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Pierpaolo Monti (Charming Grace)

posted 5 Sep 2013, 04:54 by Paul Woodward   [ updated 5 Sep 2013, 05:03 ]

Italy has been producing lots of new and exciting traditional AOR and melodic rock musicians and bands in recent years. One of those is songwriter Pierpaolo Monti who came to our attention with his Shining Line project which took the melodic rock world by surprise. He’s back with a new project with his friend and vocalist Davide Barbieri called Charming Grace. It’s an ambitious album featuring duets with some big names from the world of melodic rock. Woody wanted to catch up with Pierpaolo and talk about Charming Grace and well pretty much everything else!

Hi Pierpaolo, you first came to my attention with the Shining Line project a few years ago and I was curious as to why this new album is not a Shining Line album?

Hi Paul! First of all thank you so much for this interview, it’s always a pleasure to have a nice talk together!

Regarding the album, the main difference between Charming Grace and Shining Line is that the backbone behind Shining Line is composed by me and my mate Amos, while in Charming Grace there's the addition of my friend Dave Rox (frontman of Wheels Of Fire), who represents the third main force behind this project. The concept we conceived for Charming Grace as having a main singer performing all the songs (Dave himself) and having him dueting in every tune with a different male/female singer. Our idea was creating the first melodic rock album ever with all vocal duets!

So does this mean the Shining Line project was a one-off or do you have plans to record a new album in the future?

I can assure you that Shining Line has not been just a one-off album, but to satisfy the high expectations of fans for the second chapter I need to involve a top notch line-up which requests a main simple thing: money. A lot of established names usually do nothing for free when you try to involve them in a project, and in today’s market where selling results are sadly poor, you have to make a “lossy-investment” if you want to make a quality product.

With the Shining Line debut I invested my lifetime savings to follow my dream, but in the meanwhile a lot of things have changed. I lost my mother one year ago after a terrible battle against cancer, and I had a lot of repercussions in various sides of my life, included the economical one… it’s sad, but this is life.

At the same time I don’t want to make the same error of other projects which tried to “live” under the light of the good debut releasing a more “economical” follow-up… they fell down soon due to the big competition of the melodic rock scene of these days.

I don’t know when and how I’ll be able to have Shining Line back, anyway what I can promise to the fans is that we’ll come back only when we’ll have all the elements to do the big second album that the fans of the debut are expecting from us. I already have 8/9 newly written songs that are waiting to be recorded!

In theory the concept behind the Charming Grace album, having an album full of duets, could to me fall flat on its face. Regardless of who performs if the voices don’t mix well if could all turn out really badly?  Were you ever worried during the various stages of writing and recording that things may not turn out the way you hoped?

What we tried to with Charming Grace was offering to the melodic rock fans something new, this is in answer of many messages found all around the web where the scene is “accused” of standing still without any kind of renewal.

I think that an album full of duets is something unusual and cool at the same time, it offers to the audience the chance to listen to how two different voices can be united together. In every song you’ll be able to notice how the main voice (Dave) builds the right harmonization to fit with the other singer, and things get more interesting in the choruses, where you find also two or more backing vocalists who add their vocals parts to reach the final mosaic we had in mind for Charming Grace. Thanks to this you’ll be able to taste some cool but different vocal styles just like the arena backing vocals of tunes just like “Everytime You Touch My Heart” and “The Way You Feel Inside”, the “gospel” style vocals of “Still Dreamin’” (thanks to the amazing backing vocals of the skilled Platens’ singer Dario Grillo) and appreciating also the full vocal section in the intro of “Through The Stars”, built only with the vocals parts and without the use of any instrument.

Sincerely we’ve never been worried in any stage of the recordings, with Shining Line I already experienced how to connect the right voice with the right song, and working with Dave who is a true professional we were able to face any problem we found along the creation of the album. For example we did a little error in the key a song (which was not good for the singer we contacted), but no problem: we wrote immediately a new song with the right key for this singer, and contacted another guest to perform the other one: I believe that everything can be solved with the passion for music and hard work!

Was there anyone who you were working with as a guest who just didn’t work on the album and you had to leave them off the album? I obviously don’t expect you to name names, but I’m curious given the ambitious concept behind this album if the making of the album was trouble free?

Good question. This album has not been trouble free… when you work with a lot of guests you know that someone might not be very professional, and you know from the start that you’ll have to face some unpleasant situations due to their lack of professionalism.

For example we had a singer who answered happily when we called him to perform one song, but after the first moment of euphoria he started to write to us in the following weeks with stupid excuses for not being able to record his parts just like a cold, a flu or things like this. Everybody may get sick along a year, but I think you cannot get a permanent cold… don’t you think?

The opening track on the Charming Grace album ‘Every time You Touch My Heart’ features members of my favourite band VEGA! How did you get the guys involved, what was it like working with them and what do you think of their performance on the song?

