We spoke to Francesco Mariani, the lead singer of one of Italy's most confounding rock acts, on the eve of their latest record.
Como, Italy’s premier post-psyche drone-rock attack band, His Electro Blue Voice, make wonderfully stressful music. It’s the anxious, wound too tight, walls-closing-in sound of non-existence at one end, and death at the other. Metronome kraut-drums drive almost every song, guitars wash and pierce like infernal unattended power tools, while singer Francesco Mariani bleats and rants his existential concerns to an empty sky. Their last album came out on Sub Pop in 2013. Shockingly, it didn’t sell a million copies. The kids are fickle in their despair I guess.
Now, in this year of inanity made flesh, His Electro Blue Voice have seen fit to give the world a new full-length, Mental Hoop. It's out November 24th on Maple Death Records in Europe and Iron Lung Records in the US, but we're premiering it below. Over the last ten years, the band has been perfecting their brand of turbulent space-grunge and post-punk to an obsessive degree and the new record, chugging mightily along at an all too brief 35 minutes, is a terrific encapsulation of their ethos: momentum, impotent rage, repetition, and just enough ragged melody to keep hope afloat.
Mariani was kind enough to answer a few questions to coincide with the pre-release streaming of Mental Hoop.
Noisey: What was the first record you bought? Both as a child and a teen?
Mariani: At the beginning, I didn’t have any urge to buy music, I was happy with the vinyl my mom had. First CD I bought was ‘Live at Wembley’ by Queen, but it was quite a delusion because I wasn’t expecting the songs to sound different from the studio version. I decided to go back to what I already had, mostly pop music from the 70-80s with watered-down contaminations from funk and soul. First real alternative records came when I was 14. In 1995, I bought ‘Different Class’ by Pulp and ‘Me Against the World’ by 2Pac. Later four classics came, and built the foundations for HEBV: Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Smiths and Joy Division, combined to black labels with a shameless and controversial management like Death Row and Ruthless Records.
It's been four years since your last record, what have you been doing? Who's the new line-up. Is it now just a two piece or do you have rotating other members?
Two years ago we recorded "Tartlas" a 19-minute-track out on the split with Havah. I consider it one of the best things ever by HEBV. We could have added three or four tracks to it and have an album ready two years ago.
I write the songs almost totally by myself. Drums are now played by Andrea Cantaluppi, both live and in the studio on ‘Tartlas’ and ‘Mental Hoop’. Nicola Ferloni on the bass live. That’s how it is right now. This structure could change in the future, maybe grow in a much more stable way, maybe not.
Have your musical and lyrical concerns changed? The album whizzes by. Was there a decision to go for short sharp shock or was it just organic? The album feels a bit tighter and more claustrophobic but those weren't exactly elements missing in previous releases and I'm as susceptible to the writing in a press release as the next sucker...
I started reading and watching movies like never before. I also rediscovered videogames after 20 years. Sex has almost completely disappeared from the lyrics, and I don’t even know what topic has taken its place. Songs now usually end sharply, with no breather or debate. I like thinking that ‘Ruthless Sperm’ and ‘Mental Hoop’ are complementary. There is not a clean cut with the past. The rip came with ‘Tartlas’, and lays there.
I keep my ears open and I always hope to catch artists able to shock me with particulars or elaborate structures that I can take, rework and make them fit in my work. It happens sometimes to be inspired by the work of someone else, and this can bring ideas for that song you had abandoned months ago, and help you make that scrap into an album song.
What happened with Sub Pop (if you don't mind asking)? How did you end up on Iron Lung & Maple Death? You for sure have some devoted fans but are you frustrated or happy (enough) with the band's status? Do you even think about stuff like that?
Nothing in particular. And yes, I do think about it. Everyone has ambitions and the right to pursue them. Both us and them. We simply fell out of touch during the years. Thanks to Sub Pop we had more attention to that usually given to punk noise bands, without having to promote a lot the LP. We had never played live before, nevertheless they decided to work with us. This is crazy.
Now ‘Mental Hoop’ is out on two labels that are longtime fans. Maple Death, which made us the first issue of the label with the split I was talking about before. And Iron Lung from Seattle, that contacted us as soon as they knew we were looking for a label.
You cite Italo-hardcore as an influence. For our readers who may not know, like, Wretched, who do you mean? Do you come from the hardcore scene? Do you come from any scene or, as people have always had trouble pigeonholing you, feel like you belong anywhere? When you site a band like Big Black as an influence, where do you belong in 2017?
I’m not a big HC specialist, but maybe it sounds we go in that direction because I like to vent with mad screams and riffs. If someone hears this influence, it can only be a compliment for me. The first time I heard bands like Indigesti or Nerorgasmo, I wasn’t expecting to listen to something as good as other foreign bands people talked way more about in the following years. Many of the ideas they had are still very good nowadays. Big Black are still the bomb.
We don’t come from any scene in particular, excluding the graffiti one. The first unit was made up of three writers, we used to paint walls and trains. I miss that kind of adrenalin, and honestly I don’t know if playing has overcome the pleasure I had during those years. Maybe I should stop playing to fully understand what I have been living and sharing with many music nerds during these last years.
We came from an environment closer to hip hop than to what we do, and we weren’t even taken very seriously. We were driven by the instinct to feel different, and this allowed us to risk solutions that were unusual for our little province. Every time we went into a studio, everyone who worked with us thought we were insane. I can tell we are of sound mind compared to other bands, but that’s pretty much how it works here in the 90% of the occasions.
Bands are under increased pressure to be political. Does that affect you in any way? Do you feel like there's a (semi)coherent His Electro Blue Voice worldview/philosophy?
Politics has never been a part of my lyrics, I don’t want to give anybody directions through my song, nor to cite recent actuality. In most cases, my lyrics could have even been written 100 years ago. I don’t exclude the idea this could change in the future. I could loosen up sooner or later, and shake off some obsessions and even add some gags.
The kraut rock influences has been a mainstay since the earliest releases. Why is repetition so satisfying? When do you know to release the tension?
I love repetition in music: kraut, techno, rap, drone, funk or ambient. Mental Hoop, like the previous ones, is characterized by one bass riff only each track. Maybe there are a couple changes, but nothing more. Same for the drums, head down and no changes. Then I like to embellish it, looking for guitar variations, adding synths and other sounds, both played and sampled. Onieut for examples has the same bassline for 12 minutes, but at the same time it has four or five distinct parts. I don’t think I am always good at releasing tension. Maybe I’m still not that expert. I would release it by changing to someone else’s album, or just skipping.
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