“We are all blessed to get opportunities”

There is no doubt, that Nili Brosh is playing in the Champions League of guitar players: educated at Berklee College of Music, she has established herself both as a solo artist and hired gun. After playing in The Iron Maidens, and then with Tony MacAlpine, she released three instrumental solo albums (Through The Looking Glass, 2010, A Matter of Perception, 2014, and Spectrum, 2019), and when she is not touring with her own band, she does that with Cirque du Soleil, Dethklok or Danny Elfman’s band, or is giving Ibanez-sponsored clinics. In the conversation below we are talking about Berklee, career, solo albums, gear and much more.

– You graduated at Berklee, but as far as I know, your brother, Ethan inspired you to pick up the guitar.

– That`s true. I am the youngest of four, and they are all boys, so I grew up in a house that liked Star Wars, Pink Floyd, Queen and things like that, which, when I grew up in the 90`s maybe wouldn`t have found out on my own. So I was always around of that type of culture. I always loved music and I think that was pretty evident to my family, so I think it was a natural progression when I started getting into similar things because of my brother.

– You still remember the testing requirements to enter Berklee?

– I do remember that. I had an ear traning part, which was a lot of call and response: they played a couple of notes on the piano and you had to play it back. You also had a prepared piece, which was your strength. A lot of people came on thinking that they have to play jazz, because that`s a jazz school and they thought, that`s what the auditionaries are looking for. Then there was a little bit of reading and an improvisation part, where you had to play over a blues. It was like a well rounded audition.

– Before getting to Berklee you studied by yourself or you had teachers?

– I always had a lot of different teachers and I also did a lot of stuff on my own. I also took lessons in the high school too, where we had a decent music program, so I tried to grab informations from everyvhere. In high school, when I really got into playing for myself, not because I was taking lessons, I started transcribing a lot of stuff, so I figured out that learning by ear was the most natural thing for me, and the second that I learned that way my first Iron Maiden song, I wanted to start learning anything that I could get my hands and ears on. I had several years that were my formative ones, where I did so much of that. I think if I had looked over the amount of hours I practiced over the course of my life, that`s probably what I`ve done the most of and it`s still the quickest way that I learn anything today. It really does help me in my real life, because I have to learn a lot of music. That`s something, that I always recommend to my students.

– Playing with bands begun before, during or after the Berklee-era?

– My first gig out of College was six months after I finished school. It was a pure coincidence, because I wasn`t necessarily looking for work until I was out of school and it just happened, this thing came up. I was still in Boston, and the band (The Iron Maidens) was in Los Angeles, so it was one of those things when I thought, “am I gonna regret this if at least I won`t make a phone call and try?”

– Your goal being to make a career in music, you consider that you are already there?

– I don`t know if I “arrived”, but Of course, I went to Berklee wanting to have a career in music, but I felt like “prepare for a career falling back on teaching, and maybe you`ll be one of the lucky ones, that one day gets a gig.” I was being prepared for the fact that it`s a really hard industry, and only a few make it happen. I didn`t get there with a “let`s do this!” attitude. I just felt lucky with anything that came in my way and I still do. I know that nothing is guaranteed, and especially after the pandemic, it`s real, that this could all go away. So you have to remember, that we are all blessed to get opportunities.

– There was a time, when Jennifer Batten was the only girl at the GIT (Guitar Institute of Technology) . In the meantime things have changed. How was it when you studied at Berklee?

– I don`t know, what it`s like now, because I started the school 15 years ago. It was quite a lot ago in the life of “female guitarists populating the scene” but there were a few. It was a handful of girls, and we all knew each other, of course. So, it wasn`t only one, but it definitely wasn`t that it is today, when there are way more. At least that`s the picture that I get, seeing what`s out there.

“I try to do as much as I can” Photo: Brian Thomas

– Beyond playing very well, what is the ingredient a guitar player needs to earn a living, and be able to make a career from music?

