The Italian darkwave artist talks John Carpenter, performing as a solo artist, and whether he'll ever venture towards the live stage.
The age of the music video is—in many ways—dead. Gone are the days that people sat in front of their TV, watching clip after clip, as evident in the dismantling of nearly all stations dedicated to their exhibition. The Internet has changed the game. But that does not mean the music video has disappeared.
No longer shackled by commercial concerns, music video can serve new functions, present new ideas. The perfect example of this is this video by the Italian solo project Confrontational. Bleak and dark, the video lacks any concerns with commercialism and backed with the Confrontational’s dark-synth sound, it is hypnotic.
We chatted with Italian musician Confrontational about his new video, very old-school approach to songwriting, and more.
Noisey: What projects were you involved in before you began Confrontational?
Confrontational: I founded my first band, DAHLIA INDACO, with Elisabetta Patrito in 1999. I had just recently started out on guitar. It was some sort of an industrial/darkwave crossover influenced by a lot of different things: Prong, Cocteau Twins, Sadus, Akira Yamaoka, Ministry. I was on guitars and programming, she played bass, and we both shared vocal duties. It was trippy stuff to say the least, and it was incredible to have Darren Travis (of Sadus) featured on our full length, Chronicles of Nowhere. We stopped playing together shortly after that release, in 2009, never officially quitting but just staying away from the whole thing.
I then founded another band in 2004, Recs of Flesh, which started as a solo project out of some bedroom demos heavily influenced by Sonic Youth, William S. Burroughs, Queens of the Stone Age, Placebo, Killing Joke; noise-rock with a dark twist. After, I had a very short-lived ambient project, White Klaudia, going on around 2006. I recorded, mixed & mastered a full EP all on my own titled Contrast in around 23 days, just to see if I could make it happen. And during off time in 2012, I also contributed vocals, guitars, and production to Old Sparky’s latest album, Sneaky Pop. I've known Fabio Desogus for a long while and he has a very unique signature electro sound that I really admire. I am quite proud of that collaboration.
I am always kind of impressed by solo projects, especially ones that work in styles that are prone to be heavily layered. What are the pros and cons of working alone for you?
I've always enjoyed working on my own and I wrote most of the stuff for Recs and Dahlia that way. When you're alone, there are no boundaries other than your imagination—you get to chase the vision you're after from start to finish. It can make for a very rewarding feeling, especially when you reach the end results you had in mind. On the downside, of course, it is a lot of hard work to get where you want to, and it can get very, very lonely in the studio. You really are on your own. If you get to collaborate with the right people, people who understand where you're going, a special kind of magic can happen and I must admit I sometimes miss that feeling. I've been lucky enough to have a couple of friends keeping me some company while tracking the new EP, and I see more collaborations happening in the near future.
The EP opens with “Wanderer of Darkness,” which is an amazing track that is very reminiscent of the soundtrack work of someone like John Carpenter or Tangerine Dream. So much so that I was actually surprised to hear vocals in the second track. Did you ever consider doing the project instrumental?
Well, I'm very humbled by the John Carpenter comparison; he really is one of a kind. He's always been a huge inspiration for me, together with George A. Romero. After seeing Dawn of the Dead when I was 14 years old, I wanted to make a movie of my own and so I started to look into what I could do with no money, quickly realizing that a soundtrack was a good starting point. To find out that a person like John Carpenter existed—a man who both shot and scored his own movies—really blew my mind.
I first approached music making as some sort of a composer of soundtracks to movies that did not exist outside of my head, then the process of putting sounds together made me understand I could use songs to tell the stories I wanted to tell, instead of filming them. In more than one way, Confrontational is a return to those early days of experiments and total freedom.
I've got several more tracks ready for future releases that are instrumental, and I think you can make it work if you carefully balance the two aspects. I think having instrumentals does not exclude having songs with vocals, in fact I think it can enhance the listening experience. I'm open to anything; I am always after tracks that stand out on their own but can also be appreciated in the context of a collection. Ultimately, it's the atmosphere that sets the mood.
Going off that, you claim that the EP is based on a true story, which also helps to gives it that cinematic feel. Is this a concept album?
