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Meet Vicken Hovsepian

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vicken Hovsepian.

Vicken, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My story begins with a boy who had little to no musical interest. My father’s co-worker was getting rid of a drum set, and my father took his own liberties and decided to bring it home. It sat there for six months while an 11-year-old Vicken wouldn’t even pay a single bit of attention to it. One day, something changed though, and I fell in love with the beautiful beast that was gathering dust in my parents’ office at home. I began playing drums at age 12, and I could have never guessed the musical journey that I was about to embark on. I played in a band with some friends in middle school right from the get-go and learned very early on about the beauty of sharing such a special gift with others.

I continued playing in various groups with friends all the way through high school until I began my studies at Moorpark Community College. Shortly after starting there, I found my way to the music school and began taking classes within it. It was in this program that I would end up meeting some of my best friends, who would also end up being musical partners that I still work with to this day. It was during my time here that my true musical identity began to emerge. Something changed in the air around me, and my desire for musical growth had hit an all-time high. I began by putting myself into a much more extreme practice routine than I had ever placed on myself before. I started to push my knowledge of the craft by expanding my musical vocabulary beyond just rock and metal.

After I completed my time at Moorpark College, I received an opportunity to be the live drummer for the thrash metal band Warbringer. My first performance with Warbringer is one I can never forget. We got flown out for a tour in Asia, and our first stop was at Hammersonic Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia in the spring of 2015. I never imagined I’d playing my first official performance with this group for a crowd of 30,000 in Indonesia. I got to perform alongside heavyweight metal bands like Lamb of God and The Faceless. Touring with Warbringer was such a surreal experience for me, and I was able to learn so much about myself in the process. Not only that, but I also made some incredible friends through my time with them.

Touring with Warbringer was not proving to be lucrative enough for me financially, so after a year I had to bow out as financial issues became tough within my family. I began working at Trader Joe’s (which I still currently do) and was in a bit of a rut as far my musical life concerned. I spent a couple of years in limbo trying to figure out what the next step in my life would be. I eventually decided it was time for me to complete my schooling, and in 2017, I applied for the music program at USC. I didn’t get in, and I once again began to question my abilities as a musician. During this troubled season, I discovered the art of composition. It was a slow burn for me to learn the ropes of it since a majority of my musical training was strictly drum set related. But after sometime, I was able to get a hold of putting the ideas I heard in my head onto paper. In May 2018, I released my first self-produced EP under my name, Vicken Hovsepian. From this moment on, my musical path would be forever altered. I felt like I now harnessed an additional gift in the form of composition on top of my already developed drumming/rhythm skills. The two cross-pollinate with each other quite frequently; it’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship.

I applied to schools again for the Fall of 2018, and this time, I got into everywhere I applied. I decided to pick CalArts, where I’m currently finishing my final year in the Performer-Composer program. I had trouble acclimating to the environment at first, but I eventually found my way around and started focusing on the things the school had to offer that I felt were most beneficial for me. I spend a lot of time within the world music program at school, and the concepts I’ve learned from within that program have been absolutely pivotal for me as a both a drummer and a writer. Between studying composition with Ulrich Krieger, and studying world music/percussion with Randy Gloss, I feel like my abilities have increased heavily since my start at the school. Both of them have been such great mentors to me, and they’re always finding ways to push my capabilities. During my first year, I released my sophomore EP, The World Beyond. This EP was pivotal for me as a writer, and there is a very evident growth from my debut EP to this one.

I’m currently working on various new projects: 1) I’m about to enter production on my third EP, To The Wolves, which is due out in late February 2020. 2) My video game compositional debut with a title my friend is producing called Builders Brawl, which should be due out early 2020. 3) A world percussion small group inspired by the immense amount of time I’ve spent with the world music program at school. We will be debuting some of our work at my recital on March 1st, 2020. 4) Scoring for some short animated films produced by students at school.

