Al Conti is a GRAMMY® nominated musician people worldwide recognize as a composer with a natural ability for producing some of the most vibrant, story based albums in the new age and world music genres. Al Conti’s ability to intermingle his story based tales of intrigue into every one of his award winning albums, in part, originates from his life experiences and extensive international travels.
Al Conti is a nominee for the 54th GRAMMY® Awards in the Best New Age Album category, selected for his 2010 album entitled Northern Seas. Along with Al Conti’s GRAMMY® nomination in the new age genre, Northern Seas was also selected in Amazon’s Top 10 list for Best New Age Albums of 2010. Earlier albums Scheherazade, Poeta & Shadows have made other “best album of the year” and “top 10 album charts” at other organizations.
Northern Seas is the fourth album from Al Conti, and a fine release that highlights his abilities as composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist. The storyline on Northern Seas chronicles the ancestral homeland and Nordic heritage of Scandinavia with wondrous glory. The rich instrumental landscape captures your imagination, and valiantly stands the high ground on this resolute masterpiece aptly named Northern Seas.
Northern Seas features 10 songs in a fascinating blend of new age and world fusion with a Celtic inscription on several songs. There is a unique atmosphere by using ancient instruments in parity with traditional instruments. Al and contributing artists create a unique feel blending kantele, harp, hurdy gurdy, pump organ, accordion, and tribal drums with piano, violin, cello, acoustic and electric guitar.
The folklore of Norse traditions brought to the surface by Al Conti is deep, rich, and intriguing while portraying a tale of Norsemen during a time of Viking sovereignty. Every song on Northern Seas is crisp, clear and refreshing, as if detailing the pristine landscape and panoramic mountain vistas by the deeply spacious tonal qualities.
New Age Music World host John P. Olsen had the opportunity to conduct a December 2011 interview with Al Conti, a 54th GRAMMY® nominee in the Best New Age Album category. Today we are pleased to present their up-to-date interview to Al Conti’s fans and to our site visitors – several days prior to the New Year 2012.
GRAMMY® Nominated Al Conti Interview;
John Olsen: Thank you for consenting to my interview, Al. First I would like to congratulate you on your GRAMMY® nomination for Northern Seas! This is great news. It always pleases me when I hear an outstanding artist and their work are given the recognition they deserve. Northern Seas has many fine qualities, many of which were pointed out by a number of positive reviews at your site, AlConti.net. I was glad to be among those to contribute an album review, and I hope to have conveyed the award-winning potential, and some of the finer aspects of your work in the album review I wrote earlier.
John: Aside from the fact Northern Seas is in the category for Best New Age Album, I feel Northern Seas is to some extent the most progressive of the five GRAMMY® nominated albums by a variety of instrumental qualities. Do you agree, and if so, do you feel having a nominated album that varies instrumentally from the rest will work to your advantage?
Al Conti: Hello John, it is my pleasure to be here with you! Many reviewers have commented before on how my work is rather different than much of the New Age music available these days. Some have called my work ‘cutting edge.’ Personally, I feel that New Age music is very rich in its diversity, and my work is a part of that spectrum. Whether my music’s edge works to my advantage or not, I am not sure.
During the nomination process, I have indeed heard from many peers, mostly from other genres, how they found my music to be so different. I guess it has, in the end, worked to my advantage. The ironic thing is I never strive to compose music that is different, per se, but just to be true to myself as an artist and simply create what comes from within me. The rest is all excruciating work!
John: On Northern Seas you pair old-world instruments of kantele, harp, hurdy gurdy, pump organ, accordion and tribal drums with modern instrumentation of piano, violin, cello, acoustic and electric guitar. I am familiar with the majority of songs on your earlier albums Scheherazade, Poeta & Shadows, but I would like to know, if this blend of ancient and modern instruments is consistent throughout every one of your four releases?
Al Conti: Since my album Scheherazade, I’ve been drawn consistently to rediscovering ancient instrumentation, and this also blends very well with the mystical landscapes I like to explore. People have responded very well to the use of these instruments. There is also something beautiful to me in bringing instruments and sounds into a modern content. It feels like I am in some way honoring the past by bringing these instruments into a more contemporary setting. I am never quite sure what will come out of me musically and I am always challenging myself as an artist with each release.
