Interview: Fabrizio Grossi

Italian-born (and proud Californian) Fabrizio Grossi is set to release ‘Counterfeited Soulstice Vol 1’, the debut album from his new collective; Fabrizio Grossi & Soul Garage Experience. Also known as a member of blues-rock supergroup Supersonic Blues Machine ( alongside Kris Barras and Kenny Aronoff, as well as guest member Billy F. Gibbons), Grossi is a much-respected producer/writer/musician with a great love of soul music, he stopped by to talk about the forthcoming album, as well as offering his thoughts on the current struggles facing the live music scene and reveals exactly what he told Kris Barras when his fellow musician happened to remind Fabrizio that he was about to hit the road with Black Stone Cherry…

The UK has just announced a plan to introduce vaccine passports for live entertainment, what are your thoughts on this, it seems to have divided the industry?

In that sense, I’m probably more American than most Americans, over here every one is obsessed with the concept of freedom, but I think that they do it in a hypocritical way. For example, a lot of people are against vaccines and against wearing masks, but the state of Texas just implemented a law that allows a private citizen to sue anyone that helps or provides an abortion after six weeks. So for me, that’s an infringement, it’s not their body so what the hell is their problem? I’m for freedom, meaning that I’m pro-choice…in everything…you want to have an abortion?…as long as you are responsible and can handle the consequences then I’m never going to say that’s wrong, the same thing with the vaccine…you don’t want the vaccine?..then I’m fine with that, but as the law here in the United States says…any private entity can refuse to serve anyone that they don’t want to if they are not vaccinated, so you have to accept that. If it was a government mandate that you had to get vaccinated, then absolutely not because that is an infringement of your freedom. However, if a private entity; an airline, or a supermarket, whatever, says….“…you want to use my services then you have to be vaccinated”, then you have to accept that. But don’t get me wrong, I’m very pro-science.

You have to get back to work!

Yes, I haven’t worked for 18 months now, my bandmate Kris Barras has been involved in a few festivals over the last few weeks and I’m really happy that he was able to do that. Here in California, it has been very slow in reopening, but a lot of the restrictions are starting to lift now for large gatherings, obviously mask requirements will be implemented, and it goes back to what I said earlier, if a company feels that asking for you to be vaccinated means that they can continue with their business and provide a service, then I’m all for it. You can’t be hypocritical and only give people a choice when it is convenient to you.

Onto ‘Counterfeited Soulstice Vol 1’ the debut album from Fabrizio Grossi & Soul Garage Experience,  with all your experience as a producer and writer, and as an artist, do you still get nervous in the run-up to releasing new music?

No, actually I get nervous when I don’t [have music to release], and that’s why this record is fully independent. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just myself here doing everything, I have a great bunch of people helping, but the medium of music has changed so much – and I’m not trying to diminish the importance of a record company – but unfortunately record companies become part of a larger establishment and they can’t even control themselves at times because the mother company might have decided that they have too many releases already and ask you to reschedule. So to be honest with you, I was not willing to wait another two years or even two months, especially right now when people want to hear from you NOW!

We are preparing a comeback with my main band Supersonic Blues Machine, and it’s amazing how you need to be constantly out there, to communicate, to promote your music. So, with regards to the record industry, I think that sometimes it needs to go back to how it was…like…” let me do my songs, let me do my thing and put it out…”. All the feedback, and requests that I’m getting, are already exceeding what I would normally do with a record company. Why is that? It’s not because I am doing more, it’s because I am optimising my energy, and at the end of the day if you are really passionate about it, then you are really going for it…it’s like Billy Gibbons always reminds me when we play together…in our little team cheer before going onstage with Supersonic…” Remember guys, we don’t have to do this, we get to do this…”

Was this the album that you were born to make?

