An interview with music chameleon John Vento

An interview with music chameleon John Vento

John Vento is often called a chameleon in the Pittsburgh music scene; and, while his critics may use the term as a pejorative, Vento views it as a compliment. He understands that they’re motivated by the frustration of their inability to lock him into a specific musical style. After all, the front man for the high-energy, hard-rockin’ band, the Nied’s Hotel Band, is also known for his introspective, brooding solo recordings.

John’s 2019 MTS release is “Love, Lust and Other Wreckage.” The album received the IMEA Award for Best Americana Album. His single, “Rainbows And Lightning” reached the Top 20 on iTunes Canada charts, receiving national and international airplay and charting. His follow-ups, “Baby Blues,” “Humble Way,” and “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love with You” (Tom Waits cover) have also received national airplay chart attention.  His latest single, “Well Yeah Maybe” reached #1 on the South African iTunes charts. The videos for his singles have all been selected for film festival inclusion, around the globe.  John is a January 2019 Billboard Magazine Emerging Artist and a Communitas Award Winner for his work with non-profit, Band Together Pittsburgh.

In late 2020, John Vento began releasing one track per month from his new album collection, “Brick By Brick.”  The album includes the #2 iTunes Rock Songs single, “No One Wears A Watch Anymore,” #1 iTunes Rock Songs single, “Not Your Kinda Man” and #1 UK iTunes Gospel Song, “Let God Drive.” The album will be completed by 2022. 1 In Music meet the West Deer singer-songwriter to find out more.

1 In Music: Hi John, thank you for joining. Talk to us about your music and what makes it so unique.

John Vento [JV]: I’m kind of lucky to have 2 extremely diverse and different live presentations. There’s The Nied’s Hotel Band, which is a seven piece R&B and Rock’n’Roll band. It’s high energy with a lot of power and great musicianship. We create a really exciting type of live performance. And when I get away from the band, the music I make is much more intimate. Usually it’s with just a few folks, acoustic duos or trios, acoustic guitars and voices, occasionally percussion. It’s for more of a listening room or coffee house kind of setting, with an Americana story teller kind of presentation, if you will. It’s kind of cool that I’m blessed to be able to do both things and I try to do them both well. With both groups, besides the covers we do, we write our own material, which is unique because we draw upon the inspirations of so many different people, within the groups and also with some writers outside the groups, which gives the songs perspectives from multiple points of view and variety of sounds from different genres.

Creating my own signature style took a long time.

When you first start, you get used to emulating the people whose songs your are covering, and their style gets embedded in your soul, but over time, you begin to let go of that, and you try to become your own person. I’ve worked real hard to avoid the old “Well this sounds like…” approach, even though there are certainly commonalities in the music that we create with well-known classic rock and folk, but as you get older, it gets easier to develop your own sound and style.

1 In Music: What or who shaped your music and who supports you?

JV: I was always surrounded by music because of my mother’s family. Her father, my grandpa, was a great mandolin player. He would come over to the house all the time, and he would entertain the neighborhood. That was always a highlight. Plus my great cousin, Ron Anthony, played guitar for Frank Sinatra for many years. So I would say it’s in my blood!

Who supports me? I am blessed to be surrounded by many talented and skilled musicians friends and family… we make a wonderful team. My beautiful wife, Michele Vento, who supports everything I do, Michael Stover of MTS Management, Kim Coles, our marketing manager, Jim Pitulski, our videographer, Skipp Barr, our photographer, David Granati of Maplewood Studio, our studio engineer and producer, all of my band members, and the list goes on.

1 In Music: When did you realise you were going to make music professionally?

JV: I’ve been involved with music a lot longer than I care to share publicly LOL. As is the case with a lot of younger musicians, I made the mistake of trying to be Mr. Cover Song Singer Dude, and that was ok. But it really didn’t allow me to grow or mature as a writer, and as an artist. In the late 1990s, a guy named Billy Hibbert formed a group called The Businessmen, and we started to get involved with original music that Billy wrote, and it really opened my eyes to a whole new direction of creating original music, and it’s been kind of non-stop since then. I’ve been writing and recording with my incredibly talented friends almost consistently for the past 20 years now.

1 In Music: What type of music do you listen to?

JV: I listen to many different types of music, some of my favorites being Harry Chapin, Bob Seger, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, and Bruce Springsteen, who have created so much wonderful music, and have also made positive impacts on the world.

