Interview: Andre Tonelli

Dan McAvinchey: Andre, congratulations on the new album. When did you start working on the tracks for this album, and what was your goal this time around?

Andre Tonelli: Thank you, Dan. Putting a date on the writing process is very hard, since I make it a point to work on new music every day. Sometimes it's just a short riff or melody, or maybe a chord progression recorded on my phone. But I think I formulated the main idea for the album and really started composing for it in the fall of 2011. The main idea for "Fill The Sky" was to have a great variety of songs, and yet by the time you finish listening to the album, to feel that it has a sort of cohesiveness to it. To pull this off you need to connect with the listener from the first second to the last, and this means ten strong songs with memorable melodies and enough quirky stuff to keep the interest up at all times.

Dan McAvinchey: What did you do differently on "Fill The Sky" compared to your previous albums?

Andre Tonelli: "Fill The Sky" is the completion of a journey I started at 15 when I used to multi-track using two old cassette decks. I finally have the gear and the knowledge to make great sounding music in my own studio, and this sense of complete freedom is represented on every track of the album. Whereas before I was limited by my gear and experience, now these allow me to record anything I want to. Of course there is always room for improvement, but "Fill The Sky" is a new stepping stone for me as a musician, engineer, and producer.

Another key aspect of this record is that I put a few rules in place to make it as honest a representation of my playing as possible. Almost all of the songs were recorded straight through, no cut and paste, no nudging regions, no nothing. If I made a mistake, I would just record the whole song again. With my last record I got a bit carried away with making sure everything was just right, just to find out when playing live that it sounded much better than the CD. I'm sure there are a few imperfections on the record, but music doesn't have to be perfect. It has to communicate. There's a song called "Memories" on the album, where the main guitar is all one take, from beginning to end, including the solo. I'm more interested in that now, than in removing some noise or a small mistake.

Dan McAvinchey: Has your approach to constructing a great solo changed over time?

Andre Tonelli: For this particular record, I had a self-enforced rule whereby all the solos had to be improvised. I would give myself three passes, and then pick the best one and use that. Many times I wanted to go in and do another one, but I was very strict. I have to admit that I almost always ended up using all three of them to get something good... but in the end, it added a sense of urgency and danger in a way that strangely enough was very liberating. And when you jump into the water and you don't drown you come out with a lot of confidence. So in a strange way this record was very empowering.

This being said, a great solo, whether thought out or improvised, is a hard thing to define. I think it comes down to making it serve a purpose in the song, then it will work. So you can have the crazy "Purple Haze" pyros or Brian May's "Killer Queen" and they are both incredible and they enrich the song, they make it complete.

Dan McAvinchey: How did you get the word out there about your new album, to the point that it attracted so much initial response on iTunes?

Andre Tonelli: The plan was to quietly release the album on iTunes and other digital outlets, then print some CDs and announce the release once everything was in place. So I'm sitting at home with my iPad checking out the rock charts, around position 300 to see if the record had even made a dent. I keep going up, 250, 200, 150... so the higher I go the more I think nobody knows about the record being out, which really was the plan at the time. But then I get to the top 10 and there it is, sitting at number 5. It ended up reaching number 2 and spending a whole week in the top 10, and going to 18 in the general charts, which is unheard of for a self-released instrumental record, I guess.

Dan McAvinchey: Are you also using social media sites to attract attention to your music?

Andre Tonelli: I wasn't but I have realized that you really do need Facebook. So let me take a minute to invite all your readers to my new Facebook page. I have been on YouTube for a while now, mainly making instructional videos for those who can't afford proper instruction, and I've used that for getting the word out, too. I think I was so into making music that I let the social networks bit slip a little. But I'm making up for lost time, and we're going to have some nice initiatives such as CD giveaways, concert tickets discounts, etc.

Dan McAvinchey: How is the concert scene right now, will you get the opportunity to perform these new tracks in front of an audience?

Andre Tonelli: I had a meeting this morning about a show here in Barcelona. And we're now scheduling dates for Europe. The US is a bit more complicated, but we are starting a pretty large radio campaign there in the next few weeks, so if it becomes viable I'll definitely do it. I'll play anywhere there are enough people wanting to hear my songs. Another thing music fans sometimes ignore is that they have a lot of power to bring their favourite artists to their country. It is as easy as writing to promoters, radios, or magazines and spreading the word. The internet and guitar oriented websites are a great place for fans to spread the word about musicians they like and this often gets the ball rolling. I just find it unforgivable when musicians post on forums pretending to be fans.

Dan McAvinchey: Beyond what you've accomplished on your solo albums, do you find work in other musical areas or styles?

Andre Tonelli: I get offers for the weirdest things but it really has to be something that interests me, and that usually means having creative input. Let's say that if they want me to write a jingle I might do it, but if they want me to play one, I won't.

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Dan McAvinchey: Does the fact that the majority of music now is consumed through downloading of mp3s rather than physical media change the way you prepare and record an "album"? Does the concept of an album have the meaning it once did, when an artist can release a couple of tracks at any time?

Andre Tonelli:I grew up listening to albums so I guess I'll never completely change my view about this. To me an album was, and still is, an event. I remember my parents buying me a record and me spending the next few weeks listening to the thing until the tape became transparent. CDs changed my life when they came out because I didn't have to worry about wearing them out! I'm not against mp3s and surely everyone can listen to music in any format they prefer, but great music usually isn't a one way transaction, which is what the mp3 promotes. Great music requires an investment on the part of the listener. Some songs are immediate, but others require time and active listening. A lot of the public today listens to one song, maybe even half a song, then hits the shuffle button on their iPod. That's alright, but it's a lot like going to a museum and running through the halls glancing left and right at paintings.

I try to only do things I believe in, so I still view my albums as albums, as part of a whole. So a song to me has merit when it sounds great on its own but also when it has something to say within the larger picture. This being said, I don't exclude putting out a single once in a while, or an EP, but only when these formats are the best for the music.

Dan McAvinchey: If a fan of heavy guitar music has never heard of Andre Tonelli, what are the two or three tracks off of "Fill The Sky" that you'd prefer a busy, distracted listener would have to hear?

Andre Tonelli: This is a hard question. I would say "Originator", "Edge Of The World", and for the last one just hit the damned shuffle button!

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, what are you looking forward to in 2013, what's on your musical agenda?

Andre Tonelli: Right now I'm very busy with promotion for the record and getting the band ready for concerts. We'll be performing as a trio, so that means a lot of the songs have to be re-arranged and rehearsed until they are perfect. Also, the unexpected success of "Fill The Sky" has spawned tons of other peripheral stuff that also requires a lot of time and effort such as interviews, endorsements, guest appearances, etc. But it's all good. I work almost around the clock and always feel a little guilty about having so much fun.

Then I have my music academy in Barcelona, the Guitar Studio, which has been incredibly successful and it needs some love and care as well.

As far as music goes, I'm working on a "secret project" and in a month or so I will start thinking about my next solo record. The plan is to release a record every couple of years now that the studio is up and running. I'd like to thank you for this interview and invite all your readers to join me on Facebook and YouTube where I promise not to spam them but to have all kinds of cool stuff!

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In 2013, Andre Tonelli's album "Fill The Sky" was released, and in Spain, spent its first week in iTunes Top 10 Rock chart - even charting as high as 18th on their general charts. Mastered by John Cuniberti, Tonelli produced engineered and mixed the all-instrumental tracks, which represent an able follow up to his 2008 release "Power World Fantastic", a nine song, all instrumental guitarfest.

Dan McAvinchey conducted a virtual interview with Tonelli to discuss his latest work, and his promotional efforts thus far.