By Jan Hoeglund
Tony Vincent is a singer-songwriter, composer and producer, best known for his appearance on Season 2 of NBC's The Voice and his roles in the Broadway musicals Rent and Green Day's American Idiot.
Soundiron: Tony, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your educational and music background?
I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico— the southwest United States. My father had a quite extensive vinyl collection and, when I was 4 years old, I heard Hard Day's Night for the first time— it changed my life. I immediately knew that what ever was coming out of those crappy speakers was something that I wanted to be a part of for the rest of my life. That was basically the official "send off" on my musical journey.
Ever since I can remember I was always singing to records or what was currently on the radio. Drums, however, were my first instrument I gravitated towards. (Actually, it was really my only "formal training" on any instrument— private study with a local drummer for 7 years.) After playing drums for the past 7 years (being influenced by John Bonham, Ringo Star, Alex Van Halen), I started to have a desire to play a more melodic instrument, to start writing my own material. My younger sister was a skilled classical pianist and we had a beautiful baby-grand piano in our living room— that was my initial outlet to another instrument. I began playing along to my favorite records until I started to understand a bit of what was happening chord-wise— "basic theory" I would now call it. At 13 a school-mate of mine brought over a Prophet 5 and I was gobsmacked! The sound. The knobs. The vibe of a synth.This was the instrument that initially inspired me to get into synths and systhesis in a major way.
Through my high school years I started to get heavily involved in programming, sampling, synthesis and recording— at that time I think my first multi-track was a Tascam 488. Armed with a (Yamaha) DX7 IIFD, a (Roland) S-770, a couple effects units and my 488 I headed to Nashville, Tennessee to study Music Business at Belmont University. When I started college I don't think anyone else on that campus was a programmer— definitely not into electronic music or anything Brit-pop. Everyone around me had a guitar strapped to his/her back and looking for a country-gig. I was the only student who was listening to (and studying) records from Depeche Mode, The Cure, Alphaville, Nitzer Ebb, Joy Division. I, too, think I was the only one sneaking into the university's studio in the middle of the night to start tracking what would wind up being my first EP. The school's recording studio was predominantly analog, however, it became one of the first schools to acquire a Sony multi-track digital tape machine in the country (a Sony 3324 DASH). So, I was fortunate enough to learn to properly align a 24-track machine, as well as track to either analog or digital. These were the initial years when things were just starting to move over to the digital world of recording— I'm incredibly grateful that I was able to be a part of both worlds during my "formative years."
The EP that I tracked at my university got enough attention to get me into some summer festivals, unite me with a quite high-profile management company— that all lead to me signing my first major label deal (with EMI).
Soundiron: You were on the second season of NBC's The Voice. What was it like working with Cee Lo Green and how much did being on the show affected your career?
I can't say enough about Cee Lo. He's an insane vocalist, a class act and has become a good friend of mine as a result of the show. I will say, however, that we both were getting our hands frequently slapped by the show's producers because we were coming off as a bit too casual, too "matey." But what can you do about what is natural and true? We both had had major label deals when we were relatively young, had both worked with several of the same people over the years... It's a very small world and we couldn't exactly not connect in the way we did. We were living our reality on a reality show— but that reality show didn't jive with that very well...
All that being said, I feel very fortunate and blessed to get the opportunity to have been on the show. Television is a very powerful medium and you can't poo-poo 17-million viewers seeing your mug on their television screen every other week. While I don't believe that it validated what I had be doing for 15+ years, it exposed my music to a new audience who I never could have reached on my own. So, I thank you Mr. Mark Burnett!
Soundiron: In addition to being a producer and singer, you are also an actor and you've worked with acts such as Green Day and Queen on rock-theatricals (American Idiot & London's We Will Rock You, respectively). Which of two roles do you prefer, the musician or the actor?
Music will always be my first love. I love writing, recording. I love experimenting in the studio and delivering a product that listeners can enjoy in their homes, in their automobiles, in restaurants. Also, if I can write something that takes a listener on an emotional journey, I find that to be quite an honourable position. The entire writing/recording process is something that I respect and thank God I've been a part of for so many years. That being said, there's something very special about working with incredible talents (like Billie Jo Armstrong or Brian May— or Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber for that matter!) and being given their trust to create a believable character that has the opportunity to sing their material 7-8x/week on a Broadway or West End stage. I hope I'm blessed to be able to participate in both worlds for many, many years to come.
Soundiron: Has being an actor influenced the way you produce and write music?
I don't think it's had an affect on how I produce or write, but it has definitely influenced the way I perform. One of the reasons that I acted in school plays and local theatre when I was growing up was to become a better story-teller, a better communicator. So, in that aspect, being an actor has definitely impacted the way I am on stage. It helps me reach my audience in a better, more effective way I think. I'm able to give them an experience that is greater than by simply getting up on a stage and "performing for them."
Soundiron: Let's talk about samples a little bit. How did you first get started with using them and what is your favorite Soundiron instrument?
The first sampler I was exposed to was an Ensoniq ESQ-1. It was rather quirky and wasn't very precise. That being said, it was relatively stable and allowed me to get my feet wet before moving to the S-770 and ultimately onto "in-the-box" samplers.
Regarding Soundiron libraries, I've always been a fan of Rust vol 1 &2, Cymbology 1 Bowed. They are epic and can go from strikingly present to quite ambient. Also, I adore the Emotional Piano library. This instrument never lets me down when I'm looking for inspiration— either starting a track or taking a track to a new level. It's touching, melancholy, dark... my kind of instrument! I think I own 25+ Soundiron libraries and I'm excited to pick up several more! "SI" continues to deliver solid, one-of-a-kind libraries over and over again.
Soundiron: Given that you chose two very time intensive career paths, what do you do to relax from you busy schedule?
Well, I don't "relax" very often from those two "time intensive" paths— I find them exciting and more rejuvenating more than exhausting. That being said, I do have a deep love and appreciation of wine. I started to get really interested in wine when a guitarist I was working with turned me onto a really special bottle while playing a gig in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I don't recall who the producer (of the wine) was, but it was a very interesting and esoteric bottle— unlike anything I'd ever tasted. That was in 1997 and I've used my travels to expand my wine knowledge every chance I have. Also, in 2007 I went to school to study wine and became a sommelier. I take it quite serious and find opening a bottle with my wife or with friends to be one of the great ways to relax from the everyday grind of life.
Soundiron: What else do you have coming up? What bands will you produce next?
This summer I'm working with a non-profit called Broadway Dreams Foundation (mybroadwaydreams.com). I'll be working with young people who are aspiring stage actors, singers— those who want to make theatre a possible career path for them. The organization is absolutely amazing! As a young person, I would have given my left-arm to have had the experience to be exposed to and have access to be coached from A-tier talent (actors, dancers, directors).
Also, I'm just starting to write on a new project of my own. I don't have any specific bands/artists lined up to work with in the immediate future, but I am continually on the look-out and am always open to listening to submissions. (firstname.lastname@example.org) There is a great deal of talent out there that I'm excited to work with!