The songwriter had just relocated his family to Los Angeles when the chart-topping hit changed his life.
Published on Tue Oct 08 2013
He couldn’t have asked for a better calling card.
Six days after songwriter and composer Stephan Moccio relocated his family from Toronto to Los Angeles, he was enjoying a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100: “Wrecking Ball,” recorded by the currently controversial Miley Cyrus.
Moccio, 40, who co-wrote the number last year with fellow scribes Sacha Skarbek (James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”), Maureen “MoZella” McDonald, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald (Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”) and fellow Torontonian expat Henry Russell “Cirkut” Walter (Katy Perry’s “Roar), said he’s been barely able to catch his breath since his latest stroke of fortune.
“My head is spinning right now,” Moccio admits. “Moving down here, the whole game has changed for me overnight. When you have a No. 1 song, the phone is literally ringing non-stop.”
It’s not the St. Catharines-born songwriter’s first No. 1 by a long shot: in 2002, he enjoyed a 21-week record-breaking reign at the top of Billboard’s adult contemporary chart with co-writer Aldo Nova for Céline Dion’s “A New Day Has Come,” a song that later became the linchpin of her “A New Day” Vegas show.
But the circumstances were a little different.
“Back then I was in my late 20s, not married, no children and I was feeling burnt, so I decided to take some time off after ‘A New Day,’” he says breathlessly over the phone, calling ahead of schedule due to a number of pressing meetings, including one with producer DJ Khalil (Eminem).
“This time I’ve decided to literally strike while the iron’s hot, because you don’t get these opportunities handed to you the way Miley’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ has come.
“They’re the big ones.”
And boy is the iron hot: Moccio says “the world’s biggest artists” have already contacted him and that each one of them “is saying, ‘I want a song from you.’”
“I’m struggling with which road to take, because I physically don’t have the time to appease everybody,” says Moccio, who says his L.A. move was necessitated in part by demand, in part by the easy accessibility to recording artists and in part by a desire to establish himself as a film composer.
“The relationship aspect is so key,” he explains. “Right now, because of ‘Wrecking Ball,’ people are saying, ‘We want you in a room with so-and-so next week,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, that wouldn’t have been possible had I been anywhere else in the world.’”
One invitation he has accepted, although it was extended to him last summer, was from Seal to work on the British singer-songwriter’s upcoming album.
“It’s hard to say where Seal and I are going to go, but he brought me into his world with (producer) Trevor Horn and we started writing some amazing songs,” says Moccio. “We’re talking about finishing up the album in the U.K.”
Although Moccio is reeling at the speed at which his latest accolade has brought him both praise and success, it probably hasn’t been any surprise to long-time observers of his career.
He’s always proved himself a versatile arranger, writer and producer, contributing to projects ranging from the hard rock of former I Mother Earth singer Edwin to the crossover classical sonnets of Sarah Brightman.
Raised in Niagara Falls, Moccio began piano lessons at the age of 3 and was first hired for sessions at the age of 12 in the city’s Rainbow Studios, also early studio stomping grounds for Ron Sexsmith.
While studying music at Western University, Moccio got a call from über-producer David Foster and an invitation to hang in Hollywood, where he met Sheryl Crow and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. He eventually joined Sony Music Canada, where he worked with a roster that included fledgling country artist Tara Lyn Hart, underappreciated soul pop specialists Philosopher Kings, classical cellist Denise Djokic and boy band B4-4, among others.
He’s released a couple of his own orchestral piano albums and, for a season, was one of the judges on the short-lived Canada’s Got Talent, with Measha Brueggergosman and comedian Martin Short, now one of his best friends.
“Marty’s a neighbour here now in L.A. and he and I are in a good old-fashioned bromance,” laughs Moccio. “I love that guy.”
He also co-wrote “Believe,” with Glass Tiger frontman Alan Frew and recorded by Nikki Yanofsky, as the theme for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and has since signed both to Universal Music in L.A. as publisher and with the William Morris Agency to help secure him some film scoring gigs.
It was Universal who set up the writing session that led to “Wrecking Ball,” which topped the charts for two weeks before being knocked off its perch by Lorde’s “Royals,” but it’s the lead track on Cyrus’s new album Bangerz, out Tuesday.
“This song actually started from an honest place,” Moccio explains. “We were trying to write for Miley, only because MoZella and Miley know each other.
“But the writers had never met each other. We wrote the song and then the next thing, Miley heard it, fell in love with it, really connected with the lyrics and the message of the song.
“It’s about a love gone awry, toxic relationships, things we’re all familiar with.”
So far, both videos for “Wrecking Ball” — the Miley-sitting-naked-on-a-wrecking-ball-and-licking-a-sledgehammer version and the Miley-face-singing-into-a-camera-à-la-Sinead-O’Connor director’s cut — are nearing YouTube’s 200-million-views mark, and it’s led to Moccio being so busy that “I’m literally booked for the next five or six months, project after project.”
Seems like a little twerk has brought him a whole lot of work.