Interviews

Interview: Music Director STEVE FERLAZZO of the Soundcheck Live Project

steve ferlazzoWith the support of the MusiCares Foundation, the team behind Soundcheck Live is bringing together 68 of the brightest stars in the music world to deliver a stirring performance of “Let It Be” for a good cause. The performance will feature Avril Lavigne, Nuno Bettencourt, Orianthi, Phil X, Gary Cherone, and dUg Pinnick, as well as a long list of brilliant musicians, vocalists, and engineers who have performed and worked alongside the likes of Lady Gaga, Aretha Franklin, Ariana Grande, and many more. needs it most. Founded in 2016 by Avril Lavigne’s musical director, Steve Ferlazzo, Soundcheck Live is a monthly all-star jam featuring national/international recording artists, touring sideman, and local L.A. entertainers. Founded for musicians and music lovers alike, the concept kicked off as a way for well-known performers and up-and-coming stars to showcase their skills and network with other artists.  

When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered all live music venues in California, including Soundcheck live’s home venue, Lucky Strike Live in Hollywood, CA, Ferlazzo wanted to bring together these artists to be a part of something larger than themselves and give back to the community. He sought out the MusicCares Foundation for the benefit, as they had set up a relief fund specifically for musicians, engineers, producers, stagehands, and other industry professionals experiencing financial hardship. 


ANTIHERO: I usually begin all these interviews at the moment with asking people how they’re spending their time. Obviously, it’s different in your case because you’ve been extremely busy.

Steve Ferlazzo: Yeah, but I think that the good answer to that is that I have definitely been trying to stay busy prior to the whole lockdown thing. I’ve always just been used to going at a pace of 11, so when this thing first hit, it was a bit of a transition. 

But I jumped into this project very shortly after because, as you may or may not know, I was supposed to be leaving for Europe on March 10th. I was actually in rehearsals with Avril from March 1st until March 5th, which was a really weird time because all this stuff, it was already in the news and whatever. 

So yeah, that’s how I’ve been spending my time, is trying to stay as busy and as productive as I can, or else I think I’ll go crazy. If I hadn’t done this project, I would probably be a mess actually. So it turned out that, despite all of the time spent and hard work that went into it, it actually ended up being very therapeutic for me.

ANTIHERO: Living in the UK, I’m not familiar with Soundcheck Live. I’m just wondering if you could briefly explain its origins, purpose, and how it operates.

Steve Ferlazzo: Yeah, absolutely. So Soundcheck Live is, for lack of a better term, called a jam night. It’s a night where on any given show I’ll have between 40 to 60 to 70 performers. A lot of times I’ll come up with a theme for the night, choose all of the songs. I’ve got a very large database of musicians that I know, and it’s an invite-only thing. 

I’ll get in touch with a group of performers somewhere along the lines of eight to 10 of each different instrument, drums, bass, guitar, background vocals, keyboard, vocals, and all of that. The show takes place in Hollywood at a club called Lucky Strike Live right on Hollywood and Highland, which is a pretty well-known intersection here in Hollywood. 

The show runs from 9:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. The format is I have two local bands that are either making some waves or trying to break out, and I’ll have those two bands play, one at 9:00, one at 9:30. Then at 10:00 p.m. the Soundcheck Live and jam portion of the night starts. 

It’s broken down into three sets. Each set is about 45 minutes, and what I do in the second set is a little bit different from some of the other nights that are similar. That is, I have a guest curated set, where I’ll have either one or a couple notable performers. They basically have 40 minutes to an hour to do whatever they want. 

Most notable guest curators that I’ve had have been Nuno Bettencourt or Orianthi, Phil X, Robby Krieger, Nancy Wilson, Bill Ward from Black Sabbath, Richie Sambora, Howard Leese from Heart, Jackson Brown, Johnny Depp, and Joe Perry. 

 Yeah, I have a house band that generally opens and closes each set. Basically, my job is to basically produce the night. I came up with the set list. I decide who’s going to play with who. And because I know most, if not all of the performers, I strive to put them on songs that I think will either, A, showcase them and what they do.

Another little side benefit is there’s often a lot of performers who get pigeonholed for one kind of style. What I like to do is, as long as they’re down for it, I like to take them a bit out of their comfort zone, and show people what they’re capable of. 

Lastly, a large part of the night is the networking that goes on in the crowd. So because of the type of night that it is, not only are there a lot of performers on stage, but a large part of our crowd are musicians as well. It’s always been a home and safe place for them to be around other people in the same sort of business or whatever. They network and give back and it’s … it was a beautiful thing until COVID-19.

