By Jennifer Michaud
I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I knew I wanted to get inside as quickly as possible. Despite the typically frigid Worcester winter night, I had settled for parking at the beginning of Millbury Street rather than lingering around and trying to find an open spot closer to the bar. There’s no point in trying your luck just to have to deal with Kelley Square numerous times to find a decent parking space.
My eyes wandered around like a mad man until my gaze finally fell upon the Nick’s sign in the distance. A European aesthetic, one that I mentally applauded. The whole building is constructed of rustic brick, like a quaint dive bar in the back streets of a German town. I was so distracted by its appearance that I walked through the door closest to the sign—which is, as it turned out, not the right one.
Eventually, I made my escape, continuing toward the sign and entering the correct door directly below it. The place was rather busy for a Wednesday night. Couples and singles were making conversation and downing drinks like water. In their midst, I saw a familiar friend, waiting for my arrival.
Giuliano D’Orazio, 25, of Worcester, a friend of my older brother back when they were in middle school. He was a delightful face to run into in the city, always flashing his friendliest smile. I couldn’t help but reminisce about memories of him when I was a middle school student myself. His band at the time had played orchestra for my middle school musical, and I distinctly remember thinking that that was an amazing accomplishment.
At age 13 I was a spectator. At age 13, D’Orazio was the founder and lead singer of his first band The Black Raspberries, along with drummer Michael Gaudette and lead guitarist Matt Sivazlian. A few things have changed since then, but definitely not the dream of being full-time, professional rock musicians. These men have pursued music as a priority, playing hundreds of gigs and creating multiple albums over the years.
They’re currently known as Hot Letter, minus Gaudette. Young and ambitious, D’Orazio and Sivazlian aspire to continue their journey with music and climb the ladder to success.
“What’s that like?” I wonder as I prepare to engage D’Orazio in an overdue conversation about his experience as a musician.
What does being a musician mean to you?
It’s a big part of who I am as a person. It’s communication. It’s an intersection of communication and personal self-expression. So I get to bring my own thoughts, internal feelings, experiences…but it’s also a way of engaging with others. So whether it’s expressing my own feelings or exploring those connections, that’s what the identity means to me. It’s a role, you know? It’s like a duty, I think.
What inspired you to pursue music as your top priority?
I always loved music as a kid. It’s something I liked to pursue and something I had a knack for. And the more I put into it, the more I got out of it. As I got older and it was time to consider college–that was the main thing that stood out to me. If I could do this, why not? It’s my favorite thing in the world, so I might as well make a living of it if I can. I mean, it’s not easy, but it was kind of a no brainer.
Did any bands in particular inspire you?
When I was really young, originally, the Beatles — listening to them when I was growing up; my dad would play the anthology and other CDs. And as I got a bit older, the Rolling Stones. And after that, I discovered Bruce Springsteen. When I was, like, 19, I got really into him. And he wasn’t someone that my parents really played a lot of around the house. That was more like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones…and also some classical music and jazz. My dad’s really into that. But after I started writing and playing in my own band, I discovered Springsteen, and I was like “Wow,” something about his music really spoke to me and it kinda ignited something at 19. And that was right when I was starting at Berklee, so he came at a pivotal time in my life. And that’s what the question is kinda about — someone to inspire me to pursue music in a serious way.
How has Worcester shaped your path as a musician?
Interestingly. When I started in high school, I just wanted to get out. I didn’t consider the opportunities because it’s not one of the big music cities like LA, NYC or Nashville. It’s not like that. But as you enter reality and you build those connections with venues, club owners, music fans and other musicians, you realize that it is really rich. It’s pretty diverse and rich and there’s a lot going on. It’s very real, very raw. It’s given me the experience. Last year I played between 80 and 100 gigs, and that really gives you that experience and conditioning. I owe that to the fact Worcester has so much opportunity. Because it’s not like I was touring. I was doing that from home and there was no shortage of performance opportunities. So it gives me a stage to build up on that stuff. So Worcester has done that. And I’ve built a lot of personal connections, too.
You’re currently the lead singer for Hot Letter. How did you get together?
We originally had Mike Gaudette, along with Matt Sivazlian and myself. He [Gaudette] left the band in 2016. And so it’s been Matt and myself, and we’ve been rotating out drummers and bass players. That’s been the biggest struggle for the past couple of years for that band. Out of the ashes of the original line up, so to speak, we’ve formed a duo, so we’re taking different kinds of gigs right now where I play acoustic and Matt plays electric. It’s paired down, so it’s better for restaurant gigs, and that’s a lot of what pays the bills.
Are you currently working on anything new with Hot Letter?
We’re going to record a new album in March. It’s written; it’s all ready to go. We’re recording it at Watchussett Recording Studio in Princeton. It’s gonna be really cool. It’s called “Reason to Breathe,” which is also the name of one of the songs on the album. And it’s why we do this. When you’re a musician, you live to make your art, to make your work and have that feeling of a hard day’s work at the studio or on the stage. It’s very rewarding. The tiredness that you feel after that kind of day is a really rewarding fatigue.
