I did a brief question and answer with an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, Christian Bitto. He’s played at various small venues in the Philly area opening for a variety of bands. Christian is currently working on an album, and you can listen to one of the first songs at the end of the post.
Question: How long have you been making music and performing in Philly?
Answer: I’ve been playing guitar for over 10 years now. I was in a few bands where we never really did anything, and I gave it up for a while. I rededicated myself a few years back. I started writing my own songs a little over two years ago and have been performing for a little less than that.
Q: Any favorite places to play in Philly?
A: The apex for me was definitely the North Star Bar. I’ve played there twice now solo and can’t wait to perform there with the full band. That’s where all of my formative musical memories happened with my best friends, so to go there and be on the stage was such a surreal thing. Not to mention they’re so professional and easy to deal with, something that’s not always the case.
Q: What bands and songwriters influence your music?
A: I grew up in that post-punk screamo scene with bands like Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, The Early November, so I guess it started there. That was the first music I ever really liked and my first bands were all in that vein. But as for my own stuff now, Kevin Devine is a huge influence along with Conor Oberst [Bright Eyes], and Glen Hansard [The Swell Season]. I respond to lyrics almost more so than the music, so I love good songwriters. Oh and I forgot to mention Elliott Smith, what a huge influence his songs have had on me. I sing softly so Elliott Smith was the first person I listed to that didn’t scream or belt out tunes. When I heard him whisper his way through songs and they were just as powerful it made me have faith that I could sing as well.
Q: So you’re recording an album now, right?
A: I am recording an album. We’re finished two songs. It’ll probably end up being a 5 or 6 song EP [to be release] sometime early in the new year. It’ll have both [full band and acoustic songs], I had a demo out last year that was mainly just acoustic songs but this is definitely more indie rock-ish. I’m recording with my friend Jesse Gimbel at his studio, and he’s playing the drums. I’m pretty much playing anything else on it. I’m really looking forward to getting it done and getting out there with a band and performing. I enjoy the intimacy of sitting there on stage with just an acoustic guitar and telling a story, but it’ll be nice to change it up.
Q: The last show I went to last Friday, the opening band was just a guy with an acoustic guitar (Into It. Over It). He was really good, but I feel like it’s really hard to get people’s attention that way. I definitely give credit to anyone who can get up in front of people and keep playing despite the audience being uninterested and disrespectful at times…
A: I agree. I put a big emphasis on writing good lyrics, and for a while I was almost opposed to putting together a fuller band sound for fear it might take away from that…but I realized the stories are going to be there, and if people can enjoy the music without even noticing that, then that’s ok too.
Q: How have your experiences been playing in Philly? Good, bad, both?
A: I’ve had both. Like I said it’s great playing at the North Star, and there are other places that were great too. The Fire was my first show so they have a place in my heart too…but I have dealt with some people who clearly did not care or pay attention to what it takes to put on a good show. I played one show where the door guy didn’t show up, the promoter didn’t answer his phone and no one knew the set times. It was a mess…but even with that, you’re still playing music in front of people, so it’s not that bad.
Q: Do you go to a lot of shows in Philly? Any favorite venues to see shows at besides the North Star?
A: I used to go to a ton when I was younger. I stopped for a while but have started up again recently. There’s a ton of good venues, and I tend to prefer the smaller ones, which I think is why I love the North Star. It’s sort of the smallest place where you get really good nationally touring acts. I just saw Bright Eyes at the Mann Center and that place is just beautiful, such a different atmosphere than a rock club. Both types of places definitely have their merit though.
Q: Are there any local bands that you’ve played with that you really like?
A: Well I mentioned my friend Jesse Gimbel earlier. He has his own stuff, and we’ve played a few shows together and have become really good friends. I’ve met quite a few nice folks along the way, but Jesse and I definitely share a similar musical taste which makes it super easy to work together. It’s weird because I’ve played with everything from punk acts to country acts to poppy singers. It’s been rare to actually play with people in my general genre of interest. I guess they usually just want a guy with a guitar to open the show.