Enter piano man

The confessions of New Age metalhead Scott D. Davis

Listen to songs from Pianotarium at www.inspiringpiano.com.

Scott D. Davis places his musical style in line with New Age maestros like George Winston, Yanni and David Lanz. Given that company, the Dixon musician’s latest album, Pianotarium: Piano Tribute to Metallica, might seem incongruent. Eight of the 11 tracks are indeed Metallica songs, re-interpreted for solo piano, but Davis’ work is not metal lite.

Pianotarium’s darker tone is a diversion from the professional pianist’s more typical musical salves, though metal certainly informs his other compositions, as well. From heavy ostinatos to running arpeggiations of minor and diminished chords, Davis is a veritable “Dr. Hetfield and Mr. Tesh.” A dyed-in-the-wool metalhead, he composes broad, melodic and highly cadential piano music—the kind that draws adjectival praise of the “sweeping” and “soul-stirring” variety. Below, Davis discusses his explorations in heavy-mellow music.

How did you get into music?

I’ve been into music for about as long as I can remember. I used to build model guitars out of my Legos and then pretend I was playing along to Motley Crüe or Ratt records. For years, I begged my parents for a guitar. When I was 16, I got a Casio keyboard for Christmas. It wasn’t a guitar, but I got hooked, nonetheless.

What’s the connection between your two very different musical interests?

I’m more of a metal-head than anything. I love the infectious power of the genre. However, I tend to get bored quickly with metal bands that only play three or four power chords and scream over them. Songs need to go somewhere. For this reason, progressive metal is probably my favorite, and I really enjoy classical music, as long as it’s really intense or moody stuff. I have an open mind. If it’s got a good melody, interesting and surprising chords, meaningful songwriting—if it’s music with substance—then I’ll probably like it.

The metal and classical genres are more similar than most people realize. Both tend to be powerful, epic and larger than life. I’ve noticed that the metal bands that have the long successful careers are the ones that incorporate classical ideas and themes into their music—Iron Maiden and Metallica being great examples.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the album’s interpretations?

I’ve been a huge Metallica fan since I was 14, and have wanted to do this album for a long time. I had a hunch that their music could sound really amazing on the piano. There’s a great deal of beauty in Metallica’s music, and I wanted the piano arrangements to highlight that quality, to bring forth many of the harmonies and intricacies that have always set Metallica apart. I also tried to take advantage of the powerful, edgy resonance of the grand piano, so that it wouldn’t totally lose its “metal” intensity.

As for weaknesses, well, on piano the music ceases to truly be “metal,” and can never have the same level of intensity as the original.

Which Metallica songs best fit the piano?

“Nothing Else Matters” was the first song I tried to adapt, and it really is a great fit. It almost seems like it was written for the piano. The other ballads, like “Fade to Black” and “One,” also worked well, although both these songs get much more difficult near the end.

Which were the most difficult?

“Master of Puppets” was without a doubt the most difficult song on the album. The sheer speed of the playing, and the fact that there is so much going on in that song, made for grueling work.

The guitar solos in most of the songs were very challenging. The speed and complexity of the playing presented a major obstacle. I felt the vocal melodies and lead-guitar lines had to remain very accurate, but I didn’t want to get too analytical or dissect the music too much. There’s also fact that you can’t bend notes on piano, and Kirk [Hammett] bends a lot of notes in his solos.

Are there any songs you consider “off limits” to piano interpretation?

Personally, I wouldn’t play anything I don’t genuinely love, because my interpretation would come across as being forced or fake. Heavy metal might be off limits for many pianists, but, for me, that’s where my heart is.