It’s so amazing to have everything at the click of a button; that’s how I discovered a lot of these pieces, at home cooking with friends, enjoying an evening and listening to music that I’d never been exposed to and would never have thought to seek out.

And was the eponymous Paul Simon song one of your playlist discoveries?

That was actually one of the songs which I knew already, because there are so many beautiful versions of it out there; I think it has a very strong message (as well as that incredible circular melody), and that’s why I decided that it should be the first song and also the title of the recording. Even though the album goes off in so many different directions, it really felt like the starting-point of that whole journey.

If it's not too personal a question, how do you find the stillness and silence that you need in your day-to-day life now?

By remembering to breathe. It’s something that’s so easy to forget in this crazy world, especially when you’re a creative person (I’m talking to you now whilst sitting in a car in London during rush-hour!), and focusing on breathing helps you to connect to the things that matter and filter out all of the other rubbish that’s everywhere. We are all sort of abused by the amount of information and trivia that just creates this constant noise in our lives, and how good it would be to find focus and just be without all of that mess!

Miloš Karadaglić (guitar)

The Sound of Silence is released on Decca Classics on Friday.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Miloš Karadaglić (guitar)

The Vinyl edition of The Sound of Silence will be released on 15th November.

Available Format: 2 Vinyl Records

Miloš Karadaglić (guitar)

'Many artists from every side of the musical divide(s) have offered their gloss [on these songs] but perhaps few of them with the innate artistry and technique of Miloš Karadaglić.' (Gramophone).

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC