Joe Melillo Interview
SBS: Thanks so much for taking some time to talk with us Joe! You’ve got one incredibly informative website my friend…believe me – I could have done an interview easily double this size with the amount of information I was able to find out about you! That’s not only awesome for me Joe – that’s awesome for your fans as well dude; I really appreciate it when an artist has taken the time you have here to explain your side of the entire story and let us in on the real YOU. Very cool in my opinion. Anyhow…for the moment…let’s assume I know a little about you from what I read…and that of course you still know much, much more about you than I do. Or anyone else out there for that matter! Take a second or two at the beginning…let’s assume the rest of the people out there haven’t done the research I’ve done and don’t know you at all yet…what would you say the music of Joe Melillio is all about and how would you describe the defining characteristics and qualities of what makes it YOUR sound separate from any others out there?
Joe: I’ve been described as someone who feels like a lifelong friend, even when you just meet me. I think it’s the same thing with my music. I’m not afraid at all to expose my most vulnerable sides in order to try to communicate what other people might be feeling. I’ve lived enough life for several people in my short 46 years, and I want people to see the things I’ve seen and experience the things I’ve experienced, and understand how those experiences make ME feel, but hopefully they also feel things on their own that may or may not match what I feel!
SBS: Taking a quick look at your main page, you can see clearly that you’ve got a lot of love for many facets of the entertainment industry. From acting to singing, performing to writing – you’re a part of it all! I would think that it would almost be impossible to balance all this out, and incorporate so many things, that I’d get enough time to spend on the ‘main’ part that I really love and want to do for the rest of my life. Kind of like how I’m consistently here writing another article just outside of a music-studio with full recording capabilities all day…I’d rather be in there quite often; but as we all know – life can jump in the way quite quickly sometimes…and instead of where we’d want to be, we end up somewhere else out of obligation, self-motivation or a sense of responsibility. So…truthfully – how do YOU find the balance between all these things you do? Because let’s face it – there’s SO MANY more things that you’re doing as well in addition to what’s listed…so either you’re incredibly organized Joe…or there is in fact like, maybe TWO-yous? How do you find the time to do it all and how do you make sure that the focus gets applied to the right place? What’s the goal?
Joe: I honestly haven’t mastered it yet!! In a way, there are two mes: the corporate self-made millionaire with the fully paid home, and the artist/entertainer. However, the two mes intersect a lot. I’ve been involved with my office Holiday Choir since before I first officially joined the company, and now I manage it! So my talents aren’t really a secret to my coworkers. Not everyone at work is aware of the extent to which I practice my chosen arts, though. If they did, they’d be very concerned about the lack of sleep I get!! In fact, that’s really the only secret to getting everything done that I need to do in my life: the willpower to not sleep very much!!
SBS: What do you feel like are the most important things to include in a song when you’re writing? Aside of course from the obvious answer of music and words…I’m talking about the nitty AND the gritty Joe! What does a song need to have included for it to make the grade and end up on one of your albums or as an official release of some-sort? What separates the good-ones from the ones that may end up on the cutting-room floor and how easy does it become for you to make that call once you’re listening to all the songs that are candidates for a potential album?
Joe: There’s the artistic answer and the practical answer. Let me start with the practical, because that’s not as interesting. I don’t have a band, and don’t have the time, nor do I want to spend the funds, to hire studio musicians to learn my songs and play on my recordings. So the songs that make it on to an album need to either be acoustic in nature, where I can hire my vocal coach, the amazing Janie Barnett, to play a track for me, or sound good when I compose them on Band-In-A-Box, a great piece of software. Now the artistic side comes in as well. If I like how a song comes out, I’ll make the effort to create the track so I can perform and eventually record it. During the recent Jonas blizzard we experienced in the Northeast US, I took the time to write a song called, oddly enough, Snowbound! I like the way it came out, I like the story behind it, so I’m hoping people will like it when I eventually perform it! So I composed a track on Band-In-A-Box, and we’ll see if people like it at my next original gig in March!
