Marc Urselli does his part to keep the music of an ‘Angelheaded Hipster’ alive
There was no coronavirus vacation for Marc Urselli. Well, maybe a week’s worth of catching up on social media and television for the Grammy award-winning producer and engineer. But that was about it.
“The first week in March, I was very unmotivated, sitting on the couch, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram,” he said. “Then I was like, this needs to end, and I put away the phone and started making music again.”
He hasn’t stopped since.
“Business is slower, I won’t lie, but I try to stay occupied and keep myself busy with interesting projects.”
One of the most interesting in 2020 was Urselli’s work with the late, great Hal Willner on Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T.Rex. A 26-song collection featuring covers of Bolan’s songs by an eclectic array of artists from Kesha and Joan Jett to Elton John, U2 and Perry Farrell, just to name a few, the album is a celebration of Bolan, but also a project Willner was determined to do justice to before he passed in April.
Thankfully, Willner was able to complete the album, which was delayed because of contractual issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and out of respect for his passing before being released in September. All along, Urselli was just as determined as his mentor and collaborator to make sure the album was done right.
“I put all of myself in this record, I won’t lie,” said Urselli. “And it was important to Hal and it was important to me, and I think the importance of it became clear as we were making it. We went into this not really knowing what it was gonna be. I had worked with Hal before, but I had never done a multi-artist record with him. I always worked on single album releases or I had worked on multi-artist concerts with Hal. Never on a multi-artist album, and I didn’t realize the magnitude that it was going to become. Rachel Fox, who’s Hal’s manager and right hand, she hinted at that at the beginning of it all. She said, ‘Hal is going to keep adding people and it’s gonna grow and it’s gonna become big, so make sure you know what you’re signing up for.’ I didn’t care, I was just so happy to be a part of it.”
The love and dedication put into the album is evident not just from the artists, but from Willner and Urselli as well, with the result being a collection that shows that Bolan was more than the guy who wrote “Bang A Gong” and “20th Century Boy.” His catalog and talent went a lot deeper than that, making it even sadder that he only lived 29 years before dying in a car crash in 1977.
“I’m so happy you say that because that same realization you had was the realization that Hal had and that I have had,” said Urselli. “I had it during the making of the album, Hal had it before the making when he was approached about doing this record and he started delving into their catalog. I remember that on the first session we did, the one with Nick Cave, he turned to me in the control room and he said, ‘It’s now clear to me that this album will be about Marc Bolan’s lyrics and songs.’ And Hal really understood the importance of Marc’s influence as a songwriter, not just as a rocker and as a fashion icon, which is how most people see his influence these days.”
Music is how the 43-year-old Urselli makes his living, so talking about sessions with the likes of Nick Cave is almost like us talking about another day at the job. But it’s not, and Urselli isn’t ashamed to admit that he gets a little starstruck every now and again.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It happens all the time. I’m good at keeping my cool (laughs), but I’ve definitely had those moments in the presence of U2, in the presence of Elton John, in the presence of Nick Cave. Nick Cave, I’m a huge fan of, so for me to work with him was kind of a dream come true and that happened to be the first session on the record, so it set the tone for the album. Then, of course, working with Elton or U2, they’re huge names and you’re sitting there and they’re there with their defenses down. After the session, we even all went to lunch together. I was sitting there listening to Elton telling Bono about his early days, and that was one moment where I was just like, wow, I can’t believe I’m sitting here and listening to this conversation.”
But getting to work with the legends of music isn’t what gets Urselli out of bed every morning. It’s getting to work on music. That’s a key distinction.
“That stuff (being around the greats) keeps you excited, but it’s not what keeps you getting up,” he explains. “What keeps you getting up is the love for the music. I’m excited about anything, even if it’s something with much smaller names. I’m excited as long as it’s good music. I know that might sound corny, but it really is true. I’m excited if I get to get up and work on great music, whether it’s with famous people or not.”
So you’re not jaded, Marc?
“I’m not jaded yet,” laughs Urselli, who is clearly not letting the state of the world get him down. And as he explains it, the music community in his adopted home of New York City is more unified than ever, giving us hope for 2021 and beyond.
“I don’t know if it’s a New York thing or an America thing, but here in New York there’s a sense of community that’s fostered in respect and in collaboration,” he said. “We’re all rowing in the same direction and trying to stay afloat on a sinking ship, whether that ship is further sinking with COVID or it’s just the music industry. But we’re all in it for the love so we need to really support each other and be a community. Because if we’re all on our own, it’s not gonna be the same. It just doesn’t have the same importance and the same weight for the future.”
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Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T.Rex is on sale now