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|ROCKWIRED INTERVIEWS TONY LUCCA
THE MOUSE THAT ROCKEDSinger-songwriter TONY LUCCA is on the verge of releasing his sixth album 'COME AROUND AGAIN' independently, and this time, finds himself shrugging off the folk leanings of his earlier work in favor of a leaner, heavier, rock sound. This is not the artistic path that one expects from a former Mouseketeer. Everyone knows how the story goes; you get a good looking, wholesome kid with a little talent and you put him in MICKEY MOUSE ears for a few seasons. When he outgrows the mouse ears, he gets signed to a boy band and sells millions to the delight of teenaged girls and the ire of self-respecting music critics. Eventually, catastrophe happens and he ends up in the tabloids or he tries to save face by making an appearance on a reality show.
TONY LUCCA TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HIS LATEST CD 'COME AROUND AGAIN'
HIS DAYS AS A MOUSEKETEER
AND ROCKING OUT THIS TIME AROUND
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
Needless to say, TONY LUCCA didn't do the expected. Unlike his fellow Mouseketeers, BRITNEY SPEARS, CHRISTINA AGUILERA, and JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, TONY eschewed the bubblegum that got these now hardened music icons their start, and took the acoustic route. Sure it was a career path that kept him slighty under the radar and out of the tabloids, but LUCCA has managed to carve out a niche for himself as an acclaimed singer-songwriter with five albums behind him. While his own personal "dramas" were put to song, the personal and professional struggles of other MICKEY MOUSE CLUB alumni have made for interesting check out aisle reading. This is a theme that is addressed in his latest CD. "...there are a couple of tunes that reflect my observations on the Hollywood scene and my horrible affliction for reading the covers of tabloid magazines." confesses LUCCA. "I've had so many friends that have been through the tabloid mill and it's personal for me. It's close to home so I feel entitled to have a definitive opinion about it, so there are a couple of songs on the matter."
ROCKWIRED spoke with TONY LUCCA over the phone. Here is how it went.
Whats different on this album this time around?
I've been doing that whole acoustic singer songwriter thing for about ten years now. Every record that I had released so far has sort of stemmed from the acoustic guitar and everything was built and arranged around that. This time around, I think there is an acoustic guitar on only three songs. This is going to be my rock n roll record. I've waited a long to time put this record together and I thought that I had the right group of tunes and I got with the right producer to make it happen. This record is much more heavier than the other albums. I grew up on heavy dose of music like JONI MITCHELL, CROSBY, STILLS, NASH and YOUNG and a lot of my earlier work had revealed that kind of an influence. Of course, I had gotten into listening to a lot of classic rock music along the way and this album was the opportunity for me to finally let that out.
You talked about your musical influences being JONI MITCHELL, and CROSBY STILLS and NASH, but how did music begin for you? When did you realize that this is what it's all about and there's really nothing else?
Probably a lot earlier than I can honestly recall. My mom was the tenth of twelve kids and everyone in the family played something. For me, it was really by osmosis. I had a cousin who was a little older than me but we grew up like brothers. His folks were both musicians and performed professionally and they were always taking us to the music store to buy guitar strings. We were always around it and it was always there. It was around the age of eight or nine where where we said to each other 'let's do this ourselves!' When I was ten or eleven, me and my cousin started putting bands together and performing for people. It's been with me for a long time. To say that I've been doing something for twenty years is kind of creepy to me, but its the truth. I realized at a very young age that I was going to pursue it for the rest of my life, but turning that into an actual career didn't happen until about ten years ago.
And in going back to your influences, they all sound like real Southern California singer/songwriters. Are you from Southern California?
I'm not. I'm from Michigan, so I grew surrounded by the MOTOWN thing and the jazz thing, which has also sort of revealed itself in my work. There was just something about the whole Southern California late sixties/early-seventies sound with things like JACKSON BROWNE, THE EAGLES that just made for great records and my last L.P. was actually an homage to that whole scene. It was called 'CANYON SONGS' which was recorded in Laurel Canyon. With that album I tried to rekindle the spirit of that whole era and time. In writing that album, I had some material that was probably a little to heavy and maybe a little too edgy for that album, so with this new album, I've had the opportunity to bring them out for people to hear.
Your publicist wanted me to put a slant on this interview and I hope that you're okay with it.
I've got to ask about the MICKEY MOUSE CLUB.
Don't worry about it. It's probably not everyday that you come across someone with that in their resume, I suppose.
No, I came across a KIDS INCORPORATED person, not a MICKEY MOUSE CLUB person.
Which one, ERIC?
