“The first destination was the Big Apple-I fell in love right away.” An Interview with Luca Bertaglia
Luca Bertaglia is a drummer, composer, arranger, educator, session drummer and bandleader. After a successful experience in his homeland, he decided to pursue the American dream, moving to the Big Apple in 2013. Today Luca is working as a professional musician in the City that never sleeps and shares exclusively his journey with us:
What attracted you of the NYC music scene as opposed to other cities?
When I decided to pursue my career in music far from Italy I considered a variety of possibilities. I asked advice to my colleagues and the top two options where always New York and London. But I had to visit them in order to see how the music scene was presented through schools and every day concerts. The first destination was the Big Apple. As soon as I got into a taxi on my way to the hotel I couldn’t stop staring outside the window and, with a big smile on my face, I fell in love right away. Its magical and unique atmosphere made me feel like I was in a movie. I further had the chance to explore some of the most famous areas, and get into the “vibe” of the center of the world, and the choice of me moving to New York was pretty clear for me. I also explored the London scene, but based on what I was looking for and what it could offer, I felt it wasn’t the right choice for me.
Where do you teach and what excites you the most about this profession?
Being a musician gives you the possibility to explore this art under every aspect, and therefore it gives you the advantage of make a living doing different things. You can rehearse, perform, record, compose, and teach. Some people decide to focus only on one or a few aspects. I personally wouldn’t feel a well-rounded musician if I didn’t challenge myself to expand my knowledge in every facet of my profession. Teaching requires to truly understand and grasp the concept you pass on to your students. Also because each one is at a different level, so you also have to be able to present the subject in a multitude of ways. Being a good teacher doesn’t automatically mean you’re a great performer or vice versa. I’ve been teaching for a long time and since then I feel my performing skills have improved thanks to that. I give private lessons and also teach classes in a school in the Upper West Side. It doesn’t matter how many students you teach, the satisfaction of being someone’s reference point, sharing with them the process of learning, and observing how hard they try to achieve their goals, is always a new experience.
What Italian traits do you feel help you in your music career away from home?
When we are on stage I noticed that I often get introduced as “Luca Bertaglia, the real Italian drummer.” This always makes me laugh, but apparently the audience finds it very interesting. I heard several times that Italians are perceived as people with good style. I can’t really speak for everyone, but, no matter how insignificant it might sound, being able to present myself in an appropriate way for every occasion, is something that’s been appreciated several times. People from Italy are also known for communicating with their hands, in my case constantly having the drumsticks at my fingertips, made my job easier. Fun facts aside, I always felt I’m more passionate and sensitive than the average person (even the average Italian), so I guess this quality often gives me the option to provide a deeper interpretation to the songs I’m performing. In my opinion, at the end of the day it all comes down to being unique and professional, especially in a city like New York, where everything runs fast and the competition is very high.
When did you meet your band members of The Motor Tom and what are the highlights of your path with them?
I saw The Motor Tom for the first time performing in Brooklyn in 2015. At that time their drummer, a dear friend of mine, invited me to the concert so I went to check them out and I loved it! After a few weeks, he had to move back to Italy, so I thought it was a great opportunity for me but, unfortunately, he told me they already had a sub. A couple of days later I received an email from Andrew, the guitar player, telling me they were auditioning drummers. I didn’t think about it twice and I went. Two weeks went and I heard nothing from them, so I thought they had picked someone else, but then Andrew called me telling me that if I was interested the position would have been mine. The funnier part of all of this is that at the first rehearsal they told me they had no idea that I knew the previous drummer! From the moment we’ve been together we grew a lot, playing in some of the biggest venues in New York, from the Brooklyn Bowl to Rocks Off Cruise, until we had the opportunity to play at the prestigious festival in Austin: SXSW. Right now we’re working on new songs that will come out in several EPs, some by the end of this year, some next year.
What concert in New York do you feel was a turning point professionally?
Playing with a large variety of artists gave me the chance to perform in so many different scenarios and occasions it’s hard for me to define the most significant one. But I can give you three off the top of my head. The first is with The Motor Tom, at Mercury Lounge. It was my first concert in The Big Apple in a well-known venue so, besides the fact I had a lot of fun, professionally it was pretty significant because it meant the starting point of my American career. Also the second occasion is with The Motor Tom, at Rocks Off Cruise. This organization schedules a series of concerts every summer aboard a cruise ship. I had a blast performing with the Statue of Liberty starring at me, as if she were part of the audience, with the amazing skyline of the city in the background. The third significant moment was the first show I played with my band, the Luca Bertaglia Mind Project. Being asked by a New York organization to perform the songs I wrote was definitely a turning point for my personal career as drummer, bandleader, and composer.
Tell me about your latest project that involves a new medium, cinema…
(Red) Pawn is a silent TV mini-series divided into three episodes and directed by David Rauch-Bautista. The story is about Terry Flynn, a retired American detective hired by Scarlet Gray for his skills as a hitman, to kill the head of the mafia Angelo Russo. The series’ title is the same as the song I wrote for the series, that reflects the overall loneliness of Terry’s state of mind with a mix of a virtuous piano performance leading into a stormy drum solo. Each episode is accompanied by a different soundtrack composed and performed by me.
How would you describe your score for this series?
The instrumental soundtrack presents my experience in playing a variety of different genres, such as contemporary jazz, progressive rock, and classical music. It was challenging, because blending two worlds of action films and contemporary jazz compositions demands a deep knowledge in mastering the skills of writing and performing. The expressivity of the music fits the dynamics of the silent scenes in a way that you can clearly feel the dialogues of the characters in your mind. It feels as if the music could speak.
Where did you find inspiration to compose the music for this TV series?
Part of my influences came after watching the movie Birdman (2014), that features Antonio Sanchez as composer and solo player that reached a new artistic level that connects music and film. The creative mind of Sanchez encouraged my process of expanding the borders of composing and creating soundtracks for films mixing different styles of music.
You also act in the series, what was the experience like and is that a career you may look into?
Besides having the role of the main character, you can see me playing the songs throughout sections of the three episodes. I was able to connect the visual story of the episodes to the songs, by revealing an intimate performance. I basically acted to the music I wrote. Being an actor has always been in the back of my mind since I was a kid, but I was never so driven to pursue it as a career. When the director of (Red) Pawn offered me the role I honestly spent several days thinking about it. I have to admit that it was a very fun experience. It’s something I might consider doing again if someone asks me, but it’s not what I’ve decided to do for the rest of my life, my career is in music.
Where can people buy your music?
I’m planning to finish recording my personal album very soon, but it all depends on my schedule. Once it will be out people will be able to purchase it on all the digital platforms. People can listen to me in the albums I had the pleasure to record for several artists such as The Ver Sierra, The Motor Tom, Astra The 22’s, and Lady Strange just to name a few.