Prodigy, rocker, artisan, musician…these were the first things that came to mind, when I heard Italian virtuoso guitarist (& composer) Riccardo Gioggi’s album “A Theory Of Dynamics”. This is his debut, & was released on December 4th, 2012 on Steve Vai’s digital-only label – Digital Nations Entertainment.
Gioggi not only can play “THE HELL” out of a guitar, but he has some impressive friends to round out his sound. “A Theory Of Dynamics” features guest musicians…including astounding American fretless bass player Michael Manring, a solo artist & session player with hundreds of collaborations including Michael Hedges, Attention Deficit (with members of Primus & Testament), Jeff Loomis…& many others.
This album is more NEW AGE – than anything I’ve heard in a long time. Gioggi has a way of blending his heavy rocker guitar drive with the touch of a classical musician’s stylings. It’s strong enough to hold its shape without lyrics, but if you really listen to the serious fret work happening throughout…you realize that the music takes on its own form & tells a story better than any word could. With the level of raw talent that is displayed here, Riccardo Gioggi may be setting THE BAR for guitarists in the future.
In his press release, Gioggi was quoted as saying…“Music is the only thing that matters. I obviously love to play terrific, tricky guitar parts. That’s who I am…that’s my guitarist nature. But when I compose, I just forget what I can or can’t do on guitar. My goal is to just create beautiful music…at the best that I can, & then play it at high performance.”
I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Riccardo, & ask him a few questions regarding his album, his style, & his life…
KR: How old were you, when you began playing guitar?
Riccardo Gioggi: I was ten years old, when I started taking some classical guitar lessons. I remember, at the very beginning, I was pretty disappointed by classical guitar…because I used to listen to “Guns N’ Roses” & “Queen” – & I wanted to create THAT guitar sound. I used to play the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” guitar intro, or some other rock songs. Playing those things, with nylon strings, sounded HORRIBLE!!! But anyway, I continued to study & practice. I was really devoted to guitar, considering I was a child. Luckily for me, one year after my parents gave me my first electric guitar…I finally started playing rock music with that guitar sound that I had always dreamt of.
KR: Did you take formal music lessons?
Riccardo Gioggi: Of course. I still take classical guitar lessons, & I’ve graduated in “Music Theory” & guitar. Here in Italy, we have a classical guitar exam called “Conservatory’s Fifth Year” – I’m graduated in this one. The strange fact is that…in my life, I had only ONE formal electric guitar lesson…& I had it a few months ago! This is bizarre, considering my album & my music…isn’t it? Basically, I’ve taken just classical guitar lessons in my life. I studied electric guitar all by myself…songs, guitar solos, riffs, guitar books, VHS (we were in the 90’s) – anything was interesting to learn. When I was twelve or thirteen, I used to play Metallica songs for most of the time…but I’ve always been instinctively interested in listening & then playing a lot of different musical genres as well…blues, pop, any kind of metal, classical. Metal & rock are still among my favorites, but there are things to learn from any music style. Let me say that…beginning with classical guitar, has been absolutely helpful…even though I was not conscious of this, when I began playing. Later…when I moved to the electric guitar, everything was quite simple…because I was already able to read music, I had a well-tested way for daily practicing. I think that training with nylon-string guitars gives you a better left-hand technique as well, if you are a beginner. I say this to all of my younger students, who begin playing guitar. Some years ago, I took formal lessons of orchestration as well…from an opera orchestra leader. It’s been amazing & very useful. By the way, I consider myself an electric guitar player…without any doubt. As Paul Gilbert sang in one of his songs…“I LIKE ROCK!”
KR: What other instruments do you play?
Riccardo Gioggi: I can play bass, a little bit of piano, & drums. Of course, I’d never say…”I can play piano like a pianist can.” – this would be an insult to the real pianists! Let’s say, that I know the “grammar” of these instruments. When I write music for some ads or television programs, or I’m in the pre-production phase for my own music & working on arrangements…I must use a computer for programming every instrument’s part (drums, cellos, etc.) – in order to replace them a second time with real instruments. When you do this kind of thing, you have to know exactly each instrument’s characteristics. Nowadays, everything is possible with a computer…but it’s very important to “know well” the range of each instrument…if you want to avoid the risk of creating an unrealistic sound.
