20 Questions: Bruce Sudano

What did Bruce Sudano say to President Obama in Oslo? What wine goes well with rigatoni? The Nashville-based singer-songwriter tells PopMatters in this edition of 20 Questions.

Bruce Sudano is jet-lagged. He just returned from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. Only two days earlier, he was shaking President Obama's hand and now he's enduring the seasonal frenzy of holiday shoppers at the mall. All this followed an intense month of travel where the Nashville-based singer-songwriter jetted between Los Angeles and New York. He savored each bite of the pasta dinner he ate last night in the comforts of his own kitchen with a glass of Chianti. After such a whirlwind itinerary, home never tasted so good.

Even before departing for Oslo, Sudano was celebrating an already memorable year. 2009 marked the release of his third solo album, Life and the Romantic, released on his own Purple Heart imprint. The writer of hits by Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Robert Palmer, Jermaine Jackson, and Donna Summer emerged this year with a new set of songs that found the former member of Alive 'n Kickin' and Brooklyn Dreams in a contemplative space, mapping his observations about the details of everyday life over a variety of soundscapes. "Beyond Forever", "Love Is Sacrifice", and "A Glass of Red and the Sunset" folded a shade of jazz into the tunesmith's repertoire while "It's Her Wedding Day" helped Sudano earn two nominations (AC Artist and AC Song of the Year) for the 2009 New Music Weekly Awards. It's a good time to be Bruce Sudano, as the artist ruminates on what he wore to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, what he said to President Obama, and the special place that both his wife and Bob Dylan occupy in this latest edition of 20 Questions.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

The Proposal (2009). I cry at the drop of the hat because I'm really a sappy kind of guy, so I think that there were moments in The Proposal where I was fighting back tears. In The Hangover (2009), I was crying the other kind of tears, i.e., this is so goofy that I'm crying. Those two films for different reasons. The ying and the yang of it.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Goofy. In his mind, he thinks he has it all figured out and he stumbles along in and out of trouble but at the end of the day, he comes out okay.

3. The greatest album ever?

That's a very subjective thing. I would say Marvin Gaye's What's Going On (1971) because it's vocally amazing, rhythmically and musically amazing, and also lyrically amazing. At the same time, the issues that it confronts are timeless. It's always current. It never goes out of style.

I used to play at the clubs with the band. We'd get off at four in the morning and then we would go to the gay bars and dance, then head back to another friend's house, hang out, and listen to Marvin Gaye until eight o'clock in the morning. Then, I'd stumble my way back home. It was a very interesting time in my life.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I'd have to say neither but I'd go with Trek because it doesn't have "war" in it. I'm not a Trekkie or a Star Wars guy. I go to girls' movies and cry.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Pasta. It's my comfort food. I always think better when I'm comfortable. Heat up the garlic, chop up the cherry tomatoes, whip up some rigatoni, throw it all together. Add some good Parmesan cheese and a little bit of crushed red pepper, a glass of Chianti, and I'm a happy boy.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

My proudest accomplishment is my children. You do everything that you can but I'm human and I make mistakes. I did things wrong but at the end of the day, through the grace of God, He redeems the situation, and they are just beautiful people that I'm just happy to know. I feel humbled by who they are.

7. You want to be remembered for...?

I want to be remembered as somebody who had integrity, who, in spite of the mistakes or knock-downs, got back up, asked forgiveness, and tried to be straight-ahead honest and truthful.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Jesus Christ, Bob Dylan, Donna Summer.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Home Depot (laughs). If there is one place that is the most foreign to me, that would be it. Whenever I go in there, I'm like, "Wow, man. I can't relate to this at all". I have to have a house with a basement because growing up, I lived in the basement of my mother's house and the rest of the family lived upstairs and so typically wherever I live, I have a house with a basement and I just leave the rest of the house to everybody else. I just exist in the basement so I can daydream.

