With the recent launch of our new look site, I am happy to be finally doing the first post of my long awaited Unsung Heroes series. Around every star there is always a constellation of stars that also shine bright but often go unnoticed. This applies to the world of music. All successful artists work with geniuses in the background that fans do not necessarily know about or celebrate. I think it’s important to celebrate the musical geniuses behind the artist who make a significant contribution to creating the music and iconic status for the artists that we love. This is a post series of interviews celebrating guitarists, drummers, pianists, DJs, producers, engineers, choreographers and artist managers of the music world. A celebration of the “UnSung heroes”. Y&Y presents UnSung hero #1 Okiem Warmann, accomplished pianist, producer, songwriter and founder of successful youtube site “wannaplaypiano”. Interested yet? Check the Interview on the flipside.
follow Eni on twitter
Okiem Warmann aka Oak embodies everything Unsung heroes is about. I was delighted when I had to opportunity to interview Oak about his career as a pianist, songwriter, producer and teacher for artists such as Daley, Dot Rotten, Jodi Connor, Pixie Lott and Simply Red. Oak is my fellow Brunel University graduate and brother of Y&Y writer and film critic Amon Warmann. I knew that Oak had the musical back at university but wasn’t quite aware of just how much of a successful musician Oak is. Here is a chance for you to find out more.
When did you start playing the piano??
I started playing the piano when I was about 7 years old! I would hear songs on the tv and radio and figure them out on the piano.
My Dad would always ask me to entertain the guests when we had people over and I would play Fur Elise. When my parents saw that I could play pretty well by ear, they got me to start classical lessons. That was at age 9. I carried on taking lessons till I was 21.
Who and what inspires you musically?
Creativity and emotion. I love voices that have the ability to move people. I think there are few singers that can really do that. But to me it’s extremely clear when you’re around that kind of talent. I love film music – I find it fascinating the way music can create so many feelings and emotions in people; can make people cry, laugh, feel hope etc. Composers like Thomas Newman (‘Meet Joe Black’ soundtrack – deep!) and Hans Zimmer I really enjoy. Also, I find versatile producers really inspiring – people who can really create amazing music (and hit songs) in various styles of music. If I had to name a few – I’d say Quincy Jones, Fraser T Smith and a group of American producers called ‘The Messangers’ (they’ve had huge hits with artists from Michael Bolton to Justin Bieber.
When Did you decide to become a pro pianist?
I actually grew up wanting to be a pro basketball player! I was quite lucky in a way, in that I landed a great gig straight after graduating from Uni so that threw me in the deep end. I haven’t looked back since.
You worked in Russia for some time supporting Sergey Lazarev. What was that experience like?
Russia was an unbelievable experience! Sergey is a huge star in that part of the world. We got to tour all over Russia(which is HUGE), as well as the Ukraine, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Spain, Israel, France and played some huge concerts. I really used this time to learn as much as possible. I talked a lot with the Music Director who was also a great producer – I learnt a lot from him. It also got my mind to understand how songs work, the various parts, production, what songs worked live etc. I then began to really understand Sergey’s voice and felt I could write some songs that would be great for him (knowing what already worked for him and his fans was a little advantage!). So I went on to write 3 songs for his latest album, one of which made it on the soundtrack for recent Chronicles of Narnia 3 movie. We still work closely and I’ve actually spent over 2 months of this year in Moscow.
Which other artists have you worked with and supported? Do you have a favourite?
Hahaaa! Uh oh – time to take a trip down ‘name-drop’ city! Popular artists I’ve worked with have been Cee-Lo Green, NDubz, Tinchy Stryder, Loick Essien, Daley (taught him piano!), Jeymes Samuel (The Bullits/producer), Jodie Connor, Cherri V, Gabrielle and lots of not as well know artists but incredibly talented. I’ve also got some really exciting new projects just beginning. As for a favourite – it’s got to be Tinchy ‘T-Dot’ Strydes! Awesome gigs, great fans, and fantastic musicians.
Do you have one gig/performance you can pick out that is particularly special?
It would have to be in Tel Aviv with Sergey Lazarev. We did a section in the set for about 10 minutes with just piano and voice, live for over 100,000 fans (all of them singing along) as well as it going out live on national TV..! That’s the kind of buzz I like.
You are also a songwriter and music producer. Tell us more about that side of your craft?
I love to write and produce music. In fact, this is the area I’ve grown to enjoy the most. It’s a great feeling to create a song that I can stand there and be proud of, and then see that song connect with someone else. Recently, I’ve been writing and producing for some really talented international artists including ‘Clarita De Quiroz’ (Dubai), and ‘Music Hayk’ and ‘Timati’ (Russia). It gives me a chance to express my music and explore different genres from RnB, soul, dance, house, to big Leona Lewis-style ballads.
How did your online tutorial site WannaPlayPiano.com start?
I used to teach friends at Uni pop songs on the piano and saw how much they enjoyed it. I felt I had a talent for explaining how to play the piano clearly.
I actually thought it was easy to explain these songs then I started to watch the tutorials on Youtube and saw that a lot of them taught the wrong notes! And a lot of the tutorials were hard to follow. I felt like if I find them hard, and I’ve been playing for 15 years, this is gonna be impossible for a beginner! So I decided to create some video tutorials myself. I set a target that seemed outrageous at the start and said I wanted to teach 5000 people! After putting out a few videos on Youtube, the tutorials have now had over 3 Million views. I’m quite proud of that – it’s great to get the messages and comments from all over the world and to know that people are really learning very quickly from these lessons.
Any advice to other gifted musicians out there who want to have a career in music?
Always look to learn and develop. Learn about your instrument, about how to perform, about your look, about the best gear; about as many aspects of everything you have to offer as you can. Invest in yourself and your career. Whether it be a keyboard or a guitar, a laptop or a book. Network – meet the right people and try and stay on their radar (without being a bug!). In this industry – stay ready, you never know when that perfect opportunity or big break is coming your way.
Thank you Oak!!
Ciao for now.)