Pene’ Pati, (seen here on the left) one third of the classical group, Sole Mio chats with Kevin Cooper about his biggest inspirations, winning the Montserrat Caballe International Singing Competition earlier this year, opening for Alfie Boe on his forthcoming tour and the release of their self-titled album.
Sole Mio (stylised as SOL3 MIO) is a New Zealand musical trio consisting of brothers Pene’ Pati and Amitai Pati and their cousin Moses Mackay. Of Samoan descent and classically trained, the Pati brothers are operatic tenors and Mackay is a baritone.
The group’s self-titled debut album, featuring an operatic take on a range of traditional and popular songs, was the biggest selling album in New Zealand in 2013, being certified Gold in its first week and six times Platinum thereafter.
Whilst currently preparing to tour later in the year with Alfie Boe, Pene’ Pati took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Pene’ how are you?
I’m good thanks, really good, how are you?
I’m good thank you. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s my absolute pleasure Kevin.
So you are over here in the UK doing the PR for the album launch and for the tour with Alfie Boe are you?
Yes we are going all around and have been recording an advertisement for the album (laughter) and getting out and having a little sing. It’s a lot of late nights and early mornings (laughter).
So you are being woken at 4am are you?
Oh my gosh, its incredible (laughter).
So other than the very early mornings, how is life treating you?
At the moment it’s kind of a whirlwind of random things but in general it’s treating me quite well.
You will be back here in the UK in November when you will be touring with Alfie Boe. Are you looking forward to that?
Yes it’s a nationwide tour, which we are all very excited about.
How did that come about?
I guess (laughter), well I really don’t know to be honest (hysterical laughter). We were singing and Decca approached us asking if we would like to be the openers for Alfie Boe. We looked at each other and thought are they being serious. But then we thought that it would be an amazing thing to do (laughter). We are all very excited about it.
Before you were approached for the tour were you aware of Alfie’s work?
Yes Kevin I had heard him a lot in New Zealand actually. I think that Moses was the only one of us who didn’t really know about Alfie’s work. I guess that in the tenor circle you get to know everyone (laughter). But yes, we knew who Alfie was through his famous Les Misérables.
I have to ask, the three of you have backed some very famous performers haven’t you?
Yes we have Kevin, Mitai and Moses were back-up singers for George Benson when he was over in New Zealand, and they loved that. Then Moses and I sang in the choir behind Andrea Bocelli back in 2008. It was crazy.
What was it like studying under Dennis O’Neil at the Wales International Academy Of Voice?
He is amazing; he is one of the most amazing teachers because he doesn’t impose his own singing upon you. He takes what you have and refines that voice. He is all about the individuality of the voice and that is what I love about his teaching. And just being around him is like being with Santa Claus (laughter). He is very relaxed and when he speaks he is non-intrusive. I love being around that man.
On the subject of being around men, what is it like being on the road with your brother?
(Hysterical laughter) well Kevin there are good points and there are bad points. The good thing is that we know each other so well, that there are no problems at all. The bad thing is that we know each other too well (laughter).
Was it always going to be a career in singing for you?
No (laughter), I think that singing was the very last thing in the book for me. I never considered singing as a career. I guess that it’s because we all grew up singing that we never saw it as a profession, we just thought that everybody sang (laughter). Me personally, well I was going to be a computer programmer, until someone pointed out that I had a voice and suggested that I get a job as a singer. I thought that it was the most ridiculous idea ever. However I followed it through and I was stunned by the amount of people who actually enjoyed my singing. So from there I took it to the next stage to see how far I could get and hey, this is as far as I have got (laughter).
Your self-titled debut album, SOL3 MIO debuted at number 1 on New Zealand’s national album chart, was certified Gold after just one week of release and has now been certified 6 times Platinum. How does that make you feel?
Oh man, when it happened back in New Zealand it was such a surreal moment. At first we thought that they must have been looking at the wrong album (laughter). When they first told us we couldn’t believe that people were actually going out and buying the album (laughter). To be honest Kevin we are all still stunned. We are just simple Island boys at home who decided to have a sing and people love it.
I think that it’s your warmth whist performing which makes the audiences warm to you.
I think that you are right Kevin because they feel relaxed as well, and getting them on our side and having them sit down and enjoy the music is a big thing.
I have watched your videos so many times now, simply because they are so much fun.
Oh definitely, we had fun making them. We encourage people to come and see us live because it is so much different to just hearing the music because you actually begin to see our personalities through the performance. And thank god for YouTube now as everyone can do that (laughter).
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
As clichéd as it can be for a tenor, my biggest inspiration has been Luciano Pavarotti; I love his work and I love his sound. He’s done everything; he’s done classical, and he’s also done cross-over music, and he bought classical music to the masses. That is why I enjoy Luciano Pavarotti.
You mention classical music, once you made the leap into being a singer, was it always going to be classical?
No not really, I wanted to go classical because I love the challenge. I love the fact that opera has been around for so long, which means that there must be something good about it (laughter). Opera has been around for so many years, and when I got into it I knew that it was an elitist kind of art, and I realised just how much hard work it would take to be in it. Despite all of that I have grown to love it. It is absolutely amazing and I would encourage anyone to get into it.
On that point I should congratulate you on winning the Montserrat Caballé International Singing Competition 2014.
Oh thank you Kevin, it was a nice experience. You get to hear all of the singers who are out there, and there was about 370 competitors and everyone is out there on the grind at the same time. To be up against some amazing singers in the finals was a great experience because you know that you may get to work with them some time down the line. And to meet Montserrat herself has got to be one of my career highlights.
Tell me a little about the album.
The album will be released here in the UK on the 10th November. I think that it is a great mix of everything from cool classical to cross-over music. It is a good listen for people who are on the fence about classical music. It will get them into it, and I hope that they are going to love it. We basically put the whole thing together ourselves. We forced the tracks onto Decca (laughter). All of the tracks that you hear on the album are tracks that have played a role in our lives and then a role in the creation of the group. So it is like a storyline of Sol3 Mio.
After the tour and after the album launch, what next for Sol3 Mio?
(Laughter) I really don’t know (hysterical laughter). I suppose that we will get out and do some more singing. I hope that it doesn’t stop there (laughter). We hope that everything will get bigger and better for us.
Let me just say good luck with everything.
Thank you Kevin, you take care. Bye.