KR: When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
Riccardo Gioggi: Well, I think…subconsciously…before I had a guitar in my hands for the first time, I have always been enormously attracted to guitars & music! Becoming a musician wasn’t a real, contemplated decision. I’ve never thought, “Okay, I want to be a musician.” Simply, I have always loved music more than everything else…& naturally I had always focused my time & energy in this. When I finished high school, I immediately started to work as a guitar instructor. I joined bands, & started to do concerts in Italy…& recordings. Things happened in a simple & natural way. It’s important to me, saying that being a musician…it’s not something static, at least for me. Everyday, I have in my mind the precise goal necessary to reach a higher level in my job. Everything I do, I do it with this clear purpose.
KR: What was it like recording your first album?
Riccardo Gioggi: Considering that I wrote it, produced it, engineered, & then mixed it all by myself…it was a HUGE WORK!!! But, it was great. The musicians, who played on my album, are some of my best friends…& working with all of them was easy & relaxing. I gave them the demos of each song, then I said them…”Okay, these are the songs…I programmed the parts…now, feel free to propose (for your own instrument) any other solutions that may come in your mind.” They’re great musicians. I know the playing of each one of them very well, & I respect them a lot…so it wouldn’t have made any sense, if I had said to them “exactly how to play their parts”. Of course, we talked about any possible solution. Sometimes, they played exactly what I wrote for their parts. Let me say that…all of them brought every song to a higher level with their playing. During the whole recording process, there wasn’t any pressure or tension…& this is normal to me, but I’ve heard about people who’ve gone crazy during the recording process. Luckily, this wasn’t the case.
KR: How long was that process?
Riccardo Gioggi: Very, very long…three years! I started to write songs in 2009. I had already written “Designs” & “Every Single Step” a couple of years before. For some months, I worked on the songs…& then on the pre-production process. Then I recorded & completed all of the demos. In 2010, I started to record each instrument – drums first, then bass, guitars, etcetera. If I remember well, in late 2011 everything was recorded. The longest part was the mixing process. I mixed it all by myself…& because of my daily job, I could work on the mix only in my spare time. The Michael Manring participation was a sort of “last minute” thing. For some reason, at the beginning, I recorded the air bass parts…but when I met Michael, instantly I thought that he would have been absolutely perfect for that song. So I asked him if he wanted to record all the bass parts for that piece, & he immediately accepted. Of course, his parts are totally incomparable to my bass recordings – he’s not of this earth! Having a world-class musician like him on my album…is an honour to me. I completed the mixing process in July/August 2012, then I went to the mastering studio in late September. The album was definitely completed in October.
KR: How did you select the songs that would be on it?
Riccardo Gioggi: Concerning my own music, I’m absolutely overcritical with myself…but usually I don’t select my songs. If a song doesn’t work to me, or I’m not totally satisfied by it, I just don’t finish writing it. This sort of “natural selection” comes out, during the writing process. If I have a complete song, this means that this song is good enough to me. Of course, I’ll have to work on it…arrange it…find the right guitar tone for it…& so on. But first of all, it’s an emotional matter. There was only one song I decided not to include in my album. I was quite dubious about that song. I had almost finished it, & it wasn’t bad, but in the end I thought that…if I was dubious about it, & I was not about the other songs, probably this one was not at the same level as the others. So, I just left it out from the album. When I write music, I usually use my instinct. If I have a good song that doesn’t affect me emotionally, maybe it’s a good song…but I know that, if I were a listener, I’d skip it. So, as a composer, I prefer to leave it unfinished. When I write music, I always think “What would I like to listen to?” instead of “What would I like to write?” – & that’s the base of my music. In the “A Theory Of Dynamics” album, I wrote only music that I’d have loved to listen to.
KR: Have you ever thought about adding lyrics to your music?
Riccardo Gioggi: Yes, I have…but more-or-less just for a couple of milliseconds. Of course, I’m opened to play every kind of music…& the fact that my album is instrumental, doesn’t mean necessarily that I want to play ONLY INSTRUMENTAL music forever. I have worked with bands, pop singers, & some years ago I also worked with a thirty-five element choir…so I have nothing against voices. But, if we talk about a “Riccardo Gioggi” album, I feel I can express myself completely with my guitar & I don’t feel any need of adding lyrics. Never say never, but I’m quite sure I’ll not add lyrics to my music.
KR: For those who are unfamiliar with you & your music, can you describe your style in your own words?
