Lucia Cifarelli: “Expect the unexpected”

I’ll be releasing my new album “I Am Eye” first. Disrupting peoples’ ideas about me as an artist by sharing the soundtrack of my life and hopefully empowering them along the way, to be fierce and fearless and never give up on their goals or themselves. I’ve also been approached by a publisher about writing […]

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I’ll be releasing my new album “I Am Eye” first. Disrupting peoples’ ideas about me as an artist by sharing the soundtrack of my life and hopefully empowering them along the way, to be fierce and fearless and never give up on their goals or themselves. I’ve also been approached by a publisher about writing my autobiography and then of course there’s always another KMFDM album. So you can be sure I’ll be shaking things up for some time to come.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucia Cifarelli.

Born and raised in Long Island, Lucia Cifarelli developed her love of singing, songwriting, and performing as a child. Since founding the band Drill, she has proved herself a force to be reckoned with; her dynamic performance style coupled with an incendiary vocal range was unlike anything else in the late 90’s alternative scene, but it was with her addition to the lineup of Sascha Konietzko’s MDFMK in 2000 that her star power began to truly assert itself. She is now one of the primary creative forces behind The Ultra Heavy Beat, known for her vocals but also for her songwriting skills, moving effortlessly from sweetly sung melody to acerbic’ riot grrl’ fury to bold political outrage.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

From as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a recording artist and songwriter. Whether I was scribbling lyrics in my composition notebook or singing into a hairbrush while striking poses in the mirror, I wanted to be a part of the memories someone else was making. To be that voice that transports them back to a particular moment in time, to be included in the soundtrack of their life. The power of music has never been lost on me. To be able to effect change through what I say and how I say it, is one of the most powerful platforms anyone can have. It’s like a superpower.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

First and foremost I would say simply being a woman in rock music has always been disruptive. It’s generally a boys’ club and women have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously or given an equal opportunity. There’s a lot of men out there who think they’ve got the market cornered in this particular genre. Mainstream record labels and radio stations have done little to level the playing field over the years, so anytime you see a powerful woman out there, who isn’t intimidated or being held back by the obstacles, it’s disruptive.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Upon the release of my debut album with my first band Drill, we toured extensively with few days off in between. I wanted to have fun like everyone else and wasn’t thinking much about sleep or what and when to eat. On stage one night I opened my mouth to sing and nothing came out. I started dancing frantically and played chicken with the lights so no one would see me. I was panicking and laughing at the same time while making wild hand gestures to the monitor guy mixing the band at the front of the house. It felt like an episode of “I Love Lucy”. At that moment I learned how important it was to look after my health. That, in order to have the necessary endurance for touring, I’d need to take better care of myself, be more disciplined.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My first mentor was a man by the name of Howard Ludecker. He was my high school English teacher at Glen Head High School in Long Island, NY. He was a brilliant teacher who treated me more like a friend than a student. He encouraged me to apply for a new internship program being offered by the school at the time. After being accepted, he championed my efforts and continued to do so long after I graduated high school. Another early mentor was my first vocal coach Tanya Travers, who secured my internship for that program and introduced me to some of my earliest songwriting collaborators. During those early awkward years, she helped navigate me toward the people who would later develop and sign me to my first record label. I consider my friend Billy Mann a mentor as well. He’s not only one of the most successful people I know in the music business and philanthropy but he’s a spiritual gangster who weaves his philosophy through everything he does. Through every failure and triumph his sound advice and input have been inspiring. I’d include my husband Sascha Konietzko as an invaluable mentor as well. His unwavering faith in my abilities as a writer and vocalist has given me the opportunity to continually evolve as an artist.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

To use the music business as an example for this I’d say the old structure of the “Big Five” Record Labels being disrupted by Napster was a game-changer for everyone involved — labels, artists, consumers. It brought about a cataclysmic shift that’s forever changed the landscape of the music industry and the control those monolithic labels held over artists and listeners alike. Once the dam of the internet broke open all sorts of creators were able to make names for themselves that might never have had a platform to do so before and they’ve done it on their own terms, without having to sign their name in blood for an eternity to a label that might never release their work. Now we have aggregators who provide a launching pad for said artists and voila — they have access to an audience. However, along with all these wonderful new opportunities, comes another model of disproportionate power between streaming services and artists. The disparities between how royalties are determined and divided have come at a detrimental cost to artists. The power imbalance still exists, it’s just been shifted.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Expect the unexpected — Although we plan for every eventuality as best we can never underestimate how unforeseen events can change the landscape of the best-laid plans. It’s important to be flexible to the cosmic weather that’s always in play — Shortly after I delivered my 2nd album to A&M Records the company folded, my band was dropped, I lost my publishing deal, apartment, and just about everything else. I had to start all over again from ground zero.

Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough — There’ve been moments along the way when I frankly wanted to give up. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to keep pushing forward doing what I love, or frankly living. I’d been in fight or flight mode for most of my life, due to the PTSD I suffered as a child, as a result of being abused by my father. It wasn’t until I turned 28 that I stopped jumping ten feet into the air when someone caught me unawares by tapping me on the shoulder from behind. Perhaps it comes with age, perhaps with deep contemplation and spiritual reflection. Whatever it is, these words from Tony Bennett are especially poignant for me.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’ll be releasing my new album “I Am Eye” first. Disrupting peoples’ ideas about me as an artist by sharing the soundtrack of my life and hopefully empowering them along the way, to be fierce and fearless and never give up on their goals or themselves. I’ve also been approached by a publisher about writing my autobiography and then of course there’s always another KMFDM album. So you can be sure I’ll be shaking things up for some time to come.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think there’s a general skepticism when it comes to whether a woman is the best man for the job at every level. It’s a societal issue, a story as old as time. Women are seen as the weaker sex, wombs, caretakers, and nurtures. As much as men will challenge this notion as outdated, it’s being played out silently day in, day out. Women have to work twice as hard at anything to be taken as seriously as a man. An example of this is “Sofagate”. A story about Ursula von der Leyen, the most powerful woman in Europe. As European Commission President she recently visited Turkey along with European Council President Charles Michel, to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I believe it was to talk about women’s rights. While the two men took the only two chairs available at the center of the room, she was relegated to the sofa. After drawing attention to the slight by uttering “Ehm”, they just stared at her blankly and she was ushered to the sofa. Can you imagine if she was black?

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I think I’d have to say Alan Watts. I’ve been listening to his podcast every morning for the past three years. I start from anywhere, put on my running shoes, and head out into the forest for a good hour. Breathing in the cold damp air, listening to him talk about life, the universe, and the cosmos. It keeps me centered and focused on what’s important and brings me peace.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As a natural-born empath, I’m drawn to any movement that elevates consciousness and brings healing. I think there’s a great disparity among people and ideas surrounding what it means to be “rich” and it usually involves having money and being white. If I could create a movement, it would be to contribute something that bridges that divide. Because the narratives in film and commercials play a pivotal role in how people view the world from the earliest possible age, I’d look to create a dialogue with the most influential people in media from around the world, to make a conscious decision to create integral storylines from the earliest possible age that reflect the equality between all races and women. I believe if we lived on a planet where human life was respected equally above all, perhaps then we’d stand a chance at evolving to the next level of collective consciousness and find cures to so many diseases plaguing our world, starting with racism.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter these defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it” — Maya Angelou

I’ve been rising like a phoenix from the flames my entire life. Failing forward through every disappointment and hardship. This quote inspires and reminds me that with each failure I’m refining my edges, becoming more fluid, as I put my faith and trust in the great unknown.

How can our readers follow you online?



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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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