Gina Sicilia – For those in the know, she’s the talented songwriter and powerhouse vocalist behind some of the most sultry blues out there. Her newest musical undertaking is her 10th studio album, Unchange. Produced by Colin Linden, it graces our earholes on April 29th via VizzTone Label Group. But there’s more to her than that. Much more.
Born Elvira Gina Sicilia in Newton, Pennsylvania she began singing at the tender age of 6, and by age 12 was writing her own songs. While studying journalism in college, she began attending the weekly blues jam at Warmdaddy’s in Philadelphia. It was there she befriended some like-minded folks who helped her cut her first demo. She recorded and released her first album, Allow Me To Confess, in 2007 and like most folks getting started in the business at that time, posted the songs on her MySpace page. It was from there that Richard Rosenblatt, president of the fledgling VizzTone Label Group, heard and signed her as one of the first artists to his label. Allow Me To Confess also garnered Sicilia a nomination in the category of Best New Artist Debut at the Blues Music Awards in 2008.
Sicilia has a voice like molten lava. It’s sensual, provocative, dangerous and smoky, with the power of a young Cher.
Fast forward 14 years and 8 albums, and Sicilia is releasing the album she’s always wanted to record, Unchange. Now living in Nashville, Tennessee, Gina found a way to skirt the devastation of the COVID outbreak by branching off her skills in other directions. Most notably, a food business aptly named Gina’s Italian Cuisine. She’ll also be marrying BMI exec and Nashville City Councilman Jeff Syracuse on Friday, April 8th. Luckily for us, we caught up with her in a rare free moment to talk about the album and other goings-on in her life.
You are quite possibly the busiest woman in Nashville.
I try to stay busy. Sometimes I just overwhelm myself with so many things, I just decide to just do nothing. Because I don’t know where to begin.
Let’s talk a bit about Unchange. This is a very different album from those we’re used to hearing from you.
Well, it’s the kind of album I’ve always wanted to make. It’s definitely more stripped down throughout the whole album, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. We do have some full band songs, but it’s kind of minimal. And yeah, and also, the musical direction it took is different for me as well. So this is a completely different album than anything I’ve done.
I noticed there are fewer original songs on this record than in past releases.
Fewer originals, which is a big, big change for me. This time, with so much going on in my life and so much to think about and focus on, my mind wasn’t as into songwriting. This time around with all the chaos in my life, I only wrote one song for this album. I just kind of let go of the idea that I had to write the majority of songs on the album. I said, you know, how about I take this time, this album to just record a few songs that I’ve always loved and have always wanted to cover, always wanted to do and I’ll just do my own rendition of them. And I’m okay with that. Just for this album, I’m okay with that. So that’s what I did. There’s one original that I wrote, “One Last Tender Moment.” There’s maybe like three or four kind of traditional songs like old Gospel spiritual songs, and then my original and five songs that Colin added.
I love your take on some of the older songs like “How Far Am I From Canaan?” and “Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor.” They’re two very different kinds of songs, but they fit together so well.
They do. Yeah, they do. “Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor” is not a spiritual song. But it definitely has that spiritual element to it with the way we arranged it and the way Colin’s playing. It’s kind of like this really has this very spiritual sound to it. So it really does fit in perfectly with everything else.
And they both fit into the stripped down motif of this release.
One of the other things I love about doing this album stripped down is that I really love playing stripped down shows live. I like when it’s just me and a guitar player, or me and just two other people and I wanted to have an album that I could truly emulate live and replicate. And you know, when you have an album and it’s just like a big horn section on every song and strings, sometimes that part takes up so much of the song that it doesn’t really translate to a stripped down setting. When you don’t have the horns and the strings and all the extra instrumentation, this is something that will easily translate to a live setting and in a stripped down setting, which is good, too.
I’ve done stripped down performances here and there on CD, and maybe I’ll have one song where it’s just me and guitars, but not an entire album. I’ve always loved performing that way. And it just kind of allows for more focus on my voice and the lyrics and, you know, just the delivery rather than all this extra stuff, so I really enjoy it.
For the new album you went back to VizzTone?
Yeah, I went back to VizzTone. So I was with VizzTone for my first five albums. And then I was looking for a new direction, something new and, you know, just a new adventure. And I signed with Blue Elan records, Los Angeles, I was with them for five years. And that was a great adventure. And I was very grateful for it. I got to go off to LA all the time and record out there and I made a lot of friends a lot of connections and then I decided to go back to VizzTone for this one. For future albums. It’s a good fit for me. It’s always felt like home and I’m really, really happy to be back.
Will you be touring the album? I know you didn’t get a chance to tour Love Me Madly.
So I’m gonna be playing some shows, I’m not going to be getting in the van and going on the road for weeks at a time. I don’t see myself doing that anymore. I’m kind of aiming for quality over quantity at this point. So I’m going to be doing some one offs. I have a show booked in North Carolina. I’ve got some stuff in Nashville. And I’m working on getting some more stuff in North Carolina, kind of regionally, maybe flying up to the Northeast at some point. But really, as far as going on the road and touring, I think really heavily touring these days might be over for me.
I want to stick with kind of just doing quality one offs in markets where I feel like I do well and venues that I enjoy playing at. And you know, this, the Italian food business has really taken the pressure off of having to make a living from music. Not that I’m not going to try anymore. But now that I have that I can really choose just quality over quantity instead of filling up my schedule with you know, every last day of the month was dates, and exhausting myself and overwhelming myself and potentially losing money just to have a full calendar. So I’m really content with just playing. You know, maybe a couple few shows a month and then balance in my life. There you go.
