Lionheart

Stephan Moccio

Lionheart

Released in 2020 during the darker days of the pandemic, Stephan Moccio’s Tales of Solace was a landmark album of semi-improvised solo pieces that brought comfort and consolation during months of isolation. A year later, the Oscar- and Grammy-nominated composer, pianist, songwriter, and producer—who has worked with Céline Dion, The Weeknd, Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, and more—returned with a second piano album, Lionheart. Brimming with incredible, strong melodies, its journey is fueled by themes of hope and love, thanks, in part, to this album’s title, which came to Moccio early on in its production. “I was looking for a word that would best describe perhaps a knight in shining armor,” Moccio tells Apple Music. “‘Lionheart’ really summed up who I was and where I was in my life. It sort of drove everything and was maybe a subliminal reason why I intentionally went for strong melodies.”
Moccio doesn’t shy away from themes of loneliness and regret. Yet there is a sense of this album gazing towards a bright future, with its touching musical tribute to Moccio’s daughter as she grows up (“Esmé’s Waltz”) and a beautiful, sweeping portrait of Monet’s garden (“Le Jardin de Monsieur Monet”), its dreamy film-score harmonies full of optimism. “As much as there are still some dark, reflective, introspective pieces on Lionheart,” he explains, “there is still more of a feeling of rebirth and hopefulness. I’m a huge fan of the filmmaker Ken Burns, who once said that it was important to lead your audience into hell and then lead them out. And I took that very seriously. I feel this is my best work. It’s my most focused, intentional, melodic work.” Here, let Moccio guide you through Lionheart, one track at a time.
“My Beloved Twin Flame…” “‘My Beloved Twin Flame…’ is like the beginning of a narrative, a little like the track ‘Il Était Une Fois’ that begins Tales of Solace. It brings to mind this romantic notion of someone writing to his lover with a quill. As I was listening to it, the music felt like it should be in a period film, and that it was something that film composer Alexandre Desplat might compose. It’s probably the only track where I concocted its title based on what it sounded like.”
“Lionheart” “‘Lionheart’ has such a strong sensibility to it. I thought it was too strong a melody, too strong a performance, to open the album. I always like to reel people in gently, so I intentionally placed it as the second track. It conjures up determination, courage, and a steadfast belief in something and just going after it. It’s a knight with a sword, not trying to hurt anybody, but trying to do what’s right and righteous. There’s a nobility to it.”
“Havana 1958” “The rhythms I use here made me think of Havana and its vibrant colors, particularly in the Cuban city’s golden age. I came up with 1958 because that year was during the good times before Fidel Castro came into power. The muted piano adds a certain distance to it as well as a Dave Brubeck-esque sexiness. The track also serves as a bit of a palate cleanser after ‘Lionheart.’”
“Myrtle” “The word ‘myrtle’ symbolizes, for me, a lot of different things. I always go out of my way to name at least one piece on my albums after a specific color. Tales of Solace featured a track called ‘Burgundy.’ And because I possess synesthesia [where music can be ‘seen’ by some people as colors], the colors element to my writing is so key. The music here had such a positive vibe—light and hopeful—and it reminded me of the color myrtle. This track was one of the pieces that was done in one take.”
“Castles in Spain” “This track is utopian more than anything—you can't really access it in real life. I've never been to Spain, believe it or not, so this track is a way of saying, ‘I want to go to Spain!’ I actually composed and performed ‘Castles in Spain’ for Tales of Solace but I didn’t feel it was right for Tales because it was too Spanish-sounding—the album was more a reflection of a guy going through a cathartic experience. But it turned out that it was perfect for Lionheart.”
“Le vent et la jeunesse” “I'm heavily influenced by Debussy, Satie, and all those great Impressionist composers. This track felt like I was a little child, like I was feeling the wind on my face and looking through blades of grass as I was laying sideways on a hot summer day. There's an innocence and a lightness to it that cleanses the palate after ‘Castles in Spain,’ which is in a dark minor key. I treat keys like colors, and these two tracks seemed to go well together. I take the sequence of my tracks very seriously.”
“After Midnight” “This is the only abstract piece on the album, I would say. It reflects what it feels like to be lonely with my thoughts at 3 am. There’s an angst to it, tonally, but there’s also reflection, introspection, a bit of darkness, and also hope. It feels to me very much like a Thomas Newman film score. I’m a big fan of Newman because he has this unique talent to combine all textures of emotion in a piece of music, from tension to hope. And sometimes there's a somber side to it, too.”
“Le Jardin de Monsieur Monet” “I have an obsession with books, and I particularly like beautiful coffee table books. During the recording process, I often just pollute my environment with beautiful art books. Visual arts really affect me. Although this piece just came out of my fingers, I had a book of Impressionist art open on a piece about Giverny, Monet’s garden in France. To me, this track is literally a bouquet of flowers. It's just so hopeful—so bright and so vivid. And I’m deeply affected by Impressionist music, by Debussy, Ravel, Satie, and all those French composers of that period.”
“Esmé's Waltz” “Years ago, my first album Exposure [released in 2006] was a dedication to my two children. My daughter's nickname is Esmé, and, as she’s now really becoming a teenager, this is another ode to her. There’s a hopefulness to the music, as I watch her navigate through life, but there are all the traps and the darknesses of life in there, too.”
“Alice’s Wonderland” “There’s a psychedelic element in this track’s harmonic palette, and I felt it was a little like Alice looking up at things in the forest. It has the sensibility of a film score. I’m a big Tim Burton fan and loved his interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. I also love this piece for how it sounds so different from the rest of the album.”
“The Past Is Never Gone” “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you need to confront your past head on, which is part of the creed behind Lionheart. If you think that running away is going to solve things, it’s not. This piece also felt like it was the part of a film where the protagonist figures out that they have to be courageous and confront their demons. Life is only about moving forward—that’s the only direction that you can truly see. If you look back too much, you are never going to progress and evolve. But you can’t ignore the past, either.”
“Agape” “Agape is the highest form of love, meaning you’ve sacrificed a lot of yourself. It has a benevolence to it and is in C major, which is the purest key in a lot of ways. It makes me think of all the people I love the most and who have been nothing but kind and patient. It could be my family or my friends. To get to where I am, it’s taken a lot of sacrifice and a lot of patience from the people around me. This piece is like giving something back to those people.”
“Halston” “This track feels like the soundtrack to a European movie, like something by Michel Legrand or Nino Rota. Before Halston, the Netflix series starring Ewan McGregor, came out [in 2021], there was a documentary about [the legendary American fashion designer, real name Roy Halston Frowick] directed by Frédéric Tcheng. Halston designed some beautiful dresses for the most powerful women of the time. He lived life hard: the sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, everything. And then he eventually sold his name to [US department store chain] JCPenney and lost control of what made him great. His story is a bittersweet tragedy, and I think you can hear that in this piece.”
“Fireflies” “‘Fireflies’ has a beautiful four-chord progression—a sense of uplift and hope. And this is my Ken Burns moment. With ‘Halston’ I kill my audience with the dark piece. And then with ‘Fireflies’ I try to leave them feeling that there is still something right in this world. If you’ve ever seen a field of fireflies, you’ll know how stunning it is. It’s beautiful in how it glows. And this track has that, modally and musically. It’s got a U2-esque, Coldplay-esque influence where it’s kind of classical and kind of pop—but none of those things, either. I’m thinking maybe, being a pop producer, I may eventually write a song to it as well. I really do love this piece of music.”

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