How a Bulgarian Doctor Became the Producer of an All-Star Rock Formation
Milen Vrabevski M.D. – this title isn’t the rock analogue of some of the most recognizable stage names in rap and hip hop like Dr. Dre or Dr. Alban. M.D. in this case represents something a little more pragmatic and old-fashioned – a medical degree.
So what business does an actual practicing doctor, with everything that comes with that, have writing and composing music that is then recorded and performed by some of the most respected classic rock musicians of our generation under his close guidance in the capacity of a producer? Well, it’s one of those stories with a prologue that sounds as if it was written by fate itself, and a continuation that deserves one of those classic “the rest is history.”
And just like that, one of the most famous classic rock vocalists of all time was singing a Bulgarian doctor’s own songs
While you (hopefully) can’t be a hobby doctor, you can certainly be a hobby musician, and with one part luck, one part talent, and lots of parts genuine passion, consistency, and vision, you just might get the recipe for turning your hobby into something more. In Vrabevski’s case, the hobby turned into something much, much more, especially considering the charitable cause that his music projects support – helping talented children in Bulgaria, the country he’s from and whose cultural life and heritage he continuously champions through other prominent projects in the art and culture spaces. The doctor actually became a public figure through such work long before he became known for his music endeavors.
Vrabveski has been a hobby musician since his high school years when he started playing guitar and piano and even took part in a few festivals with a band. However, it was all nothing more than flirtation with the musician’s life that Vrabevski never sought to turn into something more serious. But all that changed with the birth of his children, which uncorked ideas and messages he had unknowingly been bottling, ones he could no longer keep to himself.
Vrabevski poured those ideas into a demo album he recorded with the help of professional musicians. It just so happened that in that same period, John Lawton, Uriah Heep’s long-time vocalist who is a regular in Bulgaria, was playing with a famous Bulgarian rock band, and Vrabevski thought the rock legend was just the man to voice his musical ideas. As a shot in the dark, he got Lawton’s contact from a member of the Bulgarian band, who he knew through his other cultural projects, and sent Lawton the demo.
And just like that, one of the most famous classic rock vocalists of all time was singing a Bulgarian doctor’s own songs. The first album of Intelligent Music Project, as Vrabevski named this musical adventure, The Power of Mind, was born. But it was only the beginning.
Vrabevski used the album to get a foothold in the American market. The owner of the PR agency he hired to promote it there introduced him to Simon Phillips, Toto’s drummer, whom he knew personally, and in pretty much the same vein, Vrabevski won another prominent musician for his cause, one that turned out to be particularly instrumental. Phillips and Vrabevski clicked instantly, and have been clicking ever since. With his vast experience on the big stage of rock and the authority that comes with it, Phillips is the source of validation that Vrabevski sometimes needs to get his message across to the other members. In fact, it was Phillips who introduced Vravebski to many of the other musicians who came on board with Intelligent Music Project, some of which include Joseph Williams from Toto, John Payne from Asia, renowned session guitarist Tim Pierce, Ronnie Romero from Rainbow, Carl Sentance from Nazareth, and Richard Grisman from River Hounds.
Even though Intelligent Music Project is a floating all-star rock formation rather than a permanent band that plays together regularly, they are still bound together by a distinctive sound and vision – Vrabevski’s sound and vision, powered by the monstrous rock energy he gets to navigate from behind the producer’s wheel, the same way a film director gets to, well, direct various niche specialists toward an overarching cinematographic vision. Some of the musicians don’t always even play together, with each of them playing their part and Vrabevski acting as a middleman, which allows them to record an album in as little as a week.
In addition to this rather unusual collaborative arrangement, Vrabevski’s bandmates find his overall sense of music and approach to musical composition quite unusual in and of itself.
“The songs aren’t in typical western song forms. Even though the style of music is kind of pop-rock and western, but it’s different. We [the Western musicians] probably wouldn’t write the same way he [Vrabevski] writes,” Simon Phillips explains. “It’s an interesting mix of how stylistically some things go together that we wouldn’t normally do. Sometimes you have to get your head around, because you kind of hear what the song should be, the groove and the stylistic approach, but then there’s a a bit of a curve ball thrown in, and you go ‘Oh, that’s an interesting change.’”
Phillips attributes this to the different folklore that has been entrenched in Vrabevski’s musical psyche.
“Let’s face it: all of our music, where it comes from, is steeped a little bit in the folk music of that country.”
Outside of the subconscious influence of Bulgarian folklore, the sound of Intelligent Music Project has everything most nostalgic classic rock fans would hope for: guitar-centric, multi-layered melodies, catchy riffs and drum beats, powerful solos your hands automatically start replicating on your air guitar, beautiful, moving vocals, some classic music elements sprinkled here and there that add a subtle sense of wholesomeness, and last but certainly not least, resonating, big messages, which are instantly palpable even upon hearing the albums’ titles: “The Power of Mind,” “My Kind O’ Lovin’,” “Touching the Divine,” “Sorcery Inside,” and “Life Motion.”
It was precisely the ambitiously grand and deeply positive nature of the albums’ messages that played a big factor in getting such big names in classic rock on board of the project in the first place.
Outside of the subconscious influence of Bulgarian folklore, the sound of Intelligent Music Project has everything most nostalgic classic rock fans would hope for
“These messages represent my vision of personal success, adding value to the lives of others, meaningful life as compared to vegetation and seeing this meaning as a spark of divinity that lives in all of us,” Vrabevski explains. “Most of the musicians [from Intelligent Music Project] understand the essence of those messages very quickly and relate to them, because in a market environment, dominated by banal music styles, this a form of good news we are working on.”
From the abundance of YouTube musicians who play as if they’ve made a pact with the Devil without being old enough to sign it themselves, to the constellation of stars that have to align in order for the doors to the music industry to even open, musicians nowadays have every reason to get disheartened and give up on their dreams. In times like these, a Bulgarian practicing doctor in Milen Vrabveski is the living proof that you can pave your own way and fulfill dreams not only your inner child would marvel at, but also ones that your mature self, looking to do good and contribute meaning, would be proud of.