Artist Interviews 2021

Gio Bertuccelli  
By Laura Siebold

Gio Bertuccelli is an award-winning music producer, composer, videographer, photographer, and barista. Gio was born into a family of artists; her father making Mardi Gras Papier mâché pieces for New Orleans and her aunt being a head seamstress for the University of Florida theatre department. Making their way from Bogotá, Colombia to Tuscany, Italy, Gio’s family immigrated to Gainesville, Florida in 1975 and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana two years later. Gio discovered his passion for music and gained his first professional composition job in New Orleans. Gio produced music for “Friends” for all ten seasons, including the pilot, as well as multiple commercials. After moving to L.A. in the 1990s, he became a beat programmer for a Barry Manilow record, produced by Phil Ramone and recorded at Capitol Records Studios.

Gio’s innovation and positive energy can be felt in every project she takes on. In our interview, Gio speaks about finding her artistic path, about great losses after hurricane Katrina, and how her realization of being transgender and the love for her girlfriend pulled her out of a difficult phase of life. She gives an insight into the changing landscape of music production, Los Angeles as a creative hub, and how she professionalized her skills as a queer photographer and videographer at Jamey Jamison’s TGirl Nights Club in Long Beach in the 2010’s.

Currently, Gio is working as a barista at “Liberation Coffee House”, located at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Anita May Rosenstein Campus, and enjoys the aspirations, creative energy, and reconnecting to her Italian roots. Together with her roommate Robert Margouleff, Gio has ventured into immersive audio production lately.

My father Raoul Bertuccelli with one of his papier-mâché creations for Kellogg's in Colombia. Photographer unknown

You are an artist of many kinds – music producer, composer, and dedicated barista – when and how did you first get into contact with art?

Art has always been part of my life. My father was an artist. He made Mardi Gras art using papier-mâché sculptures. I grew up in his shop from the very beginning of my life when we lived in Bogotá, Colombia. When I was five my mother my brother and I move to Italy (my ancestral land) specifically to a city called Viareggio which is located on the coast of Tuscany. That experience was extremely important in my development as an artist since I was living in the cradle of the Renaissance. I was surrounded by art everywhere it was just part of the scenery you could say. Everything in Tuscany is done and made with an artistic spirit. It is not only Florence and the great masterpieces which are renowned the world over, but every little town and village has exquisite expressions of artistic splendor. Whether it be a small church or a humble neighborhood-built hundreds of years ago. Our food our music our life is steep in art. Therefore, this stimulated my natural talent for becoming an artist.

Family photo. Middle: Gio’s father Raoul Bertuccelli; in the white turtleneck, Gio (holding the dog). Photo taken by Curtis Glick.

Was there a special moment or incident in your life which made you dedicate your career to art?

As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in an artistic family, also in very artistic surroundings. Initially in Italy I found inspiration everywhere but when we moved to America we immigrated to New Orleans. The city which is probably the most European city of America. And the birthplace of so-called jazz. One of the only indigenous art forms of this post-colonial country. It was here where I found my passion for music. It took a while to sift through my native culture and other ambitions to finally land with the muse of music as my mistress. After I broke my leg playing soccer for the University of New Orleans I embarked in a journey of musical expression. It was the mid-1980s and computer technology had just begun to be incorporated along with the synthesizers to form the ability to produce music independently. I took to it with an extreme devotion and passion and that's when I lost myself into the art form.

My first professional composition job, Southern Repertory Theater New Orleans 1980s
Photo by my then girlfriend Charlotte Lang

What can your clients expect from Gio when they book you for music production and composition and video production jobs?

Innovation and an eye toward the future has always been my hallmark. I have positive energy and a very hard time repeating myself artistically. In the market place of creativity quite often repetition means money. However, I have found that in the long run a more sustainable career is founded upon the pillars of new ideas and “dangerous” creativity, however messy the process might be.

Also, I bring the experience of multiple cultures and languages with me, expressions which only exist within those cultures and that becomes something new in the translation. Therefore, my clients have always gotten a product that is very unique and fresh.

My creative space West Hollywood late 1990s early 2000's. photo by Gio

How much does energy and the people you work with influence the outcome of your art?