Oh, MARTIKA, Yeah, she was the ANNETTE FUNICELLO of my day.
Same here. So how did the whole MICKEY MOUSE CLUB thing begin for you. Obviously it didn't begin in Michigan.
Basically, I kind of flirted with a career in entertainment when I was a kid. I did some modeling and things like that, which got me some auditions to do some local and regional film and commercial kind of stuff. But it wasn't anything serious. I was doing the music thing, but was going to an athletic-type school where I was a jock as well, trying to keep up with all my friends in that regard. It was in the ninth grade where I got an opportunity to audition for the MOUSE CLUB. Originally, I thought that I was supposed to be auditioning for this DISNEY musical called NEWSIES. It was this movie about paper boys during The Great Depression. When I got to the audition for the movie, I was told that I wasn't on their list of folks to look at and that I 'must be there to audition for the MICKEY MOUSE CLUB'. At that point, I knew nothing about the MICKEY MOUSE CLUB. I wasn't into it, and I wasn't going to audition for it. When I went down to see if my name was on the roster for the auditions, it turned out that it was and I was like 'Oh God!'. It was actually my sister that talked me into doing it. So I went in for the audition and that was it. I hit it off really well with the Casting Director. From there, it was on to L.A. for a screen test and onto Florida to start working for the next four years. That's how DISNEY does it. They go out to the smaller towns and the smaller markets so they can get those fresh faced, all-American, green kids that don't have any industry cred or experience to know better.
Would you do it again, knowing what you know now?
I would. Being fifteen years old, it was the coolest thing going at the time. I didn't know anything about the business. I didn't know anything about SAG, scales, rates, and what I was entitled to getting paid verses what I did get paid. If I knew all of those things now, I might not, but to look back in terms of regrets or anything like that, no way. It's only surreal in hindsight. Those were my high school years and that was my job. It was very normal and it had a great deal of normalcy to it. There was a day when I was walking through the check out line of the grocery store and I saw BRITNEY on the cover of ROLLING STONE and CHRISTINA on the cover of something else, and KERI RUSSELL on the cover of TV GUIDE and it was like strange that these people who I considered family are on the "it" list.
After the MICKEY MOUSE CLUB how easy or difficult was it to switch gears and get back into music?
It really wasn't a matter of ease or difficulty. It was more like a matter of time and making certain decisions at the right time. I had a lot of momentum coming off the MOUSE CLUB, through relationships with people that I had met through the show that were from L.A. I didn't waste any time. I got out to L.A. right on time for pilot season. I was just nineteen when I moved out here. I had a fantastic manager who got me a decent agent and I started getting commercial work and another TV series called MALIBU SHORES which was very short lived. After a couple of made-for-TV movies and a couple of indie-flicks, I really settled into the auditioning actor gig, which is a whole other thing than being prime time. Having a prime time gig is kind of easy-breezy, but getting into the trenches and going out every day three or four times a day can really take it's toll and you start to feel very insignificant and at the mercy of far too many subjective opinions. I was in an audition one day in this loft, ready to read for this part and sitting amongst twelve other TONY LUCCAs. On paper, we're all the same guy and I was like, 'this is not what I want to do'. I think I have something more original to say, so I went home, picked up the guitar and started writing songs. I told my manager that I was done acting, at least for a while. I really wanted to make sure that I could solidify a career as a music artist and maintain credibility in that regard and not be some KEVIN BACON or BRUCE WILLIS type that plays the HOUSE OF BLUES every now and then and tries to be an artist.
A-list actors who are in bands fuckin' suck anyway.
Even if they were good, no one's going to give then the time of day because people don't buy it. But the converse is true that if an artist has a substantial career in music and then wants to act, they can do it all day long and it's cool that way.
Talk about this new album some more. Earlier you said that the album has a little more of a rock edge. What brought this album about?
I've been working with a producer friend of mine and he and I have been working together for a while. His name is MIKE VIZCARRA and he's an old school rock n roller. He grew up on JIMI HENDRIX, KISS, and THE STONES. He's got a really great ear for making great records regardless of what it is. After years of working with him, he was like 'I would love to make a rock record!' so we started writing a handful of heavier tunes over the years knowing that eventually, we would get to it. In the meantime, a lot of my earlier work was reflecting the relationships that I was going through and a lot of self-importance and romantic drama that sort of sounded all the same. Creatively, as far as inspiration goes, I was starting to lean towards stuff that wasn't about my bullshit but things that were more universal, more edgier, and more topical or even political, so I started writing from that space. Meanwhile, I got married last year and I adopted a son along way. He's five and he loves to rock n roll, and he loves THE BEATLES. Listening to music through the ears of a five year old is a whole other experience. You put something on in the car and the kid goes 'play that again! play that again!'. I started to hear what it is that he's attracted to and it's all the classic stuff, and I get it! It's like learning music all over again. It was like "Of course! songs are supposed to have three choruses, two bridges, a guitar solo and it all happens in three minutes!" That was what my songs were missing. My songs have always been long winded and self-indulgent. So with this album, I wanted to plug it in, turn it up, and let it rock. It's more about having fun rather than sulking around with an acoustic guitar. These are just some of the things that came into play while we were working on the album.