1 In Music: Who, to you, is the most undervalued music artist?

JV: Actually I’m going to answer with a category and not a specific artist. The most under valued music artists are those great indie musicians who create some incredible material with very little support or national recognition. Folks like my dear friend and collaborator Cherylann Hawk, who has been writing and performing for over 35 years. Her catalogue would rival any of today’s so called superstars, but yet she has to grind from gig to gig, scratching out a living. Why do folks like Cherylann keep going? It’s because they love the music and they love their audience. There is no phony corporate creation here, just authenticity and good music.

1 In Music: How do you prepare for your performances?

JV: I avoid caffeine and dairy products in the hours before a performance, and just before I sing, I do the vocal warm ups that my vocal coach taught me.

1 In Music: What do you do when you don’t do music (creative or otherwise) and that you are passionate about?

JV: I am a gardening fanatic. I just love creating and maintaining landscapes and gardens that bring so much peace and beauty to the world.

Aside from my “day jobs,” I love supporting and promoting all musicians, especially younger ones. I also contribute to as many charitable causes as possible by helping to organize fundraising concerts and events at which I love to perform.

The most impactful mission however, is my work with Band Together Pittsburgh. OUR VISION – Band Together Pittsburgh believes that music has the power to unify the world. We envision using music to inspire and enrich the lives of those on the autism spectrum, enabling integration with family, friends, and society as a whole. OUR MISSION – Band Together Pittsburgh uses music as an instrument for change. We provide innovative programming, experiences, and vocational opportunities to enhance the lives of those on the autism spectrum.

I have a nephew and a godchild who are both on the autism spectrum, so it was a natural fit to get involved with an organization like this, and of course to involve music. In early 2016, I co-founded Band Together Pittsburgh with Ron “Moondog” Esser, whose son James is on the spectrum. Ron, who has been a huge part of the Pittsburgh music scene for 30+ years, owns Moondog’s and the Starlite Lounge in Blawnox, and he produced the Pittsburgh Blues Festival for more than 20 years. The Festival, during that period, netted over $2 million for charity. Moondog has also been awarded Volunteer Philanthropist of the Year by the Western PA Fundraising Professionals, and he is a board member of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh. Band Together Pittsburgh is very personal and very fulfilling for us both. Please learn more about our autism friendly music programs by visiting

1 In Music: Success to you is…?

JV: [Success is] Freedom! Freedom to create what you want, when you want it, for the audience of your choosing.

Then if you really get lucky, your music just might move some folks in a passionate way. That is success to me!

1 In Music: What do you wish you were told when you started out and that you think would help anyone who starts out?

JV: I really wish someone would have told me to:

  1. Focus on creating original music.
    I wasted too many years performing cover songs. It’s a whole different world writing, recording, and performing original music. I would have also spent more time developing the craft of music and maturing much faster as a musician.
  2. Welcome input from outside, and to collaborate with other musicians.
    I look back and realize that I stayed in my safe comfort zone way too long. In other words, I took the easy path instead of pushing to explore new approaches. The great artists stay relevant through the years by constantly changing and creating new music.
  3. Take piano lessons on day one.
    I’ve never learned the basics of piano and am just beginning to understand the keyboard and how it can help me develop my voice. I also think that if I learned piano, I would have been in a much stronger position to communicate with my band in their language.
  4. Explore musical diversity, and learn about different cultures and the influence those cultures can have in our lives and even in the way that music is created.
    For instance, one of my recent songs has some Native American influence, plus I am learning about Asian and Reggae music.
  5. Take professional voice lessons.
    I’ve sure paid the price of poor singing technique and voice strain over the past few years. After two unsuccessful surgeries, I’m finally working with a vocal coach and learning how to do it the right way. I sure wish I had started off on the right track, but I feel blessed that I can still sing, though it’s with a slightly different voice.

1 In Music: Thank you for having us. Before we part, please tell us of any upcoming projects.

JV: My current project, “Brick by Brick” is quite a departure from my previous work. Construction of the new album began in November of 2020 with the release of the first single, “America (The Saints Come Marching Home).” Proceeding tracks have been and will be individually released (on all digital platforms) until such time the project is complete! Each new song is accompanied by a video, lyric sheet, and a narrative explaining some of the thought process in writing and recording.


An interview with two-time Male Country Artist of the Year Matt Westin

An interview with two-time Male Country Artist of the Year Matt Westin

Matt Westin is a two-time International Music and Entertainment Association Male Country Artist of the Year. He appeared in the October 10, 2018 issue of Billboard Magazine as an Emerging Artist. His newest single “Thin Blue Line” reached the top of the international iTunes country charts and has received over 150K spotify streams. The artist takes a moment to talk to 1 In Music.

