Interview with The Commander-in-Chief: 7 String Guitarist on Performing Zigeunerweisen

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Meet “The Commander-In-Chief.” This 23 year old Norwegian guitar player is staking her claim among top metal/hard rock female guitar players. Playing a 7 string Ibanez Falchion 7 electric guitar, which by the way is one of its kind in the world, she plays it with fervor. She is quickly becoming a YouTube sensation performing a guitar duel to Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. The video has more than 85,000 views and even legendary guitar icon Jason Becker commented on it.

We had a chance to learn more from The Commander-in-Chief about her early musical influences, how she decided to start playing guitar, her guitar gear, and her decision to make a YouTube video of Zigeunerweisen with Thomas Valeur which has received over 85,000 views to date and praised by Guitar World. She has also been named as “1 of 10 Guitar Gods” in Europe’s Metal Magazine, and Revolver Magazine featured her as their “Hottest Chick in Hard Rock.”

GGM:  You are endorsed by Ibanez and play an Ibanez Falchion 7 guitar. Can you tell us a little bit about that guitar and your set up?

 CIC:  The specs of my guitar are:

Neck Material : 5pc Maple/ Walnut (Thru-neck)
Body : Flamed Maple top/Mahogany body
Frets :24 Jumbo frets
Fingerboard : Rosewood
Scale : 648mm/25.5″
Bridge : Edge Zero 7 bridge

I plug my guitar straight into the amp. I only use a delay pedal for my solos and that’s it!

GGM:  What other companies are you endorsed by? 

CIC:  I endorse Laney Amps, I use their IronHeart and GH50L – an awesome combo is to use the GH50L with the Ironheart Cab that will give you one hell of a sound! I also endorse EMG pickups; I use 57-7H and 66-7H, the neck pickup sounds amazing with a clean guitar tone. I really dig how my guitar sounds at the moment. I feel that I have found that round tone I’ve always been looking for. I endorse Audix Microphones and I’m in their catalog this year. I use their OM7 vocal mics and i5 instrument mics for my guitar. I use a Eureka channel strip from PreSonus for my vocals. I also use Studio One and Firestudio. I’m really grateful for all my endorsements!

GGM:  What was the inspiration behind the name “The Commander-In-Chief” and your military style of dress?

CIC:  I wanted an artist name that was bad-ass! I’m a solo artist; I write my own songs, sing and play both rhythm and lead guitar. So I wanted an artist name that showed I was in command. The name “The Commander-In-Chief” was chosen, because I lived in Chicago during the 2008 presidential election. I saw “The Commander-In-Chief” everywhere, even ran into Obama some times, as I lived in Hyde Park, on the Southside. Well, I always liked spikes and bullets…combat boots were a must, and so were camouflage pants. Most of the kids at my school thought I looked like a manga character. So, I had my own style pretty early on. The reason why my stage outfits are colored and not black is because I wanted something that was optimistic and youthful.

GGM:  Your EP Evolution is said to be about lobotomies and science gone wrong. What inspired you to write about that topic?

CIC:  Only the title track is about lobotomy. I was reading about Jose Delgado’s experiments, and then I started reading about neuroscience gone wrong. I ended up reading about lobotomists such as Walter Freeman and Antonio Egas Moniz. I figured out I wanted to write a song about the dark side of psychiatry. I also found inspiration in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as this book deals with ambition taken to the extreme. I thought, “Evolution” was a good title, as moving forward sometimes is a huge leap backwards. The correct title would have been “Devolution,” but it was cool I think to give it an opposing title. The title is also a little reference to a passage in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” where the vampire is seen by Harker crawling down the walls of his fortress, almost like a symbolic “Devolution.”

GGM:  That EP was recorded using no Auto-Tune or ProTools, just simply an organic approach. What made you decide to record in this manner?

CIC:  Because I like music that sounds natural.

GGM:  When writing a song, what comes first for you, the lyrics or the melody?

CIC:  Always the melodies and the title of the song. The lyrics are always the last thing I write. I usually have several versions of the lyrics. I also have a tendency of experiencing “writers block” when it comes to lyric writing.

