A cuppa joe, a muffin and a musical genius — Detroit’s Creative Mornings lifts off

A grandmother’s lyrical piano concerts, a mentor’s disheveled genius, a rapper’s concentrated perfectionism = things that spark Luis Resto’s imagination.

Thanks to Creative Mornings, Detroit got its pre-caffeinated mojo working through a pep talk of sorts from the introspective Resto, a Grammy- and Oscar-winning musician who is setting up shop in the city’s Eastern Market.

“I’m usually not loyal (but) I’m really proud to be from Detroit. We have something other cities don’t – a certain grit, a melting pot of craziness,” Resto said.

His advice on being creative? Let go a little. Be open to suggestions. “Don’t wring the life out of things,” Resto said. Yet never diverge from your path – because it will lead you down some amazing roads.

Resto, who was raised in Garden City, started his music career with Don Was, becoming part of the supergroup Was (Not Was). From that foundational experience, Resto went on to work with everyone from Mel Torme to Steveie Nicks to 50 Cent. Along the way, he met this guy named Marshall Mathers, and something amazing happened – a little ditty called “Lose Yourself” was born.

But let me back up for a moment. Resto was brought to you by Creative Mornings Detroit, an internationally known monthly breakfast lecture series. Because we’re most excellent, Motown now has its own version, which meets every first Friday at a different downtown location. Offer me free coffee, and I’ll pretty much go anywhere, so I was primed to attend for months now.

It was with great anticipation that an audience of 40+ smartly dressed downtown types met at sponsor Skidmore Studios to launch Creative Mornings. Resto did not disappoint, giving a wide-ranging talk about what inspires him, how Detroit has always haunted his work and why he’s back here now after a 20+ year career in New York, Los Angeles and all points in between. (Other cool sponsors: Detroit Creative Corridor Center and Kaleidico Digital Marketing. The Gem Bakery gave the eats; Anthology Coffee gave the tasty joe.)

As Resto tells it, his story started with his grandmother’s piano, the first notes that sunk into his soul. Her work as a pianist – especially at silent theaters – influenced him deeply, he said. Music was everywhere for the young Resto – his brother playing guitar, his grandfather’s deep voice singing in Portuguese.  Resto’s father was the deciding factor, giving him two choices in life: the organ or the piano.

Stints at Interlochen Center for the Arts summer camp and the University of Michigan followed. His love of synthesizers landed him session work, and he ended up on the doorstop of one Don Was. They fought, they created.

“Don taught me a lot of what music should be – he was an open vat of creativity,” Resto said. “It was jazz with funk and rock and roll. … I appreciate it more now than I did then.”

Was and that experience taught Resto one thing: Give yourself up to the creative process; don’t try to control everything. Resto said he likes being invisible in a room, letting the feelings there fill him. (Although the self-confessed computer geek also likes a controlled situation; hence, the tension with Was.) He’s worked with all of Detroit’s royalty: George, Anita, Aretha. Ultimately, the music worked when he would get into their groove and assimilate.

Tours followed in North America (with stops at St. Andrews, natch) and Europe, where Detroit’s Detroitness is revered, Resto said. He found himself years later, working with Was and many others on movie soundtracks. Eventually, he started his own music house Monster Music. Then, a fortuitous meeting brought him together with Jeff Bass and Marshall Mathers, whose “Slim Shady” album was just taking off.

Resto was brought in to help with the lead song for Eminem’s upcoming movie, “8 Mile.” The rapper had an idea, a sound. But it was based in rock, and it just didn’t fit the mood, the rapper told Resto. Eminem, a perfectionist with his words, also wanted the music to be right, Resto recalls. With his classical background, Resto suggested strings – violins in specific. The result: Boom. That just happened (as the kids would say).

“I’ve never known a hit (song) before it’s a hit. But I knew (“Lose Yourself”) would flip people on their heads. He was so positive, and people hadn’t heard that from him before,” Resto said. “Who would have known that the result was us getting the Oscar?”

Certainly not Barbara Streisand, who presented the award. Resto is convinced that Babs was more than slightly disappointed in the song winning that year (2003). Maybe she was unimpressed with his Grant Hill Detroit Pistons jersey (a wardrobe choice Don Was suggested; “If you guys win this, Detroit will love you forever,” he told Resto) at the formal event; one may never know. But they won, and Resto was there with his self-described Michael Bolton hair.

His hair is shorter now. He describes himself as a dad first, a musician second. Yet Resto still loves what he does, he loves the work others are doing (Trent Reznor, etc.) and he loves Detroit.

How’s that for some morning inspiration?

The next Creative Mornings Detroit will be from 8:30-10 am. Friday, Dec. 7, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. The speaker will be announced soon via Creative Morning’s Twitter or Facebook feeds. Look for it.

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