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Interview with Vicente Avella, April 2018
Interview with Vicente Avella, image 4
Vicente Avella's new album, Rising, is being released the same day this interview is being posted! Rising is quite different from Vicente's 2013 debut album, All the Days of My Life. We did an interview back in 2014 where we talked about Vicente's background and early life. In this update, we focused on Rising and the inspiration for much of the music. Both albums are excellent, but Rising is much more varied and dynamic. Enjoy!

KP: Hi Vicente! It’s been a while! The release date for your second album, Rising, is April 4th, 2018. I would imagine it’s a crazy-busy time for you, so thanks for taking the time to chat!

VA: It’s my pleasure Kathy! Thanks for inviting me to chat with you.

KP: It’s been almost five years since you released All The Days of My Life. Have you been working on Rising all that time?

VA: I started working on Rising, not long after I released All the Days of My Life back in 2013. The music came easily but the time to work on it did not. These past few years have been quite the rollercoaster; a lot of things going on in my life, some good, others not so much so. Long story short, these things required my attention and made it so that finding time to work on this music was challenging. That being said, something compelled me to write this music and made it so I somehow found a way to make it happen.
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KP: Your first album was a mix of original compositions and arrangements of traditional wedding music. Rising is all original music and is more orchestrated (with real musicians!). It is also much more intense in places. What was different about the process of bringing each of the two albums together?

VA: Both albums come from very different places. They are both very much mine but each of them comes from a different side of me, so to speak. I was very happy with the way All the Days of My Life turned out. I felt that what I needed to say at the time translated well into the recording. I was so inspired by this experience that I knew I wanted explore further into the expressive possibilities in my second album. First, I wanted this next album to be all original compositions. Second, I wanted to have arrangements that enhanced the musical idea. Now, after all the music was written, the process of recording and putting this new album together had to be entirely different. All the Days of My Life was a solo piano album so I was the only musician performing. In Rising, I had to be more organized as I had to write scores, parts, plan recording sessions, book musicians, conduct, program the electronic music, etc. This took more time and preparation but the process of making this new album was very exciting. I loved every step of the way.

KP: When we chatted back in 2014, you were doing a lot of music “for hire” for television, advertising, and indie films. Are you still doing a lot of that?

VA: I am. During the time I was working on Rising I had to put the project aside to score several media projects. As we speak, as soon as I’m finished with the release of Rising, I have two films waiting for me.

KP: Wow! Did you start composing the music for Rising with a specific theme in mind? 

VA: Not really. I only knew I didn’t want to write “background” music. Other than that, I just wrote music that I felt compelled to write. It was only after I had a collection of these compositions that I sat back and started thinking what tied them together. I then realized this music was about life, with all of its joys, struggles and especially the strength needed to overcome these struggles.
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KP: The sound of the album isn’t quite classical or pop but is somewhere in between. I’m sure that’s intentional, but I understand that you travelled to Italy to work with Michael Seberich on the editing, mixing and mastering. Why did you decide to make such a long trip to work with him specifically? 

VA: I knew what I wanted and what type of sound I was looking for. I really didn't want a classical recording. I also didn't want a recording that sounded pop. I wanted to find someone that had a classical sensibility but was creative in the way he worked on sound. Michael is a well sought after classical engineer in Europe and I was also familiar with his work with Ludovico Einaudi. Michael’s recordings had everything I was looking for: a classical sensibility, a wide dynamic range, a creative approach to recording and were emotional. We emailed a few times and finally talked over the phone. He was such a nice guy! I just felt comfortable and connected with him right away. Once I was in Bolzano and started working with him, all my thoughts were reaffirmed. I’m happy I made this decision.

KP: It was worth it because the sound quality of the music is really exceptional!

VA: Thank you! I’ll let him know ☺ He just goes about things in really creative and unusual ways. He’s very passionate about sound.
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KP: There is a lot of variety in the music on Rising and I especially like the darker, more intense pieces. I also like the balance of the lighter pieces and that the combination of styles demonstrates your versatility. How did you decide on the playing order of the tracks?

VA: Thanks for noticing! I didn’t want this album to be just slow music or fast music or minor music or major music. I tried to keep a balance between tempos, keys, modes, etc. Now, as to the order of the tracks… I had a different order in mind and that changed my last day in Bolzano. We were mastering the album and Michael disagreed with my order. We had a long chat about it and he made some really good points. I felt I needed time to process this, live with a different sequence of tracks and play around with other options. I’m glad I did as I really like this final sequence.

KP: You mentioned that your eardrum ruptured twice in one year. How did that happen? Has it affected your hearing? Has it healed okay?

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VA: I had problems with my right ear as a kid. My eardrum ruptured back then, and I had surgery, lots of ear infections and a considerable amount of hearing loss. After I was ten or so, my ear healed and my ear problems went away. That is, until a few years ago. Turns out I have a birth problem that doesn’t only affect my ear but the right side of my head. I guess everything in there is a mess; veins and nerves in the wrong places, nothing is quite right. Long story-short, after the second time my eardrum ruptured, I had ear reconstruction and also took care of an infection in my skull. Between the ruptured eardrum and the post surgery period, I heard nothing from my right ear for almost a year. Even though the hearing has been coming back slowly, things are not back to normal. It’s still a work in progress.