ANTIHERO: Moving on to the “Let it Be” video, I was going to ask how you choose the musicians. From what you’ve said, obviously, you already knew about most, if not them all, anyway.

Steve Ferlazzo: So, yeah, that’s a very good question, and the answer to that is I had a close personal bond with every single one of them. About probably 98% have performed that Soundcheck Live before, or I’ve been in a band with them or I’ve recorded with them. Or they’ve performed at Soundcheck Live in the past. 

While there is a certain amount of much more notable performers on it, like Avril, Nuno, Gary Cherone, Orianthi, Phil X and Dug Pinnick and Mike Mangini, it was very important for me to show the full spectrum. There are some players that people outside of L.A. won’t know. There’s a lot of “hired guns” who have all played with numerous people that you would know. 

And as the result, we’re all affected by  the COVID-19 pandemic. So, yeah, that was how I chose them, and I think the final tally was 65 musicians and seven engineers, and a video editor and myself.

ANTIHERO: Did the project ever threaten to overwhelm you with its sheer vastness, or was it something that you found quite easy but a challenge? 

Steve Ferlazzo: Okay, so there were challenges to it, but this type of thing is something, even from the live show, is something that I’m actually very accustomed to. The challenge was that once I had asked all these people and asked them to send in their tracks, I ended up with a total of 293 tracks. 

So the real challenge, Mark, was to arrange it and to have a cohesive blend through the entire song. Now, what I did was I actually took the song, and I broke the entire song into blocks of four bars. So every four bars there’s a new set of performers on that. 

So one of the main challenges from a production standpoint was drums. I was fortunate in that all of the drummers that I asked had some sort of home studio that allowed them to multi-track their drums. So probably the hardest part of the audio portion and mixing the single was to get all these different drummers and their drum sounds to still sound cohesive from part to part, which the mix engineer that I used … a guy named Paul Hager, who is absolutely incredible … did just an amazing job with that. 

So, the challenges were to figure out where I was going to have all of the vocalists come in and out, background vocals, choosing which performers were a good combination playing together. But the overall audio part, it wasn’t challenging but it provided some curious ways to try and make it all fit together. The big challenge was the video.

ANTIHERO: How long did the whole process take then from inception to you finally coming around, saying that it is done?

Steve Ferlazzo: Seven damn weeks. 

ANTIHERO: How did you assign? You talked about it a little bit there. How did you assign who did what part? Obviously, for example, Nuno is well known for his guitar playing, but I mean, it was surprising to me as a long-term Extreme fan, actually how impressive he is as a vocalist as well.

Steve Ferlazzo: Yeah. I’m not sure if you were aware, but I played in a band with Nuno for six years. It started out as a band called Population One, and then eventually, due to trademark issues, the name of the band was changed to Drama Gods, and we put out a full length and an EP. In this band, Nuno was the lead singer, as well as the guitarist. 

So, I had known Nuno. I mean, I’ve known him and all of the Extreme guys, going all the way back from Boston prior to them even being signed. I had known about Nuno’s abilities on vocals. When I sent him the track, he really felt the strong personal connection to it, which is why, on the whole, as you watch the video, once he comes in with his guitar solo, he’s in for a better part of the song. In addition to the fact that we’ve also been close friends for many, many years, and he’s just incredible, and his contribution was amazing. 

I originally wasn’t going to use some of his bits, but I just couldn’t help it because his verse was just so emotional. Yeah, so that was the answer to the Nuno thing. So in terms of, yes, there’s a lot of people who may only know him from Extreme, and of course, in that band dynamic Gary is the lead singer.

ANTIHERO: Just wondering then, is this video a one-off, or is it in the first step in a longer-term strategy?

Steve Ferlazzo: Well, it’s definitely there, is part of a longer-term strategy with regards to the brand and Soundcheck Live itself, especially because the way that the brand came about was as a live unrehearsed jam kind of thing, and that was extremely special. 

When I started on the project in March, that March would have marked our four year anniversary. It’s something that, for me, has been a labour of love since the very beginning. Running that night was a natural fit for my talent as an MD for Avril and a bunch of other projects, and as a producer as well. 

I’ve just always been able to navigate large groups of people and larger-scale type projects. So when I started the project, the primary goal, and the reason why I started it in the first place, was because A, it was a lot to do with the charity. 

The charity is the music here, is .org relief fund, which is a fund that was specifically set up for musicians, engineers, stagehands. It was a fund that offered financial assistance specifically to people in our spectrum of the business. 

