INTERVIEW: Roberto Domino Basile

Roberto Domino Basile recently released the music videos for “Preciosa,” “Silent Fire,” and “0–1 September.” All three are intensely beautiful compositions, conceived and composed by Basile with painstaking attention to both the music and the lyrics.

Once completed, Basile sought out consummate musicians and vocalists to perform the songs. The results go beyond glorious and enter the realm of ineffable, as Katie Jade and Cristina Caro infuse the lyrics with exquisite life, which, along with the stylish visuals, expands the songs into sublime audio-visual encounters.

Basile provides insight into his musical journey, where it began and how it developed, along with how and why he does what he does.

How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?

As a child, I was first exposed to a piano at my grandmother’s home in Brigantine, New Jersey, where my uncles lived and performed music. My Uncle Tony [Basile] played guitar and keyboards (still performs to this day) and Uncle Theodore [Basile] sang in a barbershop quartet.

I was born and raised in Dearborn, Michigan [borders Detroit] meaning time with my uncles was limited to a week or so every other year. However, the piano is something that continued to have great allure to me. At 17 years of age, I went to a few piano lessons, enough to learn what a treble and bass clef looked like and how notes on a staff correlated with the piano keys. From there, I spent about 20 years playing songs from popular sheet music. At no time during that period did I understand the concept of major/minor keys nor did I know what a C-minor looked like on a keyboard. Instead, I memorized the notes and developed some terrible piano playing technique along the way. In any case, the playing sounded good enough to be entertaining. I played mostly TV themes [e.g., ‘Hill Street Blues’ by Mike Post], movie themes [e.g., ‘Mahogany’ by Gerry Goffin and Michael Masser], and the works of Billy Joel, Gino Vannelli, Elton John, Nilsson Schmilsson, et al. During those decades, I changed residences about every two years keeping a piano in tow wherever I landed.

As the years went by and my having secured a professional position in a large company, I spent less and less time with the piano and ended up with an electronic keyboard that typically sat idle.

SUDDEN DISCOVERY

During some very difficult moments in early 2011, I was sitting in the dark at my residence on the shores of Lake St. Clair next to my lifelong friend, the piano keyboard. I powered on the keyboard and was playing nothing really … just (in deep retrospection) playing random notes on the keyboard.

I was sitting on the piano bench facing slightly away from the keyboard when with no deliberation or purpose, I pushed on a note and felt a sudden, jarring connection between the note I played and the feeling I was having at that very moment. I was stunned. I started to put two, three, then more notes together until the notes became a short musical phrase (of what I was feeling). While the experience was esoteric, it offered a small sense of solace and profound intrigue.

INVESTIGATION & TRIALS

The phrases eventually grew into a song. Months passed and I became increasingly curious whether or not the chords and melody was truly a song or some foolish rendition of ‘nothing’ by an untrained zealot. In an attempt to get a professional opinion, I sifted through countless ads posted by ‘music composition consultants’ from around the country, but no one would help. At any given day, the song could have been lost forever … and that’s the way it remained for over a year.

In November 2012, I was invited by a storied and highly respected woman to the home of an equally statured Detroit physician to celebrate Thanksgiving. It just so happened there was a pianist there hired to provide musical entertainment for the evening. I decided to tell my story (about the song I had written) to the pianist who at first was hesitant to react, but graciously opted to invite me to visit him at his home at a later date to discuss, ‘the song.’

ANTICIPATION/VALIDATION

Of course, I was in a rare state of guarded euphoria … and it seemed like years until the day came when I finally would know if my hopes would survive the day … that day was 01 February 2013. The pianist followed through on his gracious invitation to have me stop by his home to go over ‘the song.’

That’s where I saw the 9-foot Steinway valued at over $150,000 and quickly discovered the ‘pianist’ was actually a concert pianist of note who held the coveted title of ‘maestro’ (a title awarded him by an esteemed conservatory in Italy). So, I was preparing myself to be escorted out politely as (in my mind) the maestro was surely about to give me the bad news about my ‘song’.

I was asked to play the song on the Steinway, which I did from memory (at least in part). I then, in a qualified state of terror, looked up at the maestro who had a very concerning look on his face. My throat tightened up a bit as I stood up thanking the maestro for his time turning toward the foyer to be on my way. Then the maestro sat at the Steinway and said, “Hang on a minute … I think you meant to play ‘this’ ” … and the maestro played an absolutely GIANT version of the song!! It was probably the most emotional and gripping moment of my life.

THOUSANDS OF HOURS IMMERSED

From there, I worked alongside that maestro for 46 months carving out thousands of hours of study and music production. I spent 99% of my off-work, waking hours deeply immersed in music theory and composition. From that moment in February and on through 2018 when my first songs were published, 100-hour work-weeks became my norm.