KP: Wow! I sure hope your hearing comes back 100%! Let’s talk about some of the pieces. “Yours,” the opening track, is probably the piece that most connects you back to All The Days of My Life. Was it intentional to kind of pick up where you left off?

VA: I love this! So much so, I wish it was true. But no, this was not intentional. For starters, “Yours” wasn’t meant to be the opening track. This was one of the big changes that happened in that mastering day back in Bolzano. In my original sequence, “Yours” was meant to be the 6th track or so. As to where this piece came from… “Yours” started out as an exercise. I teach an online film scoring course for Berklee College of Music. In this class, we build templates for each of the genres you might find in scenes, we study cues in each genre, have students do exercises, score scenes, etc. One of the genres is love and positive emotions. One day, I thought I would just try my hand at one of the exercises we make the students do. This got me started and I took it from there. Essentially, you could then say that this is a love theme.
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KP: “For Always” is almost 9-minutes long, and is mostly piano and string quintet. Some of it is very gentle while other parts are much more intense. What inspired this piece?

VA: Most parents will tell you that raising kids has its ups and downs, that there are both amazing and rough moments - every day. Once, I was at the piano and my kids were in the same room, playing some game with each other. They were playing really well together, no fights, no screaming… This went on for a while, me at the piano and them just being kids. It was one of those perfect moments. Then it hit me hard, this realization, my heart ready to burst from my love for them. I just wanted to hold and embrace those kids forever, and make sure I would always be there for them.

KP: What a beautiful story! I absolutely love the title track! It starts out as a very mysterious piano solo. After about a minute, a buoyant, driving rhythm starts, and the piece alternates between mysterious and joyful, adding strings along the way. Tell us about this piece. I think it’s worth the price of the album all by itself!

VA: Thank you! This piece has a special place for me. Truth is, I’m not sure there’s much to say about this piece except it’s all about this feeling of overcoming difficulties, beating obstacles, swimming upstream and not letting the world push you down.

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KP: “Relentless” is very dark and intense. What inspired it?

VA: There is a story behind this one. After holding a position for seven years I was let go very unfairly and unceremoniously when a new music director came in. All the musicians I worked with were very supportive and sympathetic. They kept trying to help me. However, the people in positions of power were cold and ruthless. More than the job itself, what hurt me the most was how I was treated. I was incredibly disappointed in these people as human beings. I was so upset and angry. This composition was a pressure release valve. Really helped me get these feelings out. As the composition evolved, I wanted to channel these negative feelings into more positive ones, and make this piece more about moving forward, regardless of what life throws at you.

KP: I know a lot of artists compose "healing" music for other people, but it's wonderful when composing music can also heal the composer! It sounds like that's very much the case with "Relentless." “Looking Up at the Sky” is almost 10 1/2 minutes of haunting, gorgeous music - often almost hypnotic. Tell us about this one. 

VA: I worked on this one for months. We had recently moved to Santa Clarita and I had just started teaching at a college in Lancaster - about an hour drive from our house. Our move to Santa Clarita had also put me further away from gigs in the city. I was now spending a lot of time in the car, driving from job to job. One of the first things that struck me when I moved to California was the sky and the light. Not sure what it is but it’s something special. Now, when we moved to Santa Clarita, somehow, probably because there are not as many tall buildings, I found that the views of the sky were even more expansive. Everywhere you looked you could see sky. Also, the skies here are full of life, constantly changing, you can see all these patterns in the clouds, all these shades of colors, the wind moving and shifting the shapes of the clouds, etc. So, driving all over town, I found myself looking at the sky a lot. Because I was in the car for long periods of time and also started a new teaching position that required much of my attention, I didn't really have a whole lot of time to be in front of the piano. “Looking Up at the Sky” was the result of a different creative process. I would record ideas here and there and would then listen to them while driving. I recorded them any chance I had, which was usually on different pianos, keyboards, in different places, etc. I found that this music would transport me, would take me to a place where I liked to be. Eventually I had over a half hour of ideas and the challenge was to try and make sense of them. The good thing was that all these ideas were connected thematically and harmonically. Eventually I arrived at a solution in which each idea was presented multiple times but each time in a more developed and lengthy manner. I knew this wasn’t a radio friendly piece as it is over 10 minutes. Nevertheless, I wanted to include this in the album.

KP: The whole album is truly exceptional, and I can almost promise it will be on my Favorite Albums list for 2018. It deserves a lot of success, and I really hope that happens for you!

VA: Thank you Kathy. It’s a real treat to have a chance to talk about Rising and the way it came together.
For more information about Vicente Avella and his music, be sure to visit his website and his Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com.
Kathy Parsons
April 2018