A musician who has toured with some of the biggest artists in the industry has released his debut solo album, recorded in a flat in Northampton.
Composer and pianist Okiem Warmann decided it was time to put himself in the limelight after readring a tweet about musicians only ever playing other people’s music.
Now the talented 30-year-old musician, who has just finished a world tour with platinum selling artist, Tinie Tempah, has released his debut album called XIRO, which was created from start to finish in his converted shoe factory studio in Northampton.
London-born Okiem says: “I wanted a studio for my music and had been looking in London, before someone suggested having a look in Northampton so I came up. I got a refurbished factory flat which was lovely. The space is fantastic; it has got a really good vibe. I made the whole album in Northampton.”
Here, Okiem, or Oak as he likes to be called, tells Image editor Ruth Supple about working with some of the biggest names in music and why he has gone from hip-hop to classical . . .
How old were you when you first started playing the piano?
My parents had a piano in the house and I could put a tune together just by hearing it before I had lessons when I was nine. I started learning classical music on the piano but have always enjoyed pop music and started playing that on the piano. That’s when I began developing my pop ear.
Did you study music at university?
No, I studied business and marketing at Brunel University and had a music bursary to go there.
You lived in Moscow for three years. What took you there?
I had my first proper big gig for Russia’s biggest popstar, Sergey Lazarev, who was in a boy band and went solo. I was supposed to play keyboard for him for three to four months and ended up staying for three years. I love Russia; it’s like my second home, especially once I learnt some of the language. We toured all over Russia, which is enormous, and also went to Latvia, Spain, France, Israel and the Ukraine.
Are you still in touch with Sergey?
Yes, I gave him three songs I’d written and all three have made it on to his new album. I wasn’t asked to write them for him but I know his voice and vocal range and his fans.
It must have been strange returning to England after touring with a Russian popstar for so long?
When I returned to England it was quite difficult. I went from playing a massive arena in St Petersburg in front of thousands of people to playing in front of about 56 people in a small pub in London the next weekend. But if you love music like I do, then it doesn’t matter..
So how did you end up supporting rap star Tinie Tempah and playing with music stars like Leona Lewis, Idris Elba, Cee Lo Green and Jessie J?
Someone from the industry saw me playing at one of the gigs and asked me to go and audition. That’s how I worked my way back up and built my name up.
What was it like working with Tinie Tempah?
I love the energy of his music. I went on his worldwide tour and played with him for two years. I can understand why he is so successful. We had just landed in Australia and he took us to his hotel room. We were all jetlagged and wanted to sleep but he made us watch the last gig we’d done and went through every tiny detail of it. He keeps your focus and attention to detail so high and the gig we did in Sydney in front of 50,000 people was amazing. I love playing stuff for Tinie. We had a personal trainer on tour to keep us fit.
So why the breakaway into classical music?
It was unbelievable being on tour with Tinie but I kept hearing this music in my head and having these ideas. So I sat down at my piano and starting composing these songs and then put ideas down in the studio. I didn’t start off saying I wanted to make an album, that just happened. I let my friends listen and they loved it, which gave me the confidence to go on. I turned my double bedroom in my flat into a studio and worked on the album, during the day
Where does the name XIRO come from?
It’s a made up word which came to me in a dream and means to create something from nothing. It really resonated for me. There are 12 tracks on the album, which is instrumental, and it’s quite hard to just call it classical. There are classical elements in it with romantic piano, but it is much more contemporary than what you would expect from a classical album.
Did you consider putting lyrics to the music?
I was sure I didn’t want any lyrics. I just want people to be able to hear the music.
Who inspires you?
Ludovico Einaudi, the Italian musician, was quite an inspiration for the album, which is very calm. I would love to meet and work with him. And I like Yanni, the famous instrumentalist, who has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide.
You were a contestant on Deal or No Deal in 2006. What was that like and what did you do with your winnings?
I had the perfect last round and am on the show’s Hall of Fame. I was left with two boxes and the one I picked had £17,000 in it! It meant I was able to buy a piano and equipment. It was the first proper keyboard I bought.
So you are used to being in the limelight already? How did you cope being in the background for so long?
It was transititional. Growing up, I was into sports and was a leader. Working with these artists meant I had to adjust for the stars’ egos, so I kept my job. I am taller than most of the musicians, so it’s not that easy to blend into the background!
You can listen to XIRO at
www.OkiemOfficial.com and find out
more about Okiem at www.oakofficial.com
Oak also runs www.WannaPlayPiano.com which teaches you how to play the piano through online videos.