It was after his father passed away that he decided to form the band Ten Ton Man, a vehicle for the first time to express his music the way he always heard it in his head.
Born and raised by an Italian immigrant family on Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint, Livornese played in Brooklyn-based bands in the 80’s and 90’s, however life took over and he pursued his college degree in art and built a career as an art director.
Today, however, he has found two other Pauls – Paul Triff on guitar and Paul Dugen on drums – to push his sound to the often young and Internet-savvy market.
I spoke with Livornese earlier this week to discuss the challenge of jumping back into the music scene.
What got you interested in starting a band?
Well, I’ve been in bands, played in the 80s in bands, but my father who immigrated to Brooklyn from Italy in 1954 passed away a couple of years ago and that’s when I said to myself, “Gee, there is so much stuff that you wanted to do, so you better do it now.” You never know when this is all going to just end.
I was quickly inspired to pick up the guitar and write songs about what happened to me in this point in my life. I was hitting mid-age and I had a lot to say about that. It just all came out organically. I was inspired, I was motivated and I was focused on it, and for that reason it just came to me.
What were you doing before you got back into music again?
I went to school at Parsons, and I became an art director and worked my way up the ranks in publishing and advertising. I later became a creative director. I had a creative outlet, but it wasn’t as gratifying as doing something for the pure art form.
The music came out as a creative outlet with no system, no regulations…this is the music and not even the kind of music I listen to or listened to in my youth. This was just what was coming out of me. I think that’s what makes it somewhat familiar but also totally unique.
What has inspired you to keep going with this undertaking?
I think a lot of the first album – which was a big body of work – came with the urgency to do something that’s worthwhile in my life. I think that did come out of my father being ill, but what came out is that there is not much time. Not in a morbid way, but it got that fire under me and got me moving.
I asked myself what I liked to do, and it was playing music. Then I said why aren’t you playing music and right then and there I picked up some songs that I had written previously. I soon found my voice in the weirdest way. It was just a collision of things happening. The guy handed me a guitar and it was tuned down a half step. Years before I was never able to sing, but once you tuned the guitar down to a lower register it just all clicked. I decided that I was going to just do this all on my own.
In the past I have supported bands, I played guitar and I wrote, but I was never doing what came out the way I heard it in my head. Now with my own voice and my own songs, it truly comes out the way I had envisioned it all this time.
What is Ten Ton Man?
Ten Ton Man actually started out called Rocco’s Midlife Crisis because everything was happening then and that’s when I started writing the music. I lightly call it a folk opera about the midlife crisis. The Ten Ton Man, which is me – we didn’t want to be so literal about it – but I told people what was going on, and about my life and we started talking about ways to describe that. We were listening to Tennessee Ernie Ford and “16 Tons,” and that kind of resonated – 16 tons and what do I get? It was about the burden and the hardship and we just came up with the Ten Ton Man, a man who has a heavy burden on his shoulders.
Did you keep up your day job after creating this group?
I did keep up my day job because it could fund the music. In these days, it’s not like you can go out and find A&R people and you get record contracts automatically. That’s why the indie scene is so big because all of these people are out there funding their own bands, their own music and their own careers.
Being my age, I have a house in the Catskills, the bills to pay and my job is my nine-to-five. So I’m able to do the nine-to-five, but I also have the ability to do this band, put out the recordings, travel and keep it up.
How has the music scene changed since you first started?
I had bands in the late 80s and early 90s, and we had some coverage on MTV and had our music on “House of Style,” and we thought that was it. But in this day and age, it’s really the social media that spreads the word, and you start working for those avenues. You have videos that could go viral and people will take notice.
It seems there is a big social media following in Britain, but it’s a much tougher scene to get noticed in. There is just a much larger pool with all of these people DIY-ing it. It makes it better, but it makes it that much harder. I don’t know how much success indie bands are having by putting out a CD. They have to do all this with touring.
What have the changes in Brooklyn over the past several years done for the music?
I think it did a lot, and I like the music – I’m a big fan of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. But I think it really put it on the map for music. It probably created even more of a drive for people to move to Brooklyn.
I don’t know if it reached it’s peak yet, but it is getting saturated in a food and music vial. There is always something that is going to be next, but I think it had a good hit. Just look at Wythe Street with the growth of like the Wythe Hotel, but that is also what I am most worried about. Do you lose that melting pot creativity because now it is going to be overgrown, or is it still going to continue and thrive. People moved there for a certain reason, but now it is getting expensive and overpopulated, but it will be interesting to see.
What is the next step for Ten Ton Man?
We did the EP (Chunk of Change), we’re doing a couple of shows. It’s summer now so we are just kicking back while I’m writing the next full-blown album that we’re getting into next fall. I just wrote a song called “My Cousin Vinny,” which is about a hitman, which is kind of funny.
But I think we’ve found great players, and I think what we’re doing now, our next album is going to be really great. I’m looking forward to recording in the fall and releasing early next year and I want to take it over the pond.
I think we’re getting good feedback from Britain and these Scandinavian countries. If you listen to the music, it has that southern blues thing so we’re going to take it down to Texas, and because of social media, we know there is a big following. But, I’d really like to get some substance under me first and not just go out and play around, but I think with a second album there will be a good number of songs to take it out and take it farther.
Catch Ten Ton Man at Arlene’s Grocery, 95 Stanton St. in Manhattan, on Tue., August 19, at 6:30 p.m.