Featured Artist: Red-Tailed Healer

Damjan Milanovski and Ivana Stefanovska of Red-Tailed Healer, are from North Macedonia. Since the 6th century, the country has been subjugated by Persia, Rome, the Ottoman Empire, Serbia and Bulgaria. Falling to communism in 1945, it finally became an independent state when it peacefully seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. Today, citizens enjoy freedom, social security, universal healthcare and tuition free college. Taking lessons from their country's past, Red-Tailed Healer is laying the groundwork to make meaningful music for future generations. We sat down with Damjan to talk about music, resilience, the art of songwriting, studio production and much more.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Damjan Milanovski, a  27 year old music enthusiast from a town called Kumanovo located in the north of North Macedonia. I am an engineer, I make furniture for a living and I use my spare time to try and make meaningful music for people and future generations to enjoy. My partner in crime is Ivana Stefanovska, talented singer and actress who always finds time to lay down some wonderful vocals to my music!

What got you into music?

I was raised in a family of musicians, my father is a guitarist, my older uncle is a bassist and younger uncle is a drummer. Three brothers all session musicians, hence It was inevitable for me to develop a strong passion for music. Since I was a little kid in kindergarden my mother would dress me up in my black "rockers" T-shirt, and I always brought my toy guitar with me, a tiny cool-looking battery-operated red strat with a golden pick guard and small built-in speaker. The coolest toy ever. I picked up the guitar right away and started learning one string licks, and yeah... Smoke On the Water was the first lick I ever played. Pretty soon I was out in the neighborhood with my dad's acoustic guitar playing 2-3 songs over and over again to a crowd of friends, and everyone thought It was cool, I liked the attention and that kept me going... Honestly.. :D

Your songs carry some very emotive qualities to them - what's your writing process like?

It is a really strange experience. I get hit by this train of thoughts and totally black out. Next thing you know, I wake up naked in the swamps with a dead goat next to me... KIDDING :D

Usually It happens from time to time around certain events happening in my life. I get inspired by feeling a share of responsibility for future generations and try to make something meaningful that might guide them through hard times, which I personally think are upon us. In those kind of moments, I pick up the guitar and try to reproduce the specific feelings I have. This way I always get results, some I keep, some remain forgotten..

The production on your tracks is very clean - any mixing advice for newcomers?

First I must recommend that people listen to our music. We appreciate listener feedback to help us find ways to improve the mix. Here is a video of our new release, "Resilience" on YouTube:

Second, I know that many professional and experienced mixing engineers have different opinions about the amount of time needed to spend mixing a song. Some say you need to spend less time and mix faster to avoid ear fatigue, but I have to say I get into it pretty deep, sometimes up to 5 hours. I think that as long as you know what you are aiming for and if you can hear the finished song in your head the rest is just work that needs to be done in order to get that result. Also, high pass the sides and then try boosting a specific low harmonic in the mid (mono) channel around 100Hz to 200Hz. That will clean up the muddy sound in the mix and give you a cleaner, tighter low end.

Editor's note: "Resilience is beautifully produced. Fusing orchestral strings, synth-based pads, piano arpeggiations, capturing the beauty in Ivana's vocals, and laying down a pretty sweet guitar solo does total justice for the positive message of the lyrics and vibe of Red-Tailed Healer". 

Your music works almost like a painting with the sound palates and sonic textures. How do you select sounds for your arrangements?

I always start with the drums/percussion and the bass, and then I overlay simple piano chords to keep me on track with the harmonies. Then I try to get the drums and the bass to love each other. When that happens, I put this layer of mid-range instruments around them to try and fill some gaps in the center. Then I start working on the sides and maybe add some more instruments to create an ambiance. Then I get on to mixing, automating reverbs and effects, and adding cream and fudge where there is free space in the spectrum.

Musically, you seem to embrace a lot of styles and world music influences. How did you discover your sound?

A result of many years of listening and going through different genres and different phases in life. In each genre I find something that I like, some sound or a form of expression that touches me and then I keep that in my "locker". Then when I need fresh ideas I just open up the "locker" and there is always something there for me to use. But all that comes at a price, you don't have a steady genre and you keep changing audiences and fans for every new song. Honestly, I think that is a small price to pay for gaining total musical freedom and not being a slave to the image that you've created for yourself. It's wonderful being transparent and open for evolving constantly!

What's your studio setup like? How does Mixcraft play a role in it? What are your favorite features?

Well this is the fun part of this interview! My studio set up consists of my Asus ZenBook Pro UX501vw laptop, my humble but reliable Behringer UMC404HD audio interface, Audio Technica AT2020 microphone and my Yamaha SG1000S - a 40 year old guitar that I've inherited from my father. I've also have a 35 year old Roland Jazz Chorus 120 amp along with lots of guitar pedals.

So you may say that Mixcraft plays a central role in my sound, since the only tracks that are actually recorded are the guitars directly into the interface and the vocals. Everything else is pure Mixcraft magic, all the instruments you hear in my songs are VST instruments played in the piano roll. I also use samples from the Mixcraft library. We all would love to have access to additional resources and people to do it differently, but on the other hand, I kinda like it this way  cause I get total control over every aspect of the song!

For the song "Resilience", the drums are Addictive Drums 2, the bass is the new EzBass, there are some Addictive Keys going on throughout the song, Guitar Rig 5 for the guitars, the piano is Pianissimo from Acoustica and everything else you hear in the song are Acoustica Instruments.

As of my favorite features in Mixcraft...everything in Mixcraft is my favorite thing, I've only used Mixcraft and will keep on using Mixcraft and nothing else. Don't try to debate me! I've made my decision long time ago!

What's next for you?

Well after this interview, I need to go back to the grind in my workshop. I'm building a shop interior for my friends brand new Donut & Coffee Shop and I need to finish It in 7 days alone! Pray for me! As soon as I'm done with that, I'm on to building an isolated vocal booth in my basement!

Other than that, as soon as I get some free time I'll start to work on our next single which I honestly can't wait for it to come out. I will sit down in the late hours and draw the whole song in the Mixcraft piano roll, note by note. It's not hard at all, I've learned to enjoy that! As soon as the new single is finished, it will be distributed all over the internet and available for you to listen and enjoy!

After that, I will be awaiting patiently for a helicopter to land in my front yard, pick us up and take us straight to Wembley Stadium, where we will play our music in front of a full crowd (starts gazing into the horizon and gets hit by a wave of daydreaming)!

Listen to / follow Red-Tailed Header:

Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube / Bandcamp / Instagram / Google Play

Any other artists you want to recommend people check out?

Listen to some Moody Blues records, dig into some Hawkwind, learn about the legend of Jeff Beck, learn about the legend of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Frank Zappa and maybe even Arthur Brown. Check out the Macedonian band called "Leb i Sol" -  one of my favorite bands, music I grew up. It's a jazz rock band formed in 1970 that adopted Macedonian folk music into their sound. The guitarist in "Leb i Sol" by the name of Vlatko Stefanovski is, in my humble opinion, one of the top 3 guitarists of all time!

Music is a precious gift. Be open and explore the world of music, there is a lot out there to discover!

Editor's note: Thank you Damjan and Ivana for sharing your beautiful music, a positive message, humility and a refreshing sense of humor.

Aug 24, 2020