– For me I think it ended up being kind of expanding the definition of “what can make you money in music” and thinking not just versatility on that instrument, but in the sense of what can I make a few bucks out of? It does build you a bunch of different skills, which is great, but I think it`s part of the life of the modern DIY kind of musician, when you just have to figure it out, “how do I monetize everything, whether that`s passive income, or I am gonna write an article for a guitar magazine this month, and do this session next month and have these students and the gigs…it`s just like as many things that can bring income I think that`s really just casting the net as wide as possible. I get bored easily from doing the same thing for too long, so that`s why I try to do as much as I can. I was lucky to figure it out early on, that that`s what makes me happy: playing different things, working with different people. So that`s why my life now is ideally when things are good: I am running around, doing different things all the time. I think that`s the way foreward.

– You are still practicing every day?

– Yeah, usually, even if I am not trying to prepare for whatever I am doing next, there is always something going on and it`s still practice. And if it isn`t, I make it go on. During the pandemic I tried to create projects to keep my hands on the instrument, because I had time.

– You are involved in a lot of projects: Danny Elfman band, Cirque du Soleil, Dethklok and there is of course your solo career. How you manage to do all these?

– It can be tricky to put on different hats and different mindset, I mean there is a drawback to that. Things don`t get done as quickly as you`d like them to. I`ve been trying to put out a single just for months, that already has the rhytm section, and a lot of the guitars done and I just haven`t been able to do it yet. Part of me is like “am I gonna feel bad that I haven`t got this out yet when I really wanted to?”, or I just stay realistic saying “that was the time to do the gigs after two years of being at home, that was the right thing to do at that moment”. There`s a lot of reminding yourself, that it`s OK, and that it`s got to be one step at the time to do that kind of thing. The pressure comes from the outside. People on social media are so used to such a high output from everyone, that there are the ones asking: “why isn`t out that record yet?”, “why aren`t you doing that?”, “why aren’t you coming to this city?” It`s just like “I`m trying”. We have to remember that we know what the realistic pace is: it is perfectly OK to do one thing at the time, because that`s the key to continue it doing without breaking yourself.

– How you compose usually?

– I`ve written stuffs in all kinds of different ways, but most of the time I write it in my head. I hear a melody or hopefully more than just a melody, some arrangement, or at least what the harmony suggests and I sing it into my voice memos on my phone and giving all kind of notes, speaking to the phone like “it needs o be a cymbal crash here” or whatever detail I hear inside. Then whenever I have the time to sit down and demo as many details I heard, programming the other instruments as much as I can. My skills are not amazing, but then it goes to real musicians, who know what to do with that. That`s how it goes, and once I`ve got the arrangements, then I can think about what final guitars should be.

– Your solos are studio impros or you write them?

– For the albums those are usually written. But there are sections that feel more „jammy”, and those are the ones where I will be doing something totally different playing live. What is really important for me is whatever that solo section feels like. Some of those really feel like they are composed sections in the music and some others like “OK, these is for us to have fun as a band.”

– When playing other artist`s solos and songs on YouTube you are not trying to show off, you play exactly the originally written stuff, but I can hear out Nili Brosh from those notes…

– I am glad, if it comes out that way of being humble when playing someone else`s stuff, because I definitely wouldn`t come in with the attitude of “I can do it better than the person who came up with it”. I mean that`s ridiculous. To me it`s always like paying homage to stuff that I really like and I love playing other people`s music as well as my own. That`s why it`s been ideal for me to do side stuff as well as my own and I always work hard to do that both at once for exactly that reason. But anything that you see me playing online means something to me and hopefully the emotional connection that I have to that music comes through. I think what you see it`s just years and years of doing exactly that. Some of those are things that I knew since I was young, some others were things that I couldn`t play then and after all these years they start to seem more obvious to me, so it`s like a renaissance of going back and learning everything that was a mystery to me once and having a lot of fun with it. It`s all part of my lifelong journey in transcription and ear training. That art form of learning guitar stuff by ear it`s a very specific weird skill, but I guess (in my videos) you`re just seeing the years of sharpening and working on exactly that. That`s what those solos are to me.

