Below, you can read our interview with The Vignatis, and listen to their album Red, White & Blue: Gypsybilly Vol. 4. Check out our full music review of Red, White & Blue: Gypsybilly Vol. 4, HERE.
Great to be talking with The Vignatis! You’re both originally from very different parts of the world – was it music that brought you together, or something else?
Tracy: I think we have a two-fold answer to this question. I’ll take the first half. Yes, it was music but there’s a deeper meaning to it which I will let Fabrice answer. As primarily a Jazz singer, I joined a big band in Santa Monica and was in that band for about 9 years. I absolutely love Jazz and big band music thanks to my mom who was a singer in big bands and Jazz combos. I was singing Jazz standards right out of the womb. Anyway, we played together for over a year before I even looked at him. After a charity gig one evening, a group of us went for drinks at the Polo Lounge and we ended up being the last two standing. The rest is history.
Fabrice: The second part of this answer can be summarized in one word…karmic. We both practice Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism which consists of chanting the mantra, “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. I was chanting to meet my life partner through music and hopefully my future wife. When fellow Buddhist friends and I put together that big band, Tracy showed up to sing. That voice mesmerized me, so pretty, and there I was under a serious spell. When I say karmic in terms of Buddhism, I mean that Tracy and I, as we both believe, probably made a vow in past lives to meet again in this lifetime to be a loving couple and musical partners. When I discover that we were attracted to each other, both as singers, players and songwriters, I thought, this is it. Awesome, let’s roll! We are still rolling to this day.
You’re currently based in Los Angeles. Has living in one of the entertainment capitals of the world influenced your music in any way?
Tracy: Los Angeles is a cultural melting pot which also means an extensive variety of musicians influenced by different backgrounds. With Los Angeles being the entertainment capital of film/tv, that also means it is the land of the session musician. Most Los Angeles session musicians are highly skilled, schooled and have sight-reading skills at the level of Liszt piano concerti. We have been able to find top-shelf sidemen/sidewomen for any instrument, any style, at any time who can play the chart extremely quickly with no rehearsal and only a simple talk-through of the feel or vibe that we want. It really is a benefit in that regard.
Fabrice: Not directly, but indirectly. As Tracy said, Los Angeles is primarily known for Hollywood, the movie business, which is the main entertainment activity here. It is what drives this city and has made it known all over the world since the 1930s. If you are a film composer or session player, it is the perfect city. Of course, music is very present in Los Angeles due to its size and its history with bands like the Eagles, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Frank Zappa, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, No Doubt, N.W.A, Snoop, Kendrick Lamar, The Doors, Maroon 5, Ozomatli, etc. As you can see, very eclectic bands and artists have emerged from here each decade. One thing I know for sure is that it is the perfect city for diversity that you can’t escape. It’s part of Los Angeles culture, so it’s no surprise that our Gypsybilly music, a mix of genres, was born here carrying on the tradition. Note that the Grammys take place here that we attend annually, which is another showcase of diversity and a mix of genres. In summary, music of the 20th Century and world cultures have probably been the biggest influence not only on our music but in our lives.
You refer to your genre as Gypsybilly – a term you coined yourselves. Can you elaborate on what that means?
Fabrice: Let’s start by breaking down the word “Gypsybilly”. Contrary to what one may believe about the “Gypsy” community, mainly European, they are people symbolizing freedom, family, celebration of culture, music and dance, all around the globe, in spite of suffering oppression clearly exhibited in their music. “Billy” means fellow, friend or companion and is mainly an American term. Think about it. It’s a name mixing a bit of European and American cultures just like our duo. Both words represent people, usually rural and modest, and oftentimes are not very socially accepted by the masses. Both have roots-oriented authenticity, just like the origins of the four genres of music contained in Gypsybilly, which are Gypsy, Rockabilly, Country and Jazz. We created the Gypsybilly genre in 2008 with our first album release in 2009 after a couple of years of ethnomusicological research, trial and error, hard work. Several years ago at a Grammy member event, we were able to speak briefly with Quincy Jones, who answered our question of where he thought the future of music was headed. He said that music will be breaking new ground, breaking down barriers and genres will be crossing. That was all the confirmation we needed for our chosen path. We’ve combined our musical and humanistic talents together to create a new road for us. The world needs new pathways. We didn’t want to be hijacked by the idea of being told to follow trends, do what has already been done, or to be told how our art should be expressed. Conquering the less traveled road is noble. Here we are in 2020 with four albums gladly contributing a new link in the chain of musical genres.
