The comeback interview is always exciting and it’s always got a kind of formality to it but there is no such formality when speaking to GALA. The story of a pop presence from the past starting over from scratch and aiming for the stars - or atthe very least the heart of a new listener - is endlessly inspiring. This is most certainly true of the Italian-born popstress GALA RIZZATTO (just GALA, of course) who for years has been toiling away at her latest collection of tunes ‘TOUGH LOVE’(MATRIARCHY RECORDS) with producer MARCUS ‘BELLRINGER’ BELL. In the mid to late nineties, GALA was a pop force to be reckoned with following the release of her spellbinding single FREED FROM DESIRE , which sold over six million copies and reached number one throughout much of the European continent. After releasing two albums (L’ALBUM and COME INTO MY LIFE in 1997) GALA entered that all to understandable phase where artists want control to wrestle with the record company over the control of their music and identity. The fighting match ended with GALA walking away from the label and setting up shop in Brooklyn to get lost in a grittier electro-pop sound and a whole new lease on life. “It has been a very long journey.” says GALA “This CD is not the result of just sitting down and going ‘Oh, let’s write about this and that!’ This record is the result of years of exploring.”

ROCKWIRED spoke with GALA over the phone in order to schedule an interview but the spunky, down-to-earth pop singer felt it was the perfect time to talk. Here is how it went.

Well this is rather impromptu I must say.
No, now is as good a time as any. I was just hanging out and watching a PAT BENATAR video with my assistant.

Which video?

Funny that you mention her! I’m actually going to being seeing her on my birthday.
(Screaming) What! Well, be sure and tell her hello for me.

I will.
That is so cool. I was just showing my assistant the video and she doesn’t know anything about her because she is so young. People have been showing me the video for this song after they’ve seen the TOUGH LOVE video. The songs are different but the energy is about the same.

She’s going to be touring with BLONDIE
I had heard about that. I was wondering whom the lucky person was that would be opening for PA BENATAR and BLONDIE.

It’s going to be THE DONNAS.
These days, I just think it is really hard to find women in music that have that kind of a personality. PAT BENATAR was very strong. She is sexy but she’s not using sex. She’s not one of these MADONNA-types that put sex in your face. I don’t do that at all with my musical persona. I don’t find women like that very often so I always keep going back to PAT BENATAR. You know?

I can definitely see where you would have to go back to the past in order to find that sort of demureness.
I notice it especially in America but I guess overt sexuality is the sort of price you have to pay to get on MTV.

Things have been that way ever since MADONNA.
The Material Girl!

As far as music that has influenced you, was PAT BENATAR the starting point for you or was it other people?
No! No! No! In Italy, we were not exposed to her until much later. We knew of BLONDIE. My mother had a BLONDIE record and on the cover I can remember DEBORAH HARRY licking the vinyl and I remember thinking that it was the dirtiest thing in my house. BLONDIE was known in Europe and PAT BENATAR – not as much. She was an American icon more than anything. My idol was definitely PRINCE. I first saw him when I was fourteen and it was like a punch in the stomach. I also really loved THE BEATLES. I learned to write a song by listening to their music. My music has a very strong pop sensibility to it. The songs are catchy and you remember them. They aren’t contrived and they’re not trying to be too alternative. Saying the word ‘pop’ in America can be a bad thing because it conjures up images of BRITNEY SPEARS but for me PRINCE is pop. I remember reading this one story where THE BEATLES producer brought in a long piece of jazz for JOHN LENNON to listen to and at the end of the piece JOHN LENNON said ‘It was a fantastic piece of music but I don’t remember any of it.’ To me, it is important to share the music. I grew up with a lot of people that had gone to conservatories and they studied classical music and they studied jazz. I’ve always thought that being contrived is very selfish thing to be . I’ve always wanted to share. That was my reason for wanting to make music. I wanted to get people to dance and move to my music.

TOUGH LOVE is a great little EP!
Oh thank you!

Now that it is out there for everyone to hear, how do you feel about the finished product?
I’m very happy but not in an easy way. It has been a very long journey. This CD is not the result of just sitting down and going ‘Oh, let’s write about this and that!’ It is a result of spending years in New York after leaving my record company in Europe. In 1998 I signed up with UNIVERSAL (U.K.) and we really didn’t get along, which is what happens with most artists. When I moved to New York, I started working with myself. This record is the result of years of exploring. I made a song with a World Music group from the Middle East. I did a track with a Hip-Hop producer and I did a track with KEVIN RUDOLPH, who is now having a lot of success on the pop charts. All of this has happened out of sheer coincidence. I’m not a party girl and I don’t really know the ‘right’ people. It’s all come from being out in the streets of New York. It’s like a movie. One time, I was in the Village and I saw this person and I paid my Metro card and I went downstairs to catch the train but when I got down there I thought ‘I’ve really got to meet that person!’ I came up to this person and I just said ‘hello’. This person was also a singer and we ended up making a track together. Years went by just like that with me producing music that came out of my experiences and my life and at the end I went into the studio with the people that I knew were the best. These were people that I connected with on a musical level and a personal level. Every song on this E.P. is something that I could write an essay on because there is a story behind each and every one of them. There was an adventure behind every song.

