Roman Odette is no stranger music. The Italian singer/songwriter started playing piano aged five, was a soprano soloist at nine, went to jazz school at 15, joined a rock band at 16 then a girlband at 19. The girlband, Jungle Gardenia, got signed but never released a record. Her first solo attempts also failed to see the light of day – big names were interested but never delivered on promises. Disillusioned, Odette did a Masters in New York and become an MTV Executive. But the business side of the music business didn’t light her flame. Motherhood bought her time out and Odette got back into writing and recording. zap! bang! took to chance to find if the independent Odette can make it third time lucky…
This isn’t the first time as a performer for you, can you tell me a bit more about Jungle Gardenia?
Jungle Gardenia was formed in the nineties as the first Italian all singing/all playing/ all dancing girl band. I was picked by management of the band to play keyboards and be one of the two lead vocalists. When they discovered that I also knew how to write songs I also became the main songwriter for the band. I wrote or co-wrote every song for the band. We recorded an album, toured around summer stages in Italy from the tip of Sicily to the Alps in a little van, had a bunch of cat fights as we were all ‘primadonnas’, played on national TV a number of times and generally cut our teeth in the music industry. We landed a record deal with a major label in Italy (it was owned by RAI which is like the BBC in Italy) which even gave us a bunch of money in advance royalties, and my songs were signed to a major publisher (Warner Chappell). Then nothing happened. As simple as that. No promotion, no distribution, nothing. Our project never had the chance of getting off the ground…
After that, came some solo work – did anything see the light of day?
With Jungle Gardenia tied into a (useless) five-year contract, the management company decided to push me forward as a solo artist. We recorded some new material in Los Angeles (with some incredible musicians like the keyboard player of YES and the guitarist of Michael Jackson!) and started playing this to the big record labels in the US. I got really close again as the A&R executive from CBS/SONY thought I was a ‘blank check’ and he was very enthusiastic about my music but finally came back with a ‘no’ one month later from the decision meeting with all the ‘affiliates’ of the label. He said I ‘almost made it through…’ I got very depressed at that point and could not face it anymore. I decided I would abandon this music that was making me hurt constantly and do something more controllable. Something which didn’t put me at constant risk of facing rejection the way artists have to do. So I signed up to a business degree at University (for the joy of my parents!)
How did you end up as an MTV exec?
After my business studies I worked a couple years in Management Consulting (what was I thinking!?) and then moved on to MTV as Head of Business Development for the UK. I ended up there because I thought it would bring me closer to what I loved (music) while allowing me to stay within the safer boundaries of the business world. I’m sure that when I interviewed for the position the then general manager for MTV UK didn’t know what to make of this strange hybrid of a person he had in front of him. Is she analytical enough? Who IS she?? After my interview he disappeared and it was by my pure force of will (which I admit is pretty strong!) that I convinced him I was the right person for the job! Working at MTV was OK but none of it came close to giving me the highs and the pure joy that comes from making and performing my own music. If anything, working there made me feel even more frustrated (so close and yet so far…). Anyway I had never given up writing songs and was writing/recording demos on weekends. This is what was keeping me going really.
Do you think knowing the ins and outs of MTV will help propel your career?
I think my experience in the business world in general has given me another dimension across which to understand how to best market what I do. I also have acquired a healthy (?) dose of cynicism along the way…a bit like the Supertramp logical song you know…
What is your take on the whole instant fame of the television generation?
It’s an alarming phenomenon. There are a bunch of people that spend their days in TV companies thinking about how they can exploit people’s desire to be famous to make the extra bucks. What I think is being missed here is that for all of us to be famous for one minute means that nobody is actually really ‘famous’. To be famous for longer than a minute (and for it to have any meaning at all!) you need to actually have a unique, or at least a rare skill or talent. To be able to sing well or be outrageous (as in Big Brother!) is not any of those things. It’s a fraud, really, where the real losers are the people who participate thinking that by doing so they will become the next Freddy Mercury (NOT!) and the public whom are now fed this incredible crap day in and day out. ‘But people WANT to see these programmes!’ is what those executives devising the next ‘instant fame megaburger’ will argue. Yes they do. Just as people crowd around car crashes to see. It’s human nature, but that does not mean it is right to feed into this.
