Bruce Sudano photo credit: photo by Sekou Luke
Bruce Sudano Looks Towards The Dawn with “Ode To a Nightingale” EP
Bruce Sudano has spent 2020 and 2021 consistently creating, recording, and releasing new music with no plans of letting up. Part of his decision to release so steadily has been the relevance of the songs he’s been working on to the global situation as its unfolded. The result has been a series of EPs from his own Purple Heart Recording Co., beginning with Spirals Vol. 1: Not a Straight Line to Be Found and continuing with Spirals Vol. 2: Time and the Space In Between. These “mini-albums” are continuing with the October 1st release of Ode To a Nightingale, but we’ll find an interesting shift in the moods and attitudes of the wide-ranging new collection as Sudano becomes more reflective about the voices of encouragement that we find in the darkest places of human experience.
Sudano is known for his songwriting for Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, and Donna Summer and his own songs with the band Brooklyn Dreams, but these EPs show him exploring his identity as an independent singer/songwriter more fully with plenty of room and zeal for experimentation.
Ode to a Nightingale began with solo sessions at his home studio in Milan, Italy, and I spoke with Sudano from Sardinia about the direct, mysterious, and hopeful aspects of the upcoming EP.
Americana Highways: You have been tremendously busy in the past year and a half, not only writing and recording, but releasing. Does this represent a shift for you?
Bruce Sudano: Obviously, as artists, we have to adapt and find ways to create so that we feel whole and complete, and so we know who we are. Recording being what it is now made all of that very manageable for me. But even more than recording, the foundation of all that I do is to write songs. Once I got through writing about what we were all experiencing, and then worked my way through that, I tried to get to a place with this new record where I could move forward with a little bit of hope. That’s how I approached this record.
AH: It does seem like there’s an interesting relationship between the three EPs, with the first two going together, and this one forming a kind of next chapter in your thinking.
BS: Exactly. Even musically, I tried to add a little more rhythm and tempo with this record. My roots of growing up in Brooklyn were that I came up at the tail end of the vocal group era and grew out of that into the Rolling Stones, so I have a tradition in harmonies. In the past, as this iteration of my career as a solo singer/songwriter which began when my wife [Donna Summer] passed away, I started off really barren and sparse. It was acoustic without a lot of production and accoutrement around it. My themes were heavy, dealing with loss and surviving all that. With this record, I did a lot more harmony singing, which I hadn’t done in the past, and even made an attempt to return to more of my Pop production roots a little bit. I wanted to give this record more of a sense of hope and freedom as opposed to just where I’ve been.
AH: In terms of your solo work, is this the most upbeat collection you’ve done?
BS: It might be the most upbeat, but certainly in terms of emotion and theme, and also probably in terms of rhythm.
AH: You mentioned that modes of recording now made it possible for you to do this work during the pandemic. How much of that was already part of your normal working methods?
BS: Previously, I would work with my Producer in his studio. The musicians would be in the room and we’d work that way. With this record, for most of the writing I was in Milan. I basically wrote the songs there and sketched out a rough track for the songs. Then I did all my vocals, guitar parts, and some of my keyboard stuff in Milan. Then I sent that to my Producer, Randy Ray Mitchell, in Los Angeles. Randy is somebody I’ve worked with for a long time so we have a really good shorthand. That’s basically how we made the whole record. Between April and May, I went to LA for a month, and we mixed. Voila! I’ve done some work like this before, but not with my singer/songwriter stuff.
AH: Does working more in this harmonic and Pop vein again feel like a change of direction?
BS: The root of what I do really stems from my lyric writing. That’s where I say what I have to say and even more than musically, it’s what I spend the most time on. That’s certainly tied in with a melody that helps amplify and embrace the lyrics so that they stand out even more. That doesn’t change however the production may change, whether it gets bigger or harmonies are added. But the root of who I am is really what I’m trying to say.
I was thinking about the song “Cosmic Ride” and when people hear it, their first take on it is a response to the production style of the song. That was a deliberate attempt to emulate a Travelling Wilburys, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne style of production. Lyrically, it’s philosophical, saying that in spite of everything, you have to try and live open and live wide. It’s dressed up in that style of production brings a nice life to it.
AH: I really appreciated the lyrics on that song, as well as the tone and the lift of it. Personally, I found it to be kind of a challenging song, not in a negative way, but in causing me to question myself: “Can I feel that way right now? Can I live that way right now?” Because a lot of things are very heavy right now. But it’s a really good reminder that this way of thinking is still open to us.
BS: I’m glad that you find it challenging. That’s good. That’s the challenge of our lives, to live open and stay in the flow of it. We only have so much control. We can’t break to fear and we have to live. We live with reason and common sense, but we live. So be challenged!
AH: Another song on the album, “All Hands” really speaks to this time. It has has a lovely tone to it, and is very confessional and conversational in reaching out to people, but is also so relevant. It feels like the song of the hour because everyone is so tired out right now.
