AN INTERVIEW WITH MATTHEW BONAZZOLI 2: The Torqued (Supercharged Edition) ALBUM
ARTIST’S HOUSE: You recently released your new album “Torqued (Supercharged Edition)”. What inspired the concept of the whole album?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: A critic once wrote a review of the 2001 edition of Torqued and called it, “a tribute to love, freedom and American muscle cars” and I think that’s a fairly accurate description. What I initially set out to do was create a fun and energetic set of songs to make our live set something special. The concept art with the car surrounded by flames came as an expression of the energy and power of the album as a whole but also to give a sense of the concept of breaking free and escaping whatever is holding you back.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Which track on the album was created first? What is the story behind it?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: Well, there are two versions of Torqued. There’s the 2001 release and the 2019 “Supercharged Edition”. For the 2001 album, the first song that I wrote for it was the title track, Torqued. I was looking for something energetic and different from the previous release. For the 2019 release the first track I recorded was the song Haunted Road. At the time I revisited these songs I was only thinking about maybe recording one or two of the tracks from Torqued, but once I heard the mixes I decided to go and record a new version of the entire album.
Haunted Road is really about trying to escape your past. As I’ve said, it’s a theme that runs through the album. There really aren’t ghosts on the Haunted Road, at least not the otherworldly variety. It’s more like the driver is being tormented by his own inner demons, be they past mistakes, memories or regrets. How one escapes those is entirely
up to the individual and some people are never able to let go and forgive themselves. Still, in the context of the album the main character does eventually come around by the final song.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Which was the most fun track to make? What was the process?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: I think the song Lift was the most enjoyable. It gave each band member an opportunity to shine and it was also very interesting to hear what the current Bonazzoli Band lineup could do with a surfy, hard rock song that I first recorded 20 years ago. The creative process for this song was unique in that after I had recorded an entire new version of Lift in 2018, I abandoned it and started again from scratch. I wanted to change the beat and bass line a little and that meant redoing the entire song. This required everyone to come back and redo their parts but in the end, it’s all about the quality and vision of the final product and I think we got it right.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Is there anyone in particular whom the song “The Last Cool Single Girl” is about?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: The Last Cool Single Girl was written 20 years ago in a very different time in my life. Is the song about a particular person? In a way, yes. I worked with a woman who came into my office one day very excited to tell me that her long-time boyfriend was going to finally propose to her that night. Instead, he actually broke up with her and she was devastated. So, there is a bit of back story that triggered the genesis of the song but it’s more about how life can leave some of us very lonely and hopeless at times. I wanted to take a sad story and show that even the worst of times pass and with the future comes hope.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Which track was the most emotional to record?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: Possibly the song Driver was the most difficult emotionally. It’s a tough balance between sadness and longing and it’s also considered one of our classics so there was a lot of pressure to do this new version justice. It’s also a tough song to get right on the vocal track. Too smooth and the vocals sounds weak, too raspy and they sound forced. I recorded the lead vocal tracks several times over a few months and was never quite happy with them. Then one day I was reviewing the takes and found that one of the first that I had recorded really did work well now that the instrumentation was complete so I went with that.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: What are your personal top 3 favorite tracks, if you had to choose?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: This is a difficult question for sure. Your songs are like your children in a way and sometimes it’s difficult to choose favorites. Torqued is such a fun, high energy release that choosing a few songs to represent it is tricky. That being said, The Last Cool Single girl is a classic and will always be very dear to me. The title track, Torqued is amazing for it’s sheer audacity and lastly, I’m going to go with the closing song called, Happy to See You Again. I choose this one because this is a very different version than we recorded in 2001 and I think it’s a very beautiful and uplifting song. Of course, if you were to ask me this same question in a few weeks I may choose three different songs entirely.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: How did you find your style?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: We like to say that The Bonazzoli Band takes the best of 20th Century Music and mixes it into a 21st Century Alternative. I find inspiration in many different forms of music, from rock, country, swing, blues and even Americana and rockabilly. It all depends on the mood of the song and what the band does with it. Our style took a major leap forward in 2001 with the original release of Torqued which mixed 1960’s rock and blues with modern (1990’s) rock. A few years later we were adding swing and country into the mix and we had a very unique blending of styles. Being an independent band affords us the opportunity to go wherever the spirit leads so to speak.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Do you plan to do a live tour soon for the album?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: If there were a reason to hit the road to support the album I would certainly be open to the idea. For the last few years we have performed live sporadically and chosen to focus our energies more on writing and recording, but certainly if the opportunity were offered to us we would find the time. I think Torqued is a wonderful album to perform live and our fans have always appreciated hearing these songs.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: What was the most meaningful memory you made when creating the album?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: I think just the privilege of getting to hear some of the amazing musicianship displayed. From my brother Damian’s classic guitar leads on Lift and Last Cool Single Girl, to Patrick Thompson’s amazing piano work on Back in the Day and Pale Blue Moon, all of the musician’s involved really came together to make this album a classic all it’s own.