Alex Paclin was born and raised in Chelyabinsk, Russia: an industrial and diverse city, where cultures mix and mingle, and a teenage Alex was first drawn to the harmonica.
Today, the twenty-something Paclin lives over a thousand miles away in Moscow, where he is quickly carving out a place for himself in the world of harmonica’s rising stars.
In between here and there, there were multiple trips to the United States, where Alex would learn the ins and outs of his craft, doing the work that has made him the consummate musician and world-class harp player that he is today.
His English is nearly flawless, thanks to years of lessons dating back to the first grade. And while he showed his creative side early on, it was as a budding artist, not as a musician.
And then, in 2007, Paclin discovered a Stevie Ray Vaughan album among his dad’s collection, “And that caught my attention;” he says, “and I liked it a lot.”
2007 was also the year that something else caught his attention: the fact the really popular boys ─which is to say, the boys the girls were attracted to, played the guitar. Putting two-and-two together, the sixteen-year-old borrowed his step-brother’s guitar and started strumming.
His parents, recognizing his obvious gift for music, bought him a guitar of his own. That was the start of it: a love of music that would slowly but surely take over his hopes and dreams.
The more he played, the more he learned. And the more he learned, the more he became hooked on making music, with a special affinity for the blues.
“I liked playing blues” he recalls, “That was my favorite music.” As time went on, his admiration for Vaughan continued, as well as his appreciation of other artists like Eric Clapton and B.B. King.
At some point during that banner year, Alex started playing the harmonica. By the time he was eighteen, he had, in two short years, gone from novice to knock-out. A year later he posted the first in a series of videos on youtube.com. It didn’t take long for people to notice.
And then, in 2010 Paclin had the opportunity to sit in with Bob Margolin, former sideman to the legendary Muddy Waters. It was a thrill for the young musician: an experience made all the richer by the fact that much to his surprise, Margolin seemed to know who he was.
And he wasn’t the only one. Seydel was so impressed with Paclin’s way around the harmonica that they brought him on as an endorser.
But at eighteen, the idea of becoming a professional musician had yet to manifest itself. “I didn’t decide to make music my life’s work until later” he says, noting that at that point, his focus was still on becoming a graphic designer.
That would change in 2011, when, while on a trip to Boston, he became enamored with Berklee College of Music, and the possibility of taking his music to a whole new level. “I was thinking about it” he recalls, “but it was too expensive.”
And yet the seeds has been sewn, and the idea of studying music in the United States, persisted.
Three years later, in 2013, he would return to the United States, enrolling in the more affordable California College of Music, where he majored in vocal studies.
Vocal studies? you ask. What about the harmonica and the guitar, and graphic design for that matter?
“Graphic design was still there in the background”, he says, but as he became more adept at reading and composing music, understanding the theory and scope of it, and seeing the unlimited possibilities before him, music took on a far more important role, and vocal studies were a natural extension of that role.
That said, when Alex returned to Russia in 2015, he took up work─not as a full-time musician, but as a graphic designer. It was, he says, a means to an end, giving him the financial stability he needed to accrue the instruments, recording and lighting equipment he would need to produce his ever-expanding catalogue of performance, promotional and teaching videos.
Today, Alex Paclin is a full-on, full-time musician, writing, arranging, teaching, performing and putting together the videos that put him on the global musical map. And though he continues to find his voice both literally and figuratively, his focus is on composing and arranging new material with the idea of recording it at a later date.
We asked Paclin if he had any advice for other harp players, no matter where they were in their personal journey.
If you’re just starting out, Alex suggests that you work on your breathing and rhythm. “Learn how to produce the sound of the harmonica.”
Once you’ve got the basics down, he encourages you to start applying bends, while continuing to work on your coordination.
The important thing, says Alex, is to work at getting better. “Study theory. Listen to music and analyze it.” Take it apart, and put it back together.
Alex also recommends that you learn another instrument or two, pointing to his own background as a guitar and keyboard player. He says that the ability to play an instrument like the guitar or keyboard provides you with a built-in accompaniment. You are your own sideman (or woman).
Here he is channeling Stevie Wonder, while proving his point.
Another benefit to learning a second instrument like the piano, says Paclin, is that when you can actually see the notes you’re playing you can better understand their relationship to each other.
And a final bit of advice: Once you’ve got the basics down, don’t be afraid to go ‘off-page’ and try your hand at improvising, adding more notes as you go along. Paclin’s video on Arpeggios provides some helpful hints on how to get started.
Looking at the size and scope of Paclin’s videos, it’s not easy to tell exactly where his heart lies. When asked, he was quick to respond. “My heart is just in music: music that makes people feel emotions: any kind of music that does that.”
As for his sound, Alex says that if he had to put a label on it, he’d call it “Pop rock, with the flavors of funk and indie.” It’s a sound that continues to evolve, inspired by the likes of such heavyweights as Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith and the Beatles.
You’ll be hearing more about and from Alex Paclin here at harmonica.com, as we continue to roll out a series of new programs, packages and events. In fact, Alex has already contributed video lessons to our Breakthrough Blues Harmonica Course, where he breaks down famous blues harmonica phrasing plus common blues effects and more. And be sure to check out his music channel on youtube.com for videos that deconstruct, examine, teach, treat and wow you, as well as information on booking private lessons.
This next video has Alex “doing beatbox, playing harmonica and making bass all at the same time.”
And the melody lingers on…
When Paclin’s parents gave him this harmonica-playing hamster, they thought their son would get a kick out of it, and they were right. He was also intrigued: intent on figuring out how he might play a duet with the little guy, despite the obvious limitations. Turns out, says Alex, it was all a matter of timing. The results: A bit of silliness he calls the Hamster Blues.
Turning from the ridiculous to the sublime, we offer up this Russian-titled video, the title of which is tough to translate, in that its literal English translation isn’t even close to its meaning. As with many colloquialisms, it’s the thought that counts. In this case, Alex says the word “Тёртое” means tough and experienced…which also happens to be the name of his trio.
Alex Paclin: proof positive that music is an international language.