Andre Tonelli is a hard to classify musical entity. Completely devoid of any preoccupation with musical fashions or trends, he relentlessly pursues a musical vision that is at once unnaturally deep and readily accessible to anyone who loves music. And yet, his records have topped charts and been played to millions on radios around the world, which is hard to imagine, especially for those who believe instrumental rock music is only for guitarists. “The concept of instrumental rock music only sounds strange on paper. Musically, it makes a lot of sense. It overcomes language barriers and it avoids the risk of being overly descriptive. It gives the listener the emotional keys to the music. Actually, if you ask 100 people if they prefer instrumental classical music or opera, I’d guess a large percentage would say the former. Humanity has a timeless history of instrumental music and there is a deep connection between rhythm, melody and harmony and human emotion. Unlocking that relationship, and sometimes succeeding at it is my ultimate high!”
And succeeded he has. Andre’s 2013 album Fill The Sky shot straight to the Top20 in the general iTunes chart in his current home country Spain. In the US it entered the Top5 on the CMJ Most Added charts, and his music is regularly played on stations across the country. His music has been described in the international press as “sparkling guitars and masterful melodic sense, with a fluid, inspired and engaging touch” (Metal Hammer, Italy), or “a prodigious brand of guitar music. Andre embodies the next generation of guitar god” (Thunder Press, US).
Andre’s unabating search for expression also meant becoming adept at intimidating subjects such as studio ownership, record engineering, mixing, and everything else that stands in the way between inspiration and the final listeners. “I might consider myself a decent guitar player, but I’m well aware of my limitations in every other field that is involved in making records. But with passion, long hours, and a certain amount of careless abandonment, I am able to make it work for me. Every project seems like an insurmountable mountain before I begin, especially since I hold myself to a very high standard, but in the end it seems to work out. I just don’t stop until I get there.”It also helps to be able to count on Grammy winner John Cuniberti for the final process of mastering. “That’s one thing I really wouldn’t dare doing myself. Luckily, John has been mastering my records since Power World Fantastic And I couldn’t be happier.”
Andre joined Parker Guitars as one of their Artists in 2104. He’s been a Palmer endorser for many years and he uses InTune Guitar Picks. His didactic project, the Guitar Encyclopedia, is a massive innovative platform through which any guitarist in the world can study with Andre and learnt he fundamentals of rock guitar. It has been released with the intent of providing quality learning for all aspiring musicians, independently of their social or economic condition, and is 100% free.
Lights and Shadows (2016) – “This is the best sounding album I ever recorded. It was done in my new studio and it represents the narrowing of the gap between ambition and realization. There are hundreds of guitar sounds and 11 of the best pieces of music I have ever composed. There is literally nothing I would change on the record, as it is a true artistic representation of where I’m at as of this moment. I put more than 1000 hours into Lights and Shadows, and if I could have a wish, I would love for people to listen to it from beginning to end at least once. To experience the journey before picking their favorite songs.”
Fill the Sky (2013) – “I like to think of Fill The Sky as the little album that could. A self produced instrumental rock record duking it out for top spot in the iTunes Charts with Bowie, Queen and Elvis. It opened up my music to a lot of markets, too. It has some of my favorite songs on it, like Edge of the World, One, or Things We Said.”
Power World Fantastic (2008) – “This album embodies the “spirit-over-means” mentality pretty well. It was recorded with what I had at the moment: and ENGL amp, a Palmer speaker simulator, and a few pedals. It was also my first foray into engineering and mixing. It certainly has its faults, but most of the songs are strong and some of them, such as the title track, Midnight Driver and Written in the Sand, are still fan favorites.”
Lords of Time EP (2004) – “My first semi-professional instrumental outing, recorded in my early twenties in little more than a day on an irresponsibly tight budget. Except for the horrendous cover, I think it’s a good record that captures the beginning of the journey. And it’s as live as any record can get!”
Most musicians go through a cycle of a few years between albums, and when it comes time to work on a new record, they sit down and start to write music. Andre Tonelli does things a little differently. “I write music all the time. There usually isn’t a day when at least one idea isn’t put down on paper, on my iPhone, or wherever it can be preserved. Sometimes they are just snippets or very minimalistic ideas, other times they are fully developed ideas. Some are great, others not so good, but they are not judged. Not at this stage. They are just created and stored…”
Andre’s “vault” includes dozens, maybe hundreds of musical ideas. And once in a while, the music lets him know that it is time for a new record. “The trigger to begin thinking about a new album is either a song or a concept. Then I know which of the musical ideas I already have I should develop, and it informs the direction of the new compositions.
