Interview Credit: Adrian Hextall (Photographer/Live Gig reporter Myglobalmind Webzine
Italian band Belladonna was formed on Valentines Day, 2005 in Rome, Italy by Luana Caraffa and Dani Macchi. Caraffa and Macchi are credited with creating a new music genre: Rock noir (search for the genre online and you’ll always come back to Belladonna). The two musicians developed a style that delivered haunting melodies with a strong thespian element that allowed for the creation of dramatic live performances combined with theatrically storytelling, likened to Film noir.
Before a showcase performance in England to assorted press and fans, guitarist and producer Dani Macchi spoke to Myglobalmind.
So Dani thank you for taking some time to talk to us today, whereabouts are you at the moment? Are you in the UK yet?.
No, actually we fly into the UK tomorrow.
I believe you have show at The Borderline on Wednesday night is that correct?
Yes that is correct, we are very exited to be playing to media and our fans.
I wonder if we could start with a little history about the band? You are now on your fourth album ‘Shooting Dice With God‘. You seem to have done a remarkable amount with very little in the way of support from major labels. You’ve managed to raise your profile considerably over the years and now by the time four albums have come out you seem very self-sufficient. What you think has been a contributing factor to the level of success that you’ve achieved?
Well the word of mouth has certainly surrounded us since we started and even as early as 2005 when Luana and I started the band, we were writing songs together and we were writing really the songs that we wanted to hear for ourselves. So we put a band together so that we could record the songs and hear them as we wanted to hear them. It was a crazy arrangement because of course, coming from Italy and writing songs in English was just really really hard for us. But then we discovered there was this site called MySpace so we put our details in and we put our songs up there as well, and almost immediately we were getting a lot of hits mainly by word of mouth. We were consistently in the top 10 of the most listened to unsigned bands in the world. And it was crazy because we would be the only non-American band in that chart at the time and it really really went crazy even more so because within two or three months we were getting all of this attention. You know they were just demo tracks, they weren’t even fully produced, the demos were recorded in a room with only three microphones, yet people will still writing to us and contacting us and saying that they wanted to buy the album. So we basically just took all of those demos and put them onto a CD and said okay here you are, this is our album. So even after MySpace where we’ve always been surrounded by this crazy word of mouth, I would say this is the main contributing factor to our peculiar history.
So listening to the new album, there are certainly tracks on there that resonated with me and this ‘rock noir’ style that you’ve come up with really is quite unique. I cannot think of anybody playing music in a similar vein as you, in fact when you search for ‘rock noir’ as a musical style on the Internet it always comes back to Belladonna. As such I imagine that your influences over the years, the bands that made you want to get together and form a band yourself, must be quite different to those that are always cited by typical rock bands?
I think a lot of the inspiration must come from within yourself. So when for example Luana and I write music, we do it for ourselves to begin with as we write music that we want to hear.
If you think about it when you’re cooking food, if you’re a chef there will be times when you’re cooking for only yourself when you’re sitting at home on your own and no one else is eating with you, you cook your favourite recipes because it’s something that you want. At that time, it doesn’t matter if nobody else in the world likes it because you’re cooking for yourself and you’re the only one that is going to eat it.
So when we write music that’s what we try and keep in mind all the time. It is very much an aesthetic pleasure, metaphysical as well but it’s very much like cooking you know it’s for yourself, it’s what you like.
But we do of course go out of our way not to imitate the artists that we love although there may be elements of the influences that some of the artists we love in our music. So I love for example, Led Zeppelin and I also love Kate Bush so if I want to listen to their music I will go out and I will get their album. What I don’t want to hear is Kate Bush or Led Zeppelin necessarily in my music. It’s okay of course to interpret a particular style and build it into your music but what you don’t want to hear is a band copying somebody else’s music and trying to make it their own. So yes of course we have our influences but we try not to consciously copy them. Other influences are there of course in a music, you know, it’s the way we interpret the books, the movies, the music that we love. You can of course hear it in our music as well so if there is of course Zeppelin or Kate Bush then there will also be things like Hitchcock from the movies as well. We don’t sound like any of these guys but elements of what they bring as a whole make our album complete. If we did sound too much like one of the other bands then we would in fact change because it would be wrong to do so.
I think it can also be nice to me as a listener when I recognise that style or I recognise that influence and it takes me back to a different time or place in my life that resonates with me as well. You mention Kate Bush and in fact when I reviewed the album I noted that a couple of tracks had Kate Bush’s style. That sort of melody and haunting vocals brought back memories of my childhood from listening to her which I thought was fantastic.
