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Interviews of Prog

Lorenzo Giovagnoli
Lorenzo Giovagnoli

Odessa is undoubtedly one of the most promising new bands on the Italian rock scene. When I first listened to "The Final Day", I was so impressed that I decided to choose you for my first interview. So, let’s begin with the obvious question:

RB: When did you get together, and how did it happen?

LG: Odessa were formed at the end of the year 1998, with the main goal to record what would be our first album, “Stazione Getsemani”. At the time I had just started running a restaurant with my family, and the business was so demanding that I had to take a break from my university and any musical activities. In 1994 I had recorded a demo tape with my band, Oscuri Manifesti, and sent it to several fanzines and magazines for consideration. The rock magazine “Metal Shock” blessed our work with a “Top Rated” review and “Demo of the Month” award. The review spoke about Italian progressive music of great quality - not that I knew much about Italian progressive music at those times, but maybe my songwriting led me naturally to those atmospheres. Thanks to this I was contacted by several labels and journalists, among whom Loris Furlan, music critic and owner of Lizard Records. We became friends, and in 1995 I invited him to Bologna when I debuted in the role of Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar” with the company “Undici Meno Due”. So, around June 1998, Loris phoned me saying that Mellow Records had the funds to produce a new Italian progressive band, and he had been asked for advice. He wanted to know if I was interested, and if I had some songs that he could listen to. To be honest, I hadn’t been making music for a at least a year, but, seen the opportunity, I answered enthusiastically that I would be able to produce some songs in little time. So I frantically rearranged some of the material I had written for Oscuri Manifesti and composed some new tunes, and in November found other guys that would play on the “Stazione Getsemani” album, recorded in the last week of January 1999: Valerio De Angelis (bass), Boris Bartoletti (guitar), Federico Filanzi (drums). Giulio Vampa (guitar) and Marco Fabbri (drums) joined Odessa in 2002 replacing Boris and Federico, though Marco is not collaborating with the band anymore. Now we can announce that we have a new drummer called Marco Pacassoni, with whom we happily did our recent mini-tour in Indonesia.

RB: Are there any reasons why you chose this particular name for the band?

LG: Again, this came from Loris. While I wanted to call this new band by the old name Oscuri Manifesti, he suggested that Odessa would be more representative of our music (Odessa can in fact recall bands like Area or Osanna, and even refer to the first Bee Gees album that contains many progressive influences), and more easily memorized by a foreign audience.

RB: Are any of you professional musicians, or do you have to keep day jobs in order to make ends meet – as unfortunately nowadays seems to be the rule even for the most talented people?

LG: Giulio Vampa and Marco Fabbri are full-time musicians, while Valerio De Angelis works as a pharmacist during the day. I am very active as a singing teacher, but also share my time in the family business (a restaurant in Urbino). As you know, Marco recently left Odessa as his duties with Eclat and The Watch are very demanding, and leave him little time for the full promotion of “The Final Day”. So, now we have another Marco taking care of the drums: his full name is Marco Pacassoni, and he is also a full-time musician, a talented vibraphonist and drummer.

RB: Would you identify your music as progressive rock, or do you feel uncomfortable (as many musicians still are) with this definition?

LG: Some reviewers labelled us as crossover prog, and I think we can feel comfortable with that. To us, progressive means freedom to express ourselves, to break the schemes without forgetting to communicate something true for the listener. It is not at all a matter of copying sounds and songwriting from the Seventies’ golden repertoire.

RB: On your website you mention having been influenced by such diverse bands as Deep Purple, Dream Theater, PFM and Area. Why these bands, and what about other influences?

LG: As a young kid, I fell deeply in love with Deep Purple. Listening to this band really gave me the incentive to develop as a singer and keyboardist and be able to reproduce those sounds. My second love, at about the age of 17, was Demetrio Stratos. I studied these artists so much that I think they became part of my natural sound and songwriting. PFM and Dream Theater are a more generic influence; it’s something like ”If you like these, you might like us”. There are many other influences in our style: great arrangers like Lucio Battisti, Quincy Jones, sophisticated pop-rock artists like Steely Dan, 10CC, Supertramp, even Dixie Dregs, Eagles and Toto to some extent.

RB: I was intrigued by your choice to cover Area’s “Cometa Rossa”. Why this particular song? Are you planning to include more covers on future recordings?

LG: In the summer of 1999 we were chosen to take part in a concert dedicated to the memory of Demetrio Stratos. We had just recorded “Stazione Getsemani”, which had not yet been released by Mellow Records, and that was to be our debut concert. The organization wanted every band to perform a Demetrio Stratos song, so we decided to rehearse “Cometa Rossa” with a totally new arrangement that would leave the vocal tune very similar to the original. The experiment was pretty successful, and our version, even on YouTube, attracted many curious listeners. So we decided to include it in the album; after all these years we almost consider it a track of our own

RB: Italian musicians often complain about how hard it is to make music in Italy, yet the scene seems to be one of the most thriving in Europe, with lots of new CDs released every year. What has been your personal experience of the current Italian music scene?

