Picture from artist’s website
Following the release of Italian composer and producer Federico Albanese’s third album By The Deep Sea (Neue Meister) and ahead of his appearance at London’s Vortex on 4 April, AJ Dehany spoke to him via Skype from London to Berlin about his very personal approach to music.
LondonJazz News: You’ve said music is “My way to exorcise things that have happened to me” – do you mean specific events or more like feelings that you’ve gone through in your life?
Federico Albanese: Everything is connected. That’s why I chose the album title By The Deep Sea, which is from Byron: “There is society where none intrudes/By the deep sea, and music in its roar.” You can never express your current feelings exactly. It’s the idea of getting close to something you experienced or a simple idea or thought… You have to be able to go very close to the bottom in your life to produce something interesting in a way satisfactory for yourself for you as an artist and a person.
LJN: Is there a personal story behind opening track 682 Steps?
FA: My mum moved to a place on the north coast of Italy, up from Milan where I grew up. It’s basically on a rock in the middle of nowhere. No cars go there. It’s a really beautiful place and from the house there are 682 steps leading to the sea. I remember it as a very inspiring place so I wanted to start the new album with this, which is in a way a translation of my own life that connects me with the sea.
LJN: I admire the mixture of simple melodic lines and deep textures. Do you consider yourself as much a producer as a composer?
FA: Both parts have the same value in my work. I never really decided to sit down and play the piano. I studied it when I was a kid, but then I took other paths. I started writing instrumental music eight to nine years ago. I moved to Berlin because I wanted to do music for films. I didn’t have the idea of making an album. I was just following something that was happening around my mind and what I was producing.
LJN: Following the steps…
LJN: There’s a lovely phrase that a friend of mine used for a song title: Mauerbauertraurigkeit (the sadness of building walls). Is your track Mauer Blues inspired by Berlin?
FA: Mauer Blues is for me the most important piece on the record. It really tells the story of my story here in Berlin. The piece is all based on one chord, like a strange C minor diminished chord, that I’d used once six years ago when I was writing my first album. I was struggling to find a final chord to end a piece and I found this amazing chord… It’s very jazzy, bluesy, melancholic – I like it so much.
LJN: Usually a story might go from cradle to grave but the story that emerges through the sequence of the album goes from cradle to cradle, starting with your childhood experience of the 682 Steps, and literally finishing on the track The Cradle…
FA: Cradle to cradle, yeah. The end of something is the beginning of something else.
LJN: You’ve talked about making it more challenging, making it hard for yourself as a way to make it more real — what does that mean for you?
FA: At some point I realised the only way I have to describe experience or simply transform it into something else is music. This album comes from my personal awareness that I need music to process what happens in my own life. It has to be spontaneous. I cannot go in studio and sit for a couple of weeks and record an album; I need to be able to do it right away, to exorcise my own thoughts quickly wherever I am. Many songs on the record are just one take – because I didn’t have much time or because that was the moment I needed to catch and put on tape.
LJN: There’s a track on the album called The Room. How much does location affect your process?
FA: I am very picky about sound. I really like a very warm and bassy body and to try to catch the frequencies an instrument has. For me the most important thing is how you play the piece. My goal is to melt together the classical piano with modern sounds. Some parts of the album were recorded in different studios in Berlin and Milan and the countryside while on tour. If there was a room with a good acoustic and a good piano I would record something and at times I was bringing along the tape recorder or my mobile system.
LJN: Are you still using the Uher Royal Deluxe tape machine?
FA: No, the Uher died. I used an AVOX77 and also this very small Nagra tape recorder from the ’60s. I’m still using a lot of tapes and stuff because I like the vibe that it creates with the tape machines.
LJN: What are the musical inspirations of the record?
FA: I don’t necessarily take inspiration from contemporary music in general. I’d rather listen to something that has nothing to do with what I do. I was listening a lot to Italian singer songwriters and musicians from the ’60s and ’70s while I was writing this record. It’s nice when there are people that can with words express certain deep feelings but being simple at the same time. I’m trying to do what other people do with words or with their hands painting or sculpting. I try to do that with music.
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
LINK: Federico Albanese plays the Vortex on 4 April 2018