Somehow all the albums I love listening to, as well as the ones I've worked on, are held together by a certain distinct mood that permeates the whole thing and is audible throughout the tracks. Be it Floodland by The Sisters of Mercy, Sister by Sonic Youth, Rude Awakening by Prong, The Messenger by Johnny Marr, or Whip It On by The Raveonettes, I think you can trace a common thread through all the songs, which makes the difference between a random collection of tunes and these fine efforts. That's the way the stories behind those songs are told. And that's an aspect I always consider when putting together an album. I am not sure you could call it a concept, but it's most definitely a true story.
And you can see remnants of that visuals-told-through music aesthetic in the video. In a way the video lacks a explicit narrative but the music gives it that story. For you, what are you trying to say with the video? Further, do you think that are able to say more with the added visual element?
I wanted to do exactly that, let the song tell the story and use those images to create a visual point of reference for the listener (and viewer). I aimed to capture the atmosphere that the song is immersed in by simply displaying what the song is about. I think the message comes across clearly: one of solitude, decay, abandonment and slight bewilderment. It's a dream within reality. And like in a dream, it's all very still, the only perceived movements belong to the only one character in sight. It sets the right mood. A video can be a brilliant support for a song and set it to life, but can also work against it. I took a minimalist approach, and I think the way it came together works like an extra layer in the representation of the track.
There is definitely a genuine vintage feel to not only the artwork but also the music, what kind of gear do you use to capture this sound?
I try to keep it all very simple. All guitars were tracked with my two Gibson SG's — one from 1994, the other from 2002. I use Zoom, Boss, and AMT pedals for all the guitar sounds you can hear on the EP. All vocals are tracked with an Audix OM2. My synthesizers are an old Roland from the nineties mostly used for organs and pads, the Novation X-station, and Xio-synth for more modern sounding leads, basses and arpeggiators, and the Akai Miniak also for sweeping pads, arps, and some bass. I also don't disdain using some VST's [Virtual Synthesizer Plug-ins]. I also play an old J-bass model from Squier and my drumset is a hybrid acoustic / electro kit that I customized on my own. I use it with a Roland TD3 module that provides most drums sounds when I'm in rehearsal mode and MIDI connectivity to my digital audio workstation when I record.
Where do you see the project evolving into? Is live performance a possibility?
Live performance is not only a possibility, but somewhat of a priority to me. I've reached out to some really amazing players around Europe who are going to help me perform around, and we recently played our debut show in Milan on February 21st. This first show featured Gabriela Kapel from the Netherlands on synth, Dimitri Obolensky from France on bass, and Josh Cameron from the UK on drums. We're lining up more gigs as of now, we got three upcoming shows in Czech Republic at the end of April, and I have enough material for two more releases already—the first tentatively planned for June 2015. I've also got some extra tracks from the Done With You sessions that might end up in a physical release quite soon. We'll see what happens with that.
When we spoke prior to this interview you discussed your desire to break into composing work. Are there any current scores that you are fond of, or are you more attracted to the classics?
Oh, I love a lot of stuff! Some of the most recent works that really impressed me are the Hanz Zimmer soundtracks for the Christopher Nolan movies. I just recently saw Interstellar and I thought it was simply crazy—what a great duo. The Signal had a brilliantly haunting score from Nima Fakhrara that really worked well with the movie. World’s Greatest Dad had a perfectly fitting soundtrack, and I simply loved how the featured songs made for a full immersion into the plot.
Another killer duo I totally admire is Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch—particularly Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and the unbelievable Mulholland Drive. What a work of art. And of course, it goes without saying that all of John Carpenter's work is like the ultimate encyclopedia of scoring for me. I am very much in love with The Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness, Escape from New York, and The Thing, an Ennio Morricone masterpiece that is a direct result of his collaboration with Mr. Carpenter.
As for videogames, I have to cite two soundtracks that have been really important in my upbringing: the noisy Silent Hill score from 1999 by Akira Yamaoka and the very obscure Splatterhouse II score from 1992 by Milky Eiko Kaneda, an author who seemingly disappeared into nowhere. I was 12 years old when I played that game for the first time and it made such a big impact on me, in such a weird way. I recently tried to trace down Milky Eiko just to say ‘thanks for the killer music,’ but no luck so far.