In the past you’ve done some solo gigs. How often do you do those, and is there anything you’re working on specifically as a solo artist?
I used to do them a bit more before the duo, but the duo can basically fit into any of the venues where I did solos. And it’s a bit more of a rich musical experience because you’ve got different harmony and layers. If the places can afford to pay twice the price, typically we’ll opt to do a duo. I just enjoy playing with Matt. This is kind of another cool thing I discovered, but when you play with a specific person for a long time—you know, we weren’t really good when we first started our band, it was very experimental and you grow together, you build this weird intuition. When I was at Berklee, I played with so many amazing musicians from different countries and stuff, and you groove and you do it based off the sound. But there’s this third, weird element that’s not visual and it’s not sonic, but it’s like a mind connection. A certain energy that Matt and I have where we just look at each other and we just know. Like when the tempo starts changing as a song goes out, that’s normally something where you need to look at the other person because you’re no longer on tempo, you’re doing it off feel, but that’s just the kind of thing that just happens for us. And not in the context of anything musical, but when we do those gigs, we don’t have a set list ahead of time, and we’ll finish a song and ask each other what we want to do next. One of us will give a suggestion, and so many time we are thinking the same song.
Are there any particular albums or songs you’ve written that have a special significance for you?
Yeah. “Reason to Breathe” is going to be the name for our new album, and I wrote that song in 2010. I was 17, in my senior year of high school. And it’s one of the only songs that we still play from that era, so to speak. There was something about that song that, when I wrote it, it felt like the first really good song I wrote. It’s almost like when you start writing, you have to write a lot of bad songs and simple songs…ones where the lyrics don’t really hit home. They don’t really make sense. It’s kind of like learning to walk. You stumble a few times and then you start to get good songs. Something about that song still feels authentic. After all that we’ve been through with losing members and Matt and I still going, there’s a certain significance with that song—although I didn’t write it with any idea of what was going to happen. Now it has a new meaning. Reason to Breathe is like that dream that we had back then, when I wrote that song as we played it at 17 years old.
Also, “Need to Bleed,” which we did in 2015. It’s on Apple Music and Spotify, so check it out! “Message of Love” is the last song on that album. And that one is another one that sums up why we do what we do. It’s about community, making kinship with people. That’s what it’s all about.
Is there a reason why “Reason to Breathe” came out so late in your career?
We weren’t really making an album when we wrote it. And it’s funny because Mike quit twice. He quit once and then came back, and so we wrote it right before that initial quit phase. And when he came back, we started working on new music. And that kinda fell by the wayside. We would still play it at shows. Okay wait…we did put it out on an album called “The City.” But it never had a hard copy, it was just on Band Camp with free downloads. So that was a prior, old, original version. I figure the audience is so different, why not re-record the song?
Kind of like “One after 909” by The Beatles. No one knew about their original version recorded back in 1962, but everyone knows their later version.
Right. It’s that idea of going back to what the basics are. And there’s a lot of freedom in the fact that we’re not that well known. And I think about that in a good way. If you do really break through in music, I find–let’s say that you get your first big hit and you’re really known and it’s a major success–you’re kinda held to that standard.
It definitely makes it harder to experiment when you peak that early on.
Yeah, and shit happens. Especially when you’re really young and you’re still figuring out the balance. And I find that that’s the downfall for a lot of artists. I like the fact that we’re still kind of anonymous so we can see what sticks. And along the way we can build good experience, build endurance, and build strength.
Do you ever see yourself leaving Worcester?
I want to keep making my music, writing songs. That’s my real passion. Being able to make original songs and music. I think in some way this will always be my home base. I don’t intend on leaving it behind. I have no animosity or bitterness to force me to do so. But for opportunities, I can see leaving and maybe coming back. I do want to be on the road at some point. But I like Worcester. I like the character of it. I like this place. It’s got a cool vibe. It’s a good place to emerge from and I do want to emerge, but I don’t want to ever fully leave it behind.
Do you have any favorite lyrics from a favorite band/artist that inspire you?
For lyrics, I go back to Bruce Springsteen. Off the top of my head, specifically the song “Thunder Road” is a song that’s always spoken to me. The end of it, the last line of the song says “It’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of it to win.” I love Worcester, but a lot of times you can look around and feel that way. There are a lot of beautiful people here, but it’s a hard luck place for a lot of people. And you really have to make your own win of it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Always sing and play from life experience. Because we compare compare compare and try to perform with somebody else’s playback in our ear. It’s great to cover songs, and when you find an artist that you kinda happen to sound like, you’re always going to have certain voices that are closer to your own voice type. It’s great to find that and have it inspire you, but mimickery—stay away from that. And that’s what gets beginners stuck in a rut, and that’s what I tell my students, because I do teach, so that’s a question that’s really close to me. Definitely find your own voice, and sing from your own experience.