I have been speaking with Mark Pelli…
about his musical past and his new single, You Changed Me. The Toronto musician discusses his ascension and favourite musical memory; which artists and albums have made an impact on him; when music came into his life – I ask what it feels like producing music for some of the music world’s big names.
Pelli talks about upcoming plans and where he heads next; which artists we need to get behind and follow; if there are plans in regards touring – he ends the interview by selecting a classic cut!
Hi, Mark. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, there (smiles). How are you? My week has been great, thank you! I played a music festival in Richmond, BC with my group Magic! and now I’m back in L.A. working in the studio. Hope you’re having a great week yourself!
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Well. My name is Mark Pelli. I sing, play instruments and produce lots of music. Recently, I released my first solo single entitled, You Changed Me.
You Changed Me is your latest single. What is the story behind the song?
It’s a throwback 6/8 record, reminiscent of early-'60s Motown music. I’m very inspired by artists such as Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson.
Might we see more material coming next year? How far ahead are you looking regarding material?
Definitely gonna be releasing much more material very soon. I actually have the entire album finished but I’m releasing songs one by one for a while and then I’ll probably drop the entire collection either later this year or early next year.
Having produced for some top artists; how does that experience feed into your own music? Who did you enjoy working with the most?
Producing music for other artists has definitely helped me with my own. I suppose I’ve developed some technical skills that allow me to bring to life the ideas in my head. Playing in different groups of contrasting musical genres and attempting to produce records from various styles has been helpful as well so that I can draw from all these influences. If you liken music production to painting on a canvas, you’ll see the importance of having a large palette of colors from which to choose.
I’ve been super-lucky to work with many fantastic artists over the years but recently I was in the studio with J. Cole and my buddy T-Minus. We produced the record Kevin’s Heart for him off his last release and basically decided to get back in again. J. Cole is a super intelligent guy and has great energy to work with in the studio. T-Minus and I make a nice production team and I hope to do lots more work with him in the studio.
Did music play a big role in your life as a child? Was the household you grew up on music?
Music did play a big role in my life as a child. My dad played guitar in an Italian wedding band when he was younger. My uncle Chuck is a fantastic professional guitarist. My mom is a huge music fan and has a great voice and was constantly playing music around the house. I started learning piano at six and later started guitar at eleven, but took it more seriously at thirteen. I was super-nerdy about music and practised many hours every day. I learned to play drums and bass from asking other musicians what to work on. I studied classical piano and Jazz guitar in university.
Do you remember the artists you followed growing up? Who do you rank as idols?
When I was younger, I had pretty broad musical tastes. When I was ten, I had cassette tapes of Beethoven’s third and ninth symphonies - I listened to those two symphonies over and over. Of course, with a child’s mind, I wasn’t able to fully grasp the full breadth of what he was doing from a compositional standpoint…to be honest, even as an adult, I still don’t come close (laughs)…but I did have every note and moment memorized on my tapes. The first ‘Pop’ tape I bought was Bell Biv DeVoe featuring the song Poison - I absolutely loved the bounce of the snare drum on that record. When I was fourteen, I became a huge Radiohead fan. I feel like their melancholic musical aesthetic, coupled with very interesting lyrical perspectives, really spoke to how I was feeling. I also loved The Beatles and listened to their entire catalogue as a kid over and over.
At fifteen, I started playing in a Soul/R&B cover band and that was a huge pivotal musical awakening for me. I started being exposed to the music of Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers; Donny Hathaway etc. It was around this time I also began playing Jazz in school and that was also extremely impactful for me. I started listening to the albums of Miles Davies, John Coltrane; Bill Evans, Bud Powell etc. A few years after that, I started getting really heavy into Gospel music…admittedly not so much from a religious standpoint but more because the musicianship is so outstanding.
I would try to absorb that style of music on the instruments I was learning to play. I still do this all the time. You can spend all day long not being able to play what Tony Royster Jr. has posted on his Insta story (laughs)…but even trying to do it has most certainly made you a better drummer/musician.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
By the end of 2018, I’m really just hoping I can reach a wider audience with my music. I hope to be able to tour and provide a great musical experience for everyone (smiles).
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
I have some amazing memories from my time in music…
The one that stands out the most is when I opened up for Stevie Wonder in the South of France at a Roman Coliseum. Stevie was incredible as always and, after the show, I was introduced to him. I told him: “I love you Stevie” and he said: “I love you too”…even though it was clearly just his standard response to constantly being told he is loved, just hearing him say it made me feel great and I’ll never forget that experience.
I’ve been super-lucky to travel all over the world playing music for gigantic crowds. I used to play with a singer named Justin Nozuka and we did some extensive touring mostly around Europe. When Rude exploded for Magic!, the touring insanity started again and I was lucky to go all across the globe numerous times.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
It’s really hard for me to list my top-three albums of all-time, but I can tell you recently that my top-three albums have been: Robert Glasper - Black Radio (volume 1); Kim Burrell - Live in Concert and Brad Mehldau - Live in Tokyo.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
If I could support any artist today, I would choose Sam Cooke. I feel like his life ended so tragically and abrupt. The guy deserved to be alive much, much longer and create more amazing music.
As for the rider, I would ask him what he wanted and just make sure it was all there (laughs).
Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?
The dates I have coming up are with my band, Magic! I’ll be playing an East Coast tour in Canada at the beginning of October. We’re talking about doing some touring in Brazil and Latin America soon as well but those dates haven’t been firmed up. I hope to also tour with my solo project very soon.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
The advice I would give to new artists is just to simply never give up. It’s so very difficult ‘making it’ in the music business so, definitely, don’t equate your self-worth with how well you’re doing - especially monetarily. I know this sounds somewhat ridiculous because there’s an obvious attempt at becoming successful inherent in the process of making music in the Pop realm, but really try hard to disassociate yourself from needing this success. Focus on making music that you like and measure your success based on how pleased you are with your music. You’ll constantly run into obstacles and that’s ok… just keep going.
Don’t limit yourself to one thing. In addition to being an artist, you can also collaborate on other people’s projects and make new connections. Having a small-vested interest in numerous people’s songs largely increases your chances of earning money in the business. Whether you come in as someone who co-produces, plays instruments; writes lyrics, etc. it’s all relevant and necessary to make a good song. Your songs are your assets. The more songs you’re a part of, the better.
IN THIS IMAGE: Hiatus Kaiyote/IMAGE CREDIT: Wilk
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I really don’t get too much time away from music but I try to do yoga as much as possible and also go to the gym. I like swimming in the ocean too (smiles). I suppose that’s really how I unwind but I do work on music pretty obsessively. I don’t generally burn out though so I don’t really need to take time away. For me, working on music is my release.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Ok, sweet. I get to pick a song. How about You Send Me by Sam Cooke
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