SBS: And of course…whatever the situation calls for would demand a switch in gears for you. You write for both adults, and for children, understandably, they’d have a different approach! But from what I can see…you’re experiencing quite a bit of success when it comes to the character of Parker The Platypus…if I’m getting this right you just released the third book? So…I mean…THIRD book? That’s HUGE dude – that’s tremendously exciting I would think…a real indication that it’s catching on and that the series itself might take off in a major way correct? Tell us about how Parker came to be and what motivated you to take your music/writing in this direction.
Joe: I always like to say that Parker The Platypus was a song that existed since the beginning of time, and chose me to give it form! I literally woke up one morning thinking, for no reason, about how the platypus is an animal that doesn’t fit well into the animal kingdom. Why hasn’t anyone written something to use the platypus to illustrate the troubles of fitting in to children who might be experiencing that? So I wrote it that day, and it pretty much wrote itself! I KNEW I had to record this right away, and it HAD to become a children’s book!!
What shocked me is that I put the song up on MySpace after I recorded it (yes it was that long ago), and all my adult drinking buddies fell in love with it!! That was all the inspiration I needed to look to publish Parker as a children’s book!!
The problem I experienced is that the literary industry is possibly even more dishonest than the music industry!! I was unable to find a literary agent or a publisher. It was then I came across AuthorHouse, a self-publishing company who helped me put the book together, and would print it on demand, and publish it! I thought I had it made!! However, there was still one issue. The cost of an illustrator for my book was too cost-prohibitive. I had to find an illustrator on my own who would be affordable, yet high-quality.
I found the solution right at home. My niece Sami, when she was nine, showed me the drawings she liked to fool around with. I decided then and there to give her the opportunity to illustrate the song!! Without anything from me except the lyrics and the recording, she designed the cover for the first Parker The Platypus book by herself at nine years old!! Making this a family project made it even more popular among consumers, most notably my family!!
Sami illustrated two more books (Parker Helps Hubert The Hippopotamus and Parker Befriends Bertram the Bat), and was working on a fourth in 2014 (Parker Tames Tiberius The Tiger, a story she conceived herself when she was ten), but then my luck ran out, as she grew into a teenager with other interests. I’m not giving up on other books eventually being created and published, as she’s currently looking to study animation in college, and might take those skills to my songs once again. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ve got a couple of other nieces and nephews who are too young yet, but like to draw!
Whoever ends up taking over will have a lot of work to do, as I’ve got a whole Parker The Platypus album full of songs to make into books!!
SBS: When it comes to that aspect of ‘time’ and how much of it you have and can disperse amongst the many projects you take on… When something like Parker The Platypus continues to gain attention…in theory, it might begin to take up more of your time as well. And in general…with you being involved in so many pieces of the entire entertainment pie…it almost seems like when one of these elements truly takes off – that maybe the others will get left behind? I’m not quite sure…again I suppose it comes down to balance, and I’ve already asked you about that… But I suppose what I want to know this time around is what truly defines the guidelines between WHERE you focus goes to. Is it confirmation, success, personal achievement? None of these things? When something like Parker catches on, the public wants MORE of it…and it’s hard not to give the people what they want Joe! But what if it’s not what YOU wanted as a permanent part of your career…I know that Parker most likely IS…but when something catches on is there all of a sudden somewhat of a responsibility to your audience to deliver more or is that always a personal choice when it comes right down to it?
Joe: That’s the great thing about being in my position. Since I have a lucrative day job, I don’t HAVE to partake in anything creative that I don’t WANT to do! EVERYTHING I do creatively is as much a passion to me as anything else I do creatively!! The added benefit of that is that, when one thing takes off more than others at a particular time, I can devote more of my time and energy to it, and not worry about losing my passion!! So yes, I will devote time and energy to whatever’s hot at that time, and maybe let the less popular things go for a bit, because I may have a lucrative day job, but I’m no fool!!
