Q&A with Italian Hammond B-3 player Luca Kiella Chiellini - high energy describes the approach to his music

"The racial discrimination and socio-cultural differences go away with the music, and it’s the best part of it in my opinion. It equalizes everything and everyone, and it is extremely important in a world like the one with have today, where both in Europe and the USA old racial and social discrimination is coming back."

Luca Kiella Chiellini: The Caesar of Keys

Luca Kiella’s story is filled with escape, looking for a true inner self, and of course a lot of music. Kiella (Luca Chiellini’s childhood nickname, now officially his stage name) is proud of his Italian origins, but blues, funk and soul music called him to the United States in his mid-twenties, and he found a new home in Chicago. Luca Kiella delivers high-energy performances, with a blues infused with soul, funk and New Orleans grooves. The struggle of finding his real identity in life and music is a core part of Luca’s songwriting, with a musical and personal heritage that makes him truly unique. Piano and Hammond Organ virtuoso Luca Kiella releases his second album “Ready For You” set for release on October 22nd, 2021 on Cypress Road Productions. Following the 2019 debut EP “Figure It Out” that was well received worldwide by critics, radios and fans, the new work features 12 original songs showcasing fresh and unapologetic songwriting with stories about love, heartache, hardships and today’s society.

(Luca Kiella Chiellini, Chicago IL / Photo by Janet Mami Takayama)

Recipient of the 2019 Blues Music Award with The Welch Ledbetter Connection, Luca Kiella features in the new record one of Chicago’s finest rhythm sections and powerful horns lead by Bonerama’s trombonist Mark Mullins, recorded at New Orleans’ historic Esplanade Studios. With the combination of soul, funk, and blues grooves, “Ready For You” presents a diverse and vibrant sound from start to finish. During his touring with Toronzo Cannon, Luca Chiellini had also the pleasure to play with Buddy Guy, Sinead O'Connor, Billy Branch, Guy King, The Kinsey Report, Matt Schofield, Dawn Tyler Watson, Deitra Farr, Lurrie Bell, Demetria Taylor, Nellie Tiger Travis, Lil' Ed, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Vance "Guitar" Kelly, Carl Weathersby, Ernie Vincent, Mike Wheeler, Joanna Connor, among others. He shared the stage with BB King, Booker T and the MG’s, Jon Batiste & Stay Human, Doyle Bramhall II, Bobby Rush, Blues Traveler, Bob Weir, Shemekia Copeland, Robert Randolph, Butch Trucks, John Hammond, Betty Wright, Latimore, Quinn Sullivan, C.J. Chenier, Popa Chubby, Matt Schofield, Bruce Katz, Curtis Salgado, Terrence Simien, Sonny Landreth, Joe Louis Walker, Foghat, Samantha Fish, Matthew Skoller, Millie Jackson, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Rick Estrin, Mac Arnold & The Plate Full. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

The Blues is an expression of life and an expression of true emotions of life through music. I learn every day from the Blues about myself regarding my emotions, my inner thoughts and playing live I learn about resources in my energy that I would not know anyway.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues n' Rock researches and organ experiments? How do you describe your sound?

I have been exposed to different kind of music since I was 9 years old and I’ve been researching different instruments and sounds over the years, but the Blues gave me a freedom (still in the format) I never experience before. Especially the Hammond Organ, with its sounds really made by the organist every single time, gives me the chance of being recognizable by my sound. I’m a Hammond Organ USA artist endorsed by the company and I’m very proud of it. My sound is characterized by high energy and intense soloing. The energy on stage is one of my most recognizable characteristics, always appreciated by the audience worldwide.

Who are some of your very favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?

My music is deeply inspired by the soul, funky and blues and some of my continuing inspirations are masters such as Jon Cleary, Dr John, and Allen Toussaint; the soulful music of Ray Charles is also a continuing inspiration to me, alongside Billy Preston, Elton John and the funk grooves of Soulive.

What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?

Tedeschi Trucks Band and Keb Mo are among my favorite artists on the scene today and being able to collaborate with them would be an ultimate goal of mine. Keb Mo is such an incredible songwriter and being able to craft songs with him would be a dream coming true.

(Luca Kiella Chiellini, Chicago IL / Photo by Janet Mami Takayama)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

Since I started making music, I was able to develop my style on the piano and Hammond Organ and create a personal sound and touch that can be recognized. After first album “Figure It Out” released in 2019, I was able to dig deep into songwriting and crafting original songs that represent me and tell stories I really feel. This process bought to live the 12 original songs you can hear in this new record today.

What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I feel like the passion in playing my instrument and the joy of moving the audience with stories and sound is still strong to this day in my process of making music. Connecting to the listeners and carrying them through a journey with your sounds is an absolute joy and the core of why we spend our lives making music.

