The name Tony Lucca is on the tip of America’s tongue as a result of his spectacular cover of Ray LaMontagne’s song “Trouble” during the Season 2 premiere of NBC’s hit talent show, The Voice.
A record-breaking 37.6 million viewers tuned in to the show and experienced Lucca’s immense vocal talent. And if that wasn’t enough, producers of The Voice were sure to pique viewers’ interest by playing up the singer’s past connection to judge Christina Aguilera – as the two were child performers on The Mickey Mouse Club.
If you’re a frequent reader of TRT, you know by now that I love me some Tony Lucca. I’ve been a fan of his for nearly a decade, so needless to say, I was on pins and needles when he stepped up to the mic. Would the judges, hell, the world react to the singer as I have? Would this be the tipping point? So many things raced through my mind from the onset of Lucca’s first note through the end of the performance, which earned kudos (and chair turns) from all 4 judges, including an unaware Aguilera that she just critiqued her ex-MMCer.
Fast forward to last Friday when I interviewed Lucca for the first time over the phone. Yes, we’ve talked at numerous shows, he graciously granted us an email interview nearly 2 years ago, but this was different. It felt bigger. It’s nearly impossible to objectively interview someone who has penned the words to so many songs that have inspired you throughout the years. Much like Forest experienced when interviewing Raine Maida of OLP a few weeks back – I found myself trying to balance the need to ask relevant current questions given Lucca’s status on The Voice with my standom, and of course, the reality that there was so much more I wanted to talk about with him than the (already beaten to death) storyline of MMC reunion/Christina Aguilera. Thankfully, Lucca keyed in on my knowledge of his career and helped me strike the proper balance of info-seeking, while also dealing with my long-winded questions. Read on below to get the latest on The Voice, what he thinks of Katy Perry, recent super-trio TFDI (and its future), as well as a heartfelt message to fans and supporters from the man, Tony Lucca.
Jayvee: We last spoke in 2010, since then you’ve given us a bunch of albums Solo, Rendezvous with The Angels, TFDI’s When I Stop Runnin’, and of course now, you’re on The Voice. Kinda get the sense that you’re really going for this – you’ve put your foot on the gas pedal. Anything in particular that’s inspiring this outpour of music?
TL: Yeah, I think I was kinda getting into a rhythm where you put a record out and then you tour, exhaust yourself on it, burn out on the songs and do it again. Meanwhile you’re starting all over each time because you have to step away from the road, recharge the fanbase. Yeah, I approached this last year with a different attitude. Not all of it was completely strategic, some of it kinda fell into place, especiallay with like with the TFDI stuff. But my management, they’ve done a really great job of trying to capitalize on every opportunity, each and every last opportunity, so that we’re constantly keeping as many irons in the fire as possible. So yeah, that sort of turned into a barrage of releases for 2011, which was cool by me, but yeah, it’s time for that I think. Really trying to inundate folks with more music, which what everyone always wants.
Jayvee: Well, I love it, so not complaining. We have to talk about the big thing, which is obviously, The Voice. Curious, what spurred your decision to audition for The Voice?
TL: A combination of things. I was joking with someone before… imagine you had this really great laugh, you know, you had this great belly, gutteral laugh that people loved to hear. They love to hear you tell stories, they love to make you laugh because they all want to hear your laugh – eventually, you start travelling around laughing for people and these people travel for hours and miles and say, man have the greatest laugh, I love your laugh, and then all of a sudden a TV show comes out called The Laugh… and you’re like wait a minute, I got a pretty good Laugh. You know, American Idol is one thing, I’m just not into the idolic treatment. And The Sing-Off, I didn’t realize there was such a sub-culture of a capella enthusiasts out there, but apparently there are. Then The Voice comes along and not only do they not shy away from the established artist, but that’s kinda what it’s about. It’s shedding light on people that have a backstory. Well, I have a voice… and I have a backstory, so this could be interesting. Of course, there’s the Christina thing, would that even be worth taking a stab at? Do I mess around with that? Or do I go in, audition, and see how it goes? I basically just moved back home to Michigan [from LA] with my family, my wife and my kids, and you know, I wasn’t here but like a week. I booked a gig in Chicago, a festival in July, and my manager called and said hey – do you want to go out for The Voice. They want to see you…[The audition] is in Chicago, the day after your show and it seemed destined. If that wasn’t fate laying it out there for me, so I said that would be silly since I’d have to drive right by the audition on my way out of town. So, I said, yeah, cool – let’s call that a sign and we’ll go out for it and see what happens.
