Can we start by talking about the beginning of your career?
Sure: when I was about 5 years old, my parents bought a piano and I basically jumped on it, and started playing it right away!… My older brother Giancarlo had already started a singing career, so at that point we were sent to music school. After a while, we stopped taking lessons, and I began to study music on my own: encouraged by my father`s love for music, I bought a lot of jazz albums and spent a long time listening to those and trying to figure out the harmony and the language they used.
Meanwhile, when I was about 10, I was playing local gigs, mostly backing up my brother.
How old were you when you moved to the States?
I was 20 years old. I had just started writing songs a couple of years before, in Rome; I came to LA on vacation and I was immediately attracted to it, so I tried to figure out ways to stay here, and pretty soon I found a restaurant where I got hired to sing and play. That place was called Carmelo, in Corona del Mar, and I commuted there for the first 7-8 months, after which I got hired at Caffè Roma, in Beverly Hills, where I worked for the next 12 years to come, until 1998!
12 years is a long time… What else happened during that time?
While performing at Caffè Roma 5 or 6 nights a week, I worked hard in laying the foundations for a singing and producing career. I wrote my first “American” songs here with Frank Maddlone, and we sent demos around to get feedback and to look for opportunities.
That`s how we caught the interest of a young music editor, Doug Stebleton (today successful with his publishing company, called Iron Mike Entertainment), who started placing our material in TV shows and such. At some point, around 1990, Doug contacted Harold Kleiner, then head of A&Rs at Walt Disney Records, and arranged a meeting which turned into a long and successful collaboration. The first Disney project where I got involved was some orchestration for an album inspired by “The Little Mermaid”. From then on, Harold hired me regularly for session work like that, and after a few years I gained Disney`s trust and I started getting hired as a producer, as well.
When did you and Harold become business partners?
At the end on the `90s, Harold started questioning the quality changes in the American corporate system, and realized it was time to leave Disney: after negotiating an agreement, thanks to which he would get a certain amount of music to produce from his big old company, he and I formed Magelic Productions. He was 50-something years old back then, but had the creative energy of a much younger man.
That period was extremely stimulating for me, both artistically and otherwise: Harold and I started a few speculative projects, where I learned a LOT about how the business works. Unfortunately, at the peak of our collaboration, he got sick and passed away after a few weeks in the hospital.
What are the most important things you learned during your collaboration with Harold?
Thanks to him, I got the precious opportunity to live the business of music from the “other” side! As you know, as artists we often tend to refuse certain structures which are in fact substantial parts of our world, such as the legal department or the business affairs, just to give you a couple of examples… Well, I wasn`t any different, but through my everyday experience with Harold, I soon understood that dealing with the business side of music is absolutely necessary to achieve anything concrete in this field. So I began learning certain roles, and I eventually incorporated those in my job, very spontaneously.
Another important episode in that period is your collaboration with Josh Groban: how did that happen?
I got a call by Jay Landers (also with Disney, back then) because he had heard from David Foster that he had just started to produce a young American singer (Josh was only 17 years old back then), and they needed someone to coach him for his Italian pronunciation. I obviously went there and did my job, following this project for about a year, but at the beginning I did not quite understand the potential that all this could have: their idea turned into a big success, and created a precedent for what today is considered “classical crossover.”
At some point David invited me for dinner, and during that evening someone asked me to play something on the piano, so he realized I wasn`t just limited to improving Josh`s Italian pronunciation, and he started involving me in writing songs for him. Therefore, I came up with a bunch of ideas, and a few of those became successful, like “Un Amore Per Sempre” and “Per Te” (both co-written with Walter Afanasieff). As of late, “Per Te” has also been recorded by “Il Volo”. Also for Josh, I did some adaptations of well known melodies such as “Cinema Paradiso” and the theme from the movie “Il Postino”. I kept writing music for Josh through the years, and – among the others – I got a song called “L`Ora dell`Addio” in his last CD.
I am assuming that Josh`s success opened a few doors for you…
It sure did! Thanks to his popularity, I began associating with other artists, such as “Il Divo,” whose album is coming out in November, with a few songs written by myself. The most interesting is probably an adaptation of the Adagio for strings by Samuel Barber, of which I am a big fan! Meanwhile, the new record by “Il Volo” is coming out and I have a couple of songs on that one, too. Also in the same genre, I collaborated with Katherine Jenkings, Andrea Bocelli and the Canadian Tenors.
What else came out of your association with Disney?
A couple of fun episodes are my nomination for the Grammys (I think in 1996, in the “Best Kid`s Music” category) together with Michael Becker, with whom I produced a record inspired by Winnie The Pooh! Unfortunately, the vice president of the company back then, Carolyn Beug, died in the first airplane on 9/11 2001… Also, I got involved in the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana production: I got hired to produce a couple of songs in her first two CDs; she must have been 13 years old back then, and she sure got a certain talent.
Marco, looking at your achievements in the classical crossover genre, how important have your Italian roots been in developing a certain sense of melody, typical in this genre?
My musical world is built on different genres: pop, jazz, classical… As far as the instinct for a certain kind of melodic research, for sure my upbringing has established some parameters based on the obvious value of Italian composers like Verdi or Puccini. In my specific case, those influences got blended with other important influences, such as jazz, and because of that I guess I always lean towards an “international” kind of taste!