The ‘song’ would eventually come to be known as, ‘Everywhere Forever’, an ‘art-song ballade’ in F-minor dedicated to a friend and partner whom I admired for her grace, courage, and extraordinarily altruistic nature. She was able to hear one of the final renditions of the song, but tragically, she passed away in January 2018 just days before the song was originally published on her birthday, 16 February 2018.

What are you listening to right now?

I tend to go back and analyze the movie score works I’ve enjoyed over the years such as ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ (Ennio Morricone). I’ll also look at pop songs such as those made popular by Madonna, Pink, En Vogue, Metallica, Alice in Chains, et al. Specifically, I look at chord progressions and key change technique and compare them to what I’ve written over the years. To answer the question better, I often listen to movie themes such as ‘Batman’ and ‘Star Trek’ and most anything written by John Williams (‘Star Wars,’‘Schindler’s List’ and countless others). I also remember playing and enjoying the theme from the motion picture, ‘Scarface’ (theme by Giorgio Moroder). I should include the songs entitled, ‘Ridin’ (Chamillionaire) and ‘Shut Up and Drive’ (Rihanna). I do so to show my deep appreciation for pop music and a significant range of rap music. Rap music is a perfect medium to convey highly significant stories of urban life … stories I’ve found to have deep corollaries with during my under-graduate studies at Wayne State University in Detroit.

What composers influenced you the most?

I have to say, there is not a single one. The music I’ve composed and arranged is ‘first-cold-pressed.’ More specifically, given the intensity of my aforementioned study of music with acute focus on composition, I did not take time to study a particular composer’s works. While my lack of such insights probably tripled the amount of time it took me to develop and complete musical compositions, the result was pure. Meaning, my compositions have a common/unique style and sound. I am extremely grateful to have ‘a sound.’

Where do you find inspiration for your music?

In the suffering of innocent people. In the suffering of innocent land-air-and sea creatures. In the systematic destruction of our physical environment.

What inspired “Preciosa” and “Silent Fire?”

PRECIOSA: The lyrics were inspired by the following Washington Post story [28 Sep 2017]: Headline — Missouri prosecutors: Brutal murder of transgender teen is not a hate crimeThe body discovered by police had been butchered — eyes gouged out, genitals slashed. “It was brutal,” the sheriff said. The remains of the 17-year-old transgender girl were also torched. Her bones were stuffed in a plastic bag and placed in a chicken coop near a dented trailer in Cabool, a small Ozarks town in southern Missouri. Blood still stained the carpet in the living room when police searched the mobile home for clues to the disappearance of Ally Lee Steinfeld.

Last week, authorities charged the trailer’s owner, Briana Calderas, 24, and two others, Andrew Vrba and Isis Schauer, both 18, in connection with Steinfeld’s death. A fourth person, James Grigsby, 25, faces felony counts of abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence.

Born Joseph Matthew, Steinfeld had announced her transition in May, stating on Instagram, “I am proud to be me I am proud to be trans I am beautiful I don’t care what people think.”

The music to the song entitled, ‘Preciosa’ was written prior to my learning of Ally Steinfeld’s plight, however, when I learned of the manner of Ally’s untimely death, I spent months formulating the lyrics all the while thinking of ‘Ally’ and the heartfelt comments her mother made to the Associated Press just after learning of Ally’s death. The music video entitled, ‘Preciosa’ chronicles Ally’s personal moments just before, during, and after her death.

I trust the music, lyrics, and music video have captured the essence of Joey ‘Ally’ Steinfeld and hope it will help inspire others to stand tall in their individuality. The larger hope is society (through the arts and sciences) will better itself leading to sound public policy and the elimination of institutional bias.

SILENT FIRE: Along with ‘Silent Fire’, ‘Atlantica’ is another music video created in response to the plight of our oceans and jungles. ‘Silent Fire’ has specific emphasis on drawing attention to the horrifying actions of poachers around the world and suggest nature will ultimately consume those who attack defenseless creatures. The title ‘Silent Fire’ suggests the actions of poachers are creating an imbalance of nature which at first cannot be heard or seen, but will at some point result in the demise of those who created the imbalance.

What is your song-writing process? Lyrics first, or music first?

It varies. I tend to have the essence of a story in mind and while in a deep almost ‘trance-like’ state, I ‘find’ the first note on a piano with my eyes closed. Once the melody emerges through the verse and chorus, I’ll begin to develop chord progressions and go on to crafting a bridge, coda, and intro. In saying that, I am greatly simplifying a process that could take weeks or months to complete. From there, the instrumentation and more complex harmonization occur. Even with a story in mind, authoring lyrics is VERY challenging. Lyrics should allow for discovery and imagination within their very essence while having a rhyming cadence. The most important thing about lyrics is that they be ‘singable.’ Some words, especially when followed by others just don’t flow well and should not be forced into the song no matter how fitting they are to the story. I’ve spent weeks, even months crafting certain lyrics. It’s just part of the process. There is no good end to rushing art.

