Marc Scibilia’s new record, The Shape I’m In, is a strong opening statement from a charismatic singer who’s a little hard to pin down. At heart, Scibilia is a New York-born, American singer-songwriter with a little Nashville flair (that’s East Nashville, mind you. Think the sweatier, grittier side of town). And one helluva backstory. It’s a story that dates back before the singer was even born. “My grandfather grew up playing bass in a pit orchestra,” says Scibilia, talking from his home studio in East Nashville. “He grew up with guys like [famed jazz guitarist] Tommy Tedesco. But his mother died when he was 11, so he became a barber at a young age to support his family. He played bass in big bands and jazz combos five nights a week, but he never had the luxury to take his music outside the city.”
Music ran in the Scibilia family. His father also played in a band — and his brother is a musician as well. Given that history, it’s easy to understand Scibilia’s early musical aspirations. “Growing up, we always had instruments around the house, never video games or things like that,” he says. “I started with drums, then piano and guitar. I’d just pick them up and play.” But it wasn’t technical thing — even though Scibilia studied classical piano for ten years, it was always about the feel of the music. Scibilia grew up in Buffalo, not necessarily a thriving musical community but one that he credits for developing a tough skin. “It’s very cold there,” he says, laughing. “It gave me this ‘get the job done’ mentality. I’ve got three minutes and fifteen seconds to do it right.”
Outside of his father, Scibilia found little initial support for his musical dreams. “Everyone had more conventional thoughts for me,” he says. “I had a counselor when I was 15 who became really concerned with my grades. Finally, she sarcastically said, ‘What are you going to do, go to Nashville and write songs?’ I thought, ‘That’s not a bad idea!’” Scibilia moved to Nashville one month out of high school with $300 in his bank account and his mother crying in the driveway as he pulled away from his NY home and family. Fortunately, he found success, including the #1 iTunes singer-songwriter single “How Bad We Needed Each Other” (from his 2012 self-titled release) and tours with the likes of Dave Barnes, Ben Rector John Oates and Sixpence None the Richer.
For his Sony/ATV debut The Shape I’m In, Scibilia recorded in his home studio (“guitars in the kitchen, vocals in the closet, drums in the main area”), with some additional production at the famed Blackbird Studios and Electric Lady Studios. “I like the mix of two worlds: recording the music in my house, then going up to mix in NYC at Electric Lady. It doesn’t hurt getting a guy like Michael Brauer (Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, John Mayer) to pull all the sounds together,” he says.
While he’s released music before, The Shape I’m In serves as a real introduction to Scibilia, who proves both a huge talent and a tough artist to pigeonhole. “You can hear the mix I’m going for in this EP,” he says. “I love the Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty. First record I bought; the drum sounds on there are amazing. But I also grew up really loving Lauryn Hill, and songwriters like Tom Petty and Paul Simon. You can add those influences together and see where I’m going. No preconceptions; if something serves the song and the groove, that’s what I do.” A good example is the album’s rollicking’ title track, “The Shape I’m In,” which was originally recorded a bit slower. “It was 3 a.m., we were doing some acoustic scratch tracks at Electric Lady, and this riff just came to me after we had already finished a version of,” he says. “It felt so good I thought it was worth re-recording.” The later version based off that riff made the current EP.
“I had doubts we had chosen the right version but while we were mixing one of my musical heroes, Dave Grohl, happened to walk in the studio and hung out for a minute — it was a sign to me we were going the right direction. It was awesome.” A more melodic, story-centered side shines on album standout “Shining Like America,” a semi-true “be careful what you wish for” tale. “I had no money when I started out in Nashville. I was just living in a drum closet of a recording studio, and for some reason I was watching this beauty pageant on TV,” he says. “It was dark times. I was like, what would it be like to meet up with a girl like Miss Tennessee?” [The irony: Scibilia did end up dating a beauty contestant later on. He admits: “It wasn’t quite what I was expecting.”]
With the EP finished and a full-length on its way early next year, Scibilia plans to hit the road soon and often. Along for the ride: multi-instrumentalist Eric Montgomery and Scibilia’s brother Matthew, a well-respected session player in his own right (including touring and recording with the likes of Cory Chisel and Brendon Benson). "I owe my family a lot,” says the singer. “They’ve been so supportive. My grandfather never made it out of town, but his 70’s Fender P-bass has toured all over the country with me and my brother and I play it on almost all my recordings. In a way, my grandfather did make it out and I hope this is a realization of his dream, too.” That said, what happens next is Marc’s journey. And he plans to make it a unique one.