But nothing goes neglected for long!! Two examples of this come to mind. One, when Sami told me that she didn’t have interest in illustrating anymore Parker books, I put the Parker The Platypus album together, figuring that these stories should at least be released in song form!! Two, I was headed on a LONG bus ride from one end of Brooklyn to the other, for a meeting about marketing strategies for Legacy, an Internet series in which I acted. I was almost at the meeting location when I learned it had been cancelled. I rode the bus back home, spending almost three hours on the bus just riding and doing nothing. I HATE wasting that much time, so I used the time to write a song entitled, oddly enough, Thoughts During A Three-Hour Bus Ride Through Brooklyn!! I just incorporated the random thoughts that popped into my head on that ride into a stream-of-consciousness song. So yeah, I’m very conscious to make sure to utilize my time to keep all my plates spinning!!
SBS: With respect to also offering and authoring children’s material, reading & music…does that create any kind of uphill battle for respect among the ‘adults only’ musicians out there? I’ve never really thought to ask that of anyone before…so I don’t really know if any kind of stigma exists or if there’s any other thought to it than just being more music made in a different style… Potentially though…I could see a few sticklers out there taking issue over this. Mind you, I’d think they’d be wrong personally…but I can see that there might be a few people out there that would look at children’s music the same way as they would Rap or Electro as not ‘real’ music (aka drums, bass, guitar, lots of distortion, beer and meathead lyrics) – have you ever had to battle this mentality or attitude towards this other side of your music? How do you, or would you, respond?
Joe: I haven’t dealt with that kind of outward stigma from other musicians at all. In fact, I usually get the opposite reaction from musicians!! However, having been unable for the most part to be able to perform in schools and libraries (which is unfortunate for me, because kids are the BEST audiences for which I’ve ever performed), I perform my children’s songs in bars and clubs. Now I already mentioned that adults are big fans of my children’s songs, and that’s still true for the most part, but, during the Parker Befriends Bertram The Bat book release party I did at The Pour House in my neighborhood, there was one gentleman who decided to heckle me as I was singing mostly children’s songs. He later apologized, just explaining that he didn’t come to a bar to hear children’s songs. It made me realize that I need to be careful where and for whom I perform my children’s songs.
SBS: You and I share a lot in common when it comes to personal attitude. Your article on why you are “The Most Undesirable Human Being On The Planet” was quite something…I’ve spent time feeling that way myself as well – or at least close to it…I think I was going by “The Most Undesirable Human-Form Of A Garden Gnome” for a while there…which is pretty close. I also enjoyed the nicknames section…particularly in relation to this other article on TMUHBOTP. You mentioned how the ‘arrogant’ attitude is a hidden one…and though I believe you, I’ve also never met an arrogant person that I’ve ever thought was able to actually successfully hide that quality as much as they might believe they can. Some traits can shine right through. And here I am…reading through the nicknames you were given back in the day…and I get to the end of the list…and there it is – “Brainiac.” Can I just take a moment here to say that I absolutely LOVE the fact that this wasn’t taken as a ‘derogatory’ statement? Again…as I mentioned…as much as we want to hide some of our personal traits…sometimes when we talk, write or create, things can just come jumping out of the conversation that point directly to what we want to hide – and that statement does that. “Brainiac” – no matter who, no matter where, no matter what the context…when coming from the mouths of babes (or high-schoolers) is only EVER coming at you as a sarcastic observation (albeit yes, more than likely based on truth!) but certainly not meant as a compliment Joe! Not from kids man – they don’t say “Brainiac” and give you a gold-star…they call you “Brainiac” and put a ‘kick-me’ sign on the back of your shirt! I know I’m ranting here…but this caught my attention, so I figured I’d give you a genuine shot at convincing us all that somewhere inside you still might live a more humble version of yourself that doesn’t know it all yet and is still searching for more ways to gain knowledge, evolve, improve and give back to the world. Because let’s face it man…I’m of the mind that the moment I stop learning I might as well be dead… Is there any magic, mystery or wonder left for you when it comes to your perspective on the world – or are you just running out the clock at this point feeling like you’ve already seen the ending of this movie? Set the record straight for us Joe!
Joe: So that’s two extreme corners you’re trying to put me in! I do feel like I’ve seen and experienced a lot, but no one has experience EVERYTHING, and anyone who believes they have is setting themselves up for a GREAT shock!! So yes, I honestly think I’m great, but there’s a LOT I have yet to achieve.