1 In Music: Hi Matt, thank you for joining us. What is unique about you and your music?

Matt Westin Legacy cover

Matt Westin [MW]: I think what’s unique about my music is the story that got me here. I never expected to become an international country recording artist. I have a couple of engineering degrees, and that was the intended path I was taking, though I was unhappy and unfulfilled. I was pursuing acting on the side, as a passion of mine, and just having fun with music by singing karaoke and performing with my friend’s and my cousins’ bands. After I lost my job and decided to leave engineering for good, I ended up in Los Angeles to pursue acting more seriously. Almost a year to the day of my signing a lease in North Hollywood, my father passed away from complications with his short battle with leukemia. I was completely destroyed. I was so angry. I was deeply depressed, and basically lost. Engineering was in the rear view mirror. Acting was left on the west coast. And there I was, spiraling out of control in Pittsburgh with no end in sight.

To make a very long story short, I dedicated my debut album “Legacy” to my father. Creating the album was the distraction from the pain that I needed. My father had always enjoyed and encouraged my singing. So it was the perfect way for me to work my way out of the darkest pit I’ve ever experienced, make my dad proud, and kind of unintentionally start a new path for my life and a legacy of my own.

My music is a triumph out of personal tragedy that is very unique to me,
and it’s why I stay motivated to continue and keep raising the bar for myself.

1 In Music: That is an inspiring and unique story indeed. What and who formed your personal tastes in music and supports you?

MW: My personal tastes in music have been formed mostly on my own exploration through the years. I try to make music that I enjoy and relate to in some way. I’ve really been blessed to work with some incredible songwriters, musicians, engineers, and a great producer. I’ve either personally chosen the songs to record, or was the writer.

My producer Bryan Cole has been the spark behind the entire process. Bryan, a great friend, mentor, musician, and producer is the single most influential person involved in my young music career. He’s hooked me up with everyone who’s made the magic happen, including my record label MTS. He’s coached me into being a better singer and performer. My family has been so supportive, especially my mom, who believes in me without question, and supports me in every way that she can. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by great people who have made my dreams possible.

1 In Music: When did you realise you were going to make music professionally?

MW: It was all still just a personal project for me, to help me heal from losing my dad. It was to give myself a goal and a purpose to aim at, until one night when Michael Stover called me with some news. I was at a wedding of a close friend who I had recently just reconnected with after a decade of not talking to each other. It was a beautiful night. I was celebrating and feeling a little more like myself than I had in a while.

That’s when I found out that I won the IMEA Country Male Artist of the year in 2018. I was shocked, excited, and in disbelief. Awards had nothing to do with what I set out on this journey for. It was at that moment that I realized that I was in fact a professional recording artist, with a worldwide release on a record label, and that people around the planet were listening to my voice and responding. It became real for me in that moment, and I haven’t looked back.

1 In Music: What type of music do you listen to?

MW: I listen to most of the main genres of music. Heavy Metal, Classic Rock, Outlaw Country and Classic Country, Hip Hop from multiple decades, old school Rap, Motown, Blues, etc… But my absolute favorite of all time, if I had no other choice but to listen to this for the rest of my life, and that’s all…that would be Frank Sinatra and that genre/era of music. I attribute much of my singing ability and passion to emulating Frank Sinatra when I was a teenager.

1 In Music: Who, to you, is the most undervalued music artist?

MW: There are so many amazing artists, each with their own story, that are undervalued or largely unknown. So, I’d have to say that the independent artists, the people spending all their money and energy on a passion for their art and their message in the face of a huge mainstream machine that doesn’t care about them… those are the most undervalued music artists.

1 In Music: How do you prepare for your performances?

MW: Besides the usual practice on my own and band rehearsals, before I sing I make sure I limit my caffeine and keep any alcohol to a minimum to make sure I’m hydrated. I drink Throat Coat tea, I take some drops of an herbal supplement that is great for the vocal cords and throat health, and I keep some lozenges in my pocket. I warm up for a few minutes with some relaxation and stretching my shoulders and neck, breathing exercises, and light singing to get the throat warmed up. I tend to hold tension in my neck and shoulders, so relaxing them beforehand helps a lot.

1 In Music: What do you do when you don’t do music (creative or otherwise) and that you are passionate about?

MW: I have been passionate about my Christian faith and my physical fitness for as long as I can remember. I am always watching or reading things about the Bible, especially prophetic studies, and I try to work out 5 days a week. If I don’t get to work out, it really bothers me, even if I put in a hard day at work.

1 In Music: Success to you is…?

MW: There are a lot of forms and levels of success. I feel successful every time someone says they enjoy my music, or especially when I get heartfelt tears, hugs, and handshakes from people who were touched by my music, specifically my latest single “Thin Blue Line“. I’ve made a personal, powerful, and enduring impact on a lot of people in the law enforcement community, and

there is no better feeling than knowing I impacted someone else’s life for the better.