10. Your hidden talents...?

My hidden talent is that I'm a really good dancer. When people see me dance, they think I can't dance but I know I really can! I credit it to having a really great natural sense of rhythm. (Honestly, this is all tongue-in-cheek.)

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Have faith and just enough light for the step you're on. It's like, don't be afraid of the future, don't be afraid of tomorrow, don't project too far in advance, don't think you're supposed to know everything that's supposed to happen next. One step in front of the other. Just keep walking forward.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

I think the best thing that I ever bought was my horse. That's for a couple of different reasons. When I grew up in the '50s and '60s, there were a lot of cowboy shows on TV. My favorite toy was a horse. I could just sit for hours and pretend that I was a cowboy. As I became an adult, I lived on a ranch and I was able to have some horses. My horse was my means of escape and I could just get on the horse and just ride the hills for hours on end. It allowed me time to talk to God and it was a break from the studio. It was a sense of freedom and a connection back to my youth that I really appreciated. My horse became a real good friend of mine because I could talk to him while I was riding and he never complained.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or...?

This is very interesting because I just came back from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Before we left for Oslo, I was in New York and I went to Armani and I bought this black velvet Armani jacket and a pair of black slacks. I went to the President's speech and this is what I wore. My wife said, "You look so great. This is how you should dress all the time." I said, "You may think I look great but I feel really uncomfortable and I'd rather be in my black jeans and black Vans and my black T-shirt", which is my typical uniform.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Joni Mitchell. I always found her to be a very interesting person and a very interesting artist and she was somebody that always intrigued me. It would be interesting to sit down and have a conversation with her. At the end of all that, I'd say to her, "...and Joni, stop smoking. Put that cigarette down!"

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I think I'd like to time travel to Paris during the Renaissance. I would just like to be an artist there at that time, a musician and a writer, and just soak up all that was going on.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?

I'm Italian so I'd have to say a hit man, not necessarily to do a hit but just to go over towards the situation and have the guy say, "Hey -- now do the right thing, alright?"

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or...?

I'm torn between coffee and chocolate. Coffee, for me, gets me up and gets me going. On the other hand, even though I'm not a big chocolate freak, chocolate does contain phenethylamine and phenethylamine is supposedly the feeling that you get when you're in love. If you're feeling void of love and you need to feel kind of warm and toasty, they say if you eat chocolate it can help that happen. I'm somewhere in between the two C's. Personally, coffee is the thing for me. I'm sorry to say this for coffee aficionados but I drink Folgers instant coffee. My house is hooked up with the real extensive coffee maker and you can have any kind of coffee you want from any kind of country. I bypass the machine and go over to the instant coffee and add the hot water.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I'd have to say New York City. I spend a lot of time in the country but I'm really at home in the city. I think that, essentially, I'm a neighborhood guy. I like things to be instant and in the moment. I like the feeling of walking out of your apartment and being in the middle of stuff, and getting what you need when you need it. Conversely, I appreciate the solitude and the open air of the country. I get itchy pretty quickly.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Well, this is an interesting question because I just met him two days ago. What I said to him was, "Mr. President, I really appreciated that speech". In my mind, I wanted to go on to say -- but of course I didn't because it would have been completely inappropriate -- "Is it really a good idea to try these guys in New York City? Do you really think that you should push the health care bill through just to do something instead of taking some time to make sure we got it right?" Other than that, "Mr. President, I totally respect you. I appreciate the job that you have taken on. I pray for you".

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on now?

Right now, I'm working on getting through Christmas. I'm working on thinking about what I'm going to do next. This time of year, I kind of don't work on stuff. When I was younger, this time of year was the most frustrating time of year for me because I couldn't keep going. Everything was closed. I couldn't accomplish anything and I couldn't move my life further along. Now, I've learned to relax and enjoy it, flow with it, and appreciate the moment that it is. This is the moment to celebrate blessings and family and friends and not be frustrated. Come January 1, I will be wound up and ready to go in some direction. Right now I'm not sure which one it's going to be but I'm confident at that point I'll have just enough light for the step I'm on! 

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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