I cannot work with anyone I don’t like, whether it be a client or a collaborator in the business of art; it is impossible to create a successful product without the synergy that comes from positive energy between all involved. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to have everyone on the same wavelength focused on the goal of success. Leaving egos and fears behind.

Can you tell us about a favorite moment in your career which reassured you to continue your artistic career? What kind of projects do you enjoy most?

I love this question because I have an extremely precise moment when this happened. In 1997, after I had been producing the music for” Friends” for 3 seasons, I was asked by Doug Besterman to work on a Barry Manilow record which was a tribute to Frank Sinatra. It was being produced by the renowned Phil Ramone. By this time I had also composed the music for dozens of national commercials and I had a couple of video games under my belt. We spent about a week at our space in west Hollywood working together on the track “Strangers In The Night”. My contribution was to create a beat to give the whole track a more modern groove. It was going to be used as the base for the orchestra to play the more traditional parts on top.

Later we went to Capitol Records to record the orchestra with the best session musicians in the world. It was probably one of the most exhilarating recording experiences I had been part of. When we returned from the session at Capital, I came back to the opening night party of our new space in West Hollywood. The DJ that night was Jason Bentley, renown for his show on KCRW and one of the most influential taste makers in the business at the time. I remember looking around our studio and seeing a Who's Who of the entertainment business. I realized at that time that I had made it. From then on, I realized I could liberate myself from the often-haunting feeling that artists have of being just a lucky imposter. My favorite projects to work on have always been, no matter what the goal, the ones that are about creating something that's never been done before and with best talent available. This is not only true for music or video but also at the Liberation Coffee House where I currently work. It is about the intent of the enterprise, it’s aspirations and the people I get to work with. Whether it’s “Friends” or the Liberation Coffee House, the quest for greatness really turns me on. Though establishing our little boutique record label Electric Monkey Records was a pure labor of love. We produced Jason Virgel ,which received rave reviews and The Latin Project that went to number one and received a Grammy Nomination.

With my great friends and collaborators Michael Skloff, Composer of the “Friends”
theme and Doug Besterman, three times Tony Award winning orchestrator.

Additional info by Gio: Electric monkey records was dissolved in 2004. It’s an interesting story when we went to number one with the Latin project, we all had a meeting about dissolving the record label. That’s a whole story in and of itself.

Have there ever been drawbacks in your career? Have you ever found yourself stuck as an artist? If yes, how did you manage to reignite your passion and inspiration?

As an artist and as a human being I lost everything. In 2005 I decided to move back to New Orleans to be closer to my parents. They had gotten older and I had an offer from composer and trumpeter Terence Blanchard to open a studio in New Orleans. I was at the end of a 10-year cycle of extreme success. And I thought the new opportunities in what was my American hometown were great, plus it would give me the privilege to be with my parents in their golden years. Thanks to Michael Skloff and his generous gift, I was able to pack the whole studio in a 40-foot container and ship everything to the family warehouse located in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. This is where my family had settled the business known as Studio3 which built creations for Mardi Gras and conventions in the city. The idea was to transition part of the warehouse to a musical studio and incorporate Mardi Gras and music into one space. Unfortunately, this was just one month before August 23, 2005... One of the darkest dates in the history of New Orleans and my life. That was the day Hurricane Katrina hit the city. I lost everything. Every Single thing I had built over the course of a 20-year career was gone overnight. Moreover, the insurance I had was not sufficient to cover the damage. My life in music as I knew it was over. I was devastated. It threw me into a 5-year spiral of depression and severe PTSD. I have very little memory of the first three years after this catastrophic event. I had ballooned to 265 pounds and was unable to conceive living a meaningful existence. I was dead. The true meaning of The Walking Dead is how I felt.

The one thing that got me to come out of this death spiral is love. First, it was an awakening of the self and a realization that I was transgender; though it had been obvious throughout my life, my denial kept it away from my conscious life. Second, it was falling in love with my best friend Tina. Those two were what enabled me to slowly pull myself from the abyss. The artistic manifestation of this endeavor was through photography and video production. In 2010, after my youngest son Ezra went to college, I was able to start concentrating on what was my personal truth. I ended up moving to Orange County and working with Jamey Jamison to help manifest her club known as TGirl Nights.

