D.A. Karkos is a Nashville based vocalist, guitarist, producer, engineer, songwriter and all-around go-to music guy that you’ll probably start hearing more about in the very near future. The first time I talked with John Corabi (ex- Motley Crue, Union) about D.A, over a year ago…he was already on his way to not only producing but performing on as well as engineering and co-writing material for Corabi’s new “UNPLUGGED” album. D.A.’s music can be checked out on Reverbnation and youtube but he is wise to keep good company as well and has a new project already underway with legendary producer Michael Wagener (Skid Row, Extreme, Accept) and the amazing Jerry Gaskill (longtime drummer of the equally amazing band, King’s X). I recently had the pleasure to talk with D.A. about a number of these projects, his background and a lot more. Read on….
LRI: I know from talking with John Corabi how he feels about you as a player and songwriter, but I’d like to start off asking you… how is it you came to work with John and what your impressions of him are off and onstage?
D.A. Karkos: Before moving to Nashville back in November 2010, I reached out to John through email. I was living in New York City at the time when I emailed him a link to my music asking if he knew of anyone or any band looking for a singer or a guitarist or whatever. He responded right away with an offer to write together. Of course I said “Sure!”, and the rest is history!
Hmmm…well let me put it to you this way. I feel privileged to be working and to be sharing music with John. He’s a great songwriter, singer, guitarist, storyteller, rockstar, friend, you name it…he’s as gifted as they come. The coolest thing about John Corabi in my opinion is…onstage or off, you’ll always see the real John Corabi. It’s no act. I believe his approach to his life and his art are one and the same: Honest. And there’s nothing more badass than that.
LRI: What do you think the biggest misconception of John is based on your unique position of being involved in the day to day business and playing in the band?
D.A. Karkos: That’s a tough question. I’m not sure exactly what people think about John but maybe some think he’s unapproachable? He’s done a lot in his career and maybe that’s intimidating to fans. Well, for the record, I’ve never seen John ignore anyone, in fact, he has always gone way out of his way to talk with the fans. He’s always been that way since I’ve known him. Or maybe they aren’t aware at how great a guitarist he is too. We all know he’s a great singer who writes great songs, but his guitar playing is outstanding. So if you didn’t already know, there you have it.
LRI: You co-wrote the song, “If I Had a Dime” which is a great tune and just has that feel that John is so well known for. That’s a real talent to be able to collaborate with someone and have it still fit their style so perfectly. Did that song come easily to you both?
D.A. Karkos: First, thank you for the compliment. I’m glad people like the song. You know, to be honest, If I Had A Dime came together really fast. It was finished in one evening. It’s a rare event when a song feels like it writes itself but once in a blue moon it does happen. John came over to my place and played me the basic chord structures and the first verse lyrics. He had the title “If I Had A Dime” already as well. As I was hearing his idea for the first time, I thought to myself that this is going to be a great song. Well after he left, I finished writing it, recorded it and emailed to him that same evening. Fully produced and arranged with harmonies, guitar solo, etc. We tweaked a couple lyrics on the phone that night, but our song was finished. And we were excited about it. And maybe one of the reasons why John and myself collaborate so well is that we’re both lead singers with similar influences. For example, we both love Paul Rodgers, and The Beatles, and bands with lush harmonies. So I think we approach songwriting in similar ways. We write for the song but from a singer’s perspective as well.
Click HERE to view photos from this performance
LRI: John has worked with some pretty legendary guys over the years and it has gotta be fun revisiting some of those songs during your live shows. Are there any particular tracks you’d like to see him tackle from his past that haven’t been tinkered with yet?
D.A. Karkos: Man, there’s a bunch of those. We can go on and on about songs I wish we’d play, but if I had to pick, I would probably have to say, “Smoke the Sky”. It’s so heavy…and vocally, John just kills it.
LRI: The “Unplugged” album was recorded with your input not only as a player but as a producer and it just feels natural and stands as one of John’s best works. Do you enjoy playing the electric shows as much as the acoustic gigs?
D.A. Karkos: Well, thank you again for the praise. We’re very proud of the “Unplugged” album. To answer your question, I love playing loud rock music just as much as I love playing the acoustic stuff. But since I had my creative hands all over the “Unplugged” album, I feel a little bit more connected to that at the moment. Plus I love singing. Performing songs off the “Unplugged” album is extra fun for me partly because I’m singing all those backing vocal parts I created.
LRI: You have gotten the chance to do some touring as a member of the John Corabi Band and headlined as well as played some support gigs with artists like Cinderella and others. What is the biggest challenge in playing a high profile support slot for a band with a big following versus headline gigs on your own?
D.A. Karkos: Well from what I’ve experienced so far, it’s always more comfortable doing your own gigs. Mentally, you’re free from any potential curve balls thrown your way concerning what will be happening that night, and physically you’re just more taken care of. However, supporting a bigger band has it’s benefits as well. For example, even though you’re basically getting up there with a worse time slot, or an inferior monitor set up, or less of a light show, you’re just happy to be playing in front of more fans. And I believe that would be the goal. Playing for as many people as possible and reaching new fans.
LRI: Going back a bit….What got you interested in guitar and songwriting to begin with and what kind of artists were particularly influential on you and your playing?