Do you do you have a personal favorite track on Unchange?
Well, I really do love the title track. That’s a song that Colin wrote with his wife, Janice. And it’s really exactly when I wanted to work with Colin as a producer. That song and that kind of song and that style is exactly what I had in mind for us to do. Something very soulful and raw, but stripped down with a beautiful melody. It’s exactly what I wanted to do with him and then he sent me that song that he had just written. I really feel like it’s the perfect representation of what Colin and I are doing together on this album. That might be my favorite but I’m really pleased with “How Far am I From Canaan” came out. I just love it and “Pallet On Your floor. So I have a few favorites but I think my top would be the title track “Unchange”.
You’re playing with Colin Linden on May 1st there in Nashville correct?
Yeah, at The 5 Spot. That’s gonna be a great show. We’re going to do some songs from my new album then he’ll do some of his own songs. And then we’re going to kind of alternate I’ll come back and we’ll end the night. So it’s going to be a great show. I’m going to be a guest on WMOT’s Finally Friday segments. WMOT is a popular Americana and roots station in Nashville, and they have a segment called Finally Friday, where you perform an interview in front of a live audience. I’m very much looking forward to that. And playing Isis Music Hall in Asheville, North Carolina on May 21. And I’m working on filling in some more dates, as well for the rest of the summer.
You mentioned your Italian food business. How is that going? Was that your way of surviving COVID?
I think so. Yeah. I mean, I had no choice. I had an album coming out, right, you know, when COVID hit, everything was already underway, it was too late to turn back. I wouldn’t have wanted to turn back anyway. After lockdown started I could still concentrate on my album release and, and stay creative in different ways and promoting it on social media and stay engaged, stay active. I started cooking a whole lot more during COVID, and I started doing cooking live streams to promote the album. Then I created some recipe cards that we gave away to people who pre-ordered. So I kind of incorporated that to stay creative, and it really gave me something to focus on. It gave me something to do every day during that lockdown period. And I’m so glad that I did it.
And then, you know, I kind of kept going with the Italian thing. I decided to start writing a cookbook and I created a food Instagram where I would post my food photos and, and then a year ago, I decided to start the business officially, selling my entrees at stores and farmer’s markets, as well as my sauces and desserts and things like that. And it’s kind of taken off. I got my wholesale license, and I’ve recently started catering. I’m working on a TV show, on local public access TV. I’m writing, editing, filming it, starring in it directing it, it’s kind of like a cooking entertainment show about Nashville and food. Someone asked me recently to start teaching cooking classes around town. So I’m, you know, I’m kind of experimenting and figuring out which direction I want to go in.
I’m selling my tomato sauce in stores right now, but I’d really love to move on. At some point, when I have the time to focus on it, move on to Italian frozen, or refrigerated Keto friendly entrees. Like really good, low carb Italian entrees that you can go and buy in the store. I would love to do that.
Another thing that I was able to do with the food and music, I did a lot in 2021, I would have an Italian night at a local wine bar, where I would cook for the crowd and also play a set. That was great, so I would love to do more of that. And I love merging the two things. And you know, at this point I will never give up music. You know that will always be my biggest focus. But having this new career now to not only does it give me something new and exciting to focus on, but I was able to make enough money from my Italian business in 2021 to self fund the album with Colin. So that was exciting. I’m very proud of that.
I love the fact that you were talking about combining cooking for a crowd, and then playing a set. Are there a lot of venues where that’s available to do?
I’m hoping so because I would love to do more of it. It’s just, I’ve only done it at one venue in Nashville. I also did a residency there in the Fall, and then threw in the food thing a couple times, but I would love to do it more. It kind of has to be a place where you can prepare food right there, and then serve it even if it’s just little hors d’oeuvres or something. But I would love to do more of that either locally in Nashville, or even do one offs around the country and offer that kind of thing. And if someone in Colorado reached out to me about it, that’s just one more thing that I can do. One more thing now that I have to offer, and I think it’s good as an independent artist to be able to acquire as many skills as you possibly can and have as much to offer as you possibly can. I really like having this new element, new facet of myself, my life to offer and combined with my music.
You’re also getting married this week. Is he ready for your multi-job, hectic lifestyle?
Jeff Syracuse and I are getting married on Friday. He has two careers just like I do. His main job for the past 20 something years has been working for BMI Music in the TV and film licensing department. So he’s been doing that for years. And then in 2015, he ran for city council, and he won. So he represents District 15 in Nashville on the city council. That’s a seven days a week job. He’s coming up to the end of his second term, so by the time he’s done, it’ll be almost eight years, and then he’s considering what’s next. So he does those two things, so he can understand the headaches that come sometimes with having two completely different careers. He’s also very actively involved in the blues community. He’s been on the board of The Blues Foundation for over 10 years.
Wow. Two workaholics together. Please tell me you two have written something together.
We haven’t written anything together, but we’ve done some duets. I think one or two of them. We posted online on Facebook, just for fun when we were snowed in one day, but we’ll definitely be doing more of that.
What else should we know about Gina Sicilia?
I’m kind of always been a very persistent person. I love keeping my momentum and keeping myself out there and staying creative. I love making music. I love being in the studio. I love songwriting. And I, I just, I really, I love what I do. This is my 10th album, but it’s still so exciting to release new music and to put it out to the world. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. In fact, if you pre-order Unchange before the release date from my store, you’ll receive a signed copy. I hope to always stay creative and to keep coming up with new projects and new ideas to kind of keep this whole thing fresh, and still exciting for me.