“Conceptually, American Ghost Stories is just that….a series of stories of various haunted people, places and/or weird incidents. However, these are not, for the most part the stories that are made to shock….most of them are subtle and it’s only in listening to the lyrics closely that you realize that the characters may not necessarily be of this world…anymore.” shares Patrick Thompson.
Patrick (the Bonazzoli Band pianist) feels like an old Soul. A Soul that have lived and breathed via decades upon decades of things. But somewhere along the path, he planted a timeless understanding of the days gone by. Put clearly there’s a distinctive decade on the mind.
A decade I don’t think I know enough about, but feel somewhat familiar in. This interview was going to be fun. Deep. but fun.
“Some of the songs and the general concept were originally to be the third in a series of albums that Matthew Bonazzoli’s band Gearhead did up in Massachusetts. The album was to be called Invicta, hence the title of Damian’s excellent instrumental contribution to the disc. The Invicta album was never recorded due to some tragic circumstances and Matthew eventually moved down to Florida. After he and I began collaborating we found we had created the next evolution of what he had been doing with his previous work. Instead of the rock edge of Gearhead our music has more of a retro-pop and jazz influence. ” he responded calmly.
” Also, the musical style probably covers a great many more decades than the Gearhead concept, and what could possibly be better for a series of ghost stories? ”
I agreed. I loved the concept when I started to unpack in a little more. It had that theatrical yet anyplace palatability about with a distinctive sound. A sound that’s being commercialized by Joey Cook, and PostmodernJukebox. As commercial as this sound can be. The thing about this band is it’s even rawer. It’s that essence that’s not dolled up … it’s the wedge that kicked off a movement. A tricky little piece to play.
The story of the band goes a little something like this:
“The band has a very interesting but ongoing story. It of course begins with Matthew Bonazzoli, the bandleader, who has been active in music since the mid-80’s. Gearhead was his band up in Massachusetts and the band at the time blended the newer rock styles with older rockabilly and hard rock influences. Damian Bonazzoli, Matthew’s brother, was particularly influenced by Pink Floyd and other guitarists of the 70’s and 80’s. When Matthew Bonazzoli moved down to Florida he wanted to further his involvement in music, however it took a while to get off the ground. While in Florida he met pianist Me, Patrick Thompson. I was heavily influenced by the hot jazz tracks of the 1920’s. These somewhat disparate elements were merged together with Reggies drums and Howie’s bass lines…..and the resulting mix of influences created a band that can run the gamut of 20th Century styles in music. ” Patrick reflects.
Backtracking just a little… Their first full album was released in 2010 and titled Quiet Little Towns. In this release were all of the sounds blended into beautiful and detailed selections. There were country, swing, rock, blues and even gospel numbers and some songs combined all of these. The sound was taken further by Matthew’s polished vocal technique. Now sounding like a modern Roy Orbison/Dean Martin combo his vocals added a new Rat Pack element to the entire set.
The band took to the stages at music festivals all over Florida and began to release a series of professional music and performance videos. After several lineup changes the band solidified in 2011 and has remained steady since. In 2013 the band released their second album titled American Ghost Stories. The album is an ingenious musical tribute to old time radio shows of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s and their style really compliments the storytelling of the lyrics.
The band continued to play the festival circuit and shoot music videos for the next 18 months but in 2015 they stopped to dedicate time to their next album. Set to be released in early 2016 this third Bonazzoli Band album is sure to continue to improve upon their unique sound.
The band is sticking to their slogan, “The best of 20th Century Music wrapped into a 21st Century alternative.
So given that I just had to ask …I mean think about it: Music is an interesting thing. It lives outside of the time construct. It can take you back or sound like tomorrow. Where do you think you guys fit in on the musical time-scape?
His response – Timeless. And Yes, pun intended.
“The best music should be timeless and should not belong either to the past or the future…..or for that matter to the present. Besides, the whole idea of sounding like tomorrow or taking you back is somewhat artificial anyhow in that music beyond about 30 years ago clearly sounds old given the recording equipment available at the time. The Bonazzoli band is a mix…..featuring some very old sounds (My 1920’s style piano comes to mind) and a lot of newer influences. Many of the tracks are not very different from what would be played popularly now. All of this is held together with Matthew Bonazzoli’s singing…..which is almost a crooning like Dean Martin or Bing Crosby. Even so, the finished product doesn’t necessarily sound out of place. I think I would say that the music is to be of the current time, but leaves the ability to recall and blend a variety of earlier eras.”
I couldn’t help but shapeshift myself to that space – or at least what I imagined those times must have been like. There always felt like there was some kind of an elegance about it.
And of course, it had more to do with the style… there were a whole lot of other influences at play. When I asked – I wasn’t surprised by how deep the answer was. I should have known better.
“With this line up it has to depend on the band member. For Damian Bonazzoli, it would have to be Pink Floyd. For Matthew Bonazzoli it would be a variety of musical influences including Roy Orbison. For myself, a variety of earlier performers including the Benny Goodman quartet. I think with Reggie and Howie it’s more 1960’s and 1970’s rock and blues.”
Ok, there’s a rabbit hole. Reeling the interview back in, what I wanted to know was this.
So the tricky thing in all of this is being you right? How do you balance your love for these influences, with the wisdom’s they share in cracking open the industry, and still doing things on your own terms?
“I think that what sets this band apart is the fact that there are so many different musical influences within the group, and that the band is intentionally blending influences from all over the past century. In a way, that makes us unique….and of course the songs themselves and orchestrations are completely new and the resulting sound is new since it comes from a blend that’s really not been done before. To give a counter-example, at the time of the swing revival in the 1990’s it became very popular to have a jazz horn section play over a punk rock rhythm section….and this became pretty standard. Here the beat is rock, and the lead instruments are rock, but there are a lot of jazz cords mixed in with hard rock and blues cords that can be heard in most of the numbers. The rhythm line up is drums, bass and piano….which is similar to the jazz combos of the mid-20th Century…..so in a way the music is the opposite of the swing revival bands. The rhythm section follows the jazz influences but the lead instruments are all rock. ”
What makes your sound work? And how do you define your sound? “The best of 20th Century Music wrapped into a 21st Century Alternative- tall order- what’s your make it happen // work out strategy to stick on top (ok, secrets allowed) But seriously, what is the industry missing….and what crack are you looking to fill.”
“The heritage that we are working with was a 1950’s-1960’s template of kids listening to rock and roll and adults listening to traditional pop and swing. This limited the cross-pollination of those styles to the point where it was a fairly rare experiment to blend in harmonies from a later period with the earlier stuff, except in sampling. But even structurally speaking, the cords and combos you can make with a full jazz rhythm line up are far more varied than in a simple rock rhythm section. This doesn’t even get into the fact that while there have been some great rock piano players….Billy Joel and Elton John to name the most prominent examples….the rock sound has not been as dependent on piano generally than the era that preceded it. So there’s far more for me to do on piano here than in a lot of contemporary groups, and our rhythm section is more versatile. ” Patrick shared
” Above and beyond all that, our music is based on the quality of the players, all of whom have different musical leanings….so we are always able to add something new that really hasn’t been combined very much before. And of course, everything is tied up with Matthew Bonazzoli’s excellent voice….and really….when’s the last time you heard something that can be described as “crooner rock?”