Malibu Music Corner / Local guitarist Vlad brings Blues to the ‘Bu

When Malibu guitar virtuoso Vlad DeBriansky later this summer releases his new CD, “Sounds Like Trouble,” he expects the Blues-themed album to bring him full circle to his Ukrainian roots.

A self-taught guitarist known by his first name, DeBrianksky grew up listening to Bach and Louis Armstrong (a favorite of his trumpeter/conductor father), as well as the Dobro-driven folk music of his eastern Slavic nation.

“Did you know the Dobro was invented by two Ukrainian brothers?” DeBrianksy said in an interview with The Malibu Times, discussing the slide guitar so ubiquitously found in American bluegrass music. “When I got to this country and heard the similarities in Ukrainian and American folk music, it blew me away.”

In 1991, DeBriansky was already a noted musician (he also plays drums and keyboards) and producer in Europe, having played in a number of popular touring bands while still in his early teens. He was approached by an agent for the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, who asked him for a sample of his work.

“I didn’t really know what Berklee was,” DeBriansky said. “But I gave him one of my songs and forgot about it. Two months later, the school sent a letter to my parents, offering me a full scholarship.”

He moved to Boston to “check out the American music scene” and attend Berklee, where a faculty professor, Norman Zocher, wondered if blues guitar was normally part of Ukrainian culture.

“Norman told me I played like Stanley Jordan and said I should record a blues album,” DeBriansky said. “That was 17 years ago.”

After Berklee, the young musician planned to return to Ukraine and a contract he had with Sony to record with a couple of his popular bands there, Loony Pelen and Tea Fan Club. When he tried to arrange a plane ticket to return to Kiev, he discovered that his Soviet-issued passport was no longer valid. Ukraine had declared independence from the Soviet republic, adopted a constitution and established its own state department. It would take six months to sort out the logistics of a new passport.

He was stuck in New York City without a job, family or means.

“I slept in an East Village park and made friends with bums,” DeBriansky said. “I walked from studio to studio looking for work. Finally, I found a studio that needed help with engineering, which I did for awhile. One night, I was there, playing around on my guitar and I heard someone say, ‘You play black music.’ I didn’t understand English well then and I thought he was saying the music was depressing, which puzzled me. The next day, I heard that the president of Orpheus Music wanted to meet me. It was Beau Huggins, the guy who heard me at the studio.”

DeBriansky started doing session work for JRP Records, a jazz/gospel label, met a girl and traveled to San Francisco. He released his first U.S. album, “Vladosphere,” with Orpheus Music in 2004. The jazz fusion instrumental record was well received and its single “Little Star” was playing on radio station rotations along with John Mayer and Maroon5.

But, as DeBrianksy said, quoting John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” There was a divorce and both his parents died. DeBriansky channeled his grief into what he describes as “the most personal” music he’s ever made, the album “Sun in Capricorn.”

“The label said it wasn’t commercial enough,” DeBrianksy said. “But I said, ‘I have to do what I have to do.’ We released it in 2008 and it was picked up by classical stations and made the first round of Grammy nominations for Best Instrumental Composition and Best Instrumental Album.”

Since then, DeBriansky has been tapped for two blues-themed movie scores and, though he’s not an actor, played Leonardo Da Vinci in a History Channel series, “Nostradamus Effect.” He produced an album for the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest winner, Ukrainian artist Ruslana, and re-teamed with his old band Tea Fan Club to record an album released by EMI. Its single “Give Me a Scream” is getting top play in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia.

His new album “Sounds Like Trouble” returns to his folk roots with a bluesbilly sound and the addition of vocals, sounding like a new age Earl Scruggs with hints of Bela Fleck.

“I met the Irish actor Patrick Bergin and I asked him to improvise on a couple of my songs and the result was amazing,” DeBriansky said. “When I asked Natalie Wilde to sing on ‘Silver Moon,’ she said, ‘I don’t know how to sing this stuff.’ I said, ‘Perfect!’ I hate repeating what’s already been done. Music is a living, dynamic thing and it should always move forward.”

Though he is accustomed to playing large venues (he opened for jazz vocalist Diane Schuur on tour), DeBriansky is looking to introduce his new album locally in smaller clubs.

“I’ve played in Aqualounge and Bar Lubitsch and I like the idea of that intimacy,” DeBriansky said. “The blues can be very dramatic. The great thing about American folk music is it’s not bound by blood or country. American blues is about feel. There’s nothing but emotion.”

Vlad’s new album, “Sounds Like Trouble,” will soon be available through his Web site,

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