Tony Lucca will always have a special place in my heart…and my career. I say that because it was just about this time four years ago that I wrote my first review for Spinning Platters. I had met editor Gordon Elgart not long prior and discussed writing for him, but it was completely spur of the moment when I invited him to join me to see Mr. Lucca at the Cafe du Nord and cover the show. He asked, instead, that I do it myself. I admit, having never written anything of the sort, I was intimidated. But I did it, and I suppose the rest is the proverbial history? Anyway, I digress. Suffice all this to say that I was happy to catch him last Thursday evening at Yoshi’s Oakland. Even better, he had recently added my beloved Keaton Simons to his band, and offered me a little pre-show time for a chat.
I think I’ve only seen Tony once or twice since his season of The Voice finished airing in May of 2012. That seems impossible, but he’s been a busy guy and it happens. Anyway, so what I asked for was the “quick and dirty” lowdown on his progress since fans had last seen him on the show. I admit, I jumped right in by pointing out that I’d noticed when last I saw him that he’d become far less friendly with fans (or at least made himself much less available than I was used to seeing). In years gone by, he would always hang around at the venue to say hello to fans, sign autographs, pose for pictures, and the like. It felt strange to me that the last time I saw him, he was nowhere to be found long after he’d left the stage, and so I said as much. Lucca was quick to tell me that that had been but a brief moment in his lifetime, and explained that he’s gotten much more involved with his fans by incorporating them into the fundraising process using sites like Patreon and Kickstarter. Of this interaction, he said it was “humbling to strip away any sort of pretense, putting yourself out there nice and naked.” He went on to say that he realized he had a lot of fans who are instrumental in what he does (pun intended, I hope), and that he tried to maintain the connection with fans via social media. When I asked if what fans see on sites like Twitter and Facebook is authentically Tony, he explained that Instagram and Twitter are both all him, and that most of what’s posted on Facebook is him too, rather than management masquerading as the artist. “You can only pretend to be so cool when you’re asking fans to get involved in the process,” not just as listeners but investors as well, he explained. “You can’t create unnecessary space between you and the fans while asking them for money.” Lucca admitted that he had, perhaps, misused both resources available to him and even his own talents in the past, citing his stint on Disney’s MMC as having taught him the critical building blocks of his career. “One thing we learned to do well was to be ourselves,” adding that that sort of gig wasn’t for everyone because “not everybody has that ease or can be that comfortable and articulate” with the cameras in their faces. But it was a lot of fun, he insisted, and he helped him prepare for future interactions, such as his Patreon project. “They want to support their artists. If they’re not buying music, they will buy something.”
Switching gears a bit, I asked about his deal with Adam Levine’s record label, 222 Records. (I admit, had I known the answer, I might have had the grace not to ask. But because I didn’t, I’m able to pass the info on…) “That went about as quickly as it came; it was kinda bizarre,” Lucca says. Ultimately, he said the label itself quickly evolved as an entity, and wasn’t so much about an indie label interested in developing new artists as had once been the goal. Apparently, 222 Records has since become a part of the Interscope conglomerate, and in so doing, cleared its roster, dropping both Lucca and Matthew Morrison in the process. Not only was this about as amicable a split as possible, Lucca insists, he was happy to be able to retain ownership of the record he’d made with 222. We talked a little about interaction between himself and former coach and 222 Records founder Adam Levine, and Lucca admitted that he was disappointed that there wasn’t as much collaboration as he’d hoped, but that he understood, with all that Levine has going on.