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: What was a hard part about creating the album?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: Creating an album is like writing a novel. It takes a lot of time, planning and patience. You need to always keep an eye on quality and be able to edit yourself to the point where you recognize if your own work is less than 100%. There are times when you just want to get it done or maybe you’re so excited about a track that you want to release it immediately. It can be frustrating and challenging to stay on target but that’s all part of the process and necessary to creating a quality album.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Who designed the cover art?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: I designed the cover art. It’s a reworking of the cover I designed for the original release back in 2001. Other than the actual word “Torqued” I updated the graphics completely. Overall I kept the theme and color scheme fairly close but I felt that I should update the car and a few other details. The reason why I kept the font for the title the same is because when I did the original cover in photoshop 19 years ago I had spent hours getting the colors, shape, smoke and flames just right and I felt it was worth carrying over to the new art.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: What made you go with an orchestral ending track (“Driver: End Theme”) versus a rock themed ending track?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: You know, that’s one of the most unique questions I think I’ll ever get regarding this record and I thank you for it. The final track isn’t even listed on the album as being included. It plays like a sort of end credits theme like in a movie. It’s a cinematic reworking of the song Driver and something that was also a hidden track on the original release but not as orchestrated and elaborate as it is here. I think after the energy of listening to the entire album it’s a good cool down and also, if you let the CD repeat, it serves as a segue back into the first track. Try it on a long drive and you’ll see what I mean.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: How did your writing process change during the years?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: I used to always write with an ear for how it would be played live but the market for live independent music is so soft right now that I find I’m more inclined to write for the recording process. There are always songs which you know are never going to make it into the live sets but most here were written with a plan of being able to bring them to the stage. Lately I’ve been performing a lot less than in previous years and even some of the new singles we’re working on I wonder if we’ll ever get the opportunity to perform them live. It does change how you think about song structure and in some ways, it’s more freeing.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Did the concept of the album change at all when you were recording it, or is it the same as how you planned it out in the beginning?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: For this version of Torqued the concept fortunately remained intact. We had to be careful to not lose the original theme and energy. There were times when we could have veered off into something really different but since this album already had a built-in fan base I wanted to keep everyone tuned in and happy. Out of all of the albums I’ve ever worked on this has always been the most easy to grasp. The muscle car imagery and themes along with the high energy songs stayed on a very clear path.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Who was the first person to listen to the album after you finished it?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: Other than myself and the people who mastered the final CD, I think it was pianist Patrick Thompson. He actually downloaded a copy before I even had the finished CDs in stock and before it was even officially released. I’m not sure where he got it from but he called me up to say that he had bought a copy of it on-line. I was surprised because it wasn’t supposed to be out for another week but where there’s a will there’s a way. Luckily, he was more than happy with how it all sounded which is quite a compliment from him since he is an old-school ragtime and swing player and as you know, Torqued is primarily hard rock. After him, I have no idea because it all happened very quickly and soon the album was everywhere.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Can you tell us more about the other members in The Bonazzoli Band?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: We’ve been around for over ten years now as a recording unit but most of us have been working together for far longer under different band names. Currently there is a core lineup of three people in the Bonazzoli Band and a rotating lineup of support players. The three main members are myself on vocals, guitars and keyboards, Patrick Thompson on piano, keyboards and vocals and my brother Damian Bonazzoli on lead guitar. After that comes the rhythm section which changes from time to time and the backing vocalists and session players. In the indie scene, players all have their own projects going and although The Bonazzoli Band is number one with most of us, sometimes there are scheduling conflicts that get in the way. Overall though it’s a great group to write and play with and we make it all work.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: When working with your team/band, do you always get along or do you have moments when you disagree with each other on something?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: There always are and always will be creative differences in a band. I’ve heard it said before that bands are a “democracy with a dictator” and that seems to hold true in a lot of cases. You want to go with what everyone feels is the right thing to do but sometimes people can lose sight of the concept or objective. Creative people tend to be very opinionated and stubborn and also have delicate egos but a shared objective helps keep people going. As the leader of the band I generally have the clearest vision of the end goal of a project and also the keenest ear for quality and what makes the sound truly our own. Not often, but sometimes I need to overrule the majority. I’ve learned from past mistakes that bowing to pressure seldom makes the music better. That being said, a good leader also surrounds himself with the best talent. People who know their own roles/instruments better than the leader does. That helps to make a band work because people have defined roles where their expertise is most appreciated and in The Bonazzoli Band we have a lot of talent going for us.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: If you could invite a famous artist from another era to help you with creating your album, who would it be and why?