Marco Cartolari is an Italian born, self-taught folk-rock singer/songwriter you won’t want to miss out on. Marco began his musical journey when he started playing guitar at the age of 14. After graduating college and working in the family business, he moved to the U.S. where he got his MBA and began working in the corporate world. In 2016, he decided to take a major leap leaving the corporate world to become a full-time musician. Shortly after, Marco was able to release his first CD titled ‘Shot At The Moon.’ In his album he infuses aspects of roots rock and Americana with his European sensibility and strong vocals to create his unique sound. Marco is living his dream, currently residing in Milan (Italy), and frequently traveling throughout Europe and the U.S. He released an official video for his first single form the album and is getting ready to release his second album while he performs in Italy.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
Well, there were a couple of those moments. The first happened in high school. I had this friend, he was kind of a wild one, always getting into some trouble and I was so different, kind of nerdy, but for some reason he liked me and we became friends. He taught me my first chords on the guitar and helped me to appreciate the emotions expressed in the songs. We used to spend afternoons listening to blues, rock and folk songs, playing them, dissecting the lyrics. It opened a new world for me and gave me the chance to see there was a way I could express myself. And that’s when I first started writing songs. I did that for many years, played in a few bands, toyed with the idea of becoming a full-time musician. But then, you know … work and … life took over and music kind of ended up in the background.
The second time, a couple of decades after, was when I quit my job as CEO, sold my share of the company I help build and started looking outside the little world I felt I was trapped in. I started reflecting on personal past experiences, started reading again, going back to see live concerts, re-kindling my love for art in general. All that lead me to what - on and off - had been there for decades: my passion for music. I started writing again, letting out all those ideas, feelings and dreams that I kept inside for so long. Again, I found that songwriting was the best way for me to express that. New life, new career, new me!
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
The IDEA that I'm even having this interview is crazy..... But the actual craziest thing that has happened to me is when I went to Austin to record my album. I walked in and I realized that one of the musicians that my producer (Daniel Barret) had selected was one of my favorite drummers: Joe Vitale. He’s one of the great! I’ve known his work since I bought “Long May You Run”, of the Stills-Young Band, in1976, where he played drums and also from the historical record “Crosby, Still & Nash”, where he played percussion and keyboards. He co-wrote classics like “Rocky Mountain Way” and “All Pretty Maids In A Row“ with Joe Walsh and played live with Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Eagles, Peter Frampton, Ted Nugent and hundreds of other famous artists. I had the chance to spend a few days with him and see not just how professional he was but also how involved and dedicated he was to my project. And how humble! To the point that, one night, Daniel and I had to tell him, after 12 hours of recording, that that piano intro was perfect (he’s a great keyboard player as well), while he was saying .. “no, I can make it better! This deserves better!”. What can I say? You walk in the studio and play with a legend and somebody you admired as a fan for a long time … it doesn’t get much better than this!
What has been the high point of your music path?
For sure it’s been recording my first EP album in Austin, Texas, in one of the top recording studios, with incredible musicians, some of whom I knew of for a long time. I can only say that Joe Vitale (Drums and keyboards) , Eric Holden (bass player for The BoDeans), guitarist extraordinaire Rex Paul Schnelle and my good friend Daniel Barrett (of Porterdavis), the album producer, only to name a few - are some of the greatest musicians I could ever have the fortune to work with, not to mention some of the nicest.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
I don’t really have one single approach. Sometimes there’s melody or a phrase that comes to mind and it won’t let go until it turns into a full fledged song. Sometimes, I have a topic or even just a feeling I want to deal with or experience I relate to and I start writing lyrics freely – with a sort of stream-of-consciousness approach - and then see what that leads to, also rhythmically. Sometimes I try to use mental maps, that start from a song title or topic and then build the story from there. In general, I like to build a story and then punch holes in it, you know. I find it more powerful to have lyrics that suggest a story, a feeling, rather than spell it out in a complete way. I don’t know, I feel it gives more room to the audience to find themselves in the song, relate it better to their experiences and feelings. Also, I’ve always been influenced by other art forms, like painting. The impressionist movement in particular has always resonated with me and I guess that’s what I often try to do with my songs: give an impression rather than draw a detailed picture.
