Q&A: Vegas Headliner Frankie Moreno
Written by Sarah Osman
Musician Frankie Moreno is originally from Santa Cruz, CA, and first got recognized as a child prodigy pianist. Nowaways, he is currently headlining his own show at the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel, & Tower in Las Vegas! He was recently named Headliner of the Year and has just released his self-titled new album, which he collaborated on with producer Pat Thrall. In addition to putting on Frank Sinatra-type shows in Sin City, Frankie also recently appeared on “Dancing with the Stars”. He was simply delightful to chat with, and I personally learned a great deal about music from him.
Frankie chatted with us about his travels all over the world, growing up in Santa Cruz, and the side of Las Vegas that you don’t see!
YH: You actually started out as a child prodigy pianist on CBS's "Star Search"! Can you tell us a little bit about that experience, as well as your family's background in music? Are they all musicians as well?
FM: I started actually playing piano when I was around three. My dad was a guitar player, along with his brother, in a local band in my hometown of Santa Cruz, CA. My dad would have band practices at the house, and, one day, I just sat at the piano and just started playing. I was able to listen to recordings of Mozart and I was just able to play them. By the time I was about seven, I started taking lessons so that I could read sheet music, and I started playing all over the West Coast at festivals and whatnot. I was sort of this weird novelty. Like, "Come out, look at that little freak kid playing piano!" [laughs]. Then when I turned nine, that show “Star Search” was really popular, and my mom decided to put me on it. I was up for it, and my parents sent in a video of me playing piano. The producers were really impressed and wrote back that they loved what I could do but they weren’t sure if it fit into the show. They asked if I could sing, and my mom said, yeah, I could sing, even though I had no idea how to sing! So, I quickly took some voice lessons, and my mom sent in a video of me singing, and they flew me out for auditions, and I was put on the show. The actual show came out when I was around 11. I started getting calls to do auditions, and I began to perform and meet people in the business. My career spun off from there.
YH: Can you tell us a little bit about your current self-titled album, and your collaboration with guitar legend Pat Thrall?
FM: Once I started doing all these shows, I started making recordings to sell. This was still when I was very young — I started making cassette tapes to sell. I continued to make recordings and create actual records. Then I did a recording with Joshua Bell, who is a classical artist, and our song hit #1 on the Billboard Charts for Classical Music. We did a version of “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles. The song was so popular that my record sales began to soar! This lead me to my show in Vegas, and I wanted to get the right people involved for my next record. I brought in Pat Thrall, who’s worked with Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry, OneRepublic, etc. He was working with all the artists that I admire. I chose a bunch of my previously recorded songs and recorded a bunch of new songs. When this record dropped, I started to get a bunch of great press and started to do all of the TV stuff and whatnot. It’s been great!
YH: You have mentioned that a great deal of inspiration for your music came from your travels with your brothers. Can you elaborate on this, and what has been your favorite place that you have traveled to?
FM: All the music that I write [is] with my two younger brothers, Tony and Ricky. My brother Tony plays bass in my band, and my brother Ricky writes music with us. I had started writing songs since I was very young, and when I moved to Nashville, I made a career out of songwriting. I had always written by myself. As I started to get older, they started to ask me for songwriting tips. We started to realize that we actually wrote songs really well together. We had never really traveled a lot internationally, so we just decided to go see the world and try to write music at the same time. We went to Europe for about three weeks, and backpacked around Europe and wrote songs. Every place we went we really soaked up the culture and tried to put a little bit of the place into the song. This became really cool to us and we realized that it was changing our style of writing, so we decided to just keep traveling. I’ve been to about 65 countries in the last ten years. Our show is actually based around our travels.
My favorite place is probably Vienna, Austria. I’m a huge Mozart fan, since I grew up reading about him and playing him. I also really relate to him. Vienna is where he lived, so it’s a special place for me to visit. I actually go to his house to write songs. We like to go to specific spots that previous artists have been to, and we like to create in that spot. I also really like Florence, Italy. I really enjoyed Egypt; I’m not sure if I’d go back but I enjoyed it! I really like places that have been heavily influenced by music.
YH: You are indeed Italian. How has your background and heritage influenced your upbringing?
FM: I think in a big way. I’m actually Italian and a little bit of German, but I think that my Italian side of the family has affected me in a big way. They’re really loud, welcoming... it’s almost as though they are performing just when they are having a conversation. I love to cook because of my grandparents, I go to Italy because I love the culture, the music… The Mandalay is actually my second instrument. I’m not sure how much of it affects the actual music that I do on stage, but I think that a big part of who I am is influenced by my culture.
I also think that growing up in Santa Cruz was a big influence for me. There is a big Italian community in Santa Cruz as well, and everyone is very creative and artsy. It encourages you to be creative and to write new music, rather than just do what everyone else is doing. I love towns that encourage the arts and that want people to be involved in artistic things. I wish that there were more cities like that, and I wish that Vegas just had a little bit more of that.
