What is your name?
My legal name is Andrea Pizziconi. But I decided to go by Drea Pizziconi for my creative work a while back, just to codify the nickname most people use and to give others a break in terms of how to pronounce my name. It can be said a half dozen different ways and for some reason, it always stresses people out. I love all of the pronunciations equally and love the diversity in letting people call me what comes naturally to them (because they will anyway, you’ll always revert to however you first said my name). Table 7 Colo
What is your genre of music?
Oh gosh, I really don’t want to be put in a box, and I haven’t found a box that I could even think of settling into cosily – there are so many influences. There is a foundation of soul and blues and jazz, but I grew up listening to folk and rock and there are distinct elements of those. I’m also fairly extensively classically trained and grew up on the stage doing theatre and opera, which many can hear even when I’m singing rock or blues. Then, I have been going to Africa monthly the last dozen years so the Afro influence is clearly part of the recipe for some of my projects, especially since I started off as a percussionist. Different projects coming out are going to flex different colours and genres more or less. For now, I just hope the tunes are hummable and linger in your ears. That’s what is most important.
Give us a little bio about you.
Gosh, that’s loaded. Been singing since I was a wee thing and grew up studying music seriously from there. First, I studied as a classical percussionist (mostly timpani) and performed in musical theatre around town. I lied about my age a few times (by omission) to get into a few better college productions when I was in middle school. Afters years in orchestras, I had to choose between voice and percussion and started taking classical vocal training more seriously. I got to study at Tanglewood and other esteemed festivals where I cut my teeth studying opera. I began my touring career at 14 on a European tour with a national choir and went back as a soloist at 16 where I did my first of several recitals across the Czech Republic over the coming years. I discovered jazz in high school but I didn’t start focusing on it until college when I started composing, producing, and arranging music for various singing groups with which I performed. At Yale, I became the musical director for the most famous women’s group (think “Pitch Perfect”, it had to have been at least partially inspired by Yale’s crazy singing scene.) We toured the world after graduation, won some festival awards, etc. – it was a very serious gig. After, I carried on performing solo recitals around Europe while also opening for other pop artists for a few years, the most famous of which was the Latin pop star Olga Tanon. I went to graduate school over in your neck of the woods at Cambridge and kept singing throughout. But then I decided I hated how exploitative the music industry was and the only way I could stomach it was by trying to do something else worthy for the world. I wanted to help others in tangible ways rather than simply accepting a life of self-promotion that has always made me a little queasy.
That break ended up being a longer than I thought during which time I materially helped redevelop a city (New Haven) as a community developer – my other passion – and created a company to build university facilities in Africa. It has since been a trailblazer in that space in a satisfying way. I did some gigs throughout but very much on the down-low. Finally, a colleague dared me to go back on stage and do an album for the benefit of his school (I accepted and did a quick live album of jazz covers over a month), which forced me to reckon with this unfinished business I had with music. I had also experienced a lot in Africa and needed to process it all. Writing music was the only way. then I finally found the way to balance it all. I created a small label called “Compositions for a Cause” alongside trumpeter Keyon Harrold and decided to release my music through that platform focusing on humanitarian themes (refugees, police violence, women’s rights, etc) until I ran out of issues in the world to write about. We wrote a few songs that became popular featuring Common, Gregory Porter and Gary Clark Jr. I then executive produced his album “The Mugician” and produced a couple of the tracks with him. I’m very proud of that project and toured with him for a bit to promote it. After, I had to start focussing on getting my own music out. It has been sitting for some time. So that’s what I’ve been doing since, while also writing and producing some music for TV on the side (featuring Queen Latifah and Common). That music has just started coming out at a pace of about a song a month.
What made you go in to music?
I’ve been studying music since I was a small child. My mother got both my sister and I into music from a young age. When my parents got divorced, the local Catholic Church we attended got a bit “judgy” so my mother (a Methodist anyway) decided to start going to a more hospitable black church in town where I got to immerse myself in gospel music and work on my chest voice. But I don’t know what “made” me go into it. It was always a part of me as far back as I can remember.
Are you a signed?
I currently distribute under my independent label Compositions for a Cause (CFAC). I’ve also been invited to join AWAL and will work with them going forward but I don’t think I’ll go to a larger label unless the terms are right. I helped secure Keyon’s Sony deal as his EP and worked closely with them alongside Mass Appeal during that album project. That experience only reaffirmed one thing; a record label is three things—1) A loan shark financier 2) a marketing and PR agency and 3) a distributor, and they increasingly outsource marketing and PR anyway making the artists pay for it separately. I think they would agree with that description. If you are lucky enough to have the means to support the production of your music and you can find a decent marketing team and distributor, you are better served holding on to the ownership of your masters and becoming your own label. I am in that lucky position because of the previous work I’ve done so that’s the route that works for me right now. At some point, I will reconsider if the terms are right. But probably after releasing a couple more albums. I want to build up CFAC further and bring in other artists as well so it really starts to resonate and become a catalytic voice for certain social issues that could change lives.