That’s a good question! Well, I did make it, so I guess, probably! I do not believe that things just happen, I believe that this is a phase of my journey as a musician, producer, writer, whatever it is. There is a lot of stuff here that belongs to my childhood, my upbringing, my real love for the music that I really like, again…I’m not saying that I do not like a lot of the stuff that I do, because I do, trust me, I make a living as a musician and I’m the most blessed person on the planet because I do what I enjoy as a living: and that’s both the biggest challenge and the biggest reward. However, most of the people out there that know me, especially on the production end, know my work on the rock side – borderline metal – you know, generally on the hard rock side, but I’ve always been a lover of ALL music. And I always had this calling for black music, a particular type of blues; the original blues, and then all the spin-offs…especially soul, ‘60s soul, then funk, rock & roll, boogie. And then reggae was a big influence for me, Bob Marley was the beginning for me, they were the first few records that I bought myself, his message was a bit wider than the soul movement, Bob was just about universal love, okay you had songs like ‘Get Up Stand Up’, and ‘Buffalo Soldiers’, but all those songs also had a detached Jesus vibe…like…” Hey, I come in peace…”.

When we released the first single ‘Right Down Below’, and then ‘I’d Rather Be Wrong’, my UK agent and dear friend of mine said…” Fab, this is really cool, this is like The Clash playing Dr. John’s music…or the other way round!”, and he was right. I was raised in Italy, and Italy has never been a Rock & Roll country, so I was hearing a lot of black music because it was a big thing on the radio back then….Earth Wind & Fire, James Brown, Tina Turner, etc, and that mix of living in Milan and staying in London for several summers exposed me to that urban sound that was probably more punk than reggae, and that really works well with Soul Garage. We never explored everything, it’s called ‘Volume 1’ for a reason! I have enough material for three records! On this one, there are a lot of different colors, original rhythm and blues, and then they took on a life of their own, so I would say it’s rootsy rock, Americana, urban…and a little bit of everything that I like.

There is some really strong subject material on the album, ‘Them and Me’ for instance is an important statement track about racism, but I found myself tapping my feet, clicking my fingers, it’s a happy, joyous album…

Funny enough that song has been around for over ten years, we did that song about twelve years ago for a show on NBC called NCIS, and it was actually for an episode set in Vegas, and the subject was very current at the time. Unfortunately, it is very sad to see that all these things that we were talking about were current ten years ago, twenty years ago, current fifty years ago…are we learning anything? Are we moving forward or not? But, learning from the great Bob Marley, you can deliver a powerful message and still have music that people can relate to and groove along with which is very important because sometimes, and in some countries, people don’t get entangled in the lyrics. For instance, look what happened with Tom Morello and Rage Against The Machine; the fans that they lost, and people cursing them like crazy and asking why were they getting political…dude, what do you think that they were raging against! What do you think ‘Killing In The Name Of’ was all about?! I’m trying to deliver a message in a way that is, rather than yelling at you, I’m trying to say…” hey, by the way, what do you think about this…”, I’m not trying to find a solution to the world’s problems, but if I can help then why not? At the end of the day, it’s important to me that music gives a very good vibe, and maybe open up a window of opportunity for people to read the words coming out.

Soul Garage is unfiltered, it’s untamed, it’s all positive, very positive stuff! Maybe some of the topics are quite negative, but the message that we give is all about being positive. I like to work with positive people, all my guys; Stephen Perkins, Derek Day…I mean, Derek is Mr. Positive…but everyone who works with us always enters the room with a big smile. And that sparks up the sound. When you say it’s happy, it’s not really happy if you read the songs, but I think that it is uplifting.

It’s a very strong percussive album, ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ for instance, that’s so infectious, and the way that it mixes with the slide guitar is gorgeous; who plays on this one?

The drums on that one are brought to you by the one and only Kenny Aronoff, who is, of course, my bandmate with Supersonic Blues Machine, the guitar work is from the wonderful Derek Day, piano keyboards are Alex Alessandroni Jr, and some of the other sounds in there – not necessarily guitar – are mine. Diimond Meeks is giving me major help with the vocals and my wife and daughter (The Supersonettes) are also singing, and Chris Hansen is on the harp.

