DSB Interview: Pavel Fomenkov “I did 24 songs already from Knopfler, but I have nearly 200 to go”

DSB Interview: Pavel Fomenkov “I did 24 songs already from Knopfler, but I have nearly 200 to go”

Pavel Fomenkov

In the past weeks we shared few posts about how to learn to play some songs from Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits on acoustic guitar. The videos that helped you to learn the songs was made from Pavel Fomenkov – Russian fan of Mark and Dire Straits.

We interviewed him and exclusive for Dire Straits Blog he answered some questions, and to our pleasure this is probably the longest interview that someone give us.

Over the past 10 years he has been learning playing guitar, finding inspiration from blues, jazz, classical and folk music. Hours of studying and playing hundreds of songs it’s impossible to list all those songs which Pavel knows to play on his guitar. After all that work and years spent on learning guitar, Pavel came up with idea to create a place – book with all that lessons and songs which will be helpful to other musicians and young guitarist same like he was.

As a hobby he played tabs and chords from Knopfler’s songs and also made video lessons. And that is why he would tell interesting stuff for all our readers and fans. Enjoy in this interview.

DSB: Can you tell us something about yourself, who is Pavel?
Well, I’m an amateur guitar player, singer and songwriter. What I do right now, as far as MK/DS material is concerned, is in-depth lessons on all of Mark Knopfler songs. I did 24 songs already, but I have nearly 200 to go. Each song of his is like a bag of gold, because Mark is a kind of a person who can learn a new trick and use it right away in a song.

Also, he doesn’t have any skippers – for this reason I can’t imagine doing a project like “The Mark Knopfler Songbook” for any other artists out there. I love and admire hundreds of composers and songwriters, but only MK worth doing a whole songbook, I think.

DSB: How old are you, where do you live, where are you from and when and why did you start playing guitar?
As Paul Simon puts it in one of his songs, “I’m 22 now, but it won’t be for long”, because I’m actually 27. I was born and raised in Saint Petersburg, Russia—a city famous, apart from its history and architecture, for Mark cancelling his show there in 2013 and also for a sensation called “a bad weather”.

But you either love it or you go somewhere else—and I love it. I started to play because of my father, when I was a boy I was fascinated with a couple of blues licks he was able to play, nothing too complicated, basic stuff, but enough to light my fire, and so quickly I was able to play some blues licks like that and learn more advanced stuff, my father also gave me a ticket to Mark Knopfler’s gig in 2005 and took me to the music school, so if there’s one man, who I can thank for taking me to the Guitar World—it would be my father.

DSB: Are you a professional musician and do you have a music career?
Not at all, I never wanted (and still I don’t want) to be a professional musician, because I have no such qualities, like I can’t improvise really well, I can’t comp really well. It seems like I’m a great guitar player, but it’s merely an illusion. I got some technique, but what I love to do more than everything else is just strumming some chords and singing the songs. Good songs.

DSB: What was the first tune(s) you learned?
It certainly wasn’t Dire Straits. First tunes I learned was these Soviet songs what I played on a Soviet guitar, a terribly cheap and badly constructed instrument with a picture of Kurt Cobain on it (it was my sister’s boyfriend guitar), but you don’t have to have a Gibson to start to play.

I even had to put pencils underneath the fretboard near the sound hole to lower the action, because, as I said, the instrument was a complete disaster. And first tunes I ever played was something like a theme form the “Bremenskie Muzikanty” (The Bremen Town Musicians) cartoon—just a simple melody with one finger starting on the D string. Simple, but beautiful. The cartoon has some really good songs, by the way.

DSB: Which famous musicians have you learned from?
Everybody… Any musician of any level can teach you something. I never got a buzz from many famous shredders like Steve Vai or even Van Halen, I never listened to this kind of music. I learned a lot from classical guitarist John C. Williams, from Joe Pass, Chet Atkins, Django, Tommy Emmanuel.

