In Conversation With Tony Lucca
Tony Lucca is starting over.
After an extensive and non-stop stint in the spotlight -- from being a member of the Mickey Mouse Club to starring in NBC's 'The Voice' -- Lucca is no stranger to having fans all over the world watch his every move. But with his latest effort -- his self-titled full-length that hit the streets earlier this year -- Lucca decided to start over and create his "calling card."
"If I was going to hand a total stranger a record and be like, 'This is Tony Lucca,' this is it. This is literally me, that's what it's called and this is who it is and this is what it sounds like ... it's almost like a starting over point for me," he tells me in a coffee shop on the East Side of Manhattan.
And what a starting over point it is. 'Tony Lucca' reveals the singer-songwriter's powerful and irrepressible passion to create authentic and genuine music not just for his fans, but for himself. Throughout our conversation, Lucca displayed that honesty about this particular record and his life -- check out our exclusive chat below:
'Tony Lucca' is finished and out to your fans. How does it feel?
Well, it's funny because I knocked this one out pretty quickly and it's been done now for a long time and I've been listening to it again, so it's kind of revisiting the excitement you had when you made it. Obviously we knew we wanted to get it right, we weren't going to try to rush it out by the end of the year. We figured waiting until the beginning of the New Year would be the right call, so I'm excited.
When you put an album like this, the day it hits -- are you done with it emotionally?
It's funny because normally when I make records, when it's done and it's mastered, I'll listen to the master once or twice and then just move on. This one however, no. I'm a big fan of this record. I enjoy listening to it, I enjoy when I hear people popping it on, there's something different about it, definitely.
How'd you approach it differently?
You just learn as you go. I learned a lot of cool things, both from some of the more independent spirited records that I've done as well as some of the more mainstream stuff, like the last EP I did with 222 records, Adam [Levine’s] label, I had the pleasure of working with Eric Ross who is a phenomenal pop guy, he has full appreciation for real sounds, but knows how to put them in a way that's radio ready and has that catchy thing to it. I learned some cool things from just watching him work and working with Matt Chamberlain on drums and the best of the best. I knew that the songs were there, I just followed the lead of the songs and it was very easy to dictate which ones needed more work and which ones were done.
Why did it take so long for this album to get out once it was done?
We weren't going to have the kind of runway of set up time like we were used to. The only way we were going to put it out before the end of the year would have been early fourth quarter and it's a tough time to get noticed, to get the press you want, let alone if we were going to do any kind of radio thing. We knew to hold off, but we had plenty of time to release some singles, to make a music video -- all of which each time we put something out or take a step on this we've had really great media outlets taking a look at it and getting the exclusive features and things and it just feels good to just kind of have that for once, to say, "This is how it feels when you have legitimate press"; you get some decent exposure for the efforts you're making.
It seems like you had to wait a little longer, but the return on it was worth it.
Yeah, if you're going to do it, you might as well summon the patience to do it right and I knew with this record it was that good. As an artist you're constantly like, "Oh, I gotta get new music out now, people need to hear my music now," and six months will go by in no time. I feel like I've maintained a steady rate of output and I don't feel like I'm soon forgotten -- it's still a lot of work and there's still a lot of music out there to sink their teeth into.
This is the first full length you've done since 'The Voice,' right?
But you did an EP in between?
Yeah, I put out an EP ['With the Whole World Watching'] on Adam's label which was a six song thing and followed that up within a year with another EP ['Drawing Board'] of acoustic tunes that were just kind of sitting around. That was more of just a cathartic house cleaning for me, it just needed to happen creatively and musically and I'm glad I did that as well.
How did 'The Voice' affect your approach to this new album?
It did and it didn't. I really learned from Adam on the show ... people ask a lot, "Did you walk away with any insight you might not have had otherwise?", and I can honestly say that I did. He inspired me to realize the value of a well-calculated risk and I realized that that's what was maybe lacking in my work, that I was always real comfortable and careful. When we did this record, there were times when I would ask the people I was working with on the record, whether I asked them to or not, I was definitely open to input and encouragement to do something that might not be "me," so to speak. That could be a new extension of me. I feel like we got there, there were some really cool, hip things that we did musically and lyrically that I certainly wouldn't have done five years ago.
What's the riskiest thing on the album that a fan will hear?
There's a song called 'Cherry' and I'd be lying if I told you I knew exactly what it was about -- but even just that alone, trusting that you've written something that's mysteriously kind of esoteric and cool, yet is undeniably a good tune ... I don't have to put my finger on it completely, but there are some kind of cryptic undertones of virginity and losing one's virginity.
Did 'The Voice' affect or impact your outlook on the music industry?
