Producer Bob Ezrin Tells the Story Behind Andrea Bocelli's Duet With His Son

The surprise of the week -- and maybe the year -- was the No. 1 debut of Andrea Bocelli's new album, Si, on both the Billboard 200 and the U.K. album chart. With 126,000 equivalent units on this side of the pond, the Italian tenor's first set of new original material in 14 years is Bocelli's first time atop the Billboard 200 and the first classical album to hit No. 1 since Noel by Josh Groban -- one of Bocelli's guest duet partners on Si -- in 2008. And it's the first classical album to top the U.K. charts since the Titanic soundtrack 20 years ago.

Not so surprised, however, is Bob Ezrin, the Canadian-born producer who was brought into Si in-progress and wound up helming most of the album, including the viral hit duet "Fall on Me" with son Matteo Bocelli, "If Only" with Dua Lipa and "Amo soltanto te" with Ed Sheeran. But even if he recognized the album's potential, Ezrin -- whose stacked resume includes Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed and scores of others -- is stoked by Si's out of the box success and shared some of that joy with Billboard during a drive from his current home base of Nashville to Toronto.

So how crazy is this No. 1 debut for Si?

I don't know that it's all that crazy. I don't think there's much like this on the musical landscape right now. This is an album that's built on really powerful melodies, very sincere and well-crafted lyrics and storylines -- I know most of it's in Italian, but you still have a sense of what's being sung about. And you have arguably the greatest voice on the planet today singing this stuff. It just felt like it was his time, to me.

What was your vision for what the album could be?

I felt like if we could give him an album that had classical depth and intelligence and emotion, but with a kind of contemporary frame around it, that this would work really well now. That's something that's kind of missing from the musical landscape. There are people who try to do these fusion projects and stuff, but I think this is a little more legitimate and credible because the underlying material is so substantial. They brought me in to do "Fall on Me," the duet with his son, and a few other things and they liked what I was doing and slowly but surely it grew into a whole album, with the exception of couple of songs.

And it seems like he's not only capable but game to try anything.

For sure -- and he's also growing into a place now where his voice is richer. He's more self-assured. He has an obviously huge breadth of experience and knowledge to help him from all the years of doing the different things he's done, from being a kind of pop-classical crossover dude to actually singing opera. This is a guy with a very well-refined instrument in that voice. There's nothing he can't do with that. And when you have that and you have brilliant material for him to sing, you just get a sense this is going to be one of those important and hopefully timeless works of art.

Was there a starting point for you in the project?

When we were gathering out thoughts about what it ought to be, I spent some time with Andrea and his son, Matteo, and the rest of his family. They sent me the song "Fall on Me" as a potential duet between -- I'm not gonna say the name -- but (Bocelli) and a very important young female pop star. But the demo they sent me, which was in English, was sung by his son Matteo. It was written as a conversation between two young people who were uncertain of love and looking to each other for support; I thought with a very, very small adjustments this could easily be a conversation between a father and a son who is unsure of love and life and doesn't know his position in the world who suddenly hears the voice of his father come to him from afar, and the wisdom of the father and the love of the father would come to him and help guide him. Even as I was thinking about it I was getting goosebumps, 'cause to me that was a unique and honestly emotional interpretation of the song, whereas having a love song between two people who aren't really in love...those work all the time, but they're constructs. I thought we could do something that was more of a truth, especially with a man who is so devoted to his family and a family that's so warm and full of love. So I asked if we could just do a duet with the two of them.

Obviously people agreed with you -- immediately?

Yes. The writers, thank God, made some adjustments to the lyrics so it would work with a father and son and the label supported it and we put it all together. It was a major high point in my career, because the two of them are so deeply in love with each other, and that's so amazingly apparent in the recording, and also the video. People don't really know this profoundly warm and loving side to him that you see and hear in this song.

How did "Amo soltanto te" with Ed Sheeran come about?

Ed had done "Perfect Symphony" with Andrea, and a few months later Andrea's team got Ed to write a song for (Si). I was thrilled to hear that; I wasn't necessarily counting on it, because as we know Ed's incredibly busy and has a massive career to attend to. But he found the time to write the song with his brother Matthew, who's a studied musician and arranger. They brought the song in and it was translated into Italian by this brilliant Italian artist (Tiziano Ferro). The song is beautiful and very simple and evocative, and Ed sounded so good on the (demo) that I got him to sing a couple of choruses and the end of the song. I hope we'll also be able to record the English version one day.

How did Dua Lipa become part of "If Only?"

We had already cut "If Only." In fact, it had been cut before I got there. I came in and did a version of it using some elements from that version and adding a new orchestra to it to keep consistent with the rest of the album. At first it was Andrea on his own but it became clear after awhile that, really, this was a duet in waiting. This was something we really needed to do with a man and a woman. We ended up doing several of them -- there's a Chinese version with A-Mei. But Dua Lipa, when that girl opens her mouth she has an instrument that's timeless and ageless and really feral and deeply emotional. She's just magic. When they said Dua was interested in doing the duet, I was so excited about it. I love the vocal she did, and the vocal she did fell in so natural and sounded so in keeping with the rest of the piece. It was almost as if it was meant to be.

You co-wrote the song "Gloria the Gift of Life" for the album.

When I met in New York City to talk about the repertoire, they were playing demos that had come in, and when they played that song for me I said, "You have to let me do this!" It goes into this big section with a choir, and I'm choir crazy; There are a lot of kids and a lot of choirs on my records over the years. I said, "Please, let me take this one!" I contacted the two writers (Jonas Myrin and Edmond Cash); We had to work a little bit on the lyric and structure, but I didn't really do that much to the song. We worked really well together and we got it to a place we were all satisfied with, and they're really happy with the results. They both sent me big thumbs-up emails.

Does Si have legs after a big start?

Yeah, I think it's got legs. It's got the Dua song that's got to come out. There's a Josh Groban duet as well ("We Will Meet Once Again") that was done before me. There's some other songs on the record that are really powerful and bear listening. I think this is set up for a good, long run.

Are you ready to get to work on the next one with him?

(laughs) Listen, his head is still spinning from this. I sent him a note saying, basically, "It's official. It's real. I'm so proud of you, and us. You should open the best bottle of Bocelli wine you have and I'll see you when you get back to North America." And he sent me a little voice memo that said, "I’m going to open the best bottle I have in my house, and I will see you..." He's enjoying his family. He's thrilled with having a No. 1 for the first time in his career. I've experienced this a few times, but not so often I'm jaded about him. I'm so thrilled. He has such a warm, beautiful family that I fell in love with, deeply. It took me no more than three days to decide I'm gonna kill for this guy, I'm gonna do whatever it takes. I wanted him to have the best experience he's ever had making a record, and I wanted it to be the best album he's ever recorded. That was my motivation. I was really inspired to do that for him.