I couldn’t avoid asking about his interaction with Christina Aguilera while on The Voice, which I admit I knew was probably a question he’s been tired of answering already for several years. I couldn’t help it: the truth is, every single time I think about Lucca’s tenure on the show, I cringe at the bizarrely bitchy way Aguilera treated him with thinly veiled contempt. (Or jealousy?) “We were reminiscing, it was all fine, and then Justin [Timberlake] tweeted on my behalf,” Lucca explained, saying that “it became clear that the show had to contend with whatever they had to do to promote their artists,” and that Aguilera had made an interesting and valid point about the show being ultimately a popularity contest, and that celebrity sway such as Timberlake’s tweet certainly didn’t hurt. He also pointed out, though, that if the show was “going to open the door to Alicia Keys’ background singer, or someone like me, it’s going to encounter those with celebrity friends.” While discussing a bit about how authentic the show is (or isn’t), Lucca said that “the coaches get lots of control, what you see is what you get,” but that the coaches also know that the compelling story makes for a better show and better ratings, and were tipped off from time to time by producers that they may want to listen extra carefully to the next few singers.
Finally our conversation turned to the reason for the tour: the aforementioned record he’d recorded during his tenure with 222 Records. Released January 27th, Lucca’s self-titled album was written during a time when he was writing a lot, working with Levine, and originally planned to release an EP, pick a single, and premiere it on the following season of The Voice. But when the label transitioned, Lucca’s EP didn’t perform with the sales they wanted, so they pulled the plug. Lucca was still ready, however, to record a full-length studio album. He took some time off, did the “Thanksgiving Day thing” (by which he meant performing at the halftime show for the Packers v. Lions Thanksgiving Day game a year or two ago), and was “grappling with being dropped.” Of his Patreon projects, Lucca says he did it “to get motivation, inspiration, creativity, and connection to the fans.” Next came his EP, Drawing Board, which was recorded at a musician friend’s home; his wife babysitting while they were in the next room making music. Lucca says it was important to be “getting acoustic songs off the table to make room for a more aggressive full-length album.”
After the release of the EP, Lucca said it “felt appropriate, time-wise, to do the Kickstarter thing,” which was obviously incredibly successful, raising more than double its goal to fund the now newly-released eponymous album. While wrapping up our chat, Lucca explained that the experiences had been “encouraging, to put myself out there like that. The response was overwhelming: yes, do it! It’s the most fun I’ve had making a record.” Lucca added that he brought in a full band, calling the new sound a “rocking, retro, 70s-80s vibe” that channels some Tom Petty, some Black Crowes, a little Black Keys, and still some of his slower, “easier listening” sound as well. “It sounds real.” That’s about as good as I, personally, could hope for in a record.
When Lucca took the stage at Yoshi’s a few hours later, he began by asking the crowd, “how ya’ll feelin’?” This was met with a meager woo, to which Lucca replied, unfazed, “we’ll start there and we’ll just gradually raise it up… Ya’ll ready for some rock and roll?” The set began with the opening track off the new record, “Old Girl.” I really can’t remember whether I’ve ever seen Lucca play with a full band, and it’s really fun. I’ve seen him tour with current bandmate/singer-songwriter Keaton Simons, and they suffice quite well as “just” a duo, but a fully fleshed-out sound was a real treat. Next came “My Confession,” after which Lucca paused to address the room. “Welcome to Yoshi’s! For those of us who’ve never been here before…” He explained that, in light of the release that had come out only two days prior, they would of course be playing lots of stuff off the new record. The next song, however, was from his previous EP with Adam Levine (the aforementioned Drawing Board). The song’s working title was called “Holla,” he explained, but the label “liked the song but didn’t like the title. I get it: I’m from Detroit, but I’m a white boy with a fedora. I’m not exactly the poster child for the word.” The label, he continued, wanted to call the song “Hear Ya Say,” but Lucca paused for the crowd to finish the thought, and they didn’t miss a beat, shouting “HOLLA!” back at him. “My son wasn’t really keen on the title change either. I think his exact words were, ‘pssssh, that’s bullshit!’ He’s twelve. It’s fine.”