There’s also a lot of things I’m NOT great at! I’m a sub-par athlete. I’m not a great rapper. My big shortcoming as a songwriter is that I can’t write a decent love song, which just about every other songwriter on the planet can do! That’s because every time I THOUGHT I was in love it turned out to be a lie, and now I’m too old and jaded to feel that again very easily.
However, I also work on all my weaknesses, and try to improve on them. Right now, my main focus is trying to drop about 100 pounds, and I’m almost halfway there!! This is challenging for me, and is exposing me to many other challenges for me to tackle!!
I agree with you 100% that, when you stop learning, you stop living. I love my life in general right now (which wasn’t always true), so I’m always looking for new experiences to keep me going. On the flip side, death doesn’t scare me. While I certainly haven’t accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish in life, I’m content that I’ve accomplished enough that my life and my accomplishments will stand on their own when the end comes.
So I’m not sure if I answered your question, but I’m trying to say that, while I do believe I’m awesome, I don’t believe the few times friends have called me “perfect.” I also certainly don’t believe I CAN do anything that everyone else CAN’T do. I think the only difference is I BELIEVE I can do it, so I just do it! Most of us live our lives in fear of how we’ll be perceived by others, and thus become afraid to try and put ourselves out there. Meanwhile, I don’t believe anyone is better than anyone else. I wrote a song about that too, called Lighten Up!!
SBS: No matter what that last answer comes back as…I appreciate that you took the time to answer it! Because NOW I’m going to point out the simple fact that a lot of the lyrics I’ve read – particularly your new single “Climb High” are FULL of inspirational messages that seem designed to help evolve, encourage and comfort the rest of us out here! I mean…if you were half as arrogant as you’ve tried to lead us to believe on your social media…then I suppose “Climb High” would be written by yourself, to you alone – but that’s NOT the case right Joe? Tell us about the story behind the lyrics of “Climb High” – I don’t usually ask about song meanings…but…from an outside perspective my friend…I felt like this one song and its lyrics might have spoken more truth about you than anything else I read at your pages.
Joe: I’ve never heard anyone make that observation before!! However, as I go through the origins of the song, I think it might turn out to be true!!
I’ve volunteered for about sixteen years for iMentor, and organization with its origins in New York, but has now expanded out to Chicago and San Francisco. Its mission is to encourage inner-city high school students to pursue higher education. It accomplishes this by pairing these students with a mentor who has been through the process, and succeeded for it. The main from of contact between mentors and mentees is e-mail, which, with my schedule, works out great for me!
I wrote Climb High as an ode to iMentor. 100% of the proceeds I receive from the sale of the song go directly to iMentor. As a result, alluding to an earlier question, this is the piece of art to which I’m currently devoting most of my time.
Certainly, I live the message conveyed in the lyrics myself. I try to live for the next challenge, and never settle for the lower rungs of the ladder, and honestly believe everybody should live their life that way. So, in that sense, the song speaks great truth about me. However, there’s more to look at in terms of what the song reveals about me.
I’ve always said that iMentor is the most important thing I do with my time. It’s more important than my art, and even my job. As important as learning is, so too is teaching. We as a planet all need to do everything we can to leave this world in a better state than we found it. The alternative is a human race that implodes upon itself in the pan of a blip in the overall universal clock. I have observed the positive effect I’ve had on many different mentees I’ve had in my time as iMentor, sometimes not until the end of my time with my mentee. My art has the potential to keep the entire world entertained, but, through iMentor, I actually DO accomplish real positive change in the world. That might come out in my delivery of the song. For this reason, I think it’s definitely possible that I might reveal more of myself in this song than any other!
SBS: I like the unassuming look to you overall Joe, I gotta say. In that I mean…I bet people don’t typically see you coming when it comes to making music…kinda like Ron Swanson moonlighting as Duke Silver…that kind of thing. At some point in your timeline though…confirmation came from somewhere…whether it was yourself just deciding to ‘do this thang’ without any worry about the results or looking for any feedback, or more than likely…there had to be some people along the way that were able to confirm for you that you really COULD do what you’re doing now in music…know what I mean? Somewhere in your timeline…there was the nod of approval from someone you respect, or a kind word or two tossed your way after a show from a random audience member…at least I’m assuming! You’re a confident guy…so maybe it all stems from you just going after it…but I usually find there’s a key moment or two that exist beforehand that make us believe it’s all possible to begin with. Who played key roles along the way in making all this seem possible and reachable…who told you to really pursue these dreams…and most importantly – what is it about these people that made you truly believe in what they had to say or their perspective on the music?
