Interview: Andre Tonelli

Dan McAvinchey: Andre, when you started playing guitar, what were you listening to that influenced your playing and love for the instrument?

Andre Tonelli: The first two or three years (we're talking around the age of 15 and 17) it was a lot of Queen (especially Queen), Maiden, Dio, Priest, Sabbath, Deep Purple, Fabrizio De Andre... all very song oriented artists, which would be very important later on in my development. I was also thrown into a pretty popular band at a very young age. We played original material, mainly on pretty important stages. So at 15 or 16 it was already very clear to me that the song is king. When I discovered the great instrumentalists such as Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Vai, Paco De Lucia, I had that going for me: the song came first. But these guitarists were instrumental (no pun intended) in motivating me and giving me confidence that with practice anything is possible. So that led to tens of thousands of hours of practice, and that took care of a big part of the technical side of things. And it was never hard work, nor was I depriving myself of anything. The feeling of achievement I got from playing guitar was the biggest thrill in the world for me.

Dan McAvinchey: Was your latest album "Lights And Shadows" self-released?

Andre Tonelli: I've been releasing my own music for almost 15 years. At first it was out of necessity, since nobody was going to release it for me. After "Fill The Sky" did as well as it did I had offers to go with independent labels, but by then I had already put together my own professional studio and I had been producing and distributing my music for such a long time that it just didn't make any sense. Getting signed was never as great as it seemed to struggling musicians, but now it's even farther from that ideal, especially for the kind of music I do.

I'm not knocking labels, and if you decide to sign with one, more power to you. Especially if you don't own the right gear or don't know how to use it, or if you can't figure out the business side of it, by all means go ahead and let other people do it for you. But for me, the advantages a label brings are small (and getting smaller all the time). So I can record my music exactly how I want to, release it, and get it to the top of the iTunes Charts. Why would I compromise this situation?

Dan McAvinchey: Good points, you've given artists a lot to think about. How would you describe your musical style to a person who has never heard you play before?

Andre Tonelli: This is the worst question ever! I would suggest to give my new album "Lights And Shadows" a listen from beginning to end fpr some rocking instrumental music with memorable melodies and peculiar harmonies!

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Dan McAvinchey: Which of the tracks from your most recent project do you enjoy playing the most?

Andre Tonelli: The most special song to me is "In Dreams". It's my favorite composition and production-wise the one where everything just worked. I wrote the song starting with the arpeggiated chords, and it went through a few melodies. They all sounded good but I knew they weren't it. One night the perfect melody came to me in a dream. When I realized I was dreaming the melody started slipping away but in that strange place between sleep and the real world I was able fixate it in my head. I got up, wrote it down, and was very happy to find it was perfect for the song. Now telling it I realize the process may sound not as exciting, but it was a great and unique creative experience!

Dan McAvinchey: That's a great answer, a lot of guitarists struggle to answer that question. Let's move on to gear. Tell us a little about the gear you use to get your sound.

Andre Tonelli: I have been a Parker Guitars artist for a few years now and I'd say that 65 or 70 percent of the guitars were those. But making instrumental guitar records requires different sounds and textures. I used my G&L's for Tele and Strat sounds, my ancient Gibson V, a few basses, and a sitar you can hear on In Dreams. I also used a bunch of amps and a lot of Kemper Profiling Amp. I make my own profiles but I used a lot of Michael Wagener's sounds. They are incredible and he's better at micing up cabinets than I'll ever be. I also enjoy other profiles from professional sellers. Sometimes I use the Kemper direct and sometimes I use it through my custom Palmer speaker Cabinet and then mic it up as a regular amp. I also have a lot of pedals and strange gear, such as a handful of Rockmans from the late 80s, some vintage Boss stuff, an ancient zoom 9030, etc... But I'll use anything that will give me the sound I'm after. Some guitars are direct into the sound card with the free Sansamp plugin. I don't care what it is, if it works, I'll use it.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you feel like has been your greatest musical achievement to date?

Andre Tonelli: I don't think about it in terms of achievements, but getting a self produced instrumental record to the top of the iTunes Rock Charts and in the Top 5 of the general charts in Spain where I live has been a trip and quite encouraging. Musically, just being able to write my own music and release it and having people like it and look forward to new records is really why we all do this. I think this latest album is my biggest musical achievement, but of course better things are to come!

Dan McAvinchey: From a publicity and promotion standpoint, what is working best for you at the moment?

Andre Tonelli: I put quite a bit of effort since my previous album to grow a bit of a base on Facebook. On YouTube I already have a pretty strong channel with almost 1 million views, so that helped in letting people know "Lights And Shadows" was about to be released. And since my channel is dedicated to the guitar and is also the home of my free Guitar Encyclopedia educational project, a lot of my followers there are very interested in the guitar and are looking forward to new music. I also have very good relationships with quite a few blogs, magazines and radios, and that's something you build through the years. Considering the type of music I play, the fact that I'm on constant rotation on rock radio stations around the world is crazy. I'm very thankful for that.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you now find to be the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent musician?

Andre Tonelli: The advantages are the usual ones: creative freedom, career control, owning your own masters. But there is a risk with being an independent musician, and that is that you get so lost in your own freedom that you end up with a career that isn't going anywhere. Labels have their problems, but they do want you to succeed. So efforts are directed and managed with that goal in sight. Independent musicians can lose track of that and jump from one place to the next without really knowing what they are doing. So they might end up with a career that really isn't going in any particular direction.

The other disadvantage is that, for all you read about everyone being able to make a great sounding record with today's technology, the truth is most people lack the equipment and knowledge to make even decent recordings, let alone great. And then there's mixing, which is one of the most complex and subliminal arts in the world. Independent musicians tend to end up doing everything and unless they have some experience with all these facets, it's easy to end up with a mediocre product and ineffective promotion.

And finally, and this might get me some hate, the vast majority of artists that call themselves independent are simply artists that never got any attention from a label. Let's be honest, for most of us, it is not a choice to be independent. And that's okay; I had my first serious offers from labels just a few years ago, after a decade of being an independent artist "by force". I opted to continue on my own simply because by then I had already put together an infrastructure that would allow me to do what I wanted.

Dan McAvinchey: Like a lot of us, you probably have fairly wide-ranging musical tastes. In addition to guitar-oriented music, what other kinds of music do you like to listen to?

Andre Tonelli: I listen to everything, from rock and blues, to jazz, heavy metal, classical, indian, folk, electronic, reggae, and everything else. I've been using Apple Music for a few months and I jump from record to record with no consideration of style at all. My only categorization in music is that it's either good or bad.

Dan McAvinchey: Agreed - people find it hard to believe how much inspiration I get from Bollywood soundtracks and Irish dance music. Well, let's wrap up this interview with one final question - what do you have planned for the rest of 2016 and the beginning of 2017.

Andre Tonelli: The missing link for me right now is being able to set up a proper touring situation. So we'll try to use the success of "Lights And Shadows" to try and fix that problem. I'll go anywhere people want to listen to my music, so we should be able to figure something out. I hope people will follow us on Facebook, and on our web site for all the news. Also, I have just started using Twitter and I am actually loving it. If your readers would be so kind as to follow me there it would be very much appreciated!

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Guitarist Andre Tonelli, who hails from Spain, is back with another incredible solo album, entitled "Lights And Shadows". Tonelli has always been a favorite here on Guitar Nine; his technique is very advanced and his attention to detail makes his instrumental compositions stack up well after repeated listenings.

Dan McAvinchey did his third interview with Tonelli to update the Guitar Nine readers on his latest album release, along with further details about this amazing artist.