Interview: Andre Tonelli

Dan McAvinchey: Andre, when did you first get interested in guitar, and how did you learn and progress as a player?

Andre Tonelli: I first started playing the guitar at age 15. I had a small electric
piano when I was a child and would spend hours trying to figure out
songs by ear, especially movie themes such as Star Wars or Indiana
Jones. Then at 10 or 11, I started listening to Queen a lot and decided
I had to have a piano and sing just like Freddie! Obviously, that
didn't work out very well, and my parents were a little concerned
about keeping a piano in the house. So when one day I saw a friend
play "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" on a classical guitar, I ran home
and asked my dad if he would buy me one. That must have sounded like a
great idea to him as opposed to having to buy a piano, and the next
day he brought me a guitar. It didn't take too long for me to realize
that I wasn't really a good singer at all and that I should just focus
on the guitar. So I started playing obsessively for up to 10 hours a
day for a few years. That's how I took care of the technical end of
things. The inspirational and compositional aspects I am still fighting
with to this day!

Dan McAvinchey: What do you think drove you to develop your skill from an average guitarist level to world class ability?

Andre Tonelli: I think the most important thing, and this is something I always tell
my students or at clinics, is to not worry about your results. You
have to enjoy what you are doing at any given moment. Don't fall into
the trap of thinking, "If only I knew that chord, or that scale," or
even worse, "if only I had that amp or guitar." Because if you do that,
you will never be happy. There is always something you don't know.
Thinking of the end result is a distraction and more importantly,
there is no end result. You will be learning for the rest of your
life. There are many artists who make wonderful music with a few
simple concepts, so don't make excuses. Respect what you know and use
it today. Then when you learn new things, you won't turn yourself into
a sterile musical encyclopedia, but rather in a recipient of lively
knowledge. Stagnant musical information is your worst enemy.

Dan McAvinchey: What went into the decision to release an independent record?

Andre Tonelli: My personal opinion is that an artist today cannot be limited to just
knowing how to play an instrument. I believe in the concept of guiding
your progress and career yourself, with as little intrusion as
possible. No label will get behind you and develop you as an artist.
We're not in the '70s or '80s anymore, and I think a lot of musicians
are getting frustrated with the way the industry has changed. But it
has, and it almost doesn't matter how good and innovative your demos
are, they probably won't be made into an album, simply because the
labels don't take the risks they used to. The reasons for this we will
need to leave for another interview.

So the first reason for building my studio, and composing and
engineering my music is that I want to release records and this seems
to be the best way to do it without compromising my ideas.
The second reason is that it kind of naturally evolved from using a 4-track cassette deck to the first digital units and now to being proficient with Pro Tools and having a great relationship with the people at Digidesign. I did use a studio once, and the guitars sounded
10 times worse than the things I record at home. That kind of
convinced me I could achieve very credible results provided I had
great gear to begin with.

Dan McAvinchey: What are you striving to achieve musically, particularly on your last CD?

Andre Tonelli: That's a good questions, often preceding a pompous answer. On a
basic level, I have no set goal other than giving life to the compositions without screwing them up too much. Bascially, what little talent I have, I invest in keeping myself from interfering too much with the process. So musically, I try not to try too hard, if that
makes any sense.

As for the way the songs are born and blossom into finished
compositions, my approach is that of an avid fan of rock and roll and
"world" music, which is usually characterized by a very direct and
visceral element that really connects with the listener. Since this
kind of guitar playing has already been explored by many great
musicians, I try to give it a certain twist by applying some unusual
or "spacey" quirks to it. But these sounds come very naturally to me,
so I'd say there is no real effort in that.

Technically, meaning the sound, the recording process, and so on, then
I do have a goal, which is to make the tracks sound as good as
possible and to manipulate sound in order to support the feeling of
the song and get it across. I know the really great engineers and
producers willl tell you that they just let the music take the shape
that it needs. I can tell you John (Cuniberti) does that. With him, it
just happens. No stress at all. My way more modest studio skills don't
allow me to relax very much when engineering or mixing, so that is
usually my main concern when recording. I can relax on the guitar, but
not on Pro Tools.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get the opportunity to perform your original music in front of an audience?