Take a moment to entertain yourself with a riveting music video from Marco!
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
Well, I think it’s .. how do you get noticed. Technology has tremendously expanded the possibility to create, record and communicate your music all over the world. While this is great for artists, that do not have to rely only on record labels to make music and have a music career, at the same time, this has created a huge supply of music that can be “consumed” on a variety of social media platforms. So while it has become easier for the listener to discover new music, at the same time there’s a paradox of choice: how do you get noticed in this never ending list of offering and platforms? Music alone is not enough, at least for independent musicians, so they have to become also promoters of themselves, entrepreneurs. I often hear musicians complain about it and I understand it but it’s a reality that they have to get used to and find ways to apply their creativity not just in their art but also as business people.
And for me it’s twice as interesting, as I get to combine my passion for building a business with my love for music!
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
That’s a tough one, there are so many I admire! And if you mean, as live performers, I’ll probably say Bruce Springsteen and The Avett Brothers. Springsteen has been not just one of my strongest sources of inspiration, since I was a kid, but he’s also a master of being on the stage, for the truthfulness and depth of emotions that he communicates, in ways that are simple and direct.
And The Avett Brothers … I absolutely adore. The raw amount of energy that they can release with mostly acoustic instruments is amazing and with songs that seem so simple but are quite deep and touching.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
So far I brought my music live in an acoustic set in 2 contests: in the US and in Italy. In the US I did a small tour with David Barrett of Porterdavis, on the other guitar, and my son Kiran (who’s an amazing singer) doing a lot of the backing vocals and doing some covers as well. Beside the sheer pleasure of playing live with my son, rehearsing with Daniel was a breeze. He knew the songs inside out, as he was the producer on the album, he helped me turn my vision for them into reality in the recording and therefore, even though the setting was completely different from the album, we didn’t even have to talk about what I was expecting. Everything developed very naturally and every musical reference I mentioned was so steeped into Daniel’s background that he typically got them on the first try. We rehearsed a couple of days and then went live.
In Italy, it was different. My friend and guitarist, Roberto Capitanio, has a broad musical experience and amazing technique but wasn’t as steeped into that “southern sound“ guitar style. He’s got more of a jazz and blues background, so during rehearsals we’ve been focusing on stripping down the songs of the album (as well as a bunch of covers of songs I love) to their core and try to re-build them with a little different feel, sometimes more jazzy, that could fit also a different type of audience.
Now I’ve just put a full band together that will allow us to bring to the stage a sound that is more powerful, closer to the one of the album.
As to preparing for a show … well, it’s still very nerve wrecking for me, so I just try to rehearse, be prepared and lately meditate a bit, do breathing exercises and that sort of things.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
I think it was You let Me Down. I guess I was confronting a deep personal issue that was not fully clear in my head. For this reason, the song was lacking something. Also, as much as I love the English language, it’s not my mother tongue and there were things that were not coming out right. I think that the music is pretty powerful, it’s in your face, doesn’t compromise. But the lyrics were unclear, didn’t really express the anger or frustration that I felt and I kind of went around in circles. So, maybe was the language and maybe it was me, chickening out from what I wanted to say, but the result was not up to par. So… a day or so before the recording, I sat down with Daniel, my producer, and he said something like ”Marco, the music is great but the lyrics don’t work. You’re all over the place and I don’t know what you’re really trying to say here”. So we agreed that it probably wasn’t a good idea to record the song unless I had some last minute inspiration and re-worked the lyrics completely. That night I went back to my hotel room and try to re-write it and didn’t get anywhere. At 1:30 am I quit and went to bed. I woke up at 6am and, all of a sudden, I was clear about what I wanted to say and in 30 minutes a completely re-wrote the lyrics and … I guess it works now.
What's coming up in the future?
Well, as I said I can’t wait to do live gigs with the full band so hopefully we’ll do that soon. At the same time, I’ve been working on some new songs and I’d really like to record a new album, sometimes this year.
Tell us where fans can access your music.