Interview: 5 Minutes with Mark Pelli

Written by Maya-Rose Torrão

Mark Pelli is well-known for co-founding the critically acclaimed Canadian reggae-pop-fusion group MAGIC! and is now showing the world how truly innovative and versatile he can be, with his brand new solo project under his birth name. Although Mark Pelli’s brand new track ‘You Changed Me’ is his debut solo single, he has many proverbial feathers in his cap when it comes to writing, producing and performing music. This multi-talented artist has produced recordings for many top artists including Usher, J Cole, Chris Brown, Shakira, Anthony Hamilton, Trey Songz, Sabrina Claudio, JoJo, Marsha Ambrosius, Jennifer Lopez, Classified, Diane Warren and many, many more, as well as performed with a plethora of legendary musicians including blues giant Stevie Wonder.

Pelli’s latest single ‘You Changed Me’ truly showcases the musician’s vocal virtuosity, as he croons sensual blues through the whole track. Pair Pelli’s lead vocal lines with retro-inspired soul-style backing vocals and blues guitar and you have sultriest song of the year.

Listen to Mark Pelli’s ‘You Changed Me’, below.

We caught up with talented musician Mark Pelli and chatted about experimenting with sound, gospel drummers and challenging oneself to be better.

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

I suppose the arts have always appealed to me because they’re a conduit for self-expression. I have a bit of an obsessive personality and music gives me something to concentrate on and to inject creativity. My aunt, Giselle Silvestri, is an incredible painter and she inspired me to do music professionally as she has made art her primary focus in life. My uncle Chuck is a professional guitar player who also had a huge influence on me. My dad played in an Italian wedding band and really helped me get my start by teaching me songs on the guitar. My mom is an excellent singer and music enthusiast and exposed me to a lot of great artists from a young age.

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

It’s really quite different every time. If I’m creating/producing music for someone else, generally the sound comes first as I create an instrumental for them to write over. If I’m working on something for myself I often think of a vocal hook or concept first and then sing numerous melodies in my mind or out loud until I settle on something that feels right and then I build instrumentation around that idea. If I’m composing classical or jazz music, the process is quite different again. For my first single ‘You Changed Me’, the vocal chorus hook came first quite quickly and then everything else just sorta fell into place as I attempted to create a soulful, throwback sonic.

Does your material feature any collaborations?

Some of my material does, although I have yet to release it. I have a couple duets with a wonderful singer named Kat Dhalia—we created some cool records together that I’m excited to release. I also have a couple duets with a fantastic singer named Dana Williams who’s actually the daughter of the legendary David Williams who was Michael Jackson’s guitar player.

What’s on your current playlist?

Quite a few different things but I’ve been listening to my friend Alexander Vincent who has recently released some beautiful music. I listen to everything by Robert Glasper because I love jazzy/soulful piano playing. I listen to the oldies by Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson.

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.

I truly love performing! Without the fans there really is nothing. I shamelessly rely on them to invigorate me. Playing music for people is such a wonderful experience because you really learn over time what works and what doesn’t. I think although everyone has contrasting backgrounds and levels of musical appreciation, fans are always searching for something that touches them. There is quite a bit of subjectivity involved in pop music but ultimately an artist’s goal is always to win over fans and give them a great authentic experience.

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

I’ve experimented with many… endlessly, actually. From auditioning tons of random sounds to improve my production game to pushing my voice to its limits in order to improve and gain originality, I’ve done many things. It’s all quite helpful and necessary to develop as musician/singer/producer. More recently, however, I’ve decided to just make the music that pours out of me naturally—which seems to be my version of throwback, early 60s Motown music. I suppose it could be easily argued that what I’m doing isn’t original at all and is actually quite derivative, but it feels authentic to me and I’m just gonna roll with it. I have some records that I’ll be dropping soon that pushes the envelope more concerning their sonic aesthetic, but the first couple are more classic sounding records.

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

Lol that’s everyday for me. I open up my laptop and start making music. I put my keyboard right in front of me as opposed to the side which I find helpful as it’s always staring at me and therefore I end up practicing many hours of the day. I write hooks, do co-production for other artists, sing songs for other people as demos, finalize and mix songs that other producers have started, etc. Basically I try to make money by doing as much music-related tasks as I can. Some are more enjoyable than others but I feel lucky to be doing any of this for a living.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”? 

Absolutely, I felt that very early on actually. I started volunteering and interning at studios when I was quite young… around 16 years old. I realized that I enjoyed producing and engineering music as well as singing and playing instruments. I quickly became immersed in a world with many possibilities and it was intoxicating to feel that warmth. By that point I had already decided I would be doing music for the rest of my life.

A young Mark Pelli at the piano

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

I usually don’t bring too much on stage but when I have a tech helping me out, they graciously give me a bottle of water and a towel.

Any emerging artists on your radar?

Check out the homie Alexander Vincent!

What gets your creative juices flowing?

Pretty much anything! Often just thinking about random ideas brings me to a place of creativity. I get inspired empirically as well and write from life experiences. Sometimes just listening to some Instagram clips of amazing gospel drummers gets me thinking creatively—I get on the kit and practice (and don’t sound nearly as good as the drummers I’m following) and then I get ideas for production based on tempo and feel.

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.

I produce everything on Logic. I’m pretty in the box. For most of the music I’ve produced even for big artists I’ve done it on my laptop with no outboard gear. Not that I’m averted to outboard gear—in fact, I would love to have some vintage pre amps and such lol. I just find my workflow to be pretty fast on the laptop so I’ve continued in this way. I have some Strats, a Tele, a Gretsch, a Taylor, a P-bass, a weighted USB keyboard and a drum set. A lot of people don’t bother mic-ing up the drums but I actually love doing that even when my setup is quite minimal concerning the amount of inputs and number of microphones. I’ll often just use 1 or 2 mics on a drum kit but then I’ll mix it in with pre-recorded samples and do some other tricks to make it sound nice.

Any side projects you’re working on?

Yes, I’ve actually completed a jazz album which I guess I could best be described as a combination of Robert Glasper and Radiohead. Perhaps that’s not even a correct description but I’m going for something new and interesting that also pays homage to the greats and observes certain conventions of jazz music while abandoning others. I’m sorry, I realize that description doesn’t make a lot of sense. I guess I’m kind of hoping that the music itself is slightly devoid of sense but isn’t so esoteric and abstract that it lacks appeal.

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

I’m still trying my hardest to do that. Regardless of what our resume’s list, in this industry, we’re all just students and enthusiasts of music. I do try to practice quite a bit and also constantly sing new material. Gotta continue improving and challenging myself to be better.

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

This year I’m hoping to release at least 3 singles and possibly a whole album. I’m also hoping to get the jazz project uploaded as well—although I’m still searching for a good name—if anyone out there has any good ideas, please let me know ☺️

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