“It was time to come back to the piano.”
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These days, composer, pianist, arranger, conductor, producer, and recording artist Stephan Moccio makes Los Angeles his home, but he says he was in London working with Celine Dion when he got the inspiration for his latest release, Tales of Solace. “[Los Angeles] is not the kind of cultural mecca that London is,” he begins. Not long after landing, he caught the strains of Vaughan Williams on the radio, and heard it as a call back to a different kind of music.
Stephan called in some connections, and was able to work out a deal with Decca to produce Tales of Solace. With the business end sorted, it was time to get to work. “I dedicated my world to becoming a great contemporary piano player.”
It’s a case of going back to the beginning — with the benefit of experience and the knowledge that comes with it.
Nominated for both a Grammy and Academy Award, Stephan Moccio has written and produced hits for pop stars and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey, for which he co-wrote and co-produced The Weeknd’s “Earned It” and Skylar Grey’s “I Know You”, the two end credit songs. He’s worked with the likes of James Blunt, Avril Lavigne, Fergie, and others, and co-wrote Miley Cyrus’ single “Wrecking Ball”, and Celine Dion’s hit “A New Day Has Come”.
Stephan enjoys the process of writing a song destined to climb the charts. “When you have a hit song, there’s nothing like it,” he says. Still, it wasn’t where his musical life began. “At the same time, I came into music authentically.” Raised in a musical family, he began studying piano at age three during his childhood in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
On Tales of Solace, the album for solo piano returns to his roots in classical music, albeit with his own contemporary stamp. Although the album comes out at what seems like just the right time for contemplative music during the lockdown, the timing was fortuitous. “The skinny is, I was feeling the need to do this back in 2018,” he says.
The first single from the album, “Fracture”, is about inspired by relationship struggles. In another matter of coincidental timing, the video, with its visuals of isolation and enclosure, was shot in February, before the COVID-19 lockdown. “It was just the perfect collision,” he notes.
Other tracks are concept driven. “Burgundy” is a kind of reaction to both the colour and the wine. “It’s an introspective album,” he says.
Stephan plays a number of instruments, but his current favourite is a custom-made Yahama upright YUS5. “I’m addicted to this piano,” he says. “I wanted an intimate sound.” He explains that the customization involves a piece of felt across the soundboard. A warm, velvety sound was the goal. “People sometimes say that my piano sounds like a music box.”
Contemporary piano music is an extremely popular category for music streaming, so much so that solo piano is now among the top five genres in the world. To be featured on Spotify’s Peaceful Piano playlist can generate hundreds of thousands of streams, and more. Stephan says the new single was included on Peaceful Piano, and garnered tens of millions of streams even before the album release.
Streaming, in other words, has made neoclassical piano music a viable rival to commercial pop music. In the pop music industry, while the work was often inspired, there were inevitably occasions when he says he felt like he was, “manufacturing something”. “The first music I heard was classical,” he says. He’d call his own work on the album neoclassical, or simply contemporary piano. “I’ve been at the piano since I was three, and I’ve been at the classical music regimen since I was 11.”
Stephan studied classical piano at the University of Western Ontario, where he got his BA in composition and performance. Still, when the choice came to go to Berklee/University of Boston, where he’d already been accepted in a jazz Masters programme, or accept a songwriting contract with Sony/ATV, pop music won the day.
“It was a tough choice at the time,” he says.
Even though he was working in the pop music business, he persuaded the TSO to allow him to attend their rehearsals, which gave him more and more insight into arrangements and instrumental colours. Two decades later, the exposure and work in all those fields come together. “It’s all paying off now,” he says. “It’s a lifetime of preparation.”
Under normal circumstances, he’d now be packing bags to hit the road. The current COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on plans to tour the album worldwide for the time being. “It’s still a dark place in my heart,” he says of all the empty concert halls nowadays.
Stephan Moccio’s “Sea Change”, the third track from the album released back in May 2020, is currently #1 on the Peaceful Piano playlist.
Stephan Moccio’s Tales of Solace is out now on Decca Records, and available on CD and streaming platforms worldwide.
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