I often hear from people who share with me about their individual experiences with my work. One of the recurring comments is about the difference between my albums, particularly the chasm between the last three and my first two. Yet, my albums remain, as one Amazon reviewer put it so well: “distinctly Al Conti.” Of course, as with any artist, we never try to put our individual ‘stamp’ on the music we create, it happens on it’s own because our work is permeated by who we are as individuals. It is a nice compliment to hear from people nonetheless. I am always very grateful of my audience’s interaction with me and my work. This interaction may be people who reach out to me, or who purchase my music and then comment about it on venues such as Amazon and iTunes. And while some make themselves known to me via e-mails and social media, others remain anonymous, yet very much present to me. I figured, since so many ask me about this difference in my albums, that I would blog about just that in the hopes to answer some of the questions I receive about what is behind the music I create – or more like where I was emotionally when I created each album.
My first album, Shadows, was a compilation of music I had created through many years, some with no intention of releasing publicly. Shadows is basically the album that launched my music career (I was previously an actor), but artistically, it is one I have never been happy with. In part, this is because I feel a good album is one that maintains the energy and cohesiveness from the first song to the last. Because of the amount of years between some of the songs in the Shadows album, that cohesiveness is missing. It almost plays like a “Greatest Hits” album, except that at that point in my career there were no hits. As with any artist, the music one created 10 years ago is bound to be different (one can only hope) from that which one composes today. We grow and change as people and artists; we mature and hopefully improve. I will blog more about Shadows and my decision to remove it from the label’s catalog on a later post, but for now suffice it to say that this album is perhaps the most different from any of my other ones. Yet, the album seems to have its audience who really like it. I believe you can still find it as a download, and even as a CD in some pirated versions. Every so often, Shadowside Music has a promotion that offers the album. If you happen to listen to it, let me know what you think. You’ll see what I mean. It is definitely different.
Next came Poeta. In this album you can hear some songs that portent things to come. Songs like “Quest for Orpheus” are such a case. Listening to this song, after so many years, gives me the feeling that my album Scheherazade was just about ready to be born. Poeta is more classically oriented than its successors, something I purposely chose to distance myself from in later albums. Unless I am recording with an entire orchestra, classically based albums, in my view, fail to reach the artistic height I would otherwise expect. Style-wise, the songs in Poeta vary from one to the other, some more classical, some more New Age, in my view again somewhat lacking cohesiveness. Still, some ‘hits’ have come out of that album, like the aforementioned Quest for Orpheus, which received an award from Mystic Radio as Best of 2007, and also the song Dreams of Iliad, a song many seem to have resonated positively with and was a joy to record. Poeta is also my only album to date to be co-produced. The album was partially recorded in Kiel, Germany. I generally produce my albums, not always by choice, but it is what it is. And, as someone recently pointed out to me, I have done fairly well producing my own albums, so I am hesitant to change what is not broken. Yet, who knows what will happen in the future. I have had offers from (some wonderful) producers I am yet to accept. Call me superstitious…
Scheherazade. What can I say? This is the album that changed everything for my career and for me, personally. And it is still a huge favorite with many. In fact, licensing and royalty checks attest to the album’s enduring success. Scheherazade brought many people into my life, including one of my publicists, who remain in my life to this day and have become dear to me. Scheherazade is also my first album to be fully concept, from start to finish. It also dictated what was to come after. With the success of this album, the stakes grew higher for me. The album put me on the New Age music map, so to speak, and after that, there was an expectation of “what will he do next?” As you may imagine, that can hinder an artist’s creativity. I was determined not to create another Scheherazade. Tempting as it was, it is not who I am as an artist. Talks ensued about even recording remixed versions of some of the most popular songs in the album. While I considered it, I scrapped the idea.
On another note regarding Scheherazade, some people ask if, as with many other musicians, I compose music for an album that is never included when the album is finally released. There are indeed a few of songs I composed for Scheherazade that never made it into the album because I did not feel they would advance the story. Other songs I either changed and these were featured in later albums, or I shelved altogether.
Nothern Seas came next. My sound was pretty much set by now. I listened to my audience and what they liked about Scheherazade, but I charted new seas (pun intended) and went from Middle Eastern to Nordic. Some got it, some did not, but with this release a whole new audience joined my already wonderful one. However, at first, there was silence. I was afraid I had pushed the limits too far with this album. Then I received news that the album made Amazon’s Top 10 New Age albums for that year, alongside none other than Brian Eno! I was a little surprised, but grateful that I did not miss the boat. While the New Age arena was still a bit on the fence about the album, as it showed in the ZMR charts that year where it reached number 2 for one month (as opposed to Scheherazade’s three months at number 1), the album finally received a few Zone Music Reporter (ZMR) nominations but no cigar. Yet, more was to come.
I still remember the evening when news reached me that Northern Seas had been nominated for a Grammy Award. I was in New York City that day with an extremely busy few days coming up in the city and needed to focus on that. Then the news came. I was a bit stunned as I was up against some stiff (and amazing) competition like Peter Kater, Yanni and Steven Halpern, to name but a few, and the list encompassed around 150 albums. But, as it happened, Northern Seas was indeed nominated.
What came next was a whirlwind. While I was prepared, being an introvert the Grammies and the exposure were more than I really wanted, and it cramped a lot of my creativity. I was left tired and overwrought. I had begun a new album (which eventually became The Blue Rose), but I was so worn out that I shelved it. I was too busy with traveling, giving interviews and adjusting to the noise. All of this affected the choices I made with The Blue Rose. While some artists love the fanfare they receive from awards and nominations, I am not one of those. While they feed on the energy, it leaves me exhausted.
The Blue Rose was a by-product of my after-Grammy stupor. I wanted quiet, some anonymity and anything Zen I could get. I had also toyed for a few years with the idea of doing an Asian album. The concept presented itself and I grabbed it. What I had not counted on was the fact that by now my audience had gotten used to my sound in the Scheherazade and Northern Seas albums, which were strong and powerful. When The Blue Rose was released, some did not know what to make of it. A few reviewers commented on the contrast between this and my previous albums. However, I feel that The Blue Rose is, creatively, one of my best albums to date. I intended its low-key simplicity and introspective feel. A colleague of mine called it “a thinking person’s album” and compared me to Liz Story – quite an honor. Since my colleague works with people Story worked with, this was a high compliment indeed. What encouraged me is that The Blue Rose was – and is – what I wanted it to be. It is meant to be an introspective album, quiet and subdued. You won’t find a Valkyrja (from Northern Seas) in it, or a bombastic Seven Veils to Midnight (from Scheherazade). Instead, there is the sweet Bamboo Night Garden (featuring award winning artist and friend Ann Licater’s flutes) and the poignant Last Suitor.
And there you have it, my albums in a nutshell. What comes next? The concept for a new album has been present since before The Blue Rose was finished. With the encouragement of colleagues who are dear friends as well as amazing artists, I have re-centered and I feel my creativity returning. I have relocated to Atlanta and my new studio is finished, so soon I will begin working on my new project. Definitely, stay tuned!