And once Avril had made the announcement that the tour got canceled… This was three months of straight touring where even just as a job point of view, this was a certain amount of income that I had been anticipating for well over six months. Then all of a sudden it was just gone. 

Especially in the first couple of weeks of March, nobody knew what was going to happen, where things were going to be going. So I found out about this charity, I applied for it early on, and I was accepted for it. I got assistance for them, which helped pay my rent. 

I was like, okay, so I’m here at home. I can’t do anything else. I’ve just got some assistance. I want to find some way to give back, okay. So that was the first reason. It just started as simply as I want to give something back to them, and I currently have the time to do it. 

Now, right when I had started to conceptualize the project, a day after I learned that the club that hosts the Soundcheck Live shows, they were forced to shut down, or rather at that time because they served food, they were allowed to have takeout, but they certainly couldn’t have concerts. 

So once I realized that that’s when things started to take shape, that I knew that I wanted to do this project and I wanted all of the proceeds to go to that charity. But at the same time, I wanted to find a way to bring all of these performers who had been a part of Soundcheck Live as a way of still bringing that community together. 

So having said and having done all that, and we’ve done some good numbers in terms of the views of the video, the response to it has been overwhelmingly positive. Right now, the next step, while we’re still on lockdown and no shows going on, the next step is a virtual Soundcheck Live stream. 

So what I’m going to do is mirror the format of what my live show was, but I’m going to reach out to these musicians and have them start to put together a song or two with some other performers. And do the whole Brady Bunch video type thing or whatever, and still, use my host that I used for the show and present that in a live stream format.

ANTIHERO: How does that tie in then with the fundraising efforts? Is that something that fans will be able to go on and maybe buy a ticket online, or how is that going to work?

Steve Ferlazzo: Okay, so what we set up with the Let It Be project is we’ve created a centralised hub for donations. At some point you’ll put some link, but it’s basically www.charitystars.com/soundchecklive. All of the proceeds, as far as donations, any audio streams or audio downloads from the single all go directly to that fund. 

Then once I do this live stream, then we’ll also, we’ll continue to have that link for anyone that’s in a position to donate. So, while there’s just no … I mean, I don’t want or need to make money off of this. I’d much rather try and help people that I feel a certain kinship to, all of the performers that have been a part of it. 

One of the cool things about the virtual Soundcheck Live stream is that now I’m no longer tied down to only being able to have performers from the Hollywood and Los Angeles areas. Now I can have a singer in London, a bass player in Germany, a drummer in France. It’s an interesting thing because now, because of what’s going on, there’s no real borders in terms of doing something like this. So yeah.

ANTIHERO: Has the reaction and demand created by the video surprised you at all? I’m sure you couldn’t have anticipated that it would have been so widely received and proved as popular?

Steve Ferlazzo: Yeah. You start these things with the best of intentions, and it’s kind of like having a baby or whatever, and then it gets born and it goes out in the world. And once it does, just never know what’s really going to happen. Of course, my hope was always that, no matter what, I wanted to achieve two things. 

I wanted to put either a smile on somebody’s face that was watching it, maybe some sort of tear of joy, seeing all of these people together. The song, to me, is a song of hope. Then, of course, I wanted to be able to help some of my fellow musicians out by getting donations for this fund so that they can continue doing the good work. 

We launched it last Tuesday as a premiered live stream, and the views and all that just went crazy. Now, it didn’t go to five million views in five days or whatever, but I think we should probably hit a hundred thousand probably by tonight. 

What was really encouraging are the comments. As I read through the comments, I just see … and I’ve gotten emails and texts … how it positively impacted people. I mean, not that you should do this, but when I look at the “likes” versus “dislikes”, I think right now the video is at 3.6,000 likes and only 19 dislikes, which is crazy. 

I mean, I definitely expect to see … The problem was that … not a problem, but I had such a diverse range of performers. There are people who know Avril and not one other single person in the video. There are people who know Mike Mangini from Dream Theater, and that is it . 

That was also intentional where I wanted a broad spectrum so that bands or people who know and love a certain performer that’s in the video is not the same genre or the same fan as the other 60. Now having said that, what can certainly happen is there’s tonnes of haters out there, right?

ANTIHERO: Yeah, sure. I can certainly relate to that.

Steve Ferlazzo: There’s somebody who loves Kings X, but they’re like, “What’s this pop girl here for” or whatever? And surprisingly, I really haven’t got that. I think that, no matter what genre, or no matter who the performer was, I think that, on the whole, people watched this and looked at the video and the song and the performers as a whole. And just saw all of these different people coming together for a common purpose, a common goal, and really wanting to help and just be involved in this project. 

