Tales of Solace

Tales of Solace

Stephan Moccio is a songwriter to the stars. Céline Dion, Miley Cyrus, and Avril Lavigne have all benefited from his gift for creating the perfect melody, the satisfying musical hook, the harmony that lifts it all to a new plane. But behind his songwriting is a solid classical background. “I started taking piano lessons at three years old at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada,” he tells Apple Music. “Classical music is what I chill to, it’s what I return to every night.” Here Moccio has returned to his musical training to craft an intimate album of music for piano solo. Tales of Solace is his search for inner peace following tough times—relationship difficulties, a growing sense of his mortality, perhaps even a sense of being lost. Often the pieces are directly personal; sometimes he references literature, pop heroes, and film stars. But the music always feels honest. “People like to know that an instrumental player does feel things as well,” he says. “My piano’s always been my confidante, my muse. So I’m able to talk to her and have conversations.” For Tales of Solace, Moccio sat at the piano for more than six weeks, producing 23 hours of improvised conversations that were eventually reduced to 52 minutes. The album was released at the end of August 2020 but the artwork—a picture of a quarantined room—was actually designed weeks before lockdown. “The image just had to do with the fact that I wanted to return to where my roots were, the piano,” says Moccio. “These are songs without words and, you know, sometimes this is why this kind of music connects with the world—because there are no lyrics. And the piano comforts me, too.” Let Moccio take you through 16 tracks that he says have begun to heal him—and will no doubt bring comfort to many others. Il Était Une Fois “‘Il Était Une Fois’ means ‘Once Upon a Time’ in French. This is me trying to ease into the piano. There’s a sort of, ‘Come here, will you? I’m going to tell you a story.’ If you listen to the first 15 to 20 seconds, the music’s as honest as it can be. It’s not a performance as much as an improvisation, as I was finding my bearing harmonically. Eventually, I roll into these arpeggios and carry the listener in.” Fracture “Fracture refers to the breakdown of a relationship—my wife and I are separated. But they say that a broken bone can sometimes be mended a lot stronger, if you’ve got the commitment and the devotion to listen to each other. The song itself is so bittersweet. It’s a beautiful melody that I personally love. And yet there’s just a bitterness to it as well that happens inevitably in relationships that are as long as ours has been.” Whitby “I met someone very special last year—she would call me Dracula because I don’t sleep often. I’ve often had to work on four or five hours of sleep. We then developed this fascination with the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but I didn’t realize that part of it takes place in a small English seaside town called Whitby. Dracula, for me, represents the fight between good and evil. The piece starts as a C-minor waltz, but the chorus or hook goes into a hopeful E-flat major, the piece’s relative major key. It has both dark and hopeful elements.” Sea Change “‘Sea Change’ was a complete improvisation. It ended up becoming a personal favorite of mine, only because I don’t even know where it came from. We start off in F minor, but all of a sudden it opens up into A-flat major. I wrestled with its title for over a month and finally stumbled across ‘Sea Change.’ That’s where that pregnant pause in the piece is, where F minor becomes A-flat major—that beautiful shift. It’s like flowers growing out of a rock. We don’t know why. We can’t explain it. It’s just part of life’s beauty.” Thirteen “When I met this special person, 13 became a number that meant a lot more to me—all of a sudden it broke my superstition about the number. It became something that now brings me goodwill and good luck. And that’s all it is. It’s just an association with a particular person. The music just breathes. It has gravitas and weight. The goal of this album, for me, was never to demonstrate my virtuosity as a piano player—it was to demonstrate my virtuosity emotionally.” Lumière “‘Lumière’ means ‘light,’ and it feels really hopeful to me. I’ve been talking a lot about a very melancholic album, but there are a handful of pieces on it that just seem very joyful and euphoric—and this is one of them.” Nostalgia “This piece is about a golden-age actor from Hollywood who was huge, and all of a sudden is much older and realizing they’re no longer young. And they’re looking in the mirror and looking back through time, wishing that they could just hold onto their youth as long as possible. I’m 47, I’m mid-life now and I look at things differently. I feel very young and I’ve probably never felt better in my life, but we’re all mortal…This piece has a feeling of looking backwards through an hourglass.” Nuit Blanche “‘Nuit Blanche’ basically means being up at night. I often have nights where I can’t sleep. So this piece has a very New York jazz element to it, because I played lounge piano for so many years at the Four Seasons hotel in Toronto. I’m definitely a bit of a lounge lizard, so I would sit there and improvise for hours and play for people. And a lot of celebrities would come through. I don’t smoke and I don’t smoke cigars, but it does remind me of a cigar-smelling song…” Through Oscar’s Eyes “I sometimes rely on my son Oscar to get me through my dark periods. And he has such an innocent, beautiful way of looking at life—very simple, very pure. The piece has a very Debussy-esque, impressionistic feel.” Le Temps Qui Passe “The title means ‘Time Passing’—it was another improvisation, and it made me feel like I was watching time through an hourglass. It has a very hypnotic character, with its ostinato figure repeating throughout. It’s very introspective.” Tu Me Manques “This piece, which means ‘I Miss You,’ is applicable to everybody in my life in a lot of ways—it could be family members, it could be a lover. Sometimes, out of the blue, you just miss someone and don’t realize how much you appreciate them. When I was writing this piece, I was thinking how grateful I was to have a specific person in my life.” Solace “Looking at my notebooks of this entire album process, ‘solace’ was the word that came up for a few of the pieces. This particular one, however, has a repetitive quality to it—playing a motif over and over on the piano soothes me and calms me down. So for me, this track was the right one to give the title ‘Solace’ to, even though every track is, in fact, a solace.” Ghosts “We all have ghosts in our lives—some of us more than others. The ghost could be things that keep on recurring in our lives, or it could just refer to our conscious. It could be a scary thing, or just someone you miss or somehow mistreated. There’s a haunting element to this particular piece and I would often listen to it on the ground staring at the ceiling—it gave me a different perspective. The harmonics of the piano here sound so luscious to me.” Burgundy “This piece reminds me of a great Burgundy wine. I have synaesthesia, so I’m big on colors—when I play a C major chord, for example, I see yellow. And I have one song on all of my piano albums with a colour name. And this was the year and the time of my life where I went from loving big red wines to preferring medium-body pinots and Burgundies. The music also reminds me of my Four Seasons days as a lounge pianist, sitting there, playing and taking music requests. It puts a big smile on my face.” Freddie’s Theme “I’m a huge Queen fan, and I loved the film Bohemian Rhapsody. Freddie Mercury was in love with Mary Austin, but because he was gay, he felt that he couldn’t give himself fully to her. Ultimately, he gave up his entire estate to Mary. I thought that was just a beautiful and tragic angle to his story. When the movie ended, I just went over to the piano and I played this very tender, simple melody that made me think of Freddie and how sad and frail life can be.” La Fille Aux Pouvoirs Magiques “When you meet somebody at specific times in your life, they have the ability to help you see things differently. I started the album with a piece called ‘Once Upon a Time’ and now end it with an ode to somebody who’s changed my way of thinking and just given me so much. Musically, this piece has a sense of cadence, of closure, if you will. Life has its ups and downs, but at the end of it, I’m an optimist more than I am a pessimist, and I still believe that life is more beautiful than it is dark.”

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