JOE CHAWKI: Challenges of Living

Joe Chawki

Prog Sphere conducted an interview with guitarist Joe Chawki, who is set to release his debut solo album called “Nazar” on March 31st. Read below about the creative process that informed the album, challenges he faced while working on it, gear and more.

How did you come to do what you do?

I was drawn to various kinds of music since as early as I can remember, and performed with a local act in my teen years. So it’s one of those things that’s always seemed to be there in one way or another.

You are about to release a solo album entitled “Nazar.” How did the creative process of the album go?

These are basically song ideas I’ve had kicking around for quite a few years now, and they are finally seeing the light of day. Three of the songs will be credited to my  producer and friend, Hodge Gjonbalaj.

Where was the album recorded and how long did it take you to complete the work on it?

The entirety of the material was recorded at Hodge’s home studio and on his equipment, with the exception of my guitar.

Joe Chawki - NazarWhat can we expect from “Nazar”? 

These songs represent ideas that have been floating around for a long time now. They span a wide range of influences, and I would consider my tastes quite restless. You can expect fans of instrumental guitar, progressive, metal, fusion, psychedelic, electronica, and world music to find something enjoyable from this release.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when working on “Nazar”?

Living, mostly.

How does the title of the album reflect on the material showcased on it? Where is the connection?

I am influenced by a lot of eastern music. A “nazar” serves as both a cultural and superstitious symbol. The blue eye is an amulet used throughout the Middle East, Turkey, Balkans, and parts of Eastern Europe. Often you might see one hanging in a place of business or put near a newborn. It’s function serves to ward off the “evil” or “jealous” eye of others. It seemed fitting.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

It was recorded a little bit at a time, and pure memory was the only means of documentation.

Which bands or artist influenced your work for the album?

I’m really into a wide range of things, that really run the gamut of guitar based stuff to eastern music to goa trance and IDM. For starters, there is a Jean Michel Jarre cover appearing, Oxygene4. If you had to ask me who my three favorite guitar players are, they would probably be John McLaughlin, Shawn Lane, and Allan Holdsworth. I like a lot of Squarepusher. I love Simon Posford (Shpongle, Younger Brother, Hallucinogen) and Ozric Tentacles. Each track might be drawing from a few different sources.

Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during the creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed drastically?

Yes, and yes. I’d like to think the best artists are always mulling over what to change, how to evolve. It can be torturous. It requires one to be hard on oneself, a sort of blunt honesty. You cannot kid yourself when it comes to your own growth. Normally after I write or lay down something, I like to forget it and move on to the next idea. If the question is “Am I a different musician today than I was 3 years ago, or 5 years ago, or 8 years ago?”, then certainly. Maturity in the musical sense cannot be forced, time will shape it.

Tell me about the complexities of creating this album.

For the majority of the material, I’d sit down with Hodge, tell him or demonstrate the idea, lay down some sort of core or structure, and go from there. I should say I left a lot of room for improvised lead guitar work, and attempted to tread a fine line between what was composed and what was spontaneously improvised.

Joe Chawki

What types of change do you feel this solo material can initiate?

Well, it is my first release to the public, and I hope to make many more, through various styles and settings. The primary goal is to be satisfied as an artist, whatever that may mean to me.

Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a piece?

Not quite. One idea usually sparks another. Something of a domino effect.

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

Besides music itself, spiritual thinking and occult philosophy plays a huge role in my life. I am interested in the Sanatana Dharma, which is the proper terminology for various sects, religions, and offshoots of Indian thought known as “Hinduism”. The work of G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky also intrigue me, as well as Plato, and some other traditionalist or occult authors. The list would be too long to mention here.  I should say Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj were also very influential in my thinking. Most westerners tend to come across them when first discovering Advaita Vedanta.  I was a philosophy and religion major in college, so in some ways these things touch everything I do.

What kind of gear do you use for recording your music? 

The recording was done with a Suhr Modern Satin, Logic Pro, Guitar Rig.

What is your view on technology in music?

It is funny, technology is a great thing that has enabled a lot of musicians to release more material, and generate a better sound quality at home. People can now trade tracks from two totally different parts of the globe with ease. I love different types of electronic music. All that said, I am almost entirely computer illiterate!

What is your first musical memory?

Picking up my father’s Lebanese and Turkish records.

Are there any modern progressive bands that you listen to?

I’m so out of touch with what is considered progressive! I can say one of the most fresh recordings I’ve heard in a long time is Stimpy Lockjaw, and the guitarist is Nicholas Llerandi.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

Be true to yourself. It’s cliched, but almost everything boils down to this.

What are your plans for the future?

World domination! The word Chawki in every household. Well, not quite. First thing is first, I would like to get a live improv group going, performing original material…so bassists, drummers, synth players who might be interested, take note. I actually have a set of old fusion covers that I’ve been toying with, things like Jean Luc Ponty, Mahavishnu, Tony Williams, even a Brand X tune… and doing that live would be a great thing to pull off. I need to digest a lot more Ben Monder, Jimmy Herring, Scott Henderson, and Wayne Krantz… Listen to more Coltrane… Beyond that who can say what is in store?

Joe Chawki’s debut solo album “Nazar” is out on March 31st. For more info visit:

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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