At what point did the listener become the songwriter?
The motivation for me to write songs stemmed from loneliness. The microphone is a way for a person to scream their message instead of just having one person listen to you. At one point, I realized that all of my friends were moving away in different directions. One was here, one was there and the other was getting married. I felt like that the sense of unity that you have as a child is lost forever when you reach a certain age and I felt like I needed to do something that brings everyone together so that I could connect with my friend in Germany, and my friend that was working and my friend that was having a child. Songwriting was a way for me to feel like I was in touch with everyone, but it’s opened me up to a much bigger circle of friends. It was a way of reaching out and connecting.

You produced this album with MARCUS BELL. Describe working with him.
This is how it began with MARCUS and I. I was talking with a friend and I was going on about looking for the right producer who could help me put this thing together. I had different people working with me on this album but MARCUS ended up being the main producer. After I had told my friend about looking for a producer, he said ‘ I know this guy. You probably know him. You would like this guy!’ He gave me the guy’s address and it was the building next door to mine. I asked him to repeat the address and I was insistent that he had the address confused with mine. The funny thing is that it wasn’t even MARCUS’s apartment. He was just staying there at that time with a friend. I was really freaky because I went downstairs, rang the bell and met him. We had a great connection and we’re friends now. He was a smart, fun guy and we laughed. When I met him, I thought that he had something to teach me and that I had something to teach him. He is very open and he talks everybody. At the time I figured that I could learn from that because I was much more reserved and in my own little world. I needed to reach out and connect with other people. Artists are very shy people. When I’m on stage, I’m like an animal and when I’m offstage, I’m a little more reserved. Marcus was the complete opposite of how I am offstage. We came together personally and musically. It was a good connection.

Describe how songwriting happens for you.
It happens in many different ways. I read a lot of poems. I have an absolute passion for poetry like FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA, Indian poets, Spanish poets, French poets. For example the song FARAWAY is inspired by a French poem called VOTRE NOM which means ‘YOU’RE NAME’. It is very different from FARAWAY but it was inspired by the words of that poem. FARAWAY started with inspiration from a poem. I just had a desire to express something that I couldn’t have done through prose. The words and the music are absolutely essential to a song. I’ve had people tell me that words are absolutely unimportant and that the words are never listened to and I can understand that because as a kid, I would just sing a bunch of fake English whenever I heard a song. Every PRINCE and BEATLES song I ever heard was listened to in that way. I just made up the words. One time I was at a bar in Italy and my song had come on and this one guy came up to me and asked if I could understand what the singer was saying. The guy spoke Italian and he said to me ‘I don’t know what she’s saying, but it sounds like she’s saying something important.’ It doesn’t matter if people get each word but they get the meaning. Last night I couldn’t sleep and I was reading a book called ‘THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD’- it’s a book that is required reading in you schools here. There was one sentence in that book that inspired me. It said ‘ you are done with breaking my heart.’ I read that line on that one page and it was so strong. After reading that line I picked up my guitar and started writing a song.

How easy or difficult was it to make the transition from Europe to here?
It was difficult - very, very difficult. It took many, many years. I really had to go out there and make contacts. It wasn’t like I went to primary school here. I was much more disconnected. Meeting MARCUS wasn’t the end of my story. The album didn’t just happen once I met him. It was about four years after I met him that the album finally started to take shape. It took me a while to understand the culture that I was surrounded by. I always equate it to being a painter. If someone does an abstract painting and had never studied drawing then maybe his abstract painting wouldn’t be as valuable as someone who can paint a perfect picture and then go on to doing abstracts and make his or her own contribution. Years ago, I didn’t feel as if I had that. People didn’t care. I needed to know that I could stand on my own legs and that I could write a good song that people here could appreciate. I needed to own it a little bit. It took years for me to be proud of what I could do as a songwriter and entertainer.

From this E.P., what songs stand out for you at the moment and why?
I really like every song on the recording. I’m especially drawn to DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVE. I put it on the E.P. for that reason. YOU AND ME is a song that grows on you slowly. It is a very simple and pure song about falling in love for the first time and it’s free and innocent. That is what that song is about. I always think about what my grandmother said – ‘there are those women that walk down the street and you turn your head and then there are those women you pass. You let them pass and then you stop and you look back.’ That song is a little bit like that. I’M THE WORLD is a song I love because of it’s Middle Eastern influence. The producer of the song is a guy from Israel and there was another guy form Lebanon. On the album, the song stands out as this little jewel. For the video, I worked with this painter form Italy. He’s not a director and he did an installation - it was this video of faces from around the world. I saw it and it mirrored exactly what I was saying in my song. We did that video with no nothing- no budget or anything. We just put both of our artistic energies together and it worked. Like I said earlier, every song on this album has an adventure behind it and I can’t say which one I like the best. There is absolutely no filler on this record. I was very meticulous in the making of this record – more so than MARCUS. Each song is special and I did not want any filler. I grew up in the eighties and I used to hate to buy an album where three songs were good and the rest was just filler. I would wait between records for ten years before I allowed any filler on any release of mine.

What would you like a person to come away with after they’ve heard this CD? How would you like them to feel?
That is a beautiful question! I’d like people to feel empowered and to dare a little bit. There is definitely a strong message for women in my music. There is a lot of honestly and directness in my music and I’d love for people to think that it was okay to be themselves.