NAKED TRUTH: Jersey Music Legend Anthony Mario Picone Talks About Life After The Benjamins and His Solo Career
You left New Jersey 5 years ago and moved to Key West. How did that experience influence your music?
I felt a lot of creative energy living in Key West. The lifestyle is very laid back and I was fortunate to meet and play different styles of music with musicians from all over the country. The music scene is much more diverse than the North East. My writing therefore reflects the mellow lifestyle and diversity of the music I was absorbing. Living there—my writing began to flow effortlessly. I found myself writing a fusion of rock, Americana, Folk and Pop which I’ve dubbed “Keys Rock.” It has a very organic “70’s” vibe with a lot of acoustic guitars, organ and piano. I even have a steel guitar track in one song.
Many remember your run with The Benjamins. What were those days like?
Crazy and fun! At the time it was a very energetic rock scene. We partied and traveled a lot and wrote some good music. The crowds were big and the shows were loud. We did a lot of cool things that most bands didn’t get to experience like playing on Fox and Friends, The Scott and Todd morning radio show with The Goo Goo Dolls. We also opened for some big acts like Third Eye Blind, Cheap Trick, Lifehouse etc. We were like close brothers which made it even better.
The live band scene has suffered in New Jersey over the past few years. That’s shocking, considering all the great bands that have come from here. Can it be turned around?
When I started playing the NJ scene every band had their own schtick. Music fans experienced something different with every band. As time went on there was less good music being released therefore there was less music to cover. Bands stopped taking chances and began emulating DJ’s out of fear. By the time I left it seemed that every band was covering the same material. I feel that if you play what’s in your heart and with conviction, people will latch on. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Nirvana, Van Morrison or your own material. I think it can be turned around if bands set themselves apart from each other.
You’re performing solo these days promoting your new CD “The Highest I’ve Ever Been.” Do you prefer solo over being part of a group?
Honestly I like both. It’s 2 totally different shows. I will say that I’ve done my share of solo performances so I’m looking forward to doing more full band shows. Nowadays it’s good to be able to do both because sometimes it’s not financially feasible to bring a band on the road. Even major acts like Citizen Cope and John Mayer embrace both.
Are you close to your former bandmates?
Yes. We hang out and occasionally do shows together.
Is there one moment that stands out when you look at your impressive musical career?
I’ve had many but I have to say releasing my first SOLO album this past February is the biggest moment for me. It’s my first time writing without collaborators. I also engineered and mixed the album myself in addition to playing most of the instruments. It was a monumental achievement and the beginning of the next chapter in my life.
What inspired you to pick up a guitar?
Watching a Kiss concert on TV as a kid.
So are you in New Jersey for good or is the homecoming temporary?
I anticipate being here at least until early 2017 while intermittently playing shows around the country. Things always change though so for now I’m going with the wind.
Besides music, you also have a passion for filmmaking what is The Royal Campaign all about?
The community of Key West rallies together annually to raise money for AIDS Help. A handful of candidates compete to see who can raise the most money for the organization. Each candidate holds a series of fundraisers over the course of several months. At the end of the campaign, the two candidates that raise the most money get crowned King and Queen of an event called Fantasy Fest. For the next year they are the face of AIDS Help and attend events to promote awareness and raise money. My wife Beth and I decided to follow the campaign and shoot a documentary. When we’re finished editing we plan to shop it to film festivals and networks.
Finally, how important is social media when it comes to having your music heard? Are the days of corporate record labels over?
As an independent artist it’s the only way to get your music heard. Nowadays you can promote your music anywhere in the world for free on Social Media which is something you couldn’t do 20 years ago. One would think it would even the playing field but thanks to illegal file sharing and streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify it’s difficult for anyone to make money. Spotify for example pays $0.004891 per stream! If you do the math you’d need 237,170 plays to earn minimum wage for the month. If you’re signed to a record label and there are co-writers, that figure gets split amongst all parties! If the recording industry doesn’t do something about it than I believe their days are numbered.
Interview by Chaunce Hayden