The Tenors Talk the Reinvention of Their Band, Tattoos and a New Christmas Album

Christmas with the Tenors

The Tenors, left to right: Alberto Urso, Victor Micallef, Clifton Murray and Mark Masri. Photo: Paul Robert Wright

Yes, yes, we know: It’s not even Thanksgiving yet and we’re already talking about Christmas. But, uh, it could be weirder? After a long cottage weekend spent grooving to Jingle Bell Rock, I Zoomed with all four current members of The Tenors — the Vancouver-founded quartet formerly called The Canadian Tenors that debuted in 2004 — smack dab in the middle of a sweaty summer heatwave. 

Grammy- and Juno-nominated Mark Masri and the oddly familiar looking Clifton Murray (he’s an actor, too, who I’m pretty sure I’m recognizing from The L Word) are enjoying the heat properly: the former’s sitting in the grass and leaning on a tree in Vancouver, the latter is chilling on his porch in a tank top and aviators. New additions Alberto Urso (from Sicily, where he took top prize in Italy’s take on American Idol) and Victor Micallif, a Torontonian who moved to Florence to study beneath his mentor, tenor Franco Pagliazzi, have wisely found some air-conditioned relief.

This new iteration of The Tenors is, by design, loyal and faithful to fan-favourite tenors of the past (among them, Paul Ouellette, Craig Ashton, Remigio Pereira and Jamie McKnight), while simultaneously reinventing the band as fresh, new and exciting. Sound difficult? Impossible? It’s the same Catch-22 they face by daring to tackle classic carols like Ave Maria: Make it old and new, somehow, as to appease traditionalists who like the song just the way it’s always been and also new listeners who are long sing of syrupy sweet elevator music all December long.

How will they possibly make the magic happen? That’s the hard Christmas question on this sweltering afternoon. As their new album, Christmas with The Tenors, launched in September, Zoomer called up the group to talk about spicy Italian Christmases (even in Japan), who should get a Tenors tattoo and why, and in which ways their foursome is like a marriage.


Christmas with the Tenors
Photo: Paul Robert Wright


Rosemary Counter: Everyone looks so relaxed and comfy in the sun! And we’re gonna be talking about  … Christmas.

Mark Masri: Yes, just enjoying the last few days of summer. I’ll have to imagine it’s cold. [Adjusts baseball hat]

Clifton Murray: I’m here in sunny Vancouver. I’m waiting outside the hospital because my wife’s about to have an ultrasound. We’re about to have a baby in the call. 

RC: Congratulations! On the baby and the album! Alberto, I read that Christmas is a big deal in Italy, where you’re from. 

Alberto Urso: It is, and it’s beautiful there at Christmas. We start with trees on December 8 and we go all the way to January 7. And we eat so much food. Ice cream, beef, cannelloni …

Clifton Murray: And how is that any different from the rest of the year? 

Alberto Urso: It isn’t, I guess, it’s just more. On Christmas, Italians make beef or veal. I don’t like veal so much, because baby animals are so cute.

Victor Micallef: I spent many years studying music in Italy and can confirm the lights are just gorgeous, so beautiful. But yes, the food …

MM: I’m not Italian, but I married an Italian, so I know what it’s like! As long as there’s good food, it doesn’t matter what else is happening. Even if your life is falling apart, what did you eat? If it was good, you’ll be okay. 

RC: What was Christmas like growing up for you? 

MM: Well, I’m the oldest of six, so Christmas was always a big deal for us. At home, wherever there are kids, there will be joyous celebrations and arguments about who got the best gift, but at the end of the day it’s a great time. My wife and son are still big Christmas celebrators. 

CM: One year, my family went to Japan for Christmas. My cousins were living there, studying Japanese. We were up in the mountains looking for a restaurant to celebrate Christmas Eve. A lot of restaurants were closed, so the hotel set up a long, massive table in the dining hall with these huge ornate chairs that were like eight feet high with beautiful woodwork. So we’re sitting around feeling like kings eating … spaghetti and meatballs. They’d thought, what would a Canadian family eat on Christmas? Somehow they came up with spaghetti. 

RC: Sounds like Italy no matter where you go! Alberto, you won a talent show there!

AU: Four years ago, I did this Italian talent show. It’s a bit like American Idol and Big Brother, because you have to live there with cameras. They film you every moment, and you have to study every day of the week, for seven months. Twenty thousand people try out every year and I won! It was the best experience of my life, because it was the beginning of my career. I got the date tattooed on my arm. 

RC: You have a lot of tattoos on your arm. Do you have one for The Tenors yet? 

CM: You should get one right along the neck, bro. 

AU: I would, but my mom would kill me. 

CM: I’m going to get an “Alberto Urso” on my arm then. 

RC: The Tenors have been performing in different iterations since 2004. How do you carry on their legacy and also make it your own? 

MM: I have the blessing of having been friends with the guys for many years — since it’s inception actually. I’ve been cheering from the sidelines, subbing in on occasion. But when you sub it, you have to be whoever you’re placing. Now I’m tasked with adding my own flavour to the band. I want to honour the band’s history and also move it forward. We’re just a year into this experience, so we’re working on that right now.

CM: And in just the last year, we’ve had some dreams come true. We always wanted to play Radio City Music Hall in New York, and we finally did just a few months ago. We did the Hollywood Bowl, which was a real bucket-list thing, and Royal Albert Hall in London. We’re really trying to create something new and exciting, and the fact that this album is Christmas music gives us the chance to really have some fun. 

RC: I’d imagine it works both ways: On one side, everyone loves Christmas! On the other, Christmas songs have been done a million times before. 

MM: Yes, you’re right, and there are versions of these songs that people love, their favourites and their go-tos, so to change them and try to draw people to your version is daunting.  

CM: A lot of credit here should go the producers here, specifically Thomas “Tawgs” Salter, who really has his finger on the button on how to take an old song and make it fresh, new and cool. I mean, how do you make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sound cool? That’s not easy. Once we got in the room, started playing with songs and sounds, it really started to get interesting. We added new little motifs into it that make it memorable for a new reason. 

MM: In Joy to the World, we added this bit of a chorus section that’s all new — entirely different to the traditional carol. We tried to that in every song.

RC: Alberto, could you pick a favourite? 

AU: I love Joy to the World and Feliz Navidad. My very favourite is I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, which has a beautiful energy. I didn’t think I’d like to sing in a group, I always thought I’d be a solo artist, but when I heard the four of us together, I changed my mind. We’re all friends, but we’re working too, and we fight all the time. It’s like a relationship: You have to fight to solve your problems. 

MM: We’ve never drawn blood, that’s what matters. 

VM: It’s like a marriage, in this case almost an arranged marriage, but like a marriage in that communication is key. It’s okay to disagree, discuss, debate, hash it out — as long as you communicate. We make sure that everyone’s voice gets heard and no one feels like they’re not getting their points across. That said, we still have four alpha males with strong opinions in one group. Luckily, in the grand scheme of things, we all want the same thing: To inspire and entertain.


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