John: Would you tell us about the outstanding artists who performed instrumentals with you on your GRAMMY® nominated release?
Al Conti: I have been blessed to have worked with some amazing people, and continue to do so. For Northern Seas I wanted to work mostly with local talent, and except for Francesca Genco (vocals), all are Vermont artists. Among the contributing talent in Northern Seas there is the immensely-talented violinist Hannah Beth Crary, who was truly magnificent to work with and my trusted guitarist and engineer André Maquera.
John: You also have a team of music professionals you depend on for technical details and final production. Would you like to mention the people who helped you finalize Northern Seas?
Al Conti: While I do a big part of an album’s mixing myself as I compose, I depend heavily on André Maquera, of West Street Digital, in Vermont, for the final mixing and mastering on my projects. I have worked with him since my first release, Shadows, and feel he understands my approach so well at this point as to know how to work with whatever I bring his way. Mastering is also a very arduous process and my hearing can only handle so much. Aside from the actual music engineering and recording, I work with a fantastic team of people that help oversee the other aspects of my career, without whom I could not do what I do.
John: What do you feel are the most positive attributes of Northern Seas?
Al Conti: I think Northern Seas went in a different direction than my previous album Scheherazade. I feel it showcases my versatility as a musician and composer. My audience can hear a more classically-oriented side of me in my album Poeta, a more exotic and sensual one with Scheherazade and a more aggressive and brooding, yet also fun and hopeful side with Northern Seas.
John: In addition to your GRAMMY® nomination, Northern Seas made the Amazon Top 10 list for Best New Age Albums of 2010, and many of your earlier releases were also awarded “best of the year”, “top 10 charts”, and other “best album lists and top 100 charts.” What do you believe has been the most important influence that has led to your overall successes as an award-winning composer, arranger, producer and multi-instrumentalist?
Al Conti: I compose what comes through me, and this changes depending on the project I am working on at any given time. I tend to go to a certain emotional place when I compose and the right material flows through me. When a project is finished, it is as if someone has turned the creative faucet off, and nothing else comes through, so I know I am done. I believe that the key to anyone’s success, especially in this business, is made up of various elements such as what I mentioned above, coupled with hard work, perseverance, gut feeling, luck, timing and fate.
I also believe it is important to follow one’s own path and not be overly influenced by what other artists do. While there may be a music trend we all follow and music that influences our style, it is good to do what really comes from the heart and not try to imitate someone else. I simply do what I do, surround myself with a magnificent team and we all pull forward in our own way, but in the same direction.
John: Every one of your new age albums is based a theme or legend and portrays a story. What is the story based representation or theme behind Northern Seas, and how did you arrive at the concept for Northern Seas?
Al Conti: Northern Seas is based on Norse mythology. While my previous album, Scheherazade, was based on the teller of the fantastic Arabian tales, Northern Seas was a little more complicated to nail down as a concept. I did a tremendous amount of research when the idea for this project first came to me. I could have based the album on a particular Norse myth, but I felt that there were many important ones that would have been left out. The album as a concept takes many of the Norse myths and weaves them into one cohesive narrative.
John: How do you transpose an inspirational or story-based theme into a musical arrangement?
Al Conti: This is also something that is very hard to describe, because I do not have a specific formula that I follow. Each project is based on a particular myth or tale. This already sets the parameters I will work within because each part of the world and its respective culture has a definite music style, which I then follow.
Scheherazade was Middle Eastern; Northern Seas is Nordic, Celtic and Germanic. But I also do not want to compose an album that is fully regimented by a culture’s musical style and mood, thus I tend to modernize the music to make it more appealing to a Western audience. As such, I end up with the music I compose, which is peppered with world cultural influences, yet remains primarily New Age. I do believe my past as an actor also thoroughly influences my approach to my music compositions because I innately tend to approach my music composition as a film.
John: At your music blog – alconti.blogspot.com – you detail how producing music has changed for you since the earliest years when you first began producing music. What are some of the changes you have made over the years, and the challenges you face while producing music today?
