Urs, your new album “Breakfast In Paris” is a sophisticated blend of funk, jazz and West Coast Pop. Tell us about your intention for the new album. I read that fun was a major factor.
First of all, thank you for your nice words on my new album. Well, I am almost 49 now and I thought, if I’d ever produce another solo-album, I’d like to get away from my “regular” life as a record producer, mainly working on “top 40” material that needs to be refreshed every three months, just to remain current. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of the music that’s out there today, but once in a while it’s just nice to escape and revisit some of the stuff I grew up with, music that actually made me who I am as a musician today. And yes, “fun” was definitely written at the studio door while making this album!
You dedicated your new album to your West Coast Pop heroes of the 80s and 90s. Which artists inspired you for this album?
Believe me Thomas, I could have recorded a “triple album” in order to pay tribute to all the musicians, songwriters and producers that inspired me over that period of time, but I had to make choices to fit it in an eleven song context. And not only people from the West Coast, players and producers like George Duke had a leading role in my musical upbringing. No West Coast album without the help of Jay Graydon, Jay’s been a dear friend for many years and such an inspiration, as in his work ethic, songwriting and playing. I wrote a song called “Love Is All We Have”, inspired by Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, who definitely left a musical mark in my work as a songwriter.
You dedicated “Dear George” to keyboard legend George Duke. How important was George Duke’s music for your musical development?
George Duke and Jeff Lorber have been very instrumental in my playing as a keyboarder. George also influenced me greatly with his songwriting. I’ve met George just very briefly over e-mail and once in person at Westlake Studios in L.A., although I’ve never had the chance to work with him. His early death in August 2013 was a devastating news for me. It felt good to dedicate a song to him.
You collaborate on “Breakfast In Paris” with several artists like your label mate Thierry Condor, Claudio Cervino and Dhenibe Romea. Tell us about the recording process and the collaborations.
Thierry and I go way back to the mid 90’s. We’re close friends and he sang on almost every solo-album I’ve ever done. I just love working with him apart from his incredible talent as a vocalist and musician. Claudio Cervino is my brother – we go back even further to the late 80s. Claudio has played on almost everything I’ve ever produced. His sense of sound and song-ship is priceless and he always makes me sound like a better producer. When I was in the process of getting my songs together for “Breakfast In Paris” I came across a facebook video that someone posted of a young lady singing acapella. Her name is Dhenibe Romea. When you’re exposed to real talent, you’ll never have to re-ensure its greatness. The moment I’ve heard Dhenibe sing I knew that she’s the real deal. So I’ve contacted her and asked her to meet for coffee – just to make sure she’s actually real! I told her about my new solo-project and asked her if she was interested in coming to the studio one afternoon to audition a song I was planning to record for years. A beautiful song written by Christian artist Laura Story called “Grace”. Dhenibe literally heard the song for the first time and within 30 minutes she put down a guide-vocal while holding her cell phone in her left hand reading the lyric – a guide vocal that we ended up using for a major part on the final production.
Urs, you wrote and co-wrote with Bruno Amatruda most of the songs on the new album. With “Back To Life” we find a song specially written for this album by Jay Graydon & Don Breithaupt (Monkey House) on “Breakfast In Paris”. How did this contribution come about?
Bruno Amatruda is probably the most talented musician (guitar player) and composer I’ve ever met. We actually met at a local music store in Zurich back in 1984. I was 15 years old. I’m sure Bruno would have fun stories to tell… I’m very particular when it comes to co-writing music, I actually don’t like it and I rarely do it – only if i really have to! But with Bruno it’s the perfect example to the exception. We write so seamlessly together. We can literally walk into a room grab an instrument, a pen and within 20 minutes we’ve got a chorus or a verse or some sort of groove or bassline to work with. We almost never fail in doing so. Before I’ve started working on “Breakfast In Paris” I went through a phase of being “writing burned”. I was just tired from my constant writing obligations over the past 10 years working exclusively for Sony Music publishing ATV. So Bruno’s help was really the key-element of completing this album. One day Jay Graydon sent me a demo of the song “Bring Me Back To Life” he had written with Don Breithaupt with a note that this cut could be a song for my new album. How right he was! It felt like it was written for Dhenibe to sing – the perfect match!
Your career seems to be a biography of a music wunderkind. You started playing piano at the age of three, with 12 you were already touring with a Big Band, with 15 you began to write pop songs and started producing. Where did this enthusiasm for music come from, was the talent in your family?
My family had a tremendous impact on me musically. Although both of my parents never made music professionally, but they’re both very musical in their own rights. My brother Chris is an incredible Jazz Piano player and composer. I’ve learned a lot through him and many of my early encounters with Pop music was through my brother. But the most important part in any long term development of talent is the support of the people around you growing up and my entire family did an unbelievable job.
You have been working as a producer and arranger for over 20 years with a lot of Swiss artists like DJ Bobo, Nubya or Carmen Fenk. What attracts you to work with such diverse artists and styles – from Eurodance to Pop?
“Music is music” and one key obligation as a producer is to remain open to all kind of different genres and styles. I truly find love and passion in almost any genre of music and if I get the chance to work on a variety of styles throughout the year, I’m more than happy to. I’ve mixed songs from “Kenny G” to “Snoop Dogg” and you’d be surprised what you’d find in my private listening playlist – from Green Day to T-Pain.
Working in the US has always been a high priority for you. The names and number of artists you have worked with so far is impressive, to name a few: Jeff Lorber, Dave Koz and Michael Landau. How is working process in the USA different from Europe?
Well, the recording process is really the same here in Europe or in the US. What I found is somewhat different is the performing and playing attitude. In the US you can generally feel more capacity of translating passion to the instrument and make it “speak” in a more profound way then you would normally find in Europe, but honestly – that has changed a lot over the last decade because the musician ship in Europe is just incredible!
Will there be a Europe tour to the new album?
Unfortunately not Thomas. I was never a tour person. I only travel to make records.
Two last question, Urs: You called your new album “Breakfast In Paris”, do you personally prefer to have breakfast in L.A. or Paris? And what are your perfect (musical) breakfast ingredients?
Ha, ha… honestly, I prefer breakfast in L.A. just because they make the better coffee these days. But for the mood and the romance of the City I’d prefer Paris of course. As far as “musical breakfast ingredients” my ideal breakfast would be “Eggs Benedict” with a nice large Cappuccino and an Oscar Peterson trio album playing.
Photo: NiRo Music
This interview was first published on June 14, 2018.