EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Saratoga Pianist And Composer Andy Iorio Discusses His Forthcoming Album, ‘Awakening’

Composer and pianist Andy Iorio, who grew up in Saratoga Springs, is quite busy these days. Not only is the Saratogian preparing for the release of his highly anticipated third solo album, Awakening, but he’s also been practicing for an album release show at The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio in Downtown Albany on Friday, March 29.

A classically trained pianist, Iorio’s compositions are short, song-like compositions, usually just three to four minutes in length, with understated but emotive melodies backed by cinematic accompaniment. It’s an almost alchemical mixture of the tonal and instrumental richness of classical music with the simpler, more catchy song structures and melodies of pop music. Rather than overwhelming the senses with an onslaught of different sounds (most songs are for solo piano or piano and strings), Iorio’s compositions invite listeners to ease into sonic stretches of serenity and quiet moments of realization.

Based here in the Spa City, Iorio released his first solo studio album, After the Rain, in 2010; however, it was his 2016 sophomore album, II, that brought Iorio’s music to a new level of international attention, getting him attention from NPR here in the US, as well as airplay in Canada, Australia and Japan. That same year, one of the songs from his album, “Rush,” was nominated by the Hollywood Music in Media Awards (HMMA) for Best New Contemporary Classical/Instrumental Genre. And the composer’s success isn’t a fluke; last year, Iorio’s music garnered more than 100,000 streams online in more than 39 countries.

saratoga living recently caught up with Iorio to talk about his history here in Saratoga and what to expect from his album coming out later this month.

You grew up in Saratoga, and you moved back here after living in Boston for a while. The Spa City must have a special place in your heart.
I love the city—it’s great. I’ve grown up here. The only time I left was when I was away in college [at Berklee College of Music] down in Boston. So I’ve always made Saratoga my home base, and I’ve played all around, at Prime at Saratoga National, at the Wine Bar, lots of places in the area.

What was it like attending one of the most prestigious music schools in the country?
Well, first of all, it was the only place I ever applied [to], against all the advice of my guidance counselors. But I only wanted to go there, so if I didn’t get in, I figured I’d just keep applying until I did. But luckily, I got in on my first try. I went down to do a scholarship audition, and it went pretty well. I was so excited to be accepted there and just be immersed in that culture. All we did was eat, sleep and sh– music. Day in and day out.

Zac Brown Band’s bassist, Matt Mangano, was at Berklee at the same time you were. Did you two ever cross paths?
Oh yeah, we were friends down there. We played on a few sessions together in the studio. He’s a great guy [and] an awesome bass player. It was him, John Mayer and [Zac Brown Band member] Clay Cook that all hung out together when I was there.

Did you play with all of them?
I didn’t play with John Mayer. I think my first semester was his last one. But they were like the music group that was hanging out, jamming all the time. I think they all went to Atlanta at one point, because that’s where Mayer went when he left [to start his first band, Lo-Fi Masters]. Matt stayed and finished up his degree, and that’s when I played a few sessions with him and did some studio work at the school. I’m not certain, but I think Clay was there [in the studio] at the time too. Of course, they formed Zac Brown Band and John Mayer is John Mayer, but they were all close-knit musicians at that time.

For a musician with a classical background, you have some surprising influences.
Well, when I was a kid, I listened to a lot of pop music on the radio. But when I found my parents’ record collection, that was a different story. I just picked the cool covers that I liked. So that’s when I discovered George Winston’s December album, which, to date, is one of my favorite piano albums ever. And, of course, I have to include Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. I categorize my life into “Before Pink Floyd” and “After Pink Floyd,” because I’d never heard anything like that and how they incorporated piano into rock music.

I wouldn’t have guessed Pink Floyd. Your music reminds me more of film scores or minimalist music by Philip Glass.
Philip Glass is a big influence, but film music is really what I was drawn into from the earliest age. That’s why I gravitated toward the cinematic, orchestral sound of the music I write, because I studied film scoring and composition at Berklee, and it’s a totally different approach. As much as I love songs that have lyrics, I never really liked the melodies [I wrote that had] lyrics, and I always thought the melodies spoke for themselves. Without lyrics being there, people can connect in any possible way. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about instrumental music—the wide range of connection people can have just from listening to one piece.

You’re on the cusp of releasing your third studio album, Awakening. What inspired a title like that?
Well, I’ve been through a lot of stuff personally in the past two years. I think Awakening is like that whole rising to another level, whether it’s spiritual, mind or body. It’s about being more self-aware. There are a lot of tracks about lifting: “Arise” and “Ascend,” stuff about lifting the frame of mind, having a positive outlook and always choosing love over hate. Because of this crazy world we live in right now, Awakening is that type of uplifting message. Everybody has an awakening at some point in their lives—that was the goal for this album.

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