Your latest album “The Path Of The Clouds” was recorded during the pandemic. How did it affect your work?
Yes, it certainly was. It gave me the time to work on the lyrics and melodies, as well as structure, on my own timeline. I was able to lose myself in the world of the songs in a way that recording in a traditional studio hasn’t done. There wasn’t a lot that I was seeing on a day to day basis, but I have a very active imagination and really tried to push the walls out.
Some of the songs are influenced by the “Unsolved Mysteries” tv series. What did you especially like of these stories? And some stories are about people who have mysteriously disappeared... Is it really possibile they survived, as you imagine in your songs?
That show as well as others, and in general true tales of real people, big and small. I’m captivated by the stories, and found them interesting enough to write songs about. You know, it’s hard to say for sure. Bessie is the one most likely to have survived, from a factual standpoint. As the story goes, someone even claimed to be her 50 years later. DB Cooper and the Alcatraz escapees? Far less likely in my opinion but still fun to think about. I like tales of unbelievable feats.
The title track is about the crazy story about D.B. Cooper... How did you hear about that?
I’ve known about D.B. Cooper for a while, as he’s kind of a legendary figure at this point. I can’t remember where I first heard about him, but my interest was reignited during his episode, and the idea came to write a song about him. At first those were just jumping off points. The songs about Bessie, DB Cooper, etc- well, they are actually multi-layered and really personal at the same time. The parallels are relatable.
Is it the first time you write your songs on piano? And how did you work with Jesse Chandler?
I wrote songs on July on the piano, but at the time I really didn’t know how to play. I took lessons with Jesse, and that helped me become more fluid with the writing. Though I don’t actually play the piano on the new album, I found composing to be exciting because of the different shapes and melodic sensibilities that a new instrument can present. Jesse and I met through Simon, during the Mercury Rev sing Bobbie Gentry record, and some dates I did with them.
There are many other important guests on the album, what did Emma Ruth Rundle, Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) and the harpist Mary Lattimore add to you musical universe?
Simon and Mary play on the record the most. Emma makes a cameo on one song, “Turned into Air.” The thread that they all have in common is that they are great musicians and friends. They each offer different elements, and that’s why I asked them. Simon’s bass lines are particularly melodic, and he has a really unique way of playing. I’d collaborated with him before, on both Lost Horizons albums. I was thrilled that he played on these songs. Mary, a longtime friend, brings something very special to the table that few people can. She’s a masterful player with a very delicate and hypnotizing sensibility. And I love Emma’s slinky guitar on the song, and look forward to doing more with her in the future. We’re all friends.
Anyway, I think it's a very personal record. Is it the first time you self-produce your work too? How did it change your method of work?
All of my records are very personal records. But, yes, this is the first officially self produced album, though I’ve done a lot of co-production and home recordings prior to this album. I really enjoyed calling all of the shots, and really enjoyed seeing my vision through.
Why did you move to Nashville? And how do you feel living there?
It’s a long and personal story. I’m still figuring out whether I like it or not. The summers are very hot.
I really like your albums with Randall Dunn, that special “doom” and gloomy charm on your dreamy songs... Are you going to collaborate with him again in the future? And which among the records and the songs you made with him do you like most?
Randall produced July and Strangers, and I’m very proud of both of those albums. His work is always great and I’m sure we will work together again at some point. To be fair, the doom and gloom was there dating back to Ballads of Living and Dying, but in my own, different way. Randall’s work is always great. He brought great dynamics to both of those albums.
I also appreciated your collaboration with Stephen Brodsky in “Droneflower”. Do you think this experience made you consider also playing musical genres so far from your style?
Our collaboration happened organically. I didn’t consider this so far from my “style” at all- really. I wrote the lyrics and melodies and they definitely sound like my songs. The instrumentation is totally different, but to me, a song is a song. I guess I try, and have always tried, not to label myself too much- because I think as an artist that can really stunt growth. I would say that project was a beautiful flower off a branch in the back of the garden.
I think your music has evolved many times in these last 20 years. In which do you think you have changed more through the years?
I’d like to think that between each record I have done is great change and growth. To stagnate is death to an artistic soul. I mean, the changes may be subtle, but I’m a big advocate of continuing to push one’s own limits. This new record feels like a significant jump for me in many directions. And the jump from my early work to July felt similarly. These two junctures.
Do you think you'll play live in Europe and Italy too?