Tracy: Gypsybilly is like an Instant Pot of French Gypsy Jazz, Rockabilly, Country and Jazz. It is a direct result of our melded backgrounds both culturally and musically. It’s a creation we have cultivated for the past 10 + years, unique in its harmonic choices, melodies, lyrics, instrumentation and arranging values. With 4 albums under our belts, I think we’ve reached a stride although it has evolved considerably even since Vol. 1 with regard to harmonic/melodic decisions, instrumentation, arrangement and lyrics. It will continue to evolve because we are both people who need constant movement and change, new ideas, etc. Whether one likes it or doesn’t, and I hope it’s the former, Gypsybilly is unique with our sonic stamp that is difficult to classify due to its eclectic nature. When you hear it, you know it’s The Vignatis. I mean, who else plays a pink clarinet and runs it through guitar effects?
Red, White, & Blue: Gypsybilly Vol. 4 is your fourth release as a duo. Has your music evolved in the time you’ve been working together?
Fabrice: Of course, it has. Our mottos are “Always Forward” and “Welcome the Unknown”. We met and started playing together in a big band of vocal jazz, segued into Gypsy Jazz, and our now main genre, Gypsybilly, with 4 albums all slightly different from each other. More recently, we are simultaneously working on our catalogue of over 130 songs in all types of styles due to our large musical diversity, versatility and sensibilities. Moving forward and embracing the unknown is a necessity for us as artists, which makes every obstacle or challenge a drill for the next musical adventure and/or album.
Tracy: Absolutely! We are both “workaholics” and are certainly reflective of Newton’s First Law of Motion. It takes an enormous amount of effort to relax which isn’t the greatest of things, trust me. Because of constant motion, the evolution of creating happens on its own so we go with it. In this naturally occurring process, we have become more experimental, tried to simplify things within the complexity, and have let go of any reservations. There is a clear differentiation between our four Gypsybilly albums. “Birth of the Gypsybilly” is more European and Jazz-influenced, “Birth of the Gypsybilly Vol. 2” is a bit more Rock sounding, “Let’s Hit the Road: Gypsybilly Vol. 3” has simpler harmonies and lyric content, and “Red, White & Blue: Gypsybilly Vol. 4” is an overall Americana theme. We experimented with Vols. 3 & 4 by adding beats on some songs which can be categorized as Electrobilly, similar to Electro-Swing but a 1950s vibe rather than that of the 1920s. We stretched even further on Vol. 4 by adding a rap section on “New Direction (feat. Total Bliss)”, and some horns and jazz organ on a couple of others to enhance yet not compromise the overall Gypsybilly sound. Evolution is the solution. New beginnings. Going forward is exciting and surprising. Who knows what Vol. 5 will sound like 😊
How long did “Red, White, & Blue: Gypsybilly Vol. 4” take to record?
Tracy: It’s not a clear-cut answer so I’ll try to explain. From paper to product, it took about 2 ½ years. We were on a songwriting binge and wrote 35+ songs so we chose some from that bunch. However, a few on this album we decided to write specifically for this album. In short, we wrote and recorded most of Vol. 3 and Vol. 4 in the same 2 ½ year span. Being on a roll is great. So, if I had to estimate, I would say that Vol. 4 took about 10 months of condensed time from choosing the songs, revising them, arrangements, recording the foundation of drums and upright bass, all of the overdubs, mixing and of course, mastering.
Fabrice: I think it took a bit longer than normal due to the fact that we wear the hats of artist, writer, arranger, musician, producer, and mastering engineer, all here at our modest studio so we have a lot to do in a team of 2. There are so many technical things to learn from getting more detailed with Logic Pro X, to my amp sims, IR, mic choices, etc. I have to tell you, it’s a lot of fun and definitely not boring, as we constantly switch from one hat to another. During this time, we were and still are recording songs for our catalogue in lots of different genres like Country, Punk, Pop, Blues, Rock, Latin, 1960s French Pop, Funk, etc. These are additional songs outside of our Gypsybilly genre that we had written through the years or are currently writing specifically for our catalogue, which we would like to see recorded and used by other artists and/or for library licensing. When we are busy with music, we have no notion of time. That is all the confirmation we need to know that this is what are both born to do.
