INTERVIEW WITH NICOLA RANDONE
By Torodd Fuglesteg, Andrea Parentin and Jim Russell
Your biography has been covered in your ProgArchives profile so let’s bypass the biography details. But which bands were you influenced by?
Certainly for me, the influence of romantic prog was crucial for what concerns the aspect of music composition and lyrics as well. Unlike other prog music (and indeed unlike many other music genres) it has always been the story I wanted to tell, and then the words, which would suggest melodies and arrangements. So if I were to make a list of bands that have influenced me, the consideration would be as much albout the lyrical themes as the good music. I would mention the fairy-tale surrealism of early Genesis (not the Genesis who wanted just to make money), the decadence of Pink Floyd, the neo-realism of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, the romanticism of the Le Orme and others that unfortunately the music business did not allow to emerge as they would have deserved.
Your type of music is pretty special and not mainstream. Why makes this type of music your heart strings sings and/or what makes it so fascinating to you ?
I think that the most effective way of expressing human emotions in music is to use a style that has no rules and which is not subject to stylistic compromises. The motions of the human soul know moments of peace or of melancholy in which the music must be quiet, but also furious manifestations of passion which need powerful and relentless passages. I could never have compromised as other musician have and create words and music simply to please market concerns. Composition has always been for me a cathartic function, often it turned into a real exorcism of inner discomfort, I had been writing and still write to carry out my emotions, and every emotion is always fluctuating, irrational, on the move… My music is the mirror of my emotions, I think that this is one of the most important results which can reach an artist… And whether it sells or not, well, I will continue to earn my living working as a graphic art designer
Please tell us more about your involvement in Grey Owl’s La parete di ghiaccio album and in the Colossus project.
The Grey Owl were my first band project. With them I recorded my first record signing some of the songs and notably I met Riccardo, the person who would accompany me as drummer in Randone’s work up to “Linea di confine”. “La parete di ghiaccio” (The wall of ice) is an album created with great enthusiasm but it is also very naive. At the time we were all inexperienced musicians, we wanted to become professional artists playing our music and touring the world. Then reality comes down, we must engage in work, family, commitments increase exponentially, and at the same pace enthusiasm for those dreams that we made together goes down. Slowly you go from playing every day to playing weekends only, then once a month, eventually you leave the basement and decide to play just in the rehearsal room when “you have time”. Grey Owl was my first great disappointment, but also the first confrontation with the world of music, what makes you realize that unless you put your heart in it and above all perseverance, you’ll go nowhere. There’s a copy of “La parete di ghiaccio” beside all my works, I look at it to evoke the enthusiasm of those times and also to remember the damp basement where we used to play, the hard work for the concerts, the rewards when we had some appreciations, the disappointment when we were booed, the friendship that exists between the members of a band, the communion of an ideal to be pursued and the certitude of not being alone in front of adversity, all things that I miss very much today. Regarding the work I did for Colossus, I can not forget the day when Beppe Crovella called me proposing the participation to Kalevala project with a song inspired by Runo 49 of the epic opera. Marco Bernard had called Beppe and he took the opportunity giving me the chance (I think) to write a song that would have eventually been arranged by Tempore, a band from Turin featuring Sergio Ponti. The experiment worked and in fact, a few months later, I was already working on the recording of “Nuvole di ieri” (Clouds of Yesterday). The collaboration with Marco then continued, we had the chance to play live at Alwari Rock in Helsinki, then we took part to the Spaghetti Epic project dedicated to “C’era una volta il West” (Once Upon a Time in the West) by Sergio Leone with the song “Jill”, and also to the second chapter dedicated to “Il buono, il brutto e il cattivo” (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) where we composed the music dedicated to the character of “The Good”. If I had to mention a person really important for the promotion of progressive in the world, I can’t help but mention Marco Bernard, the enthusiasm with which he dives himself into every project is contagious, Marco brings in his heart a passion for music really rare to find.