– When your next solo album will be ready?

– I hope soon. I have so much stuff written and I really want to work on it. It looks like this year gonna be pretty heavy with gigs, which is great, so I don`t know when it is going to happen. But I am getting better at this “looking at the calendar” thing, and it`s on my list to set and figure out when I can take a real chunk of time to work on that. Because it is important to me and I have a lot of stuff that I`ve been working on that I just want it to be out there.

– It is hard for a woman to make a musical career?

– It is hard for me to answer to that, because I have nothing to compare it to. But I always felt that it probably evens out in the end. Because even if someone is giving you a hard time just because of your gender, that fades pretty fast if you prove that there`s another reason you`re there.

– How is touring with guys?

– I`ve been lucky that I`ve toured with respectful people. But also as I already told you I have brothers, so I am so used to that. I never had a sister and my first gig was a female band. And that was wierder to me than being in a bus full of dudes. Maybe it`s just my personal experience, but I`ve been blessed to be with good people and hasn`t be weird in any way.

– You are using mostly Ibanez guitars.

– Exclusively. I`ve been Ibanez artist for over a decade now. It always felt like the right combination to me of playable necks that felt comfortable for challenging music, but those are also versatile enough instruments to keep me able to play other kind of music if I wanted to. They are well made, and it is a company that I grew up loving, `cause a lot of my favorite players made those guitars sound great. So it makes sense to me in a lot of ways and became a part of what I like and represent. I know people associate me with that, but that`s not a bad thing, it`s something that I like.

– What about the amps?

– I`ve been using MESA-s, for about a year now. I am using The Triple Crown 100 watt Heads. Those are amazing, I love that head. I had the chance to use that in stereo, and the sound was super creamy, beautiful and wide open, so I`m really into those amps now.

– Effects?

– When I use the amps, I also use the Headrush modeling stuff. When I use two heads, I have a pedalboard and it`s mostly basic: delay, and reverbs. With this last Danny Elfman gig that I did there was a lot more: modulation stuff, weird sounds and other things like Strymon MOBIUS and the DigiTech FreqOut. That`s a very different set, usually my tone is very straight forevard, either it`s clean or it`s distorted and I don`t process anything, but that was a very different role.

– What pickups you use?

– I use EMG pickups. Both of my 6 string Ibanez have passives. EMG actually makes really nice passives, which a lot of people don`t know. I do like their actives as well, and I have those in a bunch of my guitars, but the passives are so clear. They are all little pieces of a big working picture, so I feel these are variables that set pretty well over there.

– And the strings?

– I use standard gauge nines. When I`m playing seven string, the seventh is 54, that`s the only difference. I usually use Dean Markley`s.

– And if I saw it vell, you use Dunlop`s Big Stubby picks.

– Yeah, the 2.0 mm ones.

“Most of the time I write musicin my head” Photo: Chris Brody

– Regarding music, you seem to me an analytic person. Is there anything you would like to change on your three solo records?

– There`s always stuff you wanna change, but I`ve got to the point where I`ve made peace with what they are, and the more time passes, and the more detached you got from it, you have an easier time of looking back at is as to a finished, complete thing, like it is what it is. It`s a lot easier for me to accept imperfections in other people`s albums, to me those are the things that I love about those records, saying, that`s the character of that record. When it`s my stuff, it`s very hard to look at it the same way. But, as I said, the more I get away from it, I start to look at it the way I look at other people`s stuff. And ultimately, a lot of people feel like an album is a snapshot of a certain time, so I think, when treated like that, it becomes easier to accept the whole thing as it is.

– What is your biggest goal as a guitar player?

– I don`t know. Being able to play my music alongside working with other musicians that I love is the ideal life for me. The more that I can do of that and the bigger that can be, that`s what makes me happy. It`s not like a particular dream or anything, but I always wanna do more of it.

Photo: Tim Salaz

You can also read the interview in Hungarian HERE.

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