So, in those regards, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve gotten a number of people wanting to be involved in the next one. So it leaves me wondering if this might end up being some sort of series of projects. The only thing that I would speak to as far as that is that this really was a huge one. 

You’re dealing with a lot of personalities, right? Basically, every single performer sent in an entire track, them singing or playing from top until bottom. So going back to the organisational aspect, that was a bit daunting, as I touched on, about trying to make it all work. It really did take an enormous amount of time. 

For the number of performers, the video also took a lot of time and a lot of planning as well to make sure that everybody was seen and heard. because I changed players out each four bars, it was important that when their part came up, that they got seen in the video and all that. But I couldn’t be happier with the response, so it’s been great.

ANTIHERO: Musician or producer, which job do you find more satisfying, or do you see yourself just as both?

Steve Ferlazzo: It’s a good question, and it kind of is both for a couple of reasons. I mean, I’ve been a musician, whatever, longer than I’ve been a producer, but the producing is very similar to being a musical director and an organiser. I’ve always found that I’ve had a balance between those two worlds, the creative aspects as well as the organisational aspects. 

My first love is playing and performing. So there certainly is that, and I love touring. I’m hopeful that we are able to move on from this sooner than later, but not until the world is ready. I do know at this time that Avril has actually already announced some rescheduled dates for early 2021. Now, will the world be ready then? I don’t know. But I definitely want to say that I’m cautiously optimistic because I really want to get back out there. 

I’ve done a lot of touring over many years, and I have people that I consider family all over the world. Touring, it offers you an opportunity to entertain and to connect with people. It’s kind of like going on a vacation, but somebody else is paying for it, and I get to have fun every night.

ANTIHERO: Just a final one, are you handling all the press for this yourself? Or any of the artists, would they potentially be available to discuss maybe their experience and their role, and how this all came together?

Steve Ferlazzo: Yes. So yes, there are other performers that were involved in it that would be open to it. I just ask, as the organizer of the whole thing, I just thought it was best that I first speak to you regarding it.

Because a lot of these performers, all that they knew was they sent in a vocal track or an instrumental track and then a video. A lot of them had no idea who else was even going to be on the track. So as far as any other potential people to talk to about this, what I would say is to either send me or Lisa a list of people that you might want to talk with. Then I can pass those on to either their management or them individually, depending on the person. 

Right now, just as an example, Avril most likely won’t be available for it. This is actually her third charity project. She’s actually still promoting her Warriors campaign, so it was interesting … Just a quick note is that I actually didn’t ask her. I had just told her about the project, and then she asked if I wanted her to contribute. And I said, “Well, I wasn’t going to ask, but if you want to contribute, absolutely.”

But a lot of the other performers, like, unfortunately, Dug Pinnick, I don’t know if you saw his socials, but his mom just passed away. 

I’ll first check the emails, and I will absolutely, whoever was on your list, I will get the request to them, and see where they might want to, yeah, engage in that.

ANTIHERO: That’s great, Steve. That’s brilliant. Thank you very much for chatting to me, and great to get some detail about this. Thanks again. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Steve Ferlazzo: All right, man, it was a pleasure. Take care, and I will pass on any of those requests to those parties, all right?

ANTIHERO: Brilliant. Thank you very much. 


 

Fundraising efforts for donations as well as auction items by some of the more notable performers will be hosted through www.charitystars.com.

 

'Let It Be' Performer Credits

LET IT BE PERFORMER CREDITS

DRUMS:

GLEN SOBEL – Alice Cooper, Hollywood Vampires, Richie Sambora

MIKE MANGINI – Dream Theater, Extreme, Solo Artist

KEVIN “KFigg” FIGUEIREDO – Extreme, Dramagods

CHAD WRIGHT – Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, The Jacksons

CHRIS REEVE – Avril Lavigne, Tom Morello, Filter

MIKE BENNETT – Richie Kotzen, Hilary Duff, Steve Stevens

RANDY COOKE – Smash Mouth, Gone West, Dave Stewart

CHRISTIAN HOGAN – RZA, Rose’s Pawn Shop, Faulkner

 

DreamHost

PERCUSSION:

RODNEY HOWARD – Avril Lavigne, Gavin Degraw, Regina Spektor

RYAN BROWN – Dweezil Zappa

 

BASS:

dUg PINNICK – King’s X, KXM

STU HAMM – Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Caifanes

ASHLEY REEVE – Cher, Filter, Adam Lambert

MARTY O’BRIEN – Lita Ford, Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion

