Hailing from Italy and starting his solo career in Canada, Viva Lion has been active since 2012 with a heavy tour schedule in the last decade that saw him play across Europe and North America. The last few years have seen less touring and more focus on composing for production music distributed through APM. His two artist-driven albums, Bona Fide and Viva Lion Football Club are a testament to his range and versatility.
We chatted with Viva Lion about his career thus far, being an Italian artist who found success abroad, and how he got involved with production music.
Hi Viva Lion. Nice to be speaking with you. How did things get started for you in music?
I come from a large family, and from what I was told, I couldn't fall asleep for the first year without music being played to calm me down (laughs). I began writing original songs at fourteen and started my first punk band that same year, but I left in 2009 to start my solo project and moved to Canada soon after. Viva Lion came about some years later.
What specifically caused you to move to Canada?
I worked for an Italian publishing company in the 2000s that had relationships in Canada, so I was able to visit for a brief time and decided to return on a working holiday visa. Also, my lyrics are in English, so being in a North American market made more sense. It also allowed me to tour California, and being a singer who plays an acoustic guitar made it easier to get booked since it meant venues deal with a more straightforward setup.
I eventually left Canada and returned to Europe, but I keep track of what's happening in the Canadian scene, whether it's music from Neil Young or newer artists like City and Colour.
You played many shows in the 2010s, from clubs and bars to stores and mid-sized venues. Who booked all this?
I had a booking agent, but it also happened due to word-of-mouth, especially in the US. I had friends who booked me for multiple shows, and then I met a lady in LA who liked me a lot. She'd give me a 20-minute slot on her shows and invited me to play multiple times. I'd play anywhere back then, even in the McDonald's bathrooms (laughs). But I eventually got tired of playing small shows in North America. Later, I did some bigger ones in Italy, opening for acts like Stereophonics, Xavier Rudd, The Fratellis, and Turin Brakes. Those shows were at large clubs, and the experience was terrific. It also led to more bookings at other venues.
Can you talk about The Green Dot EP, released in 2013?
Sure. I signed with an indie label in Italy called Cosecomuni, and that was my first EP. I was lucky they had their own recording studio because I'm not self-produced - I've always had a team working with me on the recording and producing side. I was also lucky that the folk scene had exploded thanks to acts like Mumford & Sons, so getting booked and playing the EP live was easier.
In terms of sales, the EP sold out the physical copies, though it was less than 1000 units. I also played 60 - 70 shows in 2013, so it was a good run.
How did your relationship develop with Cosecomuni?
They were musicians with a recording studio, publishing company, and label. They liked my music, so I recorded the EP with them. My solo album, Mi Casa Es Tu Casa, was released on Inri but was co-published by Cosecomuni and a Milan label called Metatron. That helped me make appearances on radio shows and get featured in major Italian magazines.
Regarding recording, I often work with a friend in Berlin called Federico Coderoni. I got to know him while interning at Cosecomuni's studio, and he played a significant role in the first album. Nowadays, I travel with my acoustic guitar and compose simple songs, which I then take to a producer like Frederico to develop.
Given all the shows you played, you made most of your money from touring. Is that right?
Years ago, I did, but not in the last three years. I played some well-known venues like The Viper Room and House of Blues, which was rare for an Italian indie act, but I couldn't build off the momentum because I had to return to Europe, which was like starting from zero. Then I started working with a music publisher called Flipper Music, which led me to produce music. They said my music was suitable for movies and TV, which led to them commissioning my first library album, Bona Fide, so that's what I'm focusing on now. I don't play as many shows anymore, but it's not a big deal since I love recording music.
What's the relationship between Flipper Music and Primrose?
The same people run them. Primrose is one of their labels, and Flipper acts as the publisher.
So "Viva Lion Football Club" was also a commissioned album from Flipper?
Yes. A TV producer contacted me to write a song about a footballer, and I wrote the music and lyrics quickly. He called me back after hearing it and was super happy, so it ended up on a TV show. That's when Flipper asked me to write more songs about football players, which became the Viva Lion Football Club album.
How many placements have you gotten in the last years of working with Flipper Music?
I've made two albums, so maybe 6 - 10 tracks have been placed.
Thanks for talking to us. What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I'll be recording a new EP in June, and I also have an instrumental EP that's mostly done. I've also been asked to play a few shows, but they still need to be booked. But in either case, my focus will be more on composing.
Listen to Viva Lion's Artist Series album now.