Over to your albums. Please tell us more about your first album Morte di un amore from 2002
“Morte di un amore” (Death of a love) was the first album where I was completely in charge. I was coming out from the Grey Owl experience, terribly saddened by the end of the project and of the dreams that I had put in it. The challenge that I wanted to surpass was whether I could continue alone without a band and that I could still try to make music a profession because “La parete di ghiaccio” had not given us great satisfaction then. “Morte di un amore” features songs that I began to sketch with Grey Owl, then they were revised and corrected better than in all my most optimistic forecast thanks to the skill of the sound engineer Gianni Bulbo, who more than anyone else has really put his soul into the project.“Morte di un amore” is one of the albums I prefer, first of all because it is completely my brainchild, then it is still an early work full of the impetuosity typical of youth… Certainly it is not perfect, probably not up to the sophomore one, but I can assure you that even today, when listening to it, I’m moved, and the effect is similar to when you’re flipping through old photographs with a hint of sweet and sound melancholy due to the innocence and energy of an age lost forever.
Please tell us more about your second album Nuvole di ieri from 2003
“Nuvole di ieri” (Clouds of Yesterday) was the first album with a “band” and it was released on the Electromantic Music label of Beppe Crovella. The album was inspired by a youthful experience, in particular a long journey of more than one month all over Europe. Initially the album was simply called “Il viaggio” (The Journey), a title that the label refused because of the new project of Aldo Tagliapietra that would be called the same, then I thought to call it “L’uomo di pietra, il vecchio e il fantasma del musicista” (The man of stone, the old man and the ghost of the musician) who are the three key characters involved in the story, but the title was too long. In the end the one who suggested the title “Nuvole di ieri” was just Beppe Crovella after reading the sentence that the painter Franco Cilia recites on the finale. In accordance with the original title, “Nuvole di ieri” is about a journey, and every word is borrowed from the thoughts I wrote down along the road and that, when I was back home, I had the foresight to copy on my personal journal. There are poems, fleeting impressions, psychedelic intuitions where music represents the progressive legacy that I was bringing in me and that for the first time I could express at the best of my abilities thanks to the contribute of the band: Riccardo’s drums, Marco’s guitar and the masterful arrangements by Beppe Crovella featuring vintage keyboards have made of it an ensemble work. Despite some ingenuities it is a very important album for me since it was deeply inspired. You can find in it all the feelings of my twenties: the urge to be accepted by friends, the need to believe in something higher in order to better face the fear of a world different from the dreamy one that my mother had always talked about, and yet the desire for a love that transcends every boundary and the road, friend and life companion, a symbol of spirituality on the move. Several years ago I wrote a blog post that tells more about this record and that you can find here.
Please tell us more about your third album Ricordo from 2004
“Ricordo” (Memory) has been described by many people as an album of transition and I would not disagree. Effectively just a short time had passed since “Nuvole di ieri” and after the collaboration with Colossus for Spaghetti Epic my label wanted the song “Jill” to be “used” to launch a new Randone’s album. In my view, I had many songs written at different times that I would have liked to record properly. At the time I was working on “Alle porte del paradiso” (a project that I haven’t managed to complete yet and on which today I’m working night and day), and I knew that Randone was a band for “suites”, so it was a good opportunity to pull out all those songs. So the result is an album that reflects the heritage ofRandone as a songwriter helped in the arrangements by his band. I do not deny that I found very annoying some criticism where they claimed that “Rìcordo” was worth just because of the long suite “Jill”, every song I write is always the result of a great inner movement and sometimes the prog fans fail to catch the spirit of easier songs due to a paradoxical adherence to a “label”. Someone should explain that if there is a genre that you can not label, well, that’s just prog. If it’s not so, then a lot of stuff by Le Orme or Pink Floyd should be considered just as pop music or pop.
