Sergio Diaz De Rojas by Laura Vidal-Abarca
In a time where Spotify’s ‘Peaceful Piano’ has become the blue tick verification that contemporary classical artists strive for, I wanted to learn more about how Peruvian-born pianist and composer Sergio Díaz De Rojas felt about the rising popularity around a genre that he has helped grow through his own music, platform ‘Piano and Coffee’ and record label‘ Piano and Coffee Records.’
I was lucky enough to be a part of a family of artists (my great aunt and grandfather are great pianists and composers), but it wasn’t until I was 11 that my dad decided to buy a piano so that I could have lessons.
So, I only knew the classical, romantic and baroque artists that I studied. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered other artists like Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm. I was surprised that there were people that were creating this type of music and that they were alive! I know it sounds silly, but I had only been aware of famous dead composers. This new music felt like music I could relate to, something closer to me. It was listening to these artists that motivated me to try to compose.
What do you think it awoke in you?
At that moment in time, I had just dropped out of an economics degree at home in Peru. When I discovered these artists, it was the moment I realized that you could compose in today’s world and make a living doing that. ‘If they can do this,’ I thought,‘so can I.’ I had many things I wanted to express but I was never good enough with words.
So I started to play around with the piano and to see if I could transmit what I felt through the keys.
Do you remember the first piece of music you wrote?
Well, the first eight compositions I ever wrote are all in my first album ‘Unsaid Words’ (2015). I had 4 or 5 pieces written and then Keaton Henson released an album called ‘Romantic Works’, which inspired me to make an album with more pieces, poetry, illustrations and music videos.
I divided the album into three parts, which were each aligned with a piece of poetry. The first three pieces in the album are my first attempts at composing. The middle three represent a more thoughtful process of composing with a purpose – they are more complex than the first three. The last two are even more complex, they were a sneak peak of what I envisioned my future to be like – not only musically but also in the content of the poems.
How did you release? Did you go independent?
At the same time I released my first album, I started Piano and Coffee. As I was producing the album, I was thinking of ways to get it heard by more people than just my mum and my friends. In Peru, this type of music simply did not exist. I also realized there were very few blogs that worked in this space and they wouldn’t reply to my emails, so I decided to create this platform.
I started inviting friends to be a part of this network (Piano and Coffee). We started with a blog, started collaborating on music, music videos and creating an environment where people would be able to network with each other. After some years, the blog grew so much, I thought: why not a record label? That was about two years ago.
What was your first release?
We released an album with an artist called Doug Thomas – he is a French composer living in London. He didn’t actually have time to record the music so we sent scores of his music to pianists around the world who played and recorded the pieces in their own studios and we released them as an album.
We have a moto – imagine, collaborate and create and we have continued to release projects under those principles.
Do you do everything yourself?
I curate the artists that we release, take care of the promotion, the website and its design and I have three people that work with me: Kyle McEvoy, who is the founder of Sonder House, takes care of playlist pitching, Jordan Amy Lee, an illustrator from England, designs the artwork, and Rita Silva, who is a graphic designer from Portugal, makes the packaging. And the distribution arm is… my room! I have the boxes, the packaging right here.
And you started this in Lima and moved it to Valencia…?
Yes, I built it in Lima for 5 years and then 6 months ago, I moved to Valencia. All I knew was that I wanted music to be my life with no interruptions, so I needed to find a way for it to be my sole source of income.
…I don’t know if you saw my post from today?
Yes, about your track with Deutsche Grammophon?
Yes, I mean that is absolutely crazy! I still can’t believe it, it’s such a privilege. There are so many aspects that must work together for an artist to be listened to and get noticed and I am lucky that these things have joined nicely for me in last months.
Listen to Sergio’s new track by clicking the image above.
How did it come about?
I was contacted by an A&R at the label who said a friend had sent him my music, that he fell in love with it, and that they wanted me to be a part of Project XII, which is a multi-artist collection they are releasing. A new track is released by a new artist every month of the year and I am the one for March. Ever since I recorded it, I’ve been trying to hold the news in, and I am so happy I can share the news with the world now!
How do you feel about the rise of this type contemporary music and the mainstream attention it is now receiving?
Truthfully, I have many mixed feelings about it. I am part of the community and I have seen it grow, I mean in the last 5 years it has become a huge thing. I have seen it from the perspective of Piano and Coffee. When I started it, there were maybe 10-15 artists in total to review in this space. I actually have alluded to my feelings about this in a couple of reviews on my blog – that there are ‘self-proclaimed artists’ who make pretty piano music and buy expensive plug-ins, but that’s not enough!
But what distinguishes those artists from the others then? Surely it objective?
It’s not something easy to describe, but you feel it when you press play on a track. You know when an artist is being honest and trying to say something with their music. When one artist is tirelessly trying to create sounds that encapsulate how they are feeling or what they want to convey and someone else releases a series of arpeggios….
But I’m being serious, anyone that has gone to a harmony class can make a pretty piece of music, I don’t think there is merit in this.
I’m laughing, but I agree completely and there is a feeling that people are jumping on the bandwagon, which must be frustrating. Tell me then, who are artists that you admire for their honesty?
That’s easy! It would be Sufjan Stevens, Keaton Henson and Devendra Banhart. These are my favourite artists – the way they approach each new release is special and so considered. These artists are the ones I strive to be like.
I also admire Nils Frahm, he is such an innovator.
And, I have to ask – are you planning on touring soon?
Yes, in April, I will go to the Netherlands, to Sweden and, hopefully, Belgium – all of these are intimate venues, I play softly with a piano, (pauses) actually I wanted to talk to you about my music which I have been composing for a new album I am working on.
It’s more my language, ‘my music’ and even though it is still solo piano is very different. I started again from scratch in terms of how I go about composing to build something new and more me – I want to look at the possibilities the piano can give me. I can actually play something for you now if you like –
Then, Sergio played me a piece from his new album, which even through the phone was beautifully haunting, atmospheric and lulled me into a bit of trance.
For all things Sergio, follow him here and keep an eye on the link below.