Fredo Viola: from internet buzz to music stores


June 18, 2010 Updated Mar 18, 2009 at 4:11 AM EDT

He is already a cyber-star and US musician Fredo Viola this week releases his first album featuring the iconic symphonic pop and peculiar vocals that bowled over the music blogosphere.

Titled "The Turn", the album already available on the web, releases in Britain and France before hitting stores worldwide. And already, critics are raving.

Viola's music, wrote Stephane Deschamps in French magazine "Volume", offers "the very rare occasion in a critic's career to use the word 'genius' and actually mean it."

Now aged 39, Viola was a late-starter in music and well over the hill when he hit fame four years ago on the internet with numbers on electronic music site em411.com, a time when he was designing cosmetics ads after dropping out of film school in New York.

"It was a strange occurrence in my life!" he said in an interview. "I had all kinds of fears because pop stars are usually very young. But I don't want to be a pop star!

"Look at the great painters, they mature and really develop their voice later on. My attitude towards life is certainly better than it was. When I was in my 20s I was a mess. The 30s were when I began to find myself."

Viola's visuals are key to his music and the video made with a digital camera that backed "The Sad Song" was a key to his 2004 emergence. He was swamped with blogs from admirers, including British group Massive Attack and British writer Neil Gaiman.

"The buzz was very difficult," he said. "It put my mind in a kind of false place and I'm happy I'm done with it! I almost felt alienation from music, so in some ways it's very good that the album took so long to be released."

Turning to musical influences, Viola cites classic composers such as Shostakovich, Britten or Bartok as well as top pop craftsmen such as American Harry Nilsson or Belle and Sebastian from Scotland.

Radiohead and Beta Band were early favourites when he first tuned in to music in his 30s before going on to produce an almost experimental sound that couples with catchy pop.

"I'm a pretty weird person! Part of me is very in to unusual harmonies and the other part of me really likes catchy melodies. I constantly balance between the two," he said.

A onetime choirboy, Viola's songs are built around rich melodies and several layers of his own vocals.

"I like vocal music because there's something very pure and very honest about the voice. Generally, (even if people do a lot of filtering, which I'm against), a voice doesn't hide anything.

"I don't really play any instruments terribly well, so when I was writing my music it was easier to find melodies by using my voice."

Before moving from New York City to the country, he said, he would often put out his voice in subway stations or any place with beautiful reverb.

"I have a kind of relationship with the mysterious aspect of music, and the voice especially, and that's one of the reasons I don't like to write words, unless it's absolutely necessary," he said.

"The relationship with the harmony touches a part of me which is very mysterious. It's hard to talk about! But I do have a spiritual connection to my music and music in general."

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