Al Conti: Many of the changes are dictated to me by the music industry that I am a part of. I feel one of the biggest mistakes artists can make is to not accept the fact that the music business is, first and foremost, a business. Since I came from an acting background, well versed in the complex workings of that business, I simply translated acting to music and brought along with me the same work ethics I had from that part of my life. I also feel each project I undertake lays the groundwork for the direction of my career. Because I am also a perfectionist, nothing I compose is ever good enough for me and I always strive to better myself.
John: Has having your own Shadowside Music label been a major influence with the manner you produce and market your music?
Al Conti: Absolutely. I can decide what I want to create without having to answer to someone else’s idea of what I should be creating. I also have full control over every aspect of my career and creative output. Because I happen to also be the producer and arranger of my own albums, I can truly follow my gut instinct and move forward from there. Of course, I knew that the path I chose was plagued with risks and I did not know if these would pay off until they did.
Much like an actor producing and directing his or her own film, producing one’s own album can either make or break you. For me, luckily, it was the former, not the latter. It was a great risk, but I took it head on. I am at a point now in my career where I can honestly say that the path I chose has indeed paid off and I can continue forward knowing I am doing what I am supposed to be doing and that it is working out well. As people now ask me for advice, I find myself saying, “Hey, my path and how I walked it to this point has worked for me, but it may not work for you at all.” Thinking of many successful artists, I venture to say you’ll find each got there in very different ways.
John: Early in life you were determined at a very young age to become an actor. You appeared in commercials and were an actor in the acclaimed As The World Turns American television series. By all accounts Al, you had achieved the acting career you envisioned for yourself. What was the turning point where you decided to change direction to pursue a music career, and how did this change to a new career transpire over the years?
Al Conti: I do not think any artist will ever say, “Yes, I achieved what I artistically set out to achieve,” because we’re always looking forward to the next creative project. As an actor, I do not think I ever fulfilled that which I strived to achieve since I was a child, and I believe music has allowed me to express artistically in ways acting did not. I also came to a place in my life where I did not have the need to play someone else to express myself. With music, regardless of the project, I am always expressing my truest self through my work, yet I can be an actor at the same time because my projects are pretty much like a film that is being played out musically.
John: I read you were born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Your grandfather was a concert pianist, and your mother was a classical ballerina. What are your thoughts – do you believe talents in the arts, in fields like theatre or music, are heredity, or, do you feel non-genetic factors play more of a role with inclinations toward an individual’s profession?
Al Conti: I cannot honestly say. I know I was born an artist, which as a child created nothing but problems for me in school. But because my parents and grandparents (and even beyond that to my extended family) were and are artists in their own way, I was lucky in that they completely encouraged me. I do, however, believe that we are born with the talents we will hopefully hone throughout our lives, whether you are an artist, teacher, lawyer, social worker or whatever. I tried being other things than an artist and failed miserably.
It was clear to me that I could only work in the arts. This is why I cringe when parents force their kids to play the piano or do anything else artistic if the child really has little inclination in that direction. It would have been the same for me if, say, my parents had forced me to be right handed while my inclination was to be left handed. As an actor, I saw some sad things happening with parents who would bring their children into auditions. Not pleasant!
John: While living in Argentina, you grew up listening to ethnic music from many parts of the world, plus you have extensively traveled the globe. Would it be fair to say your music is a vehicle that describes many of your life experiences and international travels?
Al Conti: I think as artists we take everything we have gathered throughout our lifetime and put it into our work, because what we do comes from the deepest fibers of our beings. Because I was raised in different cultures, this broadened my horizons culturally. I innately know how one culture can function differently from another. When I compose music, based on a certain culture, the way that culture expresses itself deeply affects how I compose.
John: You have led a diverse life compared to many people. You now reside in the state of Vermont in the United States. What is it about the state of Vermont you adore?
Al Conti: I have always felt at home in Vermont. It is a state with deep French Canadian roots, which in many ways resembles the culture in which I was raised. Those cultural roots can still be felt in Vermont. While I have lived in a few different states in the U.S., Vermont is definitely the only one I have ever felt like calling my home.
John: I read at – alconti.net – you are currently working on your fifth album. I would love to release some Al Conti news for your fans and our readers today if possible. Can you release any information about your newest, fifth album project?
Al Conti: I usually tend to be very private about what project I am currently working on. I blame my past as a superstitious actor for this! I never want to jinx the project. There are also the legal ramifications of my talking about it at such an early stage. What I can say is that the album’s progress is half way, and I am excited that there are some very well-known guest New Age artists that will be participating in the project.
