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Interview: speaks to Vella & Borg

Gerard (lyrics) and Philip (composer)  have been responsible for the Maltese entries for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2000 (Claudette Pace - Desire), 2002 (Ira Losco - 7th Wonder), 2004 (Julie & Ludiwg - On Again Off Again), 2007 (Olivia Lewis - Vertigo)  and now 2008 (Morena - Vodka).'s Glen Webb caught up with Gerard and Philip to reflect back on their successes over the years, and what part exactly the Eurovision Song Contest plays in their lives. : Can you please tell us a little more about your backgrounds, how long you have been involved within the music scene and what you were doing before this and indeed how you first came to work together?

Gerard :  I was always very creative! I did fashion design as a hobby whilst holding a full time post in telecommunications. At 24 I got an international feature on a German fashion publication, and a year later one of my designs made it to the front cover of a German magazine. However, I loved writing since I was a kid ( I wrote two unpublished novels! When I was 13 and 15!). Then one day I was watching the contest ,and decided I wanted to write a song to represent my country. I had ideas, but then I wanted to find a composer I liked to put music to it. I contacted Philip because I liked his stuff and showed up rather shyly showing him my work! He loved it… and the rest is history. 

Philip : I was born into a family were music formed an important part, especially as my father is a multi instrumentalist – I was writing songs since a very young age, and I always dreamt of having my own studio to produce my own songs. I also played in bands as a guitarist since a very young age and looking back, I think this helped me a lot in the choices I make as to the kind of music that people seem to like and vote for year after year. My first experience in the Eurovision Song Contest proper came in 1997 when I was the backing guitarist/co-producer of the Malta entry in Dublin, Ireland Let me Fly performed by Debbie Scerri.  Meeting Gerard proved to be quite a turning point as regards the contest. We seem to click in nurturing successful Eurovision Song Contest songs throughout the years. : Each year you tend to enter a number of songs in the Maltese national selection, is this an all year round project? Are you beginning to write songs for the next contest as soon as one is over? What other projects are you involved with throughout the year?.  

Gerard : It has become an all year round project because my mind is hyper all year through! So, wherever I am my mind is always very focused on ideas and concepts that could work. So,  basically my mind is ticking 365 days! You never know when inspiration hits you, so it is better that you are ready for it! On the other hand, I do not only write for the Eurovision Song Contest. I get requests to do collaborations with a few international composers and we collaborate on other non-Eurovision songs. I would also like to branch out into writing articles for newspapers…and I plan to write a book one day. When I do… it might be very, very, very interesting!!!!!!!

Philip : Being a musician, I am always after fresh and innovative ideas, and to explore further musical experiences. I have a part of my mind which is constantly thinking on what might be the next big thing in the Eurovision Song Contest, but I am actually very busy doing other projects such as television themes and jingles, music for computer games, and advertisement jingles. I tend to do a couple of big live concerts every year. Also, sometimes the occasion crops up to write specific pieces of music for specific occasions, such as the main music used in the celebrations to mark Malta’s entry in the European Union, and recently, the music used in the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Malta under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth and various heads of states. : From a songwriting team's perspective how important is it to continually showcase your music to the Maltese public through the Malta Song for Europe? Is it the best platform to launch new material within Malta?

Gerard : Yes it is. No matter what people say - it is! Malta is relatively small, so this is the biggest platform for our artists and for music within the confines of Malta. Some try to snub it of course, but I am sure if somebody could guarantee them the golden ticket they would do a very quick u-turn and change their minds. The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the biggest music events in Europe, so it can never cause any harm. And let’s face it… there are very few Madonna’s , Kylie’s , and Robbie’s…. The rest just need all the exposure they can get!

Philip : In Malta, the Song for Europe is the big thing to be in, and every composer in Malta wants to be in it year after year. I am quite lucky since I had songs in every edition since 1994 (except for 1996). I have also been relatively successful in every edition since 1998. For me, the thrill is not only to launch new material, but also new artists. I find it extremely rewarding to work with young upcoming talented artists, and fine tune the material until we are successful with what we present. : 2008 will mark your fifth attempt as a songwriting team to capture the Eurovision Song Contest crown. Do you have a particular favourite of your five entries to date?, and does any particular Eurovision Song Contest hold special memories for you more than the others?

Gerard : Yes, the fifth! Almost unbelievable! Actually, I am very fond of every entry I have had in a different way. Of course, every year they ask me and I say that year’s entry,  so this year it’s Vodka,  but if I have to be true to myself, I’m fond of every entry I have had (and also a couple of national final entries that did not make it!). Mmmm, special memories! Well, then I would say my first Eurovision in Sweden and the Globen in 2000, and of course in 2002 when we almost won the Eurovision Song Contest contest and placed second with 7th wonder. That was a very narrow miss!