Yeah, it's interesting to me that a show can be as successful as 'The Voice' is, without producing a single bona fide celebrity artist. I kind of predicted early on that I would have said the show had five or six seasons in it before people start to write it off entirely, you know, if they don't come up with someone. I could be wrong about that; it's interesting to me that people really don't give a f--k, it's neither here nor there. To me, as an artist, it's fascinating. It really doesn't matter, people just get swept away with these Cinderella stories and the emotional content that they squeeze out of these contestants and these coaches. These shows are just vehicles, if done right, you can rekindle things very quickly for a career or elevate an artist to the next level.
Maroon 5, case in point. Shakira, Usher, Blake Shelton ... for crying out loud, so many people had no idea who the hell Blake Shelton was and now he's a super, super star and they've learned when to drop a new record in time for the finale of the season so that you can premiere the new single. You don't have to be an industry insider to see that this is how it's working, the timing is all there, the mechanism is there in place for the coaches -- it's just not there for the contestants yet and I think that's pretty interesting.
You, as an artist, have a pretty unique perspective on the music industry. You're not just a recording artist releasing albums, but you've experienced something as grandiose as 'The Voice.' What's your view on the current state of the industry?
It's interesting ...
I know, it's a loaded question.
It is, but it's been really interesting to see the sales and financial side of the business do exactly what everyone has been nervous that it's going to do -- to continue to decline. I'm a firm believer that there is inherent value at some part in the formula, at some part of the equation there's value and there's integrity and I think where you're seeing the bounce, there's only so many points to it and at some point the money is going to show up in capacity. It happened that way for live shows for a while, that became a thing for the financial side. Emerging artists like myself were able to go out and make a decent career, so long that you had a national following to some degree and you had the resources to continue to get out and still be on fire in the live setting.
Merchandise and all of that sort of stuff picks up and creating that experience for your fans ... they can't get into shows for free and your shirts aren't free, your CDs -- if anyone is still purchasing them -- aren't free and that starts to add up. I haven't been terribly surprised by the crowdfunding side of the business, either. The fans want to be connected, they want to have a stake in things, they want to be involved. They don't realize that record stores were a thing, going there to buy your favorite band's new album. That's not how things are today. Now it's, "Man, I got this really cool thing on Kickstarter." Weezer did it for their last album, Frank Black did it with the box set for his solo stuff, you see it all over the world.
I've been a little nervous about it because it seems like you might want to treat it like an ATM, but so long as that it's clear it isn't about the money for the artist, it remains a unique experience and I wouldn't be surprised if we see more of that. I don't know if that's the ultimate answer, but I think that's a cool manifestation of the balance. But like I said, it's not an ATM where you're like, "F--k the label, I don't need a label anymore, I have Kickstarter." It's a short road and you've got to get it right.
You've been under the spotlight for a long time. How old were you when you joined the Mickey Mouse Club?
I was 15.
Ever since then, whether it was music or acting or 'The Voice,' you were always in the spotlight. How do you keep your lives separate?
Yeah, there have been times where I've sort of wanted to afford myself some artistic high ground or some self-imposed pedestal where I want to create this distance between me and my fans. I learned early on in the social media revolution that there's only so much of that that actually works, you know? True fans understand you need your space and there's a balance there where if I think if you're constantly taking selfies to promote your every breath as an artist and ...
You just open yourself up.
Yeah, that's not fulfilling, it's never going to be fulfilling and the fans don't get that. I think with social media, it's about finding that fine line between exposing enough of your personal life so that people get behind what you're doing a little more. Having a wife and kids has been really interesting; your instinct is to kind of keep that insulated, like no one is getting access to that. It's not surprising, the more you withhold, the more you get this sycophantic tendency out there, where as if you offer enough of it and say, "Hey, here's a picture on Instagram of me and my daughter hanging out," all of a sudden, that becomes what they're rooting for. When they see you, they know that they're supporting you and yours. It took me a while to find my balance of what works for me, but I think I have. That's what it's all about.
So how did you fall into music? Do you remember the beginnings of it?
My earliest memories, it was never a question, there was never a doubt, my mom was the 10th of 12 kids and they all sing and play something, so it was definitely by osmosis. I lucked out with my dad who is from a smaller family of non-musicians -- he actually had a bit of talent as well and taught me a lot of the basic, early guitar chord stuff and he's got a great voice. Both of my folks can sing really well, so the deck was stacked. I remember early on, I had a cousin who was about a year older and by the time we were eight or nine years old, we would have a sleepover and he'd come over and bring his guitar and we'd just play all night, just learning and showing each other stuff. By the time we were 12, we were getting paid to go play concerts and stuff. Before life sets in, before bills, before s--t -- you've got homework and your guitar, that's it. My cousin and me, man, we went through a rate of growth that was just like, "What?" It makes my head spin. I look at early videos of our first gig and only two years later another gig that we played, it was like, "Holy cow."
Were those gigs original music?
Yeah, we were writing as early as we could.
