Interview: Tony De Gruttola

Guglielmo Malusardi: "03", no words, only numbers. I think this number is the title of your new CD for a specific reason. Can you explain?

Tony De Gruttola: Let's say that being a good Neapolitan, I'm also superstitious and 3 is my lucky number, if we add the fact that I have a brother and two sisters - the link closes.

Guglielmo Malusardi: When did you begin to compose the first tracks for the album?

Tony De Gruttola: In March of 2003, namely 03/03 - you see it's not my fault!

Guglielmo Malusardi: How long did the entire process of composing the tracks take?

Tony De Gruttola: We worked in the studio for around a year and a half.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How do you compose your music?

Tony De Gruttola: I think like other musicians; you're walking down the street and a melody starts to play in your head - holy mackerel, I forgot my portable recorder! No, but honestly, for me everything starts from a story, every time something nice (or not so nice) happens to me, whatever it may be, I find it easier to put it down in the form of a piece of music. It might not work, or it may not be a good piece, but whatever, it represents a little piece of my secret diary.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Do you have a 'routine' for composition? For example, first chords, then melodies or is it different every time?

Tony De Gruttola: Everything is born from a melody, or a harmonic sequence which comes to my mind; nothing preconceived, if nothing happens then I don't write and I play other musician's music, ha ha!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Do you compose with the guitar, or on the keyboards?

Tony De Gruttola: I compose with my guitar.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Is your music connected to your life in an autobiographical sense?

Tony De Gruttola: Yes, absolutely. As I told you, behind every piece there is a story, more or less important, but true.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's go back to your CD. Did you write the solos before entering the recording studio or did you improvise?

Tony De Gruttola: I wrote the themes beforehand, but some of them underwent some changes. The improvised parts came about during the recordings and then I wrote them.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Which guitar did you use during the recording session?

Tony De Gruttola: I used my favorite Molinelli with Seymour Duncan pickups, an Eric Clapton Strat, a Yamaha Pacifica, a classical and an acoustic Godin Multiact.

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Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk about amps, the effects and how you set each to arrive at such a great sound.

Tony De Gruttola: Thanks for that compliment! I recorded everything quite dry, adding the effects later. That way I could choose what I wanted later, but I have to say I didn't have to use many. I used Cicognani amps and speakers (for whom I'm an endorser). I love them; they have an incredible dynamic. I used them with Shure SM 57 and SM 58 microphones, together with AKG 414's.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Personally I like the way you use the whammy bar to color your music, does this come from your heart or your mind?

Tony De Gruttola: It's absolutely instinctive, therefore I play from my heart. Colors for me are momentary sensations, it's rare for me to decide beforehand.

Guglielmo Malusardi: The link in music between the mind and the heart is a complex mix. Can you express the 'weight' of these components in your music?

Tony De Gruttola: 35% to 65%; the mind is for storing theorical, harmonic and other kinds of data, the heart is there to transform them into music. Shame you can't always put into practice this little law.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Talk about the artists on your CD one by one.

Tony De Gruttola: With great pleasure! Beppe D'Angelo is on keys, he comes from a classical music background and now plays jazz. He is extremely well prepared from a harmonic point of view and is able to stay in line. I adore him. Riccardo Lombardo is on drums. A very real talent on his instrument, he has an incredibly precise technique (at 16 he won prestigious awards). For me, he is an enormous help in terms of creativity and realization of ideas that come to my mind. We have done lots of clinics together as demonstrators. Stefano Lori also plays drums on the album. I consider him pure musicality; he graduated mastering the oboe, an instrument which he used in concert at the Sanremo Festival (the most important Italian live event), and other similar shows. He's also a noted arranger who has taught me a mountain of things. Luca Biggio plays saxophone; he's a great friend and a great musician, among the most esteemed in his field, and for me a great harmonic shoulder to lean on, as he's a pure jazz artist. He never stops transmitting precious ideas to me, I adore his solo on "Clichet". Last but not least, Gualtiero Marangoni is on bass, but is no longer part of the band. Great bassist.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Speaking of musicians, you've got a heavy slate of live gigs booked. Is the stage band composed of the same guys you've mentioned?

Tony De Gruttola: As I mentioned, Gualtiero is no longer with the band for various reasons that I won't get into, but we are still great friends and we do concerts in other contexts now and again. Nicola Angileri from Milan has taken over for him, and he has brought some fresh air, new ideas and new sounds, and is a great managerial help for me. He's got a good number of tours and collaboration behind him with guys like Dream Theater and lots and lots of others. Incredible technique and mastery of his instrument... a real stage animal!

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tell us about your live gear.

Tony De Gruttola: In little clubs, I prefer my Cicognani head Imperium, with two speakers (Cicognani 1x12) with two Eminenche cones, my favorites. I keep it quite far from me, to appreciate the stereophony of the effects. For effects, a Rocktron Intelliflex for ambience and delay. My pedal board includes a MIDI pedal by Cicognani to control effects and the head, a buffer by Vinteck (Guido Michetti), an Ibanez TS9 booster, an Elettro Harmonix Small Clone Chorus, a wah pedal (Dunlop Q95), an Ernie Ball volume pedal, a Boss NS2 noise gate and a Boss CS3 compressor. The most important thing to me is the control through the volume, gain and saturation the balance between dynamics and expression. In bigger venues, or open air, I use one or two Cicognani speakers 4x12 with V12 Eminenche cones - the rest is pretty the same.