Next came “Giving It All Away” with a fantastic jam break, and then Lucca took to the piano for the first single off the new album, “Delilah,” which he called one of his favorite songs off the record. “This piano’s gorgeous and this venue’s amazing,” Lucca gushed before continuing with my favorite of his new songs, “North Star.” When it concluded, Lucca thanked the crowd before inviting up a guest to the stage: local singer Jamie Brown (of Antique Naked Soul) made her way to the stage. “Well look who’s here!” Lucca teased. “This one is another one off the new record; Sirius XM Coffeehouse has been playing it. It has a female background part that’s integral, so me and the boys don’t play it unless we have said female.” The song, “Right on Time,” was lovely, and it was such fun to see sweet Jamie doing her thing with Lucca.
“That was awesome! That was incredible! We didn’t even practice that with Jamie! I’m having flashbacks to Boston in ’05 or something… Alright, the working title for this song was ‘So I Married a Cougar.’ Much to my chagrin, my wife loved it. So I had to change it…” The song was “Make It Out Alive,” though I have to tip my hat to the good sport that is Rachel Lucca – I prefer the original title, too. Lucca paused to introduce the members of his band, saying, “Keaton and I go way back. We’ve done a lot of touring together, a lot of playing together, he’s a fan of the album… He said he wanted to join the band, and we’re honored to have him with us. This one’s all him.” The song was an unreleased goodie called “Masterpiece,” and it’s been a fave of mine (and a major crowdpleaser) for years. It’s a sexy song, and Simons works a bit of both Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” into it seamlessly. When he had finished, Simons insisted that Lucca was right about all he’d said: “he’s not lying. He’s one of my best friends and I’m happy to be out on the road… I love you!”
When Lucca and the band rejoined Simons on-stage, they began with “Foxy Jane,” which featured another killer jam and another quick round of shouts-out to the members of the band. Lucca, who insisted he was having “too much damn fun,” said that he’d gone specifically for a “fuzzy dice and t-tops sound for the new record,” and that he knew he’d reached it with the next song. “I’m not quite sure if it’s about losing one’s virginity, or the integrity of maintaining your V-card… But it’s called ‘Cherry.'” And so it was. It’s fun to hear how his sound has evolved over the years, or at least how different it is from times I’ve seen him play an acoustic guitar alone on stage. “Thank you so much,” he said at the song’s close. “We just started playing that one. We toured in the fall as kind of a preview for the new album, but we weren’t playing that one. We played it the other night in LA; it got a smattering of applause…”
“I’ve got some friends that were supposed to be here tonight from Santa Cruz,” Lucca announced, pausing to hear them shout back in response. Nothing. “I was gonna dedicate this song to them, but… I’m gonna dedicate it to them anyway. I wrote this song just in time for 420. It’s called ‘Smoke ‘Em.'” At the song’s close, Lucca again thanked the crowd before again mentioning his children. “As I mentioned, talking about my song earlier, if they don’t dig it, it probably sucks. They know what they’re listening for, they hear these songs a lot.” The next song, he said, was one his son fell in love with right away. During the making of the record, however, it didn’t seem to fit because it was “kind of a departure,” and when Lucca informed his kids that it wouldn’t make the cut, Liam was clear: “What? It’s gonna suck!” Lucca decided to take another look at the record with this in mind, deciding finally that, “he might be right.” The song, “Paint a Picture,” did indeed make the album. Before the last song of his regular set, Lucca informed the crowd that the new album was on iTunes, and that “if you start now, you can have it downloaded before the end of the show!” With that, he concluded with “Imagination,” introduced the band a final time, and left the stage.
As expected, it wasn’t long before he returned with band in tow. “I wasn’t gonna try and make you for it, but I wasn’t gonna not play another one!” Lucca’s encore was exactly what I wanted it to be: two of my most favorite of his older tunes. “Death of Me” was first, followed by “Pretty Things,” featuring a little musical wandering into The Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why.” When they’d finished, Lucca thanked his audience with a simple “you guys are fantastic, see you next time!” and left the stage for the last time. I will say, though, that I stuck around for a while after the show to watch him interacting with “his people,” and was pleased to see the return of the Tony I’ve always known him to be. And that’s exactly as it should be.