That, to me, is success, and whether it makes me a dime does not matter. I really hope to someday make a good living doing what I love, and that is another level of success that I have yet to achieve, but I’ll strive for it, and I’ll celebrate the “little” victories along the way.

1 In Music: What do you wish you were told when you started out and that you think would help anyone who starts out?

MW: In general, make sure you surround yourself with good, trustworthy people who believe in you and support you. In engineering, in acting, and in just about any pursuit in life, there will be wolves in sheep’s clothing. I was much more naive about this when I was younger, and I got burned many times. My kind nature was taken advantage of, and it happens every single day in this world.

1 In Music: Any upcoming projects?

MW: I’m currently working on recording 3 new songs. I’ve written 2 of them, and may write the 3rd, but I love working with other songwriters as well, so we’ll see. I’ve also joined a band in Tennessee as their new frontman, singing my originals, their originals, and some covers as well. I’ll be portraying a young Johnny Cash in the upcoming film 116 MacDougal as well, and I couldn’t be more excited or honored.

1 In Music: Thank you for this, Matt. Where do we find more about you and your music?

MW: You can find me at, where there are links to all of my social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and links to all of my music (iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc). If you’re interested in the film, check out for all the info, bios, and backstory about the upcoming film.

Santino De La Tore (SDLT): Interview

Santino De La Tore (SDLT): Interview

1 In Music meets with international composer and producer Santino De La Tore (SDLT). Los-Angeles-based via Peru, SDLT has risen to fame in both South America and the United States. Today, he composes and produces solo albums, as well as music for startup apps, commercials, Hollywood films, television series, and more. We had a few questions for him at the eve of the release of some 8 musical projects!

1 In Music: What is unique about you and your music?
What makes me unique is that I never copied anyone and that led me to evolve in my own world, creating my own style in both composing and singing. I am a seeker, a curious and passing through so many experiences of life, good and bad. I have learned many things that solidify my person, my soul. I am a very passionate man that manages to spread that positive energy to the people that are around me. I am a leader by nature and I knew that from a very young age.

1 In Music: What/who shaped your music and who supports you?
I am the composer and the producer of my songs and the one who sings them. It has taken me many years of learning through several bands that I have had. I developed my identity and of course to do quality work. But all that has a very high financial cost, because I like to work with the best musicians and the best engineers. The support comes with the amount of songs that I have in movies and TV series in Hollywood, so I can afford my art thanks to the royalties.

1 In Music: When did you realise you were going to make music professionally?
Since I made my first rock group at the age of 16. For me, the word “professional” was never tied to the money. It was always the vision to challenge myself to become a better artist every day.

1 In Music: What type of music do you listen to?
I really like Depeche Mode, Buena Vista Social Club, Bob Marley, Massive Attack. There are a lot of wonderful groups and artists that it would take me all day to list. It all depends on the mood of the day.

1 In Music: Who, to you, is the most undervalued music artist?
I know many artists that are undervalued, artists that are exceptionals. But if you refer to the artists who have been in one way or another in the media, the first singer that comes to mind at this time is Johnette Napolitano of the group Concrete Blonde. But the list is endless, there are thousands of incredible artists in all musical styles. Unfortunately people who work day by day do not have the time, nor the energy to look for these artists and the only source of music is the main stream, that is very crowded with just the same stupid idea of a “hit”. Of course they understimate the people, that’s why we are where we are.

1 In Music: How do you prepare for your performances?
I just warm up my voice with some exercises and strech my body as if I were going to fight with a bull. LOL

1 In Music: What do you do when you don’t do music (creative or otherwise) and that you are passionate about?
I direct videos, both musically and commercially. That passion is also very creative and demands a lot from me.

1 In Music: Success to you is…?
For me there are two: the immediate success and the long term … There are days that you feel a winner because everything goes well, you eat well, you make love like never before, you compose a nice song, you are with your family and friends, and so on. So you are happy and that is success! The long term success is the result of the work that you are doing throughout the years, in my case, my family, my songs in Hollywood movies and series, my video company, my health. I owe that success to the amount of failures that I have had throughout my life, because I am a person who very much likes to take risks.

1 In Music: What do you wish you were told when you started out and that you think would help anyone who starts out?
In my case, I have had very good life teachers, starting with my parents and siblings. I was always very clever to understand what was going on around me until I met stress … That happened when I started to pay bills and be self-sufficient. In order to make music, you also need money. That was my big mistake, seeing money as an impediment, instead of seeing it as an energy that would help everything I needed to do. Look for something parallel so that they can solve your needs and invest in your art.