LG: We have always had to struggle a lot to perform in our country, since here it is really hard to find a space to come out. For example, here we have very few, if any, concert halls with permanent planning, like they have for example in France, and most underground music is performed at (few) festivals, or, more often, in pubs and clubs that obviously have a commercial interest. Over the years we have participated in many prog festivals around the world, starting from the French festival Progsud that first trusted an almost unknown Italian band as we were. At the moment, we have just come back from a mini-tour in Indonesia, and are getting ready for a two-concert set in Montecarlo, while so far (odd as it may sound) we have never performed at an Italian prog festival. In Italy we have had to adopt various strategies. As we have always wanted to be on stage as much as possible, starting from the year 2000, when we performed with Ian Paice on drums, we have been building a cover show that includes hits from Led Zep, Deep Purple, Queen, but also “minor” and more obscure bands such as Kansas, King Crimson, Area, PFM, The Trip... This way, it has been easier to propose the band to clubs in Italy, places that would never trust a prog band performing original material. After many years we have built a good reputation and a faithful, expanding audience, and we are more free to lead the show where we want. I have to say that this path, though not “pure”, has given us something more, like constant training and contact with the audience, the push to give all of ourselves in every performance - all things that, in my opinion, have added more strength and impact to our music and our concerts.

RB: Are there any recent Italian bands or artists you especially like? What about the international scene?

LG: In general, I do not see much evolution in the prog field. Even if some experiments and original productions are released, the progressive community is still quite in love with the bands of the golden era. So, to intrigue hard-core prog fans you’d better sound close to Genesis, or King Crimson, or Locanda delle Fate... But it is true that, at the moment, I don’t really listen a lot to new music, so my opinion may not be up to date. Some interesting bands that I have recently seen performing live were Lazuli and Eclat, but they are French. In Italy I don’t know, maybe Deus Ex Machina and DFA, anyway the quality of new productions tends to be higher than it was in the past.

RB: Are you planning any forms of collaboration with other bands or artists, both Italian and international?

LG: Not really. I’d love to organize a summer festival in the town I live in, Fossombrone, and I’d love to invite Francesco Di Giacomo to come and sing with Odessa, but I haven’t asked him yet.

RB: As a staunch Deep Purple fan, I was intrigued by your mention of having worked with Glenn Hughes (my all-time favourite vocalist) and Ian Paice. What can you tell us about the experience of working with such legendary musicians?

LG: Ian Paice came in December 2000 for a drum clinic in Fano, and the organisers were searching for capable bands to play with him after the clinic. We applied and were chosen. Singing and playing with him was a dream. Glenn Hughes came to Fano in 2007, and played with Moonstone Project. We opened his performance with Compra and Senza Fiato, then we had a midnight pizza together...

RB: What about your experience of touring outside Italy? Other Italian prog bands, like DFA, have built a loyal following abroad, even here in the USA. Can you see Odessa doing the same?

LG: So far we have had great experience and fun playing outside Italy. We had a huge welcome in Mexico at Bajaprog 2006, and in France we usually have a great enthusiastic crowd to welcome us – we feel blessed for this. In November we went on a mini-tour in Jakarta, Indonesia, playing for Jak-Art 2009 Festival, and in a nice concert hall called Komunitas Salihara. In January 2010 we will perform in Montecarlo, Monaco. So far we have never played in the States. The only way I see us performing in the USA is being invited to a festival or for a mini-tour. We will continue to propose our show, and see if some artistic director is ready to put their trust in us.

RB: What about your songwriting process? Do you tend to work together, or separately?

LG: I usually work alone for the general structure of the songs, melody, lyrics and rough arrangements, then I submit the stuff to Giulio, Marco and Vallo. After that, things can change because often what sounds good at home does not convince us when we play and have to arrange the song together. They are also great musicians and can find brilliant solutions to enhance a track or a passage. One exception is Senza Fiato. The first 50 seconds of this song come from a very talented English musician named Sarah Scutt, a graduate of Trinity College of Music. I came to know her in Urbino many years ago. She made me listen to the song on the piano, and told me she had composed it when she was 14. I was really intrigued, and asked her if I could make a song out of it, which I did. 2 months ago we had a line-up change: our great drummer, Marco Fabbri, left the band due to the overwhelming amount of work he is having with his other bands, which didn’t make him available for the promotion of “The Final Day”. So Odessa’s new drummer is now Marco Pacassoni, who is a Berklee graduate drummer and vibraphonist. Marco is also a composer, so our way of writing songs might change…

RB: I found your lyrics rather interesting, especially Compra, with its references to modern Italian society. Do you believe in conveying a message through your music? And why did you choose to write lyrics not just in Italian, but also in English and French?

LG: Yes, I give a lot of importance to the lyrics, as I believe that poor lyrics can ruin a good tune, and vice versa. Very often I write the lyrics after the melody, so they can be inspired by the music. In general, when I write some words I try to say something that belongs to my experience, or is important to me. I hate applying mannerisms or overused formulas, and try to stick to my emotions (and of course to the rhythmic structure of the song). Compra is a special song to me. In Italian it means “buy”, and it talks about what is happening in the whole world today, but especially in Italy: marketing is becoming the main communication model, not only in economics. So, for example, education and information are becoming persuasion that is to say poor, shiny, superficial and fast. Moreover, as a people we are not to be educated and informed, but simply convinced and allured, we are not treated as aware citizens, but rather as impressionable consumers.

RB: Do you already have a new album in the pipeline as a follow-up to The Final Day? If you do, what can you tell us without giving away too much?

LG: I am working on some new tunes, so I am sure it will take less than another 10 years!

RB: Well, thank you so very much for your time, and all my best wishes for your career. I really hope to be able to see you perform live very soon!

By RB=Raffaella Berry, December 16, 2009.

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