Your music blends neo-classical flavors with hints of sophisticated pop. Is your sound evolving more toward pop or classical savors?

The latest works in 2019 could be labeled as having a ‘pop’ feel. However, that should not suggest an evolution or shift leading to others like them in 2020 and beyond. While I have other works staged for publication, I cannot say how my compositions will unfold in the near future. Specifically, I’m not sure what I might see, hear, or feel then. I can only say if I am fortunate enough to compose additional pieces, they will result from things I’m yet to discover … discover about myself and discover about the winding path I end up on.

How did you hook up with Katie Jade and Cristina Caro?

KATIE JADE: Being the producer of these musical works, I looked deep into the myriad of recording options. Should live or virtual instruments be used? Should a ‘ghost’ vocalist or one willing to lend her name as the artist on the cover art be best? Given the nature of the compositions and the symphony-level musicians who had put their name on the line as performing the pieces in the recording studio, I opted to not use ‘ghost’ vocalists. However, in the case of Katie Jade, I reluctantly agreed to only use her first name. She typically performs in the ‘Country’ genre and was concerned about ‘brand-bleed.’ She is happy to be contacted directly about her performances of ‘Preciosa’ or ‘Silent Fire.’ [[email protected]]. I found her on Fiverr.com.

CRISTINA CARO: I was introduced to Cristina in Shelby Township, Michigan in 2013 by a concert pianist who had been working with her. Cristina Caro went on to become the principal vocalist for Brigantine Avenue Records (my record label). She performed my first song ‘Everywhere Forever’ in public on 12 July 2014 in Rochester, Michigan. Since then Cristina has flourished into a world-class vocalist who sings in five languages. Her published studio recordings of ‘Je T’aime’ (French), ‘Besamé Mucho’ (Spanish), ‘Caruso’ (Italian) are among her best. Cristina’s stunning performance of ‘Mo Li Hua’ (Mandarin) earned her rave reviews on China Daily.com [Aug 2017 — Troy, Michigan]. Of all her recordings, I am most drawn to her extraordinary performance of ‘The Prayer’ (English/Italian) [Dec 2016 — Clinton Township, Michigan]. At my behest, it was captured on film by Orange Dragin’ Media Productions. I had never felt such an incredible burst of ‘palpable awe’ from a musical performance as I did that night. I, along with the audience, instantly knew we had witnessed something remarkable. Cristina’s music videos can be seen on the Brigantine Avenue Records’ YouTube channel.

Why do you make music?

Firstly, music is a large part of my heritage. Given my academic credentials, past professions, and life experiences, I have things to say I am certain can help others in their paths through life. I have expertise in the art and science of conveying information to people. While books and speeches have their place, in my mind, music is a powerful medium, especially when joined with lyrics and cinema. To answer your question better, short of producing a documentary or feature film, producing music videos aimed at drawing attention to those [humans and animals] under- or mis-represented in the world is time well spent. Ultimately, I have hope the songs will be assembled into a unique concert. A concert that will leave the audience willing to pause and be part of a culture that drives much needed change to our politics and world reputation. There are more specific statements about my objectives in that regard on my social media accounts. Lastly, I’d like to be in a position one day to put musical instruments and professional music lessons in the hands of persons who have the passion and desire for music, but not the means to pursue it. From there, building auditoriums in places formerly ravaged by conflict would be powerful institutions where survivors could learn, create, and perform musical works honoring those lost in their respective regions around the world.

Cristina Caro - '0-1 September' [Official Video]

What’s next for you musically?

I have a nine-minute symphonic poem written. It has a very specific purpose and topic that will be best announced when it is formally released. After that, I plan to produce a music video for the French song entitled, ‘Je T’aime’ (Fabian, Allison). It’s specifically for performance of ‘Je T’aime’ I produced in 4Q2019 featuring vocalist Cristina Caro and Pianist Alfred Sheppard. I wrote the string arrangement heard on the recording and anticipate the music video will be embraced in France.

From there, while I’d love to spend my days composing music and authoring lyrics, there should be a focus on assembling a concert featuring all of my works and the various artists who performed them. I also have interest in producing other performers, in particular vocalists seeking to establish themselves with original songs. I’d also like to continue arranging international mashups much like the three I released in 2018/19. Musically, the mashup entitled, ‘Ma Sang Shu Er Da Deng Tai / I Will Always Love You’ was the most challenging. It’s a stirring mashup of Chinese folk and classic American pop music featuring congruent lyrics that uniquely bond the two songs into one (includes both Mandarin and English lyrics) performed by distinguished operatic soprano Selina Wang Jing of Singapore and vocalist Cristina Caro of Sicily.

Any plans to tour?

While I have no current plans to tour, it’s something I hope develops in 2020.

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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