Remember Fifty Shades of Grey’s soundtrack? Interview with Stephan Moccio

Stephan Moccio Winter Poems CD cover

Stephan Moccio Winter Poems CD cover

This man is a man of many trades and master of all, and the whole of the trades he masters invariably involves music.
But not just random music.
Academy Award and Grammy-nominated Canadian songwriter, pianist and musician Stephan Moccio is exclusively into the highest possible level of authenticity when it comes to songwriting, composition, production and performance.

Lionheart by Stephan Moccio, album cover

Lionheart by Stephan Moccio

Author of I Believe, the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics theme song and Fifty Shades of Grey‘s soundtrack song Earned It by The Weeknd for which he scored an Academy Award nomination, he is a composer, songwriter, producer, arranger, conductor, recording artist and pianist.

Stephan Moccio Tales of Solace CD cover

Stephan Moccio Tales of Solace CD cover

Stephan Moccio is often referred to as the man behind successes like Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, Céline Dion’s A New Day Has Come, Avril Lavigne‘s Head Above Water, and has written and composed music for the likes of James Blunt, Josh Groban, Ellie Goulding, Fergie, Paloma Faith and British Soprano Sarah Brightman who also dueted with Andrea Bocelli.

He is in today for an interview about three of his solo piano albums: the classical music record Tales of Solace evoking a mature, deep and complex style, the instrumental work Winter Poems, featuring a number of original Christmas compositions and hymns together with timeless festive classics such as ‘O Holy Night and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and  Lionheart, a 14-track collection of beautiful melodic piano meditations that conveys emotion without words and transcends cultures.

Composer Stephan Moccio, credit by Jared Polin

Stephan Moccio by Jared Polin ©

Stephan, what achievements are you most proud of?

I think I’m most proud of having stopped doing pop music and coming back to my love of classical because it’s very easy to be seduced by the world of pop with the artists I work with. It is exciting and highly seductive when you have success, but that’s just one part of who I am. On the other hand, being at the piano as I am now, this is exactly who I am. So I think I’m proud of having been able to just stop for a moment and come back to this instrument.

How do you feel when you hear one of your songs performed by other artists playing on the radio, with the people around you not knowing you are the author?

It’s amazing and I’ve been to many places around the world like that. One of the first times it happened I was on an Alitalia flight. It was 2002, and Céline Dion was doing A New Day Has Come, and the video was on the screen and everybody on the plane from Toronto to Rome was watching this song! And I’ve also got a great story I’ll tell you because you’re from Rome: in 2002, I went visiting Italy and I was strolling around one of the piazzas, and back then there were these people selling CDs on the road on a blanket. And so this guy there had like eight CDs, including Britney Spears and Céline Dion’s A New Day Has Come, and he was like “Hey you, you, come look and buy these CDs! You look like you’ll like Céline Dion’s A New Day Has Come!” I was like “I know you won’t believe me, buddy, but I actually wrote that song!” – and he was like “Oh come on! You’re funny! You funny guy!” This is a true story that happened in Rome in 2002! Many times I see people tapping their heads and I think “Hey, I wrote that song!”

Which one of your songs by other artists are you most attached to?

I don’t know. It’s a good question. I can’t say there is one. I mean, every one has a different meaning. You asked earlier about my achievements – I am really proud of having written the theme song for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. And then Wrecking Ball and Earned It – those are huge hits that billions of people have heard worldwide. But the Olympic theme, for some reason, meant a lot to me because it has become part of Canada’s culture and history, and when you become a composer who writes such a monumental piece that becomes part of the country’s history… I was lucky to be old enough and in the right place at the right time to be chosen to write it. I was lucky to be at the right place in my career.

Do you have any favourite memories from your time working with Céline Dion and James Blunt you would like to share?

I had incredible times, I have been very privileged to be let into these people’s lives and become a friend and sometimes a confidant. James Blunt is such a sweetheart, such a generous and funny guy. Céline Dion is just amazing, we’ve known each other for over 25 years and I am amazed at how hard she still works. She would sing a song and be at that microphone from 6 pm to 4 am in the morning – sometimes she stays there for 8 to 10 hours just to get a song right. I mean, a lot of others I worked with are like that, but Céline had done it all, she’s one of the biggest female-selling artists in the world and she doesn’t need to prove it, but she still has that thing, the fire inside her. As I said, it’s a privilege to be let into these people’s lives and turn some of their personal stories into songs.

What was your dream job as a child? 

