Saverio “Sage” Principini is a man of many interests. Born in Rome, Italy, he came to Los Angeles in 1987 and has lived here ever since, re-inventing himself several times over the years, driven by a pure and intense love for music. This drive has led him from the days of his heavy metal band Astaroth, when he and his fellow band mates performed dressed as ancient Romans (and sometimes even went out shopping in the same outfits) to his current work co-writing songs with artists of the caliber of Vasco, passing through years coordinating big international recording sessions.
Over a delicious plate of spaghetti with artichoke sauce, which he had just invented, Saverio told us his story.
Saverio, let`s start talking about your journey: you came to LA in 1987; what brought you to buy the plane ticket, in the first place?
In 1987 my band, Astaroth, had already played many times in Europe (besides Italy, we did Holland, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium), sometimes even in big heavy metal festivals headlined by Metallica and Manowar. We would go on stage dressed like ancient Romans, and that certainly had a special appeal to the crowd! Eventually, some American college radio stations started playing our music, and that encouraged us to come here and check out the situation.
And did that actually work? How did the US crowd respond to that?
Well, the look was quite successful, but our music style was not right for the times: we played songs with complex structures and odd metered time signatures, and our progressive sound carried too much information for the LA crowd, which ultimately preferred simpler bands, more inspired by Kiss and a straight rock and roll language. The band fell apart after a couple of years, and its individual members went separate ways; some started traveling, others went back to Italy. I decided to stay in LA, firmly set on expanding my musical experience!
So, no more playing bass for prog-metal bands… Bummer! And how did you re-invent yourself?
I started going out to clubs and listening to a lot of music. See, in LA we have always had some of the best players in the world, and at that point I was ready to know them all, and learn from them, as much as I could… For instance, people like Vinnie Colaiuta (drummer for Frank Zappa, Sting and many others) eventually became my good friends, and I kept in touch with them.
I formed a new band, called “Word!” and explored new styles, based on the fusion of music elements, as well as actual ethnicities, and somehow we became Alberto Fortis` backing band around 1994. During that time, I was researching a lot, writing tons of music, and I lived with very little money: I just needed my apartment in Laurel Canyon and my rehearsal space in an industrial area of Downtown LA (which was pretty shady, back then!) which we shared with Fishbone and Macy Gray. That`s all I needed – I wasn`t even thinking of doing business!
So, when did you actually start thinking about the business side of music?
At some point I realized that I could become a sort of bridge between the Italian music world and the amazing talent who lived in this city, and the occasion came when a photographer, an old friend of mine from Rome, put me in contact with some producers who were making a recording for charity, and were looking for high caliber musicians. So I ended up coordinating the sessions, bringing in drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Carmine Appice, bass player John Patitucci and a bunch of others. Since that episode, I started collaborating with songwriter Gianni Bella, with whom I ended up arranging Marcella Bella`s record. Then my services got noticed by the management agency Music Unlimited, which began using me to organize Italian seminars held by American musicians, from jazz legend Joe Diorio to rock icon Steve Vai.
At what point did Vasco Rossi, Eros Ramazzotti and Laura Pausini come into the picture?
Guido Elmi (Vasco Rossi`s main music producer) called me out of the blue one day when he was testing the waters in Los Angeles, trying to see if there was a way to do some cool recording. He came to see me at a rock event I had just organized at Whiskey-A-Go-Go on Sunset, where he met a bunch of iconic musicians he knew from his favorite records. He liked the situation, so he hired me to send Matt and Greg Bissonette (bass and drum players for David Lee Roth’s band) to Italy, to record Vasco`s album “Gli Spari Sopra”. Eventually, Guido and Vasco came to LA to mix the album, and then they came back for a long period, and recorded the majority of his next album “Nessun Pericolo Per Te”. Another remarkable Italian producer, Celso Valli, was collaborating on the same project and when he fell in love with the vibe he decided to involve me in the record he was about to work on for Eros Ramazzotti. So, we ended up making “Dove c`è musica”, thanks to which I started working with orchestras as well, in legendary recording studios like A&M (now called Henson) and Capitol.
At that point, my name got some recognition in the industry, and the next one to call was Laura Pausini, who eventually opened the way to other international artists, thanks to her huge success in the Hispanic world, so I got to work with Diego Torres and Myriam Hernandez, and on that occasion I met YOU, since we did our first guitar session right then, if you recall!
Hahaha, I sure remember that episode: Myriam`s CD was called “Todo El Amor”, and besides me on guitar (as well as others), I want to mention Alex Alessandroni on keyboards… So, did you exclusively work for Italian or Spanish speaking recording artists?
Not really, but being Italian and living in LA certainly defined my position as a “bridge” between the two cultures, as I was saying before. In fact, right around that time I started collaborating with Gino Vannelli, who wanted to make a record in Italian, so I flew to Oregon to co-write with him, and after I came back to California I did a project for Fox Family since they needed to translate all their original cartoon theme songs from English to Italian. But then – thanks to that TV experience – I ended up making music tracks for the CW Network show “Who Wants to Be the Next Pussycat Doll”, which had nothing to do with my native country…
While busy at all these things, were you able to keep writing and producing music for yourself, as originally planned?
I`ve always felt the need to come up with my own music, and at some point I built my little Sage Studio in the San Fernando Valley, where I made the first steps toward production. There, I laid down the foundations of an eclectic band called “SOUP”, which featured myself on bass, blues guitarist Marcello Cosenza and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums; our CD is called “From 8 to Infinity” and sounds just like a soup made of different styles!… Then I produced a singer who caught the attention of Clive Davis, and I was encouraged to explore other artists, so I finally found Amana Melomè, a soulful artist for whom I produced the CD “Indigo Red” (released in Italy by Irma Records) and recently a second album “Phoenix Rising”, which sounds very organic, and which can be found on iTunes and on http://melomemusic.com. Recently, I started collaborating with another young and talented singer, Stefan De Maria, whose work is produced by Mario Lavezzi.
Does Sage Studio still exist?
Not anymore, but that idea has evolved into something new and bigger: after years of work with Vasco Rossi, he and I decided to put together a new structure, Glendower Studio, which is a great oasis for creating music! Besides the long sessions we did for him, I used the facility to co-produce Tiromancino`s latest CD “L`essenziale”. In the past year, Negrita and Elisa used the studio for their productions, too.
It`s right there that I came up with the guitar arpeggio which eventually became “Sto Pensando A Te”, one of Vasco`s most successful recent hits, and very recently “Manifesto Futurista della Nuova Umanità”, which I co-wrote with you and Vasco himself, and which has just been released on his new album “Vivere O Niente”.
This all sounds great! And what are your plans for the future?
I am very interested in the idea of making music for images, therefore songs for all kinds of movies, TV and soundtracks… I have already worked in that world, both in the US and in Italy, and I want to explore it more considering that I am becoming a writer for EMI publishing.