According to Angelo Venuto, he’s bad at interviews. But the Italian-born singer, known for his hit remakes of “L’Italiano” and “Sweet Caroline” couldn’t have been a better subject. We talked about what makes a great song, how he looks at life now as a Nonno, and why famiglia is absolutely everything.
Angelo, a fun fact about you that some people might not know is that your father used to work for the legendary Jacques Cousteau.
Yes, my father used to work for Jacques Coustuea, as a chief engineer. He would also scuba dive with the sharks. He would take us along on on the ship sometimes when it would dock in a port in Italy. He used to bring from Africa monkeys or parakeets—all kinds of exotic animals.
And how did you get into singing?
My father used to play the accordion, and when we moved to the United States when I was nine, we wanted to get into music. We had the passion, me and my brothers. We’re five brothers and two sisters. We bought some equipment just to enjoy ourselves because we loved the music. We started doing Sweet 16s and then weddings and dinner/dances, and now, recording and doing shows and concerts.
Does it ever get old?
No, no! I enjoy it. When you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not like a job or you feel like it’s something that you’re forced to do. I do it with my heart.
Do you prefer singing in English or in Italian?
Actually, both. I have different genres of Italian music, from the classic Italian to Sicilian, to modern Italian music. And then there’s the American music. I grew up with rock music. But the hit songs I have on the radio is club music; it’s house music. ‘L’Italiano” and the remake of “Sweet Caroline” and the remake of “Ti Amo” went very big on the radio.
Do you feel that when you do a remake of the song that there’s a lot of pressure? How do you take such a classic song and make it your own?
I’m a big Neil Diamond fan, and I love all his songs. “Sweet Caroline” is such a great song, and it’s a song that gets everybody involved. Everyone is jamming and singing, “So good! So good!” But I hear the song on a different beat—like on a clubby beat. And I could see the crowd and the people just jamming along. I said, “Let me go record it and see what happens.” The radio station heard it as a demo, and they wanted to put it on the radio to try it out. Well, the switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree! They put the song on rotation, and it was number 1 for like 15 or 16 weeks.
How has your music evolved over the years as you’ve evolved as an artist?
There’s a little change, but I keep my own genre of music; I keep my own style. I like to do what is good for the people and what they want to hear. I’m not a rapper, but I can wrap. I make a chicken wrap [laughs]. I sing club music but I also like to sing ballads, and love songs. The original songs that I do are semi-rock or they’re ballads. I also do reggae.
We’ve talked a bit about how this is a family business. Let’s bring your daughters in on the interview. Maria, Concetta, and Alexa what roles do you have in your father’s career?
Maria: I’ve been singing since I was a kid. I was shy and my father would want me to perform with him but I wanted to hang out with my friends. As I got older, my passion for singing grew. I started learning the piano, and now, I perform with my father, writing my own songs. I love working with my Dad. When people want him to perform, whether it’s weddings or festivals, now they want me, too. I love the level that we’re at now, performing with him.
Angelo, you better watch out, she’s going to beat you.
Angelo: That’s what I want! I want to be just Daddy.
Maria: He’s my teacher; I look up to him. People will ask me who inspires me and I have to honestly say my father, and also Judy Torres. My dad and Judy Torres taught me a lot. I love what I do; I really enjoy it now.
Concetta: My sister and I used to sing together when we were younger. About 5-6 years ago, I decided to step back because I like the behind the scenes better. I like writing the music; I like promoting the music on Facebook. I like telling them what to wear and bossing them around. I have two babies so I like the creative part of writing songs and being in the back. Besides the club scene, my dad has a wedding band, so I write for both. I wrote a mother/son song and my husband danced with his mom at my wedding. Now a lot of brides and grooms are dancing with their parents to that song at their weddings. When people dance to the song, or a DJ plays it, it makes me feel good. And I’m proud that I wrote the song in Italian, too.
Alexa: I’m the supporter! I sing for my dad, but at feasts or at parties. I come to some weddings, but I’m mostly the supporter.
Angelo, you’re a grandpa now. How has that changed you?
Oh boy! When my grandchild is there, he loves instruments. He loves microphones and amplifiers and wires. First thing when he gets there, “Nonno! Amplifier! Microphone!” And he sets it up himself. Then he’ll ask for the echo, so I give him the echo. I ask him, “Marcelo, what does the echo do?” and he says, “Ah ah ah ah,” and then I ask him what the microphone does and he says, “One, two, test, test.” [laughs]
Concetta: I asked him what he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas and he said, “Amplifier, microphone, and echo.”
Angelo: And he’s already got the right pitch, and the tempo. And I said, “I’m good.”
Spoken like a true grandpa.
Angelo: I’m so proud. For his age, he’s a pretty smart kid. He can count to twenty in Italian and English.
What is it like working for your dad?
Maria: Sometimes we butt heads, but we really love it. My father’s studio is downstairs and I loved downstairs and I would hear him and I was like, “Dad I’m trying to watch my show.” But now that I’m getting married, I’m going to miss it. I’ve learned to appreciate every little thing. So now when I hear him blasting his music while I’m watching my show, I don’t mind as much. I just tell him to close the door.
It’s like a reversal, where you’re the parent and you’re telling your teenager to close the door. Angelo, stop blasting your music.
You know what it is; it’s convenient. Let’s say I’m sleeping and I hear a melody in my head. I get up and my wife is like, “Where are you going?” and I tell her that I have to go downstairs. I put my headphones on and I do that part of the music.
My dad can entertain everyone with the music and the singing. But it’s my mom who does the food and the hospitality and the heart. She’s the glue of the family.
What does Christmas mean?
It’s a big thing for us. We have family come in from New Jersey and Connecticut. We make a very big, long table so everyone can sit together. We have a ton of Italian food, and my wife makes something very special. It’s like a meatball, but it’s made from squid. It’s a squid ball. It’s delicious. It’s a specialty from our town, Gela, in Italy.
How is it performing in Italy? Is it different from performing here?
The good thing is that I do all different genres of music. In Italy, I have to do a totally different thing. Usually, they like all American music in Italy. If you go to Sicily or wherever, don’t do Italian music at all. You come from America, they want to hear American music. In other parts, they want a mix of American, Neapolitan, or even Spanish music. Sometimes when I get to the show, I look at the people and I change the music on the spot.
We just did a show for RAI, with celebrities from Italy. It was a lot of Italian singers from Italy, and new singers, too. And every weekend is a different show and gigs all over the place.
You do a lot of traveling for shows and concerts. Does it ever get grueling?
It’s all right. I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years-old. I’m used to it, but I really enjoy it. Every week, different place, different people. It’s all good.