Throughout the 2010’s the club became the largest transgender social event in America and perhaps the world. By 2015/16, we averaged 600 people a night at the Hamburger Mary’s location in Long Beach, California. I became at first one of the photographers and later I dedicated myself strictly to video production. This is where I truly mastered my skills as a video producer and director. From then on, not only was I able to immerse myself in the transgender experience but learn an exciting new skill which reignited my creative juices. And here is where I met Tina and the rest of my trans family and friends.

The logo for our record label Electric Monkey Records 1999. 2004 logo design by Jason Searcy.

The identity of the artist and art are usually closely intertwined. What is your stance on this matter? To what extent do you let music speak for yourself?

I really love this question because it’s the purest truth any artist can live. One’s own identity has to be at the center of all of one’s art. Even if it's purely commercial and you have to acquiesce toward the nature of the creative business which commands you to fit your impulses to someone else's ideas. You have to find a way to keep your integrity within the art you produce commercially. Therefore, and artist always has to be closely intertwined to their muse.

I remember when I was working on the show” Veronica’s Closet” for which I was the composer of the ancillary music, I had gotten a note from the network, NBC, that they wanted to change the direction of the music because they thought it sounded too much like “gay disco”. For a show about fashion the music I had been composing was based on what someone would hear on a typical fashion runway show somewhere in Milano or Paris. A lot of underground interesting dark EDM of the 1990s. The network wanted me to go more in the direction of N’SYNC or Britney Spears. I thought it was way too commercial of a sound for the show. However, I was able to cool my jets, so to speak, and incorporate my tendency to be more underground and apply the aesthetics of the pop bands. I later received an award from ASCAP for the show. It was a very satisfying experience.

In your opinion - how has music composition changed over the past three decades? What is special about the L.A. music and video production scene?

The biggest change has come from the advent of the computer and MIDI (Musical Instrumental Digital Interface). This marriage has allowed new producers and composers to express themselves and democratized the opportunities for commercial success. Artistically this has also created a whole new set of esthetics. What began in the early 70s with the famous TONTO synthesizer has evolved into every computer and mobile device in the land. The way music (or any art) is approached and experienced is completely different now. From speakers to headphones, from stereo to immersive, it is a totally different world. The landscape of music and art has multiplied 1000-fold and it encompasses traditional ways and the most innovative visions. One can produce fully on an iPhone, whether it’s music or video. Award winning productions have been achieved on much smaller budgets and from unexpected sources.

Being in a city like Los Angeles is amazing for many reasons. First, it’s a global hub. Everyone comes here form around the world. The multicultural aspect of that is inspiring and enriching. Also, it creates a platform of extreme competition where an artist can truly measure them self against all aspects of their chosen expression. Think of Los Angeles as the eye of the storm and a whirlwind of creative juices flying around. Furthermore, the whole industry lives here; therefore, if you want to be commercially successful, one has to be here for at least some time.

We met at “Liberation Coffee House” in Los Angeles – what do you love about being a barista? Do you get inspiration for music and video production at the coffee house?

The cultures that shaped my life have all had a strong tie to coffee and the culinary arts. From Colombia to Italy to New Orleans. It’s in my DNA you could say. It resonates with in me and the Liberation Coffee House has allowed me to reconnect with this very core of my human experience. Especially as a Queer person coming out so late in life (my 50s), it helped me to not only appreciate this very dormant part of my self, but it connected me to a tribe I had ignored, a people that are a huge part of me. It ceased my fears and taught me to appreciate my life as a whole experience without shame or fear. Being this “Liberated” has given me a new beginning with inspiration and allowed me to think of myself as a more complete artist. It inspired new paths and adventures.

We love learning about future projects. Can you give us an insight into what you are working on at the moment?

My current roommate is Robert Margouleff who happens to be one of the creators of the TONTO synthesizers and one of the most consequential artists of the 20th century. As a music producer and film maker, he has become an amazing friend and guru. The experience has been indescribable. I have learned more in the last year than I had in the last decade. Robert is also a pioneer of immersive audio and that’s the area where I have been doing most of the new work. Headphone immersive audio is the future and one has to approach every aspect of the acoustical experience differently. Composing, mixing and producing happens within this paradigm. The sound evolves in your head.

Tina and I post transition. Selfie

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