Fortunately, Tony was good enough to take the time and provide a brief background on the project, the artists involved, and the difficulties one faces when seeking to gain access to a catalog as guarded as MJ's.
"So, how did this project come about?"
I came up with the concept over two years ago. It was a series of events that lead me on to creating this project. When Michael passed away three years ago, just many MJ fans around the world, I sat in disbelief, dumbfounded, experiencing one of the saddest moments in my life. A couple of months after his passing, I felt an unquenchable urge to pay homage to Michael’s legacy. I had no idea what I was going to do, or how I was going to do it; I simply knew I needed to follow my heart. Happens to be that in October of 2009 I got a call from an agent that hires my band, his name is Randy Singer, wanted to put together a Halloween party for a local club on South Beach. He had the idea of making a THRILLER theme costume party, everyone looking like zombies and all… Make a long story short, the band I had at the time was a strict salsa band, we played some other styles, but very few, mainly salsa. Randy wanted to me to perform THRILLER for that night… so I went ahead and got the idea of making a salsa arrangement to THRILLER so we can perform it live. When I sat down and wrote that arrangement, performed it, and saw how much the people went crazy for it… that’s when it all began…
I finally discovered what I could do for Michael, his legacy, his music, and his messages. My goal with paying tribute was to embody Michael’s essence by focusing this Tribute on his message of UNITY. UNITY is something that I saw in his lyrics, his music, in his dance, and his way of being. He always looked out to unite people, unite cultures, and unite talent. I wanted to expand on his message by interpreting his music in a new way; in a way where I express myself fully, because expression is in my Latin DNA. This way it would result into something new, hoping that I could continue the legacy and show the world how he influenced me and how important he still is to all of us.
"How difficult was it getting the rights to MJ's catalog?"
OMG… this was the most difficult task I’ve ever come across with in the music business. The publishers treat the Michael Jackson catalog like their gems, they don’t give those rights out like that… I was a process that lasted over 2 years… Lots of work, lots of praying. Imagine, you go through all the work or arranging, producing, recording, mixing, mastering, etc. etc. etc… and once you have track ready to rock n roll, you then go to the publisher and they just say “no, we cannot grant you the license” … how would you feel? This is the risk that I ran into with every single song, and some did get denied, but we kept our heads up and kept fighting for them. Right now we’re still working on wrapping up one more that keeps getting denied, and its one of the strongest songs on the album… hopefully it goes through… if not, I’ll have to start an online petition! Would you help!? J Trying to do something positive here with this project, paying tribute at the upmost quality. That’s what we’re about, staying true to the legacy and MJ.
"How did you go about selecting the artists for this project?"
There are more than 90 musicians on board along with 8 artists. I recorded in many different studios pretty scattered over the map actually, starting with my hometown Miami, to Peru, to New York, to Texas… etc… So a lot of the musicians that came on board I didn’t know personally, but I did know of them. I chose them wisely, according to the styles that they play, how they play… in order to get the sound that I was looking for. Each musician has his or her own unique sound and feel, that’s what makes producing so interesting. I had very specific sounds that I would hear in my head, so I had choose the right studio musicians that could execute them. It was a whole lot of research J That’s why I had to travel so much as well… they weren’t all located here in Miami. Most of them were though, and they are my buddies! There’s nothing like recording with friends, it’s always a blast!
The aritsts on the other hand, that was a surprise… I had no contact with the artists at first, had no way in getting contact with them. I actually would write weekly emails to artist managers to see if the artists would be interested in a project like this, I would never get a response. The first response I received was from Kevin Ceballo, that was a true blessing. After him, the word kept spreading, and it got to Michael Stuart and Tito Nieves.. then after that it was a domino effect. True blessing from God… Most of the artists say that they were skeptical about this MJ project, because they couldn’t imagine covering Michael’s tunes, especially with this latin feel… but they said once they heard the music, that was what sold it.
Again, Working with these artists has been a true blessing from God. First of all, I am a fan of their music and their talent. I’ve always looked up to them, and I still do. I grew up listening to their music, each and everyone of them influenced my musical career during my upbringing. I never thought I’d be able to collaborate with them, especially at such a young age.
Recording in the studio with them was a thrilling experience. Not only is their talent above and beyond, but most importantly, the passion and emotion they put towards their profession is what makes them unique. I learned a whole lot from them.
The most amazing part of working with these artists is that I could get to know them personally and become their friends. All of them are wonderful human beings, they are extremely humble… that’s the beauty about this project. We are all humble, we all share that same passion for Michael Jackson, for his message, for his legacy. We never thought selfishly about ourselves, this was all about the music, all about working as a team, all about giving and delivering the best of our abilities to make this amazing project come to life.
"And lastly, any other upcoming projects you'd care to share with the public?"
I have many ideas and projects that I’d like to deliver to the world tomorrow… but everything takes time, and I like to always deliver the highest quality possible. I always choose quality over quantity. It’s just the way I am. I know for a fact that this project will be going on for a long time, I have many plans. It’s not going to be just an album, I like to describe it more like an experience. This is all a part of the surprise, so I won’t share that with you just yet ☺ but yeah, stay in tune for those updates!!
Thanks Tony! Check the website and support the Unity project!