Gino Vannelli had a plethora of hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s including timeless radio staples such as “Black Cars” and “Wild Horses.” Now he’s back with a new studio album entitled Wilderness Road, his first in over a decade.
Vannelli says the album took some time to fully flesh out the last few years. But he had a specific goal in mind with the latest offering.
“I had a lot of these topics and sentiments already in my head to which I was privy to and had personally observed a lot of these stories,” he says. “I had to make it a point to find a way to tell these tales to people. That’s what was really, really the objective and the catalyst for the record.”
The singer, who plays Toronto’s Bluma Appel Theatre on April 24 before two nights at Montreal’s Palace Des Arts (April 26-27), started working on the Wilderness Road four or five years ago, paring down roughly three dozen songs into the final dozen presented.
“The biggest challenge was to stay true to the story and to sing them in a certain way that didn’t get in the way of the story,” he says. “Or produce them that they didn’t get in the way of the story but enhanced the story. In other words, make something that could otherwise be very difficult to listen to entertaining.
“Instrumentation-wise I wanted to make the album a little bit leaner, harmonically not as dense or complicated. Melodic but not so melodic that it sounded like a sing-a-long.”
Vocally Vannelli says he recorded a few takes before deciding which one was the one. Knowing which of his vocals work best for a song is a knack he’s honed over time.
“I’ve developed a way of being able to produce myself which is sometimes a very difficult task to be objective,” he says. “I would send myself the vocal and in the morning at home listen to what I had done in a completely different setting. And immediately it would hit me. If I wasn’t sure my wife would offer me a very forceful but gentle opinion.”
The singer says some songs were quite personal including “The Woman Upstairs” relaying the ordeal a battered woman living above his family endured for a few years. Meanwhile “Ghost Train” was inspired from a trip he took to the mountains of Peru “to understand myself a little bit better” in the ‘80s.
Perhaps the heaviest subject addressed on the album is suicide which Vannelli deftly describes on “Wrestling With Angels.”
“I was always curious about the mindset of suicide,” he says. “After studying it somewhat I grew to understand that most people who had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and the few percent who had survived were asked what went through your head before you hit the water. I think most of them had said, ‘What a dumb thing to do.’
“I said okay here’s a person who is torn between this life and the next and is trying to make a decision, a very, very painful decision. It’s a very delicate subject and I wanted to approach it the best I could.”
Vannelli has a handful of additional dates this year including a few nights in Hawaii before additional American dates this fall. He already planning work on a new studio album in 2020 with the goal of releasing it sooner than later.
With over 50 years in the business, the singer says the music industry’s current state has its pros and cons depending on how you view it.
“I’ll explain it this way: there’s a man walking down the street, down a lonely highway let’s say,” he says. “There are two questions: Is he lonesome or is he free? There are a lot of aspects of the business the way it is that is no longer what it was in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. But on the other hand people were really tied and there were a lot of horror stories and so much super control exerted over artists and their work during that time frame.
“The delivery system has totally changed, it’s much faster because people are used to downloading. Personally, I like it because I’ve always enjoyed stepping out on my own and I didn’t mind success or failure as long as I was really doing what I wanted to do.”
In fact, he sees this album as his coming full circle since inking his first record deal with RCA in 1969.
“After school, I went to RCA, I auditioned by doing a couple of tracks and I did all the instruments on the tracks which are really interesting because I play most of the instruments on Wilderness Road, the brand new record. It’s a throwback to my first audition. I did two tracks and I played all the instruments, drums, bass, piano and guitar. The next day they called my house and said we want you to record for us. I was pretty ecstatic at the time at least for a 17-year-old.”