I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do. But I have a second passion, which is architecture; in a lot of ways one can say that I am an architect of sound. Composers are architects are similar in a lot of ways, the way we put things together, sounds together, elements together… but I’m glad I’m doing my job. In terms of labels, yes, I’m a great piano player. And I’m a successful producer, and I take great pride in that, but I think now in the last few years, as I’ve matured as a human being, and I am someone who’s very comfortable in his own skin, the word “artist” is the one that I latch on to the most. Now, as a man in his fifties, I feel like I’m an artist – but so, what does that mean? I just feel like I’m now dealing with matters of the human condition, relationships and emotions from a male perspective. You know, we live in a world that is so attuned to talk about females and their feelings that, even if we don’t lose men, in a lot of ways, we don’t really talk about them. I’m someone who listens to a lot of and reads a lot of books and podcasts, notably by psychologists and people who are properly educated about it, I just don’t try to listen to people who don’t know what they’re talking about… but first of all, I’m a fervent advocate and supporter for feminism. I have a daughter, I have a strong mum, I think that women are still being treated with inequality and they still have many rights to get in their favour, and I’m the first to support that. But all meanwhile, we’re forgetting that there are sensitive men, that men have feelings, and not all men are evil. Maybe I’m more sensitive to it because I’m an artist, but I look at my albums as cathartic and therapeutic albums for myself, and in a lot of ways, they are versions of me just letting it go and crying into the music… but some men don’t know how to emote and how to cry. I feel comfortable doing this, but I know that most men don’t. I will forever be someone who talks about his emotions as a man, as well as his feelings and I don’t believe that you should just pretend to be strong for the sake of being strong. Obviously, there is a time and a place for everything: as a parent, of course, I’ve got to be strong for my kids. But I’m just saying that it’s a tough world, and just getting by every day is difficult for people. There are different pressures for females as there are for men, and I think it’s important to have a safe place for men to talk about that.

How would you describe your album Tales of Solace?

With Tales of Solace, I needed to recalibrate on many levels – musically, personally and mentally, back in early 2019. Solitude and quiet, in a noisy world, were elements I had been craving for a long time. Naturally, it made sense to engage in an intimate conversation between myself and the instrument which had been faithful to me my entire life. And just strip it all down to one person, in one room, with one instrument. That was the inspiration, the emotional and aesthetic setting for the Tales of Solace recording sessions. I wanted my solo piano pieces to span the depth of human emotion, with tender, beautiful melodies that reflected both dark and light tones. Sea Change, Lumière and Fracture from the album, for example, by title, mood and tone, all define the spectrum of musical colours captured within this collection of musical moments.

How about Winter Poems?

When I recorded Winter Poems, I felt that the world was going to be different, as in 2020 Christmas was not going to be the same Christmas for everybody, because a lot of people couldn’t see their families. I’m in Los Angeles and my parents live in Canada, and I hadn’t seen them in over a year, at the time. Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year, and so Winter Poems is a very intimate album for me. I am really sensitive to the emotional climate that people went through during those years, and I wanted it to feel as if I was playing to everyone on a very personal level. Because this is instrumental music, and the piano is very universal, it translates directly to all cultures. And so I just wanted it to feel intimate and introspective, to give people the time to think and reflect on the year they’d had – because 2020 had been a year unlike anything we’d ever expected, and we never could have guessed what was going to happen in 2020. And so there’s gonna be a lot of reflection for it – I would say it’s a very emotionally reflective album. At least for me.

How about Lionheart?

I’m really, really excited about this album. I love my other albums as well, but this is just a very focused body of work. I think we’re all going through a lot of changes in terms of the world right now. As I was writing this album, I fell upon the word Lionheart, which means courage, determination and bravery to move forward, and it just resonated. I am at a point in my life where I’m just sort of not affected by people’s opinions like I used to, so I thought Lionheart was a really appropriate title that just kind of resonated with the music. And for some reason, I really applied my pop sensibilities to my classical playing, and really focused it on arrangement more than I ever have. My arrangements are known to be really well-done and stuff like that, but more than ever, I really had big intentions on this album to give people highly melodic pieces of music that can hopefully resonate with them and make them feel something. A song called Fireflies which ends the album has a beautiful resonance of hope, and I just want people to feel hopeful. There’s something that I love about that piece of music. The second last piece of music is called Halston. It is named after the great designer Roy Halston and is more of a bittersweet tragic piece that I can relate to: Halston had it all, he was on top of the world and then he just kind of lost it all because he sold his name to JCPenney. So, that piece means a lot to me. And then the last piece that I would say is my favourite is Lionheart itself: the reason why I called the album Lionheart is the nobility in the sense of strength which I particularly find in these three pieces.

What do you think of the current state of music?

Now, that’s a great question that I’m still struggling with because the reason I’m doing these albums is – as cliché as that may sound – because they fill my soul. I’m a pop music writer on top of being a classical musician, but the struggles and the politics of pop music are so dense, so thick that I have no desire to move back to that world anytime soon. It’s a world where getting a song on the radio is the only way that you can survive in that market because having a song and album in the pop market now means nothing. Songwriters and producers like me, for example, spend a month of their lives working on something, but they don’t get paid as they should because streaming has killed that, so you can’t survive by just making music. So, at least by doing what I’m doing, streaming in the hundreds and hundreds of millions as a pianist – which is amazing – and touring, I can at least have the freedom to sort of continue doing this. And this just makes me feel better because the music gets out there. With pop music, there are too many variables: you have the management, the label, and the artist to contend with, and there’s no guarantee that your song will be heard by people. The reason we make music is to move people emotionally, so we want it to be heard by as many people as possible.

Stephan Moccio credit to Decca Records

Stephan Moccio by Decca Records ©

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