Oh well that is great to know. If you look at it like this, we are like our parents in that our parents are our teachers, they give us our vocabulary in life. However, with that said, we are not our parents and when we grow up we do not want to be our father for example but our father will of course have shaped a lot of what we take that into life.
The music that influences us is really the music of the past and Luana and I rarely listen to music later than say 1980. We very much prefer the golden era of rock you know the ’60’s and the ’70’s. The music was pretty much recorded live at the time in the studios, there were no multi-tracks, there was no studio trickery, there were no overdubs or anything like that. It was pretty much recorded live as you would hear it if you were seeing them perform. It was definitely more human, to our heart and to our ears as well.
If you look at the way we recorded ‘Shooting Dice With God’, the band were all playing together live in the same room and even Luana sang live with us as well. Although she was in a different room she held a microphone in her hand and she sang the vocals to the music even without headphones, so it was very much a live feel. We really managed to capture a performance that way. To explain, it’s very much like photography. We’d rather capture the photograph as it is rather than photoshopping it and changing it to try and improve it. The original should always be the best. It’s that moment where the photographer has captured a particular event and yes, it may be blurry, it may be slightly out of focus but it’s real, it’s more human. You have a glimpse of the reality and that is more real, more human you know?
I imagine this must transfer very nicely to the stage as well because you must be able to mirror what you do in the studio in a live environment as well?
Yes that’s very true. Everything we try to do is a performance. In the studio where Luana is the singer, she is also a performer so everything we do is very visual in that studio environment. And of course on stage, the performance is visual as well. Even when we are recording in the studio we often record our videos to go with them. That shows the performance in the studio, we are not just in recording tracks, we are making it a performance at the same time. The performance brings out the intensity of the song as well and that intensity doesn’t exist if you’re not willing to put the performance in at the same time.
When we perform live, it is like it is in the studio. When we record, we do virtually no overdubs so when we play live it is as close as we can get to the sound in the studio.
Tell me a little bit about ‘If I Was God‘. This, I believe, has been used quite a lot as promotional material for the band and of course the new album. It’s a very emotional piece that really draws the listener in and it was certainly one of my favourite tracks when I reviewed the album.
Well that song, like many of our songs, is based on our own experiences. The more personal you get with the recording and writing process the more emotional the song can become and it really reflects our own experiences in life. This song particularly is about what it might be like if we were in fact God for a day. What if I had the powers to make this person love me as much as I love them. This thought must have happened to all of us at some point in our lives.
This was one of those tracks that we did before we even got to the studio. With every song that we do we try them with acoustic demos. These are either simple guitar and vocals or piano and vocal demo tracks. This is one where we did that and recorded a very simple song before as I say, even going into the studio. Then when we heard the demo we thought well actually we cannot portray the emotion in this song any better by recording it in the studio than what we have here on the demo track. So it was recorded here in my small home studio, it’s a demo track that we actually put on the album. Of course, because we recorded it here it’s not that it sounds perfect it’s more about emotion. It wasn’t meant to sound perfect but the emotion is there and we didn’t think we could do a better job than what we have here.
If we could now look perhaps at some of the other tracks on the album, there is a sense that some of them would fit very nicely with potentially horror movies or perhaps gothic love stories, those movies where there is a sense of love that cannot be, or where love has been lost never to be reclaimed. The style of songs I think sit well with that darker genre as well?
Now that you say it, I can actually see that as well. You know there are times when we’ve been asked to do a song for a movie so we write it and then deliver it. We don’t write the songs to intentionally fit with horror movies or anything like that but as you describe it to me, yes, I can certainly see that some of our songs would sit very nicely in the genre.
Some of our songs have been used in movies. One song was used in a short film here in Italy and we also have a song that is being used in a film in India of all places. The short film in Italy was actually a science fiction film and the film in India is, I believe, a love story. We’re not quite sure how are songs will fit into those scripts / movies but the director on one was adamant that he wanted to use our material.
I think perhaps the impression you got from listening to the songs is because we feel very strongly that every song should be almost like a short film. It should be an experience that takes you somewhere, it should be something that effectively helps you step out of reality for a while and move to a different world. You then bring that experience back into the real world.
I would use the example of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ by The Beatles to explain how we write these types of songs. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is not a conventional song, it has lyrics in it written in a style that transports the listener to different world and paints wonderful pictures. That is what we like to try and do. We like it if someone can tell a story, giving the listener something to create a fantasy with. It’s like when you make a movie which can transport you into a different world, it paints a picture for you and takes you somewhere else.
And of course now you get the opportunity to take all of this on tour. Is the London show the only UK date you’re playing on this particular trek?