I’m a big fan of Nick Workman and the Martin Bros, I’ve followed Nick since his work with Kick and I love the songs that James and Tom have wrote for many big names of the melodic rock scenes just like House Of Lords, Ted Poley and many others.

When I listened to the Vega debut album for the first time I was amazed at the great work they did together, in my opinion it has one of the strongest set of songs I’ve heard in years and Nick was the perfect singer to come full circle for a perfect melodic rock album!

I contacted them via e-mail and I found immediately in them some true professionals who accepted to work with us for my BIG happiness. They did great work as you can hear in the opening track “Everytime You Touch My Heart”, and I had the chance to thank them personally at the last Firefest Edition where I met them and Issa… what a great moment!

The sound of Charming Grace is very much in a traditional AOR sound and VEGA’s style is less traditional, what do you think of the band are you a fan of what they are doing?

As I’ve told you before I’m a big fan of Vega, I like every style of melodic rock music (including the most modern approach) and I think they did an amazing work on their new studio album. I really hope to have another chance to collaborate together with such talented guys, and I send them my best wishes for a great career in music, they deserve it!

There is a whole load of guest musicians on this album, many of them extremely well known within the melodic rock genre. How did you get them all involved especially some of the more surprise guest like Boulevard’s David Forbes?

Today internet offers a big resource to contact people all over the world, and in the music scene it has offered to many like me the chance to collaborate with many big names in various projects with no needed costs, a thing that would have never been possible in the past.

For Charming Grace I absolutely wanted a very special round up of musicians and singers, especially artists which haven’t been in a recording studio for years or even decades. For David Forbes, for example, I started together with some friends a massive research on the web that went on for weeks… we luckily found some tips that offered us the way to find his phone number… and we called him directly at home!

The first to answer was his wife Karen: a very kind woman who was a little incredulous when we asked her to talk with David for a possible collaboration together on the music side… she answered that he was away from the scene since 20 years, and I must admit that I would have had the same reaction if I was her!

Luckily David was happy when we proposed him the collaboration, he’s a great person and I’m so proud to be the one who took him back to the melodic rock scene! He deserves it for his incommensurable talent and big kindness!

Did you write all the songs with the guest musicians in mind or did the vocalist selection come afterwards?

I like to do both things. I some cases I chose the right singer when I finished writing a song, in others I write the tune with the thought printed in my mind of the voice of the singer I want to involve. It’s exactly the same I did when writing for Shining Line!

Were there any guest musicians who you didn’t manage to get on this album but might feature on a future Charming Grace album? Do you have a wish list?

My wish list is endless… I’d like to collaborate especially with artists that I love and that disappeared from the melodic rock scene in spite of their big talent. I could tell some names… but I prefer to not spread the word before someone else will contact them!

You have chosen to cover two songs on the album Bon Jovi’s ‘Everybody’s Broken’ and Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Leave A Light On’. I’m a massive fan of Belinda Carlisle and I refuse to class her as a guilty pleasure and ‘Leave A Light On’ is a big favourite with me. Why did you pick these songs?

For “Everybody’s Broken”, the choice comes from the fact that both me and Dave are massive fans of Bon Jovi, even if we’re having a hard time in appreciating their last studio albums… they’re losing the big rock approach which was a real trademark for the whole band.

We think that they could rock hard again, and with our re-visitation we wanted to show that a lot of their “new” songs can be great melodic rock anthems if arranged in a more “classic” way… I don’t know if we reached our goal… for this you decide!

Regarding the Belinda Carlisle’s song, Dave is a huge fan of her and he considers “Leave A Light On” as one of the best songs ever… for this reason I agreed with him to do a cover version in a more “rockin’” style which is now the European bonus track of the Charming Grace cd… we love how our cover version turned out!

You have of course changed the songs around a bit, ‘Everybody’s Broken’ seems more altered to me than ‘Leave A Light On’ but both have had a traditional AOR makeover. Did the songs turn out as you had hoped?

Yes mate! We’re very happy of the final result and I think the two songs fits perfectly with the Charming Grace concept! Regarding “Everybody’s Broken”, we’ve chosen carefully the singers… in fact both Dave and Josh Zighetti (of Hungryheart fame) have in Italy two different Bon Jovi’s tribute bands… I think they did an amazing job together on this song!

What was the song writing process like on the Charming Grace album and did the album turn out as you had originally envisioned?

In Charming Grace I wrote together with Dave on most of the compositions, with a little help from a new cool songwriter called Carmine Martone, a friend of ours who also played guitars on a few tracks. Carmine is a very talented guitar player and songwriter… I think we’ll hear more of him in the next years!

Some of the songs are totally new, while others have been developed together by ideas (a riff, a vocal melody, or so on) that me and Dave recorded separately along the years.

I can say that the album turned out great, in this time in fact the production duties were in the hands of me and Dave, and this was a sort of “baptism” for us in this role, which is always a key factor in the final result of an album.