GGM:  What inspires your songwriting?

CIC:  Anything can be a source of inspiration. That’s why being an artist can be quite frustrating. If anything is a potential inspiration, your sources are infinite.

GGM:  When did you first pick up the guitar and were you classically trained?

CIC:  I started to play in 2005. I wasn’t classically trained at all. I wanted to be a songwriter…that was my inspiration. My mother dragged me to piano lessons as a child, but I hated it, and I didn’t learn anything. I failed my music class in school. I was creative, and conservative teachers have a tendency of hating that.

GGM:  Do you play any other musical instruments?

CIC:  I sing, and I am classically trained when it comes to that! My mother was an opera singer, and was trained in the Bel Canto technique by an award winning Italian Soprano called Aida Meneghelli. She had the same teacher as Maria Callas (Elvira De Hidalgo). My mother discovered my vocal range in 2007, pretty much by accident. I didn’t have much motivation for vocal tutoring until 2009, when I had fully understood my potential after recording a demo. I was hitting the most insane notes you could imagine. I also recorded my own backing vocals, and people actually thought there was a male voice in the mix. I have a four octave vocal range, up to C7, and now I’m finally working on the coloratura repertoire. I looked most forward to recording the vocals on the “Evolution” EP and I have finally fallen in love with singing.

GGM:  Do you come from a musical family?

CIC:  A very musical one when it comes to my mother`s family. My great grandfather played violin. And his son apparently played Zigeunerweisen, the song from my guitar duel video, on violin as a young man. My grandfather had his own band when he was young and got fan mail and whatnot. My mother had a natural singing talent, and would perform with her dad when she was a kid and went on to become an opera singer. My father was a great piano player. My family is very artistic, but few pursued music or art as a career. Get a proper education has been the mantra in my mother’s family, but my mother always encouraged artistic professions, when it comes to me and my siblings. She has been my manager for years.

GGM:  Who were your early musical influences?

CIC:  Hmm…I was a huge fan of Elton John and Phil Collins. My first record was the album of a French female singer songwriter. One of my first albums was also the Lion King Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. I was also a huge fan of French artist Mylène Farmer.

GGM:  You recently released a video with Thomas Valeur performing a guitar duel to Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. How did you meet Valeur and decide on this project?

CIC:  I met Valeur when we shared the stage at the Bergen International Festival. We were hanging back stage jamming and figured out it would be cool if we worked together. My manager was very enthusiastic about this. Elisabeth (manager) and I picked the song, as we have a long relationship to it. I grew up listening to Itzhak Perlman’s recordings and the “Zigeunerweisen” was a favorite we would listen to over and over again…in fact we just put it on repeat. Nobody had ever recorded the whole piece on guitar before. We knew it was an ambitious project, but I think both Valeur and myself like a challenge. It was very hard work for me, as I play almost all of the runs in the front section of the song. I had to figure out how to play them. I depended on tapping or sweeping them to get them right. The front section of the song is without a doubt the hardest part. The back section of the song is only difficult because of the speed. You actually have a metronome in the “fast part” so it is easier to practice it and get it tight with the other guitarist. If you look at the sheet music, it’s not hard to understand why nobody really wants to play the front section on guitar.

GGM:  You performed it great and the video has received over 85,000 views in a few short weeks. Any new projects on the horizon?

CIC:  I’m gonna shoot a music video with a French team, who normally make commercials. That video will be for one of the songs on the EP. I hope I can get to record a debut album, as soon as possible, but I need funding. I have songs for both an instrumental record and a metal record. I’m also very interested in working with more artists, to create more unique artistic performances.

Five Fun Facts about “The Commander-In-Chief”

First concert you ever attended? My mother’s opera concerts.

Top 3 songs on your playlist?
1) “Dream is Collapsing” – Hans Zimmer
2) John Harrison’s Theme – Michael Giacchino
3) Alice’s Theme – Danny Elfman

I cannot live without sleep!

My dream performance would be with Wagner

My guilty musical pleasure is ‘90s Eurodance

To connect with The Commander-In-Chief:

Cover photo credit:  Jeff Xander

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