Cyril Niccolai could be termed a modern Renaissance man. An accomplished singer and songwriter, he has spent over a decade honing his skills in his chosen field of rock music. Contemporaneously, he studied medicine and law in university, engages in a variety of sports including tennis, golf and scuba diving, dabbles in still and video photography, has a keen interest in literature and art and is a self-confessed tech geek. The globe trotting foodie next aspires to run the New York City marathon, learn more foreign languages and keep challenging himself with new projects.
But for now, his focus is on The Fairchilds. As frontman, he helms the band with a lethal combination of commanding stage presence, solid vocals and confident guitar fretting. Our Revolution, the debut album from The Fairchilds, offers an insight into all these qualities with tracks ranging from sing-along rock songs to hauntingly seductive ballads.
The first single, “Unbreakable”, is a poignant commentary on the pursuit of one’s dreams against the odds. Flashback to the Christmas before he recorded the album – Niccolai was at his family home in the Cote d’Azur with the album weighing heavily on his mind. “I was due to start recording in April and while I had enough songs for the album, I still felt something was lacking”, he recalls. Time was fast running out as he was committed to perform in a musical for the next three months. The ticking clock, the desire to put together a solid album that would form a comprehensive showcase of his musical style, the fear of letting down those involved in the project and the constant need to project an aura of confidence provided the creative impetus for “Unbreakable”. “The song came very quickly and it captured the emotions perfectly. I remember that Jim Lowe [the producer of the album] loved the song right away and told me we had something special. It is a dedication to everyone who is going through a tough phase and the message is ‘Hang in there, don’t lose hope’. It’s a very intense song when played live, but always creates such a wonderful feeling.”
The easygoing confidence which Niccolai exudes belies the turmoil of the emotions within him. “The truth about confidence is that it is a mask for fear. I know that’s true because I feel it every time I go onstage or think about how this album that I’ve put my soul into will be received. But fear can make positive things happen. Fear of failure can make you work harder. Fear of being hurt or injured can make you find the strength to fight injustice, or to speak your mind. These are things I explore, personally and musically.”
This perpetual need to challenge himself is deep-rooted. The son of successful doctors, Niccolai traded the stability and predictability of a career in medicine for the bohemian lifestyle of a singer and songwriter. Unbeknownst to his parents, he auditioned for the role of the poet Gringoire in the smash French musical Notre Dame de Paris. Notwithstanding his lack of experience, he landed the role and summoned the courage to tell his parents of his career change. The news was not well received but his performance at the premiere left them no doubts about his potential in his new career.
In a perfect world, Niccolai would have launched straight into the world of rock music but as a young singer starting out in France, musicals gave him the opportunity to polish and refine his skills through regular performances before large audiences. It also paid the bills and allowed him to embark on a self-apprenticeship of writing songs and studying from his musical inspirations, such as Bon Jovi, U2, Guns N’ Roses, The Beatles, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Other bands which influenced him along the way include The Goo Goo Dolls, Muse, Lifehouse, Coldplay and Skid Row.
“I was slowly learning what it is to be a real songwriter,” Niccolai recounts. “I probably wrote more than 200 songs to get the 12 for this album. It usually starts with the music and then I start to sing the melody in what I call ‘yogurt mode’ — key words just springing into my mind. And from those words, the story develops. I believe everything is linked: a melody, a mood, some characters, a story… all interdependent.”
Our Revolution, his musical vision for The Fairchilds combines bold, winning melodies with a broad perspective of the world and an unerring sense of uplift. That was buoyed by cutting edge British producer Jim Lowe, who has also worked with Stereophonics, Herbie Hancock and Foo Fighters. And justice, hope and promise are recurring themes.
“High”, a song about the rush of feelings from the discovery of a new love, the sting of heartbreak or the like, is underpinned by the theme of hope. That emotional torrent is channeled in a soaring guitar coda that kicks the tune up from ballad to rocker. Across the debut, Niccolai delivers his thoughts, beliefs, hopes, dreams and observances with an articulate heartfelt spin of life and The World as he sees it. He offers, “Even when the songs are dark, I always try to give to the songs a positive side. I know that the world is in turmoil. The newspapers and television relentlessly remind me of this. But my main goal is to distract people from their problems and my music therefore has to be optimistic.”
“I Need You”, the first track the album, is a perfect example. “It has the line ‘means we use shall be as pure as the ends we seek” Niccolai explains. “That’s a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I try to apply on a daily basis. I wrote this song after Barack Obama had been elected and there was a new wave of optimism across the world. I wanted to write a song about those great Black Americans who had fought for rights, liberty. So I tried in each verse to sum up their distinct-yet-complementary beliefs.”
But the irony of human nature and its propensity for self-interest is not lost on Niccolai, as evinced by “Our Revolution”, the title track. Rather than being an incitement to revolution as the title may suggest, it is a sly musical satire on a person’s clichéd perception of revolution, the self-serving objectives sought and how – without passion and determination – he is back to status quo.
A track on the album with a distinctive style and mood is “Misery Likes Company”. For Niccolai, this song represented a seminal stage in his development as a songwriter. He recalls, “I learnt songwriting by taking cues from great bands like The Beatles, keeping a simple melody at the fore of a complex arrangement, making the music have a message as strong as the lyrics. In the midst of preparing for the album, a melody suddenly sprang into my mind one night and I wrote out the entire song in a burst of inspiration. I discovered I was putting everything I love in that song: big drums and big guitars, a strong melody with layers of backing voices, a message that came from my heart and, at the end, a coda with a guitar and a voice intertwined like a choir of angels, inspired by Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig In the Sky,’ and I wrote the guitar solo out note for note. By 5 a.m., I was through and what I had done sounded unique.” This song marked the watershed for Niccolai, when he made the transition from being an aspiring songwriter paying tribute to all his music heroes to a songwriter discovering and creating a direction, style and voice which he is proud to call his own.
In pursuit of his lifelong dream, Niccolai has relocated to the United States for the release of Our Revolution and is presently planning a series of solo appearances live and on radio to introduce him to the land where rock began. He is also releasing a second single, “High”, featuring rock guitarist sensation Orianthi and re-mixed by renowned producer Mark Endert, who has also worked with Maroon 5, Rihanna and Madonna.
“It is a dream come true for me to be able to present the album in America,” he confides. “I can’t describe how happy, excited and proud I am but at the same time, it is tremendously intimidating when I think of all my musical heroes who hail from there. I just hope Our Revolution connects with the hearts and minds of the American audiences. And above all, I aspire to have fun, dream big, and share the moments music brings with audiences across the U.S.A., followed by The World.”
Initial reviews of Our Revolution have been encouraging for Niccolai.
Mark Lewis, founder and editor-in-chief of Rock Over America, wrote “the lyrics are thought provoking and yet socially timeless, well written and well thought out. Very well crafted from top to bottom, and start to finish, this one is a no brainer, it has gold and platinum written all over it. The Fairchilds and Cyril will be around as long as they like, this album is evidence of that. This one is definitely, no question, a must add to and must have for your record collection.”
Rustyn Rose in an exclusive interview with Niccolai for Examiner.com echoes this sentiment “[Our Revolution] is certainly one of the best debuts to come out this year. Niccolai, and The Fairchilds have made a memorable album that stands on its own today, but also shows extraordinary promise for the future.”
The Rockpit, which voted Our Revolution one of the Top 100 Albums of 2011, had this to say “Do yourself a favor and check this one out – you just might be as glad and pleasantly surprised as I was and am.”.