Artist name: Robert S Smith (Solo Noi)
Song Title: Upendo
Album Title: Uno
Release Date: 14/2/2019
Solo Noi are John Fitzsimons and Robert Smith. Robert was with CBS Italy and had a big hit with “Too Much to Me” and John played with many bands including The Papers, Kan Kan releasing tracks on Radioactive Records. Drawing on reggae and rock influences “How many More” became an indie success and having played many gigs, in places as varied as Ronnie Scotts to The Rock Garden, John has vast experience as a performer.
Solo Noi formed three years ago as an experimental project to combines pop, ballads rock, and jazzy styles into something both John and Robert felt was both unique and accessible to audiences. The album “Uno” is the result. Influences include van Morrison, Sting, and Steely Dan as the album weaves its way through reflections on love and life. A key theme is that there is no such thing as a sell-by date for life… every day presents another opportunity for us all no matter how old we are or where we come from.
On the album, John plays guitar and is the main singer, while Robert is the keyboard player, arranger, and producer.
Discuss how you develop your melody.
We use the chord sequence and mood of the lyrics to move the melody towards the feeling of the song. So for example ‘A’ minor key songs might include a move into a relative major key melody if the lyric reaches a happy reflective memory. We try to avoid melodic phrasing that is obvious.
State your sources of inspiration.
We often sit in coffee bars and just listen to conversations or observe people on their own, or guessing who they are and what has brought them here today. We also listen to many other artists to gain insight into how they interpret life and then adapt our ideas so that themes remain current. Artistes we have listened to in particular are Tom Waites, The Doors, Amy Winehouse, and Adele.
State the most memorable experience in your music career.
Working with Elton John’s producer Gus Dudgeon…
Discuss how you build your songs.
We record lots of production ideas and then begin the process of emptying out the song in the mix so that only the best ideas are kept and then gradually introduced as the song progresses.
Tell us how your music inspires others.
At gigs we often get people asking us about the unusual chord sequences we use – these go beyond the usual pop formulas even though sometimes it’s only a couple of chords being used. We also have questions from radio DJs about the stories behind the lyrics that sometimes inspire others to use a similar approach.
Discuss the relevance of promotion to the music business.
Promotion is essential. Although it’s easier to get music distributed now there is a lot more competition and unless you promote relentlessly, you’ll get swamped by other artists. It takes about a year of good promotion to start getting noticed.
Tell us what you do apart from music.
I make films and do some volunteering to collect money for local charities. I also help to organize a local music festival once a year – which is not music … it’s just a lot of hard work! I also travel a lot in Europe – particularly fond of Prague, Berlin, and Copenhagen. Bob likes to garden.
List the names of instruments you can play.
Guitar, Bass, Bodhran, Keyboards, Tin Whistle, Congas, Mouth Organ…
Elaborate on your music background.
My family is Irish so there was always a lot of music going on when I was younger. My dad sang at weddings and played the mouth organ. I have had no formal musical training, but I played in bands from 18 onwards and had my first record deal when I was 25.
Bob has trained in music and can orchestrate, read and write as well as play keyboards. He’s Italian and also had a lot of music in his childhood. He was signed to CBS Italy for a while and had a top 10 hit in Europe.
Tell us the piece of advice you would give a new artist on entering the music chart.
This is the beginning – you might think you have made it but the hard work starts now – don’t think it will all start to build from here – it won’t unless you keep working at it.
Elaborate on Melody and Rhythm.
There are no rules except to remember who your audience is and what you want them to feel. Don’t copy your favorite artists – use them for inspiration but you need to find your own sound and style.
Avoid simply singing a melody that changes as the chord changes – make the lyrical change in the middle of the chord, not the end.
State your future goals.
We are working on our second album while we promote the first one. We aim to have this ready next year to follow up where ever the promotion gets us then. We aim to move towards international festival appearances by next year.
Share your recording experience with us.
I’ve worked at Maison Rouge Studios in London and Bob recorded at the Townhouse.
Now we do most of these ourselves using a DAW and a live studio for acoustic instruments. Good recording takes a lot of planning and time – we never rush our work – sometimes one track can take a month to get right. The first album took us three years.
Tell us the most difficult part of the recording.
Recording vocals is the hardest part. This is because the song needs to express emotion not just being technically competent, and that mainly comes from the vocal.
Sometimes you can record a vocal that is not quite right in terms of the pitch but is still the best because it captures the emotion.
Perfection is not always the aim when singing and it’s often hard to recognize that.
Discuss the greatest mistake you ever made in your music career.
Signing a production deal that tied me into a contract for 10 years – It was supposed to lead to a recording deal but it never did and the company refused to release us – so no other company could offer us a deal.
Tell us how you build your composition.
Usually, this starts with a chord sequence that captures a mood or a story narrative. Then lyrics follow but are then edited perhaps twenty times before they are finalized. By then the chords may have changed also. Some songs arrive fully formed in twenty minutes while others take a lot more work. The twenty-minute songs are often the best because they capture a moment while others can be a struggle to retain a focus. We usually scrap three times as many songs as we eventually use.
Discuss the relevance of music.
Travel around the world and you’ll find people everywhere making music. It’s a universal language that most people understand and it invites us all to share that across national boundaries. These days that is very relevant to how we view each other on the planet. I’ve played music with people from across the globe and it has made me a better musician and a much broader person.
Elaborate on the themes of most of your songs.
A lot of our songs are narrative-based – so they tell a simple story – maybe someone at a party meets a potential partner which does not work out. We also write from a perspective beyond observation – so for example about feelings transferred between people, sometimes without them knowing.
Elaborate on your artist name and album title.
Solo Noi means “just us” in Italian. We wanted to keep things simple but we could not use ‘Just Us’ as it was already copyrighted. So as Bob is part Italian, and we wanted to attract an international audience, we chose Solo Noi. The first album is called UNO. That’s “one” in Italian.