G: What were you listening to when you were little?
YA: I grew up listening to rock and heavy metal mainly (a common thing for young people in the Middle East). I listened to some blues, some classic, and some pop in-between, but I was (and actually still is) a fan of rock music. I remember Metallica being (and to a certain level still is) my favorite band, along with Rammstein, Iron Maiden… also Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and even Westlife!
Every now and then, I’d go back and listen to some of the good ol’ stuff from that era.
G: Do you come from a musical family?
YA: My parents are huge music fans, and they listen to everything that's good. However, it's just me and my brother who actually play an instrument. My father had a music/video store and there always were good music to listen to. At home, my brother and his friends enjoyed rock, prog-rock, and heavy metal stuff… I used to listen to all of that around my house and family.
G: How did you learn to play guitar?
YA: I started, when I was about 6, with a friend of my dad who used to work him in the store (mentioned previously). He would put on some blues music and start jamming along on an acoustic guitar. He taught me some basic chords that got me started to know how to play a few folk songs; Banks of the Ohio, House of the Rising Sun, No Women No Cry, Let It Be, and a few others were among the first songs I learned.
Guitar, back then, wasn't my main instrument. I was "learning" piano and music theory. At 6, I started taking piano lessons from a student of one of the middle-east's best pianists, Saad Mahmood Hikmat. But after the war, I had to stop. However, I called back my teacher and started taking lessons again after the war. Still, the unstable situation of Baghdad, along with me not being able to comprehend music theory well, made it hard to continue and I had to quit.
Although the guitar wasn’t my main instrument at the time, it had always been there around the house. My brother started taking electric guitar lessons and he inspired me to pick up the guitar once again. It wasn’t until I moved to Syria that I took the guitar seriously, though.
G: What did you practice and what was the routine like?
YA: I started first with simple basic chords and then I developed myself with the help of my brother or, in fact, through 'stealing' from my brother; he would be practicing in his room and I come in, look at/memorize his fingerings, and the next day I’d have most of it down!
Nowadays, practice is coming mainly through listening to albums and watching videos. I'm addicted to YouTube! For example, I download stuff and slow 'em down and pick up licks, chords... etc. I love how helpful internet can be… :)
Plus, my brother is now a fabulous guitar shredder, so every now and then he’d throw some licks to me and share some tips on how to improve technique, speed, and accuracy.
G: What was your first composition?
YA: I wrote my first 2 pieces back in 2006 on the same day (I was in Syria at the time). They were "Opinion" and "Grief Effect.” I have some ideas in mind regarding those first 2 pieces. It has been a while since I played them…:/
G: Talk about your guitar. Why you like it and what effects/pedals you use.
YA: I have a beautiful Ibanez PF5ECE acoustic/electric guitar. It's deep, loud, comfortable, and pretty good lookin'! I received it as a gift from a group of dear friends as a “welcome to the US.” It's very special. Whenever I get to meet musicians, I’d get them to sign it. So far, I’ve got Billy McLaughlin, Antoine Dufour, Craig D’Andrea, Don Ross, and Tommy Emmanuel to sign it.
I don’t use any sort of effects or pedals. I record my music in my very mini home-studio; a mic, an interface, and a Mac (also a gift from a friend).
As far as the guitar electronics and recording process: I have a built-in "Fishman" pickup in my guitar, but I don’t really like it because of its artificial, lifeless sound. I never liked the sound of an acoustic pickup… depth and wood is what the acoustic guitar is about! For the recording, I capture 2 signals at once; a mic signal and a pickup one. I get the real, natural acoustic tone from the mic, and the treble/brightness from the pickup. After combining them, with minimum reverb and EQ additions, I get that "big, fat, and full" sound. I use Garageband (for recording) on my Mac, as well as Adobe Audition (for editing) on the PC.
G: Advice for guitar players who're starting out and what they should focus on if they want to be a guitar player like you.
YA: The best advice I can give is really to listen to music, listen to as much music as possible. Discover musicians… you have YouTube for millions of videos, and you have iTunes for millions of songs. Also, it’s always good to listen to a variety of style... be open-minded when it comes to styles. I started with rock and ended with fingerstyle (and different genres in fingerstyle itself), but I listened to everything in-between; I didn't like jazz music before, but now jazz artists are main influences on my playing. I never thought that I’d be listening to Rap, but “The Eminem Show” made it to the list of my top favorite albums of all time!!!
As far as guitar, you can start just like everybody else: basic chords, basic scales, and simple songs. Then you'll gradually develop. Practicing is the key, but always remember that “feeling” is what will get to the people, not necessarily “skills.” Work on both, though!!!