Gina Cutillo : putting politics back into pop and to the top of the charts
At a time when there’s a lot of social and political uncertainty, Billboard-charting artist Gina Cutillo is a breath of fresh air who infuses sincerity and optimism into her music including “Brand New Start”, the follow-up single to her Billboard-charting track, “Keep On”. In the spirit of these uncertain times, sometimes a song takes on a different meaning that the author intended. For Gina, it wasn’t only in the writing of the song, but the true spirit of “Brand New Start” made itself known when she had an unexpected surprise while shooting the music video.
Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Gina explains what happened.
Between Brexit and Donald Trump, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. What were you feeling when you originally wrote “Brand New Start” and, in this uncertain social/political climate, has the song taken on a different meaning now?
Yes. I originally wrote the song during our election in the USA a year ago and I was deeply saddened by how it was affecting people. From my family members to friends to strangers online. The divisiveness of the campaign brought a lot of hate into our lives and against each other, so at the time we were all open to this and allowing it to get in between family and really what true humanity should be, hence the first line “We are open, we have broken hearts”. This isn’t my political song, but part of why I wrote the song was from what was going on within us due to the political climate. There are other elements to the song too. From life, to personal struggles, relationships etc. Finding a resolution to heal or just being happy to start a new. Fast forward to now and the song stands even stronger, I had no idea it would become worse, the separation factor. So, now more than ever, it’s more relevant that we need a “Brand New Start”. I think this is why the song is resonating with so many people. We all need a new start in our life, during our life. It just so happens I originated the idea with how the political climate was hurting us as a collective human race.
Speaking of taking on a different meaning, the video for “Brand New Start” took on a different meaning when you got an unexpected surprise while shooting the video. What happened?
That was fully by chance! The director, Max Skaff, shot some single shots of me walking in the street while we were waiting for all the extras to arrive and a bridal party turned onto the street. I kept walking as if it was part of the video and Max kept shooting – so that first scene where you see me walking by them is real. That was not crafted. After the shot, someone went over to them and asked if they would like to be in the final scene, which was me walking down the street and everyone coming together. The bride asked what the song was called then said yes, it’s perfect. So “Brand New Start” can also be about the first day of the rest of your life with someone.
Your previous single for “Keep On” climbed the Billboard charts alongside The Chainsmokers. How has your career changed following your success?
It earned me a certain type of Industry respect. I went to a bunch of Grammy parties and walked a red carpet which was pretty cool especially Nicki Minaj’s party. The success also brought more meetings with big companies. I have learned there’s never one thing that changes your career. It’s usually a bunch of steps collectively. The music business is difficult now. A lot of people in the business are afraid to take chances because labels are still figuring out how to make money like they did in the past.
“Keep On” reached #32 on the Top 40 chart. The biggest thing that changed was inside of me, always asking if the new song I was writing is as good as “Keep On”. I’m assuming it also put a little more pressure on my longtime producer David Caggiano too, not just for my future works but everyone else he is working with. Once you have a Billboard hit under your belt, the bar is raised tremendously and thank God I wrote “Brand New Start”, hahaha … I’m saved from an artist meltdown.
You’ve also had a lot of success behind-the-scenes with sync placements in movies/TV shows. At a time when musicians are struggling to have financially-viable careers, how important is licensing music for commercials, movies, video games, etc.?
With music streaming and artists/labels not making money from selling songs/CDs, licensing is more important than ever. This is where most musicians are making money. Even very big names. I’ve been very blessed to have received licensing in the beginning of my career. As my career grew, it afforded me many of my ventures in music and traveling. It’s also all about branding now. This is why so many artists are branching off into other areas to sell who they are. Technology and social media have changed the game in everything we do. It’s riveting and also bringing a bit of an impersonal touch to things too.
You’re no stranger to touring either. I understand that you got the call to do The Warped Tour with Katy Perry, Paramore and Gym Class Heroes, but had to take some rather heroic measures in order to do the tour. What happened?
I was finally asked to do a good six weeks on Warped Tour with some of my favorite acts. I did a couple dates around the North East coast, where I live, but now I was asked to do a leg of the tour. I figured I would get the East Coast where I lived. Nope. Our first date was in Utah, across the whole country then back. I tell my band. The drummer and bass player were like no way, we can’t do this we have no money etc. I told them I have some ideas on getting funding. They quit anyway. Anyway, my longtime guitarist and business partner Ron Labriola was totally ready and believed in me. So here we are, six-week tour that starts in two weeks with no rhythm section, no money. I believe in the power of energy- if you really want to make something work you have to start walking towards it. I got major funding for the tour, a bus and a bass player and drummer within three days for the tour. We rehearsed for a week and off we went! The rest is history. It was a grueling tour, but worth every moment. It was amazing to hang out with Katy, Paramore, The Academy Is, Jack’s Mannequin, Gym Class Heroes.
You’ve also played a lot of showcase festivals, including SXSW in America with Neon Trees. In the age of social media, has YouTube become the new SXSW?
I’ve done SXSW a few times and have been asked every year. It’s changed a bit. It seems now mostly big names play it when the idea of SX was to find the next big band or indie band or ska band. In a way, YouTube is the new SX. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. are becoming the new platform for all things, even performing. My band and I do fun, live streams from our rehearsals. More people see me perform with my band on Facebook than at a local show. I have fans that watch from the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy, Vietnam and the USA. In that respect, it’s good because I wouldn’t be able to reach all the states and countries every week.
You also ended up on stage with Prince one night while Beyonce and Jay Z watched. What happened?
A close friend of mine was a huge Prince fan. We had second-row seats. During the concert, Prince kept looking at me and then a security guard came over and asked if I could dance. I said yes, he said, “Like a sister”. I said uh Boricua over here, yes! He said great you’re going on stage with Prince. So I get to the stage and the big security guards said whatever you do DO NOT TOUCH PRINCE! I was like are you kidding I’m hoping I don’t fall over never mind touching anyone.
Prince had announced earlier that Beyonce and Jay-Z were there. I busted my butt on stage and picked up his routines. He danced with me, his band asked me who I was, I told them I was a recording artist. I was up there for 20 minutes. In the end, Prince and I had to cross the stage and he put up his hand to high-five me and told me I did a great job. When I tried to leave the concert, my friend’s truck was bombarded with tons of people. They thought I was part of the band/show. I felt like I was. It was that moment, in front of 20,000 people on stage with this iconic artist, that I knew this was everything I wanted.
Who are you listening to at the moment? Ellie Goulding, Adele, Nikki Minaj, Etta James, Beyonce, current music (always like to hear what’s happening on the radio), Lady Gaga, Tina Turner. This is a hard question. I go up, down and all around genres when it comes to listening to music. I get in moods. I was totally jamming out to Ike and Tina the other day.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, enjoy “Brand New Start” on YouTube and share it with your friends. It’s going viral. I think we truly need this right now. A positive message about bringing everyone together and starting over. Whatever that may mean to you. Life, love and or world topics.
And, finally, I have to ask, what happened to the bride after your video shoot for “Brand New Start”?
I’m assuming she went on a beautiful honeymoon and is living her happily-ever-after with the groom. She commented on my Facebook page that she loved the video.