When I wrote the song Lights and Shadows, that gave me the idea and the spark for the new record. I don’t say: time for a new record! I just wait to get a sense of direction, and I let the music dictate when the time is right.” Lights And Shadows is a diverse, ambitious album. Its 11 songs touch upon different genres, styles and moods, all through Andre’s signature memorable melodies and driving riffs. Making sure this diversity was more than a novelty but indeed the essence of the work was essential. “The song Lights and Shadows came out all at once. Title, music, feel, everything. Just its title I thought would be a very interesting concept to explore, a thread of some sort for the whole album. For example how the artistic lifestyle, once fully embraced, will inevitably provide both the highest highs and the lowest lows. Life itself does that. And these high and lows are usually the fuel behind our best musical creations. It’s a virtuous and vicious cycle all rolled into one! So how does one cope with this without going crazy? How can we use this to forward ourselves, both personally and artistically? So that kind of got me going, and I could come up with many ways to explore what in the end is a timeless dichotomy.”
Throughout its 50 minutes, Lights And Shadows takes the listener through a musical journey spanning from the rocking Planet 9 to the cheerful A Perfect Day, through the introspective Years From Now and light-speed galactic adventure of Starflyer. The bluesy Waiting for You with its bouncy rhythm and no frills production (the drums were recorded with just two microphones) and In Dreams, complete with backwards sitar intro and haunting, evocative melodies, exemplify the diversity of the album. The melody for In Dreams was literally plucked out of the dream world and brought to our dimension by Andre’s guitar… And if you are in the mood for the unexpected, The Traveler will take you through funky bass driven riffs, epic choruses, meditative breaks, outer space solos and a lot more, all in under 5 minutes! Or you could just rock out to the rock guitar masterclass of the aptly titled Speeding at Night, daydream of sunny days with California, or wander through the techno-inspired magic of the album closer City Lights.
When Andre and long-time drummer Eric Rovira Duatis entered RockAway Studios in the summer of 2015, most of the demos were still in a very rudimentary state. “I’m very aware of contracting demoitis, a known illness where you will work so hard on your demos that by the time you get to tracking, there is no excitement left, and all you try to do is replicate something you have learned to love simply by repeating it to death. So my rule is, as soon as a song has the basic elements in place and the proper structure, the demo is complete. Then when a few weeks, months or even years later I go back to record it, I worry about sounds, harmonies, solos, etc. I might even change a melody or a chorus. The problem is some of the demos are truly atrocious! So I give them to Eric and try to reassure him that somewhere in there is a great song that it’s worth working on!”
Rovira Duatis’s skill and range on the drums also allowed for the record to be tracked in a very performance oriented fashion. “I’m not into cutting, pasting, splicing, tuning or all those things you can do to music nowadays. I love Pro Tools, but I use it like a glorified tape recorder. I tried it once, taking a song and editing the drums so they were locked to the grid, and I hated it. It sounded perfect but so boring. And completely uninspiring to play along to. I’d spent all this time and money going to a great studio with a great drummer, just to get home and splice everything up. How stupid! I do the same with guitars. If I can’t play something properly, I practice some more and then record it.”
Andre produced and mixed the record, but the final step, the esoteric process of mastering, was left to the capable hands of Grammy winner John Cuniberti. “I have been working with John for almost 10 years now, and I always love what he does to my records. Lights and Shadows was even more exciting though, since I knew I had provided him with the best sounding mixes I’ve ever done. And the results were spectacular. Clear, deep and punchy doesn’t begin to describe it. And the master respects all the effort that was put into the songs’ dynamics and instrumentation. There are over 100 guitar sounds on this record, and you can hear them all!”
Lights and Shadows is certainly Andre’s most ambitious record yet, and arguably his best effort. “I do feel that for the first time, despite the little things we can always find in our own work, this record is the best it could possibly be. There is no filler, and I wouldn’t change a single thing on it if I could. It’s honest to the very last note, and very importantly for me, it is a true album experience. I hope that people will listen to it form beginning to end at least once. That they’ll take the journey!”