Direct out of Philadelphia, Rocco DeFinis is a singer, a dancer, and an actor. This makes him one of those rarely seen but often heard of entertainers—“the triple threat.” The re-release of his single “Read” is timely in a multitude of ways. And his influences span from Lauryn Hill to Bette Midler, giving this artist a unique perspective and flavor. As “Read” gets its re-release, and DeFinis enters into the newest phase of his career. He sat down with me to talk about his Philadelphia roots, how a role on Broadway shaped his career, and the true meaning behind his latest single.
You are truly an artist that defines the word diverse. When did you know that being an artist would be your career trajectory?
Rocco DeFinis: Well first, please let me thank you for such a beautiful compliment. I think I am diverse because I have always been innately different. My earliest memories as a child included out-cartwheeling all the girls in recess and playing with Barbies while other boys played with GI Joes.
So simply put, I always knew that I was unique and loved the attention of others. I can’t count how many weddings I was in as a child mainly because I looked like a boy Shirley Temple. My dancing would be a highlight of the receptions. Music and dance are a part of my DNA.
For those that have never heard your music, how would you describe your sound?
RDF: My sound is ever evolving. However, I gravitate towards dance music because I love to move. I embrace elements of vogue culture, blended with hip hop, rock, and soul. I like to consider myself a chameleon, so my sound reflects that. Check out roccodefinis.com to listen.
Your new single “Read” is being released shortly. Tell me about it.
RDF: I’m actually re-releasing my song “Read” after it being out for a year. I’m doing this alongside a music video because it’s very special/personal to me. It has a strong message. We live in a society where we are constantly bombarded with negativity. I believe we need to be nicer to each other. However, you can’t do that if you aren’t even nice to yourself.
At first listen some might think “Read” is just a cute mid-tempo vogue track, unless you decide to really listen to the lyrics. “Tear me down read me tell me that I’m not hot, give it your best shot, make me pay make me pay for all your pain for all your pain.” It’s about being self-reflective and doing the work on yourself.
You’ve taken your turn at acting as well. Tell me about your favorite times on stage or on camera.
RDF: I push myself to do things that scare the shit out of me (laughs). So I have to say, my time in My Big Gay Italian Wedding off Broadway, written by Anthony Wilkinson, gave me the chance to play the role of Franky alongside amazing actors that I learned so much from. I had such stage fright that I forgot lines. But it was a learning experience that I will never forget. I was so thankful for the opportunity to work with Broadway stars. [It was] truly humbling and something I will never forget. My father Robert and my Aunt Marguerite actually chartered a bus from my hometown of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, to New York to come see me with 50 other friends and family.
Musically and from an acting perspective, who are some of your biggest influences and why?
RDF: I have prepared for this question my entire life, I’m super gay (laughs)! I gravitate towards artists who do more than one thing. For the sake of time, let me just keep it to two artists in particular. Bette Midler because she has the type of career that I admire. Recording, stage, and movies. Her ability to emote on a song is second to none. Beaches is my favorite movie of all time. “Wind Beneath My Wings” has a special place in my heart. And my grandmother Marguerite and I used to dance to that song when I was little, before she passed. She helped raise me.
Lauryn Hill because she is deep and spiritual. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is the best album ever created in my opinion. I like to rap too. And folks forget Ms. Hill can spit fire, along with writing, and singing her own material. When I was ex-communicated from a church for being gay in my early twenties, Lauryn’s album was my therapy and my musical savior.
You were in a relationship with fellow New Jersey recording artist Josh Zuckerman. Is it hard to be in a relationship with another creative force? Any plans on possibly collaborating together?
RDF: This is a perfect opportunity to let everyone know that Josh and I are currently separated. We have evolved currently to strictly best friends but we never know what the future holds. Both Josh and I want to spend time cultivating self-love, and implementing self-care for you.
As I speak, we are in Bermuda hanging as best friends, just enjoying each other’s company. He is part of my soul family that will never change. We both are very supportive of each other’s goals and dreams. We are both Leos so we can bump heads at times. But we forgive quickly. As long as he knows I am Beyonce and he is Kelly Rowland, we will be just fine (laughs)! We do plan to work on a single I wrote about us.
Philadelphia is your home and community. What makes the Gayborhood so special to you? What do you think Philadelphia can offer to people who have never even been there before?
RDF: Philadelphia and I have had an on and off again love affair, an open relationship if you will. I just keep coming back because, well, I love my city. Philadelphia LGBTQ folks are some of the nicest, caring, loving, and honest people I have ever met. Those who know me best know I’ve bounced around other cities. Philly has my heart and I am proud to be a Philadelphian. You know you love something when you feel the need to defend it. Talk shit on my city and you see that Italian/Irish temper with the quickness. If you want great food and copious amounts of talented chefs, start here because it’s cheaper. And they can build their brand. Are you crazy for music? Well, Philly produced talents like Patti LaBelle, Pink, and Jazmine Sullivan. Enough said. Must I go on?
What gives you pride?
RDF: My family gives me Pride. My pop-pop Rocky taught me about hard work and chasing your dreams. Not only is it important, it’s also mandatory to lead a happy life!