There is a fantastic mix of youth and experience on the album, you have the incredible drumming of Kenny, as well as Stephen Perkins from Jane’s Addiction, then you have a few relatively unknown players such as Derek Day who is phenomenal…

He is! Derek is something else! I’ve known him since he was sixteen and was busking on the streets of Santa Monica. My daughter actually said to me…” Hey Dad, you need to see this guy!” I went and introduced myself, and he just blew me away, he was doing Guns N’ Roses covers in the street and he was playing Slash’s parts as Steve Vai would do and he was singing Axl’s parts as Robert Plant would do! He was jumping around as if he was performing at Wembley Stadium and I just thought that he was something else. We kept in touch, and some of my colleagues and friends such as Steve Vai…we made it a common cause to help this kid out. Again it gets back to that positivity that I was talking about earlier, Kenny is also very positive, and that makes a difference.

Diimond is another relatively unknown performer, where does the connection come from with Diimond?

Diimond is a freak of nature! Diimond has the same vocal range as Mariah Carey and was a finalist on American Idol and America’s Got Talent, I was introduced to him some years ago and we worked together, we kept in touch, and when it came to this album, he was the best addition. He sings the way that in my head I think a singer should sing.

I like that you appreciated the percussion because I don’t think that I was a bassist in my previous life, I think that I was a drummer! I always think – drums! Maybe it was because I lost a few gigs in the past because of weak drummers, I believe the saying that a band is only as good as its drummer; especially live. If I’m the best guy in the band, then it’s time to change the band, and that’s why I always play with musicians who are better than me…plus it makes me look good!

Good point! You are involved with the charity Guitars For Vets, what does that involve? Obviously, with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the treatment of vets is quite a topical subject…

Don’t get me started on that one because…well…[sharp intake of breath], but I’m involved with the charity not because I’m pro-war or a big supporter of the army in terms of militarization and operations, but I’m against the exploitation…the majority of the military are kids from very humble origins. I’m not talking about the ones that follow their parent’s dreams and come from Westpoint, I’m talking about the majority, the privates. A lot of them – including some of those sadly killed in Kabul recently – are of Latino origin, and feel that they have to give something back, but unfortunately, that goodwill, and spirit, get taken advantage of. People are coming back from tours and suffering from PTSD, and Guitars For Vets does an incredible job in trying to treat that by giving guitar lessons, well it has been guitars up until now but we are adding other instruments. It’s been so effective that some of these lessons are now given at VA [Veterans Affairs] treatment centers and hospitals. That’s just my own view on the military, there are some people at Guitars For Vets who don’t share my views but at least we came together and tried to help the vets.

You’ve briefly touched on Supersonic Blues Machine, with so much uncertainty around the live music scene, and you all having your own separate careers; what do the next 12 months or so hold for the band? Can you give us any clues?

Oh yeah, I’m not at liberty to mention anything like dates, but we will have a new record next year as well as some other things going on. We are working on making it to the UK before next summer because, well, it’s about FUCK-ING time! [laughs] I’m sorry! But it is about time!

Agreed! Kris is on tour very soon, he’s out with Black Stone Cherry for 10 days or so…

Yes, lucky him! I told him – “Lucky bastard!”…[laughs]

It’s the year 2021, for god’s sake, people get real…c’mon…you don’t want to be traced…then what the hell are you doing with an iPhone? Let’s get back to common sense, there is no right or left, this is about community, when I mention Kris going back out on the road I’m not only talking about Kris, I’m talking about Josiah [Josiah J Manning, Kris Barras Band] and everybody else; the band, the crew, the agents, the promoters, etc. For every Beyonce that you see on stage, there are 80 or 90 people working behind the scenes to put the show on, and without these people, the show doesn’t happen. Those people are, to me, essential workers, along with health workers, etc, and at the end of the day, we might have been labelled as “non-essential” but can anyone tell me what would have happened during these lockdowns without movies, music, and all other forms of entertainment?

So, guys, let’s unite…it might not be your ideal choice, whether it be the vaccine or a mask, but we share this world with billions of other people, you’re not alone, think of it as a community, if the majority of us do well, then we all do well…

As Bruce Springsteen once said; “In the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins…”

Absolutely! And that’s why he is the Boss! [laughs]

 

‘Counterfeited Soulstice Vol 1’ is available September 10th, pre-order information – here.

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