Yes, of course. I’ve played live in Europe and Italy a lot over the past 20 years. As soon as it’s safe to do so, I plan on coming over and presenting the songs for my listeners.
Our webzine www.ondarock.it turns 20! Would you like to send us a message for this anniversary?
Well, that’s amazing! Congratulations, and thank you so much for the longtime support of my music. I hope that you continue to write about music with flair and passion.
|A hot July for dream-folk music|
Let’s resume from where we left in 2005... After the wonderful “The Saga Of Mayflower May” you seemed to be in search of a new direction for your music: you introduced some synthesizers, some electric guitars, some drum machines... Did you find acoustic folk music was becoming too restrictive?
I honestly never considered myself acoustic folk. Even on “Ballads of Living and Dying”, there are lots of synths and a lot of reverb, theramin, and atmosphere. “Saga” was probably a brief foray into that territory but I soon went back to my more atmospheric roots.
In a certain way, I think your latest two records, “The Sister” and “July”, show the two sides of your music. In “The Sister” you recovered your best melodic inspiration with simple and almost-bare arrangements, while in “July” you found the right balance between acoustic folk and electronic sounds. Do you agree? And what do you think are the main differences between them, musically and lyrically?
Well, I consider “The Sister” to be an Ep, and not a full length record. I am far far more happy with the way that “July” came out. It has mostly to do with the fact that the songs on “July” are fully fleshed out and it’s a complete album from start to finish. I was very happy with my self-titled record but I regret releasing “The Sister” and wish I had made it more clear to be an Ep. I am very happy with “July” and I think it’s my strongest album to date.
Why did you choose Randall Dunn as a producer for “July”? He worked with bands doom-metal such as Earth and Sunn O)))and seemed to be very far from you musically. Despite that, your partnership seems to work very well. What factors made you feel in tune?
He’s not very far from me musically at all. I have known the members of Earth from opening up for them years ago. I know Steven O’Malley from Sunn O))) and really admire his work. I find myself more inclined to listen to heavy music than light music. I think it made perfect sense, especially after I contributed vocals to the black metal artist Xasthur’s last album.
Randall reached out to me and told me he was interested in recording and producing my next album. I didn’t have to think about it for more than a second before I said yes. Also, to be clear, he’s worked with Jesse Sykes as well as Rose Windows, so it would be pigeonholing Randall to call him exclusively a black metal drone producer. I’m sure he would like to be thought of more broadly as a music producer.
You have always composed winter-like songs, so the album’s title “July” seems a bit strange. Why this choice?
I don’t wish to confine my music to any one season! Anyway, the songs on the album track the events of my life from one July to the next. It was also recorded in July and the title felt like the obvious choice.
“July” has been released by two important labels. How did your connections with Sacred Bones and Bella Union come about?
It’s a long story. Regardless, I’m thrilled beyond words to be working with both labels. I can truly appreciate it, having had back luck in the past, how nice things are now!
The videoclip for the record’s first single, “Dead City Emily”, is gorgeous... can you tell us about it?
It was directed by Derrick Belcham. It stars myself as well as the dancer Emily Turndrup. I think that instead of describing it, people can click on it and watch it and find their own world inside of it!
In “Was It A Dream” you talk about the end of a love story. “Drive” reminds some other gloomy memories... are there any particular events of your life that inspired you those lyrics?
Yes, my entire life and many personal events inspired this record and those songs. I choose not to reveal any more than that. For the people that take the time to listen to the lyrics, these stories will become clear to them.
Your songs have always been full of characters, nevertheless you said that many stories are autobiographical... How do you combine fiction and real life in your songs?
There is no longer any fiction in any of my songs. I am writing purely non-fiction songs now!
The genre I see you classified as most is “dream-folk”. How do you feel about that category and do you aspire to try out other genres in the future?
I’m fine with it, I guess. I prefer not to have a genre because genres can really be restricting. I don’t think of myself in terms of any small category and try not to limit my potential. I would hope the same for any artist out there.
Before making music you were a fine arts major and your work is often considered to be part of a new wave of American Gothic. Do you think that this aesthetic could apply to your music too?
Yes, I am a graduate of the Rhode Island School Of Design.
I do not consider myself part of any group or scene. Again, I wish not to label my artwork or music with genres. I think that’s dangerous and limiting. People can call it what they want to.
Last question: have you planned a tour to promote “July”? Is there a chance to see you back in Italy?
Absolutely! I plan on it.