Of the songs on this forthcoming album, which ones stand out for you and why?
Track one of the album is track one for a reason I guess. 'FOXEY JANE' sort of sets that standard for the rest of the album. We were trying to incorporate a funk and soul sound with some MOTOWN and classic rock elements that I thought were important to have on this album. 'FOXEY JANE' is a sexy tune. Lyrically, you can tell that I'm writing from a more sexy space as opposed to the singer/songwriter space, which is all just a bunch of sad love songs that a lot of my fans have grown accustomed to. Putting that song first just lets people know where I'm going with this record. I think it's the strongest song on the album but then there are a couple of tunes that reflect my observations on the Hollywood scene and my horrible affliction for reading the covers of tabloid magazines. I've had so many friends that have been through the tabloid mill and it's personal for me. It's close to home so I feel entitled to have a definitive opinion about it, so there are a couple of songs on the matter. One is called 'TIME AND TIME AGAIN' which is about the young BRITNEY's , the HILLARY DUFFs, and the LINDSAY LOHANs who occupy this bizare role for the pop culture. There is another song called GIVIN' IT ALL AWAY which is specifically about young starlets coming onto the scene and revealing as much as they can as early as they can and where that road leads. One of the songs is also an homage to one of my favorite artists CHRIS WHITLEY who passed away a few years ago. I was really inspired by his work over the course of his career and when he passed , I was inspired to write a song for him, and it's the title track 'COME AROUND AGAIN'. It's a song about reincarnation. It's about aspects of people that we appreciate and respect and when we see it in others, we recognize it as something that we identified in someone else. So 'COME AROUND AGAIN' is an important song for me. I could go on all days about the songs. I really believe in the whole project. I don't think there is any throwaway or filler tracks. All in all, I think it's a strong, mature, vibrant, and cool record.
Describe the songwriting process for you. How does a song get written?
Fortunately and unfortunately, it's never been something that I could just throw into a recipe. If I did, I'd probably have warehouses full of songs. The older I get and the more it happens the more in awe of it I am to have a gift of being able to do it. A lot of times it just starts from sitting down with a guitar and coming up with a riff or a groove and to let it sort of dictate a mood or a disposition and from there start rattle off a melody. All of a sudden a string of pearls will line themselves up and I start writing lyrics. I try to remain open to however the need for songwriting comes. I don't do a whole lot of co-writing, however, with this album, I've got more co-writes than any other record I've released. It's probably a sign of growing up and humbling myself up enough to say 'Yeah, lets put two heads together instead of just my one self-important disposition. There is a quote from JONI MITCHELL that I've probably misquoted over the years but it something about creating chaos and that songwriting is organized insanity. You're taking everything that you've ever learned, read, seen, or smelled and you're throwing it up to this suspended animation and you're looking at it all and trying to pick out the pieces that best represent what you are trying to say, and it can drive you crazy. But when you have the freedom of time and space to do that, then it becomes easier, than you get better at it.
It sounds like a JONI MITCHELL quote. You're doing a couple of shows with CURTIS PEOPLES.
Yeah C.P.! We're getting out there. We've toured together in the past and it's been really beneficial. We've managed to get a lot of the same fans out to the shows and we've made some good money along the way. We have a good time! CURTIS is a total pro. He knows what he;s doing and he knows how to travel and represent himself and deal with club people and fans. It's tough when you're out on the road with egos and attitude but CURTIS is cool for the long haul.
He's a good kid! Love his hair!
That hair is something.
What would you like a person to come away with after they've heard this CD?
I want them to listen to it and let it play again. If they are a new fan, I want them to get excited about me as an artist and want to come out and see a show. As far as current fans are concerned, I'm sure they are going to see this new album as a reflection of my growth and evolution as an artist. I wouldn't want anyone thinking that I'm getting on a soap box or anything because there are some aspects of the album where I address things that might make people uncomfortable or make them think a little harder. The album is a concentrated listen, but I don't want people to think I am trying to be more poignant than the next person. It's only rock n roll.