Wednesday, 4 August 2010
Interview: Paolo Del Prete
Paolo Del Prete is one of the true legends of Italo Disco music and also one of the few exponents of the genre who can really claim to have experienced living it from all sides. Having produced some of the most revered Italo classics of all time such as Music For Us, Stop, Livin' Up and A Dog In The Night, and having played on countless records in the role of session musician he was also a club DJ and radio presenter in Italy throughout Italo Disco's glory years...
Hi Paolo! Let's begin at the beginning - whereabouts in Italy do you come from and what was your early life like?
Hi James. I was born in Rome in '61. At the age of 6 I learned to play the keyboard by playing the organ at the church I used to go to as a boy scout and thanks to my "good notes" I was considered a child prodigy and jumped directly through the classes. I liked to play various sports and also got such good results there that the national media started to take an interest in what I was doing. I remember that when man landed on the moon I was invited to participate in a talk show with the most famous scientists of the time including Professor Enrico Medi (who later became a saint!) A few years later I started to play keyboards in several bands covering tracks by Yes, Genesis, Soft Machine and Led Zeppelin. During this time I learned to play the guitar, drums and bass.
What is the first music that you remember having an impact on you and when did you take up making music yourself?
Certainly the album Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson Lake and Palmer. Then there were other masterpieces in this period such as Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull and Fragile by Yes that convinced me that sound would be my future.
How did you first become involved with the Italian disco scene?
Already when I was 15 I was playing with different rock bands. A friend of mine who was an artistic director of a radio station suggested that I make a rock show for him. So I started as an announcer and was listening to other groups such as The Commodores, The Supremes, LaBelle, The Jackson Five, The Temptations, James Brown, Hamilton Bohannon, Cerrone, Marvin Gaye and Herb Alpert...
The disco music exploded shortly afterwards with the soud of such authentic monsters as Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang, Narada Michael Walden, Donna Summer (and then Giorgio Moroder), KC & The Sunshine Band, The Bee Gees and many, many more! It was easy to fall in love with this genre that cherished sound! And it was on the basis of all this that the music scene that would later be called Italo Disco would develop...
Can you please share some of your memories of Italy and its music at this time? What was it like to be a part of it?
Sure! As I said, around the end of the '70s the music that mattered in Italy was the expanding disco scene, thanks to the booming private radio stations and clubs that were in full "Saturday Night Fever". Thus was born the figure of 'DJ Master Of Ceremonies' who upon his arrival was worshipped, even to the limit of adoration. I myself started to make radio shows based on disco music while continuing to play keyboards or bass or drums with various rock groups, and I also took up the role of Disco DJ and it was for me the most natural thing. Some DJ-colleagues decided to create music companies specialising in Italo Disco and naturally I was asked into a few collaborations, not only because I was able to play instruments but because I had technical knowledge about how to record vocals in the recording studio and had also just begun to compose songs of various kinds. Of course the fact that I was also a DJ helped as it was not easy to find musicians in that period who understood disco music.
Of course you're very well known to Italo Disco fans for your work as Blackway, B.W.H. and Mr Master but were there other projects you were involved in before those?
Both before and afterwards I was fortunate to work with dozens of artists as a musician, sometimes maybe just being responsible for the sound of one instrument, but other times as composer and sometimes even as a sound engineer. There are lots of productions where my name is credited but to make a full list... that would be impossible!
How did the two Blackway records come about?
As it often happened in such situations: we met with friends and colleagues, some of us put forward the idea, we went into the studio giving our BEST in order to deliver the greatest possible master-tape to the label to get them to show more interest in the project.
The following year saw the release of the legendary B.W.H. 12" on House Of Music which featured not just one but two of the most classic Italo Disco tracks of all time! (Stop and Livin' Up). Who or what exactly was B.W.H. and can you share with us some of your memories of the recording process? The release is often credited to Stefano Zito and Carlo Favilli (as with Mr Master) although I believe you and Salvatore (Cusato) were also involved? I'm sure there's a lot of fans who'd love to have the record set straight!
At this time (the early '80s) I did not enter into contracts with all the productions I was working on and often somebody else was getting the credits instead of me. Regarding Stop and Livin Up the names you mention are not even credited on the label among the producers and the authors… despite that I can surely confirm that the late Carlo Favilli was the real executive producer, and as for the rest it's easy to check the data-banks of Siae and Suisa (www.suisa.ch) where it's easy to understand once and forever the name of the authors and the publishers and discover that everything else beyond that are just rumours…
That year also saw the release of another Italo classic that you played a part in - Mr Master - A Dog In the Night. What was the story behind this one?