I’m very excited about what the musical future holds for me as I continue acquiring more and more work. My main goal with creating music is to allow people to experience what music has allowed me to feel over the years. I hope my work resonates with others and provides them the same hope and inspiration that my influences have given me. Wherever we are in our individual lives, we’re all on this journey together, and I believe it is up to us to use our talents to bring light to the darkness.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
This journey has been one of many obstacles, but I’m lucky to have a very strong support system between my parents and my closest friends. I remember the years of limbo from my time post-Warbringer up until my start at CalArts were full of many challenges and doubts. When I first started working full time in a non-musical setting, I found myself challenged with finding adequate time/energy to continue working as hard at my craft as I had done so in previous years. I had many ups and downs with my drumming practice routine for the first 4-6 months, but I eventually found my way back to getting on track. When I came back to it, I felt like I had to make up for lost time, and I put myself into a grueling practice schedule of 5-7 hour-long practice days and then going to work a full eight-hour closing shift after. I was brutalizing my body and mind, and the wear and tear of that became evident over time. I ended up injuring myself right before my auditions for college in early 2017, and that played a huge factor in my mental state during that pivotal time period. In hindsight, I’m grateful for that rejection, because it truly wasn’t my time to head back into higher education as I had more to discover of myself.

After my rejections, I hit a pretty low point in my life. I had minimal desire to practice drums, and I was questioning my musical journey. I needed another way to express myself, and this is how I ended up finding my way into composition. I spent most of that summer writing instead of drumming. One night I had a very vivid dream; it was as if some distant soul was guiding me into a realm that I was destined to discover. There was a motif playing throughout the dream, and I woke up in the middle of the night to write what I heard in my head (this motif ended up being the key theme to my song Engulfed by Sea). The story from my dream resonated so heavily with me. It was a recollection of specific events of my life, and I was watching these events unfold as if I was a spectator watching through some kind of looking glass. As heavy as all of it was, it ended up pushing me to produce my first EP, Seek the Sun.

I made a sudden move to Ventura, CA, where I ended up crashing in my mom’s living room for a year so I could save up the money to make this record happen. It was a tough season; I was working my day job full-time, and I had to learn how to balance that with the project I placed on myself. I didn’t have a true practice set up for my drums during my year in Ventura. I was playing on pads, which was incredibly underwhelming for me. Drumming took a more secondary role in my musical development during this season, as I had to learn the ropes of composing and producing this project. Through a diligent work ethic and time management, I was able to complete my project and released it in May 2018. I put together a small team and we put on a release show for the material that went very well. This was one of the proudest moments of my life, and it was an amazing realization that I was capable of such things.

I don’t think I could have achieved any of these things if it wasn’t for the roadblocks that I had to power through. These events were so pivotal in my development not only as a musician but as a human being. I was humbled by the challenges I had to overcome, and I’m grateful that I was forced to push through it all. The rewards were even greater knowing the amount of resistance I had to face to accomplish what I had sought out to do. The face of adversity exists to test how far we’re willing to go; it’s a vehicle that gives us the option to back away and give up or to fight through and succeed. Never back away from the fight, accept the challenge and dive in headfirst. Yes, there will most likely be failure and heartbreak on this path, but if you keep putting up the fight, you will shatter those barriers and reap the rewards of perseverance.

Alright – Tell us about your work. What should we know?
As a drummer, I operate as a musician for hire in studio and/or live settings. On the composition side, I do freelance work for various mediums such as video games, films, and pieces for various types of ensembles. I also do orchestration work for rock/metal music, as I feel like that’s a niche that very few people actual have a proper grasp on since you need to be well-versed in both of those worlds. I’m very proud of the quality of work that I churn out, whether it be drum or composition related. I put my heart and soul into my work, and I believe the people that work with me can see that quite clearly.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I feel like the most important qualities in success are being focused and trusting in the process. For instance, if I go into my practice room for an hour with a very specific set of goals, I can get more done in that hour than I could with four hours of unfocused practice. Trusting in the process of practice is a difficult one for a lot of people to get behind, I even struggle with it every now and again! Sometimes it’s hard to see our growth in the immediate timeline, but if you keep putting in the work, the results will eventually come. If you can approach your work with these concepts somewhere in your mind, you will grow.

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Image Credit:
Ashley Maietta, Joseph Haiek

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