Riccardo Gioggi: Well, concerning my music…we could list some genres such as metal, progressive, funk, rock, & so on…but I’ve never worried about music categories, because in each of these categories you can find things completely different – one from another. Basically, I’d describe my music as something that has got its own core in metal…that’s for sure. But around this core, you can find a lot of different things…classical guitar themes, clean sounding guitars, violins, acoustic passages, groovy rhythms. Of course, you can find a lot of tricky guitar parts as well – but for me…the most important things are themes, melodies, & being focused on good songwriting. Maybe it could sound pretty strange, but I consider my album (despite the fact that it is instrumental) as a collection of songs…each one of them has got its verse, bridge, & chorus – like a lot of songs you can listen to on the radio. I don’t know exactly the reasons why I structured each song in this way. I realized it at the end of the songwriting process. It simply was a better sounding way of writing music, to me.
KR: I’m sure there are countless people in your life, who have helped point you in the direction you are going – but is there a single person that stands out on this list?
Riccardo Gioggi: Well, my family…of course. They always supported me in my decisions, after high school…as well as my dearest friends. But if I’d have to say a single name, who affected me as a person…therefore, indirectly as a musician, more than others…I have no doubts – my grandfather. He was totally far from music (he worked as a master carpenter), but I can remember clearly that day…I can’t say how old I was, maybe 5 or 6 years old…when we had a walk in Rome. We were having an ice cream or something, when suddenly I saw a shop window…behind the glass, there was a yellow Stratocaster. Probably, it was the first time I saw a guitar…& I was totally enchanted by that strange shaped object. I consider that day as the beginning of everything, to me. I’m glad & thankful for that walk with him! Concerning my guitar studies, I’m absolutely thankful to my classical guitar teacher – Mr. Claudio Micheli. He’s not only one of the finest guitarists I’ve ever heard, but an esteemed orchestra conductor as well. And, of course, he’s a great person…he always gives me a lot of advice about my work, my playing. I’m absolutely “thankful” to him.
KR: Are you touring right now?
Riccardo Gioggi: At the moment, I’m not touring. The last concert I had was in December, 2012 – in Rome. It was a 100 guitar orchestra, with Stef Burns (Alice Cooper’s guitarist) as a special guest. The venue was huge, & it was really amazing playing there! Of course, for me, it would be great to bring “A Theory Of Dynamics” on stage…& I have carefully planned everything about my live band. Marco & Simone…my album’s main musicians…are in, & Leonardo (the violinist in my song “Designs”) as well. The cool thing is…that Leonardo is an amazing musician – he’s not only a violinist…but a fine guitarist & a good pianist, as well. Having him in my band is really “luck”. It’s like having three musicians in one! This is fundamental…because my arrangements are quite complex, & it would be impossible to reproduce my songs with a more usual guitar-bass-drums trio. We have planned our first rehearsal for March. I asked this of them, before some real concert proposals, just in order to be prepared. Besides my band…of course, I’m open to the possibility to play in other situations. For example, working as a clinician…& in that case, things would be easier – I’d need just my guitar-rig & my laptop. I hope some Canadian promoters read this interview!
KR: Have you started writing songs for another album?
Riccardo Gioggi: Well, I haven’t got complete songs yet…but I’ve collected a lot of ideas & the number of these is growing, everyday. Riffs, themes, interesting chord progressions to work on…I usually record anything that seems a good idea to me. We’re talking about thirty second to one minute “guitar only” tracks. At the moment, there are almost 200 files on my hard disk. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’ll write 200 songs for my next album. As I usually do, soon I’ll listen to all of these audio ideas & I’ll start to develop the most brilliant ones. I prefer to collect spontaneous ideas, more than starting a new writing process or a complete pre-production process. “A Theory Of Dynamics” came out in digital stores, something like eight weeks ago. It’s a very young album, so (at the moment) I take it easy about new songs.
KR: Where would you like to be…two years from now?
Riccardo Gioggi: Well, in two years from now I’d like to see my work as a musician…& my music…growing in the best way possible. I’d like to continue writing my own music, & increasing my work as a clinician & session player as well. In two years from now, I’d like to have a lot of concerts to do everywhere. Of course, I’ll have to apply myself everyday for this…& study a lot, in order to be a better musician. I’ll definitely do my best to reach these goals. Wherever I’ll be in the next two years, I wish to play my guitar LOUD!!!
This fascinating, talented, & driven young guitarist may only be scratching the surface of the music industry for now, but that “scratch” is getting deeper by the day…& has an infectious sting to it. With the help of STEVE VAI’s eponymous label, we should soon be hearing the trailblazing licks of RICCARDO GIOGGI miles away from where he comes from.
For more information, you can visit: http://www.riccardogioggi.com