Please tell us more about your fourth album Hybla Act 1 from 2005
“Hybla” is still the album that, more than any other, has brought us to the attention of prog lovers. One day, while reading a book about the history of the old Ragusa (formerly Hybla) by the local historian Mimi Arezzo, I had the wish to release a suite on this subject, and so in just a month (a record for me) I composed the structure of the whole suite on my sequencer. The next month, Riccardo, Marco and Livio worked on their parts. “Hybla” was a difficult album to record and release, and not just because of music and vocal parts (it features as special guests Lautaro Acosta on violin, Graziano Ranieri on sax and Carmelo Corrado Caruso’s opearatic vocals), but for all the complex arrangements that, had it not been for the sound engineer Claudio Cattero’s help, would make it terribly boring. “Hybla” is so far the most popular Randone’s album, I think it’s our most mature work, one in which all the influences of the musicians converge in a decisive and convincing way.
Please tell us more about your live album Hybla A Live Barock Opera from 2006
The live version of “Hybla” came soon thanks to the little help we had from the then mayor of Ragusa Tonino Solarino. The stage was set up in the main square of old Ragusa (Ibla precisely) in front of the beautiful setting of the Cathedral of San Giorgio. The audience flocked, beyond all expectations, and we were lucky enough to have three cameras filming everything and Claudio Cattero at the sound bank. Unfortunately, the budget did not allow us to make an optimal recording even if I did my best both in terms of video editing / audio and DVD’s authoring. In the DVD there are also some special inserts, including the song “The Good” released on the second chapter of the Colossus Spaghetti Epic, plus rehearsal footage, recording sessions, some funny scenes, a photo gallery and much more.
Please tell us more about your fifth album Linea di confine from 2009
“Linea di confine” (Boundary line) is perhaps my most inspired album and the most personal as well. The band contributed in a delicate way, without changing anything (as opposed to the previous works), the result is an album halfway betweenRandone as a band and Randone as a songwriter. In this album there was no need to change pitch or time every minute, or to indulge in long guitar solos at 180bpm or in double bass parts in quarters with a drum upbeat in 6/8. “Line di confine” was made with the heart, it’s a concept album that tells about the troubles provoked by the end of a love and at the same time explores the human mind in those imbalances that today hectic life can cause. To understand the music you should also read the book of the same name released in a collector’s edition. The book transforms the real experience in a world of fairy tale where the monsters of the mind are trolls disguised as men and where the help of God comes in the form of fairies, gnomes and nymphs of the woods. The story tells the long walk of a “lost” being bravely facing the void of values in a world not so different from ours, helped by the love of a “lost” princess who has forgotten his name and knows no other reality than that of suffering.
How is your creative process from coming up with a theme/riff/idea to you get it down onto an album ?
The way I work has always made many experts twist their nose. The first phase, the rough idea, comes in a rather common way: I am there with my guitar, a blank sheet of paper and a pen, I write because I have to do it, I play because I want to infect the words with my moods. The song comes out in no more than thirty minutes. Then comes the second phase, I record everything on the sequencer, I put a piano, the strings or mellotron choirs, I refine it all adding the ninths, sevenths, fourths, changing a few words, then I call Riccardo. He adds electronic drums, it is a first idea, after that Marco arrives and puts the first guitar ideas, at the end Livio brings everything home and records the bass parts. Then we meet again, we fix, cut, edit, insert, we listen to every part ad nauseum, until we say it can not be any better than that, this happens for both songs and suites, with the difference that in a suite every song ends in another one. I know that the ideal solution would be to arrange all the tracks in the rehearsal room, but believe me when I say that in the rehearsal room we could barely arrange one minute in a month. There seemed to be a curse upon us and the boys always said that it was my fault, because it was me who made things “structured” and therefore difficult to change later. Well, in this respect I think that not all musicians are authors, many are simply arranger while other are just performers. It is not easy to come up with an idea like this, from nothing, and I realized it only by being in touch with my band mates because for the composer writing music is something completely natural.
Just to give those of us who are unknown with your music a bit of a reference point or two: How would you describe your music ?