This project was born randomly, like many others. At that time I was busy spending my time between doing radio shows, DJing in the nightclubs and recording in the studio. We went to the studio, tried to our maximum potential and left shortly after. There were so many other commitments that we had that we often barely had time to sign the contract... and of course we often even forgot to TAKE THE MONEY! (laughing)
In the few years that followed you appeared on a number of records - notably the Farm and High Resolution 12"s. What was your role there?
In both productions I played bass, some of the keyboards and I also programmed rhythm tracks, and in addition to that I helped work on the initial music. Again I was contacted by friends/colleagues to reprise the roles that I had played there previously. With High Resolution we had great success and we played the best parties and nightclubs and made a lot of TV appearances. I can't really say that I was never bored in life but in that period it would have been impossible even if I had wanted to be! (laughing)
You were also a DJ as well as a producer, composer, musician and arranger! Can you tell us a bit about that and what kind of sounds you like to play, both in the old days and now?
Just like many musicians I was raised with the sound of rock in its various nuances, from the hard sound of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin to the progressive music of Genesis, Peter Gabriel and King Crimson, to the pop of David Bowie and the Jazz-Metal-Rock of Brand X, Weather Report and the like. I also enjoyed the disco and funk, alternating between the soul/dance and electro/techno sides. Today I can say that I love all the music, except the part of the Italian charts that is insipid "South-Americana" made by anonymous artists imposed on us by today's media.
Recently you've been working on a new project, Xenophia, but what were you doing between the late 1980s and your recent releases with Xenophia?
I've been around the world. I played with many Rock and Blues groups and I have also made a pair of albums that were entirely comprised of rock interpretations (me playing bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, vocals, lyrics, arrangements and mastering) that were praised by critics and audiences alike in Germany, but mostly I've been creatively contributing and writing articles for specialist music newspapers and magazines, and even a socio-political one. I've also written books on various subjects from theology to history, material that I was able to thoroughly investigate at this time together with philosophy. But my book that had the most impact and highest status was my "DJ Manual", a theoretical and practical course for beginner-DJs to get to grips with the concept of hard-disk recording. The number of requests that I got was so high that I decided to put it online for free download. Every day there are still dozens of boys and girls who downloaded it who write to me to thank me.
How did Xenophia come about?
In the early 90s I was already a well-known part of the music industry. I got to know Maria Giovanna De Santis, a delicious 19-year-old model who soon became my girlfriend (and still is!). She had absolutely no ambitions in music or art but I noticed her talent and between us was born a creative 'symbiosis' that has led us to not only cover different musical genres but also to create and explore new art in sculpture and comics, in a very personal and original way. I'm really happy with the designation XENOPHIA, which continues to give us a lot more satisafction in these fields. This project allows us to create 'freely' without any conditions internal or external.
What releases have you got lined up? Are there any plans to play live?
To get an idea of the many projects, both for the record label and artists in general produced by XENOPHIA I recommend searching for us on the internet. We live for future projects - psychedelic effects, lasers and large screens, specifically created for large spaces such as sports stadiums and sports fields.
And of course you have a new single as Paolo Del Prete out on Music Control called I Believe... How did this one come about?
It just came out that way, suddenly. One night I was in my recording studio and I had a sudden inspiration - rhythms, then a guitar riff and wind parts supported by a melodic line. I made the basis of it in less than one hour, and then I added the other parts on a later day... and I Believe was complete. I immediately thought to contact my friend and great professional Salvatore Cusato, who heard the track and started to work on it... he was the one who post-produced it to perfection, pulling out four impeccable versions with a sound that can only be described as: "Powerful!"
What are your most happy memories from your life in music so far?
Thank God I can say I was happy in every period of my life. I started playing in my childhood, and since then my life has only been... MUSIC! Naturally there have been hard times but they also have their own beauty, especially if they are exploited to improve things and strengthen you. And then also the bad days have their own rhythms and melodies!
And what do you hope for the future?
Always to aim high, always to give my maximum both artistically and personally with full freedom...
Any final message for your fans?
Live life without useless problems, without letting in bad influences or conditions from third parties. Be always in coherence with your talent and do not let anyone take away even a shred of your freedom or happiness. Sometimes look to the sky and admire its immensity, and the greatness of He who created it; and remember that that's the only thing above you. Everything else depends entirely on you!