Most rock bands have four members. Some have five or six, and maybe they reach the double digits after including background vocalists or auxiliary percussion. Rockin’1000, an Italian music project which touts itself as “the biggest rock band in the world,” have… well, 1,000 people.
You may remember Rockin’1000 from a remarkable 2015 viral video, in which a thousand musicians from Cesena, Italy congregated for a rendition of Foo Fighters’ “Learn to Fly.” The group’s origins may have been in trying to convince Foo Fighters to play in their town, but since then, they’ve become a global phenomenon, selling out stadiums all over Europe and Latin America with rock and roll covers played by thousands.
The last eight years have certainly been busy for Rockin’1000 and their founder, Fabio Zaffagnini. What began as a crowdfunded quest has now turned into a large-scale global touring project, with their upcoming “Humans World Tour” serving as Rockin’1000’s first ever multi-continent outing. But before the trek kicks off, Rockin’1000 has a special treat for their legion of fans across the globe: an original song, written, arranged, performed, and recorded by over 1,000 people.
The song, appropriately titled “How We Roll,” is out today, June 1st, and it’s been a long journey for Rockin’1000 from start to finish. It began many months ago, where they deemed an original song necessary for the group’s identity. For Zaffagnini, the track was a natural jumping off point from the last several years of sold-out, unity-driven concerts. “We’re making the same path as any other band, just on a larger scale” Zaffagnini tells Consequence in Cesena, Italy during the recording process. “A small band starts with a few friends playing somewhere and playing covers. But then there is another stage when the band is growing. And they start producing their own songs, and they mix the new songs with the cover songs… and then they become a proper band.”
Zaffagnini knew it was time to try something new, but he didn’t want to simply hire a songwriter to create it for them. “I wanted it to be a collective process,” he says, “I wanted everything to be multiplied 1,000 times. That’s what we do.” To begin, they assembled a team of close friends and collaborators to serve as leaders of the project they deemed “Mission S000ngwriting” — including Jet frontman (and Milan native) Nic Cester and music multi-hyphenates Daniel Plentz, Giulio Nenna, and Andrea “DB” Debernardi.
From there, Rockin’1000 arranged a rough demo with some chords, put out an open call for contributors, and received thousands of videos with original song ideas using those chords. The team spent days sifting through videos from everyday songwriters, and selected their favorites to develop a unified song. “We received something like 900 different arrangements from 30 countries,” says Zaffagnini, “So we had punk versions, heavy metal versions, folk versions, prog rock versions… so many different interpretations!”
The writing period didn’t stop there, with Rockin’1000 taking several more months to incorporate these community-spawned contributions — mainly the song’s lyrics. “We received, again, like 900 different versions of the lyrics,” says Zaffagnini. After completing the song’s demo, then came the complicated part: recording a thousand musicians on one track.
Of course, it takes a village to even record one song, which often requires multiple days of tracking. To record, “How We Roll,” Rockin’1000 returned to their hometown of Cesena, where it all began, and set up shop at the town’s old school opera and play house, Teatro Verdi. It’s a special place for Zaffagnini and his cohort: “This theater is where Rockin’1000 was born — the early ideas, the recruitment process, the rehearsals for our first show, all took place at Teatro Verdi,” he says. With only three days to record, Rockin’1000 couldn’t possibly get all 1,000 contributors to record in-person — so, with several hundred recorded parts being sent via email, they recorded the rest during a rainy weekend in Cesena.
Rockin’1000 invited Consequence to witness the recording of “How We Roll.” Usually, Rockin’1000’s cathartic shows are meant to be heard with each and every participating musician present, and you can feel the overwhelming power of the song they’re covering. This process was decidedly different; to maintain a tight schedule and incorporate as many in-person musicians as they could, they opted to record each instrument in batches of five at a time. The first day was drum tracking, the following day for guitar and bass, and the final day for vocals.
So, as anyone familiar with the recording process will tell you, we got used to hearing the individual parts for this song a lot. In a spacious location like Teatro Verdi, the instruments reverberated with volume and power — it may have only been five or six guitars at a time, but it felt like a thousand. It was also a fascinating process to watch musicians from all over Italy show up and rock out with a few other people that they’ve never met before, completely buzzing with energy.
With so many musicians needed for one track, I wondered about the logistics. Producer Daniel Plentz brought me up to the mixing room and filled me in: ProTools only allows for 99 individual tracks on song, so they would create up to 10 songs with 99 tracks, and in the end, stack all the tracks on top of each other for a final mix with 1,000 featured musicians. Finally, they felt it was important to add a dominant lead vocal to the track, so they enlisted none other than Black Stone Cherry for “How We Roll.” Needless to say, the effort was an ambitious one.
Perhaps the most enriching segment of the recording process arrived on the final day, when they tracked vocals with multiple groups of 20 to 30 singers. It was here that the true message of “How We Roll” became illuminated — hearing a choir of voices belting “We all need to feel some connection,” with layered harmonies and an abundance of natural reverb, felt downright religious. It all comes back to Zaffagnini and Rockin’1000’s mission and purpose: To give people a chance to live out their rockstar dreams, and all the while, let them find like-minded musicians with which to build a community.
“We want to be the largest community in the world of musicians, but we don’t want it to be just a digital community. We want it to happen in the real world,” Zaffagnini says, “We like the ‘under-promise, over-deliver’ concept. So you come here to record a song, or you go to a stadium because you want to live a rockstar-like experience. But what you get in return is that you get to meet thousands of musicians from all over the world, you make new friends. You create deep relationships with people because you’ve both shared something you cannot describe. It’s not just about the music anymore. It’s a social project.”
“How We Roll” is now out in the world, and Zaffagnini and Rockin’1000 are excited to bring it to life during the “Humans World Tour.” With the first show kicking off this weekend in Madrid, Rockin’1000 are just getting started — and luckily, there are thousands of passionate musicians ready to live out their rockstar dreams.
Photo Gallery – Rockin’1000 (click to expand and scroll through):