How do you describe new album "Ready For You” sound and songbook?

“Ready For You” has a funk, soul and blues sound with intense songwriting, tight grooves, and a vibrant sound. The album contains 12 original songs with fresh and unapologetic songwriting with stories about love, heartache, hardships, and today’s society. My multicolor musical background is reflected in this diverse project, with shifts in atmospheres from funky grooves of “Till Tomorrow” (the first single of the record), the New Orleans’ vibes of “I Hate My Boss”, the soul-pop sound of “Desperate Train To Nowhere”, and so on. I have an incredible horn section performing in the album and I also feature a string quartet on two tunes, “A True Connection” and “Is There Any Love Left For Me”. The songs all contain stories I lived, experienced or witnessed, with shifts from more serious tones to humor and funny lyrics.

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album?

I recorded the album in Chicago and New Orleans between April and July 2021. The rhythm section was recorded in Chicago with some of the best studio musicians in the city (Paul Hall on drums, Will Baggett on bass, and Aaron Weistrop on guitar) and vocals and strings were recorded there too. I them flew to New Orleans, one of my favorite places on earth, and I recorded the horns at historic Esplanade Studios with Mark Mullins of Bonerama arranging and performing, alongside with Bobby Campo (Mark and Bobby both tour with Warren Hayes in The Last Waltz tour) and Brad Walker. The songs started coming to life over the years but the core of the songwriting of the album came during the 2020 pandemic. I spent two months crafting the lyrics of the record digging deeper into my stories, with sometimes painful journeys; it was a very strong experience and next thing I know, the full record was ready!

"Blues music in my opinion is a state of mind, and as every state of mind, comes in multiple forms and it is unique every moment we are living. The blues is the best form of art to express your discomfort and stories through music and words, a way to really make the audience relate to your struggles and your pain, your achievements and happiness." (Luca Kiella / Photo by Janet Mami Takayama)

How do you describe previous album "Figure It Out" songbook and sound? What was the hardest part of recording a solo album?

“Figure It Out” is a true story of myself and my music. I pay tribute to my heroes, Jon Cleary and Ray Charles, and I present my songwriting on my original music, showing my love for blues, soul and New Orleans music. Recording my solo album was challenging and rewarding at the same time; I think realizing the time when the inspiration is there was the hardest part, but when figured that out, every original song came to life during the span of a full night of work.

Are there any memories from "Figure It Out" (2019) studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

The process of writing and recording “So Many Questions” was magical: I had this music in my head while I was touring, I came back to Chicago and headed to the studio. I recorded the music of the song, then the same night, over a span of 5 hours, I wrote the lyrics of the song, words that really reflected my journey. After filling my workbook with verses and lyrics, the song was ready and I recorded it the next day. It was the last song of the album.

What characterize your music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

Music is a true expression of our self, and because of this, music has different aspects. It’s hard to be confined into a genre, I have been influenced by many genres starting from rock music at a younger age, going through jazz but always loving the blues, my true soul. The creative drive comes from moments of discomfort and real-life stories; the original songs in my EP talk about my journey to the USA, the struggle of finding myself, the difficulties that made me the man I am today. It’s hard to sing songs you can’t relate to.

"I have fun on stage every time I play and people can feel it; if the listener can leave my show taking home the energy, I gave them, well, I did a good job!" (Luca Kiella / Photo by Gene Schilling)

What touched (emotionally) you from the sound of Hammond Organ? What are the secrets of?

I heard the Hammond Organ for the first time in a record of Jimmy Smith, I didn’t know the instrument at that time and I could not understand how it was possible to have so many different colors from the same instrument. I bought my first Hammond short after that. The Hammond Organ has a soul that no other instrument has, every sound we create as players is unique, being the combination of many different settings, together with the Leslie speaker, the amplifier of the sound. The Hammond is a very physical instrument, I have so much fun with it and people can see it, I feel at “home” while sitting at the bench playing it.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?

I moved to a new country leaving Italy for the United States, I had to learn a new language and I had to gain the respect of the musicians in front of me every time. I think that giving 100% on stage during every performance and treating every audiences with respect, giving your true self and your true energy is the real only secret. I have fun on stage every time I play and people can feel it; if the listener can leave my show taking home the energy, I gave them, well, I did a good job!

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The experience in the blues scene worldwide has been incredible. I have been touring internationally and recording with Toronzo Cannon for over two years now. Great experiences have been playing with Buddy Guy, touring all over the United States in major festivals, playing for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, playing for the Italian Prime Minister with the event reported in the news worldwide. I also recorded for XM Radio on a special with Toronzo Cannon. The best advice even given me was by Mike Wheeler, incredible guitar player and entertainer from Chicago: “If you can think about something, you can achieve it. Never stop working for your goals”.