Jayvee: It feels, like you said, fate and a little bit of the perfect storm. Like I’ve said, I’ve been a fan for a really long time. For me, or for a lot of friends I’ve introduced to your music – as soon as they hear your voice, or see you live, they fall in love with your music. I was anxious watching you on The Voice – it was like watching my brother or my best friend, go through it, so it was awesome to see the reaction of not just viewers, but the judges. Not sure if you watched it – or caught it – but there’s one point after you’re done where the camera catches Adam Levine talking to his co-judges and said, ‘that guy is a fuckin’ artist.’ It feels legit – giving a platform to artists like yourself, who are a bit seasoned, have been working the tour circuit. I guess the question would be – the song choice, why’d you go with Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble?”
TL: First, obvious answer is it’s covers only, no original material. The song selection process is a very lengthy one. It might have to do with songs they can get licensed, that they can get clearance for. Then they give you a ton of songs you have to pick from and you have to whittle that down. They give you a list of 165 songs and you have to pick your top 75 favorites and then list them in order. Don’t know the algorithm on it, but they basically sift through all of them and look at who they want to hear sing what and what the artists want to sing – there’s a lot of variables, but “Trouble” was on the list of songs I could pick from and every chance I got I’d put that as my first pick because it was the one closest to my wheel-house. That and I’m a big fan of Ray LaMontagne and I knew that if I got the chance to do that song I could do it justice.
Jayvee: You did, and you made it your own, which is the beautiful thing about what you do. Last question on The Voice because I don’t want to harp on it too much, but do you feel like this is going to be the tipping point? Is the end game to win it all – get a new recording contract? Or are you looking at this as more of a platform to get the exposure out there and see something bigger than what’s been going on with touring over the years?
TL: Yeah, it’s funny you said ‘the tipping point,’ because I was talking to my manager about it on the heels of this and in a lot of regards, it’s tipped. For example, we had an impromptu trip to NY to do some publicity and while I was there we booked a last minute show, which turned into a second show on Valentine’s Day and they were both sold out and it was a small venue, but nonetheless, that was something that would not have been able to happen otherwise. For me, this has been the tipping point. And now obviously, if I go on to win it then you enter into a whole other realm of viewers. Like watching my records go up the charts the last couple weeks – that’s exciting, but they were up and down. As much industry attention that I’ve had or fan attention, I might’ve anticipated a stronger showing on those charts, but there’s still a shit ton of work to do, a lot of impressions to be made. To become a bona fide household name is a next step. For me it’s tipped and now my fans are all hip and stoked and excited, things will go up for me, but then you go on to win it. I’m sure there was a tipping point for Kelly Clarkson from when she was the winner of American Idol or Carrie Underwood and people will forget where she even got her start. There’s always another tipping point, I think. This, for me, I’m looking for the exposure, the little push to get past the threshold from where I’m at. Winning it would be a whole other thing, a whole other workload… working with the biggest and best writers and producers out there to make the best record that Universal can make. Which is totally exciting and something that maybe 3 or 5 years ago you’d never see me vying for where as now, as you said, the ‘perfect storm,’ the elements were right.
Jayvee: I’m obviously invested in your music over the years, so I’m intrigued to see how someone like you who has this built in fan base. You sell out shows, especially when you come to NY and play Rockwood and Canal Room, which are all great venues for singer-songwriters, but I’m curious to see how this progresses. I did catch your show Tuesday night, 10p one, I was a little upset you didn’t give us a heads up that Sara Bareilles was going to swing by and hop on stage (laughs)…
TL: Yeah… I didn’t see that coming either. It was a last minute thing and then I realized after the show like – holy shit – I didn’t tweet anybody. I just let that happen.
Jayvee: She [Sara Barellies] has done it before we were at Canal Room for a show, before you guys [Jay Nash and Matt Duke] were officially TFDI, she showed up she did a song with you. It’s always a cool circle of singer-songwriters I find when you’re in town…
TL: Yeah, for sure! You know, the funny thing about that, after the 7p show, after two full days of press after being in town with friends, catching up and celebrating… I was like half way through the 10 o’clock show and was like, shit, I should’ve hit the brakes a while ago. This is not a total fair shot for the folks who came out.
Jayvee: Well, it was … the way I approached it was, I’ve seen you a million times before and um… you’ve always been awesome and on-point. So it was funny to see you let your guard down a bit, the way we talked about it was a celebration for you. It was being included in that club of fans who have been to the shows, so it felt good to be in on the party. Was that the vibe you were feeling – like it was a celebration? Not a pre-mature celebration, but taking it in, where you’ve been over the years and where you’re at at this point?