I have no special influences, just like anybody else. I guess jazz is a kind of my thing, I was a jazz aficionado long before I became a Rock N’ Roll fan. So you can add all the great jazz musicians in my influences, especially guys like Wynton Marsalis.

I have a list of 50 of my favorite computer games soundtracks with all sorts of genres and styles, also I have an online library of tracks with 3.500 songs in it from all sorts of music. I’m hungry for music and as many people say, there’s good music and there’s bad music.

DSB: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Well, guitar is my spare time. So everything I put online is me doing it in my spare time, with no exceptions. I tried many times to make a living out of guitar, either by performing or by teaching, but failed miserably. The love you make isn’t quite equal to the love you take when it comes to performing or teaching music, I’d do that with my own songs, but not with someone else’s. But it’s just my view on it. I have a daytime job and doing alright, if you know what I mean.

DSB: We can see from the videos that you are a really good guitarist, when and where did you learn to play guitar?
I started playing on my own, but eventually my parents got me an amateur guitar teacher first and then I went to the serious music school where I played this thing called “classical guitar”. In the music school I only studied the guitar, so all the theory, chords, history and everything else I had to learn myself, including finding musicians to play with.

I do recommend music school to everybody though, especially classical guitar. If you learn it the right way, you’ll have a base so strong you can use it virtually on any instrument in any genre of music. Take the classical guitar posture, for example, where you place a guitar on your leg and place your foot on a stand. Look at John Williams his posture is perfect. But classical guitar players sit like that for a reason.

This triangle, where you have to find a perfect balance between your left hand, guitar and the right hand, giving it enough balance so it would stay in place even if you took your hands off of an instrument – with this kind of balance and control your hands and fingers will never gonna hurt and you can play anything for hours. Classical guitar is the best place to start playing in any style of music! Nothing wrong with completely self-taught approach, but it’s only wrong if you brag about it.

DSB: Do you perform in public?
Barely, I used to play in a couple of jazz bands, usually what we played was old jazz standards and especially gypsy jazz standards. And I quickly lost my interest, because the audience usually was dull, there was no vocals (which is insane thing for jazz in my book), there wasn’t enough money out of that. So what I did was I found a “normal” job and play only what I want to play now.

By the way, in the music school I never played something that I didn’t like. I insisted to play rare classical guitar pieces, jazz standards and my own transcriptions, so teachers hated me. I literally picked my own list of songs to play, but it worked out well. And I never played songs that everybody played at the time. I never played “Tango En Skaï”, but I played “Valse En Skaï”, because it wasn’t an overplayed piece of music back then.

DSB: How often and for how long do you practice?
I don’t practice at all, and frankly I never did. I’m one of these guys who barely practice and still can do something. But, with that said, when I was only starting, I practiced four many hours, and I remember practicing my barre chords literally till my index finger on the left hand bleed, I’m dead serious. So I barely practice now, but I played like crazy when I knew nothing about this mystery wooden box called guitar. I think my time is my weakest spot, on the recordings I always hear my time jumping all over the place, but I have no time and interest to improve my time.

DSB: What kind of previous experience do you have?
If you mean job, I tried many jobs in my lifetime. My previous experience was being a roadie and also some sound engineering, because it was my expertise in university which I haven’t graduated anyway. I’m too lazy and too old for all that stuff, you know. I was a paperboy, too, as well as a loader, salesman. All sorts of things. I met a lot of good people on every job I had.

DSB: What kind of music do you like and who is your favorite music bands/artists?
As I said, I have a huge collection of music. Every time I hear a good song, my initial reaction is to learn it. One day I can hear “Million Years Ago” by Adele and pick it out, the next day it would be “Leaving The Table” by Leonard Cohen. Then “Blue Ridge Mountains” by Fleet Foxes or “That Sunday, That Summer” by Nat King Cole.