Yes we’re using this as a showcase for the band. We’re presenting the band to a lot of media people. There will of course be a lot of our fans there as well but it is mainly a showcase to promote the band in the UK. We’re using this as a foundation to build a presence in the UK and hopefully then come back to play a few more shows.
So where do you go after the UK date are you travelling further on tour with this?
Well, we spent most of 2013 on tour in support of the new album, all over Europe, Spain, France, Italy of course, Czech Republic and Germany. This year the focus is going to be predominantly in the UK. There has been a surge of interest in the band in the UK and we want to follow that lead while it’s still hot. At the same time we’re already writing songs for the next album which we would try and record in the summer. So that will take up the summertime and then we will go out through Europe to some of the festivals in the summer in the autumn plus some of the time will be taken promoting the new single that we have coming out as well. This will be a one off pretty much like the single that we did with Michael Nyman three years ago.
We’re working this time with the famous Italian film composer called Pasquale Catalano. Basically, it is an orchestral piece that will be used in a TV movie. So we have a lot on our plates when we go back home from the UK. We do hope to come back to the UK as soon as possible for some more shows.
With regard to the writing and recording of the new album are you hoping to do it in the same way as previously or are you looking potentially to try to get a major-label to support you this time? After all you have been very self sufficient in the past with little or no need for major-label support.
Well you know it’s like the movie request the songs that we get, if somebody makes an offer then we will certainly consider it. We have of course been approached by major labels, production companies, managers and so on but what we’ve seen offered before seems to give us less control over our work. It means we do less and we will have less control and not make music that way we want to. Up to now, the labels that have offered a deal to us just don’t really give us anything we want. It’s like being married you know? Currently we’re enjoying being single but one day maybe the right person will come along and we will get married! The important thing for us is to be able to produce visually and musically what we want and with the label backing you or production company who want a say in the process it can make it very difficult. We’re not in it for the money but if the right label came along and offered to just help with the recording process and promoted the album without interfering then course that would be great and we would look to sign with them.
I can understand your reluctance. I believe you’ve been a producer on all of the bands albums to date? If a label came along and tried to insert their influence into your production process I imagine it would be very difficult for you to work with them?
Yes absolutely. It wouldn’t even make sense for me to be in the band any more. It is such a part of my life that it would be difficult for me to continue if somebody came in and tried to take that away from me. I know there are hundreds and even thousands of great producers out there but if they were to be in the chair instead of me it would take away what the band is as far as I’m concerned. If we did use another producer then you may as well just take a picture of him and put his face over mine on the album cover as there would be no point in having me involved. I understand that the labels like to use good producers because it helps with the promotion of the album but at the end of the day it would take away the essence of what we are.
Me and Luana look at the whole process as a single thing. So the writing, the creating, the recording, the producing of the album, is all part of a single thing not individual items and you cannot take one of those pieces away and give it to somebody else. This is what keeps us alive. It’s not that we won’t change things when we need to, it’s just that we don’t want other people coming and try to change it. Ultimately if people are in tune with a Belladonna vision then I’m happy to collaborate with them. We’ve had friends that have come in from other bands before to help us that have that vision and it’s been great. Especially where I’ve needed to play guitar on the tracks and my friend has done track production for example just to help along the process. Whilst I want to focus on one thing, he can pick up the other.
One final question… Looking at the style of the songs, some of them have got crunchy rock guitars underpinning the tracks themselves and others are more piano driven with the haunting vocal melody. How do you decide which way a particular song goes as part of the writing process?
Well it’s pretty much like a stream of consciousness with the writing process. We write all of the songs together here in the room at the same time. The process is actually very very quick and before long one of us will have an idea and we’ll try something out. Before you know it, the song has arrived. Because Luana and I have worked together so long we’re very much in tune with each other and we’re able to write songs that are very much in the Belladonna style. Then we think about how to present it to the world, what the emotional content may be like, so some songs may be driven by a solid rock sound, others less so because the style, the feel of the song does not require it. We don’t even think about the style of the melody of the song until the lyrics are finished. So like everything we write the lyrics first and then see where the song takes us from there.
I suppose this it’s very well with the approach that you mentioned earlier about doing the acoustic demos to begin with?
Yes, absolutely and the song has to drive us crazy before we actively pursue it further. It has to give us shivers down our backs to begin with and it’s only at that point we decide where we want to go next in the recording process, whether it is perhaps softer or heavy.
Dani, thank you so much for your time today and best of luck with your showcase performance at The Borderline on Wednesday (February 26 2014) night.