What is your songwriting process like? Do you write together or separately?
Fabrice: We have a rule for us…no idea gets discarded in songwriting, whether it ends up as a Gypsybilly song for an album, or a song in a different style for our catalogue for licensing purposes, or for others to record. Every song that we write together or separately, once started gets finished and a demo is recorded. We aim for a catchy hook, a simple melody on either a simple or complicated chord progression, and hopefully, well-rounded songs both musically and sonically. In writing Gypsybilly songs, it usually comes naturally but still requires some discipline and self-reflection without omitting spontaneity. We always stay true to ourselves and the genre, and if possible, make sure that all four styles that comprise Gypsybilly are present either in harmony, scales, lyrics, arrangement, or sound. When a song ends up in the catalogue, we stick to the style we have chosen then the recording process is the same as for Gypsybilly. We write separately or together but with time we’ve learned to trust each other more and enjoy working on the song. Together it takes us to places we would never go on our own and that is the magic of collaboration.
Tracy: We get asked this pretty frequently and there really is no set method or process. When we decisively decide to write a song with no preconceived ideas, I sit at the piano, Fabrice grabs his guitar and one of us will come up with some chord progressions and build from there. If we have separate ideas, we implement the same process and bounce ideas back and forth. I have extremely vivid dreams (yes, at times nightmares, LOL), so I do get ideas from them and will share them so we can expand on the idea. We aim to write lyrics that are message-oriented to spark dialogue and/or self-reflection, even if that message is hidden. We consider ourselves storytellers or message tellers. The four genres in Gypsybilly help us deliver image-oriented lyrics as in Country music, Gypsy stories, poetic Jazz lyrics and French romantic lyrics. I must mention that the Voice Memo app on my iPhone is my BFF. I’m telling you, if you don’t capture it, you will forget it so my Voice Memo app is packed with song ideas to be completed. We ALWAYS complete songs with no idea discarded. Whether good or bad, happy or sad, it is a household rule and a cardinal sin if broken. Finish what you start!
Can you tell us about the first moment you picked up an instrument?
Tracy: When I was around 3 or 4 years old, I remember my parents bought a little vintage electric organ that sat on the floor. It was 2 octaves with 6 push buttons on the left-hand side for major chords. I was fascinated by it. I loved the sound and loved playing it. Thankfully, I wasn’t that kid that would bang on things so I actually made up little tunes or songs. Aside from singing before walking, I fell in love with instruments at that moment. It was pure magic! This later segued into the accordion in 2nd grade, then the piano in 3rd grade, then to the clarinet in 7th grade which I carried on through high school to become a career band nerd. I was even the drum majorette in the 9th grade. Yeah, that got me asked out a lot, LOL!
Fabrice: I picked up a guitar at age 8 after listening to music that my older brother was bringing back home, and the 1950s records of my dad. I wanted an electric guitar but my parents went for a classical with nylon strings probably for the noise factor and no amp needed. I remember that guitar especially the strings; it was pink packaging and the most popular classical strings in France from the Savarez Company. Who knew that years later I would become an Artist Endorser for Savarez using their strings on all 9 of my guitars to this day. How mystical! Anyway, my mom found a classical guitar teacher, Veronique, with whom I studied for 4 years. In between my classical lessons, I learned Blues and Rockabilly on my own by listening to my dad’s records. Yeah, on a classical guitar, LOL! Then my brother brought back Jimi Hendrix “Live at the Fillmore East” and a bootleg album with “Johnny B. Goode” on it. I was already a fan of Chuck Berry’s version so when I dropped the needle and heard Jimi’s version along with “Machine Gun”, I was blown away, needed a nap! That was it. The electric guitar was calling me. I helped my dad in his shop for some dough and bought myself a cheap, black Les Paul copy. I later became a huge fan of his playing too. Interestingly, that guitar looked similar to a Gretsch Duo Jet which was the guitar of another of my early idols, Cliff Gallup. I learned “Be Bop A Lula” and “Blue Jean Bop” and dug deeper into my Rockabilly guitar journey. I never looked back on the acoustic guitar until…I began playing Django Reinhardt’s music, a whole new ballgame.
Perhaps in some unspecified amount of time, your musical career explodes in the best of ways. What does that look like for you?