You have released your new single ‘Let Us Dance’, tell us more about the single. What is the meaning behind the single?
“Let Us Dance’ is the culmination of all of the work I’ve ever done as a social advocate, entrepreneur, and musician, artist and songwriter. It is an anthem to say, “we’ve got to speak up, reclaim our narrative and be proud of ourselves”. We have survived many things, but still have a long way to go. It’s my way of saying women are more powerful if we come together, build each other up and support each other. We need to share our stories because we cannot completely heal until we do.
Describe the track in two words.
What was the writing process like?
I first heard the bass motif for Let Us Dance in the shower a couple years ago and I’d hum it a lot. I had wanted it to be a reaction to the Nine Simone song “Images” that I’ve always wanted to record with a trumpet as a duet. I called it “Let Her Dance” and I imagined opening it by sampling Images and then transitioning into it. Keyon even played engineer for me at the very beginning to ensure I finally laid down the motifs I couldn’t get out of my head. He also recorded a beautiful trumpet line to my vocals that one day I’ll have to release as a separate song since this song ended up changing completely right before the end. This particular process was not linear and, unfortunately, some beautiful moments didn’t fit the final version as is often the case.
What was the recording process like?
Rushed. I wrote a song called “Let Her Dance” and when CAMFED asked me to headline their 25th anniversary gala I decided to give them a birthday gift of a song. But I had to rewrite it to ensure it fit the message and even when I was holding on to too much of the old tune, Maimouna, who was working on the rap at the time, gave me that extra little push to say “Let Her Dance? Why the heck are we asking for permission?” So I rewrote the top line completely halfway through the recording process, which required a lot else to change with less than a month to record and produce all the new parts, and make new arrangements while trying to hold on to some of the old stuff I loved. Then I had to get it mixed and mastered in time working with engineer legends who have every other artist in LA chasing them already. However, I am very happy with the outcome – it is the song it was meant to be.
Who did you work with on the single?
I worked with so many great musicians on “Let Us Dance”! It features a rousing rap by Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Maimouna Youssef and sizzling horns by the inimitable Dap-Kings. The rest of the line-up includes veteran musicians Ray Angry (keyboard and organ), Steven Wolf (drums), Oz Noy (guitar), Al Carty (bass), Gabrielle Fink (violin) and Danny Sadownik (percussion). It was recorded by Oliver Strauss and Grammy Award-winning engineer Fernando Lodeiro then mixed by legendary Grammy winner Mick Guzauski.
Will we see a music video for the track?
Yes, we’ve already started shooting it and will aim to release it towards the end of the summer to coincide with a few other announcements.
Will we see an EP or Album and if so, what can we expect?
Yes. A few EPs, in fact. I’ve recorded a couple dozen songs and am just polishing off the first dozen. I wanted to release more of them at once but my promoters and marketing team insist that I only release one per month. This is, of course, frustrating for me as a songwriter, because we tend to move on to the next song idea quickly. But I’ve learned well that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ so I respect their needs. In terms of what to expect, it will be a lot of different genres even within the same song because the mash-up is my signature style.
Do you have any shows coming up?
I’m doing mostly promo shows right now. This Weds I’ll tape a spot on Border Crossings at Voice of America. I feel lucky because all but two of the original band members who recorded the album will be there and that’s very rare, especially with such an amazing band. I’ll continue to do promo shows until more of the singles are out. Also because I’m also still feverishly trying to finish producing the next batch of music so I can then just focus on promoting what is out properly. I anticipate performing a lot more in late 2019 and early 2020 but most of the next few months are pop-up shows and guest appearances with others.
If so where will you be heading?
The Border Crossings show at Voice of America will be taped in Washington, DC.
What else can we expect in 2019?
I’ll release a lot more music. And I’m developing a new app with my team for young women called Girls First Finance, which is consuming much of my time and maybe the most important initiative I take on to date.
Do you have any collaborations coming up with any up coming artists? Yes, I’m going to be releasing the first single with my dear friend and collaborator the superstar rapper/singer and producer E.L from Ghana. We intend to release an EP together at the top of the year. This first song is called “I Got Your Back” and is very close to my heart. I have also produced several songs in collaboration with Ray Angry and look forward to releasing them gradually over the coming year. Finally, Keyon and I still have some music in demo form that we need to finish up. They are some great songs that need to be a part of a larger EP.
Would you be up for collaborations if other musicians wanted one with you? and who would they have to contact?
Always. I try to remain accessible and I have a great team who will always respond. It’s part of the culture we’ve built together. If someone pays me the compliment to reach out, the least we can do is respond with gratitude for the interest even if we can’t always accommodate the request. So we’re open and we welcome ideas from proposed projects. I’ve definitely pursued some collaborations even based on IG DMs.
Do you play any instruments?
Who are your influences?