Andre Tonelli: Yes I do. I have been playing live since I was 16. I have been lucky
enough to play in many places around the world and with some really great musicians. I am actually auditioning drummers for my band at the moment, and booking concerts, which should start around March.

Dan McAvinchey: From a publicity and promotion standpoint, what do you find is working best for you at the moment?

Andre Tonelli: I can tell you what doesn't work: sitting around in your room waiting
for the phone to ring. You need a great web site, you need to be on
MySpace, and you need to get your stuff out through other channels if
possible. Do interview and radio, because these things are the only
few things that have not changed in the industry. People still trust a
DJ to point out new talent to them.

And most importantly, get some of your music on tape. Nobody wants to
hear you brag about how good you are. You need to have something to
show them. So I'd say work hard at your craft and when you think you
are ready, get a record or EP out and get some exposure.

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us a little about the gear you use to get your sound.

Andre Tonelli: As most guitar players will tell you, 90% of your sound comes from
your playing. And it's true. The second biggest factor for me is my
signature guitar, made by famed Spanish luthier Jose Ramos. I designed the guitar and he made such an incredible instrument, I
can't think of playing anything else. So obviously, this is my most
cherished endorsement. I also use Lava Cables exclusively, and you
won't believe how much difference a top quality cable will make on
your sound. My picks are made for me by InTune Guitar Picks, and
though it might seem trivial, I urge all beginning guitar players to
try out many brands in order to find a pick that suits them.

As for the rest fo the gear, I mainly use ENGL amps, and very few
effects. I have a huge pedalboard but really only use a couple of
things at a time. I use no rack gear at all. In the studio, I find it
extremely important to invest in top quality preamps. I use Universal
Audio and Neve. This is ever changing, of course.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you heard any new guitarists that have really caught your ear in the past couple of years?

Andre Tonelli: Actually, I try to steer clear of guitar records because a great
guitarist can make you really want to copy him! So what I do is listen to those records that are already ingrained into my head, such as Queen, Jeff Beck, Hendrix, Prince, Paco De Lucia, and so on. What I do listen to quite avidly is Indian and Asian music in general, especially classic players like Ravi Shankar, Shahid Parvez, Ustad Hussain and Liu Fang. The harmonies are very different and after studying with the great sitar guru Rahimaat Kahn I am finally able to listen to it on a rather educated level, and that can actually inspire the kind of music I
play, which is really quite straight forward rock music.

Dan McAvinchey: If you could do a once-off album project with any guitarist in the world, who would it be?

Andre Tonelli: This will have to be a tie between Brian May and Jeff Beck. Also, I
would love to play with Ravi Shankar, but given his status and age, I think we can include that in the utopian realm of jamming with Hendrix.

interview pic

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, what`s up next for you, what are some of your plans for the future?

Andre Tonelli: Right now I am promoting my "Power World Fantastic" CD with interviews and concerts. I will be playing in the spring and summer in support of this record before thinking of a new one, which will probably come out in 2010.

I also have a guitar academy in Barcelona where I teach guitar and music production (especially the use of Pro Tools for beginners to advanced students), that is called Andre Tonelli's Guitar Studio. Both guitar and music production programs have a live online option that is really starting to pick up, with students from many different countries. That has originated a Podcast and youtube channel called the Guitar Studio Weekly Sessions. These are free weekly videos meant to introduce or expand on a technique, idea, riff, or any other aspect
of guitar playing. You can check them here or subscribing to the podcast. Please check out my web site for news and more
cool stuff.

interview picture
In 2004, "Lords Of Time", Andre Tonelli's debut EP/CD was released, and instantly attracted the attention of fans and critics. Billy Steel, legendary San Francisco DJ, said, "He's the next big guitar hero. If you like Jeff Beck and Steve Vai, get it!" in 2008, CD he released his first full-length album, entitled "Power World Fantastic", a nine song, all instrumental guitarfest. Tonelli is another in a long line of talented Italian axe men.

Dan McAvinchey led this virtual interview with Tonelli to discuss his musical beginnings and his strategies for succeeding as an independent musician.