Fabrice: Very simple to answer as we are not in a shortage of vision. It would be mainly doing the same but on a worldly scale with more recording of Gypsybilly volumes, our catalogue we hope to sell, write for other artists, as that is a challenge. Since we are in Hollywood, writing and recording songs for high-budget movies would be a great addition. Touring as an opening act and/or a headliner with carefully designed shows is a given, which we already have a very clear visual vision for each song for any set because of the lyrics we write. Of course, we would never turn our back on grabbing a few Grammys and Oscars. All of this with two goals in mind…to make people happy, and to contribute to the betterment of society and the world.
Tracy: It looks awesome! We would be touring, writing, recording and releasing on a regular basis. I would see to it that we put into practice the vision we have for our live shows both visually and sonically. It would be great to collaborate with an IIR and CG team to create the green screen visions we have while implementing some live theatre aspects and some carnival and human-only circus elements with lots of color so that it is an experience, not just a concert. I have so many ideas of how I want things to look and sound from thematic tours, set design, wardrobe, and carefully choosing our team of management, agency, and the touring team with whom we travel. The chemistry has to be there. If it doesn’t feel good, it won’t be good. My hypersensitivity will filter out anyone who doesn’t fit, no problem. In addition, I see song placements in major studio/streaming films, network tv/streaming shows, and ad campaigns. Licensing is a great way to reach people and share what we do.
If it wasn’t for your music career now, what would you be doing?
Tracy: Lots of extracurricular things like culinary arts (vegetarian), martial arts, sign language, and probably further my education for a Ph.D. in music. Concerning career, I’ve been an animal rights advocate most of my life so it would definitely be working with and for the welfare of animals. I would probably become a naturopath healing from the inside out, focusing on nutrition, Chinese herbology, homeopathy, massage, acupuncture, water therapy, etc. Treat the root cause, not the symptom. I was a pre-vet biology major for a year and love science so it only makes sense. I am a sucker for anything with four legs and/or a tail 😊
Fabrice: That’s a very simple answer. A racecar driver. I love cars. My dad was a mechanic of European cars like Porsche, Alfa Romeo, and Volkswagen. I love speed, competition, the smell of burning rubber, gasoline and engine sounds, especially the V8 and V12. My dad took me to all kinds of races, Formulas 2 & 3, European Hill Climb, Monte-Carlo Rally, and car conventions. From ages 3-8 I was bicycling in my dad’s car shop getting into and underneath cars to watch him fix them and then helped him clean his greasy hands with soap and sand. I would go with him on test drives of the cars that he fixed and loved it. However, music was a stronger call and still remains.
Any shout-outs you wanna make?
Tracy: I would like to thank everyone who has sincerely supported us through the years in this journey we call life, music and the pursuit of our happiness. These people know who they are and truly want us to succeed. There are those who act like they do and really just want to see you fail. Sad, but true. Also, as an official Artist Endorser of two magnificent companies, I would like to thank Légère Reeds Ltd. for continuing to produce unparalleled woodwind reeds, who have saved me from myself with the European Cut Signature Bb Clarinet reed (that happens to be lipstick-friendly), and to my Theo Wanne family who created the best, life-changing mouthpiece on this big, beautiful planet! Thank you, Manhasset for making the best music stands and for my pink music stand/mic stand combo. James “Jroq” Norton, thank you for your mixing magic and continuous sound tips!
Fabrice: Yes, mainly to the companies that I endorse: Savarez/Argentine, an exceptional 250-year-old company from France. Their strings are phenomenal! Interesting fact…I use the acoustic Argentine strings that Django Reinhardt used to play on his Maccaferri Selmer. Cool, huh? I also use the Savarez Electric Hexagonal Explosion and Savarez Nickel Explosion strings which are outstanding! V-Picks and Zenfire picks rock!! I even have my own Zenfire metal Gypsybilly pick models V6, V8, and V12, each of different thickness, that I use for recording. I’d like to give kudos to some others: I use old Fenders amps and an acoustic AER amp. I recently have gotten into amp sims, S-Gear/Scuffham Amps, which is one of the best on the market for recording. Logic Pro X DAW and Apogee products are very reliable. Lastly guitars, my favorites being Gretsch (my three Gypsybilly checkered models customed by “yours truly”). Awesome guitars! Gretsch axes are so versatile which another idol of mine, Brian Setzer, has proven over and over again. As for Gypsy guitars, I love my Dell’Arte Latcho Drom, one of only 10 made in the world. Where would I be without these products?!
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