We’re actually trying to bring a little bit of that to Vegas. We’ve been raising money trying to get instruments for the local schools and bring more music to them. I never became a musician for the money. I got into this because I was good at it as a kid, and I looked up to artists like The Beatles, Mozart, Elvis — the innovators. I wanted to be like them. I hope that a kid 100 years from now will look up to me and want to play like me! I want to bring more art to the city of Vegas. There are so many places to play music in the entire city of Vegas, yet all of the bands are doing the exact same thing. I would like to see that change. Why not bring in cool bands from all over the country to play for a few weeks at a time? That would be awesome. We need to have more of a music scene out here.
YH: You recently performed on "Dancing with the Stars". What was that experience like?
FM: It was sort of a fluke that I even ended up on that! I was doing this television show with Joey Fatone of N’Sync, and he was in the Las Vegas version of “Dancing with the Stars”. I was doing this show with him called “My Family Recipe Rocks”, which is a cooking show [laughs]. He was telling me that this was the last week he was doing “Dancing with the Stars” and that I should come check it out. So, I went down and watched the show and met the cast, and I invited them to all come check out my show. One of the dancers on the show who is named Lacey Schwimmer took some video of me singing one of the songs in my shows called “Tangerine Honey”, and she sent it to the producers on “Dancing with the Stars”. They really liked it and invited me to come perform on the show. So, she was really the one who set that whole thing up for me. The whole performance timed out perfectly because it coincided with the exact time that my record came out!
YH: You are currently headlining a show at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. Can you tell us what it is like to headline a show in Las Vegas?
FM: Touring is what I’ve always wanted to do. But when I first started working at this current record, I came back to Vegas and started playing in the bars. I started to draw all these people out, and even the local celebrities would come out to them! It drew such a commotion that the local papers started to write about it, and I realized that there was something to this show. Then the Stratosphere came and offered me to be their headliner. I would be set to play for two years in their main room, and they would sell tickets, etc. I found it very odd because no one really knew my name. I’ve done a lot of stuff, but people still didn’t know who I was. Plus I’m an artist. I play original music; I don’t really do covers. The whole concept of playing in a showroom was strange to me. So, I made a list of crazy demands that I knew they would say no to, and they said no [laughs]. I left, and the next day, the papers reported that I had been offered a headlining gig, and the next thing I knew, three different casinos had offered me a headlining gig. I liked the Stratosphere because it’s a landmark in Vegas. It’s what you know about the city — it’s the first thing that you see when you’re in Vegas, so I thought that it would be cool to be a part of something like that and to give the whole thing a test run. So, the Stratosphere came back to me and gave me everything that I had asked for. Then they rebuilt the whole showroom; I wanted it to have an old, copa-cabana vibe, I wanted it to feel as though you were watching Frank Sinatra in 1965 Las Vegas. I wanted to do something that no one else was doing. We put in booths, candles on the tables... It’s very spacious. We put in all new lighting, etc.
Before we did the first show, I went around Vegas to see what sort of shows were the most popular. What’s currently dominating in Vegas are the Cirque du Soleil-type shows, Celine Dion, etc. There were no shows of some unknown guy singing original songs. I just sort of thought, well, let’s give it a go — and right out of the gate, we started selling tickets, and the whole show ended up going crazy good! After sometime, I won Headliner of the Year. So now, every night, there is a full house. I am now signed on to perform there through 2015. It’s flexible so that I can tour if I want to. It’s important to me to still tour. I would like to do what Sinatra or Elvis did — I would like to have a residency in Vegas so that I always have a place to play at, but I would like to continue to tour as well and release new records. I feel that what I am doing has been done before, but that it just hasn’t been done in 40 years.
Living in Vegas can be very weird. Vegas itself is a rather strange place. It’s very fast-paced; it can feel very big, yet it’s very small at the same time. I feel as though we all know each other. Vegas is basically one big, long street. I actually live in the suburbs, so I get to escape the glitter; I live in a normal house, with a lawn. It’s definitely a good place to be for business. I’m used to being on the road and traveling. It’s a lot of work and can be tiring. But in Vegas, the crowd is the one that is on tour. In the audience, there is someone from Texas, someone from England, someone from California, etc. If they all buy a record and go home and share it, then that’s great exposure. It’s a great way to reach a lot of people all at once.
YH: What can we expect to see from you next?
FM: I’m about to take over the world now! [laughs]. I’m just kidding. I don’t actually have a point where I see myself ending with this. My whole life, I have always just wanted to grow, grow, grow. I want to keep promoting my record, sales have been going through the roof — I’m actually recognized now! It’s insane. I’m realizing all of these different aspects that make the momentum stronger, so I’m trying to make the music stronger, working with the right people, etc. I’ve already started to work on [the next record]; it’s going to be really cool, and I’m really excited about it. We’re redesigning the show here in Vegas so that it will be really unique and fun to watch. We’re just having fun and I’m trying to take it as far as I can take it.
- Sarah Osman, YH Staff