Well, it is not easy. The term progressive rock is what it seemed to me more appropriate to define my music until “Hybla”. Then came “Linea di confine”, and many proggers have turned up their noses, they said it was pop, even Beppe has raised the same issue. My problem has always been the extreme idealism, especially for what concerns the things I do with the soul and because of the sweat I put there. Certainly “Linea di confine” is not a prog album if you look at Emerson Lake & Palmer or King Crimson, it’s probably a prog album if you think to “Uomo di pezza” by Le Orme or to certain albums by Franco Battiato (which for me is a very prog artist) or even to something by Camel or Pink Floyd. I mean, I like to think that my own style of music is only mine, certainly I have some influences but I believe that Randone play a very personal kind of music
The present Italian prog scene is very rich, many historic bands reformed and many new ones are emerging. What is the more relevant difference between the Italian seventies prog scene and the contemporary one?
This is a topic that I care a lot and at the same time an issue that touches me very closely. The 70’s were a great era for music, not only for prog but also for many other genres. The problem of prog today, and then the difference between the bands of the seventies and recent ones, is that many bands tend to “copy” the past using the same sounds, often even the same rhythmic patterns already exploited. Therefore many Italian prog bands seem just the photocopy of this or that, some bands even borrow the name of the group from the most important songs of that era. All this keeping on digging in the past leads to a decay of the genre that seems to have nothing more to say when, on the contrary, by its very definition, progressive should have no “stylistic” limits for its intrinsic ability to adapt to ever new languages: let’s take, for example, Soft Machine, Area, King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd… There is a great difference between these groups and yet it is always progressive. I’d like that in Italy we dare a little more, let’s take international examples such as Spock’s Beard, and their latest album “X”, or the latest Porcupine Tree, the vein of prog metal with Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Tool in the forefront… Let’s take the last work of Muse and one of my favourite Italian artists, Franco Battiato, who perhaps do not even know they play prog. Well, the success of all these artists proves that prog is not limited to the seventies but that it can evolve into modernity. Here I can already hear the first objections, which in Italy is already difficult play classic prog, if then you modernize it you’ll fathomed to be broke. I would not deny this reality, and I am the first to suffer its consequences, however, I believe that if the press and the promoters of concerts in Italy stopped to awe and push the same old things like decrepit old men locked up in their little ancient world, well, the new recruits could also hope in a bit of attention in this beloved / hated world of prog.
How is your gigs situation ? Is there any plans or wishes to play gigs or festivals in and outside Italy for the rest of this year and/or next year ?
At the moment we haven’t planned any concert. I have also to tell you, and it is the first time I publicly declare it, that Riccardo and Livio left the group. There is a new line up that is working on the next album, I can’t say more now but expect big changes (of course positive).
What is your experience with the music industry and the new internet music scene ?
Well. My experience with the music industry is definitely bad. It’s not a mystery that CDs are difficult to sell because most of people prefer to steal, and they do so indiscriminately. It doesn’t matter if they illegally download the music of a famous artist or of a band whose members have to do other jobs to survive. Luckily Beppe never asked us anything for the production, very rare thing in these days, and he has always given us credit and freedom on creativity. The fact remains that he barely manages to cover the costs and if it weren’t for the concerts (when possible) every musician should really find another job. The new music scene on the Internet for me has some positive aspects which are to give to everyone, but really everyone, the chance to publish their own stuff. Today all you need is a computer and a decent sound card to make a playable demo that can launch you. The problem is that now there is too much noise around, so that ultimately we are all on line and music has lost its value and has become a commodity like so many others. I believe that each of you will have at least one friend who boasts how many GB of music there are on its hard-disc but if you ask him who sings the song he’s listening to he does not know the answer. When I was 13 and went out to buy my first LP (The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd), three months later the album was worn out so bad that I took the habit of recording on tape all my vinyl albums to prevent damages. Here, now you listen to two hundred things in one day and then you have nothing left.
Are you currently involved in any other bands or projects ?
Not at this time. In the past I have tried to start alternative projects, a cover band to survive, but I soon got tired
What are your plans for the rest of this year and next year ?
My only goal right now is to consolidate the feeling with the new line-up and finish the new work: “Alle porte del paradiso” (At the gates of paradise).
You can find Randone profile HERE
Official Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/randoneprog