Interview: Andre Tonelli

Dan McAvinchey: Andre, you have a new album out ("Mystic Electric") since we last interviewed you about 2 years ago, had anything changed for you as you approached recording these new compositions in the studio?

Andre Tonelli: The main difference in the recording process between this album and the previous one “Lights and Shadows” was the decision to do everything in my own studio, relying heavily on drum machines instead of live drums. There are live percussion and cymbals throughout the album, but a lot of the drum tracks are based on classic drum machines and their coexistence with the classic amp tones I use for bass and guitars. I have always been fascinated by drum machines since I was a kid, and decided early on to base this album on the juxtaposition of organic, vocal-like melodies, and the steady beats of drum programming. And since I am guilty of owning a lot of electronic toys, I might as well put them to good use!

Dan McAvinchey: What did you do differently on "Mystic Electric" compared to your previous albums?

Andre Tonelli: Because of the approach discussed above, I found very early on in the writing stage that I needed to balance the steady and colder nature of the rhythmic bed with a very natural playing style. I have always been quite spontaneous in the studio, but this time I really went for it. Several solos on the album were recorded in one take with minimal preparation. Also, most of the main guitars throughout the albums were done live, recording 3 or 4 takes and then picking the best one with little to no editing. It can be hard to let go of the small mistakes you inevitably make when using that approach, but I decided to stick with it for fear of making the songs dull. And in time, when you go back and listen to the record, you hopefully get that feeling of freshness and urgency.

Dan McAvinchey: Let's talk about the process you used on "Mystic Electric", How did you write the songs, did you collaborate or work alone on the tracks?

Andre Tonelli: I always do all the writing myself. I work at strange hours and have little patience to wait for people to come over to the studio and record demos with me. Through the years, I have gone to great lengths to learn most instruments to a certain degree so that I can put things down quickly, so as not to lose interest. I also enjoy the idea of molding a concept by myself, such as a painter or sculptor would. Or indeed a classical composer. This approach gets turned on its head completely when it comes to playing live. I love playing with other people and I am more than willing to let the songs evolve in that format.

But returning to the recording process, I had everything ready and then my live drummer Toni Lopez came over and we went through the songs and reworked the programmed drums or added live sounds. Some songs we barely touched, while others were changed quite drastically.

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Dan McAvinchey: Which of the tracks from "Mystic Electric" do you enjoy playing the most?

Andre Tonelli: I like them all, and I enjoyed recording them for the album, but when a record is done I am usually working on new music and rarely go back to playing my songs for pleasure, unless they are to be performed live. In that case, I think they are all candidates to be added to the setlist, but off the top of my head, “Mystic Electric”, “Funky Robots”, "The Best We Can”, “Dawn Over The City” and “Eye Of The Storm” would work quite well live.

Dan McAvinchey: Have you gotten a new piece of gear, or a new guitar, that you found particularly useful while writing or recording?

Andre Tonelli: I actually do associate some gear with certain albums. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision to buy certain things for a certain project, but often it is a matter of putting what was added to the studio since the previous album to good use. I must say, it hasn’t been guitars for a while. I sometimes get loaned or gifted an instrument from a brand, but otherwise, I’m quite well served when it comes to them.

I did get a Universal Audio OX a few months before recording the album, and it was used quite a lot on “Mystic Electric”. It’s basically a load box and speaker simulator unit, and I got it specifically for the record, since I had acquired and/or fixed a few classic amps that I really loved and wanted to feature on the songs. Also, many were tracked with the traditional amp/mic setup, others with the Kemper, and some through old boxes such as my Rockmans.

Dan McAvinchey: We recently did a survey where site visitors told us about their favorite guitar effect (delay/echo, distortion/overdrive, chorus, flange, etc.). What is your favorite?

Andre Tonelli: Definitely wah and delay. The wah is one of the most expressive devices a guitarist can have, though it can be abused. On “Mystic Electric” I actually use it less than usual. But I feel that, on the right material, the wah pedal actually deepens the connection I have with the guitar. Emotionally, I find it is similar to the effect a good vibrato or bending can have when playing.

I also love delay, and I use one (or two) all the time. I don’t care if it’s out of style, or whatever, I like it and I use it both live and in the studio. It gives a sense of increased depth and even security, being surrounded by notes.

Dan McAvinchey: How is it going with social media and promotion? Any breakthroughs you can report on?

Andre Tonelli: I must admit I don’t fancy social media too much. I don’t like the feeling that I have to post dumb things on Facebook and Instagram just to keep the post count up or to get some likes. So I don’t do it. I do enjoy using socials for things I find truly interesting or for sharing, and that’s how I go about it. I’m sure it’s not the “proper” way. On the other hand, on YouTube, which I have always enjoyed, I am readying a new project that will be of benefit to a lot of people, in line with the huge Guitar Encyclopedia I did a few years ago, but in a totally different format. I am excited about it and it will probably go live early next year. If this sounds interesting, your readers can go to youtube.com/andretonelli and join in.

Dan McAvinchey: Where is your home base these days? How is the live scene there?

Andre Tonelli: I am currently residing in Barcelona, where I have been for the last 15 years, which for me is the longest I have ever lived in a single city. So who knows, a change might be in the cards soon.

The live scene is good, because most tours come through Barcelona and there’s a lot on offer.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you feel like has been your greatest musical achievement to date?

Andre Tonelli: Waking up everyday and being as excited about playing guitar and writing and recording music as I was when I first started more than 25 years ago. There is nothing else I’d rather do and count myself lucky to be able to do music 100% of the time. Everything else I might have achieved with a particular song or album is in the past, and it doesn’t make writing new music any easier, so I simply don’t think about it.

Dan McAvinchey: Finally, what are you looking forward to in 2020, what's on your musical agenda?

Andre Tonelli: I am hoping for a proper tour to take shape in support of “Mystic Electric". We have performed extensively for my previous album “Lights and Shadows”, but scattered dates throughout the year make it very hard for a band because there is a lot of preparatory work before each show. I think it would be a lot smarter to do a proper tour, confined to a few weeks or months, instead. So I’m trying to make that work.

Also, every time I finish a project, I promise myself to never make another album, but I am actually finding myself in the studio now finishing up some demos of new songs that just popped up in the last couple of months.

And finally, there are talks of some soundtrack work in the future, but that’s for another interview

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Barcelona guitarist Andre Tonelli returns for his fourth Guitar Nine interview, this time to promote his fourth and latest solo album, entitled "Mystic Electric". Described as "instrumental rock music filled with melody, groove and soul", Tonelli has created another strong release, sure to please fans of guitar-oriented music.

Dan McAvinchey connected with Tonelli recently to discuss his latest album, as well as get his thoughts on the recording process, and social media promotion.