I knew I had to learn more about Gennaro Agresti from the first time I heard him perform. It was July 29th at SOB's in NYC, at a Coast 2 Coast Live Interactive Showcase. The previous acts were mostly "turnt up" hip-hop performances... and then came GENNARO. He began belting out a song about battling demons and being socially aware. The beat was an infectious pop track, and the hook was so catchy that soon the audience (myself included) was nodding and singing along. That song was "Break the Chains," the third single released by the singer, songwriter, and actor from his EP, Deadly Game. Gennaro is skilled at creating memorable music. Read more about him in this exclusive interview.
BROWNIE MARIE: You began taking singing lessons nine years ago, but released your first single, “Ebony Angel,” in 2010. Why the wait?
GENNARO: I have a lot of problems with my voice because of allergies. I have them all year-round and they take a toll on my voice. When I was ready, my teacher would keep pushing me to start singing, but it took me a little longer to feel confident enough. I wanted to have this great range... but I had to learn the hard way that there is more to singing than just belting out high notes. I also did not know what I wanted to do. When I finally contacted Skyelab Music Group, it took me a number of months to decide if I just wanted to record a karaoke track and go on auditions, or to create my own songs and pursue singing and songwriting.
After some soul searching (and also after I saved enough money), I finally went to see Arty Skye. He liked my lyrics and my voice-- which made me feel good about myself, [and] made me feel confident of my choice to record my first song, "Ebony Angel," with him. By the way, the lyrics for "Ebony Angel" and "Beauty In a Black Dress" were written 6 years earlier. I just never did anything with them until I met Arty at Skyelab.
You have collaborated with famed producer Arty Skye (Madonna, Will Smith, Queen Latifah) on each of your records. What is that creative process like?
When I have a discovery meeting with [Arty], I bring him the lyrics, along with three songs that have the sound and the production that I want for the track. To give you an example, the template for "Ebony Angel" was the song "Angel of Harlem" by U2, and the template for "Break the Chains" was "Red Rain" by Peter Gabriel. Once the template is established, Arty will send me a musical track and I will usually go back to him with some changes, and so [on]. Then he will add the lyrics and [either] have a demo singer sing the song or he will sing part of the song, and send it me to learn. I usually take about a month to work on the song and make it my own, and then set up a time to record the track. On "Break the Chains" he got me to sing harmony with myself which is something I thought I could not do.
The flavor of your music ranges from rock to pop to hip-hop to EDM. Who are some of your musical influences?
I have many musical influences. My first influence would be The Beatles. I was a young kid when The Beatles landed in America and I really loved them. My second big influence was Elton John. One of my favorite albums is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. There are so many styles of music in that one album, actually it’s a double album, and I would like to model myself like him and sing many different styles of music. I also like Stevie Wonder for his beautiful melodies and harmonies, and his off-the-hook vocals. The passion that man sings with is what I am striving to bring to my performances.
I am also a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. He also sings with a lot of passion, and he sings a lot of songs about social issues, and that stuck with me. I found out you can be popular and still inspire people to think about society and the human condition. I have many influences from pop, rock, R&B, gospel, hip-hop, EDM... and I would like my music to reflect all these great sounds and styles.
You have a powerful message in your song “Break the Chains,” and you recently performed at a benefit for victims of sexual assault. Tell me why it’s important to you to raise awareness of social issues as an entertainer.
I grew up in the era of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War, and Nixon and Watergate. A lot of songs in the 60’s and 70’s were about war, social injustice, and racism, and they resonated with me. I felt the powerful messages in such songs as "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones, "Living For The City" by Stevie Wonder, "Almost Cut My Hair" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, [and other songs]. I feel [that] as an entertainer, you have a platform to not only entertain but also to make people think
about social issues, create dialogue, spur people to take action, effect change for the good, and also remind and inform people [about] what is going on in the world today. Whether I have a hit song or not, I can look back and say that I am proud of ["Break the Chains"], and that I tried to make people aware of the human condition. If that is my legacy, then I will be happy with that.
You are also a trained actor, and have appeared on television and in film with stars such as Danny Devito, Al Pacino, and Chris Noth. Are you still acting or is that currently on hold?
At this time I am not formally acting, but I use my acting skills when I perform on stage and in my videos. When I perform, I want people to experience all the pain and all [the] happiness that they experience in a great movie. I was never a fan of when [a performer has] the audience sing the chorus of songs. I came to see the artist perform, not the audience. But to answer your question, the formal acting is on hold at this time, but if I was offered a cool part in an indie movie tomorrow, I would take it; no questions asked.
What are you currently working on? Do you have any upcoming shows?
I am currently [working] on a song about gun violence. Soon after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I wrote the lyrics. This is going to be my first venture into the Hip-Hop style. I am going to sing and I am going
to rap. The rap verse is going to be modeled after the song "Lose Yourself" by Eminem. I [initially] wanted to get someone else to do the rap, but I decided it was best for me to perform the song as a solo artist. I just want to be responsible for myself. I will also be working on a video for the song, which will be in an urban setting and be very simple, but very meaningful.
I have two upcoming showcases. I will be performing "Break The Chains," and "Beauty In a Black Dress Remix" with a rock band at HipRock 2013. It will be on Thursday, September 12th at 9pm at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe located at 236 E. 3rd St. in NYC. I will also be performing "Beauty In a Black Dress Remix" at [a] Coast2Coast Live [showcase] on September 25th at 9pm at SOB’s in NYC.
Watch the video to the left of Gennaro's single "Break the Chains," and visit his Youtube channel to view more of his videos. Deadly Game is available on all major digital retilers, including iTunes and Amazon.