JERRY JEMMOTT – King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King

DEREK FRANK – Shania Twain, Gwen Stefani

JOE PESSIA – Steelheart, Dramagods, Tantric

JENNIFER JO OBERLE – Five For Fighting, Vertical Horizon, Air Supply

 

KEYS:

STEVE FERLAZZO – Avril Lavigne, Soundcheck Live, Dramagods

BRIAN LONDON – Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Rihanna

MICHAEL BLUESTEIN – Foreigner, Boz Scaggs

JAMES KING – Fitz and the Tantrums, Jeff Goldblum

KOREL TUNADOR – Rob Thomas, Katy Perry, Goo Goo Dolls

MIKE MANGAN – Big Organ Trio, Glenn Hughes

SVEN MARTIN – Jonathan Davis, t.A.T.u., Liz Phair

DAVE KERZNER –  In Continuum, Sound of Contact

ROBBIE GENETT – Fuel, Everclear, Nick Lachey

ALEXANDER BURKE – Billy Ray Cyrus, Ben Lee, Jill Sobuel 

GUITARS:

NUNO BETTENCOURT – Extreme, Generation Axe, Rihanna

PHIL X – Phil X, Phil X & The Drills, Bon Jovi

ORIANTHI – Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper, Solo Artist

STEVE FEKETE – America, Gwen Stefani, Avril Lavigne

JOE AUGELLO – Robin Thicke, Jennifer Hudson, Backstreet Boys

JOEY SYKES – The Babys, Honey River, Coward

FERNANDO PERDOMO – Echo In The Canyon, The Dirty Diamond, Dave Kerzner 

BARRY POINTER – Hollywood Roses, Hillbilly Herald

LUIS GIL BETTENCOURT – Maria Bettencourt

DAVID IMMERMAN – Avril Lavigne, Goldfinger, Juliet Simms

AUGUST ZADRA – Dennis DeYoung & the Music of Styx, Waiting for Monday

DAN ELLIS – Avril Lavigne, Glassjaw, Fender Play

DEVIN BRONSON – Avril Lavigne, Sebastian Bach, David Cook 

 

BACKGROUND VOCALS:

ANNETTE MARIE FRANK – Axs TV World’s Greatest tribute bands, Soundcheck Live

LISA MARGAROLI –  Lou Gramm, Linda Perry, Seal 

ANGELA MICHAEL – Rod Stewart, Disney’s Kim Possible TV Show, Get Him To The Greek

FELICE HERNANDEZ – Oingo Boingo Former Members, Hilary Duff, Pitch Perfect 2

HOLLY BISAHA – The Babys, Stevie Wonder, Bang Tango

MARIA BETTENCOURT – Solo Artist

MARK LENNON – Venice, Roger Waters

 

STRINGS:

ELIZA JAMES – Burt Bacharach, Paul Anka, Quartet 405

DANICA PINNER – Avril Lavigne, Jonas Brothers, deadmau5

REBECCA SCHLAPPICH-CHARLES – Mariachi El Bronx, Mariachi Divas, Quartet405

RACHEL GRACE – Ariana Grande, Foo Fighters, Rhye

GINNY LUKE – Britney Spears, Shawn Mendes, Meat Loaf

KINGA BACIK – Eminem, Camilla Cabello, Foo Fighters

 

HORNS:

JON MANNESS – The Red Line Horns, Gloria Trevi, Alejandra Guzmán

ALEXANDER MATHIAS – Amy Winehouse, Gloria Trevi

 

VOCALISTS:

AVRIL LAVIGNE

NUNO BETTENCOURT – Extreme, Generation Axe, Rihanna

GARY CHERONE – Extreme, Hurtsmile

CARL RESTIVO – Tom Morello, Perry Farrell’s Satellite Party, Rihanna

JOHN BISAHA – The Babys, Raiding the Rock Vault, BISAHA

GABRIELA – Solo Artist

TOMMY DEMPSEY – Solo Artist

LEAH MARTIN-BROWN – Evol Walks

 

ENGINEERS:

MATTHEW KING ROSS, Audio Engineer: Eliza James -Violin

ADAM BARTOW – Audio Engineer: Tommy Dempsey – Vocals

 

MIXED BY:

PAUL HAGER

 

MASTERING BY:

MAOR APPLEBAUM at Maor Applebaum Mastering

(Yes, Faith No More, Meatloaf)

 

VIDEO EDITOR:

MIKE SAVAGE

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Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.

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