1 In Music: Any upcoming projects?
Many! I am producing 7 albums simultaneously and the 8th is the one I just released in January this year. They are really fascinating projects. For example, I have a Latin Jazz project with the best session musicians in Los Angeles and the lyrics written by Pamela Oland (Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Selena, etc.). I am also producing other projects including a Trip Hop Rock one, an Urban Reggae one and some Ballads. I am already in the last phase of all these projects and I can’t wait to share all that material!

1 In Music: Thank you SDLT for this interview. Where do we find your music and projects?
On all digital platforms: just look for SDLT. It is more specific on my website at Thanks for the interview 1inmusic.

I Write The Songs 69 Cole Porter

I Write The Songs 69 Cole Porter

ColeporterSongwriter of the week: Cole Porter
American songwriter Cole Albert Porter composed songs AND wrote lyrics (against then current fashion) that dominated the musical theatres in particular Broadway during the 1920s and 1930s. His strong will is an example of taking on the world in spite of its obstacles, starting with him defying the wishes of his powerful and domineering grandfather by taking up his passion, music and entertainment, as a profession. He then went on with his passion, in spite of a slow start and even after a serious horseback riding accident left him disabled and in constant pain. His ability to make the best of the time and environments he lives in goes all the way to his marriage to great friend Linda Lee Thomas in spite of them both knowing of his homosexuality. This show is about a songwriter no doubt, but a man / human, who, despite adversity, never ceased to express his true self and making the best of it.


  1. cover of the weekJoss Stone, L.O.V.E. (Bert Kaempfert and Milt Gabler)
  2. Rebecca Ferguson & John Legend, Bridges (John Legend J Loos Steve Robson)
  3. Alanis Morrissette, Let’s do it (Let’s Fall in love) 2005, Canada/US, 3.22 (Cole Porter, 1928)
    first introduced in Porter’s first Broadway success, the musical Paris (1928) by French chanteuse Irène Bordoni and has since been covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong , even Kim Basinger and now Alanis Morrissette
  4. Sarah McQuaid, Yellowstone
  5. Michael Bubblé, I’ve got you under my skin (Cole Porter, 1936), 2005


  1. Ellie Goulding, Your Song (Elton John), 3’10, 2012, UK
  2. Lena Horne, I Love Paris (Cole Porter, 1953)
  3. Elton John & Kiki Dee, True Love (Cole Porter, 1956), 1993
  4. Jo Bywater, Riches to Rags, 2015
    Judges Award winner for Liverpool Acoustic Songwriting Challenge Nov 2014
  5. B. J. Thomas, Raindrops keep falling on my head (Hal David, Burt Bacharach)


  1. Nina Simone, I shall be released (Bob Dylan)
  2. soundtrackoftheweekinstrumentaloftheweekManu Dibango, Si tu vois ma mère (Sidney Bechet)
  3. Neneh Cherry, Woman
  4. Steve Pledger, Matches in the wind
    “I know it feels like striking matches in the wind but as long as the spark flies, our fire will not die, we’re striking matches in the wind”
  5. Oscar Peterson, Every time we say goodbye (trio) (Cole Porter)

Tiki’s I Write The Songs #69 by Tiki Black on Mixcloud

I Write The Songs 66

I Write The Songs 66

This is the show I Write The Songs 66 featuring Labi Siffre, our songwriter of the week. Presented and produced by Tiki Black. First aired on Canalside The Thread

I Write The Songs 66 featuring Labi Siffre – Part 1

The Bangles, Eternal Flame (Susanna Hoffs, Tom Kelly, Billy Steinberg)
Michael Andrews feat Gary Jules, Mad world (Roland Orzabal)
Lorde, Royals
Father John Misty, Bored in the USA
lyricsoftheweekHozier, Take me to church
lyrics of the week
there is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin
Sting, Mad about you

I Write The Songs 66 featuring Labi Siffre – Part 2

Norah Jones, Don’t know why (Jesse Harris)
songwriteroftheweekLabi Siffre, It must be love
James Morrison feat Nelly Furtado, Broken strings
Camille, Wet boy
Macy Gray, Stilllabisiffre

I Write The Songs 66 featuring Labi Siffre – Part 3

Nat King Cole, LOVE (Bert Kaempfert, Milt Gabler )
Dusty Springfield, Son of a preacher man (John Hurley, Ronnie Wilkins)
Labi Siffre, (Something inside) So strong
Vanessa Paradis, Joe le Taxi (Étienne Roda-Gil (lyrics), Franck Langolff (music))
Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Something stupid (C. Carson Parks)

Tiki’s I Write The Songs #66 by Tiki Black on Mixcloud