Interview with Paul Antonelli – Musician(Animotion), Composer, Musical Director
The band Animotion. From Left to Right: Astrid Plane, Bill Wadhams, Charles Ottavio, Frenchy O’Brien, Don Kirkpatrick and Paul F. Antonelli
Photo by Richard E. Aaron.
Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.biz): Hi Paul! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview!
Paul F. Antonelli: Hi Ash! It’s my pleasure!
Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.biz): I’d like to begin by finding out more about your musical background. Are you a trained pianist? Do you come from a musical family?
Paul F. Antonelli: “Aha!” I actually wanted to become a veterinarian as I was growing up. I got accepted into a Pre – Vet program at the University of San Diego. But during the summer of my senior year in high school, my interests uncontrollably switched to music! I called USD to find out what kind of music curriculum they had and I discovered that they had an outstanding music department. This department was also highly underrated so, I switched my major on the spot. My poor parents were not very pleased at the time.
I was trained on a Wurlitzer organ. My parents had taken me to an organ recital when I was a kid. I honestly do not know what possessed them to do that but, I’m glad that they did. When it was over they told me that they were thinking of getting an organ. They asked me if I would be interested in playing it if they did. That is how I got started on the keyboards.
The classical training did not come until I got to college. That is when the piano entered my world. After my move to Los Angeles, I continued my musical studies at UCLA which included classes in synthesizers. “Synths” were just coming into the spotlight at that time. You had the soundtracks from “Chariots of Fire” (Vangelis), “Risky Business” (Tangerine Dream), and “Escape From New York” (John Carpenter)… It was a fun time with changing landscapes for keyboards back then.
Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.biz): Now take me back to 1983… Animotion was formed out of the band Red Zone. How did you come to meet the members of Red Zone and how did this band evolve into Animotion?
Paul F. Antonelli: I was working at ABC as their music coordinator when my great friend and co-worker Carolyn Tapp stopped by my office with a copy of the Red Zone album. She told me how much she loved the band and said that they were auditioning for a keyboard player. I loved the album, I studied it, came up with a bunch of ideas, I auditioned and I got the gig!
A number of months later, there was a spontaneous combustion within the band and I got the call from our manager telling me that nearly half of the band was being jettisoned… He asked me if I would like to continue with the others. “Hell Yeah!” So then came time for a band name change. I really wish I had the list of potential names that we all came up with because there were some classics on there! The list was reduced to two names. Our drummer Frenchy O’Brien came up with Runaway Bride which was long, long before that name was ever a part of pop culture. Our singer Astrid came up with Animotion. A vote was taken. I was the only one who voted for Runaway Bride…
Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.biz): I can remember dancing with my friends to “Obsession” with my friends at under twenty one dance parties when I was in high school. How did this song come about?
Paul F. Antonelli: We did not write “Obsession!” It was written by Holly Knight and Michael Des Barres for a movie called “A Night in Heaven,” with Christopher Atkins and Lesley Ann Warren. Holly was on fire back in the 1980’s! Some of her songs include, “Love is a Battlefield” and “Invincible” for Pat Benatar. “The Best” and “Better Be Good To Me” for Tina Turner. Holly also wrote “Ragdoll” for Aerosmith and “Never” for Heart. She also wrote “The Warrior” for Scandal and she has written many other songs! “Obsession” was brought to us by our producer John Ryan. It was the very last song that was recorded on our debut album!
Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.biz): What was it like working with MTV in the early 1980’s and making the “Obsession” video?
Paul F. Antonelli: It was such a blast making that video! It was directed by Amos Poe and produced by Ken Walz who had recently finished creating the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” video for Cyndi Lauper. I remember being so impressed that the production schedule was from six in the morning until ten o’clock at night. We wrapped up the whole video just before ten! We filmed our video at an old estate that was formerly owned by Bugsy Siegel up in the Hollywood Hills. They had just completed the repairs on the estate after the damage caused by the filming of the original “Beverly Hills Cop” movie. Madonna wound up buying that estate years later.