I love Sting, David Gilmour, Paul McCartney, Neko Case, First Aid Kit, Barr Brothers, Teskey Brothers, oh… Old music, new music, classical, jazz and electronic, I listen to it all. You can cry over some of the best songs out there and you can cry over a tune by Aphex Twin just as easily.

DSB: About Dire Straits, when was the first time when you listened to song from them, which song was that and when was the first cover version that you made from Dire Straits?

Pavel: I literally met Mark when he waved from the stage in Saint Petersburg in 2005, this was the first time I realized that songs I hear was by Dire Straits. I already knew the songs, but I never knew the name of the band. Then, after the show we bought CD called “Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits” and I listener to it for the whole night afterwards.

It was a jaw-dropping experience for me and these songs still gives me a big deal of chills every time I hear them. Boy, it was an experience for 15-years-old me.

First cover of DS song I did, I can’t remember really. Probably the first song I’ve learned in its entirety was “Down To The Waterline”. But of course my playing was a disaster at that time. Believe it or not, but I never learned “Sultans of Swing” and I hate all the hype around it. It’s just a song and Mark has 200+ other great songs to choose from.

DSB: Which are your favourite classic songs from Dire Straits?
Well, there’s just 60 songs by Dire Straits in this world, so not many songs to choose from. Quality over quantity, so I can safely say I love all of them. With some rare exceptions I can’t even come up with from the top of my head. But for the sake of the answer I’d say “How Long” is my favorite DS song.

DSB: How many cover version of Dire Straits songs did you made?
I don’t know. I did a cover of “Why Worry” with some friends of mine and I think this is the only DS song I did. All the other songs is MK solo work, and by the way he has now many times more solo songs than DS songs.

DSB: If you must choose one song from Dire Straits, which one it would be?
Since for me Dire Straits = Mark Knopfler and vice versa, I’ll pick his solo song. I write this on a plane and I took only 10 songs on my phone with me, because I’m not a fan of listening to the music on the go.

So my number one Mark Knopfler song is “The Ragpicker’s Dream” and what I do right now is listening to it with the “Loop Mode” switched on. I love the positive attitude of the song, that Mark is 100% sure, that everybody deserve getting their Christmas present, it’s a simple idea, but it produces such a warm and homecoming feeling. This song is home for me. Some people say it has a sad ending, but I just can’t see it. The song is 100% positive, as it happens with all MK songs.

DSB: Do you enjoy listening to music from Dire Straits?
Surely I do, and I hope the amount of people who loves it will never go down.

DSB: What is your motto in life and what is that which motivates you to continue with good vibes and positive energy in life?
I like how Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, said “Always deliver more than expected”. It surely sounds like a motto to me. Also, there’s a great line from Bob Dylan’s song: “It frightens me, the awful truth of how sweet life can be”. I say it each time when something happens, when I’m crying not out of something bad or sad happening, but out of pure feeling of how beautiful and happy life can be. And it’s so beautiful it frightens me… A perfect line from Dylan.

You can think of it whatever you want. Mark Knopfler once said “Each day I feel like the happiest man in the world, and everything else comes with the territory”. It also true. Probably one of my favorite quotes of all. If you want to know how to live a happy life, read a book “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman”, because Richard Feynman can teach you more in one book than you can learn in years about positive attitude on life.

It’s like when his son asked him “Dad, I can’t believe you’re going to die from cancer” to which he replied “Yes, it bothers me too, sometimes”.

DSB: And for the end can you tell something to all fans who read the Dire Straits Blog?
With pleasure! Keep listening to the good music, keep Knopflering. Remember, that even though Mark is one of the best songwriters on the planet Earth, there’s plenty of them out there. There’s plenty of songwriters who make music in your own language, too (Russian in my case). There’s so much music to love, so don’t lock yourself into MK, DS, Dylan, Pink Floyd or whatever mode you like, listen to all kinds of music and as Willie Nelson sing, write your own songs.

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