Turn Me On: Rob Bonfiglio

Turn Me On: Rob Bonfiglio

Calling Rob Bonfiglio either a “singer-songwriter” or a “multi-instrumentalist” would feel almost tragically inadequate. His fifth solo album, Trouble Again, is an immaculate, euphoria-inducing song cycle that seamlessly weaves together Bonfiglio’s classic rock, Philly soul and power pop influences, presented through a musical lens that weaves in the groovy ambiance of Southern California, all of which Bonfiglio brilliantly captures and lovingly celebrates.

What makes Trouble Again an infinitely more impressive achievement is that Bonfiglio wrote all ten songs before producing them in his home studio, where he played all the instruments and sang all the vocals heard on this thoroughly stunning album.

Bonfiglio might be best known as the musical director, guitarist and producer for Wilson Phillips. But that description doesn’t do him justice, either. Bonfiglio is a genuine pillar of the Los Angeles musical community. When he isn’t working with Wilson Phillips or crafting his own solo records, Bonfiglio can be seen on stages throughout southern California, playing as a sideman for singers including Rosemary Butler and John Pratt, or playing opening sets for artists like the revered “Poet of Peace”, Stephen Kalinich. Bonfiglio also makes it a priority to donate his time and talent to organizations, among them the Wild Honey Orchestra, which raises money for the Autism Think Tank, and The Tribe, which raises money for a variety of worthy causes such as cancer research, and aid to homeless communities.

In a recent interview in Bonfiglio’s home studio in Toluca Lake, he shared with Rock Cellar why he enjoys keeping such a busy performance schedule. “I want to learn. I’m a student forever. It’s all about getting better and playing with great players and learning. Luckily for me, all of these gigs have been incredible learning experiences. I think the organizations, both The Tribe and the Wild Honey Orchestra, are full of wonderful musicians. And why not give of that joy? And spread that joy around for a good cause. I do that anyway.”

A self-described “Beatles guy”, when Bonfiglio was asked when he was born he immediately beamed, “1967 – the Summer of Love”. While Bonfiglio’s reverence and love for music is palpable, never is that more apparent when he’s discussing his earliest influences, or expressing his self-awareness at how his favorite music has shaped him as an artist. “Being from Philly, obviously there’s a huge soul music pedigree there. The Stylistics, The Delfonics. I was a child in the seventies. So there was a lot of Disco-era Gamble and Huff stuff [the songwriting and producing team behind 175 gold and platinum records including “Expressway to Your Heart” and “Love Train”]. I think we all as writers harken back to a time in ourselves that was innocent and kind of full of wonder. I most associate that kind of music with that time in my life. So it’s just always in me.”

On recording Trouble Again, Bonfiglio shared that with a home studio at his disposal, he can record ideas at his convenience, until several songs are completed and album begins to take shape. “I have to constantly be creating or writing. Again, it’s one of those symptoms of being artistic. At any given time, I’ll have several songs in ProTools that are in a various states of being completed.”

The album opener, the endlessly catchy and jubilant “Passenger Seat”, demands to be played as loudly as possible while cruising down the open freeway. As Bonfiglio had it left over from the sessions from his last album, Freeway, it was easy to use the song as a jumping off point for Trouble Ahead. Bonfiglio reminisced, “’Passenger Seat’ was sitting there as a template for what the album was going to be. I knew that I wanted to continue in that direction, and keep things kind of following in that template. It’s pop and it’s rock, and it’s whatever it is. I wanted it to be a cohesive record.”

Although Bonfiglio is able to record an extensive range of vocals and instruments all by himself, his songwriting process is centered around making sure the songs can engage both himself and audience before he begins to attempt to record anything. “All of the songs were borne just out of an acoustic guitar. So they were completely finished and performed before I actually started to record them. That’s always the hallmark of a decent song, is that it can stand on its own in the most bare setting. Some songs are just vibe songs. Some songs are just groove songs. But for a song, in my opinion, to encompass all of that and stand on its own, if you can play it with an acoustic guitar and it comes across, then it passes the test.” To further showcase his fascination with the “solo acoustic” versions of these songs, and to give his audience a deeper look into his writing and recording process, Bonfiglio has released Acoustic Trouble, which finds the entire Trouble Again album presented in it most intimate iteration.

In order to master the record and print physical CDs and albums, Bonfiglio turned to PledgeMusic for his first crowdfunding campaign. Bonfiglio was inspired by a platform that allows independent artists to take pre-orders for physical media, while also helping to determine what the demand is for physical copies of a particular artists’ latest release. Bonfiglio shared, “It was a great experience, working with the people who jumped on board and pre-ordered and helped. I was surprised that so many people did. I’m not a guy to be like, ‘Buy my stuff! Here it is!’ It’s hard for me to do. And I don’t feel comfortable doing that. So it wasn’t easy. But it was a rewarding experience.”

Bonfiglio has just left Los Angeles and joined Brian Wilson’s band on the road. From November 28th in Minneapolis, MN through December 23rd in Reno, NV, Wilson and his band featuring Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin will be playing The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album in its entirety, along with songs from Wilson’s solo Christmas album What I Really Want for Christmas and The Beach Boys’ greatest hits.

Bonfiglio anticipated, “Primarily, it’s a vocal gig for me. I’ll be playing some acoustic guitar, as much as I can. These guys, the band, are impeccable, detailed-oriented guys. Like [longtime Wilson collaborator] Darian Sahanaja and Paul Mertens, who’s the Musical Director of the band, these guys know their stuff. We’ll try to stay as true to the record as possible. Obviously, side two of that album is orchestral. So there has to be a little bit of re-configuring out how that’s going to be done. We’re still rehearsing. But it’s going to be pretty cool.”

In 2019, Bonfiglio has several gigs booked with Wilson Phillips in Southern California in February and March. He’s also looking forward to setting some dates early in the new year to play his own music in both “solo acoustic” and full band settings.

To turn yourself on to Rob Bonfiglio, go to robbonfiglio.com to join Bonfiglio’s mailing list and listen to music from his five solo albums and Acoustic Trouble. All are available to be downloaded at “Your Price”. Most are available on CD and Trouble Again is available on vinyl as well.

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