Our costumer had great connections with the Hollywood Costuming Archives which enabled her to get some original costumes that were worn in a number of classic movies. The Egyptian head-dress that Astrid is wearing was the original worn by Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra.” The gladiator outfit that Bill is wearing was the original worn by Charlton Heston in “Ben Hur.” There is a part of my costume that was worn by Rudolph Valentino in “Son of the Sheik.” We were incredibly fortunate that MTV loved our video because it went into heavy rotation for quite some time. I really dug the female V.J.’s at the time, Martha Quinn and Nina Blackwood.
Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.biz): Please talk to me about your transition from playing in a full time band to becoming a musical director and supervisor for daytime television. What were the challenges if any that you experienced? Do you miss playing in a band?
Paul F. Antonelli: Okay, at the time that I auditioned and got into Red Zone, I was the music coordinator for ABC. One of the shows I serviced was “General Hospital.” Now this was at the tail end of the “Luke and Laura” craze. Gloria Monty was the brilliant executive producer who turned the whole genre of Daytime Television on its ear. She was the first producer to start using songs in various montages thereby creating massive hits.
The “General Hospital” music directors at the time were about to leave the show for a new soap opera being produced for NBC called “Santa Barbara.” Since Gloria knew that I was all too familiar with the sound of “General Hospital,”she had me come over to her studio and interview for the job. I was in my early twenties and did not realize the magnitude of this opportunity. At the end of the interview, Gloria asked if I would take the job and like an idiot, I told her that I would have to think about it! Well, Gloria saved me from myself and did something that was just so “Gloria.”
In the fifteen minutes it took me to drive across Hollywood from Gloria’s studio on Gower street to my own in Los Feliz, Gloria had called my bosses and quit for me! She sent a bottle of champagne over and had her lawyer in New York on “HOLD” for me waiting for me to arrive to cut my deal. I’m still mystified how she pulled all of that off in fifteen minutes. But that was just Gloria. That happened in 1984 as we were cutting our album in Animotion. Gloria gave me my start in “Daytime” and the rest is history!
Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.biz): Who are you personally influenced by musically?
Paul F. Antonelli: Oh Wow! There are so many, it kind of runs the gamut. I’ll have to go with a stream of consciousness off the top of my head here: David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, John Lennon, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Pink Floyd, Queen, Janis Joplin, The Motels, Missing Persons, Elton John, Grace Jones, Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Leon Russell, Supertramp, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, The B-52’s, it could go on and on. And who has not been influenced by The Beatles???
Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.biz): What was like dealing with record companies in the 1980’s compared to how the music business operates presently? What advice would you give to musicians who are trying to make it today?
Paul F. Antonelli: Oh man, I could not even begin to tell you what is like dealing with record companies as an artist today. I have been out of that loop for such a long time. The music business has changed so bloody dramatically over the last couple of decades. It is my understanding that you do not even need a record label these days. Apparently, it is quite effective to have a strong online presence. Back in the day, I felt like getting the record deal was absolutely EVERYTHING! We were so lucky to have a fabulous manager named Larry Ross (partnered with Jon Johnson at Johnson / Ross Management) who really believed in us. He would set up countless showcases and we would perform for music executives and anyone else who could help further our careers in the band.
I think one of the happiest days of my young life was the day that Russ Regan signed us to Polygram Records. Russ had signed Elton John, Neil Diamond, Barry White, and Olivia Newton John just to name a few. So we were all beyond excited when he snatched us up!
Paul F. Antonelli, Astrid Plane and Bill Wadhams reunited.
Ash Andersen: (Rock-n-Roll.biz): What do you think you would be doing now if you were not creating music?
Paul F. Antonelli: I will have to refer back up to the answer I gave to your first question. My love for animals has never wained. It was just eclipsed by the major shift of interest I went through all those years ago as I was about to enter college. Of course my veterinary practice would have had fantastic music being pumped through the facility at all times!
Ash Andersen (Rock-n-Roll.biz): Thank you again Paul!
Paul F. Antonelli: Thank you Ash!
P.S.: We here at Rock-n-Roll.biz would like to express our sadness and deepest sympathy upon hearing about the death of Animotion’s drummer Frenchy O’Brien. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.