If you watch primetime television, you know Tony Lucca. The former Micky Mouse Clubber gained a second wave of fame in 2012 as a contestant and third place winner on NBC’s The Voice. Not to mention, his songs have been featured on shows such as Friday Night Lights, Felicity, Brothers & Sisters, and even appeared in a commercial for 901 Silver Tequila directed by Justin Timberlake. But Lucca isn’t just an “As Seen On TV” musician. He has been working away at his latest EP, the excellent With The Whole World Watching, out July 16. We asked him a few questions about his latest venture, the first song he ever wrote, his dream co-write and more.
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Tell us a bit about With The Whole World Watching.
The new EP is a handful of songs I wrote in the wake of having been a contestant on The Voice. I knew that this was going to have to be a “bigger”, more mainstream record than my previous records so it kind of marks a new chapter in my career as a songwriter.
How would you compare it to your last record?
My last original studio release was more reserved, more laid back. I was coming to terms with a few things like being a newlywed, a new parent, spending some time with sobriety. It was a quieter time for me and (my last release) Rendezvous With The Angels reflects that, I think. This record is me enjoying a new, fairly larger spotlight and embracing the more commercial side of things.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon will always be the standard bearers for me. Though recently while strumming through a new idea, I’ll ask myself, “what would Jeff Tweedy say?” That tends to push me a bit further than I might have gone otherwise.
When did you start writing songs? Were they good right away, or did that come later?
I started way early. They were okay but nothing I would play for anyone now. I didn’t reach what I would consider a timeless caliber until well into adulthood. I had a few songs in my early 20s that I think still hold up but unfortunately, I wasn’t really steeped in the right stuff until much later on and I’d say my songs were reflective of that.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
I think it was called “Friends.” I can’t honestly recall much but I’m pretty sure it had a D major 7 in it. I’m still a sucker for a well-placed major 7. I do remember that as excited as I was afterwards, a relative of mine said, “Now that’s good but it doesn’t end there. You gotta keep ’em coming.” It felt harsh at the time but I quickly realized that inspiration clearly comes in waves and that you need to harness the flow when it arrives.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
It was called “Drop Of Sunshine.” It’s about the seemingly endless winter we had this past year. Well, it started out that way then I realized it was a metaphor for a relationship gone cold and the need for some semblance of hope. It’s usually the second verse that helps me figure out what the hell it is I’m talking about. I’m a big fan of second verses.
How do you go about writing songs?
I used to start with the guitar then find melodies and lyrics to match. Then I realized that can be limiting. Once I started writing lyrics first I realized how much easier it is to come up with a set of changes to fit the story than vice versa. I still make them happen both ways and at the end of the day, it really just takes making the effort as often as possible. The more you write, the more you write.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
I used to try to be real lofty and esoteric so people would think I was smart or that they might realize how “well-read” I was becoming. You quickly learn that that doesn’t necessarily appeal to too many people and in the end, you want as many people to dig your music as possible. Now I try to incorporate details, nouns, specifics. I’ve learned that the more specific you get, the more universal the appeal. Funny lesson, that one.
What percentage of songs that you start do you finish?
Great question. I’d say somewhere between 75-80%? It’s usually the co-writes that go unfinished. I rarely will go back to something I started with someone else and try to finish it alone.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Travel. People watching. Again, absorbing the specifics of a small town in the deep south can help you tell a better story to an audience in the northwest. Helping people relate, or better yet, imagine what it is your explaining. It really is such a cool art form.
What’s a song on your With The Whole World Watching that you’re particularly proud of?
There’s a song called “Hear Ya Say” that sort of speaks to my story of having been at this awhile now, having somehow “overcome” the plight of the indie artist or at least embraced it and celebrated it. It’s got a bit of a gospel chorus and a really great, familiar grove that forces you to move to it, to feel it, all of it. It’s a fun one for sure.
What’s a lyric or verse from the EP that you’re a fan of?
“When your heart breaks completely / when you give it your all / when the gravity hits you / but you just can’t fall / no you just can’t fall…”
That’s the bridge to a song called “Wasted.” Again, it’s about coming to terms with a relationship that’s clearly ending. And it’s funny because I’m currently married and happily so. (6 years this month!) However, I often recall relationships that I went through and live vicariously through myself or the other person or better yet, the version of me that I failed to be in real time. Sounds crazy but it makes for some interesting introspection.
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
Easier. It’s like a muscle. It only gets stronger. At the same time, if you’re constantly writing from your own narrative, you can certainly burn out or worse grow repetitive. It’s important to try on other peoples’ shoes sometimes.
Are there any words you love or hate?
Kind of depends on how they’re sung. I’m a big fan of words for the most part.
The most annoying thing about songwriting is….
Feeling like it’s all already been said before.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
I co-wrote a song called “Pretty Things” with my friend Joe Firstman. It’s a great riff to play but the sentiment, the storytelling that Joe tapped into initially, really paints a painfully familiar picture for people. It’s a great break-up classic. And oddly enough it’s men who often feel compelled to tell me how much the song means to them. I guess it’s helped a lot of dudes “through a tough time.”
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
I used to journal extensively. Then blogging came along and now I do what I can to stay consistent with that. Blogging’s funny because it isn’t entirely as personal as a journal but you still benefit from as much honesty as possible. I guess I’m always curious about who my audience is when I blog.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
George Harrison. He wrote most of my favorite Beatles songs.
What do you consider to be the perfect song?
“I’ll Follow The Sun” by the Beatles. It’s got like four verses, five choruses, two bridges and a guitar solo. All under 2:30. Unreal.
What was the best thing you took from being on the Voice? Is there anything you would have done differently?
I learned the importance of making strong choices. To that point, I think things went as well as they did due to the choices that I made while there. I might have held my tongue a bit more while talking to the press because you quickly learn the various angles of perception and that you are merely there for others’ entertainment, win or lose.