"The Blues is an expression of life and an expression of true emotions of life through music. I learn every day from the Blues about myself regarding my emotions, my inner thoughts and playing live I learn about resources in my energy that I would not know anyway." (Photo: Luca Kiella & Toronzo Cannon on stage)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

As I mentioned before, I have been touring internationally and recording with Toronzo Cannon for over two years now. Touring all over the United States and Canada in the most important festivals, playing for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, playing for the Italian Prime Minister with the event reported in the news worldwide. I also recorded for XM Radio on a special with Toronzo Cannon. I played at the Namm show in 2017 for Hammond Organ with Matt Schofield sharing the stage with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, I had the pleasure to play with Buddy Guy, Sinead O’Connor, Kinsey Report, Billy Branch, and most at the acts out of Chicago blues.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Most of the blues legends are gone, so there is not anymore the vibe that it used to be around the Chicago clubs especially. At the same time, new stars are rising, the blues sound is more contemporary, but it is the natural evolution, when Muddy Waters came, people who loved Robert Johnson didn’t appreciate Muddy Waters, but it’s the natural evolution of time. I see great things happening for the blues, the gentleman I have the pleasure to work with, Toronzo Cannon, is considered the new face of the Chicago Blues after Buddy Guy, I’m excited to see what is going to happen in the future!

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

Blues music in my opinion is a state of mind, and as every state of mind, comes in multiple forms and it is unique every moment we are living. The blues is the best form of art to express your discomfort and stories through music and words, a way to really make the audience relate to your struggles and your pain, your achievements and happiness.

"My music is deeply inspired by the soul, funky and blues and some of my continuing inspirations are masters such as Jon Cleary, Dr John, and Allen Toussaint; the soulful music of Ray Charles is also a continuing inspiration to me, alongside Billy Preston, Elton John and the funk grooves of Soulive." (Luca Kiella Chiellini & his Hammond B3 / Photo by Ed Cormican)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would like to make people appreciate more live music, with more opportunities for every musician to play and make a living out of it.

What has made you laugh from the late great BB King? What touched (emotionally) you from Buddy Guy?

I had the pleasure to open the last Italian concert of BB King, he was a knowledgeable and kind hearted man, it was incredible being around him and feeling his charisma and energy. I also had the pleasure of playing many times with Buddy Guy in Chicago and his storytelling is incredible, full of emotions and fun details.

Are there any memories shared the stage with BB King, Booker T & The MG’s, Bobby Rush, which you’d like to share with us?
I was fortunate to open BB Kings’ shows overseas back in 2012 and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Being able to be close the legend himself, his band and witnessing his work on stage is something that deeply influenced my music.   The first time I met BB King he was so gracious with his time and his kind and encouraging words still resonate in my mind today, with a loving smile on his face and his strong presence.

What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

I think being able to enjoy the process of making music and sharing the result of it with your fans is the ultimate happiness. Unnecessary pressures and stresses need to be left out and being able to really have fun in the process of making music, especially at shows giving energy to the audience, is the real key to a happy music life. 2020 taught all of us how important music is our lives and audiences around the world are ready to make the most of the energy us musicians can give them.

"I would like to make people appreciate more live music, with more opportunities for every musician to play and make a living out of it." (Luca Kiella Chiellini & his Hammond B3 / Photo by Ed Cormican)

Make an account of the case of blues in Italy. What are the difference between European and American scene?

The European blues scene is very active, with listeners that are really appreciating the music. There is a lack of possibilities for European artists to perform on a regular basis and a lack in the energy in the audience. The American scene is extremely vibrant and there are plenty of opportunities for musicians who want to make a living with the blues. The people want to have a good time and the energy felt at the shows is always high. The Italian blues scene could be improved so much. It is almost impossible to live of music in Italy and the only way for me for make it happen was to move to Chicago.

How has the Blues and Rock n' Roll culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The Blues opens the mind of people. For me it made me experience the places I traveled and getting to know the people in the best possible way: entertaining them! The blues at the same time makes you open to everybody, no matter what you are from, it creates a worldwide community, it doesn’t matter physical features or views, we are just blues people.

What is the Impact of Blues music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

As I mentioned above, the racial discrimination and socio-cultural differences go away with the music, and it’s the best part of it in my opinion. It equalizes everything and everyone, and it is extremely important in a world like the one with have today, where both in Europe and the USA old racial and social discrimination is coming back.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would like to go to two different places: first, a morning back to New Orleans in the 1920’ or 1930’, to feel the jazz and blues being formed in a vibrant environment. Then, spending an afternoon with Otis Spann in Chicago during session for Chess Records, and why not with Jimmy Smith in New York learning from the two people who defined respectively the Blues Piano and the Hammond Organ.

Luca Chiellini - Home

(Luca Chiellini / Photo by Vittorio Marrucci)

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