Young French tenor Amaury Vassili was recently in South Africa to promote his debut album Vincero. Exclus1ves’ Graeme Shackleford met up with him at a Melrose Arch hotel for a coffee and a quick chat.
Exclus1ves: Can you tell us, briefly, who Amaury Vassili is?
Amaury Vassili: I am a young tenor, twenty years old, and I’m very lucky to come to South Africa because it’s the furthest country from France to release my album. I would like to sing in the most beautiful places in the world.
EB: What is your musical background? How were you discovered?
AV: I was inspired to sing when i heard Florent Pagny, a French singer. He’d recorded the Baritone album, an album filled with operatic songs like ‘Nessun Dorma’. When I heard his voice, a light in my head went on, and I sang. I sang in different competitions, and I won! There aren’t many people doing this kind of music at the moment, and when i met my manager, he told me that it’s fantastic because although this kind of music is not very popular, it’ll be a good thing for people to discover it through me!
EB: How old were you when you heard Florent’s Baritone album?
AV: I was 15 or 16, and I was 16 years old when i won my first competition. A year later, I sang for Warner Music and I began recording my first album.
EB: What inspires you to sing?
AV: I’ve one reason for singing this music particularly. It’s because I have a need to use all of the power of my voice – I love to sing with a lot of power. It’s very difficult for me to sing with just my lips – I prefer to sing very big songs.
EB: Your debut album, Vincero, has been released in several countries, your fan base is growing and you’re doing a lot of travelling to promote the album. How do you find that? It must be very different to when you were only known in France?
AV: It’s my dream to sing onstage all around the world. France is the land of my birth, but I prefer other countries because the world is very, very big and I’d like to discover different countries – it’s my first reason for travelling and singing. So I’m very happy, very excited!
EB: You sang that beautiful duet with Katherine Jenkins, ‘Endless Love’, and you took part in her Believe tour as well. What was it like going on tour and singing with Katherine Jenkins? She’s been in the music industry for about six years now, is well-known and well-loved, and certainly has a voice! What was it like being with her on that tour and working with her?
AV: It was a beautiful thing for me to sing with Katherine because she’s a very big star in England – here, too! She’s lovely… Very beautiful, and she sings very, very well. The difference between Katherine and myself is that she’s had vocal training. I think I sing with more emotion but with less technical perfection. I prefer to sing with my natural voice and use my instinct – it’s easier for me to give emotion. I think that Katherine is more the operatic singer.
EB: So Katherine is a more technical singer whereas you are more instinctive?
AV: Yes, exactly.
EB: You’ve given us a wonderful collection of songs from across different genres on Vincero: There’s U2, Elgar, Cohen… What sort of music do you listen to at home?
AV: Reggae roots… But i’m very eclectic. I love pop music… I just hate techno and electronic music. I’m a very big fan of Michael Jackson, I’m a fan of many French singers, and I love hiphop. My favourite music to sing, however, is lyrical pop.
EB: Reggae roots? Are you a Bob Marley fan?
AV: Yes! Bob Marley and the Wailers, Burning Spear, The Gladiators…
EB: Apart from music and singing, how else do you occupy your time? What hobbies do you have?
AV: I have a lot of hobbies, but I don’t have the time for them! I’m a fan of tv series and sport: football, basketball… I prefer to stay at home, though.
EB: You mentioned tv series… What are some of your favourites?
AV: 24! I have a lot of American tv series… I think I have near thirty series! But my favourites are 24 and Lost… Yesterday I watched Battlestar Galactica, a scifi series.
EB: You’re being compared to singers like Josh Groban and Michael Buble, and are also being hailed as one of the world’s youngest tenors. I think that when one mentions ‘tenor’ to a lot of South Africans, they immediately think of people like Pavarotti, the Three Tenors… Music of that scale. How does it feel to be compared to these singers?
AV: I think for the open-minded, I’m a lot like Luciano Pavarotti… But I don’t know the technique. I’m learning. I think Pavarotti was a citizen of the world. He was very eclectic. He sang with Sting and with a lot of other pop artists, and this open-mindedness, for me, is very important. I think Josh Groban is closer to my kind of music, but there’s a big difference in our influences: I have European influences and Josh has American influences. Also, Josh has had training… Vive la difference! I think I bring something different because it’s my instinct that sings! For me, there’s a big difference, but for the audience… I don’t know.
EB: How long did it take to record Vincero?
AV: About six months. In France, we have two versions of my album… The first twelve songs took six months, and the extra songs – on the other version – took another five months! It took long because of the choice of songs. They were hard! Also, we needed classical songs, we needed pop songs…
EB: I was very impressed with your version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. It’s one of my favourite songs, and I thought you did a really good job with it! How did you approach that song specifically? What was your feeling in it?
AV: It’s strange because it was my big boss who told me about this song. I’d never heard Leonard Cohen’s original! At the time of recording, I’d only heard Rufus Wainwright’s version of it,and I liked it. We tried the song in the studio, and everyone who heard it thought it was perfect. One of the people, (name?) – a composer and arranger – told me one thing for ‘Hallelujah’: at the end, I sing higher – it’s good because when you hear the versions by Rufus Wainwright and Leonard Cohen, it’s a very relaxed song, and there are others who’ve done it where it’s been louder, and I wanted to combine that in my version.
EB: Thank you very much, Amaury. I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in South Africa.
AV: Thank you very much!