Gosh, I have a lot because I have a passion for so many genres. For songwriters: Phyllis Hyman, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Roberta Flack, Whitney Houston, Rickie Lee Jones, Stevie Nicks, Tori Amos, Marvin Gaye, Paul Robeson, Billy Holiday, Miriam Makeba, Fela, Stephen Sondheim, Barbara Streisand, Duke Ellington, Donny Hathaway, Leontyne Price, Kathleen Battle, Celia Cruz, and Chaka Khan but the list of influences would go on
How do you get inspiration to write songs?
My life is fairly dynamic. I’m on the front lines of a lot of issues as a female social entrepreneur and activist. So, I have no shortage of inspiration just in processing the daily work that we do, whether in Africa or here in the US. I have faced some challenges and obstacles that seemed impossible to overcome but I find that I use my song writing as a way to process how I feel about those barriers and that ultimately helps me find my voice and perspective so I can push through them.
Where do you see yourself now in 5 Years?
I will be writing more music with others, I will be performing more (because I will have released at least 3-4 full-length projects). I have started to dip my toe into directing and producing films, something I had always wanted to pursue earlier on, so I will have at least one major project behind me including a screenplay I am writing. I will likely transition from CEO of Africa Integras to the Chair of the Board when the company is ready. And I’ll have (hopefully) hired my replacement as CEO of Girls First Finance to transition from founding to scaling but I will remain very actively involved as Board Chair, of course. That initiative is extremely close to my heart. So more creative work and more activism.
When you’re not doing music, what do you do?
I have several other companies I’ve founded including The Christie Company, Africa Integras and, most recently, Girls First Finance so I’m fairly busy outside of my music life. Luckily, they all reinforce each other so it somehow works in the end, but you’d have to ask my team if they agree.
What was the song you listened to most that influenced you to go more in to the music scene?
Hmm…one song?? That’s a toughie. I don’t think I can point to a single song. But I will say that “Company” by Rickie Lee Jones is one of my favourite songs since I was a pre-teen and my desire to write more music like that definitely did keep me focused. I would probably have to throw in an opera aria since that dominated my formative years. Rusalka by Dvorak would be the winner for sure. And then for jazz, it would likely be “Images” by Nina Simone.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
Be me, whatever “me” authentically is. Do that really well.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians not about the industry and just as an artist?
Do music because you love it first because the industry will test you many times. And don’t give up other passions too. You will need to lean on them to diversify yourself financially or just mentally so you can always remain creatively independent and not fully beholden to labels or other non-creative stakeholders in the industry.
What quote or saying do you always stick by?
“Go where you’re invited.” When referring to my non-music work.
“Speak up.” When referring to the music industry and life in general.
Where in your hometown is a must go to visit?
The Lilac Festival is the best week in Rochester, NY. All the lilacs are in bloom and everyone is excited because it’s the short time of the year when the weather usually behaves. But I also grew up in the Finger Lakes and all of the lakes are beautiful there. But Letchworth State Park near our cottage on Silver Lake is particularly stunning, especially when the leaves turn in the autumn.
You’re coming off tour;
1/ Where do you go first? I go for a walk along the water to soak in the skyline. I love, love, love NYC. If it’s summertime, you can often find me meandering along Brooklyn Bridge Park taking in the lower Manhattan skyline. I really should just move to Brooklyn if only I could figure out the subways there. So I am still a Manhattan girl for now. st
2/ Who do you see first?
My trainer. He never lets me fall off the wagon too far. He’s my friend too, so I don’t mind at all that he holds me accountable to remain healthy. And he’s really good at keeping track of me wherever I am in the world.
3/What do you eat first?
Usually, I have eaten all kinds of delectable, “you can only find them here”, not so healthy things on tour. So I come home and try to cleanse a few days and eat lighter foods to rebalance. It will either be raw, or grass fed but definitely something clean. ble
When you are at a gig, what are 5 things you cannot forget?
To thank everyone! Merch, because, God know, it has become the only way artists can actually share their music in a permanent way with anyone.
Do you have social media accounts so your fans can follow you?
Ha! There’s a backstory there for sure. I detested social media and managed to protest it fully until two years ago when the release of some music for causes very close to my heart forced me to embrace Twitter and eventually Instagram. I have yet to be on a Facebook page in my life. This is something I’m very proud of, but it is also something that drives my team crazy and, I’ll confess, they have won this battle so the Facebook fan page will be launching soon (if not quietly already). Folks can find me on Twitter and IG and likely for Facebook too. Going forward, I promise I’ll dive both feet in. I covet the extra books I read during those years when everyone else was figuring out social media and I was hiding but I see how much it helps fans get to know us and I appreciate so much the support fans from around the world give me. Nothing warms me more when a fan walks up after a show and gives me their IG handle and I realize this is the person who has liked every random pic and quote I posted for the last year. That level of support really does motivate me so I want to be reciprocally available to them too.