Joe: Again, the answer lies in between. I’m only realizing now after becoming a musician that I’ve always had music in my soul, and that, one way or another, it was going to come out. When I first started singing and learning harmonica, I knew I would continue it. The only question is whether or not I’d be good enough for other people to want to hear it.
Several people told me over the years that my singing voice would be great if I just took lessons. So I found the vocal coach who happened to have worked closest to my office at the time: Janie Barnett. I was so fortunate to have chosen HER so randomly at the time that I still see her, despite changing offices twice since then (once in Jersey City, which is a totally different state)! After about six months with Janie, I tried singing for people, and the ones who liked my voice liked it better, and those that didn’t actually started to like it!!
Janie eventually exposed me to the world of songwriting. I never knew I had things to say in the form of song, but, once I did, I wrote just about everything in my soul in the beginning! I write with much less frequency now, but I’m still writing!!
I already mentioned the popularity of Parker The Platypus on MySpace earlier, which was probably my first widespread validation for my songwriting. However, since then I have received a LOT of praise for other songs as well. One friend of mine said of Tree To The Sky, my ode to The Rockefeller Center Holiday Tree: “If you don’t like this song, you’re evil!!” Another friend said of Green Beer, my ode to St. Patrick’s Day: “Joe, that was great!! And you’re not even Irish!!” Another friend thought For All Of This And More, my ode to Thanksgiving, was me performing a cover of a Billy Joel song!! Finally, just to prove that I don’t only write good songs about holidays and platypuses, people think that Climb High has real pop potential!
So while I wasn’t afraid to try my music out on people, I didn’t intrinsically believe that people would connect to it. If it didn’t, I would just write for my own benefit, and never expose people to it. Now that I’ve received external validation, I love performing my originals!!
SBS: There you have it Joe! Believe it or not…there’s only ten questions throughout these four pages…I’m kind of in shock myself! Thank you SO MUCH for putting up with all these random observations, questions and like…well…defending your LIFE lol…hopefully it hasn’t been quite that dramatic. I look at life/music from a very curious angle and it’s always a pleasure to find out what truly drives the process from the people that bring it all to life – so truly Joe – thank you. Of course…there’s no humanly possible way that I could bring-up or talk about everything you might have wanted to mention…like the insane amount of shows you play each and every week or the multiple sites you manage for your content…all these kinds of things…interviews could go anywhere at any time. So please feel free to take the ol’ SBS ‘Open-Floor’ here at the end to mention anything else at all that you’d like to or leave us with some astounding words of wisdom or at the very least a suggestion on a new breakfast cereal…you get the idea…the floor is yours, say anything you like! Thanks again Joe!
Joe: Well, since you brought up my Web sites, I suppose I should plug them here: http://www.joemelillo.net and http://www.parkertheplatypus.com. I might as well plug my social media too: http://www.facebook.com/joemelillo, http://www.twitter.com/joe_melillo, http://www.youtube.com/joemelillo, and http://www.reverbnation.com/joemelillo4.
If you see my performance calendar, which you can see on my Web page or my Revebnation page, you’ll see that most of my performances are related to band karaoke in the New York area. Band karaoke is an opportunity for anyone to become a rock star, and there’s absolutely no feeling like it!! I recommend it for anyone who has the opportunity, no matter how you think you sound on the mic!
Thanks SO MUCH for this fun opportunity, and the fantastic questions!! I didn’t feel on the defense at all!! I took it as an opportunity to explain what I know about myself, and learn a few things about myself that I didn’t realize!!
Finally, I’ll close with the words I use to describe how I feel everyone should grab life by the horns and not let go: ROCK ‘TIL IT HURTS!!