I can also say that the album will be more on the lines of my previous work Scheherazade, and I think people will be very happy about that, even though it is far from that album’s Middle Eastern theme. As an artist, I never want to repeat myself musically, so I strive to keep moving forward. While I know that many people loved Scheherazade, and it would be easy for me to fall back into another Middle Eastern theme, I refuse to do so. My current project is based on yet another beautiful legend and I will let my audience discover it as the time approaches. It is tentatively scheduled for release in September 2012.
John: During your work with humanitarian organizations, you teamed up with television celebrities Kevin Bacon, Jessica Alba, and Shelly Morrison for a charitable benefit. Can you tell us about your contributions with humanitarian organizations over the years?
Al Conti: As an artist with a certain level of success, I always feel I need to give back. Because I have been touched by many situations in my life, I feel like those are the ways I can give back. Unfortunately, we live in a world that has many, many causes we could rally for, but eventually, one can only do so much.
I have chosen carefully the charities I align myself with. AIDS, Leukemia and Alzheimer’s, as well as breast cancer, have all affected people I care about. In my own way, I try to raise awareness about these illnesses. I find that when people like what you do they are more apt to listen and take notice. When recently asked by a dear friend and fellow New Age artist about how I felt regarding my GRAMMY® nomination, I replied that I feel like this now allows my heart to give more. I truly mean that.
John: I read you are also involved in a wellness organization called The Spa Buzz, an organization that helps spread the message of wellness through activities like their awareness-raising bus tour. Would you like to tell us about your contributions with The Spa Buzz organization?
Al Conti: Yes, I was involved with this event as they toured the country promoting a message of health and wellbeing. This is something my team initially brought to my attention and I agreed to take part in it by lending my music to the project and attending events on the East Coast, because I truly believe people can be healthier, pay more attention to and be in tune with their bodies. The Spa Buzz did a great job for health awareness, and promoted the way music can contribute to wellness along the way.
John: You have enjoyed a remarkable career as a musician, Al. What do you find most rewarding as a professional musician?
Al Conti: I think, as I mentioned before, the more success I find as a musician, the more I am able to give back to others. Once I heard a saying that went: “When you get to the top floor, make sure to send the elevator back down for somebody else.” I never forgot that. While I do not think I am anywhere close to the top floor, I do believe that with a certain amount of success, there comes a responsibility to give back, and the universe sends our way those who can benefit from what we have to give, and vice-versa.
John: Thank you again for taking time out for our interview. I wish the best for you in the 54th Annual GRAMMY® Awards scheduled for Sunday Feb. 12, 2012. In closing for now, is there anything you want to bring up, or express to your fans and the people who have supported you over the years?
Al Conti: There are always a few things, for sure. One is something I always speak of when able to, and that is the sad state of music piracy. Since I have been involved in the music industry, I have become increasingly aware of the ravages that the illegal download of music is doing to artists worldwide. Many people do not even realize that they are actually stealing music. While some do indeed believe that we, as artists, should work for free, most simply do not realize the impact they have on the economy with even just one song illegally downloaded.
Independent musicians now form a large part of the music industry and they do not make millions, far from it. Many can barely survive on the income they receive from their music work. I would hope the right amount of respect be given to their efforts by actually purchasing their work rather than downloading it illegally.
A fellow artist, Loreena McKennitt, is a big spokesperson for this, and she has actually had to lay off people from her company because the illegal downloads of her work have made it impossible for her to maintain their employment. This is extremely sad for me to see. No one would ever accept to work for free, why should artists?
Thanks so much for this time, John, and for the work you do for New Age music!
John: I get to know many artists personally, and I feel the same way too about the music piracy issue of illegal downloads. I am pleased to be in a position to help get the message across. I look forward to writing more about you soon Al.
Visit the alconti.net homepage and his music store where you can sample or purchase all four albums, and keep up with the latest news. You are invited to visit Al’s official blog at alconti.blogspot.com and Facebook page. Read my Al Conti page.
Photos are courtesy alconti.net and with additional photographer credits of – Michael Mattern, Patrick Cote, John Young, Gerrit Ohm, and Kay Dillenberger.