We had anyway the luck to be supported by the amazing talent of our big friend Alessandro Del Vecchio, who did an amazing job in the mix and mastering sessions giving to Charming Grace the big sound you can hear right now!

What songs from the album are you particularly proud of and any reasons why?

There is a song which is very special to me: “Through The Stars”. This is dedicated to my beloved mother, who died one year ago after a hard battle against cancer. I was very close to her, and I miss her so deeply every single day.

When we started Charming Grace, she was again here with me. When we finished it, she was already with angels, maybe listening to the finished cd. I dedicate to her the full album, in the hope that she’s proud of me from above. She was an appreciated local poet in my country, and if I started to write music and lyrics, it’s all thanks to her.

I suppose given how many musicians feature on this album and given all the factors needed to make it happen it seems unlikely, but will we ever see Charming Grace perform live?

Another good question mate! There a lot of things to understand, but never say never. If the right occasion should come, I’ll talk with Dave and Amos about the chance to build a full band for that and we’ll see. Anyway we’re talking about few selected live dates, there is no chance to make a full tour for us… we are ordinary men with ordinary works, so we must work every single day to eat,  live and make music!

You personally seem to have a good working relationship with Gregor Klee at the Avenue of Allies record label. Does having someone who has faith in your song writing and gives you an outlet to get your music out there make you more confident and productive?

It’s very important to have someone who believes in your “vision”, ‘cause in this way you know you can work with the right support without paying too much attention to those sides which are out from the artistic side. Gregor believed in my music since the first e-mails we exchanged together, and I always did my best to offer him high quality products to be released on Avenue Of Allies Music.

This label has a great potential in my opinion, it’s all in the hands of Gregor and if he’ll handle it all in the right way the label can improve again in the future and be in a position of real force in the melodic rock scene of these days.

If you’d asked me as little as five years ago to name an Italian melodic rock band or musician, I would have really struggled! There seems to be a real surge in bands and musicians from Italy at the moment, do you feel there is more quality bands coming from your country? Or is it just because labels like Avenues Of Allies are giving these bands a boost into the public’s sight?

I think that since the release of Shining Line, something has changed. One of the main factors in the low quality of the Italian rock scene has always been the failed collaboration between the artists of our country, this based on useless things just like envy or so on. I hate these sorts of things; I absolutely believe that collaboration is the key word for the good health of a scene.

When I recorded the Shining Line’s bonus track “This Is Our Life”, I called eight singers from different bands to collaborate and sing all together on this track: it’s been a very special moment, maybe the first when the various melodic rock artists of our country were reunited together in a studio to reach the same goal.

After that some of us started to collaborate closely, and thanks to the help of Avenue Of Allies Music who gave a chance to more Italian bands we have built a sort of “net” where we unite all our forces. I think this is the key for the quality music which is coming out from our country right now, think for example of my mate Alessandro Del Vecchio who is showing incredible passion and skills in working with international acclaimed acts just like Hardline, Issa and many others. I’m proud of him!

I’m a big fan of your lyric’s and writing style. I think sometimes songwriter’s whose first language isn’t English tend to fall foul of more clichés and sometimes struggle writing decent lyrics. This is not the case with you, you have a great writing style and I enjoy your lyrics. Do you think lyric’s are important or is the melody more important?

Paul, I must thank you so much for these kind words, they mean a lot to me. As I told you, I started to write thanks to the influence of my beloved mother, and I consider lyrics a very important side to complete every song in the best way.

You’re right when you talk about the problems regarding the different language we come from, it’s not always easy to say the things you have in mind transposing them in the right way and respecting the English grammar rules… I also tend to fall often in some grammatical errors, but I don’t have any problems in admiting it… I love your language and I think it’s the perfect one for melodic rock music.

When I write the lyrics of a song I simply try to tell a little story, something where the listeners can identify themselves with. Sometimes I reach my goal, sometimes not… but the passion I put in each of my song is always the same!

Have you ever thought of writing a song in Italian or even having songs with Italian and English lyrics within them on your projects intended for a worldwide release?

Sincerely… not! As I was saying I consider English the most perfect language for melodic rock music! I love the way it sounds, it is pure poetry for this style of music and I cannot think of singing it in a different language!

You have been quite busy over the past couple of years not only with your own projects but also writing with others. Are you working with any other bands or projects at the moment or in the near future?

In this moment I want to concentrate myself in the promotion of Charming Grace, but I won’t be quiet for too much! I always have a lot of new ideas, and in the latest days I had a new cool one for a new melodic rock adventure! Let’s see what will happen!

Is there anything else you would like to add or say to Fireworks readers?

I’d like to thank you Paul for your so appreciated and never ending support… it’s thanks to you and many other fans and journalists that this scene is still alive, offering to me and all the other artists the chance to express ourselves with this wonderful kind of music!

And for all the fans of the scene, I’d like to invite them to visit our official website at www.charminggraceaor.com , there you can find all the way to come in contact with us just like email addresses, official Facebook page and all the related things! Rock on!

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