Trust me, though, we knew the classics.
To you guys, what were the classics? What were you doing?
We had Zeppelin, AC/DC, Van Halen, you know, the classic rock stuff. Guns N' Roses, definitely. To want to aspire to write stuff like that? You know right away you're s--t, that bar is pretty high. By the time we were out of high school we were cutting our own records, though.
What does the writing process look like for you? Some people lock themselves in a room and they knock out songs, some people just piece things together as they go along. Do you have a set way that you create?
It used to be a little more like I would get into a handful of pieces of music at any given time, a couple riffs that I was into. Living in Nashville now and becoming a member of that community, it's much more about discipline. You go to the gym and work out, you're going to come out a little more fit. You go to a session to write a song in Nashville, you're going to come out with a song, or at least an effort toward something. It's been interesting, because I used to shy away from co-writing, and in hindsight I would say I was pretending like it was beneath me. The truth was that I was scared as s--t. I'm totally embarrassed and nervous, it's basically like going into a room with an otherwise perfect stranger, naked and comfortable with them pointing out what's not great with your physique and you being cool with that. That's just foreign to me, but then you grow up and you realize that's why you're doing this together, so we can walk away with the best combination of our parts. It's been really great writing that way, because all of a sudden you just sharpen all of your facilities, all of your little tricks and things and you start to realize what your strengths are ... what I bring to the table isn't maybe the strongest hook, but I can find the most interesting way of rhyming the next line and I'll definitely bring the coolest melody and when we have a question about a chord change I might have a strong opinion about that. There are some people that like to write a little more down the fairway, there are some people that like to smoke a bowl and let your head see how far out we can take it and then reel it back in -- and both are cool. I enjoy both those processes and employed both of them on the new album, you know? You get to a point where you can't be afraid of that either.
Is there a significance to this album being self-titled?
Absolutely. This is hands down the record that sounds the most like me against me. These sounds, these tones, these harmonies and melodies really reflect my palate. What I grew up with got me excited about rock and roll in the first place and we tried to mine each lyric for a line or a title or a phrase or something that might make for a good title for the album. At the end of it, it just kept feeling like, "No" -- if I was going to hand a total stranger a record and be like, "This is Tony Lucca," this is it. This is literally me, that's what it's called and this is who it is and this is what it sounds like. I also think it's almost like a starting over point for me, because although I look forward to a continued life and career of really cool circumstances and amazing experiences and stuff that's like, "No s--t, wow, once in a lifetime" bucket list s--t, I have to believe the totally crazy s--t is over. By that I mean, the Mickey Mouse Club. That's a once in a lifetime sort of fame and I had a part in it. 'The Voice,' I'm not going to do any more of that s--t.
And you don't mean that in a negative way ...
No, no, no. I mean, come on, it's 'The Voice' and the Mickey Mouse Club.
But lightning doesn't strike twice.
Right, it's been a lot of fun, it's been really random and totally like, "Holy s--t, can you believe I got to open for N'Sync and Marc Anthony?" But now, enough is enough. Now it's like, I feel like this is a new chapter, my s--t didn't really get started until my eighth album, which I self titled because everything up to that point was just random and fun. I don't know, history will tell, but it just seemed like a really great starting over point for me.
I think it's bold statement, you know? We saw Ryan Adams do that last year and I think there's a lot of significance to it. Maybe at first glance you don't think about it, but just hearing you talk about moving to Nashville, co-writing, things like that, it's like you're hitting the reset button. This is where you start. This is the beginning.
It's a clean statement. It's a calling card.
The record is out. What's next? Have you already started thinking about the next EP or the next album?
I have. I started thinking I really want this one to hit in a way that makes deciding what to do next very easy, you know? I would love to follow up this record with another one of similar composition, similar sound with the same guys that I work with. You know, extensions, continuations of this current vibe. But yeah, it'll be touring by the end of the summer and probably in the fall get back to writing some more for the new record, the next effort, unless things really take off and I'm on the road for the next 18 months. I was just trading texts with Justin [Timberlake] the other day and I was like "F--k, dude. You've been out for two years with '20/20,' are you kidding me? That's amazing."
When it happens and you do it right, it kind of dictates it's own work and that's a little much for me -- I don't think I'm cut out for that, but the idea that we get maybe a couple of singles, maybe a couple different radio efforts and videos, we get out some big festival dates, some big opening slots? I like that. The next thing you know it just keeps growing the way you want it to and as excited as I am to get back and do some more writing, I would really love to think that I won't have time for it.
Tony Lucca's latest record, 'Tony Lucca,' is out now via Noble Steed Music. You can pick up your digital copy of the album via iTunes, and stay up-to-date with everything happening in Lucca's world at his official website.
Watch Tony Lucca's Official Music Video for 'Delilah (When the Lights Go Out)'