BS: I mentioned earlier the layer of songs that I worked my way through to get to this record. The layer of songs was really specific to this time and this pandemic. I’ve been posting them as I’ve been writing them, but “All Hands” was at the end of that layer. Although it is the last song on this record, it was written as the first song on this record. I kind of bookended it with “Cosmic Ride” but I ended the album with it, as if saying, “All of this is great, but this is still where we are. Regardless of where we are, we all need to contribute and do our best to move forward.”
AH: Regarding the title of the EP and the title song, “Ode to a Nightingale,” I’ve read that it doesn’t refer to the Keats poem, but to other poetic imagery, however it’s still a really haunting idea that suggests an unknown or nebulous situation that nevertheless contains something beautiful or worth holding onto.
BS: Yes. To me, the nightingale image is the voice in the darkness that is singing a melody that’s taking us towards the light, towards the dawn. There’s a lot in the song, such as walking up to the edge and stopping and turning around just in time. Psychologically and poetically, where this song was landing for me was after the election and the hopeful change of direction for our country.
That voice in the darkness that is singing us through to the dawn is how I viewed it. The fact that it was the title of a Keats poem is funny because it brought me back to junior year of Jesuit high school and that poem. Somewhere in me I had that title. I had been reading this book of poetry by Pier Paolo Pasolini and he made a lot of references in his poetry to nightingales but I took it as a sign that I landed on the right title. If it was good enough for Keats, it is good enough for me.
AH: It kind of brings things full circle because the Romantic Poets had a great love for Italy, too. Also the associations of a word like “ode” are probably important, with an older feel, possibly solemnity, and a kind of sanctity.
BS: I like that. Those are both good words, “ode” and “sanctity.”
AH: Let’s talk about “In Shadowland,” both the song and the video. I know you’ve said that you don’t want to over-interpret it so that audiences feel that they have to see it a certain way. But does it have a connection with a bigger idea that there might be things that we can’t see that are going on around us?
BS: Without a doubt. It’s all about that, on an intellectual plane, an emotional plane, and a spiritual plane. I see it as a through-line of where we came from and where we go.
AH: So for instance, human existence, all of it, would be part of the “Shadowland” experience?
BS: Yes, and the “internal us,” the internal light of the individual, be it spirit, or conscience, or something we don’t know. It’s a reality in and around us.
AH: Have you worked with either of these visual artists from the “In Shadowland” video before?
BS: No. Furio Ganz is an Italian visual artist and I became aware of his work. We came up with this interpretation for “In Shadowland” that I really liked. A big part of that was the ability to have Claudio Bellini, who does the visual effects, become engaged in that. Then, Maria Roverand is this very interesting up-and-coming Italian actress with a great sense of feel and mystery. It all aligned really well. The difficult part was that Ganz and I couldn’t even be together. That’s why, in the video, I’m on the phone, because it was Covid and we couldn’t be together. But with the illusory nature of the video, we felt that could work very effectively and not should out “Covid.” At the same time, it adds more illusion and mystery to the piece.
AH: Something I found interesting is that the video combines live action and big digital effects rather than just choosing one or the other, which is more common.
BS: We’re having a discussion now about making a video for “Ode To a Nightingale” and somehow continuing the story, but we’re not ready yet. Conceptually, that’s the idea.
AH: That would be awesome. Was this kind of digital stuff a new frontier for you?
BS: It was definitely a new frontier, but my approach to the video aspect of what I do is to work with creative people. It’s a collaboration in a different way for me. In the studio, you work with a bass player and collaborate with your Producer. But in terms of video, I have adopted the philosophy of working in the same way with the director in collaboration to come up with something unique for the song. I’ve done this with Elliot Mason, who has done these “Super Bruce” videos for me which are animated. I enjoy working with video directors in this way because it’s not really my base. It’s a fun way to collaborate with different people who are talented in other disciplines.
AH: The album has a surprising directness at many points, but one of those that really jumps out is in “Not Your Hero.” It’s so honest about relationships. The era we’ve been through is bringing out directness in relationships more, I think.
BS: It comes under the heading for me of “real life story song.” This was one of those songs and the thing about these stories is that they are totally relatable to many people, and in some ways more than other songs. Certain emotions and stories are so intrinsic to everyone’s life, though they may not always be spoken about or written about. I think that style of song is one that comes very natural to me and always has. One of my bigger songs in my career was “Starting Over Again” that Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire recorded. That song was about the divorce of my parents. It’s a very realistic and honest story. I felt that way about “Not Your Hero.”
The funny thing about that song is that I did an acoustic guitar and vocal demo and sent it to my publisher and a couple of other people whose opinions I trust. I said, “Should I record this song?” It was unanimously, “Yes.” I don’t have a good barometer on cheesiness, so I sent up a flag on that one. But right now is definitely a time of coming clean, showing honesty, and dealing in the real.
Find more information and details here: https://www.brucesudano.com