Zu have been my surprise discovery of the year – their new album received a favourable review, and since then I’ve enjoyed diving into its murky depths on a regular basis. So, there was no question of where I was going to be on the 20th April – in a downtrodden, cramped, smelly and overpriced basement in London. Continue reading Live Review: Zu/Black Carrot
The three members of rock group Planet Brain remain some of the most enigmatic musicians I’ve met. My first encounter with the band, hailing all the way from Italy, was at a splendid show put on by Function Records at our Student Union in Farnham playing alongside Shield Your Eyes and Munroe Effect, a long way from home for Marcello, Nicola and Claudio.
I find it quite difficult to really state what intrigued me the most. Be it the etheral atmosphere of their music (which captured an entire audience who had probably never even heard of an Italian band) in complete awe, the sheer confidence of their performance in a completely foreign country, or the frankly terrifying facial grimaces made by drummer Claudio Larese Casanova (yep, that’s his real name) as he gave every last drop of sweat, and probably a bit of blood into his performance.
It was hard to leave after seeing that without thinking that these three Italians had found a pretty special sound, so I spoke to guitarist and singer Marcello Batelli to find out a little bit more about the band.
You recently made a little trip around the UK, playing 5 gigs in 7 days. How did you feel that went? How did it compare to playing shows around Italy, where people are more likely to have heard of you? How did you find the experience of playing on foreign soil to that of playing back at home? Would you come back?
It was amazing. We had such a great time. It’s always a good challenge playing in front of people you don’t know, trying to get in touch with them. But doing that miles away from home, in a foreign country, was probably the best challenge we’ve ever had. Not only because in the UK there’s a different ‘culture’ and attention on rock and indie music, but also because there was a different excitement between us on stage that made every gig special. We hope to come back soon for a longer tour, maybe next year.
How are you finding the whole band experience? Is it a dream come true to be playing in other countries?
In a way, it is. We would love to play more around Europe. We spent all the time in UK telling ourselves “unbelievable, we’re here”, all the weeks before the tour thinking “how would it be?”, and when we came back to Italy we were just saying “when will we be back?”…and then everything happened so fast that…yes, it could be something similar to a dream.
How did you feel British listeners took to your music, considering the popularity of ‘indie’ music here?
That was the most unbelievable part I think. We were really surprised that lots of people liked our shows and came after the sets to talk to us or buy the album. They didn’t care if we were Italians, or if we play a different kind of music from the bands they expected to play that night. They also didn’t mind to classify us as ‘pop’, ’emo’ or ‘alternative’. What happened was: we came on stage practically unknown, played our songs that no-one knew, in a country that we don’t know, and got nice feedback from the people. That’s magic!
If you were forced to describe your music to someone who had never heard it before, how would you do so?
I’ve never been good at this. I used to start making comparisons, but it always leads to mistakes. Generally, I would say we are a three-piece band, guitar/voice, bass, drums, and we play rock, but then, if I am asked to, I can add some details about the melodic side of our music, the psychedelic and 70s/90s stuff, the emotional and spontaneous compositive process, the improvisation and the feelings above all.
Those who have heard you have drawn comparisons to a little band called Radiohead. How does it make you feel to have such a comparison put upon you?
Too big, maybe, or just too quick and useless. Radiohead had deeply influenced the music of our last decade and many bands took inspiration from them, Planet Brain too. Comparisons are often taken in a negative way, as they seem to subtract the personality of an emerging band. But I don’t feel there is anything wrong with them, even when we get compared to a bigger band we dislike. Once you are aware of your influences and you like what you do, you don’t have to care about comparisons. Anyway, to be compared to Radiohead is a honor.
Why did you make the decision to sing most of your vocals on the new album in English, as opposed to Italian?
Simple as it is, I always listened to English music, and it is more natural for me to hear English lyrics on a song than Italian ones.
One song title on your new release, Compromises and Carnivals, has me very intrigued: Gash Discipline. Could you explain where that name came from?
I think that Shane or Steve from Lebatol invented that title. When we supported them, during their short Italian tour in 2005, we played that song live twice, but we still didn’t have a title. I remember they liked that song since our first soundcheck, and a few days later they came out with that “Gash Discipline” idea. I thought it was great, and so perfect for the mood of the rhythm and the vocals, that we decided to call it that.
Recording an album can be a long and arduous process. During the recording of Compromises and Carnivals what did you take inspiration and encouragment from?
It was, definitely! We recorded guitars and vocals in our own little studio, and it was longer and harder than recording in a professional studio. But the atmosphere was more relaxed, and this helped us a lot. We’d been listening to many bands during the recordings, I remember we told the engineer we loved the drums sound of Porcupine Tree, but that was just to achieve the best sound we could. There wasn’t a single band we focused on or took inspiration from, actually. We tried to work on the album as a whole, to preserve the concept of an ‘album’ instead of the concept of a simple compilation of songs.
You may or may not have heard about it, but there is a lot of talk within the music world concerning the fall of recording companies and the traditional structure, what with massive artists now experimenting with free online downloads for example. How has your own relationship with Function Records been?
The market is flexible and has its own rises and falls. I was just reading an article a few days ago about “the long tail”. In a few words, within the global market, major labels sell more but in a short time, by sudden ways or odd strategies. Indie labels sell and earn less, obviously, but constantly. They represent the “long tail” of the music market, what keeps it alive and flowing, not bumping. Our relationship with Function Records is a friendship, before a partnership, and it developed slowly in the past 2/3 years. I think that they ‘believe’ in what we do as Planet Brain, and that’s more important than anything else.
What are your plans as a group for the immediate future?
We are rehearsing and recording new songs at the moment. We would love to have some stuff out next year, maybe an EP, and to play live as much as we can.
What was your favourite album release of 2007? And are there any bands, perhaps from Italy, who you would encourage readers to check out for 2008?
Hard to answer! I would probably say ‘Frames’ by Oceansize for 2007. But I also loved ‘Heima’ by Sigur Ros, especially the film. And for 2008…I don’t know, really. All the majors will be closed by that time, we will have 400 GigaByte iPods, just to listen to the first minute of each song! But I’m optimistic.
Thanks for taking the time out to talk Marcello. I wish you guys the best of luck and hope to see you back in the UK soon.
Cheers Mike! All the best Ciao!
I really recommend you purchase Planet Brain’s debut album ‘Comprimises and Carnivals’. It’s a fantastic sounding album, and one that shows a lot of promise for the group. You can get it from iTunes, Emusic, mTraks, Audio Lunchbox or direct via Function Records.