Concerning guitars, I use two Molinelli's - the T.D.G.03 Signature and the Viper 03. I tune the second one with a dropped D when I need a heavier rhythmic sound. A second Molinelli signature is coming soon. We're calling it T.D.G. Blackie 03.
In a more poppy situations, I use my seventeen year old Eric Clapton Fender Stratocaster. I also use two electro-acoustic Godin Multiact guitars, one with nylon strings and the other one with steel strings. Dogal strings of course, on all my guitars.

Guglielmo Malusardi: A couple of months ago, on March 5th, you were on stage at the Guitar Fest in Turin together with a group of the best Italian guitarists. Tell us what you remember from that day.

Tony De Gruttola: Notes, notes and notes and more amazing notes, so I remember taking out all the pieces that were too virtuoso in nature, I wanted to play ballads. It was a fantastic day and a great occasion to meet friends and colleagues again, plus it was a chance to learn something.

Guglielmo Malusardi: After having been a student, you are now teaching in the same (one of the most famous) Italian Music Institute. What kind of teacher are you and what kind of relationship do you have with your students?

Tony De Gruttola: I'm quite strict but try to show it only when it's necessary; I love to keep a friendly and confident relationship with my students, I don't believe in a detached teacher-student rapport. Teaching is a very delicate issue; I think a good teacher should be a bit of a psychologist. He should be able to put himself in their shoes and be able to understand the best way to transmit their knowledge. Everyone is unique and takes it in different ways. I don't tolerate arrogant, brash or badly educated people, I don't tolerate burdening each other, or a lack of respect towards other players, but so far, apart from a few rare cases, I've been very lucky..

Guglielmo Malusardi: Have you noticed some changes in the habits of your students compared to when you were a student?

Tony De Gruttola: With all the information that there is around today, they all seem to be phenomenons! I would say that a little blues is missing in their blood today and its often difficult to explain the importance of reading, of rhythm, and of harmony. I want to be clear in that I adore virtuoso playing only if it's in support of the music, which sounds like a ready-made phrase, but that's how it is.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Going back to live music, you opened for big names in the last few months such as Europe, Richie Kotzen and Carl Verheyen. Tell us something about those concerts.

Tony De Gruttola: To talk about them all would be far too long so I'll just tell you about the experience with Carl Verheyen. He is a fantastic guy and an exceptional musician, who is gifted with rare humility, which I envy terribly. He never passed up an occasion to involve me during his show, which led to wonderful moments in our jam sessions. Since we are both great admirers of Nutella Crepes, we chatted a lot (thanks to Nicola Angileri who translated for me) and I really learned a lot of things. I wrote a dedication to him in the didactic method book which I wrote with Michele Quaini. It was a fantastic experience for me, and my band.

Guglielmo Malusardi: There's a phrase from Steve Vai; for lots off people, a great guitar solo is like a series of Morse codes. What's your point of view?

Tony De Gruttola: There are notes that touch the heart, especially when they tell a story, I don't know if it's a code but it's definitely magic.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What kind of music do you like to listen to?

Tony De Gruttola: I listen to all types of music, which helps me to keep up with the times, above all rock-fusion jazz, blues, and some Italian bands like Negramaro and Neutra.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Tell us about your favorite guitar solos, not from you, and not necessarily in order.

Tony De Gruttola: "Crying" by Joe Satriani, "Under a Glass Moon" by John Petrucci, "Tender Surrender" by Steve Vai and "Cry For You" by Andy Timmons.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What are the solos and track you prefer from "03"?

Tony De Gruttola: I love "Nuvole", "Blue Shuffle" and "No True".

Guglielmo Malusardi: What do you have planned for the near future?

Tony De Gruttola: My book, entitled "Private Lesson: Feeling and Technique", which I wrote along with Michele Quaini, will be published in September, distributed by BMG Ricordi and with the artistic direction of the great Donato Begotti, who was also our teacher at CPM. We have a program of various clinics lined up in and around Italy. I am also preparing my second album which I hope will go like the first one.

Guglielmo Malusardi: OK, that's all Tony. Thank you very much for the interview. Feel free to leave a message to
Guitar Nine readers,

Tony De Gruttola: Many thanks to all my sponsors, who sustain me and satisfy all my whims and a special thanks to people like you, Dan McAvinchey, our fans and promoters. Grazie mille!

Original Italian language interview appeared in Axe Magazine n.118 February 2007 © Guglielmo Malusardi / Edizioni Palomino

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Italians used to define their country as a land of poets, sailors and saints. Perhaps the time has come to add guitar players as well. Tony De Gruttola is one of them. Falling in love with the guitar at fourteen, De Gruttola graduated "cum laude" with honorable mention from C.P.M. Music School in Milan. He is currently quite busy performing the music from his first release entitled "03" in a live setting, playing guitar in musicals, and teaching electric guitar in four different courses at C.P.M.

Guglielmo Malusardi met with De Gruttola to talk about his many musical projects and his upcoming solo album.