From Topping Pizzas to Topping the Charts: Inside Ashlley Walliss' Double Life as a Pizzaiolo and Italian Songwriter

There is no doubt that restaurant owner and Pizza Chef Ashlley Walliss is in his element when he's in the kitchen of his South Fremantle Pizzeria, L'Antica.

But what few of his customers realise, is that the humble pizzaiolo feels just at home in therecording studio with some of Italy's biggest popstars. In fact, if Ashlley Wallissisn't in his South Fremantle kitchen, it's because he's swapped topping pizzasfor penning and publishing chart-topping songs for some of Italy's biggestmusic stars including Francesco Renga and Marco Mengoni.

Walliss credits his Italian heritage for inspiring him to pursue acareer in both hospitality and music. 'Growing up there was always a love offood and a love of music that you were surrounded by. They have always beenconcurrent (and) I think that passion is something that everyone grows up within different ways. For me, anything that is creative and creates an experiencefor other people are things I am equally passionate about and I jump in withfull gusto'.

And jump in Walliss has. In the space of only a few years, the pizzaiolo has established Fremantlehotspot, L'Antica whilesimultaneously earning writing, publishing and producing credits on a string ofnumber one and multi-platinum singles including Marco Mengoni's Guerriero and Francesco Renga's Il Mio Giorno Piu Bello Nel Mondo.

The latter was the first song in a series of collaborations withacclaimed Italian singer and songwriter Fortunato Zampaglione. The two metseveral years ago when a friend in Milan introduced Walliss, who studied at theConservatorium for Music in contact with the songwriter. It was during thattime that Zampaglione approached Walliss to collaborate on Renga's single. 'Iremember we were in Milan having a gelato and he asked me if I wanted to do thepublishing on this song he was working on and then we had a listen and therewas something about it that I couldn't click with, but I liked it"¦and then oneday the penny dropped and it was full steam ahead'.

Although Walliss has always been surrounded by music, he admits it was a'surreal' experience when he first heard the hit song on the radio. 'I rememberI was in a supermarket in Italy, and while I was choosing tomatoes it came onthe radio. I sent Fortunato a message and he said, 'congratulations on hearingyour first song on the radio'. Walliss immediately looked around thesupermarket to gather people's impressions of the song. 'It wasn't so much thatI was excited but more that I was satisfied that the job had been doneproperly'.

The song went to number one and paved the way for a number ofcollaborations between the two, with their most recent In the Name of Love being selected as the winner's single for thelatest season of Italian ratings juggernaut, The X Factor Italia.

 'Fortunato asked me if I wouldlike to work on (the song) and of course I said yes because it is just a buzzworking with him "¦ when we do something it just flows like water'.

Walliss describes the hit single as a 'battle cry'. 'The song stems fromthe simple idea, that in good times and in bad, as long as you are being trueto yourself and those you care about in the name of love, then love is all youneed'.

Walliss recalls the excitement when he found out that Siciliancontestant Lorenzo Licitra was announced as TheX Factor Italia winner and would consequently release In the Name of Love as his winners single. 'It was 6am Perth timeand I was watching the finale on a really weak Wi-Fi signal, which was reallyfunny because we have this great song, great people, great studios and then theWi-Fi in Perth was the only handbrake! As soon as it was announced Fortunatoand I spoke with each other and we were happy, we are winners. And then I wentto L'Antica to make Tiramisu'. 

In addition to In the Name of Love,the songwriter collaborated on Francesca Michelin's top ten hit L'Amore Esiste which was laterre-released in English by Evanescence frontwoman and Grammy winner Amy Lee. 'Amywas in Italy filming a video clip and heard the song on the radio, she shazamed it and found out it was Sonyand got her people to call'.

Other career highlights have included collaborating with Fortunato ontwo of Marco Mengoni's number one singles, TiHo Voluto Bene Veramente and Guerriero.Both tracks have gone five times platinum and helped cement Mengoni as one ofItaly's most in-demand pop stars. Walliss recalls that Guerriero came at aparticular turning point in Mengoni's career.

'He had recently won The X Factorand his team was looking for a breakout song. Fortunato put Guerriero forwardas a potential hit song for Marco and they all agreed. I sat in Fortunato'sstudio and I had a feeling it was going to be big then it was released and itjust went crazy. I remember saying to Fortunato that this song is good because anythingthat tickles people's ears and makes them listen and go 'oh what was that?'will grab their attention'.

For now, Walliss has returned to his classical music roots and isworking on a bilingual Operatic production of Il Piccolo Principe (The Little Prince), but the hit-maker hasn'truled out a return to the top of the Italian pop charts, hinting that someexciting collaborations are in the works. And while it's not easy juggling abustling restaurant in Western Australia and a blossoming song-writing careerin Italy, Walliss still plans to continue working in both industries as theyboth fulfil him differently.  'At L'Antica,I don't mind if I am in the kitchen, or washing plates, I'm just happy to beworking on the experience. It's the same with music, I do not mind what part ofthe process we are doing, as long as we are doing something. After all, Is theguy washing plates any less responsible for the pizza that arrives to the tablethan the pizzaiolo?'.


'In the Name of Love' is out now on iTunes.