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: That’s a tough one. I can think of several artists from a previous generation that I would like to work with. What we do is somewhat uniquely our own but there are some people who come to mind. Jeff Lynne of ELO and Travelling Wilbury’s fame would be amazing because he is an excellent producer with a keen ear for complex arrangements. Producer Bob Ezrin of Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd fame would work well with us and could help fine tune our marketability and songwriting skills. I’d also like to simply work with a singer such as Chris Isaak. He and I have similar vocal styles and would be great on stage in a double bill. Other than those people, I think anyone truly connected in the marketing and promotions side of industry who would know how to get us broader exposure would be welcome.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: If you could choose a perfect location to shoot a music video, where would it be and why?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: I love the American Southwest. I always think about filming a video when I’m out there on a road trip but the amount of time that it would take has never worked out for me because it would interfere and be a drain on the people I’m with. Maybe someday though.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Why did you choose Torqued as the album title?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: Back in 2000 when I was first compiling these songs for the original Torqued I chose the title because Torque is a performance metric for engines and the album was dripping with car culture metaphors. Then there is the album cover theme and how Torqued is slang for angry so there’s a bit of that vibe to it as well. It’s difficult to say exactly how many factors determine the title of an album but sometimes the choice is obvious.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Did the album live up to your own expectations, if you had any?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: The expectations for the original album were that it give us upbeat and successful new material for our live sets and in that it was tremendously successful. For going on 20 years several songs from Torqued have remained in all of our live sets. For the 2019 release of Torqued Supercharged the objectives were different. I wanted to bring new life into these songs and expand the instrumentation. Mostly though, I wanted to hear the Bonazzoli Band versions of the songs because after all, we’ve been playing them live for more than a decade and certain things had changed and improved. Overall though, I’d have to say my main expectation was that it be a fun journey to get this released and it was a lot of fun. Hopefully it will also be commercially successful. So far, feedback from our fan base who bought the 2001 version of Torqued has been unanimously positive and I take great satisfaction in the idea that we’re making our older fans smile and feel young again.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Are the songs based on real life experiences?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: I think our songs are not necessarily about an actual time and place but more about emotions from an experience. The lyrics encapsulate stories but within the lines are complex emotions and themes which everyone can relate to. For instance, the song Driver has a story behind it, but mostly it’s about how you feel when you are desperate and believe you have no way out of your predicament. So, the background emotions are exhaustion and hopelessness. Mix that in with some car themes as a backstory and you’ve got one of our classic songs.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Which song are you most proud of and why?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: The songs I’m not proud of seldom get recorded so this one may be a little easier for me than some artists. It’s important for a musician to be able to edit themselves and know the great from the average so, in essence I’m proud of all of my recordings but some more than others. I’m most proud of the songs that fans appreciate. Songs like Taking Chances from the American Ghost Stories album, There Comes a Time from the Magicians of Radio album and from this album, The Last Cool Single Girl. People connect with certain songs and it makes a positive impact on their lives. That’s where I judge the success of a song.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: Does writing lyrics come easily to you?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: Some people may think so but it’s a process like any other creative task. Experience and effort develop skill. I pride myself on not writing gibberish even in the most light-hearted songs of ours. To me, when I first hear a song by someone else, the melodies, chord structure and dynamics can pull me in but then later, if I find the lyrics aren’t meaningful or creative I lose interest.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: What are your opinions on the current popular artists of today?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: Like any decade in the last century there is both good and bad music being recorded. It’s unfortunate that music is now considered a disposable commodity and less of an enriching art form but most of the music being created now is more product than art. I think that’s one of the reasons why teenagers today still know all of the music from the 1970’s. There is a sameness in modern music today that does not generate a lot of passion in the listeners. It’s like the entire industry became nothing more than a marketing platform for impressionable kids. To be successful today you need to be a great marketer, not an artist. The real passion is in some of the independent musicians that you hear on internet radio. These indies are self-funded and passionate and it shows in their art.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: What are your musical influences?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: I have a lot of musical influences. ELO, Pink Floyd, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Alice Cooper, Dean Martin, Chris Isaak, Elvis Presley and many more. I think on the new Torqued album as well as our previous releases you can hear a little of each of these artists shine through in what we’ve made.
ARTIST’S HOUSE: How does writing music make you feel and how do you stay motivated?
MATTHEW BONAZZOLI: I get a sense of accomplishment out of recording music. There are plenty of musicians who prefer to play live and while I can understand that, it’s just not for me. I think our albums are somewhat timeless and will always be relatable. A live performance is fun but when it’s over, it’s gone. All that energy and effort is sent off into the ether. Recordings can last forever.
I get a kick out of the whole creative process. It’s fun in a way, to see a song come together and whereas I do most of the album art too I get to play in that medium as well. I stay motivated because there’s a genuine spark inside artists which drives us to create. It’s something we must do to feel alive and so in spite of success or failure, we continue.
Check out more about Matthew and his group The Bonazzoli Band at www.bonazzoli.com