D.A. Karkos: Well, some people don’t know this about me. I for one, have always considered myself a lead singer first, and a guitar player second. Most of my fans know me as a lead vocalist. All my life up until I moved to Nashville, I’ve been fronting rock bands while playing rhythm guitar. So being the lead singer in a band would be my natural role. If we’re talking influences, I’d be giving you a long list of singers that I love. For example, DuG Pinnick of King’s X, Angelo Moore of Fishbone, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Paul Rodgers of Bad Company, etc. Singers with finesse, power, and a unique artistry. As far as being a lead guitarist, how could you not love all the great guitar icons like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Eddie Van Halen? They brought so much to the table. In the last couple years, I got heavy into fingerstyle guitarists. I was obsessed with Lindsey Buckingham for a while learning his fingerstyle versions of “Looking Out For Love”, and “Never Going Back Again”. Man, just learning his stuff made me appreciate guitar that much more. So in a nutshell…whatever I like, I’ll try to make it a part of my arsenal. Songwriting just happens when you sing and play music. I wanted to write songs as soon as me and my brother put a band together when we were 12 or 13 years old. In our early years, we had a steady diet of Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Ozzy, Sabbath, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth. They all made us want to create music.
LRI: You co-wrote the song “Julie” on the last King’s X album and are working with drummer Jerry Gaskill on his second solo album. Jerry is such a great talent and all around creative guy. I have been a fan of King’s X since their Megaforce days and I am sure you probably have been too. What were your first impressions of the band as a fan and Jerry as a player and person?
D.A. Karkos: I want to be clear on the song, “Julie” that appeared on the “XV” album. I helped Jerry write that song by recording it with him at his home in New Jersey. I came up with some harmony lines and helped with the arrangement of the song. I didn’t write any lyrics or chords. That’s all Jerry Gaskill. So if you listen to the song on the King’s X record, it’s pretty close to the way Jerry and I initially recorded it, and that alone makes me very happy. Now on this second solo record, it’s more of a 50/50 collaborative effort. However, all Jerry Gaskill lyrics. The recording is going extremely well. We just finished tracking Jerry’s drums with Michael Wagener and we’re both extremely excited about what he have in store for the fans. We plan on having some very special guest musicians play on this record.
Yes, Jerry is a huge talent. Incredible drummer, great singer, great writer, great artist. I can’t even begin to explain how much of an impact Jerry and the rest of the guys in King’s X have made on me and the band that I was in at the time I discovered them. When my friend and bandmate at the time Matt Farley (who also played percussion and sang on Corabi’s “Unplugged” album) turned me on to King’s X, my musical mind changed. I became a different singer and I even started to look at songwriting differently. The whole sound of my band started to change. Almost overnight, we were all about being heavy, but with four part harmonies. I really can’t explain it but for a lack of better words, we became King’s X disciples. We got so many comparisons to King’s X, and of course, that also made me very happy.
LRI: I would love to talk to Jerry, I’ve been a fan going way back.
D.A. Karkos: I’m rarely star struck, but meeting Jerry as a person, I’d have to admit, was a little intimidating. I knew his music inside and out so yeah, I was a little nervous. I look back and laugh about it now because Jerry is the sweetest guy you’d ever meet. I think it was back in 2004, I was in the band BULLY from New York City, and we just so happened to know Jerry’s girlfriend, Julie (now wife), and she brought him to one of our gigs. Julie introduced us and he was the nicest guy in the world. He loved our band, and a short time later, he asked us to be his live band for his first solo release, “Come Somewhere”. We were thrilled, and of course we said yes. Andee Blacksugar from New York City was also in Jerry’s band.
LRI: King’s X has worked with producer Michael Wagener at his WireWorld studios before. When I talked to Michael he was absolutely ecstatic when I brought up the band and said they were probably the tightest and most musical band he’d ever worked with. Michael is no slouch and his track record speaks for itself, as someone who has studio experience yourself, is it fun being in the studio with him and watching him work on things sonically?
D.A. Karkos: I’ll have to agree with Michael. He isn’t kidding when he describes King’s X in that way. The band is incredibly gifted and of course, so is Michael Wagener. Meeting Michael for the very first time was a great experience for me as a producer and also, just as a fan. His resume speaks for itself. You enter his studio lounge and you immediately get a sense of who you are hanging with. His walls are dripping with gold and platinum records. He has worked with so many bands and had such a huge role in their successful careers. It’s jaw-dropping. So yes, working with him, and in his own studio, is a huge highlight in my career. I’ll tell you, I did my very best to be a sponge around him. I just tried to absorb every little thing he did. The advice he gave was invaluable and his suggestions were priceless. He’s like a “yoda” is this industry. So much knowledge, experience, and wisdom. If you’re lucky enough to have an opportunity to talk shop or work directly with Michael Wagener, make sure you take mental notes. Jerry and myself are very lucky to have been able to record our drums with him. What an honor.
LRI: Thanks so much for taking the time to let us get to know you a little more D.A., and good luck with all of your studio and touring gigs. Before I let you go can you give us the heads up on exactly what your 2013 is shaping up to be and what we can expect going forward?.
D.A. Karkos: You’re very welcome, it’s my pleasure and thank you! I’m not exactly sure how 2013 will unfold, but I sure plan on working hard, whether it be singing, playing guitar, writing, producing, or whatever. I plan on doing a bunch this year. Two things that I’m planning on in 2013, is touring with John Corabi in support of our “Unplugged” record, and of course completing this Jerry Gaskill record. I can’t wait until everyone hears it! And if I can speak freely to the talented bands or solo artists or whoever out there looking to put together a top notch record, I want to talk to you. Contact me through www.theunderdogstudios.com. I’d love to hear from you.
D.A on the net