Having been through the highs and lows of the music industry, what has made you return to performance?
It’s not something I do, it’s part of who I am. I spent all the years in my business career with a fatter bank account but feeling like my life was a lie. I’m happy now, like my life has meaning again. I just worry about finances more!
I decided to ignore the “major label” route completely and keep full artistic and managerial control!
On your MySpace, you mention that having baby was a reason for the break from the business world. Do you think music will allow you to write your own material, do you feel this is important to you as an artist?
All the material on my album is 100% written by me. Writing is at least 50% of what makes me tick as an artist. I love the writing process and could not do without it. Of course I would also consider co-writing or even singing the odd song written by someone else if the song chimed with my soul. But I see myself as a singer-songwriter not simply a singer.
What are your hopes career wise?
I would like to get my music out there and hear what people on the streets think about it. My hopes are that enough people will like what they hear and will support me going forward through song/album sales, coming to my concerts etc…so that I can continue to produce new material again and again. I would also like to help develop new artists through the label I founded (Marbles Records) and write or co-write for new and established artists.
Do you think your past problems have kept your eyes wide open this time around?
Yes, I decided to ignore the “major label” route completely and keep full artistic and managerial control! It’s hard work as I’m all alone most of the time but I feel that the result is uncontaminated and real. I also am more careful about counting on what people say to me. In my mind it stays all ‘blah, blah’ until I see the facts.
Have you ever harboured any dream of fame?
Yes. It would be great to do what I love and be famous for it. To be a Peter Gabriel, an Annie Lennox, a Kate Bush, or even a Sade would be a dream come true. To be famous and be able to use this fame to do what I like to do, better and better, working with the most creative people on earth… famous enough that I can afford to make mistakes and still spring back… that is true bliss in my mind!
Who would you say are your musical heroes?
The Beatles (the biggest innovators to date), Pink Floyd (I know their albums by heart), Led Zeppelin (the sexiest music ever made), Police (nobody has been able to copy their unique sound), Green Day (my GOD is Billy Joe Armstrong a genius!), Tears for Fears (just wish they’d produced more material), Tracy Bonham (not well known but an amazing singer-songwriter who inspires me a great deal) and so many countless others!
Who do you disapprove of most in the industry?
Ha ha! This is a question I shouldn’t answer. ‘No Comment’ style. But of course I will: I disapprove of all the people who are sat on their bums at their jobs (be it CEOs, department managers or any plain employee) and whose main preoccupation is not ‘rocking the boat’. “Let’s all do what we’ve always done as this will keep us safe… “. These are the sort of people that turned a blind eye to the fact that the industry was changing so dramatically with the Internet, interactive TV, downloads, mobile content and all that stuff almost ten years ago! If they had embraced the changes and the new possibilities these new technologies brought (even though this meant questioning the future of some of their more traditional sources of revenue!) then the music industry would still be strong and not be in the shambles it is in today… at the mercy of reality TV and crap programmes to save them money on marketing. And this attitude continues today. Everyone is stuck in their mini-world and nobody is thinking about the ‘art of music’. I think record companies today have completely lost their function of discovering and nurturing new talent and have reverted to the function of trying to make a quick buck from the temporary famousness of someone, however that ‘famousness’ was acquired. Very sad.
Can you share any secrets from your MTV days?
No. Secrets shall remain secrets with me.
If it all fails will you return to the business world?
I really doubt it. Certainly I would not go back to working for a large company. I can see myself working in partnership with a small number of other like minded people in a role that would allow me to have a creative/business mix. For example managing a small record label and developing/writing for other artists on the label… have not thought through my ‘plan b’ completely as I need to believe ‘plan a’ will work to give it a fighting chance!
What is your ultimate goal with this album release?
My goal is to introduce myself as a singer-songwriter, get people to take notice, and let me know whether they like what I do and want to hear more. It’s about sharing the “product” that I’ve created with a load of passion and hoping that people will see that passion and love it too. It’s about telling stories which I hope will resonate with other people and give them emotions that enrich their lives somehow. I also hope to gain the attention of other like-minded musicians in the industry to possibly collaborate with in the future. It’s my showcase, my interview, my presentation.
To find out more about Odette, visit her MySpace.