TL: Yeah it definitely was. I knew right away at the 7p show, you come out to play and there’s some chatter going on, especially when everyone is excited to be there. Now, it’s like, especially with The Voice, people are going to listen way more closely and with that comes a great deal of responsibility and that’s why afterwards we reflected and my manager and I in the morning after the show, like… yeah, we might’ve been enjoying ourselves a little too much, losing sight of the F-bombs and some of the banter. And though it was funny and engaged and like, you said, a celebratory side of me, it’s like – that’s cool, but it’s not time for that yet. If there was ever a time to apply a little more scrutiny and accountability to the brand, now is that time. Let’s sharpen the sword and tighten things up as there’s quite a ways to go before we get out of hand.
Jayvee: Transitioning a bit, talk a little about the TFDI project if you can? You guys put out your full-length album, When I Stop Runnin’, we reviewed it for the site and there hasn’t been, probably in the last couple years that I can think of, an album that I truly can listen to start to finish without skipping tracks. You guys nailed something there. What’s the move for the group? Could we potentially see another album?
TL: I wish there was something I can talk about. It’s not that there is something and I’m not at liberty to talk about – there’s just nothing there, unfortunately. We all kinda knew it, heading out of that, because that’s when I was heading back to get involved in The Voice. Jay (Nash) was heading to Vermont to dig in on a brainchild project himself and Matt (Duke) was still in the final throws of promote and get his record (One Day Die) off the ground, and now, my God, there’s a huge question mark that just hangs there. We definitely know something magic happens when the three of us make music together, so we’d be kinda foolish to deny that and resist any potential to get back in there and make something happen. If and when there was something else, I don’t think it would be lightly entered into or an after thought to the tour, it would be because we all feel like it’s time to join the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons for some sort of conquest for a super-group superiority. It would be fun, it would be cool, I think the world of both of those guys, love to listen to those records still and love to think that down the road there will be more collaborations.
Jayvee: The beautiful thing about what you do or your voice or the music you approach is, you cross-genres, are there certain influences in the current scene that you’re into or like their sound?
TL: I think what you’re starting to see or what I’m starting to see on The Voice as far as the success stories are the singers that take songs out of genre and do them in a different one. Sort of re-invent songs from a vocalist standpoint – male artists covering female artists and vice versa, it really resonates with people and they love to see an artist do something creative and not go straight down the pike. That being said, I’ve got some ideas that I want to maybe explore, doing something like a Katy Perry song, something like a really big pop song that might go missed as being a beautiful song because of this style and the reputation of the artist to make it popular, but you know, you take a song like “The One That Got Away,” and do it unplugged with an acoustic guitar by a male vocalist and all of a sudden people are like – fuck, I know this song. What is this song… and then you get to the chorus and you’re like OH MY GOD! Think of the version Travis did of “Hit Me Baby… One More Time,” and Cake’s version of “I Will Survive” – that would be cool. As a champion for the craft of song-writing itself, I’m always tickled when I hear that kind of stuff. For me, it could be cool to do something like a Britney song or Christina (Aguilera) song.
Jayvee: Something we do at TRT, we call it ‘The Soapbox’ where we let the interviewee talk about anything they want or say anything. Feel free, anything about The Voice you’re at liberty to talk about, a solo album in the works, or anything you want to say to your longtime fans… have at it…
TL: A couple of interviews, you know the line of questioning has been very consistent especially with the newer outlets. We’ve been at this a while now, you have a little more in-depth approach to the line of questioning and much appreciated. A lot of the newer outlets, they want to know the same 4-5 things with regards to The Voice and the Christina and Britney story, but one thing that people have asked is – the turning of all 4 chairs and what does that feel like? In essence, there’s a moment in the show when you see that happen. After the chair turns around and I still have a bit of the song left to sing, where I’m just flooded with the emotion of every last fan, friend, family member, who have been giving so much support and encouragement over the years, that just came pouring into me over that moment – where I was like – wow, OK, this has not been in vain, this is the product of all of that love all of that encouragement, all of those blessing and prayers. I felt for the first time, maybe ever, I’ve always steered clear of any sense of entitlement of any success that has come my way, I’ve been working really hard, I’ve earned what I’ve made happen and I’ve a lot of strokes of really great luck and really fate and wonderful opportunities, but I felt like in that moment, I felt deserving. Not so much of 4 chairs turning around or getting a chance to move forward on the show, but I felt deserving of all of those well wishes along the way. Like, these people weren’t crazy, and this is proof to that, this is a testament to that – all of their dedication to my work and this is really sweet. It’s like, from here on out, my efforts are on that show are going to be a big thank you to all of the fans and all of the people who have been following me for so long.
Jayvee: Well, I can’t think of a better way to end this interview. We’re stoked for you, obviously, and you have our support. Best of luck on The Voice.