Philip : Definetely, I consider the first time we won in 2000 as my most exciting win. I also have fond memories of 2002 when we nearly won the Eurovision Song Contest proper with 7th Wonder, but each one had its pleasant experiences. I have to say I am quite excited by this year’s entry. I did not expect to win again this year, so it has come as a pleasant surprise, and I am looking forward to work with Morena in Serbia. : In the past eight years of your competing at the Eurovision Song Contest,  you have seen the contest dramatically change in format and develop with semi-finals and a much higher number of participants. Are your ideas for writing songs now different as a result of these changes to the contest? Have recent results for particular types of song influenced the kind of sound or song you are trying to create for the European televoting audience?

Gerard :  Yes, the  Eurovision  Song Contest has evolved and so be it! You can never compare past results to ones nowadays, because nowadays it is a whole new ball game! Artists are stronger, songs are stronger, and with so many countries tastes are more varied. Music and styles also have evolved, and I like it that one can experiment more, and not just write what one calls “typical Eurovision Song Contest songs.” Recent results have shown that you never really know what will happen the next year, so basically there is no golden rule. But I do think that songwriters have been influenced in a way to dare more, and experiment with different sounds, beats, and rhythm. I think that is positive because it spins the creative wheel further!

Philip :  I think that the Eurovision Song Contest has evolved in a positive way , I do not think that the term "Eurovision Song Contest type of song" is applicable anymore. This has created a bigger, and more exciting challenge to composers and everyone involved in the Eurovision scene, to come up with something innovative. I also think that televoting has helped in the sense that viewers now take an active role in deciding the result. Artists and songs which are successful in the contest nowadays have more chances in succeeding in the charts around Europe because of this, taking Eurovision Song Contest winners Ruslana in 2004 and Sertab in 2003 as examples. Also, year in and year out, styles of the successful songs differ immensely. So it is futile to try and think of a style which will guarantee success. This, and the sheer amount of countries competing is what makes the Eurovision contest exciting nowadays.. : In 2007 your song Vertigo performed by Olivia Lewis was tipped to be a potential contender to win the Eurovision Song Contest,  but ultimately failed to make progress to the final. How was this result received in Malta? and have you looked back on the performance and come to any conclusions or justification as to why the result turned out the way it did?

Gerard : People were very disappointed of course. They loved Vertigo, and supported it all the way, even after the result! However, they were incredibly supportive with Olivia, and said that for them she was still their winner! And yes, sure, I always look back on every performance and study what went wrong and what went right! I think that one is constantly learning, and one has to face facts even though sometimes they are not exactly nice. I did look back on last year’s performance and have deduced my own conclusions. Of course there is no perfect formula to use, that is why the Eurovision Song Contest is so exciting, but you just never know! But it is good that you look back and study things objectively.  

Philip : Vertigo was a special song for the Maltese, especially considering the overwhelming majority of votes this song obtained in the Malta Song for Europe. Everybody was disappointed when we did not make it to the finals, but few blamed the song, or Olivia for that matter. I say that something did definitely go wrong because we did not make it to the finals, but every year, it is another contest, with a new bunch of songs, and a new bunch of singers.  I am hoping for a better outcome this year. : Finally, you have recently won the 2008 Malta Song for Europe with Morena and the song  Vodka. The song itself lends more to a Russian or Eastern European theme. What was the inspiration for this song exactly?, and do you already have any pre conceived ideas of how you would like costumes/choreography to look?

Gerard : Yes, 2008 started with a bang! Of course, I am very happy to go back to the big E with Vodka and Morena! I think it suits her very much because it’s crazy and energetic just like she is! To be honest, this song was not written with the Eurovision Song Contest in mind. I got the idea one evening. I wanted to write a song about a beautiful international spy being chased by other spies,  just because she has deciphered a code. Then I had to think, it’s got to be a special name, and the code should be the name of the song! Since it was based in Russia I thought that Vodka would really be a cool and appropriate name! So Vodka was born!  Regarding the outfit and act,  I have some ideas, and I have discussed the outfit with Morena and the designer, and we seem to agree on the general concept. The act we are not so sure yet, but there will be something I suppose!  Morena is a natural, so she probably does not need too much! But then again, you never know!

Philip : I have known Morena for some time, and I have always believed in her abilities. She is a very dynamic person, and Vodka has the necessary attributes for her to show this characteristic. I am happy with the interpretations she gave in the Malta festival, and I am sure she will fit in well within the Eurovision Song Contest scene. I hope the people present in the hall, and viewers watching the contest from their homes have as much fun seeing Morena perform Vodka as much as I had fun creating it. would like to thank Philip Vella and Gerard James Borg for spending time on the interview and sharing a very informative and in depth view on their experiences at the Eurovision Song Contest.  

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